Sashah Handal’s first training session isn’t until 8 a.m., but her alarm goes off at 6:15 a.m., which she purposefully set early because she knows she’s going to hit the snooze button at least twice. She drags herself out of bed by 6:40 a.m. and the first thing she does is fill a kettle and heats it on the stove, timing it so it whistles by the time she finishes her morning bathroom routine.
She’s an innate multitasker: During the four minutes it takes for her French press to steep, she’ll make her bed, do some stretches, and put on a podcast by the time she’s ready to pour her first cup of coffee. There’s only one thing she doesn’t do.
“I don’t look at Instagram at all,” she says. “Not in bed, not when I’m having my coffee—it’s too much and I’ll get sucked in.”
SOMETHING EVERY HOUR
The 33-year-old fitness professional, trainer, and baker has a loaded schedule and there’s little time for distraction. On this particular morning Handal will bike to two clients in Brooklyn for two hour-long personal training sessions. In the afternoon, she’ll write her workout program for Barry’s, a popular fitness studio, and have a planning call with Well + Good, a wellness publication where Handal shares recipes in a video series called “Alt-Baking Bootcamp.” In the evening, she’ll teach her Barry’s classes at a studio on the Upper West Side, where she’ll also have her dinner, because, otherwise, it’ll be too late to eat by the time she gets home, around 9 p.m.
"It's a busy day and I have something every hour," she says. "I'm so used to it—the daily grind."
Somehow, in the middle of all of this, Handal fits in a training run. She’s been preparing to race her third marathon, Boston, and at the peak of her training block, she was putting in 70 miles a week while juggling everything else in her life.
It can be a lot, but Handal is someone who knows how to put in the work, who sets goals and puts things in motion to achieve them. She is a furnace of tenacity and ambition.
HOLY GRAIL THROUGH COMMUNITY
The Boston Marathon is the oldest marathon in the world, having been held every April since 1897, except in 2020, when it was canceled for the first time in its 124-year-old history due to the pandemic. Since 1970, meeting impressive time qualifying standards set by age and gender is the only way for the vast majority of the field—roughly 80 percent—to get in. For many people who run marathons, qualifying for Boston, otherwise known as BQing, is a holy grail.
But if you were to ask Handal if qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon was a goal she set, she’d tell you no, it was never a dream, it was something that just kind of happened.
Running wasn’t something Handal really understood—in the way that seasoned runners understand how to pace a mile or what their fastest 400-meter split is—until she moved to New York from San Francisco in 2018. Her move was unusual in that it wasn’t precipitated by a job or relationship, but because she was visiting the city and hit it off with her Airbnb host, who offered her the opportunity to rent the apartment she was staying in full-time. After mulling it over, she decided to take a leap and moved across the country.
She was working in fitness but was struggling with figuring out what her true purpose was. “I moved here at a much older age than when most people transition their life,” Handal says. “I was starting from the ground up and didn’t really understand how much of a big bite I had taken. I was floundering a bit, the way most people do when they move to New York City—you know, it chews you up and spits you out.” And then the pandemic happened.
With gyms closed, Handal started running because she didn’t know what else to do. She started meeting other runners, immersing herself in the community—running with Bridge Runners, Rage and Release, Goldfinger Track Club, Define, Brooklyn Track Club—and in the process, finding friends and people who felt like family during a tumultuous period. It was the height of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I think fostering a community at that exact moment was something that was not only crucial to my survival in New York, but also allowed me to see these abilities in myself that I would have never thought existed prior to this,” she says.
As Handal learned from those around her and progressed as a runner, she found that she had a gift—that she could win community races with discipline and smart training. At her first marathon last fall, Chicago, in unseasonably warm and humid conditions that took out a lot of runners, she ran a 3:09:10, instantly qualifying her for Boston.
Handal didn’t seriously train to run Chicago, nor her next marathon that fall, New York, at least, not in a way that had any real focus or structure. She glanced at generic training programs and had a vague idea of how the races would go based on how she felt during long runs.
Boston will be different. This is because of a chance conversation Handal had with an elite runner named Ana Johnson, whom she met through Bandit. Johnson, who was born and raised in Mexico, has qualified for the Olympic Trials while balancing long shifts as an oncology nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering, being a mom, and doing activities with her family.
“I was like, ‘wow, she’s so cool,’” Handal says. “She was one of the first people I met who was super fast but didn’t care that she was that fast. I liked that her whole life wasn’t just running.”
Handal hired Johnson to coach her for Boston, altering her schedule to follow a training plan that Johnson put together for her. But they’ve also worked out a program together so that Handal doesn’t feel like running has taken over her life, or that she’s sacrificed the parts of her life that she loves outside of running. She doesn’t want running to subsume her. If you ask her if she has a goal time in mind for Boston, she’ll demur, saying she just wants to finish and have fun.
“I'm training for a goal that only my coach knows,” Handal says.
On race day, she’ll plan to lace up a pair of Alphaflys. She is praying to the weather gods that it’ll be warm, because she’d rather be too hot than cold. She’s got a playlist she’s curated just for the race, which includes Kanye West’s “Power,” Jaden Smith’s “Watch Me,” Jantsen’s “Take Me There,” and “Energy” by Disclosure.
That last track by Disclosure? “It’s like the most motivational shit,” Handal says. Some lyrics:
Just in case you ain't got it by now
Listen to me, bring it in
If you are alive
I know you ain't reach your best yet
You got more, you could do more
You could see more, you could be more, alright?
You should feel invincible
And if that’s not enough, Handal has a lot of people—so many of those connections she made in the running community—who will be there to support her.
“I have a solid cheer squad that I’m very excited about,” she says.