Each month, we celebrate a local Runner of the Month in association with the Colorado Runner Mag.
February 2016 – Alia Gray
After a Winter break, our Colorado Runner Mag Runner of the Month IS BACK!
The recent Olympic trials marathon in Los Angeles were run in poor conditions and on a course not conducive to fast times. Indeed, of the 166 men’s starters, just 18 finished inside the 2:19 qualifying mark, and 61 would not finish at all. For the women, those numbers ran as 198 starters, just 40 finishing inside the 2:45 qualifying time, and 49 that did not finish. How then did Boulder’s Alia Gray run 2:35, a personal best? She tells us about it as this month’s Runner Box award winner.
Alia, 2:35 for 10th place at the Olympic marathon trials is great, congrats! That was a PR, as compared to your 2:39 at NYC in 2014, and given the course and conditions in LA, there couldn’t have been many that PR’d at the trials. How’d you train, and how’d you race that led to such a great result?
This training cycle was a more unconventional build-up than I ever would have chosen for myself. I went into greater detail with some of the events leading into this race in my blog, but the short version is this: I found out that I had a traumatic fracture to my fibula in mid-December and immediately adjusted training to use the AlterG in Richey’s office for a couple straight weeks. As symptoms got better, we started to transition to more and more outside running, but I was still even using the AlterG for most recovery runs through the week of the race. Before the injury, I knew that I had rounded into some pretty good early fitness, so I used that base as a confidence boost to help me through the rough patches. Thanks to the AlterG, I was able to still log decent mileage (90 miles per week) and workout, just at a lower body weight percentage.
Ironically, with the heat of the day in LA, I think I was actually more acclimated to warm running because of all the inside work I had to do. The room with the AlterG would get HOT! I’m taking this as my silver lining to the fracture. I also had a lot of time to think about my mental game leading into this race, and tried to prepare myself to be as tough as I could. I also made sure that I really nailed my fluids; I held onto my bottle each time for longer than most around me and took 1-2 oz. more than usual.
My previous personal best time in pretty rough conditions on a very windy day in New York, so I felt like the time was definitely beatable, especially with what training and racing over the past year has indicated. Given the conditions, I’m really encouraged with the way that I handled the distance. It makes me even more excited for my next 26.2 attempt with hopefully better weather and a smoother training build-up.
There are a lot of groups in Boulder. I think you moved to Boulder to run with the Hudson group, but are now coached by Joe Vigil and are part of the new Roots Running Project. Is that right? What brought you to Colorado and to this current point then?
Near the end of my collegiate career at Chico State, I had played with the idea of moving to Colorado simply to live in a beautiful place that would be conducive to training. I wasn’t exactly sure how to piece that all together right off the bat, though. My college coach, Gary Towne helped guide me through the next awkward year of figuring out next steps in life and the world of training after college. After about a year I made the move to Colorado with the help of my past college teammate Kara Lubieniecki who currently runs with the Hudson group. Joining their group was an easy jump at the time and let me get my feet wet in the area and continue post-collegiate running.
In the fall of 2014, I left the Hudson group because I felt like there were some fundamental changes that I needed to make in training and my approach to the sport. I stepped back from group training to re-evaluate my progression and long-term developmental goals and was lucky enough to have a couple people reach out on my behalf to Coach Vigil for guidance. I wasn’t even expecting a phone call back, but will never forget the day that he called and told me he was willing to take a chance on me. We’ve been working together since December of 2014, and in that time he’s helped me re-write my definition of hard work, positivity and ability to dream big.
Since he lives in Arizona, he faxes over all training plans to me, and Richey is a huge part in implementing it with the structure that it demands – planning routes, timing repeats, and even occasionally pacing me through quality days. The training is notoriously intense, but it’s paid off in the way of big personal best times over the 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon distances in the last 14 months.
The Roots Running Project, who else is a part of this group and how is it different from other groups?
We hadn’t initially thought of forming a group. However, in the Spring of 2015, a friend referred over Mara Olson (who is now a training partner and Roots Running member) to talk to us about post collegiate training in Colorado in general; at the end of her phone call with Richey, she asked if he would be interested in coaching her. With Mara moving out and joining up with our practices, we decided to make it a more official pursuit and established the Roots Running Project. We have since had Noah Droddy (who also qualified for the Marathon Trials), Jenny DeSouchet (who competed at CU), and Colby Chrusciel (while he prepares for his first collegiate cross country season) join with a couple more athletes moving out in the near future.
When considering potential athletes, we’re looking for people that we believe to be pretty well-rounded as people and as athletes across varying event group specialties. It’s not just about who’s the most talented, but who has the right mindset to optimize their ability and how well they fit in with the group’s dynamic. With the daily detailed and individualized approach that Richey takes with training, we’re still looking to stay small (between 8-12 athletes for the time being). We’re in a unique position with Richey as the coach of this group; he writes training for athletes, writes specific strength work for each athlete, implements and observes training and strength, and also serves as our main medical contact through his private practice, High Altitude Spine & Sport. His practice also has an AlterG treadmill, which the entire group has access to if needed to stay healthy (this is what I owe my most recent marathon cycle to).
Are you a full-fledged marathoner now, or will you get back on the track to try to make the trials in the 10000m?
I’m looking to get back on the track soon! I am definitely excited for the marathon distance long term, but also really believe in the need to work on my speed – I’m not ready to give up a track season yet. The balance between marathon training and track training is something that I’ve really enjoyed the past couple years; I relish the long stuff that I’m a little more natural at, but am ready to change things up both physically and mentally at the end of each buildup. I’ll focus on 10k this spring, but run some 5ks in the process.
Other than running, what’s the best thing about Boulder?
Oh man, this is a hard question. I love the Boulder/Denver area for many reasons, but overall, it’s the balance that it provides for me. This is undoubtedly a gorgeous place to train and live; it’s hard to get sick of the easily accessible natural beauty. On the other side, it doesn’t have the seclusion that many mountain towns have – we still have a pretty awesome coffee, food and concert scene – three things that are very dear to me. For me, the area is conducive as both a supreme training ground and as an appealing place to live happily which is immensely important.
And what’s your favorite thing in the Runner Box?
The Honey Stinger wafer! This girl has a sweet tooth; I could eat those things all day.
Thanks Alia, and congrats again!
Follow Alia on her blog at aliagray.com and on twitter @aliatgray.
November 2015 – Ali Williams
Ali Williams has had a great year on the roads, most recently running 15:51 on Thanksgiving Day at the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot. Ali’s success made her an easy pick for our “The Runner Box” Colorado Runner of the Month award. In the below Q&A, Williams tells us about her move to Golden and her plans for 2016.
Ali, you’ve raced a bunch this fall! I can think of the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot, the Rock ‘n’ Philadelphia Half Marathon, the USATF 12k championships, and the USATF 10k championships. What am I missing? What race stands out as most memorable from this stretch?
Yes, I had a blast running a lot of races this fall! I also ran Cow Harbor, the USATF 10 Mile Championships and the USATF 20K Championships. Even at 33 years old, I still feel like I have a lot to learn in this sport. Every one of these races was a learning opportunity and I think I came out of this fall a better runner. If I had to pick one race that stands out, it would probably be the USATF 10 Mile Championships because that’s where my confidence and training really came together and started a string of really good races for me [CRM note: Ali was fifth in 53:28]. They are all really memorable for me though and I had a really great time running all of them. The fall definitely renewed my love for the sport after a tough break at US track nationals.
How do you pick your races, was any one race this fall a goal or peak race, or was it all just about getting speed ahead of the Olympic marathon trials?
I sit down with my coach at the beginning of a season and we look at a schedule of races and map out a plan. We choose races based on what fits in best with the plan, but that is always subject to change. There are a lot of factors on how a race fits into a plan, fast course, strength race, competition, distance, etc. Prize money is also a pretty big consideration since this is my job right now.
You moved from Manitou Springs to Golden. How has this helped or hurt your training? Where do you like to run best in Golden, and where do you miss running in Manitou?
We actually lived in Colorado Springs before moving up to Golden. We lived in the Springs area for nearly a decade before moving up to Golden. My husband and I really enjoyed the Springs and we had a lot of great friends there. The outdoor space in the Springs is pretty amazing and I really liked training there. I recently switched coaches/training groups to Mike Aish and the group is based in Golden. It just made more sense for us to be in the Denver area, but it was a hard decision to make.
We absolutely love Golden so far and have settled in nicely. The places I love to run in Golden are – the canal path for easy runs, North Table Mountain for hard, hilly efforts and the river path is gorgeous. As far as the Springs goes – Stratton Open Space was my favorite place for easy runs, Cheyenne Canon was great for long runs, Red Rocks and Garden of the Gods are out of this world beautiful and the Santa Fe trail was great for workouts. I think both places are great for training. You really can’t go wrong training anywhere along the front range in Colorado. I think the type of training that I am doing right now under my current coach is a good fit for me personally, so the move has helped my training.
Looking ahead to the Olympic trials, what kind of training volume will you put in over the next few months? With your recent half PR, a sub-2:30 goal seems reasonable?
I’m actually not going to run the marathon trials. I am going to focus solely on the track trials in 2016. This is one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make in running. Before this fall, it was a much easier decision because I hadn’t really had a lot of success on the roads. I’ve always been much better on the track than on the roads. After I PR’d in Philly in the 1/2 I really started to question my decision [CRM note: Ali was third in 1:10.31]. It’s about trying to give yourself the best possible shot to make the Olympic team and that still is probably on track for me. It’s hard because there isn’t a clear right or wrong decision and the path to the trials is going to look different for everyone out there.
What’s your favorite thing in the Runner Box?
I love the fall theme of the box! The gingerbread mini chocolate bar is my favorite thing in the box. I am really looking forward to trying the pumpkin fig granola as well. There are a lot of great snacks as well as practical recovery items in the box, which is always a plus when you are on the go as much as runners are.
October 2015 – Neely Gracey
69:58, that’s fast! You’ve run at least one half marathon before – February’s Gasparilla Half Marathon where you ran 1:12.38, so I’m thinking this was a big PR. What were you expectations going in, were you looking for a time or just to race for the win? And I assume you were very pleased with the finish?
First off, thanks! I am pleased to have set a goal before the season and ended up surpassing my own expectations. I did Gasparilla Half in Feb and ran the 1:12:38. My only goal there was to get my Olympic trials standard of sub 1:15. I loved the distance and the new challenge and after not loving the track so much this spring, realized my heart was on the road racing scene and I opted to run Grandma’s Half Marathon instead of USA’s. I ran 1:11:25 there, and decided to commit to a fall of longer road racing as I prepped for the Olympic trials marathon. My goal was sub 1:11, and the races didn’t necessarily set up that fast for me from the gun as the elites barely made it to the start before the gun went off and I didn’t get to do my drills and strides. I used the first 3 miles as a warm up and was about 15 seconds slow at the 5k, but I was able to crank the last few miles to make up some of that time. I was surprised when I saw the time on the clock, and then very stressed out waiting for the official results. Place wasn’t necessarily the goal.
A few half marathons then, but you’ve yet to run a full marathon, I think, so what are you thinking ahead of March’s Olympic trials marathon? Can we expect to see you on the starting line?
They are actually February 13th, the day before the LA Marathon. Yes, my plan as of now is to run my debut marathon at my first Olympic trials.
How long have you been in Boulder now, and how’d you land in Boulder vs. say Flagstaff, Eugene, or one of the other big running cities?
I have spent many summers in Boulder, as a kid I have more memories here than anywhere else. My dad loved to train here, and during college I started coming for stints on my own. Last January, my husband’s job brought him to Denver, and we couldn’t be happier. I have never been to Flagstaff or Mammoth, but now that I live in Boulder, perhaps I can go to those places for some training opportunities.
What do you like best about Boulder? Who do you run with, and what trails or places are your favorite?
Honestly, I can’t think of something I don’t like about being here. My husband and I finally live together, we spent our first two years of marriage mostly apart. This area has always been special for us and we knew we wanted to establish our lives here at some point. It just happened sooner than expected! The active lifestyle, the amazing mountains, the 300 plus days of sunshine, and the network of support in terms of running partners, massage, chiro, PT, strength coaches, gyms, etc really create an ideal training venue. Dirt roads and crushed gravel trails that go for miles are right outside our door. My latest favorite trail is Rock Creek. It is 2 miles from our house in Superior, and it’s just gorgeous as it rolls through the fields. My all-time favorite trail is Dowdy Draw, but it is a bit too risky with all the rocks so I only go a few times per year. There are so many more to explore, and I never get bored.
Looking over your webpage, are you really without a shoe sponsor right now? I know you used to be with Hanson’s/Brooks, so hopefully this is just a timing gap until 2016?
When we moved to Colorado, my previous contract ended. My focus for the spring was to just let my performances do the talking. I tested several different shoe brands, and in July, Adidas was my top choice. I gave them a verbal commitment in August and ran my first race as an Adidas athlete at Falmouth. The official contract takes a lot of time with legalities, and I signed in my hotel after the Philly Half Marathon! Being part of Adidas allows me to also be a part of the Rocky Mountain Elite Adidas Team which is comprised of distance runners from Colorado.
What’s your favorite thing in the Runner Box?
I can’t pick just one thing… my favorite part about the whole box is that I got to sample many different products that I have never had before. Between energy chews, protein coffee creamer, and clean eating cookies, I really enjoyed the variety. It felt like opening my stocking on Christmas!
September 2015 – Timmy Parr
Leadville’s Timmy Parr is the U.S. Skyrunner Series 2015 “Sky” division champion. That’s hardly all that’s he done though, and it’s this body of work – 21 races this year – that make him our September “The Runner Box” Colorado Runner of the Month.
Timmy, you’re racing a ton this year! What’s the motivation to race so much, and what race has been your favorite so far this year?
Yes, I’m at 21 races for the year, 13 of them in the last 12 weeks. I decided earlier this year to focus on mountainous marathon races, and shy away from the 100s. With this in mind I focused on the U.S. Skyrunner Series, and also all of my favorite local races. I’ve really enjoyed all the Skyrunning races overall: Kendall Mountain, heart of the Rockies in the rugged San Juan’s; Tushar Marathon, the unknown gem in the middle of the Utah desert; and The Rut, jaw-dropping beauty mixed with life perilous cliffs and unstable terrain, a grand combination; as well as the Speedgoat series, and Imogene Pass.
[Colorado Runner note: Parr finished second at the Kendall Mountain Run in Silverton, first at the Tushar Marathon, 10th at The Rut 25k, first, fifth, and first at the three Speedgoat races in Utah, and first at the Imogene Pass Run in Ouray.]
Favorite race: the Speedgoat Vertical Mile.
Earlier I said that, in my opinion, this was the best you were running (racing) since 2009. You won everything that year – the U.S. mountain running championships, the Pikes Peak Ascent, the Leadville 100, and the Imogene Pass Run!
Your 2015 Imogene Pass finish was only 59 seconds slower than in 2009, but I don’t think you could have won this year’s U.S. mountain running championships (as you did in 2009). How has your running and training changed over the last six years?
Well I agree it would have been difficult at the U.S. mountain champs this year, the race was stacked! Andy [Wacker], JP [Donovan], Joe [Gray] and others have been on fire this summer! I still think I had a shot at the top 5. I made the decision to race the Speedgoat series instead this year and have no regrets.
The main difference in training is I now live in Leadville at 10,000 feet, before I lived in Gunnison at 7,700 feet. I make sure most of my runs are in the early morning… this in turn gives me more time at home with my family. I still run about the same, however this summer I replaced all my long runs with races.
As much success as you’ve had this year – back to back wins at the Imogene Pass Run and Run Rabbit Run 50 come to mind – you bombed at Mount Marathon in Alaska, just 64th place. What happened there? I assume you’re as comfortable scrambling as the rest of us, so is it really that hard of terrain that the Alaskans can beat the rest of us so easily?
65th place actually, it was bad.
I had not seen the course and really did not know how to run such a short sprint: 1 ½ miles uphill then 1 ½ miles downhill. The runners can take any route up and down Mount Marathon. The entire race is treacherous and people break their legs or worse every year. Within a ½ mile into the race I was in 30th place, my competitors were running with reckless abandon. I had no desire to break a leg so I just enjoyed myself without risking anything. At one point I accidentally ran towards a towering cliff and had to stop and backtrack. I lost two minutes and many positions there. The race came down to me running and not competing. I compete with calculated risks not reckless abandonment.
For as much as you’ve done over the years – in Colorado and elsewhere, I’m curious, what race(s) haven’t you done that’s still on your bucket list?
There are dozens of races, some I know of now, some I’ll learn about soon enough. In Colorado I want to run the Mt. Evans Ascent. California has Miwok, Way Too Cool, and Lake Sonoma. Add in Zane Grey, Cayuga Trails, the Zermatt Marathon, and the list goes on…
Okay non-running, you live in Leadville. What’s the good and bad of life at 10,000 feet?
It is a small town at 10,000 feet. If you like solitude and mountains then great. Winters can get long! It is great training up here, so long as there is not snow or ice on the ground, which I guess is about five months every year. Half the houses here don’t even have foundations or garages, oh yeah, they are 100+ years old too. I guess you can say they have character. The town is bustling during the summer then sleepy and quiet the rest of the year. Overall, it is similar to many other small towns.
Your local race series seems to be both praised and jeered by locals. For you, as a local, what’s your opinion on the race series and the weekend crowds that it brings in the summer?
I think the race serious does a fine job and are continuously working and improving the race organization and implementation. The crowds dramatically help the economy and many local small business so I can’t complain. If you want to beat the crowds for a more tranquil environment try climbing a 13er.
Thanks Timmy, one last question. What’s your favorite thing in The Runner Box?
All the terrific Timmy treats are tantalizing and tasteful, but my favorite item is the RunnerBox Massager. It has been working overtime to get my muscles feeling refreshed and up to Parr!
August 2015 – Andy Wacker
I’ve raced 16 times since January 1st and 10 times since June 1st (nine of 13 weekends), or enough where I had to look it up.
Immediately, post-race, I drink Skratch Labs to rehydrate, and then usually a beer. That evens out, right?
Besides that, I like icing in a creek and using my Roll Recovery R8. Given that I don’t stretch, or even do a cool down run these days, it’s kind of a miracle I’m able to bounce back so quickly.
Just thinking about that race, the USATF 50k trail championship, it was in the San Francisco Bay Area on a lot of the same trails that December’s The North Face 50 Mile championship is on. That race pays out $10k to its winner. Clearly you can run on that kind of trail/terrain, so any thoughts about stepping up to the 50-mile distance come December?
Marin County, and San Fran are excellent running venues! I plan to be back for the USATF Club Cross Country Championships in December.
I have no plans to run any more ultra length races this year, so no The North Face 50. While $10k is tempting, for me, it’s not about the money; it’s more about having fun. At this point running 50 miles doesn’t sound fun. I won’t rule it out for the future, and I would love to challenge some more of the country’s best ultrarunners.
Looking back, I don’t want to sound like a negative Nancy, but at Pikes Peak where you finished second, you and race winner Miyahara both took a wrong turn and went up a shorter, but more steep part of the mountain. Some on the Internet were saying that, if staying true to the rules, you both should have been DQ’d. During the race, did you think about returning to where you’d gone off course? Was the wrong turn that big of a deal or no?
It’s funny that I didn’t even think about turning around and returning back on course until you just asked.
Honestly, I was in so much pain, I would have taken a DQ rather than going back down 100 ft in elevation. The slow death of a 19-minute mile or three is hard enough.
I’d say the wrong turn was not a big deal. It’s a difficult unmarked trail above tree line, so it can be hard to follow. We got back on course relatively quickly. I don’t think our wrong turn gave us an advantage, nor changed the order of the top runners. My GPS data immediately recognized my run as the Pikes Peak Ascent (so, I’m assuming small margin of error).
You moved to Boulder for college. What kept you around after graduation?
Legalized marijuana. No, I’m kidding!!! Great trails, great food, great people. So, Psychedelic magic-mushroom trails, farm-to-table edibles, and da dankest dope bros? Come on Justin, stop thinking about weed!
For a guy that’s raced in Colorado, Oregon, California, and Switzerland – just this summer (!) – I’m curious, when it comes to Boulder then, what trail/route do you like best?
Recently, I’ve enjoyed going up to NCAR on Baseline Road, then hopping on Mesa Trail. At sunset, its unnaturally beautiful, or I guess, naturally beautiful. It’s beautiful, ok!
What about training partners, and a coach? There are lots of possibilities in Boulder, who did you up running alongside most often?
Unable to escape my own hubris and desire to be a free spirit, I’m self-coached. I train, or rather am trashed by, marathon legend Jeff Eggleston when I’m training for the roads. As for the last several months, I’ve been running solo, cranking out trail miles while listening to the Stephen King anthology.
Unless you count marmots. Yes, let’s say I train with marmots.
What’s your favorite thing in the Runner Box?
The Beet Juice!
June 2015 – Joe Gray
Joe, congrats on the big win at Mount Washington! It took you a long time to win at Mount Washington, but now you’ve won two years in a row and have run the second-fastest time ever, and fastest time ever by an American. What have you done the last few years to become a better climber? Is part of it living in Colorado, or have you really worked on climbing in your training?
I typically have a short build up for Mt. Washington and the race is more used as a build up for the upcoming mountain season. A blessing in disguise happened when I had to deal with some niggles and health issues so I had cut my earlier season a bit short but this allowed me two more weeks of easy build up without rushing into workouts so mentally I’ve just had a better prep. It’s hard to say whether my climbing has really improved over last year as I feel I was healthy for a longer period of time coming into last year. I think more than anything, this year I had a goal to run a specific time whereas last year I was focused on just racing the top guys to the finish.
I assume the U.S. mountain running championships in Bend, Oregon on July 25 will be a goal race, and assuming that goes well, the World Mountain Running Association championships on September 19 in Europe too. What other races do you have penciled in for this year?
The World Championship is actually in Wales, a country I’ve never been to so I’m definitely looking to put out a solid performance in Bend and get on the World team once again. I have some races in the mountain running circuit both in USA and in Europe, so I will be heading overseas shortly to compete in Norway and Switzerland
Myself, and I’m sure others, are impressed by your versatility. You’ve done very well on the track, at the half marathon distance, the Boston Marathon, cross country, 50k on the road, and of course in mountain running. It’s all running, but that’s a pretty diverse skill set. I assume you feel like they compliment each other, and that it helps to keep the training fresh and new, or do you think you could run, say, a marathon faster if you really focused on just one part of the sport?
I believe focus is key with any distinction. My versatility really stems from my love of competing rather than just being a skill set I’d say. I wouldn’t recommend it but it’s fun to compete so I can’t help but mix it up whenever I get a chance.
You’re racing in several of the Collegiate Running Association’s events this year and I’ve got to say, it’s kind of awkward to think of you as a collegiate! You are a student though? Having raced all over the world and at the top levels, does it feel weird racing in a “collegiate” race?
Not at all. Steve Taylor has created an opportunity for those of us who want to extend our knowledge later in life by allowing a series of races for athletes experiencing similar lifestyles, living a normal life as well as aspiring to further our education. College is a privilege so I look at this as a very special opportunity to assist me in paying for additional education and allowing me to come closer to life goals for later in life.
You’ve done a lot, made a whole bunch of national teams. What other running goals do you still have?
To continue doing just that and setting records along the way!
What’s your favorite thing in the Runner Box?
“Leave the research to us, and we’ll leave the training to you,” says Runner Box. The Runner Box is a subscription-based service that delivers a “box” of runner-friendly goodies to you every other month, items like gels, bars, and other accessories hand-picked to add to your running. Many items are new to the market, and new items are expected with each box. A great service for yourself, the boxes also make great gifts and are often themed around holidays.