A former ice hockey player, Aliza Lapierre turned to running when she graduated from college and hasn’t looked back. Lapierre was the second fastest woman in her first 100-mile race and travels this month to Japan to compete on the Ultra-Trail World Tour.
Family: Husband, George; two dogs Timber and Lily
Primary sport: Ultra running
VS: Have you always been a runner?
AL: I grew up playing ice hockey from the age of five and through college at St. Lawrence. After college I decided it was time to lose some bulk and rejoin society so I started running three miles a day and six miles on the weekend. Then I decided to train for the Vermont City Marathon. That was the next step. In 2004 I heard about the Vermont 50 and thought I’d give it a try and see how far I could get. I fell in love with ultra running that first year.
VS: You didn’t stop with 50-milers, did you?
AL: I did 50’s for a couple of years and eventually tried a 100-miler in 2010. I’ve done thirty 50-milers and six 100-milers.
VS: What do you enjoy about such a punishing experience?
AL: I love being out in nature and exploring on my own two feet. The volunteers are really inspirational as are the other participants. You’re competing but you’re also supporting each other.
VS: Let’s talk a little about that support system.
AL: Some races require that you either volunteer there or at a local race or do a certain amount of hours of trail work. There have been times when I’ve contemplated my opinion on that because these races are quite expensive. You’re paying $450 to run and they’re asking you for volunteer hours when you’re already strapped for time and that gets you thinking. On the other hand, I’ve learned a lot by giving back and volunteering. I’ve learned what it takes to build and maintain a trail. I had always taken that for granted. I’ve also discovered that I enjoy being the volunteer who’s out there cheering for people. It give you a high, watching people toe the line even if they’re not the greatest runner in the world. Volunteering also ensures that you’ll get a spot because some of these races fill up quickly. The Western States Endurance Run in California, for instance, only takes 2 percent of the people who apply to run.
VS: What was your most enjoyable ultra race?
AL: The first one was the most enjoyable. It was the Vermont 100 in 2010. It was my fastest time, it was my home course, and my family was there so it was memorable. [Editor’s note: Lapierre was the second woman to finish the race and seventh overall].
VS: What was your hardest race?
AL: It’s hard to pick one because each race has its own difficulties. Leadville is 10,000 feet in elevation and coming from sea level makes it difficult. Western States can be very tough because the temperature can be 110 in the canyon and you’re coming from winter in Vermont.
VS: Speaking of going from winter to summer, didn’t you run in the Canary Islands this winter?
AL: I did the North Face Transgrancanaria which is 120 kilometers and has over 2,500 feet of climbing and descending. It’s a point to point race from the north end of the island to the south and I definitely had a trying day. I started throwing up at mile eight and continued throughout the race and after I finished it. Fueling and staying hydrated was pretty difficult. [Editor’s note: In spite of this, Lapierre finished 8th among women and first among American women.]
VS: How do you have time to train?
AL: It’s a lot of time management and just planning every moment of the day. Before I go to bed I figure out what I have to do the next day and what it takes to get it done. If I have to get up at 3 a.m. to run at 4 a.m. before work that’s what I do. My family is very understanding that my training takes a lot of time so I’m blessed in that regard.
VS: Have you had any injuries?
AL: My first major injury was in my second year of ultra running. I had a broken femur which kept me out for more than two years. After that, it’s just been normal trail running injuries – broken bones in my feet, broken ribs and a broken hand. When you do a lot of trail running you trip and fall so those are normal injuries for me, I guess.
VS: I read that you have a fear of flying but you’ve obviously flown to competitions?
AL: If I want to compete against the best I have to travel outside New England. There are a lot of great races that draw international fields so I have to take the chance and fly and hope for the best. Hopefully the new people I meet and the new trails I get to see are worth the anxiety I feel when I fly.
VS: How do you keep your sanity during the long races?
AL: I typically listen to music. Sometimes I’ll sing out loud but only if I’m alone because I’m a horrible singer. You need to keep your mind occupied even if you’re expending a little more energy. If I’m with people we chat nonstop, especially if we know each other. We’ll tell each other silly jokes and inappropriate stories. Sometimes I recite poetry in my head. In high school I had a teacher who made us memorize a lot of Robert Frost so that’s what I recite.
VS: How has this year’s racing gone for you?
AL: I’m participating in the Ultra Trail World Tour. There are seven races and the winner is based on your best three races. Transgrancanaria was my first, Western States was my second and Mt. Fuji which has a lot of climbing and varied terrain will be my third. I did the North Face Bear Mountain 50-miler as a training run for Western States to work on my hydration and refueling. I finished first among women but really I just did it as a training run because it’s much easier to do a 50-mile run when it’s an organized event with aid stations. At Western States everything went well until mile 80. I was in third among the women but I started throwing up. I still had a lot of legs and energy but I fell from third to fourth. It was still a great race and I got to run with a lot of different women so I’m happy with that. I’ll leave for Japan on September 18.
VS: Do you have an overall goal for your racing?
AL: I want to have fun and some days, fun means you reevaluate your goals and run slower. You can enjoy meeting a different crowd of people and make the best of the situation. My ultimate goal is to see what I’m capable of and push others to see what they’re capable of and, of course, to have fun. The fun outweighs the bad days or else I wouldn’t be doing it.