‘If the only thing that was really holding me back from wanting to do this was the fact that I might not get the record, that’s silly…if you want to run the trail and you want to go for it, then let’s go for it.’ - Alyssa's coach, Hillary Biscay.
Alyssa Godesky is most well-known these days for being a professional triathlete (having completed over 30 Ironman distance races) and the co-host of the popular IronWomen podcast.
What isn’t well known is that she was an ultra marathon runner and trail runner, long before she moved into the world of triathlons.
In 2018, after 5 years as a professional triathlete, Alyssa returned to her trail running roots and set out on a mission to break the Fastest Known Time (or FKT) on the Vermont Long Trail in the United States, a 273mi / 440km trail which traverses the State of Vermont from north to south.
Now if you saw the film ‘Finding Traction’ on Netflix last year, you know more about the Vermont Long Trail than you might think...
That film follows legendary trail runner, Nikki Kimball, on her attempt to break the record - that is, both the men’s & women’s FKT on the Vermont Long Trail.
Here’s the trailer:
#spoileralert Nikki misses the men’s record but smashes the women’s record.
It turns out that watching ‘Finding Traction’ lit the spark in Alyssa to wonder if she could do it (so, as she jokingly mentions in this conversation, it’s all Nikki’s fault!).
Fast forward a few years and in 2018 (#spoileralert), Alyssa set a new women’s record of 5 days, 2 hours & 37min, taking over 5 hours off Nikki’s record!
In this conversation, we discuss:
* how trail running and ultra running was the start of her journey into endurance sports,
* the loss of a close friend while studying at the Naval Academy led to her switching sports into the Academy’s marathon team,
* her experience getting a spot in the Western States Endurance Run - one of the world’s most prestigious 100m races - in only her second year of ultrarunning,
* what she loves about trail running (‘it makes you feel so badass’) and how it differs from triathlons,
* how she manages the stress and disappointment when things go wrong (like the time she flew from the east coast of the USA to Taiwan to race an Ironman-distance race, only to discover her bike and all her equipment was left by the airline in LA),
* how she manages the ‘mental demons’ that sit on her shoulder during a race or training session telling her to slow down or to compromise,
* why she chose the Vermont Long Trail and the impact that ‘Finding Traction’ had on her,
* how seeing the problems and challenges Nikki had instead as ‘opportunities’ helped Alyssa from slipping into comparison with Nikki (who is, on paper, a far better trail runner),
* why our dependency on our devices and data - rather than focusing on doing our best each day - makes it easy to slide into comparison,
* the self-doubt and fear of failure Alyssa experienced (specifically about whether she was even capable of breaking Nikki’s record) led her to question whether she should even try in the first place,
* struggling with sleep deprivation (she only had 17 hours of sleep over 5 days),
* what she would do differently if she were to do it again, and
* the (surprising) impact that the run (and resulting stress) had on her body, hormonally.
If you haven’t seen ‘Finding Traction’, I’d recommend that you track it down and watch it (and if you have seen it, watch it again!).
Not only is it a fantastic story about Nikki’s attempt, it will add depth to your understanding of how incredibly technical the trail is, of Alyssa experience and on some for the conditions she faced.
Notes and resources: