With four Western States 100 finishes between third and sixth place, Aliza Lapierre has become a model of consistency at the race. In the following interview, Aliza talks about what has led to that consistency, why she’s still waiting for the perfect race at States, how she enjoyed her first road marathon in a decade, how she’ll bring fun to the course this year, and much more.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Aliza Lapierre Pre-2016 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Aliza Lapierre before the 2016 Western States 100. Welcome back, Aliza.
Aliza Lapierre: Thanks, Bryon. Nice to be back.
iRunFar: You’re always here it seems like. You’ve had a good run of things at Western States—a couple thirds, a fourth, a sixth… something like that?
Lapierre: Some variance, yeah.
iRunFar: Some meaning very little? What do you think you owe your consistency to at this race?
Lapierre: I think my coach, he’s a very wise man. I think nine times out of 10, I’ve stuck to my own race and really focused on what I could do and not tried to run someone else’s race. I think it comes down to just being patient and staying within myself.
iRunFar: Where have you not stuck to your own race? Where have you gotten carried away?
Lapierre: I think it’s hard to go out really easy and not get wrapped up in that first climb and feel like you need to be in the top three or four at the top of the Escarpment. You can’t panic. There’s so many miles, and so much can happen. I try and take the first 80 miles “easy” and feel like I’m just out training and then see what’s left in the tank.
iRunFar: Even when you run your own race, I’ve witnessed out there you kind of joining up with some people. It seems like having fun. Is that how you’ve adapted?
Lapierre: Oh, definitely. I’ve definitely enjoyed many miles with Rory [Bosio] and Nikki [Kimball] and last year it was Kaci [Lickteig] and Nicole [Studer]. It just turns into us chatting and supporting each other and encouraging each other. It feels like a day in the mountains with spectators and crews. I think the more relaxed I can feel the better.
iRunFar: Why do you keep coming back? You’ve performed so well so many times here.
Lapierre: I think every time I’ve crossed the line, I’ve felt like I haven’t performed up to my potential. I know no day is really going to be perfect, but I’ve always been held back by some kind of glitch. The first year it was 30 miles of snow. I took a spill early on. Last year it was my stomach. I started throwing up after Green Gate and went from third to fourth and was limited by my stomach and how hard I could run. So I have yet to really feel like I’ve done what I could do.
iRunFar: Have you had that experience at other ultras?
Lapierre: No, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Sometimes I’ve raced and I feel good not wanting to go back to that race, but this is a great event. This is where it all started. For me, it’s a family affair. My mom and stepdad come. My husband is here. I get to see a lot of my sponsors. I get to race against the best in the world. That part is definitely a draw as well.
iRunFar: Now, it’s interesting because, knowing you pretty well, leading up to Western States, you tend to choose low-key races. This year you were at the Trap Rock 50k, Miwok 100k, and you had good runs there. It’s kind of a contrast, that, to this is super competitive and a big race. Why that dichotomy?
Lapierre: Yeah, this year my schedule was kind of determined by my work schedule. I really want to do Lake Sonoma one year, but this year it coincided with another big event we put on. Then lotteries and deadlines and the Ultra-Trail World Tour kind of dictated that I didn’t apply for other things. I ended up doing a local 50k and then I was lucky enough to get into Miwok which has always been on my bucket list. I was really excited to have that opportunity.
iRunFar: Both of those races went pretty well.
Lapierre: Yeah, they both went pretty well. Miwok ended up being overcast and cold which for me was a blessing because I wasn’t heat trained at all. Tia [Bodington] puts on a great race. It was fun to meet Bree [Lambert] and have a chance to run with her. It was nice.
iRunFar: You did manage to get a little heat training in your first road marathon in awhile. How was the Vermont City Marathon?
Lapierre: It was a gift to be able to run that. I now work with them, so I got to race and work afterwards. I went into it as a training run aiming for a 3:10 to 3:15 sort of as a good supported effort out there. It ended up being pretty hot and I ran a 3:07 comfortably, and then they cancelled the race around the four-hour mark. So all in all it was a good day. It was good to be out running the streets of Burlington which is where I grew up, and not only to see what goes into making the event but to run it and have both perspectives.
iRunFar: It sounds like what some trail runners might not necessarily think, you had a really good time?
Lapierre: Yeah, it was fun. I kind of took my trail attitude onto the roads and definitely turned some heads when I was running side to side giving high-fives and cheering competitors on. I had my trucker hat and my trail shoes. I went down the finish chute and was doing the airplane. People were like, “Where did you get that from? I’ve never seen that before.” I said, “That’s trail running. We go out and have fun and support each other.”
iRunFar: So do you feel fit?
Lapierre: That’s a pass. Next question.
iRunFar: What is it going to take for you to take another step up at this race?
Lapierre: I think for me the focus this year has been really letting go and trying to dismiss the negative self-talk. Not going in thinking, I can’t keep up with the Magdas or the Kacis or people who are predicted to win. I need to go out there and say, I deserve to be here, and I can run with these girls. Just take it one step at a time and have fun and see what happens.
iRunFar: One change you had this year is—I say that because it’s pretty much my favorite thing to eat on the trail right now—you’re doing UnTapped energy maple syrup gel. It’s maple syrup in a packet. How did you come to that?
Lapierre: Yeah, I train on a lot of the trails where these guys sugar—the Cochran family. It’s been pretty neat to see their company take off and expand. They used to just sell commercially and bottle it under the name of Slopeside Syrup, and now UnTapped has come about. They make waffles and also one-serving syrup packets. It just kind of seemed logical that I’m training there and I like natural fuel. They asked me to give it a try. I’ve been experimenting with it. It’s just good, clean energy. It gives you a boost, and you don’t have to have water with it or anything. Yeah, it’s been working well.
iRunFar: Yeah, having taken all sorts of gels over the years, it’s the one that… I can take more than one… I can suck down a Gu or Clif Shot without water, but much more than that…
Lapierre: Yeah, I found that I can eat it straight up and not have to chase it with water or worry about my stomach turning and cramping. Yeah, it’s definitely going to play a part in my race. I like to start my mornings with some pancakes and maple syrup. We found in our house, you really can’t have too much syrup.
iRunFar: Are you going to be guzzling from any Slopeside Syrup jugs during the race?
Lapierre: Just packets. I want to go a little lighter.
iRunFar: I think that’s my dream during Hardrock is to have a…
Lapierre: A bladder full?
iRunFar: I hadn’t even thought about the bladder… just hitting a jug at the aid station. A little half liter bladder… mmmm… go hummingbird for the race. You said you brought some of the trail spirit to the Vermont City Marathon. Do you think you’ll more outwardly express your fun side during Western States? Have you found that worked well for you there?
Lapierre: Yeah, I think I discovered last year it worked pretty well. I remember seeing JB out on the trail maybe 30 miles in and I was doing the airplane around the corner. He said, “Whoa, you seem much happier and better than the other runners.” So, I think when I am playful and kind of that humorous side comes out, I do best. When Rory and I run together, it’s a lot of bad jokes and bad singing. It just seems like if I can lose myself in the idea of the race and not feel like I’m racing necessarily for the first 80 miles, then it goes better than if I get all wrapped up in, What position I’m in, what are my splits, how far am I away from so-and-so? That just becomes really overwhelming. Then around mile 80, the focus changes and it becomes, Game on, get to work, and be a little more focused.
iRunFar: Those fun playful moments, are they sort of by accident or can you actively cultivate that?
Lapierre: No, I think it just comes out in me and is influenced by the people around me. Last year, sharing miles with Kaci, we definitely had some serious conversations and some fun conversations. We go with the flow and whatever happens.
iRunFar: Nice. Well, good luck out there, and I hope you have a fun time out on the trail.
Lapierre: Thanks. Thank you. I hope you do, too.
iRunFar: I think we should fly out of here.
Lapierre: I kind of do the hopping fly.
iRunFar: I think people really underestimate the airplane technique for turning on trails.
Lapierre: Especially if it’s a banked turn.
iRunFar: I’ve been experimenting with that on the Hardrock course…
Lapierre: It’s good. It helps you lean into it.
iRunFar: And your spirits soar.