After a long break from racing, Aliza Lapierre won the 2021 UROC 100k in Virginia last weekend. In this interview, Aliza talks about what it was like to get back into racing after such a long break, if the competitive experience has evolved for her, and how she embraced adventure running with friends during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Catching Up With Aliza Lapierre Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Aliza Lapierre. It’s a couple days after her win of the 2021 UROC 100k in Virginia. Hi, Aliza, how are you?
Aliza Lapierre: I’m doing well. Thanks for having me, Meghan.
iRunFar: Where are you sitting right now?
Lapierre: I’m sitting in my kitchen in Richmond, Vermont.
iRunFar: The northern part of the state?
Lapierre: We are in the northern part of the state. So we’re in between Burlington, Vermont and Stowe, Vermont.
iRunFar: And it’s officially mud season there right now.
Lapierre: It’s mud season, stick season, pretty gray and overcast, damp, wet, cold, and five minutes later maybe 70 degrees [Fahrenheit]. The season just can’t make up its mind.
iRunFar: I feel like a lot of people watching this are really going to identify with that. It seems to be that season in a lot of parts of the world right now. Congratulations on your win on Saturday. You said right before we started this interview this was the first time you’ve left your state since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
Lapierre: That is correct. Actually the only time I’ve left the county is a few times is to go skiing at Stowe which is about 20 minutes away from my house so leaving the state was a pretty big deal. We’ve really adhered to the Vermont state guidelines for COVID-19 protocol and that meant no traveling for about a year, so it was nice to get out of the state even though I love it so much. But I also love exploring and seeing different parts of the country so it was a pleasure.
iRunFar: What made you choose UROC as your debut post-pandemic event?
Lapierre: I’ve always wanted to do UROC. It’s always drawn a fairly competitive field. They’ve got some great singletrack down in Virginia. There’s not a ton of racing up around these parts this time of year just because of mud season and the trails are opening up. I really wanted to stay fairly close to home, otherwise it’s going to California or something, which at this point I wasn’t ready to commit to with COVID-19. I was lucky enough that [race directors James Russell] Gill and Francesca [Conte] were welcoming to have me. It was fun to get down to Virginia to see more of the landscape down there.
iRunFar: When was the last time you put 100 kilometers on the legs in a day?
Lapierre: I’ve definitely done some big training days and some FKT attempts, but it would definitely be last fall so it’s been a while.
iRunFar: I was thinking it must have been a race before the pandemic, but you did something solo or independently during the pandemic that was a bunch of miles?
Lapierre: Yeah. It was probably just about equal to 100k day I put in on the Long Trail. Much, much more elevation and technical terrain. It was good to get the legs turning over and actually be out running and racing.
iRunFar: What was it like to be in a race with other human beings and a bib number and aid stations and all those things?
Lapierre: It was almost like a bit of relearning just because all those things are different now. There’s no more normal. You don’t just go to packet pickup and hang out with your friends and pick up your bib. You go at a certain time, you’re socially distant, you wear your mask at the start line, you space out. It’s not a mad dash for the pole position off the start. So I was definitely anxious and I definitely kind of dove into the protocols deeper so I was prepared.
Aid stations were all single-serve food so everything was prepackaged. There was no community M&M bowl or bowl of chips or anything like that. You were committed to taking a whole little bag of X, Y, or Z. You had to have your mask on, which is all great because that is how we stay safe. Definitely looks a little bit different but overall I would say the feel of the community and just the encouragement and the thrill of racing is still there.
iRunFar: Talk about that thrill for a minute because I think that’s something that is pretty alive in a lot of us. There are a few people who have raced but the majority of people who are watching this feel that thrill inside of them, but they haven’t been out there yet.
Lapierre: For me, it started a couple days before with the travel. It was exciting packing up all my gear and going through it. Just the preparation was exciting. Then I was really, really anxious at bib pickup and at the start line, almost to the point where I was like, “Is this worth it? Is what I’m feeling worth it?” And then as soon as we spread out and we were all just out on this beautiful open landscape it was like, “Oh, this is why I do it.” Literally we were all cheering for each other and saying hello and almost letting our guard down and it was like, “This is why I do it. This is what I missed.” I missed being around these amazing people. We’re all out here competing but we’re also all out here supporting each other. It was just really touching and I felt a lot of gratitude to be able to be back out there.
iRunFar: You won the race by quite a lot.
Lapierre: I did.
iRunFar: I’m hearing lots of people talk about how the last year has really affected their competitive mindset, changed it in some way. Has that changed for you? Did you feel the fire of the past? What was it like competitively?
Lapierre: It was kind of interesting. Leading up to the race, it became clear that the competitive ladies that were originally signed up weren’t going to be able to attend. Alyssa St Laurent was from Canada and she couldn’t get across the border. She and I have sort of battled in some Western States 100 events and some other events, so I was looking forward to pushing her and having her push me and of course just seeing her. Corrine Malcolm originally was signed up. Her and I have battled. Unfortunately she got injured. My coach reminded me, “It doesn’t matter who’s on the start line. You’re there to do your best and compete against what you can do.”
Over the past year, I think my mindset has shifted a little bit. My running group has changed some. I’m running with this fantastic group of ladies. We call ourselves the Women of the Wilderness. So we call ourselves the WOW group. We go out and do these epic adventures. We laugh a lot, we cry some. Our pace doesn’t matter but we always have the most incredible stories and overcome stuff we never thought we could. Before I was always looking at my time and my pace, trying to prove and be faster on certain routes. During the pandemic, it was sort of like, “I’m going to slow down, enjoy being out here, enjoy these wonderful women I’m with, and sort of teach them how to navigate the sport and the terrain and how to be prepared in the wilderness as we take on big sections of the Long Trail.”
So that’s driven me quite a bit even though that’s not competitive, that’s become a new passion, to help other people learn how to do this and how to believe in themselves. Just teaching people how to get out of the door and be prepared has been what I’ve been into the past year.
iRunFar: That’s really amazing and if you’re taking adoptees just…. [raises hand]
Lapierre: You can adopt me! You have skill and ability and knowhow.
iRunFar: I think we’d learn a lot from each other.
Lapierre: I do, too. Yes.
iRunFar: It is still a volatile world. Trail running is kind of coming back but at the same time races are happening, many are being canceled or postponed. Do you have plans for the rest of the year?
Lapierre: My plans have recently been canceled/postponed because of COVID-19 and permitting. It’s kind of in flux right now. I’m not really scrambling to fill my calendar. I’m going to play the wait-and-see game. Again, my personal comfort with traveling to the other side of the country or trying to leave the country right now is not something I’m looking to do. I’m sort of still feeling out the waters and taking little steps. So we’ll see. I’m content with big days in the mountains and continuing to explore around here. I do hope there are opportunities to race as well.
iRunFar: In the meantime, spend time with the Women of the Wilderness.
Lapierre: Yes. I missed them dearly while I was racing. They were of course texting me about their epic adventures, and there was a mishap with a cut finger and how you deal with that with just some hand warmers and some gummy bears and how you make do.
iRunFar: Amazing. Congrats to you on your win of the 2021 UROC 100k. I really look forward to seeing what comes together for you in the rest of the year.
Lapierre: Thank you for your time and I appreciate all you guys do for our community.
iRunFar: Yay. Thanks Aliza.