We recently sat down with Ali Steele, a Colorado native, to discover how she preps for Boston, her training methods, and how she manages to fit in all in to her daily schedule.
How did you initially get into running?
I have been running since I was 13. My mom was a runner and she always ran the Bolder Boulder every year, at first I was like 'why would she do that to herself' -then I started running with her and loved it. I went out for the high school team and was able to make varsity in cross country and track. After high school I still ran a lot and would sign up for a variety of local races. I didn't start training hard and setting time goals until I was in my 30's. I would say I run for both reasons, competitive and fun. I am not just there to jog around but I am also not an elite runner-so it mostly for fun and to achieve my own goals.
Boston is coming up soon- how many times have your raced Boston before?
This year will be my 3rd time running Boston. I ran in both 2015 and in 2016, and my times were only 14 seconds apart. I ran a 3:02.14 and 3:02:28.
What kind of training plan do you follow? Do you have a coach to help guide you?
I run with the Boulder Track Club in Clint Wells’ group. I do follow a plan, based upon what my coach wants me to try for that training cycle. I usually do two workouts a week of intervals or tempo, a long run and other days are recovery run. My schedule is pretty structured, but I try not to stress about it and just do what I enjoy. This time training for Boston has been a 12 week training cycle that is structured. I have done 16 weeks before, but that felt too long and I got a little burnt out. When I don't have a race, I run as short or as long as I want to- sometimes not at all. I also try to do some form of strength training twice a week to help prevent injury and increase my strength. I try to stretch, I should stretch.
How do you fit your training into your everyday schedule?
I run everyday in the morning by 6:15, except on the weekends-I usually get to go later. I either meet up with Boulder Track Club or I run with my girlfriends. It's the one time I know I can see them and catch up. I have to get to work by 9:00am and I never know how late I will work, so I always get it done first thing in the morning. My long runs are usually on Sundays unless something comes up or my schedule changes.
What does the day before your race look like?
The day before I run a race I do a short 30 min run with some pick ups in the run. I try not to walk around to much, but if I travel to a cool city that never really happens. I drink water and lemon lime Scratch (it's a hydration drink made in Boulder) throughout the day and if it's going to be hot, I try to have Scratch's hyper-hydration which has extra salt. I usually only worry about my hydration if it's a marathon or a half marathon, since they are so long.
What's your 'go to' pre-race dinner?
I know most people eat pasta-but I like salad with chicken, mashed potatoes and one glass of red wine. The wine helps me sleep and calms me down. I like the mashed potatoes because they are full of carbs and fat, so it sticks with you longer. My advice would be just to eat what you are used to and know won't give you issues. Try to just stick with a normal routine.
Walk me through what race morning looks like for you.
Race morning: I get up two hours before for the race. Boston is different because it is so late and they bus you out to the start pretty early so you have plenty of time to wake up, eat and drink. I drink a cup of coffee and I have a plain bagel with nothing on it. If it’s a short race I warm up, but for marathons I don't do much of a warm up- maybe I would jog for a few minutes. Typically, I drink Scratch and water up to about 30 minutes before the marathon, and of course try to hit up the bathroom before the race starts.
What types of nutrition do you use mid-race?
I have tried a lot of different kinds of nutrition, blocks and gels of all different brands-but the one that works the best for me is Power Bar gels. I don't like the blocks when I am running because I feel like I choke on them, and I don't like drinking Gatorade when I run because it gives me a side ache and upsets my stomach. I start within the first 5k of the race drinking water and taking gels, especially if it is hot. I try to take a gel every 10k and drink water at every other water station. I think starting your nutrition early is important for the marathon distance.
Are there any notable training mistakes you've made in the past?
I have gone into races over trained before. I started running too much too soon, and by the time the race came I was done mentally and physically. I have also gone out too fast at the start of a marathon and that is a bad idea. Every time I have started slower then what I wanted to run my race at, I performed the best. In the Chicago marathon last year at mile 22, I took Gatorade even though I new it would upset my stomach, but I thought ‘oh I am almost done’, and it was a bad idea. Never change things up on the day of the race, do what you know works and run like you have trained.
Runners often develop numerous aches and pains during their training, what techniques do you utilize to stay pain free?
I try to do strength training twice a week for injury prevention. I also see Dr. Alyx Brown for chiropractic care, active release technique, etc. When I am running a lot, I try to go at least once a month to the chiropractor for maintenance purposes. I get a massage when I can, and if I feel a really bad niggle I will see a physical therapist. I have liked seeing Dr. Brown through this recent training cycle because we have worked on strengthening my feet and ankles by using exercises that help me be more flexible and efficient.
How do you prepare for a suddenly cold and rainy race day that you didn't anticipate?
I had this happen to me at the Boston Marathon in 2015. It was 35 degrees, 20 mph head wind and down pour ran the entire time. I knew the day before it was going to be bad, so I actually sprayed my shoes with water resistant spray. Then I try to stay as dry as I could. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do, so you just have to run and lower your expectations a little.
What type of running gear do you race in- any favorites?
I really like the Adidas boost running shoe and new balance shorts, they are always the most comfortable.
Any post-race recovery rituals you usually partake in?
After the marathon, I don't cool down. It’s hard to say exactly what my routine is because sometimes I feel better than others. I try to take off my shoes as soon as possible and I asses the damage to my feet. I usually am not hungry for a bit after a marathon so I try to at least get in some chocolate milk or something that is easy to drink or eat. When I finally feel like eating, I really like to have eggs and toast even if its 7:00pm. A lot of runners I know take ice baths, I haven't tried that yet but it would be a great idea if you have the ability to do so. I have noticed that walking after the race helps with stiffness and soreness. After the marathon I take 5 to 7 days off of running and then I just start jogging again until my bodies feels recovered.
Words of wisdom for anyone training for their first marathon?
I think the one thing that is really important to remember is that just because you feel bad at mile 2 of a run doesn't mean you will feel bad the entire run. Especially, during the race itself, its for sure a race of emotions and you go in and out of feeling strong and terrible. Be consistent with your training, get friends to help you with your runs and enjoy the journey. Listen to your body and take days off to recover when you need them. If you start to feel aches and pains get them taken care of sooner then later. The most important run, I think, is the long run-so make sure to get those in. They do not have to be as fast as you want to run the race, time on your feet is what’s important. The marathon is an experience that you will never forget, and it's worth it.