Alia Gray runs for the Roots Running Project and finished in the top 10 of the Olympic Marathon Trials in February.
With just two hours until on of the biggest races on the American stage, Alia Gray appears relaxed in the lobby of the host hotel, leaning her back against the wall, alternating sips from a Starbucks cup and a water bottle. She is waiting with the other athletes to walk to the athlete’s village 15 minutes away at the Staples center. For some, making it to the Olympic Marathon Trials is a goal in itself, but what does it take to finish high among the ranks of a talented field on the big day?
Going into the trials, Alia had a very unconventional marathon build-up. Dealing with a stress fracture in her fibula she resorted to a many workouts on the Alter-G treadmill to keep her fit. During this time she still managed to run her fastest 10k and Half-Marathon to date.
In the days leading up to the race she consulted her coaches, the legendary Joe Vigil and Dr. Richey Hanson, who administers day-to-day training and helps talk her through the intricacies that come up throughout a training day/week/cycle, about the toll that heat could take and the extra precautions to take during the race – namely making hydration even more of a central point. Knowing that the conditions that morning were less-than-optimal marathon running weather, she took aim at her time goal with a grain of salt but kept her eye on placing well in the field.
“I had a pretty loose plan and knew that this was going to be the type of day to make some more decisions during the race – I had a “speed limit” in mind to be cautious of, especially in the early miles. I was lucky in a way that the front of the race went out slower than it normally would, and had a good amount of people around for awhile without feeling in over my head pace-wise. You can’t count on this happening, but you’re always glad for some extra company over the duration of a marathon,” Alia stated in an interview over email.
“The early miles were much slower than I would have predicted, but it played out pretty well for me. I definitely noticed a pace jump each time we turned on the downhill grade of Figueroa – not to be completely unexpected due to the downhill, but I think the wall of sound/people/fans/sirens really played into the emotions of the front of the race. I tried my best to not get too sucked into an emotional race early on, knowing that I would need some extra emotional energy to get me through some difficult later miles. As the race burned on, I just tried to stay as steady as possible. I slipped a bit in pace over the last several miles, but overall it could have been a lot more gruesome.”
“I saw a lot of people dropping out in front of me and, again, just tried to stay calm and run within myself as much as possible for the day. The last three miles felt BRUTAL – I spent a lot of time wishing and willing the turn to the finish line to come sooner,” she added.
“I was pretty confident that even in pretty poor conditions, I was set up well for a good sized PR.”
The plan paid off as the carnage was high (just under 25% of the field dropped out). She finished 10th with a time of 2:35:47 was ~4 minutes better than her 2014 New York City Marathon. She was also the 2nd highest of all Colorado qualifiers behind 4th place Kara Goucher.
“Finishing in the top 10 was definitely something that I had in mind going into the race, but it was really rewarding to see that come through. This was definitely a big race for me, and I’ve heard from a lot of friends, family members and even a handful of people from my childhood – it’s been really fun to share the race with a big group of people.”
Following the race, she took one week of unstructured downtime and another week to build back some basic mileage.
“It was a great mental break, but by the third week I was back into training. I got another xray on my ankle to make sure that everything was healed and feel really fortunate that we were able to construct a train-while-healing plan. That would definitely not have been possible without the AlterG and Richey’s incredibly diligent hands-on approach with me each and every day during this cycle. I’m happy with the way that everything played out for the marathon, but I’m also savoring being healthy and almost completely outside running again for the first time in a couple months.”
Alia aims to make Olympic Trials Qualifier either in the 5k or 10k. Her first shot will be at the 5k at Stanford on April 1 where she will need to run faster than the USATF 15:25 qualifying mark. To qualify for the 10k, she would need to run 32:25 to make it to the Olympic Track Trials in July (the Olympic 5k mark is 32:15). Her best mark which she ran last year is 32:29.
“Steps forward in the sport are always really rewarding It makes me motivated and optimistic about the future. Onward!”
Alia Gray Interview on Run Faster Podcast
Check out the interview she did with Dr. Richey Hanson and on Jay Johnson’s Run Faster Podcast.