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The short and long of the road

  • Alyssa Anderson, of Claremont, N.H., deals with icy conditions during her morning run in Claremont on Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • Alyssa Anderson, of Claremont, N.H., competed in the JFK 50-miler in November in Maryland. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 1/1/2022 9:10:05 PM
Modified: 1/1/2022 9:09:55 PM

CLAREMONT — It is that time of year when many resolve to begin exercising more and living a healthier lifestyle.

If you are thinking of taking up running, Alyssa Anderson of Claremont has a little advice: Start small, but dream big.

Anderson was in her late 30s and — except for a year of cross country in elementary school in Oregon — had never been a runner. Then one day at the track at Monadnock Park, with her husband Tom, a lifelong runner, Anderson was approached by a friend.

“I would walk a lap, then jog a lap,” Anderson recalled. “My friend (Stephanie Zullo) saw me and convinced me I was a runner and wanted me to do a six-mile obstacle course race with her.”

Anderson declined the invitation but said Zullo was persistent: “I told her I would try to run two miles. If I could do that, I would join her in a six-mile obstacle course race for women (called Mudderella).

“I ran the two miles and I started to run with her,” Anderson added. “I really enjoyed it, and we did races together. It was a lot of fun, and I just kept running.”

Fast forward seven years and thousands of miles on roads and trails later, Anderson, now 45, was on the starting line in late November for the JFK 50-miler in Maryland, one of the oldest and most competitive ultramarathons in the country. The route begins in Boonsboro, Md., has 3,000 feet of elevation gain and includes 15 miles on the rocky and rugged terrain of the Appalachian Trail. Anderson finished in 7 hours, 39 minutes, good for 78th overall among 1,038 finishers, 13th among women and third for masters women ages 40 and older.

Anderson said her race tactics at the 50-miler were to do the first half at an easy pace and, if she was feeling good, pick up the speed.

“You don’t want to go out fast with that kind of distance,” Anderson said.

But her plan began to fall apart around mile 31.

“I felt good energy-wise, but I was really hurting: my calves, my legs, my hips,” Anderson said. “I did the best I could and was able to maintain my pace. I was happy with my time and, to run 50 miles, it was quite an accomplishment for me.”

For the first four years after she took up running at age 38, Anderson raced distances between 5K and half marathons (13.1 miles).

“When I started running with my friend and she thought I could run six miles, I thought, ‘No way; I can’t even run two miles,’ ” Anderson said. “But from two, then six and when I got to a half marathon, I didn’t think I could do more than that. I did nothing longer than a half marathon. I really enjoyed it, and I did well for my age group.”

Then, after a 10-mile race in Massachusetts and a finish with which she wasn’t happy, Anderson decided she needed someone to help her get running faster.

“I thought I did well in that race but did not even place in my age category,” Anderson recalled.

Enter Josh Fields, of Putney, Vt., the owner and coach of Miles and Mountains Coaching. Anderson knew him from his days teaching music in the Claremont school system.

With Fields’ coaching advice, Anderson began running more miles each day and adding speed work. Fields wrote her training program, and Anderson gradually increased her daily and weekly mileage. The five- or six-mile daily run grew to 10 miles or more.

Anderson planned her first marathon in the spring of 2020. When COVID cancelled the event, Anderson did it virtually, running north from Claremont on Route 12A and returning on Route 5 in Vermont. Her husband provided support — food and drink — on his bicycle, and Anderson finished in just over 3 hours.

Anderson completed another marathon in October 2020 and this year ran a half marathon in March, another one on trails in April, where some of the “puddles” she said were waist deep, and the 50K (31.1-mile) Gunstock Trail Fest in June. Some tendonitis in her tibia set back her training regimen until August. Anderson decided against a plan to run the Chicago Marathon in October and instead focused her training on the 50-miler.

A 50-mile run sounds daunting, but Anderson said training is where the confidence to complete the distance is earned.

“It happens in training, when you realize you can go a certain distance. A lot has to do with the process of trusting your body, trusting your coach,” she said. “When you can string together, say, a Saturday run of 26 miles then 14 on Sunday and all the miles in a week, then you trust your body. You can do it in a day.”

For 2022, Anderson, who has her own dog grooming business, has her sights set on the Boston Marathon in April and the JFK 50-miler again. She has some shorter distances planned for early in the year and may add some other races.

Anderson covers as much as 75 miles in a week, but she will taper as a big race nears. For her, daily running is something to always look forward to with thanks, even when it is dark and cold or raining.

“I just remind myself running is a gift, and it is not something I want to take for granted,” Anderson said. “Other people don’t have the health or the ability, so when I run it is an expression of gratitude. I like the way I feel when I run. It just reminds me of all the things I am thankful for and the freedom to be outside and experience the seasons throughout the year.”

Her advice to anyone considering running in the New Year is to start small, even if it means walking some between running.

“Find people who believe in you and support you,” she said. “Find a routine and stick to it. You are never too old to start something new.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.


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