Alex Lawson (Craftsbury Green Racing Project/Craftsbury Common, VT) qualifies for US Mountain Running Team at the 2023 Vertical Mountain Champs at the Sunapee Scramble.
Photo: Joe Viger Photography
With her 3rd place finish at the US Vertical Mountain Running Champs at the Sunapee Scramble, Alex Lawson (Craftsbury Green Racing Project/Craftsbury Common, VT) is the USATF-NE Athlete of the Month for April 2023.
Wow, so you’ve now raced two US Vertical Mountain Champs and finished 3rd both times - this time for a spot on the team. Going into Sunapee, where did you see your running fitness. Did you think you had a shot at making the team?
I had no idea where my running fitness was. I’d ended the ski season very tired and burnt out of racing and travel, so my goal in the spring was really to try to recover from the season while also setting myself up for Sunapee as best I could. I thought I had an outside shot at making the team, but that it was likely a long one.
How much of your ski season fitness translates into running fitness? Did you do a lot of running-specific mountain training once your ski season ended? (Kind of like cramming for a final exam).
The fitness translates really well, the bigger challenge is finding some leg speed and building back all of those small running muscles and ligaments. If anything, I have to be careful not to overdo it and get injured as I ease back into running. The 3-week prep for Sunapee did feel a lot like cramming, and was undoubtedly an imperfect setup. Andy sent me a few ideas for some specific uphill workouts and I tried to execute those the best I could. While qualifying for the team was a big goal, an even bigger one was rekindling a stoke for competition and competitive sports after a long ski season, so I didn’t try to force anything that I wasn’t excited about.
It’s now a week after Sunapee (Vertical Mountain Champs). Looking back now, what was your favorite part of the course? What's sore?
My favorite part of the course was the rolly upper section, right before that last upper ski trail pitch. This part was pretty technical, but with flat enough terrain that you could move quickly. I love technical terrain, because there is a sort of flow that you get into when you are moving quickly - it feels like dancing.
As far as what’s sore: my arms! You’d think that arm strength would be the least of my concerns when transitioning into running from nordic skiing, but it always surprises me how much you use your upper body - especially in mountain races. Using my upper body more is something I have been thinking about both in skiing and in running.
Did you have a race strategy going into the race? The course certainly had several very different sections to it.
Yeah, I knew I didn’t have much of a chance on the road section with such limited running under my belt. The plan was to try to maintain sight contact on the road, without totally going under. If I lost sight of that third place position, I worried that mentally I might give up, but I also wanted to run my own race and not get totally caught up in what everyone else was doing. I tucked in behind a few people on that first section and tried to conserve as much as possible. When we hit the trail, the plan was to take it up a notch and go from there. I felt good, so I just accelerated throughout the race.
You've had the opportunity to travel internationally to compete. What did you learn from your previous trips that you think will help for this competition?
I think the biggest thing I’ve taken from the last couple of years of international ski racing is to have confidence in myself and training. At the end of the day, it’s just a race. The competition might be better, the stakes might be higher, and maybe the room for error is smaller: but I train all year for these events and I have to be confident in my preparation. At the end of the day, it’s just a chance to be outside and push myself with a bunch of really cool people.
Along with this, an even bigger thing I've taken away, especially this past year, is to roll with imperfections. Sometimes the set-up won’t be perfect, sometimes the travel day really takes it out of you, and sometimes you might wake up and feel a little off for no good reason, but you can only control a few parts of your race on race day. I’ve learned to focus on those parts and try to let go of the things out of my control. This being said, I am a bit of a perfectionist, so rolling with imperfections is something I am continuing to work on and is something I'll certainly be focussing on in Austria.
What do you hope to learn from the past champions who are on the team: Kasie Enman, Grayson Murphy and Allie McLaughlin.
It is such an honor to be on the same team as so many athletes and people that I've looked up to for many years. I’m excited to learn how they approach race day, and the types of training/intervals they do in the weeks leading up to important races. Skiing and running are both endurance sports, but I think the setup can be different and I am always excited to learn how different athletes approach races - because I think we can learn a lot from one another.
For the Nordic skiers in the audience, what’s your fave - Skate or Classic?
Skate! I like both though, and I think skate has the upper hand simply because you don’t have to worry about kick wax.
What's your pre-race fueling advice?
I like to keep things as consistent as possible, and focus on eating things that I know my stomach can digest easily. The night before a race I try to add an additional snack before bed (something with some extra carbs and fats - a personal favorite is pretzels with chocolate chips). On race day, I eat a normal breakfast (which for me is some toast with peanut butter and banana) and then I make sure to eat something like a bar or pb&j about 2 hours out from my start. While warming up, about 1 hour out from the start, I often eat some gummies or a Gu depending on how I am feeling.
The timing of everything obviously depends somewhat on when the race is, but for the most part I've learned to listen to my hunger cues. Sometimes on race day I just feel really hungry and so I add in an extra snack, other times I don’t. I think everyone is different and every day is different. Making sure to add in a little extra the night before and have something significant 2-3 hours out from the race start is the baseline that has worked well for me. And on race day, I just always make sure that I have some gummies and a bar on hand that I can snack on if I am feeling it.
What's your choice of trail footwear ?
My personal favorite is the Hoka Zinal. I am a bit of a newbie to the trail shoe world though, so am still experimenting.
You were a prolific skier in high school and college, What other sports were you involved in growing up?
I played soccer all throughout high school and took a lot of dance classes growing up. Up until my senior year of high school, soccer was my main focus. What I love most about technical trail running is it feels a lot like dribbling a ball or dancing, and I think those sports really gave me an edge on technical terrain.
We learned after the race that it was a family affair. How was it to have your mom also race in the same race as you? Has this happened before?
It was awesome. I think this is one of the first times my mom and I have been in a race together (although my dad and I regularly go head to head in roller ski and ski races), but i’ve been encouraging her to enter some mountain races for the last year or so because I thought she’d really enjoy it. She did! And I suspect you will see her at a few more mountain races this year. My mom is a big reason that I like running so much, and we often go out for trail cruises together - so I was really excited to share this experience with her.
Alex will be racing for Team USA at the World Mountain and Trail Running Champs in Innsbruck, Austria on June 7th.