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June 28, 2011

Alissa McKaig

Written by Dena Evans
McKaig_BAXCAlissa McKaig
July Pro's Perspective

Alissa McKaig grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, before attending both Michigan State and Indiana Tech as a collegiate athlete.  While in college, she earned All-American honors while at Michigan State and an NAIA Cross Country Championship at Indiana Tech, but after graduation, she has really taken off.

Now boasting personal bests of 15:28 for 5000 meters and 32:14 for 10,000 meters, she ran 2:37 for the marathon last November and recently finished 9th in the 5000 meters at the USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships.  McKaig was a member of the US team that won bronze at the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships by virtue of her sixth place finish at the US Cross Country trials, and has secured a spot on the US marathon team for the 2011 IAAF World Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

McKaig trains in Blowing Rock, North Carolina at ZAP Fitness, a residential post-collegiate training program and camp facility.

FNF: The last year, you have enjoyed one breakthrough performance after another.  Now, you have recently been selected to represent the US in the Marathon at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, Korea.  Did you envision this kind of success when you began running years ago?

AM: I have had a few breakthrough experiences this year for sure. When I started running, I went out to see how fast I could be, and that hasn't changed...I just want to run faster and faster. I didn't envision this, running professionally and making a Worlds team, back in high school at all. It was simply all about getting out there and racing. I like to keep it that way today. Let everything else be in the background and race!

FNF: You have trained for the last few years with the residential program at Zap Fitness in rural North Carolina.  How is Zap different than other post-collegiate training settings and why has it been a good fit for you?

AM: I love ZAP. It is different from other groups in that we support the foundation with adult running camps in the summer time and hosting college teams and groups for retreats. We all live within a mile of each other in a little valley; we run together, eat together and work together. It was interesting to adjust to at first, figuring out my place in a group and settling in, but I could not be happier now. I have adjusted to the hills, which kicked my butt as a Midwestern raised girl (we don't have hills in northern Indiana!), and to Pete Rea's training. Pete and I work well together, and I think that that has been huge for me. He supports me in running, but also encourages me to grow and develop as a person.

FNF: Many athletes go their entire professional careers and never have the opportunity to win an international medal.  This March, you were a part of the US team that earned bronze at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain.  What were some of the most memorable aspects of that experience?

AM: Worlds XC was such a great experience, so awesome, and I am so blessed to have experienced it. The greatest moment of that trip was standing on the podium at the awards ceremony and watching the flags rise on the flagpole. It was surreal. I got goose bumps. I am so proud to have been a part of that. In some ways, I spent the trip in awe that I was even there, so all the little moments, icing with Magda [Lewy-Boulet] and Blake [Russell], eating and laughing with the other girls on the team, training with them in the days before the race, meant so much to me. I was able to learn from them and observe the way that they handled themselves on the world stage. Another great moment was in the warm up area before the race. There was a long row of national flags that were flapping and blowing in the wind. We were all doing strides under them, and I remember looking up and feeling so amazed to be there.

FNF: With personal bests this year in the 5k and 10k, do you anticipate that your best event will continue to be the marathon?  Or, does your heart lie elsewhere (track, cross, roads)?

AM: I don't consider myself a marathoner, at least not yet. I enjoyed the marathon a lot, but I've only done one and would love to continue racing on the track as well. I enjoy the 5k and 10k a lot, and I think that my marathon can benefit from training and racing those shorter races. Conversely, it seems like the 5k and 10k benefit from the strength gained through marathon work. It's nice to mix it up and do a little bit of everything.

FNF: Who have been some of the most influential individuals in your life and running career and how have they exerted that influence?

AM: I would have to say that my parents have been the most important people in my life and running career. I certainly wouldn't still be training if not for them. I am so grateful to them for understanding my need to pursue this dream and have encouraged me every step of the way. They have always believed in me, even when I wanted to give up. I have also been blessed with some great coaches who saw potential in me and convinced me to see it too.

FNF: This month, we are talking to our members about the importance of travel planning to the big goal races.  What is a tip you might share with a recreational runner about traveling effectively for a distant race or large marathon?

AM: Travel, especially if you are flying, can be so unpredictable. It can be hard to know when you will have access to food or water, so I always pack snacks and make sure to have a huge water bottle on hand. My teammates make fun of me for packing lots of trail mix, but inevitably they end up getting hungry and eating it too! I think it can be helpful to stay as close to your usual schedule as possible while traveling. Get up and go to bed at your usual time, try to run and eat when you would at home, so that your body remains in its normal patterns.

FNF: What are your ultimate goals for your career and what do you hope to accomplish in the next year or two?
AM: It's tough for me to say. This year was sort of a whirlwind of breakthroughs, and for now, I simply want to focus on continuing to gain experience in racing and training. My main goal is to develop this gift that God has given me for as long as I can and to see how fast I can be. I don't know where that will take me, but I am excited to see what happens!
Last modified on September 23, 2011
Dena Evans

Dena Evans

Dena Evans joined runcoach in July, 2008 and has a wide range of experience working with athletes of all stripes- from youth to veteran division competitors, novice to international caliber athletes.

From 1999-2005, she served on the Stanford Track & Field/ Cross Country staff. Dena earned NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honors in 2003 as Stanford won the NCAA Division I Championship. She was named Pac-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003-04, and West Regional Coach of the Year in 2004.

From 2006-08, she worked with the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, helping to expand the after school fitness programs for elementary school aged girls to Mountain View, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City. She has also served both the Stanford Center on Ethics and the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession as a program coordinator.

Dena graduated from Stanford in 1996.

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