Running Inspiration: An Interview with Allison Maxwell Zurcher

Long-distance runners spend hours training every week, and months preparing for their next race. It can be challenging to stay inspired when you really need to go the distance. That is why we have decided to launch a new series where we will interview inspiring long-distance runners who have set and achieve huge goals for themselves. Our first interview is with Allison Maxwell Zurcher of Illinois.

How did you first get into running?

I always played sports and was athletic but absolutely LOATHED running. When I was a senior in college I started dating my now husband who was VERY into running and was even training for his first Ironman. In an attempt to impress him I told him I ran too, and I would “run” to his house from my apartment, only actually running the last block where he could see me. I was soon busted as he wanted to run together and I could barely muster a mile. I then started to learn about pacing and decided to try a few 5K’s. Before I knew it I was signing up for my own Ironman.

How often do you run?

If I am training for a specific goal race I rarely run back to back days. In that case I try to run 3 times per week with 3 days of cross training. If I am in an “off season” and just running for enjoyment, fitness, stress relief, etc. I run about 5 days a week.

How many miles do you run per week/month?

I average about 30 miles per week. (I tend to have my best finish times when only running 18-20 miles per week, with HEAVY cross training.)

What has been your biggest running accomplishment to date?

It’s definitely a tie. I always describe myself as a runner that does triathlons, but a runner first. Which is why unlike most triathletes, I always look forward to the run at the end. But during the Madison Ironman 2016 I knew I was in trouble when I was no longer able to process calories at mile 1 of the run (meaning I still had 25.2 miles to go with basically no fuel). I threw up at mile 6, but was then able to take in some calories thanks to Cola Cola, but I never stopped running. I ran the whole thing. It wasn’t very fast, but I ran the whole marathon without nutrition in four and a half hours (which my husband didn’t think I would pull off in ideal conditions! The other accomplishment would have to be the first time I ran 6 miles. I finally got the “runner’s high” and couldn’t believe that I could run 6 miles!!! That just seemed so far to me, and it still does!!!

What is your dream race or goal?

I would love to qualify for the Kona Ironman!

What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about running? Specifically running long-distance?

The most rewarding thing is just the sense of accomplishment. The training is the hardest part of any race…any distance…but especially long distance. Half marathons are my favorite distance because they are truly “doable” for anyone. Marathons are beyond rewarding because you have to respect the distance. I love it that I can train and plan down to exactly what I will eat, weigh, wear, drink, etc. on the day of the race but I still can’t predict the outcome. ANYTHING can happen and the bad races are almost better than the good ones!

What do you think is the biggest misconception about the sport or runners in general?

Most people think that they aren’t fast enough to meet with the running group, or they don’t run often enough or far enough to call themselves a runner. THAT IS NOT TRUE. IF YOU RUN, YOU ARE A RUNNER. Anyone can do it, you can run/walk, you can be a 2:40 marathoner, or a 7 hour marathoner, you both did the same race! Everyone is experiencing the same run, just in different ways. Running truly is the great equalizer, and humbler! And if you think runners are weird, well….you’re right. Distance runners are some of the biggest weirdos you will ever meet. Who else would wake up a 4am on a Saturday in December to meet their friends to run 19 miles in 11 degree weather with headlamps before the sun gets up? Or worse yet, do it alone!!!

Describe the training process for a marathon. How did you prepare- both mentally and physically?

Training for a marathon requires planning, patience, dedication, and some common sense (which most of us forget). Runners tend to be VERY dedicated and amazing planners, however, sometimes the best thing you can do it SKIP the workout. It is always better to show up a little under trained rather than over trained. With that being said, skipping a workout is the exception, not the rule. When training for a marathon, everything else in life takes a back seat. You don’t get have much of a social life, you have to prioritize what is important. It is exhausting—-but so worth it! I don’t listen to any music and I try not to make all of my long runs with friends because you have to be ok being bored, and you have to be able to maintain focus in an appropriate way to monitor your pace. You have to learn what certain paces feel like, my watch lost signal once during a marathon and I needed to know what pace I was running based on feel- if you zone out during every training run you won’t be able to do that. I don’t allow for any breaks during my training runs and I carry my nutrition and liquid with me, but I do allow myself to walk during long distances races through the aid stations (about 10 steps) this helps me have a little mental break during the race and then I tend to run faster after walking 10 steps.

How do you stay motivated when you don’t feel like running?

I remember that I have a goal, and I think back on all of the work I have already put into this. Also, when I was a kid one of my basketball coaches would pick on me for being slow and I think about him a lot. I think about how embarrassed I was when he would single me out and I think about how I want to place at this race, or get a PR, or just prove him wrong in my head. Often times when I don’t feel like working out I tell myself “just go slog through 2 miles,” most the time I stay out for much more than that, and on the rare occasion that I am still not feeling it….well then…..2 miles is better than no miles!

What are your 2017 racing and personal fitness/wellness goals?

In 2018 I would like to get a new half-marathon PR. I am currently nursing a stress fracture in my foot and have not signed up for anything in 2018 until we get that healed! I have been enjoying mountain biking on my fat bike recently since I can’t run, maybe I will do a mountain bike race?! We will see….