From Trials to Trails: A Q&A with Alicia Shay
After a long and difficult absence from competitive running, Alicia Shay is back, finding healing and victory on the trails.
Photo by Wes Walker/www.hunterimagery.com
A two-time NCAA Division I collegiate 10K champion (2003 and 2004) from Stanford University, Alicia Shay showed nothing but promise after she graduated in 2005. She went on to become the U.S. 20K champion in 2007, with a time of 1:06:56.
Mere months after the tragic death of her husband, Ryan Shay, during the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials in New York, she withdrew from the 10,000-meter trials and, then, disappeared from racing altogether. Ryan, an accomplished long-distance runner collapsed 5.5 miles into the marathon, suffering a massive and extremely unexpected heart attack. A domino-like series of obstacles overwhelmed Shay as she struggled to cope with grief, while enduring chronic fatigue and illnesses (later diagnosed as Celiac disease), an abdomen injury and, finally, a labral tear in her hip.
After five years, diet changes and sheer determination, Alicia Shay, 30, of Flagstaff, Arizona, is back, and not just as a road and track racer. This past June, she burst onto the trail-running scene with a definitive win at the GORE-TEX TransRockies RUN3, a stage race covering 58.4 miles through the Colorado Rockies. Along with a return to racing, she is a coach with the Run S.M.A.R.T project, which provides personalized programs for runners of all levels, including training plans, private coaching, nutritional advice and running retreats. Shay offers detailed nutritional analysis and advice to her client-athletes. Despite her busy schedule, we caught up with Shay to discuss her recent successes both on and off the trail.
Your return to competitive running comes after a long and trying emotional and physical recovery. Does it feel to you like a comeback or, rather, a natural progression?
My desire has always been really strong but it has been difficult physically to get healthy again. All my stress and grieving had a major impact on my physical health and it has taken a while to heal.
People often describe running as a therapeutic or cathartic endeavor. In your experience, has that been true? How has trail running been therapeutic?
Running is definitely therapeutic for me. I love having uninterrupted quiet time to think or not think, process, pray, cry or rejoice. Sometimes I end up doing all of those things in one run!
My favorite way to spend my free time is exploring one of the many beautiful trails surrounding Flagstaff. The only time I touch pavement is when I choose to do a workout on the roads or track. Trail running keeps me curious and engaged in my surroundings. Rather than just looking at a beautiful landscape, I get to be a part of it and experience nature in an extremely satisfying way.
What about running has changed in the years since Ryan’s death?
My motivation to run has changed. Before, my main drive was to compete. Now, running is simply an expression of gratitude. I feel incredibly blessed. … Everything that God has done for me, the friends that have supported me, the doctors and therapist that have helped me get healthy again. … I am so thankful and I don't know how else to express it other than to pour out my gratitude through doing what comes natural to me—running and competing.