In It For The Long Run

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Alice Wright is stepping up to the marathon

If I were to stick to the customs of sports journalism, specifically in regards to long-distance running, I could start this piece with something like, “As the sun appears to fall directly into the nearby Grand Canyon, Alice Wright finishes another run in Flagstaff, Arizona.” Or, “It’s 6 a.m. and the only sound is Alice Wright’s footstrike.”

But then I hear “I definitely should have been more ballsy” in a lovely, urbane British accent and quickly realize my ready-to-go sportswriting tropes won’t work here. This isn’t to say British people using “balls” in creative, non-gender specific ways is anything shocking or new, it’s just increasingly rare to hear a runner speak with such candor on perceived shortcomings. Bad races usually come with one or two standard feel-good, vaguely excuse-laden platitudes. But as Alice Wright walked me through her 6th place finish in the 10,000-meter run the European Championships this year, it was with a simple, blunt assurance: next time will be better.

It’s this bluntness that allows Wright to look back on her early running career and tell me, “I was really bad at running.” And while “really bad” might be a bit of a stretch, for a runner of now world-class caliber, Wright’s first year as University of New Mexico Lobo was by no means great.

“I ran a 19:30 (5,000-meter) that cross country season. Doubt definitely begun to creep in after that.”


Navigating through doubt is one of the more difficult things for a runner to do. It’s a malignant emotion, capable of wrecking the already fragile equilibrium of mind and body an athlete relies upon.

“Running in races with so much depth, with hundreds of girls running the same pace, was shocking to me. I was used to winning races back home in England. But that year really needed to happen. I don’t want to say I deserved it, but I definitely needed it.”

Wright could have defined herself by that first year, gone back home to England, and suffered from 5K-PTSD the rest of her adult life, but instead she stood accountable for her running and showed up to her second year at UNM as a totally different athlete.

“I wanted to prove everyone wrong,” she says while admitting it sounds cliched. “I was just really determined to make up for whatever happened the year before.”


“Running in races with so much depth, with hundreds of girls running the same pace, was shocking to me.

I was used to winning races back home in England."

Alice Wright

Cliched or not, Wright placed 22nd at the 2014 NCAA Cross Country Championships the following fall, securing her first of 11 All-American nods. By the end of her collegiate career, Wright would become the first woman to earn four consecutive All-American certificates in the 10,000-meter run on the track. On paper, that first year looks like a total outlier — a random blip on an otherwise spotless sporting record. But Wright chose to embrace “whatever the fuck happened that year” and use it set the tone for the rest of her college career and now still, as she starts her professional career as a member of HOKA ONE ONE Northern Arizona Elite.

To understand Wright’s decision to sign with the Flagstaff-based professional team is to gain an even greater appreciation for her rational deliberation. When I ask her why she chose NAZ Elite over, perhaps, a glitzier training group, she laid out an answer based in reason, not the latest carbon footplate or proximity to a sponsors global headquarters.

“I didn’t want to risk changing my environment much more than I had to,” she says, gripping a cup of black coffee while sun pours in the cafe from another impossible sunny day in Flagstaff. “And I know I respond well to altitude, so leaving altitude would have been silly.”


Albuquerque sits about a mile high in elevation and Flagstaff is another 2,000-feet above that, perched at 7,000-feet above sea level. Initially, she considered training in a more hot, humid location because the next two global championships will be hosted in Doha and Tokyo but, after reading a paper positing humans are incapable of adapting to humidity, she opted against it. Wright’s not leaving any chips on the table, no stone unturned.

“I didn’t want a shocker of a first year. Running professionally is a huge step, and will be plenty hard as it is.”

Most runners dread training at altitude. Even the potential rewards can be outweighed by legs constantly feeling like a dumpster fire on easy runs. It’s a taxing way to live, let alone train, but Wright is confident her current situation will provide the best chance for toeing the line at the Olympic Marathon in Tokyo. Despite never racing any distance over 10 kilometers, Wright is curiously accepting of the foreign pain a marathon inflicts.

“I’ve always thought of myself as a marathoner,” she says with an excitement usually reserved for a fresher-legged 1,500-meter specialist. “I know my best shot to make the Olympics will be in the marathon.”

“I didn’t want a shocker of a first year. Running professionally is a huge step, and will be plenty hard as it is.”

Alice Wright

Her pragmatism once again rising to the occasion as she explains to me the depth of British talent emerging in the 10,000-meter, ultimately guiding her towards believing the marathon to be her ultimate calling. While she doesn’t have a specific race picked out yet, she has plans to debut in the half marathon early next year at the seemingly always fast Houston Half Marathon.

Wright acknowledges the window to nail a marathon that will impress her governing body is increasingly slim — perhaps only allowing one or, maybe, two attempts at the distance — but she’s ready to play the hand she was dealt.


I watched Wright take on her first “proper workout” in Flagstaff on Lake Mary Road: an infamous stretch of asphalt carved deep into the walls of running lore. A petroglyph would show her compatriots, Paula Radcliffe and Mo Farah, using the same stretch of road to eek out every ounce of their ability; it would show hundreds of Olympians talking themselves into one more rep... just one more rep.

On this day, however, the road was reserved for Wright and two of her teammates, Stephanie Bruce and Kellyn Taylor — both aspiring Olympic marathoners in their own right. Wright’s bright, peppy stride keeps up with the two veterans as they mow through the undulating miles so kindly offered up by Lake Mary. It’s not hard to take it on Wright’s word that she’s always thought of herself as a marathoner, she certainly looks the part.

Her transitions in life have always been made with focus and purpose. From England to Albuquerque, from a disastrous freshman to all-time NCAA great, Wright’s next success should come as no surprise.

It’s 8 a.m. on a Wednesday and Alice Wright just took her first steps towards Tokyo.

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