Running a marathon is often described as a journey. For Alice Wright, the biggest journey was getting to the start line of her debut marathon. Ahead of her first appearance at the London Marathon, Alice spoke to James Rhodes about her career to date, her goals for Sunday’s race and the childhood memories it elicits.
Most people’s journey to the start of a marathon is the length of a training block. A set number of weeks, perhaps a couple of months. For Alice Wright, swap months for over two years. A combination of injuries and illnesses curtailed multiple attempts at a marathon debut, plus a small matter of traversing a global pandemic. However, as the famous saying goes, “everything will be alright in the end, so if it is not alright, it is not the end”. Going into Sunday’s London Marathon as the fastest British female, the journey ended well in the end.
The story starts long before the marathon. For those perhaps less familiar, Alice’s running journey began as a junior whilst running for Worcester. Junior achievements included track and cross-country podiums at the English Schools, Midland Championships and Worcestershire Country Championships.
A 2014 move to the University of New Mexico provided a collegiate athlete career containing great success. Highlights included NCAA 10000m silver in 2016 and 2017, alongside two cross-country team titles (2015 and 2017). International appearances came also. A first Great Britain vest at the 2014 European XC Championships preceded 10000m bronze at the 2015 European U23 Championships and European XC bronze in 2016.
The transition to from collegiate to professional athlete saw Wright stay in the States and join the HOKA Northern Arizona (NAZ) Elite team. Based at 7000ft altitude in Flagstaff (Arizona) under the guidance of Ben Rosario and two-time Olympian Alan Cupepper, the current roster includes Steph Bruce, Aliphine Tuliamuk and Futsum Zienasellassie, the latter competing at Monday’s Boston Marathon and Sunday’s Rotterdam Marathon respectively.
A senior British debut at the 2018 European Championships in Berlin soon followed, initially finishing sixth but upgraded to fifth following Meraf Bahta’s disqualification. Ventures onto the road followed in 2019, alongside success on the track. PBs at 5000m (15:45.51) and 10000m (31:56.52) were accompanied by three half marathons, the quickest a 71:38 in San Diego. That is when the marathon story begins.
A foot stress fracture two weeks out from the 2019 Chicago Marathon curtailed a debut. Continuation of that injury, alongside the COVID pandemic, derailed intended London Marathon starts (“I lost count of how many “Londons” I missed”). No injury nor pandemic put the 2021 Valencia Marathon start line in clear sight. It could never be that simple, though. This time? Liquorice poisoning (as Alice puts it, “mad, I know!”).
Content with a Debut
The training for Valencia was not in vain, however, and the journey to a marathon start has a happy ending. Last January’s Houston Marathon provided the long-awaited maiden outing over 26.2 miles. It was a success, finishing second in 2:29:08. When asked, Alice agreed it went as expected:
“Yes, I’d say so. The goal was to be a little conservative, finish as high up as possible and try and run the world standard (which at the time was 2.29.30). I achieved that, so I was content with that as a debut!”
The reward was a spot at August’s European Championships, finishing 22nd as the fastest Brit in 2:35:33. She has readily admitted finding the latter miles tough in the hot conditions Munich provided.
Fast forward to this year and, unlike many who find themselves in Greenwich Park on Sunday morning, Alice has already run a marathon in 2023 – a visit to Japan for the Osaka Women’s Marathon in January. It came with less-than-ideal preparation – how could it be any other way – a car accident the week prior:
“I unfortunately got in a pretty bad car accident the week before Osaka which was quite terrifying to be honest! You never think it’s going to be you until it happens. I got hit from behind on the motorway as I stopped for traffic up ahead and my car was written off. I was fortunate that my legs weren’t hurt, I just hit my head on the steering wheel and had a few glass cuts, but miraculously I came off it probably as well as one could”.
Despite blustery conditions, she finished less than a minute outside her PB (2:29:50). It was short of the goal, however, and is where London comes into play.
The London Marathon is on the race wish-list for many British runners, and it is no different for Alice. It is also an opportunity to race at home, something she has done only once in the past twelve years a- the Night of the 10000m PBs in 2019. As she says;
“It’s a race I’ve always wanted to do and have tried many times to get to the start line of, but unfortunately, due to injury, I’ve had to scratch numerous times. I think with it being on home soil and having taken part in the mini marathon as a junior, I’ve always wanted to give it a go!
My family and friends can come and watch which always makes it that extra special. Plus I’ve heard the crowds in London are like no other”.
Having not been in the original announcements for the London Marathon fields, Alice’s entry went somewhat under the radar. However, she goes in as the fastest British female. The decision to enter was decided on straight after Osaka, and her goals for London are clear.
“I felt I was in good shape going into Osaka and didn’t quite have the weather conditions to prove it. So in hopes of not letting my fitness go to waste I asked my agent, Hawi, to see if I could get into London. I was delighted to be let in so last minute!”
World and/or Olympic qualifiers are always the goal (let’s be honest!), and that was certainly something I was striving for in Osaka. So yes, I’m definitely hoping I can achieve that in London. Let’s pray for nice weather!”.
For context, the World Championship standard is 2:28:00 and 2:26:50 for the Olympics.
With less than three months between the two races, it has been a challenge to get to the London start line in perfect condition. A combination of the NAZ Elite team, her boyfriend and technology provided by COROS have helped with recovery and subsequent build up:
“Honestly, it’s been a bit of an uphill battle. I naively thought it was going to be easier than it was; thinking I could just get straight back into training and somehow feel great (who was I kidding!). I was grateful to be under the watchful eye of coach Alan [Cupepper], who reminded me that I likely would feel rough for a good few weeks and it would ‘all come together at the last minute’.
Between Osaka and London, I did the majority of my training down in Phoenix (pretty much sea level) so I could maximize recovery, but I popped back up to Flagstaff for easy and long runs, as well as team events.
I certainly couldn’t have made the turnaround without my boyfriend John, who either paced or biked with me for pretty much every big workout, and my COROS helping me stay on track with my training progression and recovery”.
As Alice notes, she raced twice at the Mini London Marathon in 2010 and 2011, finishing third on both occasions. The event, historically run the morning of the marathon on the last three miles of the course, has hosted a who’s who of British elite athletes in their early years. Over half of the British athletes in the elite field this weekend raced at least once in the Mini London Marathon. Global medallists Keely Hodgkinson, Jake Wightman, Josh Kerr and Alex Yee did so too. Those races bring back good memories:
“I absolutely LOVED the mini marathon (aside from that hourly chiming clock in the pre-race accommodation…if you know, you know on that one). It definitely whet my appetite for running the full thing one day … and here I am! Although, I’m a week away so probably shouldn’t speak too soon based on how my previous tapers have gone. I’ve a long-haul flight and a lot of ‘London travel’ before then, so plenty of disasters to avoid between now and then I am sure”.
Each year, children stand on the Mini London Marathon start line dreaming of one day making an Olympics. “I’ve pretty much committed my whole life to running, so I wouldn’t say no to a little break-through that leads to an Olympic Games”.
On Sunday, that breakthrough may come and the dream one step closer.
The elite women’s race of the London Marathon starts at 09:30 on Sunday 23 April. Fast Running will provide on the ground coverage throughout the day.