Interview with Alyssa Godesky: what it takes to break Vermont’s Long Trail FKT record

Alyssa Godesky
Photo credit: Emily Cocks

Alyssa Godesky is a professional ironman triathlete and ultra runner. She has completed over 30 iron-distance triathlons and has ran over 40 marathons and ultra marathons! On top of her demanding training and racing schedule Alyssa is also a coach and the co-host of the super inspiring IronWomen podcast.

“There are always nerves when you are about to do something exciting and challenging – there’s simply no way around that. So, trying to just accept that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach and not letting it stop me from training and planning and getting myself prepared – that was the key.”

Alyssa Godesky

In July 2018 Alyssa Godesky set a new women’s FKT (Fastest Known Time) record on Vermont’s Long Trail, a 273-mile incredibly technical trail which traverses the state of Vermont from north to south. Alyssa ran the Long Trail in an impressive 5 days 2 hours and 37 minutes. She broke the previous women’s record (set by the legendary runner Nikki Kimball) by over 5 hours!

In this interview I got to ask Alyssa lots of questions about her epic record breaking run on Vermont’s Long Trail. She shares insights into her training, her preparation, some of the challenges she faced and the lessons she has learned on the trail. Enjoy!

What were you feeling and thinking when you were standing at the Northern Terminus, just before setting out on your Vermont Long Trail FKT attempt? 

Ha! I think the only thought I had was “Let’s not stand here for too long, it’s freaking POURING!” Because yes, it was absolutely pouring during that first morning….it was a river, not a trail, that we walked up to get to the Terminus. I had to just laugh, because if I didn’t, I’d cry. And we couldn’t start this with tears!!

You have run a number of ultra-marathons including the famous 100-miles Western States Endurance Run and you are a professional Ironman triathlete. What drives you to keep pushing your limits? 

I’m very fortunate that my platform as a professional triathlete has really connected me to other athletes. I co-host a podcast called IronWomen where we share female professional athletes’ stories, and I coach runners and triathletes all over the world. The athletes that I meet and that I coach — they are doing such amazing work. They are chasing big dreams and working so hard, often while balancing family and jobs and so much other stuff! Their stories keep me going. 

These endurance events also put my in my happiest place. I love being outside, I love that feeling of getting from point A to point B and using your body to power that movement. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a great way to disconnect from the screen time and constant information overload that we exist in. Even if I am running 50 or 100 miles I feel refreshed afterwards, and know that getting away for long days in the woods is what makes me more present and engaged in my everyday life. 

Alyssa Godesky

As a professional triathlete, what inspired you to take on the Long Trail FKT rather than a triathlon related challenge?  

Whenever I talk to my athletes about their goal races and season plans I try to make one thing clear: they should race whatever excites them. This is something I do my best to follow through with myself when I make a plan with my own coach. 

In 2017, I had completed 30 iron-distance triathlons and over 40 ultramarathons, and when I was looking at standard races, nothing was jumping out to me as something that would get me pumped to get out of bed and train every day. I just needed something new! 

The Long Trail was something that had always been on my bucket list, thinking it would be more for a post-competitive-triathlon time period…..but then it just felt like the right time to go for it. The excitement, nerves and enthusiasm I had right away when beginning to plan for the Long Trail confirmed that it was the right choice.

What did your training look like to get ready for the Vermont Long Trail? In retrospect, would you do anything differently in terms of physical preparation?

I was still trying to balance some triathlon racing (I raced Challenge Taiwan at the end of April 2018) but I gave myself ~10 weeks of really focused Long Trail training. 

My focus for the weeks was to build 3 days of big mileage, back to back, each week. This meant a goal of 20-30 miles a day, 3 days in a row. I got these miles in a variety of ways which helped the overall physical load be manageable I think. Some miles were running, some hiking, some weighted hiking, some treadmill, etc. 

I also kept swimming and biking through all of the training. On one hand, those two activities are really great recovery between the miles on my legs. But on the other hand, it had become clear that a big part of FKT training wasn’t just about getting miles, or vertical ascent, but more so about being able to continue moving for hours on end, without rest. Mixing up activities with swim, bike, run and hike meant that I could simply keep moving more often during the day, without total burnout or overload. I had to get used to not having much rest!

I don’t think I’d do anything different. There is no doubt that I was in the shape of my life when I stood at the Northern Terminus. That was a mission accomplished in itself.

Did you have any doubts or fears during the time leading up to your FKT record attempt? How did you overcome them? 

Of course! Everytime I stopped and thought about the fact that I was trying to go faster than the legendary Nikki Kimball, I nearly had a heart attack. If you look at our running resumes on paper, she is clearly a faster runner. In fact, we had been at the same race twice before. On the first one she won and I DNF’d! On the other one, Western States, she beat me….by 8 hours!!! 

I had to just focus on what I could control. It made me more focused and energized for the logistics planning, and more enthused for the training itself as I tried to see as many miles of the trail beforehand that I could. 

There were still plenty of times when the doubt and the worry just sat with me, and I just tried to accept it. There are always nerves when you are about to do something exciting and challenging – there’s simply no way around that. So, trying to just accept that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach and not letting it stop me from training and planning and getting myself prepared – that was the key. But asking to not be scared about this big thing would have just been asking for the impossible I think. 

What were the main challenges in terms of logistics planning? 

The fact that we weren’t going to have cell phone service for a lot of the time was a big challenge. Thinking ahead to have directions printed out, and all locations of potential crew stops for food/supplies was definitely a big job. 

The other really tough part was just seeing the entire thing through the eyes of my crew: most of whom are not from Vermont….actually most weren’t even from the east coast! Being able to set themselves up for success to arrive in a new area and carry out this plan without too much of an issue was a lot to handle. 

I couldn’t have predicted everything, but basic organization helped a lot. Just little details – I had each day’s clothes in its own zip lock bag, so they wouldn’t have to dig through a big suitcase trying to find the right stuff. Having the plastic tubs labeled with what is inside of them. Those small details helped eliminate a lot of logistical confusion once things got going.

Alyssa Godesky

What sort of food did you eat to keep your energy levels up during your 5-day run? 

My main source of calories was F2C Nutrition’s Endurance 5:1 (a product that mixes into water and is a carb-protein ratio of 5:1). This worked like a charm! Because that was going down so well and keeping me feeling good, I didn’t end up needing to eat very much solid food elsewhere. 

When I did, pizza rolls, ramen soup and pop tarts were my first choice. I also enjoyed some slim jims, snickers bars, Swedish fish, pierogies, tater tots and fried chicken. 

I also had a lot of caffeine, in the form of Red Bull (yellow was the main choice!) and Caffeinated NUUN Hydration. 

Did you have a motivation mantra or any other strategy to help you get you through tough times during the run?

I didn’t have anything specific that I told myself, but all I had to do when things got tough was to look around: I was surrounded by my best friends and family who had sacrificed a week of their jobs and family and their own precious time, to come help me. Knowing what they had done to be there – watching my coach, Hillary and her husband Maik be out there with their 2 year old and 6 month old, for instance – was motivation enough to keep going through the hardest times. 

How did it feel when you realised that you had broken the record? 

It was so surreal! The southern terminus of the Long Trail, like the northern terminus, isn’t at a road crossing – you have to hike into it. While I was SO happy to be done and have broken the record, I was just SO tired – and hanging over my head was another 3.5 mile hike out of the woods! I think the sleep deprivation and the overall fatigue – for my whole crew too – meant that it was a much quieter celebration than most would have thought. It honestly took several days (if not weeks!) for it to really sink in that we did it and I broke the record.

Alyssa Godesky

Which top three tips would you give to anyone who dreams about attempting an FKT record?

First: Do your homework!!! FKTs can be about pure speed – but often there is so much more to them. Knowing the route forward and backward, leaving as few things to chance as possible is key. 

Second: Just take the first step. FKTs can be a little daunting because there is no race manual. Break it down into small steps, and just start chipping away. 

Third: Do it your way. FKTs have recently picked up in popularity, which means, that of course everyone and their brother has an opinion on them. You’ll always be able to find someone who thinks it should be done one way or the other. But an FKT attempt – and hopefully a record – is yours to own. Don’t lose sight of that. 

To learn more about Alyssa Godesky and her future endurance challenges:

I also recommend listening to this episode of the Sparta Chicks Radio podcast where Alyssa shares more about her journey into endurance sports and her FKT record attempt on Vermont’s Long Trail.

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