Heartbreaker Flyer Alyssa Vassallo received an invitation to the USATF Half Marathon Championships this spring and jumped at the chance to race the best women in the US over 13.1. Alyssa is also a medical school student dealing with the pressures of rotations and applied science in medicine. It's a lot to take on so, it makes sense - something's gotta give. The race did not go as planned and Alyssa had to drop early. (Emily Sisson broke the American record that day and you can spot Alyssa in this photo back and to right from Sisson in the white crop.) To me, what defines an athlete is how they deal with adversity, how one bounces back once things go wildly off course. I asked Alyssa to share what happened and how she's feeling in the aftermath of the race as a way to help the team & the running community at large. She was game and I was grateful
DF: You recently raced the USATF Half Marathon Champs. I know it wasn't your day. Can you talk us through what happened?
AV: Sure - in short, I accumulated substantial amounts of mental and physical fatigue and my body hit its limit and stopped performing. I’ve also had a string of bad races lately, and the more that get added to that tally, the harder it gets to race with a positive attitude and clear mind. My last good race was the Philly Half in November. I then surprised myself getting invited to the 2021 Half Champs in December, but had to drop due to being sick - I threw up for the next three days. A little sour from that experience, I decided to add Houston to the calendar. I finished that race really disproportionately exhausted relative to my performance and tested positive for COVID days later. The next race, in March, was the US 15K Champs, and I became so dehydrated that I wound up in an ER somewhere in Jacksonville, without a phone which is less than ideal. So, going into this race, it was difficult to convince myself I had a clean slate. Additionally, I was under immense strain in my professional career development and hadn’t been able to do speed work since the fall build. After running about 5.5 miles at just around 6-flat pace, the weight of everything just crashed down.
DF: What occupies your professional time outside of running?
AV: This is a really important question that gives my previous answer some context. I’m currently in medical school in Virginia. I will be a fourth year in just a couple of weeks, which means this entire year has been filled with clinical rotations. My fall was actually rather manageable which lended itself to more time for training, but then I got hit hard in February. I began my clerkship in ObGyn for six weeks followed by surgery for another six weeks - each service requiring flip flopping between weeks on days and nights and even 24-hr shifts. Standing in the OR all day certainly didn’t help either! There wasn’t exactly time to hydrate or fuel properly and the toll it took was apparent in my racing. For those months, it was easier on my brain to go for an easy run than stress even more over a workout…Never mind that residency applications are looming in the not so distant future.
DF: How are working your way back after that race?
AV: I am taking a rather large break from racing - 5 months to be exact. I’ve started to work with a new coach (shoutout Jonny Phillips!) and we’re taking the summer to build some fitness with a structured schedule, one that I was lacking these last several months. That helps me immensely with confidence in looking towards the fall. In order to achieve different outcomes, we have to make changes, so that’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s also important to learn from all of those races that went awry, not to perseverate or beat myself up over, but to grow and reflect. And did I make the most of those experiences? Truthfully, I met some amazing people along the way who have continued to be a part of my life. And at the end of the day, that’s one of the biggest reasons I run - the community, relationships, encouragement and support.
DF: What's next for you?
AV: Good question that I wish I already knew the answer to! My fall racing schedule is still in the works, but first and foremost, I’ll take my board exam in July, followed by heading to Duke for a four-week away rotation in Pediatric Emergency Medicine. I’m super excited to spend some time in Durham because I went to UNC for undergrad and have a great network of running friends in that area. Then I’ll submit my residency application in September and start racing early in October! To be determined if I’ll jump up from the half to full marathon this fall - stay tuned!
DF: What's your favorite account to follow on Instagram and why?
AV: Absolutely love Amelia Boone. As someone who has gone through eating disorder treatment recently, I’m immensely grateful for her vulnerability and openness. It can be a difficult subject to talk about, with a lot of associated shame. She has inspired numerous others, including me, to share our stories, which helps create awareness and prompts others to reach out. I think there have been small strides made in how the running world both views and handles this topic, but we have a long way to go. It’s not all serious though - there’s lots of dog content too!
DF: What's your most recent binge watch? (Not sure you have time for that kind of thing 😂)
AV: Not a whole lot but I did manage to watch the rest of Ozark Season 4