One Dirty Magazine

From Couch to 100K in One Year

Alyssa Schmidt ran the first mile of her life on June 29, 2016. In August 2017, she won her age group in a 100K.

David Roche September 26th, 2017

When people say, “Anything is possible,” they don’t truly mean anything. Some things are not going to happen anytime soon: a dog won’t win the National Spelling Bee and I won’t win a gold medal in rhythmic gymnastics. If I were writing this article on June 28, 2016, I could probably have added another thing to that list: Alyssa Schmidt wouldn’t win her age group in a trail 100K in just over a year of running.

You see, up to that point, Schmidt, 29, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, had never run a mile. “I was the girl who walked the mile every year in school,” Schmidt says. “I wouldn’t run for anything.”

 

Finding Herself on the Trails

Growing up, Schmidt thought of running as something other people did. “I had been overweight my entire life and never athletically coordinated in competitive sports,” she says. “I specifically remember telling people how silly I thought running was.”

In her late 20s, around the time most people settle into the groove that they’ll occupy for the next few decades, Schmidt jumped off her track. “I lost 65 pounds and had so much extra energy,” Schmidt says. “I wanted to do some kind of physical activity, but I wasn’t sure what.”

On June 29, 2016, one of her coworkers convinced her to sign up for the Sioux Falls Half Marathon. That day, she did her first ever run.

It wasn’t particularly pleasant. She got a couple hundred meters before stopping for a walk break, and was sore for days afterward.

But, “It was like some switch had flipped inside of me,” she says. “As someone who didn’t have a lot of confidence, there was something about constantly pushing my boundaries and succeeding that made me feel so good.”

After a few months of running, she fortuitously discovered the trails. “I was just tired of running on the paved bike trail here in town,” she says. “I knew we had a couple of areas with hiking trails close by, so I went out one day and did my training run on them. I had to walk a lot, and my pace was slower, but it was an entirely different experience.”

On the trails, Schmidt found “a connection with nature and the universe that I’d never had before.”

 

From One Mile to 100K

Schmidt’s first months of training were structured around a Couch-to-5K online program, extending the long runs by a few miles. Once her legs had adapted, she progressed into a routine that generally looked like this:

Monday: Rest and recovery

Tuesday: 3 miles easy

Wednesday: Rest and recovery

Thursday: 4 miles moderate

Friday: Rest and recovery

Saturday: 8 miles easy on trails

Sunday: 4 miles easy on trails

 

In September 2016, using that amped-up Couch-to-5K strategy, she finished her half. She enjoyed the process of pushing her boundaries so much that she set her sights on a marathon two months later.

She went from four days of running per week to five, with short, easy runs during the week and a weekly long run on trails. Schmidt says “I definitely didn’t have too much of an idea what I was doing.” But it worked for her. In November 2016, she finished her first marathon.

Then, in December, using the same consistency-plus-long-run strategy, she finished seven minutes under the cutoff at a 50K to get her first ultra finish. “At the time, it was both the most miserable and most exhilarating experience of my life,” she says.

A month later, buoyed by continued consistency over the holidays, she signed up for Illinois’ Shawnee Hills 100K on August 26, 2017. The race would fall 425 days since she ran her first mile, and less than a year since she found her love of trail running.

She settled into a routine of running five days a week, totaling between 30 and 40 miles. Most weeks looked similar:

 

Monday: Rest and recovery

Tuesday: 4-6 miles easy plus 4 x 30 second hills moderate

Wednesday: 3 miles easy, 20 minutes of intervals (e.g. 10 x 1 minute fast/1 minute easy), 3 miles easy

Thursday: 4-6 miles easy

Friday: Rest and recovery

Saturday: Long run from 12 to 20 miles, with two training runs at 25 miles, and a 50K

Sunday: 4-8 miles easy (sometimes with hills)

 

Schmidt peaked above 60 miles in a week, with most weeks around 40, and 90 percent of those miles slow and relaxed, plus a small amount of focused intensity.

On race day, she repeated her favorite mantra, “This sucks, and that’s OK,” and finished in 24 hours. On the brutal Shawnee Hills course, she was the only person in her age group—male or female—to finish. So, through belief and persistence (plus support from her crew), she won the 20-29 category outright.

“I learned that you never know your boundaries until you push them, and you never know your limits until you find them,” Schmidt says. “Never listen to someone when they tell you to be smaller than you know you can be. The confidence and self love that comes from the experience of constantly redefining my limits helps me to know myself better and appreciate things about myself that I never have before.”

 

Starting Your Trail Journey

Schmidt’s journey to 100K was about much more than mileage and training hours. It had a lot to do with mindset.

Every day, Schmidt repeated three mantras, which can help anyone embarking on the trail running journey.

First, she says, let yourself slow down. “The first two miles of every run, I feel like a newborn fawn. My legs have no idea how to work, things feel so unnatural and it’s almost as if I’ve never run a day in my life.” Schmidt overcomes those first-mile feels by taking it easy, emphasizing consistency over speed.

Second, she says, recover intelligently. “Nourish your body with good food and make time for your warm-up routine, foam rolling and whatever other things work for you.”

Finally, she says, “Give yourself grace.” Schmidt wrote this down and put it on her fridge, a constant reminder to be patient with her journey. “Realize that you may not hit every mile every time, and that’s OK,” she says. “Training is a process, not a test. We are constantly growing and pushing and sometimes we don’t take the time to realize how far we have come because we are so focused on where we are going.”

 

David Roche runs for HOKA One One and NATHAN, and works with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play.

 

Leave A Comment

25 Comments on "From Couch to 100K in One Year"

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Michelle M
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Just AMAZING! Thanks for sharing this inspirational story.

David Roche
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Thank you so much for the comment Michelle. A book could be written about Alyssa and it would just barely be able to do her story and life justice!

keith petersen
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Great article. Thanks—

David Roche
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You are wonderful Keith, thank you!

Chinyere Obasiobasi101@gmail.com
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Truly remarkable! What an inspiration!

Chinyere Obasi
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Truly remarkable! What an inspiration!

Chinyere Obasi
Guest

Remarkable! What an inspiration!

David Roche
Guest

So much love for your comments Chinyere! Thank you for reading!

Mike Biferno
Guest

“…we don’t take the time to realize how far we have come because we are so focused on where we are going.” Wisdom that applies to many areas of life.

David Roche
Guest

So true Mike! Alyssa really lives these quotes too, it’s amazing to see and taught me a lot personally. You rock!

anne
Guest

I found this so interesting. Couldn’t believe how little time between her beginning races! Just wondering if the last schedule was done all on trails or a mixture of trail and road.

Alyssa Schmidt
Guest

Hi, Anne! My half marathon and full marathon were both on roads. I’ve done a few road half marathons for fun with friends, but almost all of my races have been on trails since then. The Shawnee Hills 100/100k/50 is in the Shawnee National Forest (southern IL) on technical, rocky trails. There’s actually a boulder scree on the course! If that’s your jam, I highly recommend checking it out! Thank you!

Alyssa Schmidt
Guest

Now that I’m re-reading this, I’m worried I didn’t answer your question! As far as my training schedule, I run almost all of my miles on trails.

Ric Tucker
Guest

Wow, what an amazing person (male or female) and to find and focus on trail running that allowed her to navigate the meteoric rise of a sleeping champion is quite the journey. Kudos Alyssa! Very nice recounting too David.

Brooke
Guest

Thanks for sharing this remarkable story. Alyssa’s three mantras are wise and resonate.

David Roche
Guest

Brooke, her life approach has really rubbed off on me over time. You are great!

Dave
Guest

Made my day start off great! What a story and am happy to be a part of the happy trail runner group around the world. Thanks for the great story.

David Roche
Guest

You are amazing Dave, thank you!

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[…] From couch to 100k AG champ in one year. Sure, an outlier, but also some good lessons about smart training and attitude. […]

Susan
Guest

Thanks for sharing Alyssa’s story. Amazing and inspiring.

Susan
Guest

Thanks for sharing Alyssa’s story. Amazing and inspiring. It’s nice to hear about what the pros are doing, but stories like Alyssa’s really hit home.

Alyssa Schmidt
Guest

Thanks so much, Susan!

brian rencher
Guest

Alyssa – great job !!!

Les Clarke
Guest

I work in a running store in Sydney, Australia, and am going to tell my customers to read this story. Thanks, David, and all the best to Alyssa on her wonderful journey of personal discovery!

Dolores
Guest

Awesome!

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