The Wondrous Altitude Training of Alexi Pappas
It’s nearing the end of a Mammoth Lakes training stint for Alexi Pappas and the Oregon Track Club Elite runner is already planning her return for next year. Pappas first trained in the high elevation town last January, but it is more than just the performance benefits of altitude training that entices her to come back. “The place feels like it’s rooting for you to do what you’re doing,” she said. “Whether it’s the people or the actual environment it feels like it fits right.” The Eugene-based Pappas made the step up in distance to the 10,000 meters last season running 32:02, an Olympic qualifying time. The Mammoth Lakes Endurance Crib hosted Pappas for three-weeks in September. She’ll test her Mammoth strength this fall on the roads at the US 10 Mile Championships before the upcoming 2016 Olympic track season. We chatted with Alexi over a cup of iced cactus tea to talk about why she trains in Mammoth Lakes and her experience staying at the Crib.
Why Train in Mammoth Lakes?
My coach Ian Dobson used to live and train here with Deena (Kastor). I’d never trained at altitude before, but he thought it would be a good thing to try. I asked him where I should go and he spoke very highly of his experience here. I previously met Deena two summers before at the Beach to Beacon 10K and she was someone I admired from afar. So those two factors made it the place I wanted to be. Because Ian had a relationship with the Kastors I was able to train with the Mammoth Track Club. I thrive on people, so going somewhere I could be with a group was cool.
Benefits of Altitude Training in Mammoth Lakes
I’ve since trained at other high altitude places, but Mammoth Lakes appeals to me because it’s where I am most happy physically and mentally. Mammoth Lakes is the right size place for me. I can get to places on public transportation and on foot. And the team is a huge part of it. I live for showing up at 8:05 at Mammoth Creek Park even on days where I could sleep in and run on my own I’d rather be at practice. And it’s beautiful here. I feel like I belong in the mountains. I wake up happy here.
Tips on Training
I come here to be very…focused is the wrong word…I think it is very simple. Going to practice and being invested in that time, and coming home writing, working on the film, and napping. I’m not bored here. It is a place where I feel like I can do those two things that I do really well.
Running in Mammoth Lakes
On our runs here you never expect to find anything, but you often do whether it’s a little lean to house, or a cool rock, or your neighbor’s dog. There’s an element of magic almost where it keeps the sport really fresh. Our adventure last weekend (to Morgan Pass) was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to and it also happened to be a run we went on. These are the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and oh so lucky this is also our training. It feels like one of the best-kept secrets in a lot of ways. I can’t believe we can go on a run and not see other people.
Living at the Crib
The Crib is—I can’t believe it exists. It is a generally open-minded thing. The athletes like me are so grateful for the support. You’ll get more out of it if you can embrace the experience of it. I like spending time in the living room and kitchen when I’m not sleeping just to see who is coming through and what little conversations you can have though the day. It feels like camp or something like a library of athletics. It expands your scope…international athletes of your same sport, or athletes of different sports under the same roof. They understand you need to nap. They’re napping too.vOther Athletes at the Crib
I planned this trip not knowing what to expect, who I would meet, what kind of athletes would be there. I spent the most time with Koen Naert, a marathon runner who ran with the Mammoth Track Club. He was my first roommate and he’ll be a lifelong friend for sure. It was so cool to meet someone in such a similar world, but experiencing it in his own way. I learned to appreciate Mammoth Lakes more with Koen because we were able to talk about why we enjoyed it based on our experiences of not being from here.
Other Endurance Sports Athletes
It’s refreshing to meet other athletes who are competing at the same high level as you, but in a different sport. We are in awe of each other every day. Kristabel and I are the same age and she is a professional cyclist who used to be a runner. I learned a lot about the cycling world from her, what’s similar and what’s different. There was one night after the Mammoth Gran Fondo the cyclists had a dinner at the house and I was the only runner there. To be a fly on the wall and be a part of their dinner was a rare privilege. I would never else find myself at a dinner party of all professional cyclists. It was awesome. Every sport has a unique energy. Learning about the competitive side of cycling was cool.
The Mammoth Lakes Community
It’s very telling of the community that Mammoth Lakes is embracing these athletes coming and training here. It’s easy to go to a place and feel like you’re not wanted as a visitor athlete sprinting along the trails. That’s something special about Mammoth Lakes. Sergio and Morgan (Gonzales) befriended me. They are kind and open-minded and introduced me to their friends. They know the chef at the brewery and people that make the wheels turn here. People in Mammoth Lakes and especially Sergio and Morgan—they are interesting and they are interested in other people. Both of those qualities are really wonderful. They bring something and also want to learn and bring others into their world. People are here for a reason and there are a lot of different reasons. There are runners and bikers, but there’s also artists, woodsmen, fishermen. It seems like people are here with a purpose and they love what they are doing, but there’s an embracing of what other people are doing. It’s all good whatever you’re doing, do it.
Racing and the Future
Being here is starting the year out right. It was like that in January when I came, it was life changing to me. Just trying to keep up with these women everyday was hard, but I wanted to because I just wanted to hear them talk. The Morgans, the Deenas of the world—I just wanted to hear them, so I kept up and did things I didn’t think I was capable of physically because I wanted to be around them more. Just hearing whatever they had to say about dogs, or cooking potatoes. I just wanted to be there. For a track runner things can get kind of crazy come spring and I think I lost some of the spirit of positive hard work I learned here in January, so to be back in Mammoth Lakes right now feels like the right way to start my Olympic year. This is the energy and work ethic and the happy place I need to channel if I want to be happy and successful in this sport.
The Crib Tradition
I don’t know if I would have been able to come here without the support of the Crib, so it was a pretty good gift to be able to train here. It elevates you. You come as an athlete and you rise to that occasion. I am an athlete among these high achieving athletes. It feels like a positive. Wow there is a community that is supporting you doing what you’re doing. With the Crib I have more of a purpose here because I am representing myself, but I am also a part of this Crib tradition now, which is a special group of people. It expands the scope of what team is. Koen’s race this weekend really matters to me. I watched him eat his pre-workout pasta. He was nervous for those workouts because it mattered. His race this weekend matters to me. (Koen Naert ran a 3-minute personal best finishing 7th at the Berlin Marathon in 2:10:31. He is now the fourth fastest Belgian of all-time.)
Following her stay at the Crib, Alexi took 3rd at the U.S. 10-mile Championships. Connect with Alexi Pappas on Twitter: @AlexiPappas