Alais’ high school xc career was nothing short of spectacular. She continued her running career for Harvard University earning Academic All-America and First Team All-Ivy status. Alais ran cross country at Hanover High for three years. She competed in the 800 meters in track and led the Marauders to four straight team championships. She was the NH State Champion in the 800 clocking a 2:15.7 Her cross country career was marked by spectacular success and consistency. She was named the Boston Globe NH cross country runner of the year, 2x Most Valuable Hanover Runner, 2x Class I Champion (1988 & 1989), 1988 individual Meet of Champion winner and runner-up in 1989, placed 3rd 2x in the New Englands, and helped the Marauders to a runner-up team place in the 1988 New Englands.
You did not go out for cross country until your sophomore year. However, I coached you in track your freshman year, and still remember our 1st practice. We ran 200 meters in 45 seconds, and you were in disbelief, when I said that you would easily run that time and much faster by the end of the season. How confident were you when you first starting running?
I had no idea what to expect or whether I’d have any talent. The only sports I had done before were swimming and soccer, and I was terrible at both of them. But I do remember finding the three mile run in the beginning of the soccer season much more fun than all the other parts of soccer practice. I don’t think I understood that not everyone finds running three miles as easy as it felt but I really enjoyed it and hadn’t experienced that in athletics before. I think I was pretty excited about how much I enjoyed it.
Describe both your most memorable and least memorable moments running cross country in high school.
My most memorable moment was something I wrote my college application essay about. My teammate, Zephyr Teachout, was a year ahead of me and a very close friend. She always beat me in races and I was pretty happy just to be near her at the finish line. We usually ran very close to each other for most races but I always expected her to win. Then one day – I think it was her senior year – we were running at Derryfield Park together in one of the important races. We were running in the leading group with a couple of girls from Oyster River or one of our competitors. I was feeling really strong and we probably had about a mile to go. But it never occurred to me to take the lead from Zephyr or to try to win the race. Then I suddenly saw Zephyr gesturing to me and telling me to pass her. She somehow knew that I was ready to go and she was tired. And, in an incredibly selfless move, she gave me the go ahead and the encouragement to try to win. I honestly can’t remember if I won that race – I think I did – but it was her act of support and sportsmanship that I remember way more than the outcome. It taught me what leaders and teammates do for each other.
I really loved my time running at Hanover so it’s hard for me to think of a least favorite moment. I suppose the one thing I do remember was when a runner on our team stopped in the middle of a race to tie her shoe in front of her father, because they had had an argument and she was angry at him. She lost valuable places in doing that, and our team ended up losing the championship that year. It was sort of the opposite of what Zephyr did for her team and was pretty disappointing. But we were young and we all do dumb things at that age. Oh, and speaking of dumb things – there was also the time we got one of the freshman to stand up on the counter at McDonalds as an initiation ritual and you got really, really angry. We behaved like self-centered idiots and you were right to discipline us. It was a good life lesson to realize that we were being obnoxious and not thinking about our behavior. When I see how entitled some kids seem to be these days, I think we could use more of that discipline now.
What was your favorite high school workout?
I know it wasn’t the hill workouts we did. I really did not enjoy those. I always loved workouts on the track – I loved running fast. But I also loved doing mile repeats in pine park. It was always so pretty down there. Mostly I just enjoyed the chance to go on a run somewhere beautiful in the upper valley, with the team – whether it was the lyme road loop, the etna loop, or the norwich loop. They all feel like they’d be pretty great now that I’m old and creaky and can’t imagine running those distances with such ease.
Describe the atmosphere running XC at Hanover. What were the factors that helped you become such a successful runner?
It was so supportive and so relaxed. I never felt pressure about running – you pushed us to do our best and to exceed our expectations but somehow did so without making us anxious. You got us to push ourselves. And I loved my teammates – we always talked about being a family and it very much felt like that. I keep in touch with several people from the team still and wish I kept up with more of them. We all really cheered each other on and genuinely cared about each other. I think that atmosphere helped me run without over thinking it and that helped me be successful.
Describe racing at Derryfield Park.
I still get a little twinge of nerves when I drive past that exit on the highway. I remember feeling fine on the bus ride but then we’d hit that exit, and you’d start seeing all the other school buses and the nerves and excitement hit. It always seemed sunny on race days – brisk and autumnal, but generally sunny and crisply beautiful. I remember seeing the flags that outlined the seemingly endless home stretch up the hill and across the field to the finish line and wondering how I would end up that particular day. And when we finally got to the starting line, it was pretty stressful. I learned to hang back on the first long hill from the starting line – I got boxed in once and ended up doing well that race, so I always took it a little easy up that first part after that. A lot of other girls would go out too hard and then quickly get tired so you could get in position once you hit the flat road. I will always remember the hill in the woods with the first little hurdle and then the really awful hurdle halfway up the back of the ski hill. Having to jump that was the last thing you needed in mile 2 as you were pumping up a steep hill. And then there was the final stretch up the hill towards the finish line where you just hung in there and fought every instinct you had not to just let the girl behind you or in front of you beat you. It was a tough course, but I loved racing there. The atmosphere was always so electric for me.
How did you handle the pressure to do well as you became the top runner in NH and one of the top runners in New England?
I remember Tris Wykes did an article in the Valley News about me at some point and you were quoted as saying something like – “Alais acts like she doesn’t know what’s going on half the time, which helps her.” And I think that was dead on. I just didn’t think about it too much and just enjoyed myself. You were key to that, as was the rest of the team. We spent a lot of time singing and laughing while we ran and that made it fun. I even liked my competitors on the other teams so it was pretty pressure-free.
Describe the differences and similarities between high school and college cross country: training, competing, relationships with teammates/coaches, balancing running with college course work, etc.
College cross country definitely felt more stressful because it was a big step. I didn’t know how well I would do or what I could expect from myself. I ended up doing really well freshman year which made me feel pressure for probably the first time when I came back in my sophomore year. The coach who recruited me in college was very intense but I really liked him and had great support and coaching from him. But he left halfway through my college career and I didn’t have the same kind of relationship with the other coach. And I missed running on the trails in the Upper Valley; we had to do quite a bit of running on the pavement. I really enjoyed my teammates and still loved the sport. It was just a more intense experience with more ups and downs – more injuries but some really great moments where I ran better than I ever thought I could. And it was definitely harder to balance college courses with running. Practices usually went longer and I often had to spend time with the trainers, icing injuries, so I usually got back to the dorm pretty late. There were a lot of evenings when the last thing you wanted to do at 8pm was start an assignment. But that was all part of learning how to juggle competing demands and how to be disciplined.
What type of work are you now involved in?
I’m now an attorney. I have worked in law firms primarily but also spent three years as a political appointee in the Obama Administration at the Department of Transportation. I got to do a lot of strategy and policy work and loved it. I’m now a litigation partner in the Chicago office of an international law firm. I still do some transportation-related work but also spent much of last year in South Africa helping a client put in place an anti-corruption compliance program, which was amazing.
Did competing and training as a runner have an effect on your life?
Absolutely. Running and training, as well as being part of a team, really prepared me for my education and career. I learned how to push through when I was tired or didn’t feel like working out or doing the extra mile. It gave me a lot of mental toughness and discipline that has helped me to this day when I’m working on a significant or challenging project or case. The teams that I have been on were so important to me as well, and the reliance we all had on each other is something that I always valued. I’ve continued to seek out team opportunities in my career – whether it’s working with a team on a matter, managing a team when I was in the government, mentoring people, or seeking mentors. Not everyone understands how important it is in life to be a team player and being on the X-C and track teams definitely taught me that. People may think of running as an individual sport, and it can be, but it’s actually one of the most team-oriented things I’ve ever done.
Do you have any advice to share with present high school xc runners?
Have fun with it and be a good teammate. Support each other and enjoy the chance to run in such a beautiful place. Push yourself when you’re tired, but try not to put too much pressure on yourself. Sports should be fun and should leave you with the great memories I have.