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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by FinisherPix Concordia graduate Alissa Doehla has earned her pro card in triathlons and has been learning by doing in her first year as an elite in the sport.

  • Doehla, a member of the Indiana Track and Field and Cross Country Hall of Fame, recently finished second in the IRONMAN 70.3 Eagleman event.

Sunday, July 16, 2017 1:00 am

Triathlon an unintentional fit

Ex-Cadet, accomplished runner went in with low expectations

AUBREE REICHEL | The Journal Gazette

Concordia graduate Alissa (McKaig) Doehla wanted to try something different in the way of staying active.

Going back to her roots as a swimmer and combining with her talents as a runner, Doehla gave triathlons a try.

“I just felt like I had a few really rough years of running,” she said. “I think I had reached a point where I felt like I was beating my head against a wall that was unforgiving. I was getting married and a lot of life changing. A lot of things felt like they were piling up. I needed to step back from running for my own sanity's sake.

“I always said I was going to try triathlons. I grew up swimming and triathlons were a bucket list thing. I thought, 'I'm not just going to do anything. I want to be active. Why not stop saying I'm going to try it.' I didn't go into it with the intention of doing it professionally. I just needed something to do while I figured out what was next.”

Doehla now lives in Tryon, North Carolina.

Despite the intention, Doehla earned her elite card last fall, within a year of training. She spent years running as a professional, but the triathlon world has its differences in terms of the time commitment for training, the necessary gear, the travel, among other aspects.

“The process is kind of confusing and it did help to know how to be a professional athlete,” she said. “Triathlons are so much different. Running, you get travel paid for, entry fee comped. A lot of different things that didn't translate to triathlons. It helps, but it's apples and oranges.

“I think just technical aspects of it. I can ride my bike hard and swim hard but then putting it all together and how important the transitions are and I consider myself an athletic person but just learning those skills, even just how to mount your bike running. Things like that that just take figuring out and practice. ... I did do it very quickly. I didn't have time to spend as an amateur at 31. I just wanted to get going. I'm just learning as I go.”

Most recently, Doehla finished second at the Ironman 70.3 Eagleman in Cambridge, Maryland. The race was a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and a 13.1-mile run.

“Going to races and facing the unknown is hard,” she said. “With running, I'm comfortable and knew what to expect when I go to a race. Going into a half Ironman, I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know any of these things so I just felt heavy but at the same time fun. I really enjoy it.”

In addition to training like a runner, Doehla added in time in the weight room to prepare for the swimming portion and now spends considerably more time preparing for triathlons than she used to spend just concentrating on running.

“I train hard five days a week, I have one day off which is a little bit different,” she said. “In running, I would have one day off like once a month. I also have one day for fully recovery and one day that's lighter, an active recovery day.

“I'd say I do all three (events) three days a week and then run and bike two days or just swim and run. It's a lot more hours spent training. I take a lot more naps now. It takes a lot more logistics planning your day. It's not just one long run in the morning and one 5-6 mile run in the evening. It's two hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. You have to plan a lot more, plus eating and sleeping, it's a lot more than just running.”

Scheduling competition is different than professional running, as well, with more events scheduled throughout the year. Doehla has already competed in six events with another four on the schedule just through September.

“I feel like, especially at the end when I was focusing on marathons, you have a big marathon but you do like a 5K in there, but you'd race like twice in an 8-week build up,” she said. “Now, there's more racing in the training. Some of that is that I'm trying to gain fitness while racing. I'm in a funny spot. I did my first half Ironman after 6 weeks of training (in May).

“(My schedule) has a couple weekends with races back to back. Two races a month all summer long, a lot more than I would have done as a runner where I'd do some key races with local stuff in between. It's a lot more racing (in triathlons).”

Through swimming as a kid and running through adulthood, Doehla embraced the aspect of being bored during endurance events, but loves the new aspect of triathlons.

“I started running (in high school),” she said, “and I loved that and it was similar enough that I had already learned to be bored, but you got to do it outside rather than looking at a black line. I never thought I'd start swimming again.

“If you let yourself try something new, you might find that you like it.”

areichel@jg.net