We all want to know: What makes the best-of-the-best Spartan athletes out there tick? How do they keep their edge? In our Train Like A Champ series, we dig into the details of the training, nutrition, mindset, and more that keeps our most epic athletes on top.
Spartan champion Alyssa Hawley (@alyssahawley14) isn’t afraid of hard work, in fact, she embraces it, and in more ways than one.
As a gym co-owner with her dad, she’s on the clock from 5AM to midnight every day. She coaches a group class in the morning, then high school athletes, Spartan Kids Camp, and personal training clients in the afternoon and evening. Oh, let’s not forget the several hours of training she’s getting in to make the podium at Tahoe this year.
Spartan.com sat with Hawley for the in-depth details into her training, nutrition, and her powerful sources of inspiration in the months leading up to the Spartan World Championships in September.
Check out what a FULL week of Spartan Alyssa Hawley's Workouts Looks Like
A Q&A With Spartan Alyssa Hawley
SPARTAN RACE: When did you kind of get hooked on racing?
ALYSSA HAWLEY: It was actually right after my very first race at Mets Stadium in May of 2015. I had been training to mimic the style of race or workout, if you will. After that race, I was hooked. I was like, “Wow, I could actually be good at this.” I had that high, and it was just so much fun. That was pretty important for me.
SR: What do you consider when you're designing your programming?
AH: My weaknesses, first and foremost. But it also depends on the season. If I'm going into the end of the season, I really work a lot of climbing and strength training.
SR: What might those weaknesses be?
AH: Endurance. My competitors have an advantage over me endurance-wise because of their backgrounds. I feel like that's something I've always constantly needed to work on. I need to get in volume and make sure it's quality volume.
SR: Anything else you’ve been working on?
AH: I don't come from a running background so in addition to mixing in a lot of different things in terms of running I've also been working on tire pulling. I don't see many, if at all, any people doing it. And I do a lot. I'll either do it as a warmup or 20 minutes, or I’ll do something like eight minutes of the tire pull, and a four-minute run and do that five times.
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On Diet & Nutrition
SR: How would you describe your approach to food?
AH: My whole philosophy is just to try and eat as much “real whole food” as possible. I'm a plant-based athlete so basically, all my nutrition comes from the ground. Oatmeal is my staple and it’s super quick and easy, I eat it every morning. I also like berries, peanut butter, and my Ascent Protein. Then throughout the day, and every week, I like quinoa, sweet potatoes, tofu, beans, rice, and veggies. I definitely try and eat a lot of veggies.
SR: How about your pre or post-race nutrition?
AH: I like to stick to my oatmeal on race day because it's what I'm used to. And if it’s directly after a race, I try to bring some food with some extra salt, but my favorite thing is just a big veggie sandwich. Then later on at night, I have a big salmon dinner with a beer or something.
SR: In all of your years as an athlete, what is the biggest thing that you've learned about your body?
AH: I've tried so many times to fit myself into these boxes of diets and either A, I wasn't getting enough food or B, I was doing it and for the wrong reasons like wanting to look good. It wasn't necessarily about fueling my body.
The last couple of years were a huge roller coaster ride for me and I think I finally got it figured out to where I don't need to fit into any sort of diet patterns. I just eat whole real foods that are going to fuel my body. That's helped a lot.
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What’s in your pre workout? ————————————— 0 artificial ingredients ✔️ 150mg naturally sourced caffeine & electrolytes ✔️ Unbeatable NEW taste ✔️ ———————————————— Not gonna lie I hadn’t taken pre workout in years. I used to take all the popular ones in college before workouts. And then once I started to educate myself and dial in my nutrition I realized how scary those top of the line pre workouts were and that I didn’t NEED them to have a good work out and actually felt better without them. Not only that but I can’t stand that feeling of the tingles and the ingredient list on those just bottom line scared me. So when @ascent_protein came out with theirs I was hesitant but found that it is actually the perfect pre workout for me. No tingles, no artificial ingredients, and I don’t rely on it nor crash from it. I take it mostly just before heavy weight sessions or hard days for a little extra boost. ✔️ #AscentProtein #PreWorkout #theofficialsponsorofhardwork #spartan #spartanrace
SR: How about from a training perspective?
AH: Recovery has been huge as I've gotten older. It doesn't feel like I've been doing this for as long as I have, but I have, and I've definitely broke down a lot more now. I don’t recover the way I did when I was 24 and was just getting started racing. I'm not old by any means but have learned that the more you break down the body, you've got to recover it just as much. After I pulled my hip flexor, I wasn’t running for four weeks. So staying healthy by staying on top of my recovery has been very important.
SR: How do you know when it's time to push and then when it's time to pull back?
AH: It's a fine balance, and something I’ve learned along the way. I try to listen to my body the best I can. For example, if I've been feeling super tired or feeling more tired than usual, which I can tell by now, I'll be like, “Okay, I've got a hard workout today, but I'm going to try to push it to tomorrow.” But most of the time I'll try to grind through it because I’m on the carefully designed program schedule.
SR: What's your recovery protocol look like?
AH: I'm a big fan of the foam roller and lacrosse ball. I make sure that I’m using them every day, usually at night while I’m watching TV so I don’t get bored. I also go to massage every couple of weeks or so along with cryotherapy every week. I like those because those can do some things that I can't.
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The master at work. Dry needling has been one of the game changers in my recovery. Injuries suck and if anything I find it’s not because of being over trained but under recovered. I’ve found the biggest thing you can do when an injury pops out is get out an old fashioned piece of paper and make a list - 1. write down the things you need to do to get it recovered. 2. Write down all the things you CAN do that aren’t going to make it worse and will still keep up some fitness. 3. Make small goals to keep you on track. And I would really recommend some of the following: dry needle, massage, cryo therapy, normatech compression, and good old fashioned foam rolling and stretching! #SpartanPro
On the Mental Game
SR: What do you do to mentally prepare for a race or intense training session?
AH: If I'm feeling particularly overwhelmed or not wanting to go into a workout, I'll do the Headspace app, which is just a 10-minute meditation. It’s super quick and I'll do that and then I can have some more clarity. I also try to read my Bible every single day and I definitely do that before races. That's the one thing that I'll make sure that I get in that morning before and a couple of days before making sure that my spirit's strong.
SR: What do you think about while training or during a race?
AH: I'm definitely an over-thinker that's for sure, but the biggest thing for me is staying present just trusting myself to go hard and get the job done.
A lot of times I think of my clients and how hard they work. I take that energy and say, “If they work that hard for me on their journey, then I'm going to work that hard on mine.”
SR: What inspires you?
AH: I feel like I have these gifts and abilities that God's just given me, and I just want to make the best of it. I know this isn't gonna last forever, but I get excited to go and train because I'm healthy and I'm able to do it. And that's just what I love to do. I want to be a good example and to inspire others. I want others to find their best self and find ways to overcome things they didn't think they ever could.
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SR: Do you have a mantra you repeatedly tell yourself every day?
AH: Keep going!
SR: How would you say Spartan Racing carried over into your other parts of your life?
AH: Oh my gosh, so many things. It’s hard to even pinpoint one.
It started with seeing just how hard I can push myself and it just evolved from there. I loved that every race just challenged me in different ways, then I started to think about how I could help other people race. Helping people cross the finish line for the first time, climb their first rope, or get through the monkey bars is the most incredible feeling. Watching someone do their first race is better than any race I’ve ever done.
Other than that, I really wanted to travel but didn’t know how I was ever going to do it. After getting good at Spartan, it allowed me to go to all these other countries and race, and that's been huge for me. Being able to race and travel has been a dream come true.