Continuing our Chaski Athlete Spotlight series, we are joined by Sarah Alvarez, Houston native and mountain-lover. Coached by Dani Moreno, she is currently setting her sights on trail and ultra races. As she navigates running after having her daughter, she has found that investing in a coach has relit her competitive drive. Sarah's running journey is inspiring, and she shares how running has gotten her through even the most difficult moments.
How long have you been running, and why did you first fall in love with the sport?
I initially began running in 2014. I was at a point in my life where I wanted to start working out yet I was intimidated by the gym. I thought “everyone can run” and knew how to put one foot in front of the other. I started running and walking circles around my apartment complex and within 4 months I decided to sign up for my first 5k.
Who has inspired your running journey the most and why?
I am so inspired by the ladies I know out there working hard for years, especially the working moms, to achieve these amazing goals. I’ve seen them suffer setbacks and injuries and come back stronger. The pros inspire us all but it’s these ladies who really show me it is possible for us little people.
Have you had any running setbacks (such as an injury or big change in life) and if so can you tell us about it?
When I began running in 2014 I was battling some demons I hadn’t learned how to control yet. After living a stable life for a year and a half I fell down into a hole of mental instability and turned to drugs and alcohol when running wasn’t helping anymore. I struggled on and off for the next few years. I also ran on and off, diving in too fast, getting hurt, and then turning back to my addictions. It was a constant cycle of addictions between obsessive running and pills and booze. I became sober with the help of my husband and have been for over 3 years now. Running is one key thing that helps keep me sane, sober, and happy now.
Have you ever been on the cusp of quitting this sport? If so, why, and what brought you back?
After I had my daughter 3 years ago I was so in love and wrapped up with her those first few months that I didn’t think I’d ever want to run or leave her side again. But once summer came around, I began to miss being outdoors so I bought a used Bob Stroller and got back out there...slowly but surely.
What are your long-term goals for yourself as a runner?
I would like to hope that I continue to run throughout my life and become one of those badass 80 year old runners you see rocking marathons.
How has a failure or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
Going back to my battle with my mental health and addiction, while painful, I am thankful for it every day because it led me to where I am today. I wouldn’t have my husband or daughter and I wouldn’t have that tough as nails attitude. Running 26 miles is easy compared to the extreme pain I experienced in the past.
In the last five years what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life (and your running)?
I finally learned how to truly enjoy running instead of focusing on PRs and splits. It changed everything. I have always been extremely competitive, almost to a fault. I am a perfectionist and I am guilty of basing a lot of self-worth and emotions on achievements. I would feel immense pride in reaching PRs and grave disappointment when I wouldn’t. In the past few years after coming back to running from a hiatus and pregnancy, I saw many fast jumps in fitness and continually was hitting PRs and time goals. But then I hit a wall.
The improvements stopped coming so much and I was continually facing disappointments each time I didn’t hit that big PR I believed was within reach. So I stopped racing. This past season (Fall 2019-Spring 2020) I ran one 10k race. I PRed with a pretty awesome time but in my mind, it still wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t quite where I wanted to be. So I dropped the rest of the races I had planned for the rest of the Spring, and then COVID happened.
I kept running not knowing when we’d race again (or if I even wanted to). I began to put less pressure on myself and just ran. I started running trails after years of saying they were too hard or they made me too slow. I started enjoying being outdoors in the trees. I stopped killing myself to hit splits. I started training for an ultra, something I swore I’d never do. Somewhere between my disappointments, COVID, and my first ultra, I found the true joy of running and just being on your feet.
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS!
Favorite place to run?
Mountains! Southeast Texas is flat but Sam Houston National Forest is a great forest area.
Favorite race of all time?
The Chevron Houston Marathon - it has amazing energy and support from the community.
Bucket-list race you haven’t done yet?
Trans Rockies Run - I am so excited to do more trail races!
Favorite workout you've done since starting to work with Chaski (or before)?
Last week Dani put a long run workout (my first ever) on the schedule. I was a little scared but I completed it almost perfectly, in the Texas heat! It showed me I still have that drive and competitive edge in there when I thought I’d lost it.