Full disclosure: the magnificent athlete you are about to read about, Alex Watt, is one of my favorite teammates to train, race, and dissect life with. I have been amazed by her speed, grit, high energy, and positivity since long before we were teammates when she blew by like a flash while running the first mile of Superfrog, 70.3 in 2017. I believe Alex's potential in triathlon is boundless, but it is how she has handled various bumps in the road over the last year or so that I found both impressive, and incredibly helpful in my own wayward journey with injuries. She is a fantastic athlete, a wonderful teammate and role model for us all.
What drew you to become a triathlete?
I grew up swimming on a summer league team from ages 6-18 as well as competitively swimming year round from ages 10-15. Once I entered high school and joined the cross country team, I quickly realized I was a much better runner than swimmer. I quit swimming soon after and solely focused on running for remainder of high school and then for an additional five years on Virginia Tech’s cross country and track teams.
After a disappointing college running career due to various injuries and setbacks, I still wanted to compete and found triathlon about year after graduation. My first triathlon was a 70.3 in 2016 and I had no idea what I was doing - I bought a bike less than three months before and my longest ride before the race was 35 miles. Post race I swore I’d never do one again but obviously I caught the bug and I’m hooked.
As a native Californian, I love receiving east coast transplants, therefore what inspired you to make the move from Virginia to the sleepy, Southern California coastal town of Encinitas, CA?
My family and I vacationed to San Diego every spring break growing up to visit my Dad’s best friend from the Navy. I loved visiting so much I knew I’d be living out there one day. After a couple years of living in New England post graduation, I decided to make the move cross country in 2017. I signed up for 70.3 Superfrog (where we unofficially met for the first time!), raced well and was recommended by a couple of coaches to reach out to Hillary Biscay. A week later we met in person and the rest in history. Within a month I found a job in Solana Beach and then a place to live in Encinitas. I was unaware at the time that’s where Hillary and many other triathletes trained and lived. I’ve been here ever since and I swear I’m never leaving (sorry Mom and Dad).
How do you like training in Encinitas? Are there any training groups that take full advantage of living so close to the ocean?
I LOVE training in Encinitas. I get to swim, bike and run year round outside and have many pools, beaches, bike routes, and running trails to choose from on any given day. The best part of training here is the community of people I found through the Encinitas YMCA master swim program and the One With the Ocean open water swim group. I’ve found great training partners and friends through these groups and I’m definitely missing all of them right now!
In the first few years of your triathlon career, you have consistently finished at the top of your age group, and taken the overall win at Ironman Superfrog, 70.3 in 2018, and Ironman Virginia, 70.3, 2019, however, what is most impressive is how well you dealt with setbacks due to family health scares and injuries. How did you maintain your signature positive energy and optimism through those tough moments?
I’ve been dealing with injuries since high school - I’ve had arthroscopic hip surgery for a labrum tear, hamstring strains, heel contusion, Haglund's deformity/bursitis, and 50% achilles tear to name a few (these all happened pre triathlon). Some injuries were quick recoveries but majority of them I ran through the pain so I wouldn’t fall behind in fitness/training with my teammates in college. In hindsight, doing so definitely negatively impacted my training and performances, I was too short sighted and stubborn to take the time needed to heal. Once I graduated I promised myself I would never run through pain again, which has really helped me progress as a triathlete over the last few years. I’ve learned that even though taking time off sucks, but you need to trust the process and your body will heal.
When my Dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in 2015, it was a scary time for my whole family. But just like with dealing with injuries, we approached his treatment the same: trust the process. We didn’t want to think of the possible negative outcomes, so we focused on the basics of doing what the doctor’s said: treatment, rest, take care of self, repeat. In times like those all you can be is positive and fortunately for us he made it through. In 2018 when both my mom and dad were diagnosed with cancer, I knew I needed to provide even more positivity so I left CA to be with them during their treatments. This experience changed my whole perspective on life. It wasn’t fun seeing people you love go through so much pain and feeling helpless. I couldn’t control much in the situation, but I could control my attitude and energy.
How did your training adapt in order to keep you in top form considering heavy travel in 2018, and injury in 2019?
In 2018 I raced 6 half Ironmans between April and September, averaging about 1/month while working full time. It was my first year with a coach and a real training plan so I didn’t have any experience to compare it to and assumed everything I was doing was normal. It was a fun cycle 3-4 week cycle of solid training then race then repeat and I loved it. I was planning on having the same type of race / training schedule for 2019 until I came down with a foot injury mid July. As mentioned earlier, I promised myself I would never run through pain again so took all precautions and rest needed to let heal properly. I controlled what I could control and I had a huge bike and swim block during 9 weeks I took off of from running. In both cases, the most important thing I did was communicate how I was feeling with my coach so she could adjust as needed and help me improve.
Do you believe those previous bouts with adversity helped prepare you for the current disarray of the 2020 race season due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
100%. Life throw’s curveballs all the time. Nothing ever goes perfectly to plan, its how you adapt. I had big plans for 2020 but all of them have been sidelined, like everyone else’s in the world. Though my plans have changes, my goals have not. I’m looking at these next few months of training as training I would be doing regardless if there was a race or not - I still need to improve so I’m thinking big picture, all this work will pay off whenever I race next.
What do you enjoy most about being a triathlete?
I enjoy all the work that goes into training but the thing I love most of all is the racing. I’m super competitive and racing is the best outlet for it. I love pushing my body to limits and seeing what I can do against others. So all these race postponements are killing me! It will be so much more rewarding and fun once we can all get back on the course.
Do you have any Fall races tentatively on your schedule? Or, any other adventures that involve swim/bike/run fun penciled in for 2020?
As of right now the only thing on my schedule is the reschedule 70.3 Oceanside end of October. I plan on doing a full Ironman at some point just have no idea where or when. Once racing is back I will definitely be looking to get into any race at this point!
We look forward to cheering on Alex in whatever race she lines up for next. Meanwhile, I hope to chase her up and down a few mountains the next chance I get to visit lovely Encinitas.
Alex Watt is a member of the Smashfest Queen-NUUN-sponsored racing team. You can follow her adventures on Instagram here.