In some ways, Allison Macsas has exactly the resume you would expect from a competitor in this month’s Olympic Trials Marathon. She owns three school records at the University of Tampa, where she was a three-time NCAA DII All-American, three-time Sunshine State Conference Champion, and a two-time ESPN Academic All-American. Macsas moved up to longer distances post-graduation, and has won her hometown marathon twice. Oh, and this is her third Olympic Trials.
Yet in other ways, Macsas has taken an unconventional path to the start line in Atlanta. After spending a year working and traveling through Southeast Asia, she realized she was hooked on traveling. When Macsas and her now-husband Gabe Steger went on vacation in Morocco and connected with a local who served as their guide, she began to see how she could combine two things she loved: world travel and running. In 2012, the couple founded Rogue Expeditions, which takes people on run-centric trips around the world. As a guide, she logs miles in places like Patagonia and Nicaragua. And as you might imagine from a world traveler, she is no longer solely a road runner. In 2017, Macsas – along with Mallory Brooks – set what was then the Fastest Known Time on the Wonderland Trail, 93 miles around the base of Mount Rainier.
So who is this 2:39:42 marathoner who has journeyed to more than 30 countries? Luckily, she agreed to chat with us about her running career, her travels, and so much more!
I read that when you and your now-husband started Rogue Expeditions, you felt like you were always on the brink of burn out. How has your relationship with running changed since then?
Back then (circa 2012ish) I was still part of a post-collegiate performance team called Rogue Athletic Club and an environment that understandably expected athletes to be all-in and singularly focused on performance (which is how I’m naturally geared anyways). I didn’t consider any option other than putting in 100 mile weeks, plus coaching, plus working full time in a design/marketing role, and always felt guilty if I did anything less than too much.
Rogue Expeditions is probably the best thing that ever happened to my running; as the business began to grow and I began to spend more and more of my time away guiding trips and more and more time on trails, I had to let go of total control. When guiding, my running is totally dependent on what a particular group does on a particular day and what sort of logistics are involved; sometimes I need to run a ton, other times none at all. Sometimes I’m sprinting back and forth to get photos, other times I’m sitting on the side of a trail for an hour, pointing people in the right direction. At first this seriously stressed out the over-achiever in me, but as time went on I began to realize that when I’d eventually return to regular workouts after a long time away, I got fast again quick. And I was running PRs. And I was having fun! Now, I place so much more emphasis on staying mentally and physically healthy, appreciating where my legs can take me and recognizing different seasons, both in training and in life. I’ve figured out that I can have it all, just not all at the same time!
You qualified for the Trials back in December 2018 at CIM. How does it feel to have such a long time between qualifying and toeing the line in Atlanta?
Fun fact: I actually first qualified in February 2018 at the Austin Marathon! I didn’t have any worries about whether I’d qualify as some point, but wasn’t really expecting to do it on that course (just home from guiding a trip, no less). It was a wonderful surprise, and a huge relief to just have the box checked, but it has been strange to have such a huge block of time between; I don’t think I realized how motivating it was in years past to have that goal to chase! I’ve had a hard time finding the motivation to get out and race.
To say you travel a lot is quite the understatement, having spent the night in well over 100 different places last year. How have you balanced your time-consuming job with training for the Trials?
The amount of travel has steadily increased year over year, and for the past 2-3 years I’ve been extremely nomadic, only coming back home to Austin for a few months in the winter. So while I’m doing little to no formal training throughout the year, one of the big perks of owning a business is getting to make the rules. I was able to schedule the year to ensure that I was home November to February. While Gabe (my husband) and one of our other guides handled our January trips in Patagonia, I’ve been able to stay home, focus on office work, settle into a routine and take advantage of a city with tons of training partners and perfect winter running weather.
You have talked candidly on Instagram about your interest in road running declining. Can you share more about how your mindset going into this Trials races is different than 2012 and 2016?
In both 2012 and 2016, I defined myself as a marathoner above all else, and probably tied a bit too much of my self-worth into performance. I had really, really great days at both of those events – a huge PR in Houston and a shocking-for-me 22nd place finish in LA – and had done the work to earn it. Over the past couple of years, priorities have shifted for me; I’ve discovered a deep love for trail running that I get to regularly indulge all over the world, learned a ton about running a business and have seen that business grow and thrive.
There was a period of time last year when I considered just skipping the Trials – if I wasn’t 200% in, why bother? Luckily I had some great friends talk some sense into me, and help me realize that there is a healthy middle ground out there, especially for the Trials – after all, it’s not like I’m actually in contention to make the team. I don’t have any major goals going into Atlanta, and I’m strangely okay with that! I feel fit enough, I feel healthy, I’ve got tons of support from my community and also Brooks Running, and I feel as though I’m going to really, truly enjoy the experience of being out there… afterward, I’ll get on with my year!
Have you done anything different in your training during this buildup?
Yes, I’ve stuck to consistently lower mileage than in the past. It used to be 100-mile weeks piled on top of each other, and while that sort of volume never seemed to injure me, it did burn me out. These days I’m older and have a lot more life going on, and staying at 80-85 mpw has felt really sustainable and allowed me to get better workouts in. There is a little part of me that worries – what if all of my past success rested on the mileage I was running?? – but deep down I know that my base is massive and that I’m better off with fresh legs and a fresh mind.
Do you mind sharing what your expectations are for Atlanta?
A PR is unlikely (though never impossible) on that course and I’m not a contender for a top spot, but I still need a goal to chase so I’ve got the same one I had for that crazy hot day in LA: place higher than my ranking! I’m not sure what that is, but my bib number will tell me. I do think the hills and the potential for warm, humid weather are really going to shake up the finish order, and coming from Austin those are two things that I am prepared to handle. I honestly don’t have a firm time goal in mind; I’ve raced a lot of marathons and am very comfortable with feeling out where I need to be as the race gets going.
What do you have on your calendar after the Trials, both race and adventure-wise?
I leave within a few days of the Trials to guide a couple of running trips in Morocco, then return in April to pack up and move – we recently bought a house in Bend, OR! The remainder of the year will be packed with guiding trips; I have Morocco, Ireland, British Columbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Kenya, South Africa & Nicaragua on my schedule for the year. I have no other races planned, though there will be a whole new scene to explore in Oregon – I expect to find a trail race or two! My 2021 schedule should be a bit more sane, and I would love to return to my favorite race that year, the Vancouver Marathon in May.
Do you see more Fastest Known Time attempts in your future?
Yes! I had an absolute blast pursuing the Wonderland FKT in 2017. I love the self-reliance aspect and the chance to chase the clock outside of a race environment. For me the real magic of the trails comes with the solitude, but it was still really fulfilling to have a big, scary goal to pursue out there.
What is your favorite place you have run? What is still left on your wish list?
“Favorite” is a huge question! A few special areas that come to mind: the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco for the adventure aspect, coastal cliff trails in South Africa for the wow factor and the old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest for deep soul fulfillment. I also love, love, love the San Juans in Colorado. My wish-list is never-ending, but I’d say that Peru, New Zealand & Nepal are all high on the list.
What advice would you give to those who are feeling burnt out on running?
Listen to those feelings, and back off! Pushing through is not going to make it go away, and if you ignore the warning signs long enough you will end up injured. Replace the time and energy you were spending on training with something else – take a class, ride your bike, go to yoga, whatever. If you struggle with comparing yourself to your training partners, then get off Strava for a while – everyone is different, and you cannot base your running or your self-worth on what others are doing. Remind yourself that the pros take off multiple week blocks throughout the year to sustain their health and sanity. The desire will come back, and you will come back – most likely faster!
Will we see you back in 2024?
That’s a firm TBD! With the move to Bend I foresee a lot more trail than road in my future, but I also know that a lot can happen in four years. I’m really interested to see what the new qualifying standard will be – if it requires a scary-yet-attainable goal, it just might entice me.
Thank you so much to Allison for taking the time to share her story with us. We will be following along on her journey through the hills of Atlanta – and wherever she heads next!