Finding Your Passion-The Journey of Alexa Boyce
“Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s journey.”
Courtesy Photo from Alexa Boyce. Pictured (R to L) Alexa Boyce and Friend
Life can go for weeks, months, or years at a time without a change of routine. This status quo may seem bland, but often it can provide a sense of comfort. Day after day can go on with a feeling of contentment when without an ounce of expectation, a turning point can change one's trajectory in life. These turning points can at times spiral into a downward trend, but more often, life's unexpected events can unleash an unfound passion, turning life in an unforeseen positive direction.
Mason, Michigan native Alexa Boyce's story is an example of how a fork in the road can blossom into a profound zest for life. Alexa, who once avoided any type of physical activity, is now one of mid-Michigan's most extreme endurance athletes. “I started running in my mid-twenties. One of my sisters was a runner, and she kept trying to get me to run with her. She finally talked me into running. I ran a 5K with her in June of 2008, which was my first run." As an endurance and fitness coach, Alexa would never recommend to any of her clients to go out and run three miles without proper training and preparation, but in June of 2008, Alexa would do precisely this. She had no experience as a runner and no knowledge of how to train. "Running a 5K with no prior running experience was extremely hard. I must have walked at least half of it. When I finished, I thought the whole experience was stupid. Why would anyone want to do this? I was also pissed that my sister was better than me at something, so I decided that even though I hated running, I would stick with it." This initial 5K race would be the catalyst to change Alexa's lifestyle and lead to a new career.
After slogging through this initial 5K race, Alexa didn't necessarily plan how she would proceed with this new journey in her life, but she knew she wanted to catch her sister. Sibling rivalry gave her the initial push to continue. "I didn't have an immediate goal. I started running on the trails of Lake Lansing. Running on the trails seemed to help me tolerate running eventually. I didn't like the process of running but loved how I felt afterward."
Courtesy Photo-Alexa Boyce
Alexa’s sister would also push her into her next phase of fitness. "My sister talked me into signing up for The Legend ten mile trail race in Sleepy Hollow State Park near Laingsburg, Michigan in August of 2008. I showed up at the race, but my sister bailed on me. I thought about bagging it. I was scared and didn't know if I could do it." Like she had done for that initial 5K race, Alexa hadn't adequately prepared for this race, with her longest training run being five miles. This didn't seem to deter her, however. "Although I was unsure that I could finish ten miles, I decided to do it, and I finished. I loved it, and I think this is when I found the love for running."
The confidence that came from finishing that initial double-digit mile run in Sleepy Hollow State Park pushed Alexa to methodically expand her endurance. “Three weeks after running The Legend, she ran the Portland Riverfest Half Marathon. This planted a seed for a marathon.” She hadn't yet formulated a plan for her first marathon, but a conversation with a customer at work would help her forge ahead. "I was working at this little diner. One day, I talked to some of the diner's regulars, and I mentioned that I was thinking about running a marathon. One of the customers spoke up and said that his daughter had participated in Ironman races. He said that she had trained and participated in these through Team in Training.”
A Team in Training provided Alexa with a training plan, gave her a group to run with for some of her long runs, helped her achieve goals beyond finishing a marathon through fundraising, and pushed her through her first marathon with a boost of emotion along the course. "I began training with them in September of 2008 and ran the Disney Marathon in January of 2009. Running the Disney Marathon was an emotional experience and not just because of finishing my first marathon. A Team in Training is a fundraising effort for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. There were survivors on the course cheering us on, and this was awesome."
Courtesy Photo-Alexa Boyce
Not long after finishing her first marathon, Alexa hit a significant milestone in her life that would force her to the sidelines for a short period. “I became pregnant with my second child after running the Disney Marathon. I was able to continue running through the first six months of my pregnancy. I started to run again after I was cleared, logging many miles pushing my son in a jogging stroller.”
Alexa didn’t skip a beat with her training after a few months out of the game, ramping up her mileage in preparation for her second marathon. "I started training again for a marathon, signing up for the Martian Marathon in April of 2011. To date, I have run nine marathons with PR of 3:47 in April of 2012 for the Lansing Marathon."
Alexa expanded her athletic resume in 2011, folding swimming and biking into the mix, but she still considered herself primarily a runner. She had improved on her marathon times and now began to feel confident that she could punch her ticket to the marathon's Holy Grail, the Boston Marathon. "I began training, hoping for a Boston qualifying time (BQ) of 3:35 at the 2012 Detroit Marathon. I ran my last twenty-mile training run two weeks out and felt great. I was ready. The next day I tripped on a rock during a training run and sprained my groin."
Although Alexa's groin injury was a disappointment and a source of frustration, she still gave a BQ effort a shot. “I took the next two weeks off from running and showed up at Detroit. I ran the first sixteen miles at sub BQ pace before the groin injury flared up.” The long and painful final ten miles at Detroit would ultimately propel Alexa into a new phase of her journey as an endurance athlete. She still ran as she recovered through her groin injury but scaled back and added some cross-training into the mix. “I began swimming and biking through the injury, which opened the gate to becoming a full-fledged triathlete.”
Alexa stepped into the world of long-distance triathlons, but in reality, her world as an athlete was shaping into much more than swimming, biking, and running. "I kept with running but got into participating in spinning classes, boot camp, and CrossFit. I had developed fitness ADD. I began doing Spartan races. I had become much more than just a runner."
A friend of hers would be responsible for Alexa’s indoctrination into the Ironman community. "In 2016, I had a friend with who I was doing CrossFit. She decided that she wanted to do an Ironman (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and a full marathon). She had never even done a marathon. I was really concerned that she would not complete an Ironman, so I decided to help her out and train some with her. The process of biking and running with her and seeing her finish inspired me to sign up for my first Ironman.”
Alexa began preparations for her first Ironman in Louisville, signing up for and finishing two Half Ironman competitions using them as training events. At this point in her journey, she had come a long way from jumping into her first 5K race with no running to prepare her. “I hired a coach to help me prepare for the Ironman Distance, Maria Simone, with No Limits Endurance Coaching.” Maria would continue to coach Alexa after her initial Ironman competition. Their relationship would eventually turn into another opportunity for Alexa a few years later.
Alexa's journey began as a struggle to run 3.1 miles without stopping to walk, but now her craving had turned into not running, biking, or swimming for a specified distance but to get out and move for long periods. "I continue to compete in stand-alone running events as a way to train. I don't like to do short distances. I would say that my passion is not necessarily running, biking, or swimming but being an endurance athlete. I enjoy being out there for eight hours at a time or longer."
Finding new challenges has become a common theme for runners and endurance athletes with the pandemic's cancellation of events. Alexa learned about an extreme event that had come about because of the shutdown that piqued her interest." Back in March, I learned about a virtual event called Quarantine Backyard Ultra. The idea behind it is that to successfully complete a hundred-mile run in under twenty-four hours, all you must do is maintain a pace 4.167 miles per hour." Although the event originated from the challenge of completing a hundred miles in under twenty-four hours, the intent turned into testing one's endurance to see how many consecutive hours each participant could sustain, and ultimately the runner who lasted the longest would be crowned grand champion. For each runner to verify that they followed the race's format, participation in a zoom every hour or showing a watch screen with time under an hour and a distance of 4.167 miles completed on the zoom link every hour was required. After completing 4.167 miles, each participant could stop and wait to start again at the top of the next hour. The starter would countdown and start all runners at the beginning of each hour on the zoom meeting. Alexa chose to participate in Backyard Ultra using a format that most runners would never consider. "I decided to run it on a treadmill. I had initially planned on doing only four hours, but I completed twelve hours before stopping for good. I made it fifty miles and decided that this was a good place to stop."
Completing fifty miles on the treadmill as part of the Backyard Ultra planted a seed for Alexa for her next challenge. "I am currently training for a Double Anvil (4.8-mile swim, 224-mile bike, 52.4-mile run) in Clermont, Florida March 12. The swim is a seven hundred-yard loop that I'll complete twelve times, the bike is a six-mile loop that I'll complete thirty-seven times, and the run is a one-mile loop that I will circle fifty-two times. I have a crew that I will take with me to make sure that I am well hydrated and have nutrition.”
As a part of laying the groundwork for the Double Anvil, Alexa's weekdays look very similar to what they have looked like the past few years, but she has definitely increased her output on Saturdays and Sundays. "A typical week of training right now consists of swimming three times a week, biking three to four times a week, and running four times a week. I spend about five hours a week swimming while pounding out two or three mid-week ninety-minute bike rides with a weekend ride of three to eleven hours. I usually schedule two mid-week runs of an hour and a weekend run of ninety minutes to six hours.” For an athlete who craves long periods of exercising, the Saturday and Sunday schedules are like a slice of heaven for Alexa.
I'm sure that in many ways, Alexa is the same person she was in 2008, but her attitude about health and fitness and her commitment to such a lifestyle is the seemingly polar opposite of what it was thirteen years ago. Before giving in to her sister's pleas to try a 5K race, Alexa had no desire to even walk around the block. Now she is training for an event that covers a distance that many prefer not to drive at one time. Her passion for constant activity has blessed her life with more than just a daily hobby that gives her joy. It has provided her an opportunity to give to others in a new career. "After I ran the Disney Marathon in 2009, I was taking a spin class at a local gym. I mentioned to the owner of the gym that I would be interested in teaching classes. I earned my spin certification, and I began teaching spin classes at the gym. The gym owner wanted me to teach strength classes too. I decided to get my personal trainer certification. This was a four-month program going to class once a week for eight hours at a time."
Teaching classes at the gym was just the tip of the iceberg for Alexa. "I worked for the gym and began branching out and taking on clients of my own. I also started doing health coaching at a chiropractic office overseeing a weight loss program. While there, I went through a year-long program to become an integrative nutrition health coach," Alexa soon added to her resume becoming a coach. "In 2017, I began coaching with the Oak Park Triathlon team and became a certified USAT Level 1 certified coach." Alexa also added another element to her career in the health and fitness industry with her philosophy in whole mind and body education. "In 2016, I started my own nutrition business called Ideal Mind, Body, and Spirit. I do health coaching, working with individuals on nutrition." Alexa's expertise, experience, and knowledge would also lead to her joining forces with her coach, Maria Simone as a coach for No Limits Endurance Coaching.
With all the connections that Alexa has made through her life as an endurance athlete, coach, and instructor, there have been plenty of opportunities to lean on others for inspiration, but her most significant source for inspiration comes closer to home. "My kids are my inspiration. My oldest son Tristan is nineteen years old. Tristan was a youth athlete and used to come to CrossFit with me. My youngest son Sawyer is ten years old and has participated in triathlons with me. He also plays baseball, basketball, and football. They make life worth living. Whenever I want to quit, I think of my kids. I want to be a role model for them in being healthy and active. They are my why."
There is no denying that going through an extended period with a consistent routine can be a great source of contentment. Some will avoid change at all costs. Opportunities for a shift in life are always present but frequently ignored. One never knows when giving in to change may provide a significant life transformation and a new unleashed passion. A fork in the road in 2008 has transformed Alexa's life, giving her a new love and sending her on a path that she would have never predicted. One never knows when they may find their passion. Everyone has a story. Stay tuned next month for another runner’s story.