Tryon resident Alissa Doehla making a name in pro triathlons

Published 8:30 am Saturday, July 1, 2017

Polk County is blessed by the presence of a number of spectacularly talented individuals, perhaps none more talented than professional triathlete Alissa Doehla.

Consider that Doehla’s best marathon time of two hours and 31 minutes is just 14 minutes off the women’s world’s record. Also consider that marathoners often peak at ages that Doehla has not yet seen, and won’t see for some time.

Triathlons feature combined efforts of swimming, bicycling and running— in that order. For Doehla, an Indiana native and a newer Tryon resident, the cycling is relatively new.

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“I grew up swimming and running,” she said. In high school and college, she ran long distance—building her present capabilities.

After college, she attended the Zapp Fitness Olympic Development Center in Blowing Rock, N.C. She had to apply to attend and train, and has much good to say about the facility.

“They have done so much for American distance running . . . which is huge. I did really well there,” she remembers, placing eighth in the 2012 Olympic tryouts, narrowly missing competing in the games.

We didn’t hear her name last year.

“I didn’t do 2016,” she said. However, she became a professional triathlete.

(Photo by FinisherPix)

Being a triathlete, she said, “has been really fun. I guess I needed something new.”

Competing in triathlons, Doehla said, is a lot harder than concentrating on just running, but it’s a lot of fun.

Doehla is such a great runner, that she used it to place second in the professional female division at the recent Ironman 70.3 half marathon Eagleman event.

Coming off the 56-mile cycling event in ninth place, she was about seven minutes behind the leader, with some four miles left in the running portion. By race’s end, she finished just 19 seconds behind the winner, making spectators and her supporters wonder what might have happened had the race been just a bit longer.

At that, she was the only woman to run the event in under 1:30. Her time of 1:23:22 would have placed her in the top ten of the professional men’s times.

Before turning to triathlons, Doehla had never cycled seriously, but feels she transitioned “pretty easily,” due, at least in part, to her aerobic capacity and her competitiveness.

Her home state of Indiana offers few or no climbing challenges like those found in Polk and Henderson counties. Here, climbs like Green River Cove, Skyuka Mountain, White Oak Mountain and Pinnacle Mountain roads, among others, offer the challenges needed for a rider’s strength and skill to blossom.

After climbing Skyuka Mountain Road on her bike (a Trek triathlon model), Doehla felt stronger. “You get strong fast around here, with all the hills,” she observed.

This year, Doehla was trying to qualify for the World Championships, but was not able to amass enough points.

As a new professional, she placed 10th in her first half Ironman. She’s “trying to get experience and exposure.”

More recently, she placed second at Eagleman in Cambridge, Md.

Like any talented athlete, Doehla understands what she needs to work on.

“I need to spend a lot of time in the (bicycle) saddle. I can train really hard for some good races.”

One of her goals is to make the World Championships next year, and “to continue to improve across the board.”

Like any professional athlete, she would like more sponsorship. Currently, Ultra, an athletic shoes company, is her lone sponsor, but Doehla is confident that will change.

“Hopefully, I can keep making a name for myself in marathons,” she said. Travel and equipment are both costly, almost demanding increased sponsorship.

Doehla has learned that competing is sometimes less difficult than traveling, especially traveling with an expensive bicycle and the requisite tools one might need during a race.

Traveling to a recent competition in Mexico proved that point, as the airline would accept parcels up to 50 pounds. Her bike case with bike (the bike weighs under 15 pounds) and some tools, plus helmet, shoes and other gear, was 51 pounds. To get her expensive equipment on the plane, she had to give up a few tools, to bring the weight back to the magic 50 pounds.

When Doehla traveled to Eagleman in Maryland, her bike never made it onto the plane, and had to be expedited there — fortunately, before the event. This is all part of Doehla’s learning curve, especially coming from a background of running and swimming, neither of which requires so much gear.

Most professional athletes have at least one coach. Doehla’s is Greg Mueller, from Indiana. Mueller provides goals and programs for Doehla to work on to improve her strength and times.

For swimming, Doehla is fortunate to have a friend who owns property on Lake Lanier, and who has a boathouse, which Doehla can use as a training base.

Certain swimming events require more equipment such as those events in colder water where wet suits are permitted. For instance, Doehla will compete in an event in Racine, Wisc., where the swim portion will be in chilly Lake Michigan. There, wet suits are permitted.

That Racine 70.3 (half Ironman) event is this July 16, and will be Doehla’s next competition. On August 13, she’ll compete in the Steelhead event in Boston.

Ironman competition has different rules than some other events. For instance, drafting is not permitted in cycling competition.

“I’m really nervous about getting a penalty,” she said, noting that each penalty adds five minutes to one’s time.

Experience in running events helps Doehla learn which runners might be fatiguing in the marathon part, which follows the swimming and cycling.

She will try to tell when she’s passing people to see if they’ll come back or not.

Because her chief skill is in running, Doehla has learned to keep her faith in herself, knowing that she can sometimes overcome less-than-stellar performances in, say, the cycling portion.

“Keep your head down” is Doehla’s advice to herself on the run, to be aware of possibilities of passing competitors, scoring more points, and finishing higher overall.

“If you stay with it . . . you can come back on somebody.”

Polk County’s difficult climbs will likely make Doehla that much stronger on the bike, and help contribute to more wins, where no one will come back on her.