When Alyana (aka Lanie) Szuch toes the line to defend her title at the GoPro Mountain Games 5K trail race on June 9, she’ll face more than the usual scrutiny. Szuch is 13. The trail running phenom’s victory wasn’t beginner’s luck: Szuch was third woman in the 10K at last year’s games, the second woman at the 2015 Xterra National Championship half marathon last September, and seventh at the U.S. Mountain Running Championships in 2015, when she was only 11.
Szuch lives and runs with her parents (both former Ironman and ultra-endurance athletes) and her 15-year-old brother, Colin, an accomplished high school runner, and her four-year-old sister. She started running when she was “six or seven,” on the trails right out the back door of the family’s house in Evergreen, Colorado. In addition to trail running, Szuch runs track for the Golden Running Academy, in Golden, Colorado; competes on local Nordic ski, swimming, and mountain biking teams; and has already begun taking college classes.
You’d think Szuch would be a ball of nerves, but the seventh-grader is freakishly low-key, proving that the secret to her success is as much mental as it is physical. “I don’t let the pressure get to me. It doesn’t matter your age or who you’re chasing. You just have to do as well as you can.”
OUTSIDE: What was it like to win the women’s race at the Mountain Games 5K trail race last year? Were you surprised?
LANIE SZUCH: I didn’t have an expectation, so I was kind of surprised. I kind of just ran my own race and it came along. I didn’t really know who was there and what competition was like.
How are you feeling going back to defend your title in the 5K?
It’s exciting. I’m doing some trail runs, and I’m also training for the USA Mountain Running Championships [June 3 in Mount Cranmore, New Hampshire].
How many miles do you run a week?
I’m not sure. Sometimes I just go out and run around Elk Meadow, three to six miles-ish. I also do hill repeats. I also run Bergen Peak, which is mostly climbing, not too steep. And there’s the Lower Loop, which is rolling hills. I think your body tells you how far you’ve gone and how hard you’ve pushed it.
Do you push every time?
Yeah, I try to.
Do you run alone?
I usually run with my family—with Mom, Dad, and my brother. We usually run our own speeds, except me and my brother, who are usually running and chasing each other.
Do you ever get sick of running? Is there ever a day when you don’t feel like going out?
Oh, no. I try to run every day, but some days I can’t because of other things or schoolwork.
What are your goals for running?
I want to get a full-ride scholarship. I want to make the USA Mountain Running Team. I just kind of want to go as far as I can—the Olympics, anything I can get my hands on.
What’s your favorite distance on the trails?
I like the 10K.
Do you have any plans to increase that?
I’ve run trail half marathons in the past. I got second at the Xterra Trail National Championships last year. But for now, I’m going to stick with the shorter distance.
Is that because you’re still growing?
Have you been injured?
No. Well, last season, I took a bit of time off. I think the half marathon was a little too much volume for me. A couple joints were feeling off.
How do you balance running with school, friends, and life?
My schedule is pretty balanced. I try to exercise in morning because it makes me feel good, and also after school. If I take a little time out of electives in the morning, I can get up at 6:00. I’m usually hitching a ride to the rec center with my mom on her way to work. I’m usually on the treadmill, and I also swim for cross-training. I try to get in a 45-minute running workout in the morning and a 45-minute swim.
Do you have a smartphone?
No. It’s my choice, actually. I don’t want to be addicted to something. It takes up your time. It’s just kind of a waste when there’s so much to do. I’m not really into social media.
What do you do to take a break from running?
I never really want to take a break from running. Usually if I do take a break, I don’t feel as fresh. I don’t sleep as well. If I’m in a bad mood, I go for a long run and feel so much better.
Do you get nervous when you compete?
I focus right before a race, but usually I try not to worry too much about my food or plans, because you stay more relaxed if you don’t think about it.
Do you get upset if you have a bad race?
It can be a little frustrating, but you need a bad race once in a while. It makes me more dedicated and ready to train for the next one.
Do you have any advice for younger kids who want to get into running?
Dream big and put yourself out there. Go as far as you can go. Never limit yourself. You’ve just got to live life to the fullest.
Thanks so much! Can you put your mom on the phone?
OUTSIDE: Well, it sounds like she has a healthy attitude!
CAROLINE SZUCH: She’s a pretty mature kid and really in tune with her body. We try to just let her be in the driver’s seat and hold her back because we don’t want her to do too much too soon. She hasn’t really run more than 15 miles a week. She’s incredibly driven in sports, school, and her art.
What’s your secret?
We’re just a bunch of nerds. We’re voracious readers. We don’t do anything on the computer other than school projects. We just try and go out and push as hard as we can together as a family. We try to eat clean. We’re very simple people.
You’re also a competitive athlete. How does it feel to be chasing Lanie?
Unfortunately, it came sooner than when I thought it would! I’m a 3:07 marathoner, but I swear to God, she was seven years old when she started passing me. And that was when I was at my prime, racing Leadville [Trail 100].
If she and Colin were to stop racing, would that bother you?
No, not at all. It’s their life. They need to figure out what works for them. We just want them to be active outside in nature and be able to use their sport as a tool to go to when life gets hard.
Do you get any flak about Lanie’s running?
Oh yeah, people think that for our daughter to be doing as well as she is against pro women, we must be behind it. People who watch Lanie run say they feel so sorry for her. Don’t feel sorry for her! She’s loving her life. There are so many kids on the opposite end, sitting on phones up to 20 hours a week and eating food they shouldn’t be eating. People don’t see that as bad, but they see us running an hour and a half and raise their eyebrows. That’s another reason to stay off social media. There’s a lot of jealous people. Of course, there are just as many who are super supportive.
The whole racing thing can be kind of destructive, like playing with fire. I tell Lanie, “You’re going to tank, and you’re going to have to figure out how to work yourself out of it. You have to remove yourself from the game of being better than other people. You are going to have periods when you’re not going to be good. That’s part of the process.”