“You always feel like there’s going to be a big ‘a-ha’ transformation, but over four months, it kind of creeps up on you. You look at yourself now and back then, and you know that’s two different people, but it’s such a slow, gradual thing."
When an idea gets stuck in Alex Dyson’s head, it doesn’t always find its way out.
Take, for example, when he thought about hiking the Appalachian Trail. It started out innocent enough, then quickly blossomed into an epic adventure that was not only life-changing on its own, but one that also opened the door for more achievements, adventures and accomplishments.
“I remember saying this [thru hike] will be a gateway drug into ultramarathoning, and here we are,” Alex says. “It was a great exercise in diligence. We get up at this time, we hike for this long, we’ve gotta keep it moving. It was a great introduction to endurance sports for that reason, how to dig deep. It gave me a lot of the “digging” that I need to do the long distance sports that I do now.”
Alex is a longtime ambassador and fan of Athletic brews. He joined the team in late 2019, shortly before his thru hike in 2020. He is one of the few “southbound” hikers, meaning the start is in Maine and the finish is in Georgia. It’s often considered tougher because it starts with a climb of Mount Katahdin. While the weather on his first day hiking was less than ideal, the journey was truly epic.
“You always feel like there’s going to be a big ‘a-ha’ transformation, but over four months, it kind of creeps up on you. You look at yourself now and back then, and you know that’s two different people, but it’s such a slow, gradual thing. I also feel like … going southbound, I really liked that because you start out nice and slow, and you get the summertime in New England, and you’re in the majesty of the big 4,000’ peaks. You stop and enjoy the wonder of life. By the time you’re down south and you're getting cold, that’s when you’re in the best shape, so you’re like, all right, let’s grind out these miles.”
Alex has a big year on his plate. He is competing in the Leadville 100 Trail Run in August and has plans to do another ultramarathon in preparation for it.
What adventures will Leadville open the door for? We can’t wait to find out!
Read on to learn more about Alex and how he stays fit for all times.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, and how fitness and sports came into your life.
I grew up in Connecticut and I’ve been in Connecticut except for a couple of stints – I was in Philly for 5 years, and Colorado for a year and a half. I’m a carpenter; I’ve been doing that for about 2 years now.
When I was younger, my parents always had me playing ball sports through town programs and the YMCA. I was pretty terrible at them, but I enjoyed it. I broke my arm playing baseball when I was 9… it was my first time behind the plate as catcher.
I sort of fell out of organized sports by the time I was around 13, when I moved back to Connecticut from Philly, and just lost my old teams. In my teens and early 20s, I would skateboard and I had a fixed-gear bike that I would pedal around on.
It was about 5 years ago when I quit drinking and needed things to do that I threw myself into sports and fitness and started hiking. That’s where my transformation into any form of athlete happened. I started going out on hikes frequently in my early sobriety. I’ve loved spending time in the woods my whole life, so it was a great way to reground myself.
I used to think it would be cool to hike the Appalachian Trail someday, and during those hikes I became consumed with that thought. Over the next year, I devoted my life to the idea that I was going to hike the trail. Everything compounded from there as far as ending up in the mountain sports: I started rock climbing, then hiking turned into trail running, and then that turned into mountaineering and ice climbing… the list has just been building, and it hasn’t stopped building since then.
Why did you decide to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2020?
It was just something that I knew about, this 2,000 mile trail that went across the East Coast. I probably hadn’t even set foot on it even though it was an hour away from my house. I was trying to reinvent myself… when people quit drinking, they need something else to latch onto. Old habits die hard. That was the thing I latched onto. It was such an amazing, transformative thing.
Because you had never set out on such a huge adventure before, how did you go about preparing for the journey?
I was trying to stay fit, and Googling things like “the 5 best backpacks for the Appalachian Trail” and looking up things like that. Going deep on Reddit and asking questions on Facebook forums. From there, I would just go hiking and backpacking, figuring out what gear works and what to expect.
I started really preparing in September the year before, so I had a year and a half to get ready. It was ample time to get my gear dialed in. Every piece of gear I got, I ended up replacing with something else by the time I started my thru-hike. It was a lot of figuring out what the right thing is for me. Then from there, it was just getting out on the trail. I spent a lot of time hiking in the [White Mountains] during COVID and got really good trail legs before I started.
How was your first day on the trail?
I was supposed to start by rocking climbing up Mount Katahdin on this route called the Armadillo. I had been dreaming of that moment for months, and then the day of, it started raining 30 minutes before we arrived. So that plan was off the table. That’s what you get for not giving yourself a weather window!
We ended up hiking up instead, in 45 mph winds; it was cold and cloudy. It was still very cool but kind of heartbreaking. There’s a second peak not on the Appalachian Trail that’s on top of Katahdin, another 4,000-footer in New England [Hamlin Peak]. I thought we should do it if I’m going to do all of these other East Coast 4,000-footers.
So we went and tagged that and then started the trail. And then, from where you start the trail, it’s like 5 miles to a campsite and I had six of my friends with me, so the first night on trail was with friends, car camping, grilling, hanging out, drinking Athletic brews … and then I walked another 2,100 miles from there.
Tell me a little bit about the journey. I remember Mason [Gravley] sent you care packages of Athletic Brewing NA beer along the route. What else did you look forward to while you were out there?
He did send some care packages! We underestimated how quickly I’d be hiking and some of them ended up behind me, so I would tell the hostel owners that two six packs were coming and tell them to give them to thirsty hikers.
You have a lot of trail angels; a lot of times I’d meet strangers at a trailhead and they’d be grilling up hot dogs for hikers coming through. I had people that would reach out to me on Instagram. I met my (now) friend Kenton who DM’d me to do trail magic: He met me in New York and brought me Athletic and pizza, and I had a power bank shipped to his house in New Jersey and he ran it out to me. He came out to meet me three times on the trail.
There’s another trail angel, Fresh Ground, who would follow packs of hikers and meet them at the various gaps and cook food for them. When we were trying to finish the trail in a certain time frame, we were hiking 150 miles in four days. He met us at all of the road crossings with hot food, ready to go.
You just meet amazing people like that who are there for the hikers, and if you end up hiking the Appalachian Trail, you end up becoming one of them. I’ve gone and done this for random people I’ve met on Instagram. I’ve met a couple of guys going for the Calendar Year Triple Crown – where you do all three Triple Crown trails in a year – in the middle of the night in Connecticut with pizza and Italian food and whatever beer they ask for. It’s a really fun community and random people show up for you when you need it.
Did that change your perception of what you thought it would be like, with the community being so supportive?
Yeah, it’s cool. So I went southbound in 2020, which was like … southbound gets like 10 percent of the attempts, so if you figure out of the “normal” 5,000 Appalachian Trail hikers, you’re down to 500, and then 2020 had 10 percent of the amount of hikers that a normal year does because of COVID, there was probably 50 of us spread out over 2,000 miles.
So I knew there were usually people just waiting at trails. But for us and our year, it was very much just people that thought it was so cool that we were still out there even trying it that year, and people go so far out of their way for you. It was unbelievable, just the selflessness of these people that you’ve never met.
Looking back, what were some of your key takeaways from the journey?
You always feel like there’s going to be a big “a-ha” transformation, but over four months, it kind of creeps up on you. You look at yourself now and back then, and you know that’s two different people, but it’s such a slow, gradual thing.
I also feel like, going southbound, I really liked that because you start out nice and slow, and you get the summertime in New England, and you’re in the majesty of the big 4,000’ peaks. You stop and enjoy the wonder of life. By the time you’re down south and you're getting cold, that’s when you’re in the best shape, so you’re like, all right, let’s grind out these miles.
It was a great exercise in diligence. We get up at this time, we hike for this long, we’ve gotta keep it moving. It was a great introduction to endurance sports for that reason, how to dig deep. It gave me a lot of the “digging” that I need to do the long distance sports that I do now.
Being a part of the trail community helps you be outside of yourself. Just like the whole trail angel and trail magic thing – going out of your way to do something awesome for someone who’s doing something even more awesome.
What endurance-type sports are you doing now, and what about that appeals to you?
Gravel cycling was last year’s big thing, and trail running was right before that. That 100 percent came from long-distance backpacking. I did my thru hike like an ultra [marathon]: as fast as possible and uninhibited. Toward the end of the trail, I was like, you know what would be even cooler? Not having this backpack and going twice as fast. So that was where the trail running came in.
I always want to see how hard and how far I can push it. The first thing I did after the trail was an ultra marathon, and it was the first foot race I’ve ever done, a 50-miler in the White Mountains. It was slow and hard, and it was amazing!
The other thing I wanted to try was bikepacking. Basically just seeing how far you can go human-powered in general. That’s been a lot of fun. Taking the biking and the packing and mashing them into one amazing conglomerate.
2023 is going to be a big trail running year for me.
That’s right, you’re going to do the Life Time Leadville 100 Trail Run! What are your goals for that race?
I’m in it for the belt buckle!
No, I mean, I’m excited just to try my best on the ultimate 100-mile course. Leadville, Western States, UTMB – that’s the trinity. My first 100-miller is going to be Leadville wearing Athletic colors. That’s bananas. That’s amazing. I’m going to see if I can finish in under 30 hours. I’d love to see if I can do it in 25 hours. That’s what I really want to do. But just being part of the spirit of the coolest camp there is… The tents, and vibes, and 1,000 trail runners with race jitters all freaking out, people getting drunk on Hope Pass carrying food up for you.
Is this your longest single-day adventure on two legs so far?
For sure. I did a 52-mile day on the Appalachian Trail, but my longest run is 50 miles. I have a couple of races that I’ve already signed up for. They’re some pretty monster elevation. And I have a few routes that I’m looking at that are around 50 miles but probably more elevation gain than Leadville. But that’ll be nothing like being 11,000 feet in the air.
How did you find Athletic Brewing and the ambassador program?
Mason messaged me on Instagram. I wrote an article for the backpacking website The Trek about having quit drinking and that I was going to hike the trail. Bill [Shufelt] read the article and sent it to Mason to introduce me to the ambassador program. He messaged me, asked if I’d like to join the program and to send me a six-pack to try. I told him I’d already been drinking Athletic for as long as I’ve been sober, and to send me the brews and sign me up!
How has the ambassador program helped you in your professional, personal or athletic endeavors?
It opened up a lot of doors for me. It’s such a cool program full of cool people. When I first joined, I was hiking … I knew trail running was a thing, but there were so many trail runners in the program, and I started connecting with them and seeing what they were doing, and they were doing it near me too. It was always right in front of me. So I feel like the whole trail running thing was almost entirely Athletic.
I remember saying this [thru hike] will be a gateway drug into ultramarathoning, and here we are. They got me into an intro to mountaineering class around the same time, which spring-boarded me into climbing Rainier, ice climbing, and all that stuff. Being introduced to all these amazing athletes has given me something to strive for and has put me in this really incredible place in life that I am now.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
The Appalachian Trail; doing the John Muir Trail in a week; reaching the summit of Rainier; the Kilkenny Ridge 50-miler.
And raising a cool dog.
Your dog is so sweet! We got to meet her at the Tap Room in Connecticut. Tell us a little bit more about her.
Her name’s Dolly. She’s cool … other than the fact that she trashed the living room when I got home, but we can forgive her for that, she’s cute. She trail runs and has her own running vest. She backpacks – she fits in a one-person tent with me. She’s named after the Queen of the South. And she’s just a 40 pound ball of amazing. A hell of a lot faster than me too. I got her one week after finishing the Appalachian Trail.
I know that you named quite a few already, but what is a bucket list event or race that you’d love to compete in?
Leadville 100. It wasn’t even on my bucket list because I didn't even think it was a possibility with the lottery and being in shape. Now it’s on!
As far as others … I would love to do the Tour Divide. The Boston Marathon … we’ll put that into the universe. I want to take my Leadville fitness, run the Hartford Marathon in October and see if I can qualify for Boston. Boston’s the ultimate for roadies, especially if you’re a New Englander. I've never raced marathon distance so I have no idea what I'm capable of. I would be proud for the rest of my life.
What’s your favorite recovery food – what will you be eating a lot of this year after all your training runs?
Pizza. Connecticut pizza is the best pizza in the world. It’s not even an argument. New Haven style specifically. That’s what I eat after any run that is more than 20 miles.
What did you eat on the Appalachian Trail when you couldn’t have pizza?
I had, like, an entire bag of Swedish Fish every day. Every night was like 700 calories of Swedish Fish. When you’re burning 5,000 calories a day a day, it doesn’t matter!
As far as rest days go, what do you like to do to recover and relax?
Play guitar. Hang out with my girlfriend, Sarah, and my dog. I feel like my rest days are more just like: a running rest day is rock climbing; a climbing rest day is biking; and I just keep transferring things. Work days are carpentry, so I never really get to rest.
What gets you up and out of bed every day?
Coffee. Good coffee. Every night before bed, I turn to Sarah and say, “Hey, it’s almost coffee time!”
What does Fit for All Times mean to you?
Nurturing mind, body and soul.
If you’re interested in joining the ambassador program, visit our Ambassador Community Page and sign up to be notified when applications open!