They say variety is the spice of life.
That may be true for some people more than others, but it’s definitely a principle Alicia Kueker enjoys living by.
Alicia is a hybrid athlete whose limits know no bounds. She’s a Spartan Elite racer, a DEKA Fit NorCal champion, and competed on Team Athletic at Athletic Brewing IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside in October 2021. In October, she’ll test everything she’s put into training for Athletic Brewing IRONMAN Barcelona.
Alicia will be the first to admit that she’s not fully sure that she’s ready for her first full IRONMAN race, but then again – no athlete truly knows their strength until it’s put to the test. And she is absolutely ready to discover how far that really is.
“It’s pretty surreal, I would say. In the last week or two as my life has settled down a bit, I’ve really put a lot of emphasis on it. I finalized my travel plans. I rented my bike … it’s becoming real. When I think about the actual competition and the day of, I think it’s just something that adrenaline and competitive drive is going to get me through. Am I ever gonna be prepared fully for that? As a first timer, for a full, do you really know what to expect?
“Overall I am feeling very excited. I think that excitement and nervous are the same type of feeling. But I’m just going to rely on that experience. I’m not going to win. I’m not going to try to beat a certain time, really. I have personal goals for myself, but I really just want to take it in as an experience. That’s what I did last year: Take in the cheers, and take in the people that are supporting you. You’re going at a pace where you can look around and just take it all in. That's what I want to do and really enjoy the experience.”
Alicia has always been competitive, and she loves the challenge of trying something new. Her love of training and community led her to become an elite coach, and one of her favorite things is seeing others succeed. She’s also a huge fan of pizza and has a pizza tattoo!
Read on to learn more about what inspires Alicia, and how she’s preparing for her first full IRONMAN on the shores of Barcelona.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, and how fitness and sports came into your life.
I’ve always been in some sort of sport. When I was younger, it was always a ball sport. I played soccer growing up, but I quickly gave that up in high school to focus on basketball – that was my No. 1. I went to college and played basketball at a junior college, so two years in Belleville, IL. Then I went to play division 2 at University of Illinois-Springfield. That’s where it all started.
To be honest, I didn't play a whole lot when I got into the bigger school, so I was like, you know what – I’m going to be the strongest person on the team even though I get the least amount of playing time, so that's where my fitness got into weightlifting and that kind of thing.
So that transition away from team sports into what you do more, which is more functional fitness, what drew you into that?
All athletes have a time limit. After college, I really got into lifting because I still had that competitive drive. Of course you miss the team sports a little bit, but you can’t play forever at a competitive level. I wanted to go overseas and play professionally.
I played one semi-professional game post-college, which was really cool, but it wasn't very organized, and the sport as a female – it’s very difficult. You don’t get paid a whole lot. So that wasn’t a realistic career choice for me. Just because I love the game of basketball doesn’t mean I can play at a professional level.
It went away after college, and then I got into lifting, and then really just started running about 3 years ago. There was definitely a gap between my collegiate years and post-collegiate.
And then when I started running, that’s when I found obstacle racing. I really liked the fact that I wasn't good at it because I wasn't good at running, and that’s what led me on the journey to be better at it.
That kind of leads into IRONMAN. I wasn’t good at swimming, and that’s what really pushed me to try a new sport. I think it’s always just finding a new challenge for me that draws me in.
Speaking of IRONMAN – you were on our first Team Athletic team for IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside, and coming up in just about a month, you’ll be going for your first full 140.6 IRONMAN in Barcelona with Team Athletic! What made you want to go on this Team Athletic journey?
People ask me this a lot. IRONMAN is completely different from Spartan. When they hear I’m doing an IRONMAN, they are like, “Why would you do that?”
I remember a couple years ago – I used to watch Kona [the IRONMAN championships] on YouTube on repeat. It’s kind of like watching the CrossFit Games … I’m glued to my TV when any sort of competition is on. I used to watch IRONMAN, and I never in my life thought I would do it, but in the back of my mind, I thought that would be cool to do it.
But the athlete that I am, I don’t really suit the IRONMAN course, I don’t think. But I wanted that challenge. I knew that I was terrified of swimming in the ocean, so I just wanted to add another skill to my resume. That’s why I was really interested in it, and then once I did it – it was just a really cool experience, there is nothing like it.
What was the biggest takeaway from the whole experience of IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside for you?
Just a sense of belief. I truly think that – even going to this next IRONMAN, again, I'm not suited for it, but if you believe in yourself and you tell yourself that you can do something that’s completely outside of what you’re capable of, you can do it.
And you look at all of those athletes that finish that day, and there are people that are years, decades older than me, and they're doing it faster than I am. And they're probably working hard, maybe some of them work physical labor jobs, or maybe they work all day long, 9-to-5s, and it’s just … the takeaway for me is, if you set a goal, and you do things toward that every single day, you can do it.
So doubling the distance is nothing in my realm right now. But I do know that I believe in myself, and I do know that I’m going to do it whether I crawl across the finish line.
I think IRONMAN taught me that you can do things that are outside of what you think you can.
Are you excited about Barcelona?
It’s pretty surreal, I would say. In the last week or two as my life has settled down a bit, I’ve really put a lot of emphasis on it. I finalized my travel plans. I rented my bike … it’s becoming real.
When I think about the actual competition and the day of, I think it’s just something that adrenaline and competitive drive is going to get me through. Am I ever gonna be prepared fully for that? As a first timer, for a full, do you really know what to expect?
I know that I can do half of it. But I've never run a marathon before. When I tell people that, they’re like, “You’re crazy, why would you do an IRONMAN?” But it’s just something that I have never done before. I’m a really fast-twitch athlete. I’m pretty good at running short distances. So for someone like me to do this that'll probably take me 12-plus hours, it’s going to be a challenge.
But it’s all about belief. I’m relying on my confidence in myself as an athlete versus my fitness. I have done a century ride before … But I’ve never ridden 112 miles before. I’ve never run a marathon before. I’ve never swam that far before. My training – I probably won’t get to those distances just because of recovery. So I plan to run myself up to about 22 miles, probably bike to about 100 miles, and I will not be doing a 2.4 mile open water swim. It’s a lot. And I’m terrified of doing that.
But there’s something about when you do it in the IRONMAN with hundreds of other people, I'm OK with that. I don’t see myself – and people will probably think I'm crazy – but I don't see myself going out to the ocean and swimming for 2.4 miles. I would rather work on my techniques, and I’m going to rely on everyone else to pull me through.
Overall I am feeling very excited. I think that excitement and nervous are the same type of feeling. But I’m just going to rely on that experience. I’m not going to win. I’m not going to try to beat a certain time, really. I have personal goals for myself, but I really just want to take it in as an experience. That’s what I did last year: Take in the cheers, and take in the people that are supporting you. You’re going at a pace where you can look around and just take it all in.
That's what I want to do and really enjoy the experience.
Is this your first international race?
It’s not. I’ve raced in Canada. I’ve raced in Mexico twice. When I was in high school, I had a basketball tournament in Australia. That was a cool experience. But I’ve never been to that part of the world.
What are you looking forward to in terms of the travel and being able to compete in a place that’s completely foreign? Do you think that will affect race day?
Not in a negative way. Those feelings that you get being surrounded by so many countries and so many different languages – that is so cool. That is part of the experience.
I’ve done OCR worlds once, and there were some 63 countries there. It was one of the coolest things ever. I just really took it in as an experience. When you walk up to the start line, and you see all the flags, and you hear all the different languages … you kind of have to pinch yourself and be like, this is really cool, why am I so nervous?
I use that as a positive thing, and if I am nervous, or feeling like I’m not ready, I can look at this and be like, this is cool!
Is there one thing that you really want to take away from the whole journey and experience?
Finishing is going to be a huge thing. I know I’m going to finish, but every day there is that little voice in my head that asks, “What if I don’t finish?” But I pride myself on belief, and doing that every day, believing in myself every day, is important.
Finishing is going to be a big deal, but I think, just taking it in as an experience and not getting caught up in, like, what if I spend way more time in the water, or if I walk during the marathon. Of course I’m going to. I think it’s just taking those first time experiences and walking away knowing I did that all on the same day.
And then the community that we had as Team Athletic – you can’t beat that. You can’t top something like that. If you go by yourself versus going with people that you don't really know until you get there, you're just all sharing this experience. You know that you all went through it together.
That’s what I love about crazy endurance and competition. People look at you like you're crazy. But all the hundreds of thousands of people that finish, you can look at each other and say: We did that. You share that bond with people.
Walking away with some new friendships and stuff like that, I'm looking forward to that. Like you and I, and everyone that was there last year. That was really cool. We’re all friends now.
Yeah, that was honestly one of the coolest experiences of my life. You’re right – you can’t replace that with anything. That feeling that we had that morning before the race. It’s interesting – we saw each other the day before. We were pretty calm, just being ourselves. And then the next morning, when we saw each other, we were all … silent.
But we did it together, and that’s what was cool about it.
What do you like about competition, and how does it vary across the disciplines that you do? You are a true rounded athlete – you do a lot of different things, and you compete in a lot of different things.
I really consider myself a hybrid athlete. I want to be good at it all. That’s very challenging. I think that’s what I like about it – being able to run fast and be strong is something most people would say are complete opposite types of training. Endurance and strength are very hard to have together. So I do a lot of different things.
I have to mention this: A week before the IRONMAN, I’m competing at the OCR worlds 3K. And I was not planning on doing that, but honestly to fly to Barcelona from New York is a lot easier than from here, and I got a direct flight for pretty cheap!
So I was looking at that when I was planning this. I was talking with my coach, and a 3K is definitely more my speed, but doing it 7 days before a full IRONMAN distance is probably the craziest thing – people don’t do that. So training for those 2 different things has been really challenging, but I want to prove that you can do it. I want to prove that you can be fast and you can be strong. Or you can swim in the ocean, that’s a whole other thing.
I just really like the variety of training. And it is overwhelming, and my schedule is very difficult. Biking, running, swimming, strength, obstacles … there are definitely days that even if I get a 30-minute bike ride in, that's all I can do. But the variety, to be good at all of them, there's something so compelling about it.
I would say I’m not great at all of them. I’m just pretty good at some of them. I am trying to be great at all of them. I think that’s something that is very difficult to reach, and it'll keep me busy for a really long time to try to do all of it.
How did you find Athletic Brewing and the ambassador program?
This is a really cool story. I was actually a pretty heavy beer drinker. I could put down some beer. Probably like 3 years ago, coming out of college – I’m very social. I like to go out. I did like to drink.
When COVID hit, I was living in San Francisco at the time, and everything was closed. Bars were closed. After a while, you could get to-go drinks, and I would do that. You’d go and pay, like, 12 bucks for a beer in a cup. I’m like, what am I doing? Everything would close early, so you would just drink at home. I wasn’t an alcoholic or anything but I did rely on alcohol to have fun, and it did not add up with my lifestyle at all.
There was a point in my life, it was October 2020. I turned 30 that year. I got pretty drunk, to be honest, and I woke up the next day, and I was like, “I don’t want to feel like this anymore. This is not aligning with my goals.” It was just not what I needed in my life at the time, and with everything being closed I wondered why we were doing this anyway.
I quit drinking for 30 days, and I did not think I could do that. I had considered stopping drinking in the past, but I truly didn’t believe that I would. During that time when I was drinking regular beer, I didn’t understand why people would drink non-alcoholic beer.
Then there was this buzz about Athletic Brewing. I thought the company was cool, and some of the athletes that were represented – you started seeing it more and more. I completed the 30 days and I was successful. That’s when I got on Athletic Brewing’s website and I was like caving. I was like, “Fine, I’ll try a non-alcoholic beer.” I tried it, and then I applied to be an ambassador because I actually liked it.
It was interesting because – and I tell this to a lot of people – when you have one non-alcoholic beer, you don’t need six. There's no point in drinking six non-alcoholic beers. You’re not drinking to get drunk anymore. You're truly drinking for the taste. I liked beer; I liked the taste, and there was no difference to me between the IPA at the bar and the IPA in the blue can. You still got that first sip feeling of … this is nice, this tastes good. It really did change my whole perspective on non-alcoholic beer.
The rest is history. I’m obsessed with it.
How has the ambassador program helped you in your professional, personal or athletic endeavors?
Being part of the community is huge. I’m a big community person. At the gym – I don’t believe in “gyms,” I believe in communities. That's why people go to gyms. It’s the same thing with Athletic. You're there for the people and the beer.
It’s cool there's so many people that are doing it. Being part of that movement of I don't drink anymore, you can just bond with people. It’s helped me definitely on a performance level, and I like that. I will say it took a while for me to really notice going without alcohol. I went like 8 months straight without any alcohol of any sort. I’ve had a drink here or there in the past, but I was pretty strict with it when I first started.
I believe in that. I believe that alcohol does not do anything good for your training. Performance-wise it helped a lot. And being able to represent someone as an athlete is huge. I do really enjoy that. People look at me and are like, “Oh yeah, you're the girl with Athletic Brewing!” I think that's cool because I actually have a real story with it. I drink it. I share it with people. I think that being categorized with it is something that’s really cool from a professional and athlete perspective.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
IRONMAN 70.3. Definitely! That was the longest endurance thing I’ve ever done. Six to seven hours, that’s a long time for me.
I would say in the last year, I’ve gotten a little better in the Spartan national series, so a big goal of mine is to be top 10. Right now, I am in the top 10, but I don't know if it'll stand for the rest of the year.
I take pride in my hard work, and I hope that one day it gets me where I want it to. I just know that it takes time. So, yeah, I would say IRONMAN, and then a complete opposite sport, and being OK at both of those!
What is a bucket list event or race that you’d love to compete in?
I feel like I did those bucket list races this past year! I competed in Mexico for the U.S. Spartan National Series. I’ve done an OCR worlds. I think one day I would like to do Spartan worlds. I’ve never done a Spartan world championship. It was in Abu Dhabi last year and this year, so probably not going.
There are some really cool IRONMAN events too, but I don’t know. Ask me that after the full! Obviously I've always looked at Kona. I think it would be cool to qualify, but I don't know if I can actually do it.
What’s your favorite recovery food?
Pizza. Definitely. I’m a big pizza lover. I have a pizza tattoo.
What do you like to do on rest days?
Oh my gosh, what are those?
I like to be in the water. I would consider going swimming as a rest day.
But I do like to paddleboard and bodyboard. If I can get a day at the beach that I don’t really have any training to do, I would like to get in the water and ride some waves on my little bodyboard.
What gets you up and out of bed every day?
Besides coffee? I love coffee.
But I do really enjoy what I do as a profession. I’m a coach, I teach small groups, 1-on-1s, I train people for events. I think one day my competitive days are going to be over.
But I think that coaching people is what I’m really passionate about. I’m good at it, and I really do love my job. I would say that’s pretty cliche to say, but that’s what gets me up and fills my cup. Seeing people achieve their goals and me being a part of that.
Other than training myself, but that kind of gets old.
What does living without compromise mean to you?
Not drinking like I used to. Being able to be sober. Honestly. It’s a huge thing for my lifestyle.
Does it make sense for me to go out to the bars and drink until 2 am? It doesn’t. So that slogan from Athletic Brewing is very true to the training. You can wake up not hungover, and that is a real thing. When you’re younger, it doesn’t affect you like it does when you get older. It just means that you’re able to wake up fully you, and in a good state of mind, and do the things that you want to do.
It doesn’t even have to be performance. Just going to work, or being a good partner. Doing that with a clear head is important.
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