Painful road leads Bellingham woman to Chicago marathon

Alyson Klein possesses all the attributes of an elite athlete — determination, fiery temperament, a distaste for “coming up short,” to name a few.

Those very characteristics ingrained deep within the 29-year-old Kirkland native, while conducive to a lifetime of pursing and accomplishing gaudy athletic endeavors, apparently don’t translate well to such things as playing board games with family.

Or so the joke goes dating back to when she was quite young.

“We stopped playing board games because I would get so competitive,” Klein said in a phone interview. “It wasn’t even fun.

“‘Yup, Alyson even ruined board games,’” Klein’s parents still say jokingly.

There is no off button — more like a decibel switch that can be lowered or raised when needed, but it always courses through her a little faster and a little hotter than most.

That’s her edge, an edge come Sunday morning, Oct. 12, that she will direct toward the downtown streets of Chicago in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon with Bellingham Distance Project teammates Amber Morrison and Courtney Olsen competing alongside her.

Klein’s path to the flattened and worn-down streets of Chicago came with a price, one she paid early in the process.

Olsen and Morrison, her two primary training partners, are competing in the world-renowned marathon seeking Olympic qualifying times. Klein paced them step for step in early parts of training beginning in April, pain slowly creeping into her right foot.

Her mindset was that of an athlete: to push through and eventually it would go away. Stress fractures don’t respond well to that school of thought.

“I couldn’t walk normally, and I thought that just taking a day off or two it would magically be better,” Klein said. “I was in denial about it. ... When it persisted, I couldn’t sleep. It just constantly was aching and painful.”

A doctor visit confirmed her suspicions — she was suffering from a fracture in her fourth metatarsal. Her training methods could no longer incorporate trail running or the constant pounding on pavement, but there were other training methods she could exhaust that wouldn’t deter her from her goal of a sub-3 hour mark in Chicago.

Mornings from July on were spent in the pool at the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center performing deep-water runs, maintaining her level of fitness while preserving her right foot. Weekly trips were also made to the Seattle Hill Physical Therapy clinic 71 miles south of Bellingham, training on an Alter-G treadmill that lightens the overall body mass and lessens the impact of running.

“It is weird running at less of your body weight,” Klein said. “I mean, my foot felt so much better. It gave me a lot of hope.”

Hope sprung eternal, maybe too eternal as Morrison and Olsen felt a responsibility to hold back their impassioned training partner.

“I don’t know if I could work that hard being hurt,” Morrison said in a phone interview. “She just does not stop every single day.”

Klein knows no other way to be. Her innate athleticism sprouted early from 13 years of gymnastics before adopting diving her sophomore year at Juanita High School. It wasn’t quite love at first sight, she remembered, the sport serving as a stark contrast to gymnastics.

“It was hard because I had spent my whole life protecting my head, and now I’m supposed to land on it,” she said.

Two years later she was the Class 4A state champion on her way to Louisiana State University after being heavily recruited. Running has since become her passion, displaying a unique talent and knack for the sport that saw her post a Boston Marathon-qualifying time her very first time out in the 2013 Bellingham Bay Marathon.

And yet it’s the relationships she’s built while training with the Bellingham Distance Project that she credited much of her love for the sport. There were very few options for her to stoke her competitive flame following college, the Bellingham Distance Project allowing her the release she said she so-vigorously sought.

“They have been amazing support, putting those positive thoughts in my head,” Klein said. “If I ever had a moment of freaking out, they are there to say, ‘You’ve put in so much time. You’ve been training so crazy. Stop it.’”