Runners: Lionel Alva

The Runners profile is posted on Friday mornings at the new Running Shorts. Today, meet Winston-Salem's Lionel Alva.

Runners: Lionel Alva
Lionel Alva during the Twin City Track Club's Salem Lake 30K in September 2020 in Winston-Salem. 

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The Warmup






Wife, Cindy, a teacher at Brunson Elementary; daughters Sophia, 14, and Olivia, 12

Day job

Application development manager, The Cook & Boardman Group

Why I run

Lionel Alva during the Salem Lake 30K in September 202 in Winston-Salem.

"I run to be healthy. I started running back in 2014 when I was at Hanesbrands, and they had a 'couch to 5K.' I was in my early 40s. My blood pressure and diabetes numbers were getting borderline. Once I started running, I saw good health benefits. All of my numbers came down. I've lost 30 pounds since then. And I can eat all I want and live a healthy lifestyle. Now I'm just going for better performance."

My runner's high

"On my long runs, when I do those 13-, 15-mile long runs when I'm training for marathons, that's when I feel good. Also, Tuesdays I do track, so when I do speedwork, I feel really good after doing a good track session at a very fast speed."


What I'm doing when I'm not running

"Cross training. Bike and swim. Strength training for core."

Running tribe

"Chaffraix, Will, Hannah, Keith, Dale, Maddie, Colleen, Mitch and Eddie. We normally do Tuesday track together, and we do long runs together on Saturdays."


Lionel Alva, right, during the Pilot Mountain to Hanging Rock 50K.

"Doing the Pilot Mountain to Hanging Rock 50K and coming in third in my age group, because that's a tough ultramarathon with 4,200 feet of elevation gain. I just went out there to have fun and do my best and still got third place in my age group. The Savannah marathon (Skidaway Island) that I did in April; I wasn't hoping for a PR and I wanted to go out there and do my best. And I came from an injury last fall and wasn't at my peak level. I still ran and got a new PR, 3:25, so that was good."

Lionel Alva, right, after finishing the Pilot Mountain to Hanging Rock 50K.

When you'll find me

"Weekdays in the evenings. Saturday long runs are always early in the morning with the group."

Where you'll find me

"Speedwork on the track. And most of the running on the road."

Workout I hate

"Hill work. My neighborhood has a lot of hills, so almost every mile I get almost 100 feet of elevation gain."

Workout I love

"I like track workouts. The mile repeats, the 400s and the 800s. Say if you're doing 400, 800, 1,000, 1,600 and down. Now I have a running coach, and he'll give me two one-mile repeats, three 1K repeats, four 400 repeats. So different track workouts. They're tough, but they make you faster."

Pre-race meal

"Normally it's two slices of toast with butter and a cup of tea. And a banana sometimes."

Post-race indulgence

"If we're finishing at Panera Bread, we get coffee and a breakfast sandwich; egg and sausage or something. Sometimes we finish at Reynolda Village and we go to Dough-Joe's, so we'll have a coffee and a doughnut. Or at races, beer and pizza."

Brush with greatness

"I saw (Kenenisa) Bikele at the Berlin Marathon. And he came two seconds short of breaking (Eliud) Kipchoge's record; he did 2:01:41 ,and Kipchoge was 2:01:39. Jeff Galloway: When I did the Tobacco Road Marathon, he was at packet pickup, so I took pictures with him."

Last race

Wasatch LE Marathon, Utah, April 30 (3:34:07)

Next race

Tunnel Light Marathon, North Bend, Wash., Sept. 12 ("It's one of the top 10 fastest qualifying courses for Boston.")

The cooldown

Running faster, and faster, and ...

"The first few years were a little tough in the sense I was very enthusiastic to go from 5K to 10K to half and full. That was my goal. With Champion being a sponsor of the Disney World Marathon, that could be a great place to do my first marathon. But as I started increasing mileage quick, I had a stress fracture the first year. So it wasn't easy the first couple of years. And the first marathon (in 2017) took me four hours and 49 minutes; I was hoping for 4:30 but a lot of things didn't go as well as planned. ...

Lionel Alva after finishing the Madrid Marathon.

"So from 4:49, my second marathon (in Madrid) dropped to 4:01, a hilly course. And then I did the Chicago Marathon the same year, in 2018, to 3:47. So I just kept improving.

Lionel Alva racing at the Berlin Marathon.
Lionel Alva, in neon shorts, and the field for the Berlin Marathon with the Brandenburg Gate behind them. 

"Then I did the Tobacco Road Marathon in 2019 in Cary in 3:37 and I did the Berlin Marathon the same year, 2019, in 3:27 and then I did the Richmond Marathon within a month. ...

Lionel Alva at the Cannonball Marathon in Greensboro.

"I did the Berlin Marathon, and when I came back I had a good running buddy who got injured and had signed up for the Cannonball Marathon. ... He can't run it; it's free, might as well go and do it. I did OK, like 3:40-something, and I got third in my age group. All my other running buddies were doing the Richmond Marathon. So I said if I can do a marathon within 10 days, Richmond is out there in six weeks and let me do Richmond (3:26).

"And then in 2020, just before COVID happened, I was doing well until mile 18 in the Myrtle Beach Marathon and had severe pain in my right leg near a calf. I finished the marathon in 3:31; I was with the 3:15 group until 18½. It turned out to be a stress fracture; I ran the marathon with a stress fracture in my right fibula. I decided to take 10 weeks off. Some of my friends were doing the virtual Boston Marathon. And then lastly, I also signed up for the Pilot Mountain to Hanging Rock 50K and got third in my age group.

"Eleven marathons and two 50Ks. ... And this year, I've done two marathons in the spring. I have one coming up in four weeks now."

What the pandemic took away, what the pandemic gave me

"It took away maybe some races, so I tried to substitute with whatever races I could find. ... But running-wise, I continued my training. I would like to go to international races or go to different states because one of my goals is to do 50 marathons in 50 states. ...

"The main thing I missed was swimming. I used to swim at Wake Forest University; I was in the masters swim program. That closed, and it hasn't opened up yet. I was training for triathlons; I did the Smiley Sprint Triathlon back in 2019. It took away my whole triathlon training, so I stuck with running."

What I've learned about myself from running

"I've learned that I can do hard things. I have to be consistent. So if I train consistently and work hard at it and follow the process, I can get better. And running through the last six or eight miles in a marathon is very tough. So I'm constantly praying to God. You can do a lot of hard things and you can achieve goals. You have to plan your training. You have to break down your goals into smaller training modules, and you can accomplish any goal in life you want. Whatever you use for training for your marathon, you can accomplish any big goal in life using the same principles."

Words to the wise

Lionel Alva during a Twin City Track Club Ultimate Runner in Winston-Salem.

"Sign up for a race. Have a goal in mind. Put a plan in place, train for that race. Get a coach or get good advice from seasoned professionals. Find a running group of people who are faster than you so you can get faster. Someone you can stick to and get better; people will challenge you and help you get better. And for racing, don't go out too fast. Run slower. In a 5K first mile, slowly build up. Same thing for a marathon, first 13 or 15 miles, run at an even pace. Don't go out too fast for the first half of the race. Conserve your energy for the last one-third of the race."