Alison Feller | Women’s Heath Advocate + Writer
Have confidence in yourself and your abilities, and know that any potential failure is an opportunity to learn a lesson and start from scratch.
I am originally from a cute town called Contoocook, NH, but for the past 10 years, I’ve lived in the New York City area (Manhattan for the first nine years, then my husband and I made the great migration across the Hudson to New Jersey). I’m a freelance writer and editor and am a regular contributor to Women’s Health, Well+Good, Shape, and Dance Spirit, where I was formerly editor in chief.
When I’m not writing about health and wellness, I’m practicing what I preach! I’m a six-time marathoner, many-time half-marathoner, an avid yogi, cyclist, and Orangetheory fanatic. I’m the creator of the blog Ali on the Run, where I document my running and life with Crohn’s disease and am also the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m a proud rescue dog mom to Ellie, a two-year-old “couture” mix — she’s part labrador, boxer, Shar-Pei, and a million other things, and has the cutest underbite you’ll ever see — and have been married for two years to my now-husband Brian, who owns an advertising agency in Manhattan.
We’re busy, crazy people, and whenever we’re not working, you can find us outside hiking, taking Ellie swimming, or road tripping to any random town in the tri-state area that has a great dog park and wide open spaces.
Describe how you got involved in women’s health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. What led you to your current project of Ali On The Run and what is your goal with this project?
I was definitely not a runner or wellness-minded person growing up! I was a competitive dancer who hid from the timed mile in gym class in fifth grade. I lived off Fudge Rounds (ugh, so good) and Saltine crackers growing up because they were easy to snack on during the daily hustle from school to the dance studio. I was the captain of my college dance team, which kept me active, but beyond our thrice-weekly practices, I was still living on less than ideal foods and a whole lotta boxed wine (shout-out to Franzia Sunset Blush!). It wasn’t until I graduated from college and moved to NYC to pursue my dream job in the publishing industry that I realized I should probably start taking care of myself. My roommate at the time—a Craigslist success story!—was a runner, and introduced me to the sport. She took me to get my first real pair of running shoes, got me signed up for my first four-mile race in Central Park, helped me train, and got me hooked. I’ve been a runner ever since.
I started my blog, Ali on the Run, in 2010 to document my running. I wanted to share the places I ran, the emotions I felt, and the progress I made. Then, after a handful of years working my dream job at Dance Spirit, I realized my passions had shifted—I was no longer dance-obsessed. I was running obsessed, and I wanted to write about that beyond just doing it on my blog. So I decided to leave Dance Spirit to pursue a freelance writing career, which would allow me to write for all the various women’s-specific health and fitness publications I read religiously.
I still update Ali on the Run whenever I can, but I’m also focused on my podcast now. Each week, I talk to motivating, inspiring guests—many of whom are runners, but not all!—about their lives and the decisions they’ve made to get where they are today. I’ve talked about myself for a long time, and now I love getting to share other peoples’ stories. I always leave these conversations feeling so inspired and ready to run a little faster next time. My goal is to grow the show in the running world and beyond so people who may not otherwise share their stories can be heard. I’m also using it as an outlet to touch on issues that I’m passionate about and have experienced firsthand, including life with Crohn’s disease, exercise addiction, depression and other mental health issues.
Describe some of the obstacles you face or maybe other women face who are breaking into the running world.
I think many people avoid embarking on a running journey because it looks hard or boring—and it can be! My biggest tip for beginners is to start short and slow. The first time I tried going for a run, I busted into an all-out sprint right from my front door and had to stop within 30 seconds. I declared running “impossible”—but that’s because I didn’t understand pacing. I went out too hard and too fast. If you start slow, say run for 30 seconds then walk for 90 seconds, and repeat for 20 minutes, you’ll find greater success than I did that first time! And it’s so fun to improve both in speed and in distance. Running is, in my opinion, the greatest way to see the world.
But beyond the basics—the chafing, finding the right sports bra, the injuries, and did I mention the chafing?—the greatest struggle for me when it comes to running is that I have Crohn’s disease. When I’m healthy, I can train my little heart out, and that’s a beautiful thing. But when I’m flaring, like right now, running is tough. I am in a lot of pain and have to use the bathroom pretty constantly and unpredictably. So it’s tough to get out the door, and then even if I do, it’s likely I’ll have to stop and make a bunch of urgent bathroom breaks while I’m out. Some days I’m feeling strong enough to power through and do the best I can, and other days I’m learning to practice forgiveness with myself, and I don’t push it.What kinds of changes would you like to see, either nationally, internationally or with the sport in general?
What inspiring words do you have for women looking to take on a new challenge professionally or personally?
You will never know what you’re capable of if you don’t try. It’s really easy to get and stay comfortable, both at work and at home. And sometimes there’s nothing wrong with that! But the most rewarding decisions are the big, scary ones—the ones where it feels like you have everything to lose. Have confidence in yourself and your abilities, and know that any potential failure is an opportunity to learn a lesson and start from scratch. That sounds scary, but if you shift your thinking to seeing failure as an opportunity, you’re more likely to take those terrifying risks.
What are your plans and goals for your career? How do you see your future in the role of helping women achieve their goals in health and fitness?
Great question—I have no idea! I’m actually at an interesting point in my career right now. I love my editors, I love writing, and I love spreading my love for a good sweat, but I’m considering a total career change at the moment. I don’t know what that will look like in a month, a year, or five years, but I know I want to get more involved with young people, and that might mean taking a step back from my current situation for a bit. But wherever I end up, I know I want to be a positive role model for young women, my peers, and even women older than myself (age really is just a number). I want women to know that they are stronger than they think, be it emotionally or physically and that it’s never too late in life to pursue a new dream or passion.
Who are some of your major influences, people you look up to, etc.? Who are the people you want to thank for your success?
Can I thank my dog? I’m serious—she has changed my world more than I ever expected. Having a pup has taught me to take life less seriously and to appreciate the joy in the little things in life. My dog lives in the moment and is never worried about what will happen tomorrow, a year from now, or in 40 years. And sure, she doesn’t have to pay the bills (I got you, Ellie), but she’s helped me go from a totally stressed out, high-maintenance, tightly-wound woman to a slightly less stressed, middle-maintenance, unwound-most-of-the-time woman. I truly want to be more like my dog.
In terms of human influences, I love Rachel Brathen (@yoga_girl) because she’s always smiling, keeps it real, and is a hugely successful businesswoman, entrepreneur, animal lover, and mom. She doesn’t sugarcoat her life, but she definitely makes the best of every moment. From a career standpoint, I admire writers and editors like Lauren Duca, Elaine Welteroth (editor of Teen Vogue), Cindi Leive (outgoing editor of Glamour), and Vera Papisova (wellness editor at Teen Vogue). They are all unabashedly outspoken and confident, informed and brilliant, and eager to help young women become successful. I love that. And in the running world, I look up to my friend Michele Gonzalez (@nycrunningmama), because she’s a working mom of two who busts her butt to run 3-hour marathons without ever sacrificing family time.