Lisa Keller grew up in Alaska riding her bike and building rafts to explore the swamp behind her Anchorage home. She was among the first generation of girls who had access to sports like baseball, soccer, and track after Title IX passed. A talented runner at East Anchorage High School, Keller played soccer at the University of Oregon. She ran her first triathlon in 1984 and has been a competitive triathlete ever since. She competed in the 2019 half-Ironman World Championship in Nice, France. Keller owns Multisport Training of Alaska, is a host for Alaska Public Media’s Outdoor Explorer program, and is the community engagement coordinator for Chugach Chocolates. ~ as told to and edited by Alexander Deedy.
What do you love about competing in triathlons?
I’m definitely drawn by competition. If I don’t have competition, I’m not really training. There are a lot of people who are drawn more by the training. I am not. I like to train, but it takes a lot of time. Often, you’re doing it in the middle of summer, and you want to be doing other things like hiking. I love to garden, so I spend a lot of time in my yard. But it motivates me because I am competitive. I will make no bones about it—I am motivated by the competition. I like to go and try to win.
What do you enjoy about being outside? And why do you enjoy activities like hiking or fat biking over training?
Well, I think there’s a certain amount of stress that’s taken off of you. You don’t think about it as training anymore, because when you’re training, you’re really focused on that goal. If you’re like me and you’re a super competitive person, you have to be so specific in what you’re doing. So, just going out on the fat bike or going hiking, there’s no agenda. I’m just going to move myself. I’m gonna enjoy being where I am right now, at this moment in time, instead of thinking about the future.
Can you tell me a little bit more about Multisport Training of Alaska and how that got started?
When my youngest was two years old, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was kind of working part time at the Anchorage YMCA and had two kids. And then I had cancer. After I recovered, I needed to work. So, I’m like, I’m going to start a running business or a coaching business for triathletes.
I started with running groups first because there was a void at that point. Then I started adding swim groups, and I’ve had bike groups off and on through the years. I would say starting that business really arose from having cancer and then splitting up with my husband. So I had to work. I’m not a nine-to-five person. I need to work for myself. So, that’s what I did.
Since 2012, I’ve had a contract with Running Free Alaska [a running program for incarcerated women]. We have programs for women at Hiland Correctional Center, and now we also have groups for women who have been released from Hiland. That has been really, really satisfying.
What is it that you enjoy about coaching? Is it just spreading the joy of being outdoors?
I think that’s it. I think we are so lucky that we are here during this pandemic, where we have wide open spaces. We can get out and enjoy nature. My parents in Seattle, my cousins in California, they’re not having the same experience that we’re having. I can ride my fat bike from my house and I’m out on trails in 10 minutes, and I live in midtown Anchorage! I think that we are just so lucky, and that we really need to keep promoting being outdoors in the state. Everything I do right now is around that.
With triathlon, when people get focused too much on the training it comes at the expense actually of getting outside because you’re mostly inside in the pool. Most people in Alaska, in the winter are riding a trainer inside their garage or their living room. A lot of people won’t go outside and run in the snow, so they’re on a treadmill. I think being outside is like 90 percent of the joy to me. So, I really like that all of my projects kind of converge on that theme of being outside and having an adventure.