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Calif. citrus official competes in Boston Marathon

Todd Fitchette Alyssa Houtby
Visalia, Calif. runner Alyssa Houtby competed in her first-ever Boston Marathon, finishing the grueling course in just over three hours. Houtby is the director of government affairs at California Citrus Mutual.
Alyssa Houtby finishes race is just over three hours.

Several years ago when Alyssa Houtby became a new mom she knew time would not be her best friend. That changed nearly five years later when the clock qualified her for something quite prestigious.

Though she admits to running during and after college as a recreational outlet, Houtby took up running again after the birth of her daughter almost five years ago as part of an overall healthy lifestyle. She admits it didn’t take long “to be bit by the bug” and begin running competitively. As the “runner’s high” took over she competed in several marathons. From there it wasn’t long before the California citrus evangelist qualified for perhaps one of the most coveted races for long-distance runners: the Boston Marathon.

Houtby’s transition to long-distance running isn’t much different than her segue into agriculture; she didn’t grow up on a farm and her days of competitive running basically ended with the middle school cross country team in Arroyo Grande, Calif.

Growing up on the central California coast afforded her access to a rural lifestyle, though nothing associated with commercial agriculture. In high school she entered FFA and began a journey there that ignited her passion for ag. A leadership course in agriculture at Paso Robles High School solidified that for her, sending her off and running to an agricultural business degree at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a job shortly after graduation in 2011 as a public affairs specialist with California Citrus Mutual. She still works at the Exeter-based trade association as the director of government affairs.

Houtby is currently a member of Class 49 of the California Agricultural Leadership Program, a 17-month program geared at grooming agricultural leaders.

Return to running

After sitting out from competitive running for much of 2018 due to a series of injuries that kept her from running in Boston, Houtby qualified again for the 2019 race. She finished the grueling course last month with a time of 3:08.

“It’s hard to qualify and that becomes a goal for most runners once they get into marathons,” she said.

The Boston Marathon course is mostly downhill with a series of climbs starting at about mile 16 that she says will test runners as they find the strength to climb uphill through about mile 21 before the descent to the finish line.

“The downhill portions just pounds your legs,” she said.

Just making the qualifying time for her age group wasn’t enough as the race draws 35,000 runners and more who’d like to run. Simply meeting a minimum time standard does not guarantee entry into the event. Houtby explains that a qualifying time well-under the standard increases one’s chances of being accepted as there are limits to how many people can enter. Runners register based on their qualifying times – the more one beats the minimum standard the earlier they can register and the greater their chances of being accepted.

For Houtby’s age group that meant beating a qualifying time of 3:30. Her qualifying run of 2:58 at the California International Marathon in Sacramento put her high enough on the list to earn a spot in this year’s race.

Time is a precious commodity for the 30-year-old professional mom. Up at 4:30 in the morning she’s literally running by sunrise with a group of Visalia-area runners before charging out the door to represent citrus growers before state legislators.

Houtby also serves as the president of Visalia Runners, an association that not merely works to raise the awareness of well-being through running, but one that raises money for school cross country teams.

As a member of an all-women’s competitive running club called Arete, she met up in Boston with over 100 women from various chapters across the United States who also competed in the famous race. She was also joined by several of her local running mates from the Visalia area.

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