After graduating from UAB in 2012, Hallie Blunck put medical residency on hold to pursue her dream of competing as a pro triathlete. During her last two years of medical school, she was ranked No. 5 in the nation as an amateur age-group triathlete. A member of the Innovative Endurance elite team, Blunck earned four top-10 pro finishes and made the podium at Augusta 70.3. This year, she’s aiming to qualify as a pro for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Sponsored by a cast of local businesses Blunck is a “homegrown pro.” She lives and trains in Birmingham.
RootsRated: How did you get into triathlon?
Blunck: Around age 10, I competed in my first sprint triathlon along with my little brothers. Triathlon remained an off-season hobby as I ran cross-country and track and dove competitively through both high school and college.
After graduating from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. I was planning my move to Birmingham for medical school at the UAB in the fall of 2007. That summer my mom and I competed in the Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon as one last hurrah before med school. I was fortunate to qualify (or maybe even get a roll down spot) from that race for the Age Group World Championships the following year. That definitely lit a fire in me to get serious about training, and during my first year of medical school I hired my first triathlon coach. While my fellow med school students were celebrating the end of that year, I took my final exam early and traveled to Vancouver with my mom for the race. It was a pivotal experience. I met so many incredible people. I watched the pros race the following day, and it was just the beginning of this journey.
RootsRated: What's harder, preparing for med school finals or training for an Ironman triathlon?
Blunck: These are two totally different beasts. In medical school there is a lot of cramming, binge studying, stress eating, and sleep deprivation and months of 13- to 15-hour study days as you prepare for a national comprehensive exam that covers everything you learned in your first two years of medical school. This has a huge bearing on how competitive you will be in the residency match at the end of your medical school tenure. (No pressure!) Training for the longer triathlons couldn’t be more opposite. There is a slow build up to the appropriate amount of training volume, a focus on eating and fueling your body with a lot of healthy food, getting as much asleep as you can and taking naps, getting off your feet between workouts (bonus: getting your feet above your head), and getting massages on a regular basis. As a big race approaches, you actually taper off of your volume training (unlike those last minute study sessions). My coach says, “You can’t really do anything the week before the race that will make you faster, but you can definitely do things that will make you slower on race day.”
RootsRated: What are your favorite places to train for a triathlon in Alabama?
Blunck: For open water swimming, I go out to the lake at Oak Mountain State Park and try to recruit someone to swim or kayak with me so the lake monster won’t get me (or maybe that’s just an old slimy water ski buoy that my hand grazes underwater every time I’m out there).
Bike: My favorite cycling loops include 1) Rex Lake to Sicard Hallow to Liberty Park and up through Cahaba Heights, 2) Parking at Mt. Laurel and riding the County Rd 41 and 43 loop that takes you over Vandiver (the biggest sustained hill we have around these parts) or 3) Riding Shades Crest Rd (when traffic isn’t busy) over into Bluff Park, through the Preserve, and back through Ross Bridge to Lakeshore. My go-to spot to start a run is the Shell Station in Crestline Village. There are so many loops to run from there through Crestline, Irondale, Mountain Brook, English Village, and Homewood . Additionally, you always know there is a bathroom available and water when you get back or if you need a mid-run pit stop. The Trak Shak hosts a weekly Wednesday night run that brings hundreds of people out on a good weather day to run the 3- or 5-mile loop. For trail running, my new favorite location is Red Mountain Park . You can make 4-, 6-, 8-, and 10 mile loops on well-built and maintained trails. It’s closer for me than Oak Mountain, and it’s free!
RootsRated: What's your favorite spot for a post-workout recovery meal?
Blunck: I love the Oatmeal Pancakes at Over Easy in Mountain Brook, the Friday Special at Taziki’s, or the protein power plate at Zoe’s Kitchen as recovery meals. If it’s a night time treat, I’m a fan of the new Brick&Tin in Mountain Brook, the bison burger from Dram Whiskey Bar, and the pizza at the new Post Office Pies (POPS) in Avondale is pretty rockin.’ Some nights I head down to Cahaba Brewing Company to enjoy whatever local food truck they have parked for the night along with a beer, usually of the IPA variety.
RootsRated: When triathlete friends come to visit you in Birmingham, where do you take them?
Blunck: I am a self-professed coffee snob and coffee shop junkie, and I try to spread the love around. I guess if I had to pick a local favorite it would be Church Street Coffee and Books in Crestline. I was an English major in college, so this place is the perfect marriage of my two passions for good coffee and good reads! No matter what coffee drink you get, you have to get a Treehugger and a Break-Up Cookie. A very close second is Crestwood Coffee Company. They serve Red Bike Coffee (another one of my sponsors) and have a full menu of tasty breakfast treats, hearty quiches, incredible soups that the owner Danny Winter crafts himself from local produce and farms. You can start here in the morning with coffee and breakfast, transition to lunch with a soup and sandwich, and maybe another afternoon coffee, and then switch to dinner and a beer. Read more about Hallie's inspiring riffs on training and life on Hallieb.me and follow her at @hallieblunck.