Always a good time at the back of the pack – Nicholle’s Journey

Over the past few months we’ve seen Black female runners and outdoor enthusiasts on the covers of the major running and outdoor magazines. It’s been exciting and inspiring to see. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that representation will continue to be a priority for these publications. Nicholle said it best in this week’s post – “we need to continue to be active and be seen.” Thank you Nicholle for sharing your fantastic words about representation, conquering fears, and having having fun in the back of the pack! Enjoy Nicholle’s Journey

Nicholle feeling happy during the 2019 North Face Endurance Challenge DC 50K. 

We need to continue to be active and be seen; share our stories and be heard; inspire and empower.  We need to continue to pave the way for not only other Black and brown women trail runners, but for those little Black and brown girls that are watching and looking up to us, while knowing that this can also be them someday.

Nicholle Pitera

Tell me about your history with trail running? How long have you been trail running and what brought you to the sport?

I started trail running in 2016, which was in preparation for my first Ragnar Trail relay race (Richmond Trail in Virginia).  Prior to that, I was strictly a road runner and wasn’t aware of the world of trail running.  I had already had a road marathon under my belt and I was looking for another way to challenge myself.  I also learned that trail running was easier on the joints and much better for you than running on pavement. 

Once I completed my first trail relay race, I was hooked and ecstatic that I was able to conquer something I once feared that I wasn’t strong, skilled, experienced nor fast enough to do.  That was also a great introduction for me into the world of trail running, in which I was warmly accepted into.  I enjoyed the camaraderie that came along with relay race trail running along with the ability to be able to run solo on different trails that varied when it came to the different levels of difficulty. 

After participating in several Ragnar trail relay races, I had a new found comfort level with trail running and I decided that I was ready for a bigger challenge, which was a 50K (North Face Endurance Challenge DC).  I NEVER thought that I would ever hear myself say the word “50K”-NEVER, but it’s funny how things change when you learn what you are capable of and when you start believing in yourself.   

Nicholle crossing the finish line at the Ragnar Trail Appalachians WV trail race

Trail runners talk a lot about the “trail running” community.  It’s the thing that motivates many of us to sign up for a gazillion races.  Can you share a bit about that community? Specifically the community you’ve experienced at trail races?

The trail running community is a completely different breed than the road running community.  One of the main reasons why I now enjoy trail running more than road running is because of the culture that the trail running community cultivates.  Most of the people that I have crossed paths with during my trail running experiences have been open minded, laid back, welcoming, adventurous, fun and extremely friendly.  The volunteers at the aid stations have been supportive, compassionate and happy to be there, which really impacts the morale of the runners significantly.   I love that I have the opportunity to stop for a while at the aid stations and chat with folks who always help lift my spirits, which always gives me that boost that I need to keep going.  

Being a back-of- the-pack trail runner enables me the ability to have more time to talk to and connect with other runners who are back there with me.  I’ve had the opportunity to make new friends; heard several stories and have learned about different trail races that are out there. 

Can you share the most memorable aspects of your ultra race experience (good and bad) and what those experiences taught you about yourself?

I would say that one of the most memorable aspects of my ultra race experience was the training that led up to it.  It was great being out there on the trails for hours with other trail runners that were training as well.  I did a few training trail races prior to my first 50K (25K and 35K) and really got to experience another side of the trail running culture, which was different from the relay race trail culture.  I fell in love and felt right at home because everyone was so laid back, welcoming and supportive.  During these races I came across your more serious front- of- the- pack runners that were determined and vigilant, in which there would be very little interaction with.  However,  I found my place being a more cautious and less speedy trail runner in the back-of-the-pack along with other trail runners that were more laid back, social and out to have a good time.   

To add to the good experience, I had a wonderful pacer friend who trained with me for my 50K, which really helped me with my speed and comfort on the trails.  We primarily ran on the course that my race was to be held on, in which I highly recommend doing for ultra trail races.  It really helped prepare me, mentally and physically.  

NIcholle crossing the finish line with her then 8 year old daughter at the 2019 North Face Endurance Challenge DC 50K

Honestly, I can’t really think of many bad aspects of my ultra race experience; other than the constant battle with my own mind when it came to fear and confidence.  I was able to shake the mental chatter, but the struggle was constant.  In addition, I experienced a lot of anxiety prior to each training run and race.  I am not the fastest on the trails, so I would always worry about slowing people down.   

I tend to have a counterphobic attitude when it comes to trail running, which has gotten me through many trail runs and races.

Fear prevents many Black women from trying trail running.  And while I would love to see them conquer that fear, I don’t always have the words to tell them how to actually do so.  What strategies have you personally used to conquer your own fear as it relates to trail running?

My main fears when it comes to trail running is running alone on the trails; falling, getting injured and coming across various wildlife.  However, throughout my life experiences, I have learned that the best way to conquer my fears is to face them.  I tend to have a counterphobic attitude when it comes to trail running, which has gotten me through many trail runs and races.  I never could have pictured myself as a trail runner in the past, granted, I have always enjoyed being out in nature and hiking.

I try to avoid running alone as much as possible; however, sometimes a solo trail run is just what the doctor ordered.  If I run alone, I make sure that it’s during daylight and on a trail where I am not isolated.  As far as falling goes, it’s sometimes inevitable, but I have learned that being cautious by watching the ground and picking my feet up, can be very helpful.  I am more prone to fall if my legs are overly tired.  It is also important that I fuel properly and take walk breaks as much as possible.  Generally, I walk the hills and sometimes do running intervals.  As far as wildlife goes, I try my best to not think about it because I will psych myself out, but at the same time, I try to remain cognizant of my surroundings.  

During the Ragnar trail relay races, there is usually at least one trail run done at night in the dark.  That is a very interesting experience, to say the least.  Those runs have really helped me gain a lot of courage to face almost anything running related. 

 All in all, the fears never fully disappear, but facing them is key. 

I was excited to see Black women on the cover of the major outdoor industry and running publications over the past 2 months-Runner’s World, Ultrarunning Magazine, Outside Magazine, etc. While it’s exciting to see us represented, I worry that it won’t last.  What do you think it will take to keep us on these covers?

I strongly feel that it needs to become the new norm for Black women to be included on magazine covers along with inside the cover.  In order for that to be made possible, I feel that we need to continue to be active and be seen; share our stories and be heard; inspire and empower.  We need to continue to pave the way for not only other Black and brown women trail runners, but for those little Black and brown girls that are watching and looking up to us, while knowing that this can also be them someday.

When I first started trail running in 2016, I rarely saw any other Black women out there on the trails; especially at the relay races.  Over the years, those numbers have grown, which makes me so happy.  I feel that those numbers will continue to grow as we learn about and see other Black women out there on the trails.  In addition, blogs like this will help to inspire other Black women, so I applaud you for initiating this exchange.  Thank you!

Pretend this is an in person interview and we’re doing a speed round.  Share the first word that comes to mind when I say these words. 

-Trail running-freeing

-Ultra races-empowering


What’s your favorite trail race and why?

My favorite trail race was the North Face Endurance Challenge DC 50K (2019).  The terrain was versatile.  The course was a good mix of technical, vertical, flat and scenic.  The race course was just the right challenge for me.   The weather was perfect (mid 60’s-low 70’s).  The race was also run well with a friendly staff and race volunteers.  In addition, I surprised myself performance wise and the key to that was proper training and fueling.

What’s your favorite trail running gear and why?
I love my Coros Apex GPS watch.  I get up to 35 hours of GPS coverage and only have to charge it twice a month.  I have had great luck with Salomon Speedcross 4 waterproof trail shoes.  I have a narrow foot and I love how they fit snugly around my foot, which makes me feel secure.  The waterproof feature has also been extremely helpful for trails with shallow water crossings and for puddles of water.  They are also easy to keep clean.  My favorite hydration pack/vest is made by Aonijie, which is lightweight and inexpensive with the perfect amount of storage space for fuel and various things.  I love Zeal Wood wool running socks because they keep my feet warm and blister free.  They are also a great quality and last long.  I am a sun visor woman, so I love my Headsweats visors and I also love a nice pair of Goodr running shades.  They are fun, inexpensive and they don’t bounce around when you run. 

Visit Nicholle’s blog Mind, Body, and Soul Nicholle

Instagram @Mindbodyandsoulnicholle

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