Now thats what I call friendship – Theneshia’s Journey

While its unclear whether or not JFK 50 mile race will occur this year due to COVID-19, I think its safe to say that at some point in the future the race will go back to its pre-COVID popularity and many people will clamor for their chance to earn their coveted JFK 50 car sticker. Theneshia gives some great advice to those aspiring to complete their first JFK 50 (or any 50 miler for that matter). After reading this post you’ll probably ask yourself whether or not you have a friend like Theneshia in your life…well thats what I did.

I completed the JFK 50 miler last year (2019).  My dear friend Lisa was preparing for her 10th Anniversary JFK 50 Mile race and asked some friends in late 2018 to run it with her for support and to celebrate with her.  It was a significant accomplishment for Lisa because after you complete 10 – JFK 50 Miles, you’re inducted as an elite JFK 50 Mile “Legends” the following year. For Lisa, she would become a part of the 500-mile club – and that’s absolutely amazing – so who wouldn’t support their friend in this endeavor?  I cheerfully signed up around midnight on 1 March 2019 when registration opened. Once I paid the $200 – it got REAL, really fast! 😊

When she first asked, I was only partially prepared mentally but definitely not physically prepared.  Up to that point, I had never run anything longer than a marathon so I was entering into unchartered territory!   However, once I buckled down and got some training tips/suggestions from Lisa, I started crafting a training plan that was conducive to me. 

I approached the training with the mindset of – CONSISTENCY, NO SLACKING! Lisa had already given me the advice that ‘training is constant and continuous.’  So, I coupled that advice with my, “I CAN and WILL do this” attitude, and enjoyed seeing how far I could push myself as I built up weekly miles.  Simultaneously, I was trying to accomplish my goal of completing a half marathon in all 50 States. I strategically incorporated those races into my 50 miler training plan and did the same for the marathons I had scheduled in 2019. So, the approach was to consistently run more miles (different terrain – hills, flat, trails, etc,) and spend more time on my feet and maintain overall strength through cross training.

I learned a lot from my first 50 miler.

Here are a few Dos…

Training  – DO start where you are and depending on where your personal start is, give yourself AMPLE time to train – DO NOT RUSH – properly build up your miles and time on your feet.  Being unprepared physically will definitely affect you mentally. DO consistently spend time on your feet – regardless of the terrain, being able to physically stay on your feet for 50 miles is crucial.  With the Appalachian Trail (AT) being at the beginning, do some training runs where you’re running on tired legs because the AT will DEFINITELY tire your legs!

Race Week – DO prepare your travel plan well in advance.  The closest major airport is 40+ miles from the race location.  I’d recommend renting a car and scheduling to arrive early the day prior the race so you can relax and be off your feet.

Gear –  DO have a headlamp for night running, trail gaiters for the rocks/gravel/dirt on the AT, a hydration vest for the AT (and DO train with it)

Nutrition – DO have a nutrition/hydration plan already established, and don’t try something new on race day. The aid stations were sufficiently stocked (gels, soda, sandwiches, cookies, electrolytes, hot soup, etc,.), however, DO bring any ‘special’ items you’ve trained with.  I trained with Maurteen gels and Nuun tablets, therefore, that’s what I solely used during the race. 

Pacing – DO pace yourself. Essentially, you have to maintain a minimum 15:36 per mile pace to finish under 13:00 hours.  This seems easy on the surface, BUT remember for miles 2.5-15.5 you’re literally climbing a mountain with rough terrain and then dealing with an abrupt drop in over 1,000 ft with sharp switchbacks. This is the toughest part of the course, where I walked the majority of it. PACE YOURSELF on the AT – no need to over exert yourself on the AT – you could potentially BURN OUT!  DO HAVE A PRINTOUT OF THE AID STATION TIME CUTOFFS for pacing, and be prepared to be off the towpath, aka the canal, before it gets dark.  The towpath is right after the AT, and it’s essentially a marathon – of just flat running, so be prepared to make up time on this stretch! Your pace doesn’t really mean much IF you miss an aid station time cutoff!

Fun/enjoying oneself – DO talk with other runners along the course – it makes the time go by faster – everyone is so supportive! – BUT MAINTAIN STRICT AWARENESS OF your times while doing this so you WON’T MISS A CUTOFF!!! 

Recovery – DO continue to properly hydrate with water, electrolytes, and healthy foods.  According to my Garmin, I burned over 5600 calories – that’s almost 3 days’ worth of food.  Get plenty of sleep and DO have a plan in place for muscle, tissue, immune system, and joint recovery – after all, 50 miles is a lot on the body!

Here are a few DONTS

Preparation – DON’T rush your training! Don’t skip long runs. Don’t fail to have a hydration and nutrition plan in place – establish this during training!  An old military saying, “train like you fight” – it is true for preparing for any race – your training/preparation should reflect how you expect to perform on race day!

Clothes –   DON’T overdress, have layers you can easily remove and tie around your waist or properly store in your hydration vest. It’s cold at the beginning of the race, but you will warm up rapidly while climbing the AT

During the race – DO NOT SPEND too much time at the aid stations.  That lost time can EASILY catch up with you – grab and go!  Your focus is making it to the next aid station BEFORE the cutoff.  I walked the last almost 2 miles once I realized I would come in under 13 hours….just enjoying the long cool down 😊

Mental Preparation – DON’T doubt yourself!  If you don’t believe you can do it, then you WON’T! Another military saying, “Mind over Matter – If you don’t mind, then it DON”T matter! “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t,  you’re right!” – Henry Ford

Traveling home – DON’T schedule an early morning flight the next morning  – you’ll be tired! 

In conclusion…

The experience started with a friend asking me to support HER!  It taught me the importance of getting out of your comfort zone to support the dreams and aspirations of someone else.  I knew how important this 10th race was to Lisa, and I would want friends and family with me during such a momentous occasion.  I had absolutely no desire to run 50 miles – definitely not one of the most challenging 50 milers in the country.  Life is so much bigger than ‘I” – and when you are willing to get uncomfortable for someone else, you ultimately find true comfort! 

The training definitely made me become a stronger runner. It forced me to put in more diverse miles (hill repeats, speed training, treadmill, track, trails, etc,.) and not just road miles. I also increased my cross training (Orange Theory & Stairmaster was the absolute best!).  For me, it is a mental challenge whenever I’m attempting something for the first time – because before you do it, it is still an unknown.  I was up for the challenge and I welcomed it with open arms!

I truly enjoyed the race and I would definitely do it again! What was birthed by a friend asking me to support her turned into a deeper appreciation for trail runners and actually finding a sense of calmness in trail running. 

Theneshia and Lisa after finishing JFK 50 Mile Race

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

Tales from a Triathlete – Shuntae’s Journey

How long have you been a trail runner?

Less than 6 months

What inspired you to start trail running?

I am mostly a triathlete and road runner, but seeing all the fun my friends had out on the trails got me curious. So far, I’ve really enjoyed it!

How has trail running impacted your life? What has it taught you about yourself?

I find myself appreciating the outdoors in a very different way and truly being present.

What is one myth about trail running that you would like to dispel?

It’s not nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be…it’s a wonderful feeling of freedom and low pressure.

What is your favorite trail?

I haven’t explored very many just yet, but my favorite so far has been Little Gunpowder Falls

What is your next trail running adventure?

For right now, I’m just looking forward to exploring new trails with friends…but in the (near) future, I hope to do a 50k!

What is your favorite trail running gear and why?

So far, it’s my shoes – the Brooks Cascadia 14! They’re comfortable, and the adjustment between them and my road shoes was easy.