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

No room for self doubt – Lisa’s Journey

Lisa’s perspective about racing and the benefits of positive self talk is a lesson for everyone. Her discipline and attitude about running is remarkable and I’m honored to share her journey this week. Her story resonated because personally I think that for the average runner (the non-professional athlete) DNFing an ultra – or any race for that matter – isn’t as big a deal as folks make it out to be (and I know this from my first-hand DNF experience last Fall). Choosing not to register for a race because of the fear of not finishing isn’t a mindset I agree with. So enjoy reading about Lisa’s wonderful attitude and helpful ultra racing advice.

Lisa Morris, West Suburbs of Chicago, IL

The biggest lesson trail running has taught me is not to limit myself. I am stronger than I give myself credit for.

Lisa Morris

How long have you been a trail runner?

I started trail running two years ago after running several road races. I find running trails allows me to free my mind and enjoy nature.

What are your top trail running accomplishments?

My top trail running accomplishments include running my first 50K (The North Face Endurance Challenge) in 2018. This was my first ever trail race. Three weeks later I attempted my first 50 miler at the Des Plaines River Trail Race. I didn’t finish the race due to an issue with my knee. I completed 39 of the 50 miles, which I still took as a small victory. I didn’t beat myself up about it because I knew I had given it my best, and I believe that’s all you can do – give your best. Don’t get me wrong, I was disappointed and sad when I didn’t complete the 50, but I took the moment as a learning experience. Plus I’m alive and healthy. There’ll be more opportunities in the future and I’ll use what I know from prior experiences to crush my goal. 

What’s the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a result of trail running?

Five or six years ago I couldn’t run one block. For a long time, I limited myself because I kept focusing on the past or stayed stuck in the present. I was my worst enemy. It was all in my mind. I limited and underestimated myself because of my thinking. I started to speak more positively to myself about my running, started setting small goals, and began going after these goals. Of course I trained to ensure I was physically fit to meet the task, but it was my mind that I had to conquer. So the biggest lesson trail running has taught me is not to limit myself. I am stronger than I give myself credit for.

What’s the best advice you received while preparing for your first ultra race?

While training for that first 50K, I was told to relax and prepare as if I was training for a marathon (26.2 miles). I was also told to enjoy the experience.

What advice did you wish you received prior to completing your first ultra?

It rained a couple days before my first 50 miler and a portion of the trail was flooded. I wish I had known about waterproof socks. I ran the entire time in wet socks, lol! Also, I didn’t know much about drop bags. I thought that since there would be support on the route, I didn’t need a drop bag. I was so wrong! The temperature dropped significantly, and I didn’t have an additional layer available. So, in addition to running with wet feet, I was freezing. 

Fortunately, I had enough hydration and nutrition and there were plenty of refueling items at the support stations. However, I would’ve included additional items in a drop bag such as  gloves, extra socks (waterproof), light thermal clothes to wear under my jacket, and an external charger for my Garmin and phone. 

Do you ever doubt whether or not you can cover a certain distance or finish a race? If so, how do you overcome self-doubt either prior to or during a race?

When I think about or decide to run a certain distance or race, I don’t really give thought to whether or not I can finish. In my mind, I will finish. I just focus on how to best prepare – rest, hydration, nutrition, etc.

What’s the hardest aspect of your training?

Rest is one of the hardest parts of my fitness journey because I like to stay busy. My family and friends fuss at me all the time to “get somewhere and sit down”. So it’s definitely something I struggle with, but I intentionally incorporate it into my life because it’s healthy for me. Rest helps me physically because it helps to ease my sore muscles and speeds up recovery from injuries. It also helps mentally to relax, focus and just enjoy life. 

How do you balance a full-time job with your running?

I get up at 4:30 a.m. to run.  I usually run 5 to 6 miles, 3 days a week before work and a long run on Saturdays. I’ve been working from home due to COVID-19, and this has allowed a little more flexibility. My schedule is as follows:

Tuesday – speed work

Wednesday – hill work

Thursday – stamina/tempo run

Saturdays – long runs

I also include 30 minutes of cross training/circuit work 3 days per week.

Tell me about your cross-training routine? Many long-distance runners struggle with finding the time to fit this into their schedules so what keep you motivated to cross train?

I cross train 3 days a week focusing on upper body, lower body, and abs. Cross training is essential in keeping my body strong and prepared to handle long miles. I did not finish (DNF) my 50-miler in 2018 due to knee issues which was caused by weak leg muscles. As a result, I make sure to incorporate cross training in my fitness routine.

What is your next trail running adventure?

I’m scheduled to run the Chi Waukee trail with friends next month and the Kettle Moraine 50K in September but this all depends on the COVID-19 situation.

What is your favorite trail and why?

My favorite trail is the IL Prairie Path. The trail is 61 miles and extends throughout the western suburbs. There’s a variety of terrain – some road, some rock, and dirt and gravel the further west you go. This is my favorite trail because it was the first trail I ran on.

Team, Discipline and a Plan B – Aisha’s Journey

Aisha is the jolt of energy we all need. Her smile, energy, and enthusiasm for running are infectious. I’m often asked how I balance long distance running with motherhood. Although I don’t think it’s as hard for me as others think it is, I can understand the curiosity. Aisha offers some great insights into how to balance running with motherhood. She also shares the lessons her daughters are learning by seeing her achieve some pretty remarkable running goals.

Aisha, Fayetteville, GA

Running allows me to be free – free in mind, body, and spirit.  I think clearer, breathe easier, and I have an overall positive sentiment on life.


Why did you start trail running?  

I started trail running because I love nature and being in an atmosphere at its purest state.  Nature has a way of centering me and allows me to be present in my thoughts and body.  With trail running, I’m able to escape the concrete jungle and the technology driven world.  I feel more connected with myself and nature when I run on the trails – it’s so peaceful. I’m very passionate about running, it gives me a sense of freedom and of course the “runner’s high” is amazing!   

You’ve said that running makes you a better wife and mother. Why?

Running allows me to be free – free in mind, body, and spirit.  I think clearer, breathe easier, and I have an overall positive sentiment on life. For instance, I’m easily able to discover solutions to problems while running.  So, I’m not anxious or preoccupied because my mind is free from that issue. So, with these particular qualities, I am able to love, communicate, show patience and understanding at my best and highest level.  I believe that is what makes me a better wife to my husband and mother to our girls.    

Can you share your ultrarunning journey and some of your favorite races?

I began my trail running journey in 2015 in Georgia at the Cubihatcha Earth Day Challenge.  Since then, I‘ve participated in 9 ultramarathons – four 50k’s, one 50 miler, one 100k, two 100 milers and one virtual 110 miler.  

My first Ultra Marathon was a 50K in Jupiter Florida called The DTR (Down to Run) Challenge.   I was so nervous.  The route was exceptionally difficult because of the tough sand dunes and little, to no shade.  But it was one of the most beautiful races I’ve ever run.  It was incredibly peaceful.  

My first 100 miler was the Wildcat 100 in Pensacola, Florida.  I was emotional when I finished.  The sense of accomplishment was absolutely unreal. This too was a life changing experience.  I’ve never felt so alive, so present, so appreciative of life, my family, even strangers.

Aisha at the end of her first 100 mile race – Wildcat 100

I’m in awe that you recently did a 110-mile virtual race?  What was that like and how did you keep motivated during the race? How did you handle aid/food?

It was the Summertime Binge 110 Miler in June 2020. It was organized by the same people that direct Javelina Jundred in Arizona.  I placed first female but the race wasn’t blissful.  I pushed myself too hard and didn’t feel well through most of it. The recovery was also hard.  

I ran all 110 miles in my neighborhood and didn’t venture off too far from my home where my aid station was set up. The kitchen table looked like a regular aid station – bowls of M&M’s, pickles, peanut butter, etc.  My husband cooked some cubed potatoes and baked cookies. He also left a very sweet note about how I inspire our daughters.  That filled my heart with love and motivation.  I’m always very motivated during the day, however, I lack motivation during the night portion of the ultra-races.  So, in this case, I talked on the phone with a few running buddies of mine that pushed me with their words of knowledge and inspiration, or we talked about life in general.  That helped tremendously.  

Have you run other solo races?

Yes, I also did a solo 100 miler called Run Like a Ninja in early May 2020 and felt amazing afterwards.  

Tell me about the ultra runs you do for fun that aren’t structured races?

I run ultra distances on my own without races attached to it.  For instance, on my 38th birthday, I ran 38 miles to celebrate. I did the same for my 39th and 40th birthdays.  For the 40miler for my 40th birthday, I ran along the Atlanta BeltLine that’s full of street art which I love because it makes the run extra beautiful. Sometimes I’ll run long distances just to clear my mind.  I don’t need a race or special occasion attached to it. 

What advice do you have for someone who wants to train for their first ultra? 

Educate yourself on the ultra’s terrain and the weather.  With knowledge of the terrain, you can train accordingly.  For instance, if your race is on sand, you should train as much as you can on sand or something comparable to it such as small rocks.  If you are unable to do that, train on hills so that you can have stronger legs.   

When you educate yourself on the weather, you’ll be prepared with apparel, gear, and how to train. For example, if your race is in Florida and you live in Montana, it may be difficult to train in hot weather.  But you can assimilate your body by spending time in a sauna during your training.  Just training to run is not enough, if you are ill prepared you may drop from the race. 

How do you balance your running with all the responsibilities that comes with parenting and what advice do you have for other moms who are trying to strike the right balance?

Balance can be very difficult at times.  My girls take drum lessons, intense dance classes, and they’re also in weekend academic activities. I work long hours, so I have to wake up super early to get my run in before taking the girls to school and going to work.  I have very little wiggle room after work because I’m usually exhausted so I go to bed early so that I can wake up to run.   

I live by the acronym TDP – Team, Discipline, and Plan B.  

The “Team,” my husband and I, take turns with the girls’ pick-ups and drops offs.

The “Discipline” is setting up a schedule and sticking with it.  

“Plan B” is a back-up schedule so that in case life happens and you’re unable to stick to your original training plan, you still can get a few runs in and not panic.

What lessons do you think your girls are learning as a result of your running?  

The girls are learning the importance of health, discipline, and how you can achieve anything you set your mind to.  When my girls were younger, they liked to run with me.  Now, that they’re in their early teen years, they have absolutely no interest.  I wont push them, but I’m willing to bet they’ll run later in life. They also get to witness my husband being incredibly supportive of my running.  So, even though I’m the only person running, I don’t feel alone because the family shows me lots of love and support. 

I know your family means the world to you. How have they motivated you, particularly during running events?

At end of my solo 100 miler in May, I ran the last mile in front of our house. I was speed-walking/running – I was so exhausted. My husband and two girls came out on the steps of our house and they were singing and cheering for me. They even had a special cheer for me. It really pushed me. It was such a good feeling when I was finished. After I gave everyone hugs and kisses they handed me a warm plate of food. I was so exhausted I sat on the stairs and just ate.

My most memorable experience was probably at the finish line at Wildcat 100 miler. I was really depleted of energy. I was so tired. I had a shuffle where I was looking at the ground and I was barely moving my arms – I was really struggling.  I heard my youngest daughter yell my name and I was jolted with so much energy when I heard her voice.  I heard her say “C’mon Mommy you can do it.” I couldn’t see her because it was dark, but hearing her was amazing! All of a sudden I started running as fast as I could. That’s a moment I’ll never ever forget. When I think about it, it still makes me teary-eyed.

What were some of your favorite races?

My favorite was the Tortoise and the Hare Half Marathon in the Georgia Mountains.  That was an EPIC and BEAUTIFUL race.  The air alone was so crisp and clean.  I didn’t even mind the incredibly treacherous red mud slides. It was all a part of the magical journey. 

Aisha at Tortoise and the Hare Half Marathon

Do you have any races/running events on your bucket list?

A bucket list race for me is the The Two Oceans Ultra Marathon. It’s a 56 km/35-miler held annually in Cape Town, South Africa.  The route looks absolutely beautiful. 

Juliet’s Letter to our Black and Brown Sisters – Reasons to try trail running

Last week while running with my friend Robin, she mentioned wanting to encourage a friend to join her on the trails. That conversation churned in my head for an entire week. Concurrently I was working on Juliet’s interview. Although Juliet is a relatively new trail runner, her energy for the sport is infectious. I asked her to share why she thought more Black women should try trail running. Her responses connected with me on so many levels. Hopefully Juliet’s letter will give other Black women the motivation they need to join us on the trails.

Dear Sisters,

Trail running can be intimidating because we do not see too many people who look like us on the trails.  We are a rare breed. I am often the only Black girl on the trail, so I get it. It might seem scary or we may feel that it’s not for “us” and there are many reasons we can try to justify this reasoning; however, no reason can outweigh the benefits of trail running. Trails and forests are for everyone. The more comfortable you are on trails the more you figure out what works for you, and then you begin to reap the numerous benefits.

I grew up in Kenya where everyone looked like me so running as a person of color has never been an issue.  It wasn’t until I began running in the US that I realized that I was a minority, especially on the trails.

Trail running is good for our health and well-being. A sure way to combat the health problems in our community. I could go on and on about the benefits of trail running, but here are some highlights  from my experience.

A whole-body workout. You will exercise muscles you didn’t know existed! Running on trails is next level and the benefits increase exponentially the more you run. In fact, you feel the effects hours after you are done. You will strengthen and stabilize every muscle, joint, ligament, tendon, and bone in your body.

The quality of air is better. I cannot stress this enough. I vividly remember an experience on a trail that had tall trees. I breathed deeply, and I literally felt a sense of wellness go through my body in that moment and throughout the day. The Japanese have been practicing shinrin-yoku, which means forest bathing. I experienced the benefits of forest bathing that day and on all my trail runs.

Very relaxing.  Even if one is running, one is engulfed in the forest which provides a complete sensory experience that’s almost impossible to explain. The sounds, the scent, the sights, the feel of the soft terrain and the ability to taste the fresh air. An instant stress-reliever that brings about a feeling of comfort.

Its meditative. Go with an open mind and heart. You’ll be surprised the lessons you learn from nature. When I first started trail running, I would ruminate over what my lesson was going to be even before I hit the trail. This was backward thinking.  These days, I show up and be present and God surprises me every time. It is a beautiful experience.

It’s more private. There are no traffic lights, cars, or people staring on trails. As women, especially black women, we tend to be conscious about our bodies, so we shy away from gyms or exercising outdoors. I feel, it’s different on trails. Nobody really cares. Everyone is there to just enjoy the outdoors. You still get a few people who wonder why you are there but that is their issue and because I belong just like they do.

It’s not restrictive and never boring. No equipment is necessary, all skill levels are welcome and its free!  There is a sense of independence and adventure on trails, especially when exploring new trails. You can run as little as you want, as slow or fast as you want, and as far as you want to go.

See you on the trails!

Your Sister, Juliet


Couch to 50K to 100 milers – Dr. Olivia’s Journey

I met Olivia on Instagram and her journey immediately inspired me. It took a lot of restraint not to ask her a gazillion questions about her ultramarathons, the US states she’s run in, and what I needed to do to achieve my own 100-mile dream.  I also really wanted her to meet Adeline who I featured a few weeks ago when I launched this blog because they’ve both completed multiple 100-milers.   

Follow Olivia on Instagram @OliviaAdventures or join her Facebook group at Black Magic Trail Sisters

Olivia after finishing Yeti 100 mile race

The training is not much different from the 50-mile distance to the 100-mile distance but mindset becomes important.  You have to have your mind right.    You have to believe that you can do it and then never give up.  There will be highs and lows but you have to push through.

Dr. Olivia Affuso

What are your top trail running accomplishments?

I have completed three 100-mile races, but my top trail running adventure, to date, is completing the “marathon” distance of the Barkley Fall Classic directed by the infamous Lazarus Lake. It is STILL the hardest race I have ever done.

How long have you been a trail runner and what inspired you to pick up the sport?

I ran my first 4-mile trail race in 1994 but at the time I didn’t know anything about trail running.  It was not until 2011 that I discovered trail running in earnest.  It was in Tim Ferris’ book the 4-hour body that I learned about ultra-endurance athletes like Dean Karnazes, the book Born to Run, and the sport of ultra-trail running. I was inspired by Dean Karnazes (who I actually got to meet at my very first 50K) and the story about the women of the Tarahumara tribe of running people in Copper Canyon Mexico.

So, I went from couch to 50K in 5 months.  My rationale was that if I could do a road marathon, what was 5 more miles.

To date, I have completed a 50Ks in 13 states (AL, SC, NC, GA, FL, TN, TX, WA, AZ, LA, WI, VA, MS).  My favorite state so far has been Colorado where I did the Transrockies 3-day GU – 60 miler. The views were absolutely amazing! 

What advice do you have for those who would like to move up from the 50M/100K distance to the 100 mile distance?

The training is not much different from the 50-mile distance to the 100-mile distance but mindset becomes important.  You have to have your mind right.    You have to believe that you can do it and then never give up.  There will be highs and lows but you have to push through. It is also an important part of the training to have your nutrition and hydration dialed in.  That means practicing what you are going to use on race day.

Do you have a mantra that helps to get you through the low points in ultra races?

Some of the toughest races are looped courses.  So, for those, I focus on running from aid station to aid station. However, on the last loop, I often find myself saying “Just one more time.”

How do you balance your running life with other aspects of your personal/professional life?

I balance my running and the rest of my life by running shorter distances during the week and saving the longer runs for the weekend.  Since I rarely have long training runs over 20 miles, it is easier to get other things done.

What advice do you have for others who would like to begin trail running?

Find a trail, take a friend, and start running.  Also know that walking and hiking are big parts of trail running so don’t feel pressured to run the entire time.

What should the trail running community do to attract more black and brown women to the sport?

I think that more black and brown women will be attracted to the trail running community when they start to see more people that look like them in those spaces.  The trail running community in my experience has been welcoming, however, I think it will take a more personal approach to get more black and brown women on trails in spaces that may be perceived as not safe for women of color.  So, I think all trail running women should reach out to black and brown women to get more of us on the trails. 

What is your next trail running adventure?

If not for COVID-19, I would be running a 50K in one of the states left on my list. So, for now I am running a few virtual races including the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee (#GVRAT1000K) put on by none other than Laz. And I am hoping to run the Pinhoti 100 in November 2020.

What is your favorite trail running gear and why?

That is a tough question.  I love gear so it is hard to choose one favorite thing.  I guess as a practical person I would have to say the “Buff” is something that I almost always take with me on a run.  They are so versatile and can be worn as a hat, head band, neck gaiter, handkerchief, you name it.  

What is your favorite trail race and why?   

My favorite race so far has been the Yeti 100. Jason Green really knows how to put on a race/continuous party.  He is even there at the finish line to hug all of the finishers.  It was a great experience and I would recommend this race to anyone.

How has trail running impacted you and what has it taught you about yourself?

Trail running has provided me with numerous benefits.  I am the most fit that I have ever been, but I have also met some amazingly cool athletes from around the world including many in my own backyard [Alabama].  Trail running has taught me that I am far stronger than I had ever imagined, and that age IS just a number. 

Olivia getting a congratulatory hug from Yeti 100 Race Director, Jason Green
Olivia at the finish of Barkley Fall Classic

Tales from an ultra runner -Mahasin’s Journey

Running on trails slowed me down, helped me to appreciate the simple things and take time to enjoy nature. I’ve learned to enjoy the experience and to disconnect from the noise happening in the world.

Mahasin, Prince George’s County, MD

How long have you been a trail runner?

I’ve been running trails for about 4 years.

What inspired you to start trail running?

After running on pavement and running so many crowded marathons, I asked myself, what’s next? Plus, when you have friends who are ultramarathoners, they can be very convincing. I signed up for the Rosaryville 25k and I’ve been running trails ever since.

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

Running on trails slowed me down, helped me to appreciate the simple things, and take time to enjoy nature. I’ve learned to enjoy the experience and to disconnect from the noise happening in the world. On pavement you can easily get caught up in personal records (PRs), trying not to get lapped by other runners, and racing to the finish line to enjoy the after-parties. With trail running, it’s about me and nature – it’s my own time. It’s about appreciating the experience and simply finishing the race.

What are your thoughts about why more black and brown people aren’t represented in the trail running community?

Based on my experiences, there aren’t a lot of black and brown people running on trails. I haven’t had the opportunity to travel for trail races but the few that I have done, diversity is sparse. However, the larger and popular road races are diverse, and I think it has a lot to do with the popularity of running large races. However, when I travel and I am racing in smaller races in obscure locations, I may be one of a handful of non-white participants. (I would be interested in seeing some statistics about the racial make up of large races versus small races versus trail racing.)

There are a number of black and brown women who are road runners. What can we do to encourage them to give trail running a try?

To be honest, running on trails is kind of inconvenient and time consuming. Running 6 miles in the woods can take twice as long as running on pavement. Plus, it’s not like I can run out my front door and start running on a dirt trail. Therefore, my invitations to my non-trail running friends haven’t been accepted. I believe getting a group of the current black and brown trail runners together for a run every now and then may be the way to go. Then if people see a group of folks like them running, maybe black and brown runners would be more inclined to run on trails.

What’s the most memorable trail running experiences you’ve had?

My most memorable trail running experience is hugging my parents at the end of my first 50-miler (Stone Mill 50 in Montgomery, County MD). It was my longest race and finishing was a big accomplishment. It was so cold, I had been running all night and my parents told me they weren’t probably going be there. I was extremely surprised when I saw them standing in the dark and wrapped in blankets. One of the best moments EVER!

What is your next trail running adventure?

COVID has put a pin in my running adventures for 2020. I’m taking life easy, so I have nothing on my schedule.

What is your favorite trail running gear and why?

I like running with a buff because its multifunctional. I can use it to cover my face to protect me from spider webs in the summer, to cover my ears and face to keep me warm in the winter, or to simply use it as handkerchief. Simple but versatile.

What is your favorite trail race and why?

I think my favorite trail race thus far has been Virginia Happy Trails Running Club’s Half Marathon. I’ve only done it once, but the course was fun. It has one of my favorite down hills that you can’t help but fly down. The aid stations are awesome. Plus, the smoothie at the finish line is refreshing. Oh, I also love the tank top race shirt.

A trail runner who inspires us all – Adeline’s Journey

“Trail running has added to the quality of my life. I feel less pressured to be the fastest and I have a greater appreciation for nature and how we connect with the world around us.”

How long have you been a trail runner? 

I’ve been trail running since Fall of 2012 with Montgomery County Road Runners Club (Maryland) winter trail program. It was their inaugural year. 

What inspired you to start trail running? 

I had a bad experience at the Rock and Roll Vegas marathon. After the race, I no longer had a passion for road running and thought  what else is there?  A friend of mine that also ran the race kept raving about this book she had finished reading. The book was about trail running and this unknown running tribe in Mexico. I was extremely intrigued about this unknown hidden tribe of elite runners. The book: “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen,” by Christopher McDougall. I literally couldn’t put the book down and read every single word and was hooked. I had to try trail running. A few days after the RR Vegas marathon I received an email that MCRRC would be starting a trail running program and I didn’t hesitate to sign up and have never looked back since. The book also inspired me to run in minimal shoes. Yes, I run in Vibrams.

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

For me trail running has added to the quality of my life. I feel less pressured to be the fastest and I have a greater appreciation for nature and how we connect with the world around us. I have also traveled to places that I would never have before to run a race (Alabama, Ohio, Tennessee & I’m sure the list will grow once we are able to safely take part in group runs again post Covid19). I’ve faced some fears (snakes, bears, mud, poison ivy, sleeping on rocks, peeing/pooping in the woods and pushing through the night during 100 mile races). I’ve met some of the most amazing lifelong friends that I consider my trail sisters and brothers. Trail running has taught me that life, just as trails, has many ups and downs, some flats, many curves and obstacles. You have to put in the work to succeed. The work you put in to overcome those obstacles without cutting the course determines how you face challenges and obstacles in life. I push and push, I fall, I pick myself back up, wipe off the dirt, and finish the race with a smile even though there were many tears and uncertainties that got me to that point – the finish line.  And then I signed up for another race knowing that each challenge and outcome will be different from the one before and it’s the fight in me that will get me to the finish. 

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

I’m not sure if there were myths that I knew of beforehand or after. Personally, my hesitation before, was running in the woods and mountains. My fear of snakes, bears and many other unknown creatures or hunters that I may come across. Also, there are not many people that look like me (dark and extremely muscular) who trail run so I didn’t have the innate interest or acquisition. I’m built like a sprinter and I naturally gravitated towards road races where a good percentage of the runners look like me and I felt comfortable. 

What is your favorite trail? 

I cannot say I have a specific favorite trail. I’ve been on so many trails that it would be a disservice to name a favorite. There is something uniquely special about each one and also mundane at times. For me a good trail has all the bells and whistles in difficulty and variability of the terrain – mud, creek crossing, hills, flats, water crossings and a lot of greenery.

What is your next trail running adventure? 

As of now due to Covid-19, nothing. I’m partaking in many virtual races. I’ve pulled out of all my races if they haven’t yet been cancelled and enjoying the solitude of solo safe social distancing running. I’m thinking perhaps 2021, still too early to tell and make a definitive running race calendar. 

What is your favorite trail running gear and why? 

I love xoskin. For me, it’s the best running gear from head to toe. Since I’ve been wearing xoskin I’ve had no issues with chafing and or blisters and barely change during the long over night races. 

What is your favorite trail race and why? 

Stone Mill 50 (Montgomery County, MD) has a special place in my heart. It was my first 50 miler. I could never had imagined in my whole life that I would someday run a 50 miler. The race is the real deal. It’s challenging, beautiful scenery, local, affordable and has the best race director and volunteers. Runners that also run this race have a special quality to them that I’m impressed by. Highly recommend race. 

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.