Sally McRae is Fueled By the Competition and the Fun of Ultra Running!
Today on the show, I’m doing my best to keep up with Sally McRae for a few easy miles.
Sally is still somewhat new to the ultra distance scene, but she’s quickly proving herself to be right there with the best trail and ultra runners in the world.
When I posed my opening question to Sally, her answer proved immediately that she’s insane: her favorite distance to race is 100 miles because “it allows her the opportunity to spend the most possible time in the mountains”.
Call me crazy, but just go camping for a few days and you can spend a longer amount of time in the mountains without beating yourself up by racing 100 miles.
But I digress…
Sally’s Love for the Mountains Runs Deep…
Sally grew up in southern California, but as a kid she was able to spend a significant amount of time, especially in the summers, in the mountains.
Her parents helped out with a summer camp through her church when she was a kid, so Sally and her siblings were able to go to the mountains during the weeks that her parents were participating in the camps.
The fresh air, the quiet, and the beauty of the mountains are things that Sally still enjoys about the mountains to this day.
…And So Does Her Love of Running
As a kid, Sally definitely enjoyed running.
She started racing at 7 years old, and was also playing soccer and participating in gymnastics at the time.
So clearly she’s quite the athlete.
But she remembers winning most of the races she ran as a kid, and beating the boys in grade school is always nice as well!
As she got older, her athletic focus definitely shifted to soccer. However, her coach encouraged the soccer players to run track in the off season to work on their fitness. So Sally joined the track team and found herself running the sprint events.
Yes, she was a sprinter. And now she’s a hundred miler. Talk about different ends of the running spectrum, eh?
A Dramatic Change of Plan
As a kid, Sally was a really good soccer player.
And not just good for her local area, but good on the national level.
During high school, she was being recruited by many of the major college soccer programs around the country and her goal was to make the US Women’s National Team in the not too distant future.
Until she lost her mom to cancer.
At that point, Sally’s perspective completely changed. She stopped contacting the schools that were recruiting her to come play at their schools, became the guardian for her younger siblings, and contemplated dropping out of school to be able to work two jobs to support her younger siblings.
She ended up playing college soccer at a much smaller school (D-III), and that really impacted her outlook on life going forward.
Getting Into Endurance Running
After her college soccer days were over, and after a year as part of Ambassadors in Sport, Sally came home and started teaching english.
But something was missing.
The competitiveness was still burning brightly inside of her, and she missed lack of camaraderie of being a member of a team.
Shortly after she got married, her and her husband headed to China to teach english to Chinese students. Before working, she would get up early in morning and go explore the city she was in by running.
After running/sightseeing for several weeks, she was hooked on endurance running. When she got back home, she was ready to tackle her first marathon.
Her first road marathon was a bit on the rough side, ending up with bloody feet and blisters, but she loved the experience (especially the training)!
After that race she heard about the Boston Marathon for the first time, qualified for Boston in her next marathon, and in marathon #3 she ran Boston! She then had her first child, ran Marine Corps, and eventually stumbled across the sport of ultra running.
Becoming an Elite Ultra Runner
When Sally started running ultras, she was definitely good but certainly was not at the level of the elites of the sport.
But she was hooked, and she was willing to do what it took to do the training.
She spent hours on the treadmill, would run late at night if that was the only time that was available to train, and found herself on the path toward overtraining and possibly some serious injury problems.
An IT Band issue sidelined her for several months, and forced her to reassess her priorities if she was going to be serious about ultra running.
After a year of running recreationally, she got back to running and racing ultras in 2012. As is her personality, and perhaps the personalities of many ultra runners, Sally dove back in head first and ended up injured again; this time with a stress fracture that sidelined her for the rest of the year after just a couple of races.
In 2013, her competitive nature took over and she became a different runner.
She decided to focus on running some of the more popular races, placed well that year, and caught the attention of Nike.
When Nike reached out to Sally to ask if she had a sponsor, she thought the email was just spam! But after some of her running buddies told her to respond, things happened really fast. She responded, within the next day she was sponsored, and a few days later she was on her way to Nike HQ!
The Challenges of Balancing Racing and Recovery
One of the big differences that I’ve noticed between elite road racers and elite trail/ultra races is the number of races that they tend to run in a given year.
Many of the elite road racers will only run one or two marathons in any given year, yet with ultra athletes it seems like they are racing much more frequently.
I asked Sally about that, who once again is planning on running both Western States AND UTMB this year, about how she balances racing long and demanding races with the appropriate amount of time for recovering between events.
She admitted that it’s tough.
There are so many big events each year in the ultra world, and there really is no off season. So planning your schedule, and sticking to it, is definitely tough.
Sally also talked about the importance and benefits of having a flexible training plan, doing regular strength training, and taking care of the aches and pains with rolling/massage work as necessary.
Finding the Time for the Little Things
As runners, most of us want to run as much as we can. But if we are serious about improving as runners, and being able to continue running for years into the future, we need to make time in our schedules to focus on the details.
We are all busy with life, but none of us are so busy that we can’t find time for stretching/strength training/foam rolling.
Don’t think you have time? Sally would beg to differ.
But here’s the thing, we all have the same amount of time in the day. No matter how busy we are, we can find time in our days to incorporate little things in our daily routine that will make us better runners.
We just have to be willing to do what needs to be done on a consistent basis.
And you might be surprised how much of a difference that will make in your running over time.
At the end of the day, if running is important enough to you, you will find a way to fit the “details” into your routine.
Sally recently posed a question on social media asking people why they run.
She asked people to respond with their answers, and use the hashtag #irunbecause in their responses.
So I had to ask Sally why she runs.
And the answer was pretty simple: Sally McRae runs because she loves it!
If you want to see some of the many reasons why people run, check out some of the many amazing responses that Sally received to her simple question.
If you haven’t connected with Sally McRae yet, I definitely suggest it! Check out her website, and/or make sure to say hi to her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
As Always, I’d Love to Know What Stood Out to You From this Episode! Let Me Know Your Takeaway in the Comments Below!
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So much to say here…first of all, I love Sally McRae and I’m so excited that you got to join her for a few easy miles. Much of her story hit home with me and she shared some words I needed to hear at just the right time. She echoed many of my own thoughts about training and making running something that adds to your life in a positive way and not as a stressor. Thank you Sally for sharing some of your story with us.
Thanks for tuning in Angela! Glad our conversation was something that you needed to hear in the moment. ❤️❤️❤️