Sally McRae lines up as a local favorite for this weekend’s Sean O’Brien 50 Mile. In the following interview, Sally talks about her history with running, what she thought her best 2013 performance was, how she trains for ultra-distance racing, and her plans for racing aggressively tomorrow.
Sally McRae Pre-2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Sally McRae before the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile. How are you doing, Sally?
Sally McRae: I’m good, thank you. How are you?
iRunFar: Alright. I think I saw you briefly at TNF 50 last year, but this is your first interview here so we’d love to hear some of your running background. How long have you been running?
McRae: I’ve been running… well, I guess my whole life I’ve been running. I was a soccer player for about 22 years. Then after college I decided to take up endurance running to stay in shape and hopefully get a little bit of the competitive… I still like being competitive, so that’s why I continued doing the running. I did that for about 10 years and then in 2009 I started looking at trail running.
iRunFar: What drew you to the trails?
McRae: That’s a good question. I’ve always loved the mountains and the hills and just being out in nature. I had started reading, I think it was, maybe a Runner’s World article that kind of sparked my interest. It just really exposed the trail running community and these different distances. I thought, Oh, I want to try that.
iRunFar: So what did you do—step into shorter distance trail running first or did you jump straight in?
McRae: I jumped straight in. I jumped right into the American River 50 Mile; it was my first race. I had read a lot before that trying to understand how the sport went. They were always encouraging, If you’ve done the marathon, first do a 50k before you do a 50 mile. I typically don’t like to do things in a conventional way, so I thought, You know, I’m going to try the 50 mile.
iRunFar: How did that go?
McRae: It went pretty well. I think I got eighth place. I didn’t know much about taking in nutrition for that whole point and salt tablets. So about mile 36, it was the first time I’ve ever in my life experienced horrible muscle pain and tightness and spasms. Somebody on the trail, actually John Blue, came back and gave me some salt tabs. So I learned my lesson the first time around, but it was a fun race.
iRunFar: So you’ve kept going with the ultra stuff since then.
McRae: I have.
iRunFar: Had some very good results last year. Probably your best would have been sixth at Lake Sonoma? Did that sort of feel like the highlight of your year last year?
McRae: Yeah, that was a fun race. The course itself is very similar to the trails that I train on, the relentless up and down and up and down. So I felt really comfortable running that race. I felt like I came in with really good fitness. Winning Cuyamaca—obviously, it’s fun to come in first, but I felt like because Lake Sonoma is such a competitive race, I was very pleased with that one.
iRunFar: You’re originally from southern California. You’re a native.
McRae: Yes. Yes.
iRunFar: So do you end up training on the trails in Orange County?
McRae: Yeah. Laguna Beach—there’s the Laguna Canyons. Irvine has some awesome trails as well. I live literally a mile away from three different trailheads. That’s where I train the most. I do train in the L.A. mountains with my crew, all the guys, so that’s where I get in some really solid training, climbing up mountains and just long runs.
iRunFar: If I’ve read correctly, you train at a pretty high volume?
McRae: For the most part, yeah. I like to. I think it’s good to have good volume on your legs.
iRunFar: What does a typical week look like for you? In-season training?
McRae: In-season training? I usually actually only peak out at about 100 miles/week. I do average about 85 miles/week. I do think it’s important to incorporate run workouts regardless of the distance I’m training for. If I do have some more intense workouts I usually drop the mileage a little bit and I might drop into the 70’s [miles/week].
iRunFar: What are your workouts? Are you on the track? Are you doing fartleks? Are you actually…
McRae: Yeah, sometimes I’ll get on the track. I’m a coach, too. There’s a workout I like to do called ‘The Better Runner Workout.’ I’ll do running drills. It’s really just to strengthen my body. Then I think it’s good to continue to awaken the fast-twitch muscles, so I like doing intervals on the track. I’ll do tempo runs and hill bounding and hill repeats and stuff like that. I think it’s all important as far as balancing out.
iRunFar: So you really mix it up.
McRae: Yeah, yeah. Keep it fun.
iRunFar: It’s not just going 100 miles just easy on the trails.
McRae: Right. For sure.
iRunFar: What’s your goal this weekend? Do you have anything in particular in mind?
McRae: I do. I have my eye on the podium. My goal is to run Western States this year. So there’s this race and then there’s Lake Sonoma. Those are my two big races before June. I absolutely am going to be racing and running hard, and that is the focus for tomorrow—to get on that podium.
iRunFar: Does that change your strategy? Does it counsel towards being a little reserved and just trying to go for that top three or are you going to be aggressive out there?
McRae: I’m going to be pretty aggressive. I’m aware of the other women that are coming in. I’ve raced against a handful of them. I’m also just aware of how the other women train and their results. I know it’s not going to be an easy win. Yeah, my strategy is just to run hard and run strong. Obviously we always say we want to run our own race, but I am going to get in there right away and just kind of get a feel for the front pack and see where everyone is, but also just make sure to stick to what I know is my strengths and when to make my move and when to be conservative.
iRunFar: You’re on the new Nike Trail Elite Team.
McRae: Yeah. Very exciting.
iRunFar: How did that come about for you?
McRae: Honestly, I am still trying to figure that out. It’s been pretty overwhelming in a really good way. Basically, they just contacted me through my website one day and asked if I had a sponsor. Supposedly they had been watching last year, and that was pretty exciting. So, gosh, it just went so fast. We talked for a couple of days and within a couple of days I was signed. Immediately they flew me up there, and we had the Nike Trail Summit up there and got to meet the entire Nike Running Department. It’s made up of some amazing people. Yeah, so it’s been pretty exciting. It’s nice to go into a race and just to continue training knowing that you have the support of a company.
iRunFar: So I was going to ask you, how does it change your perspective on things? Does it put pressure? You get more support which is important.
McRae: Yeah, for sure. I think at the end of the day, having that support and having that company believe in you—I’d say across the board regardless of your sport, being able to be a Nike athlete is pretty awesome. So it has put a little bit more pressure on me and forced me to be even more disciplined I guess than what I was because I want to take that seriously. I want to represent them well. I know that they’re a little bit newer coming into the trail scene, so there are a lot of mixed opinions about that. So I’d love to be a good representative to them in that way. Yeah, overall, I’m just excited. I’m very grateful and so completely humbled that they would even reach out to me in the first place because there are a lot of amazing chicks that race and that don’t have sponsors. So I just felt like my website was maybe in the right place at the right time? I don’t know.
iRunFar: In the lobby just a couple of minute ago you, Chris Vargo, and I were talking about the new Nike Terra Keiger. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
McRae: Yes, the Terra Keiger—which actually I’m not going to race in, I’m going to race in their Wildhorse.
iRunFar: Okay then tell us about the Nike Wildhorse. I don’t know about that yet, so…
McRae: Oh, okay. The Keiger, I think, has a little bit less to the shoe. They both have a 4mm drop which I’m used to. I’ve always raced in a road 4mm drop shoe on the trails. So when Nike first approached me, I was a little hesitant because I was like, “I can’t genuinely go with a company if I haven’t tried your shoes yet.” So right away I went and I searched three different places to find the Keiger and it was all sold out. I found the Wildhorse and took it on the trails and it just hugs my forefoot in the right spot especially on technical downhill. I was kind of convinced then that it was a great shoe. It’s got a little more cushion to it which I think would make it a great shoe for any distances beyond the marathon and especially for this course. There are some pretty gnarly long downhill descents, so having a little bit more to the shoe… that’s why I went with the Wildhorse. Whereas the Keiger has a bit less, it feels a bit lighter but I don’t think it actually necessarily is. I just, between the two shoes Wildhorse was my favorite… and I love the name ‘Wildhorse.’
iRunFar: There you go. The new Nike Wildhorse. Is it the Zoom Wildhorse?
McRae: I think, yes, it is the Zoom Wildhorse. I hope I get that right.
iRunFar: I don’t know. I’m honestly asking you.
McRae: I know this one is the Zoom…
iRunFar: Yeah, the Zoom Terra Keiger. Sally, it was great talking to you and good luck this weekend.
McRae: It was good talking to you, too. Thanks.