A Day In The Life

The Trail Sisters break down misconceptions about the lifestyles of elite trail runners.

By on February 3, 2016 | Comments

From Pam:
As ultrarunning has grown, so has the media coverage of ultrarunning events and the top competitors. Race previews are available for big races on many blogs and and ultra websites. These previews focus on the top contenders for each race and inadvertently create a dichotomy amongst the competitors: the ‘elites’ and everyone else. Some of the big races now–such as The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships and the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile–even have separate fields for elites (or the ‘hares’ as Run Rabbit Run likes to call them).

Social media plays a big role, too, as many top runners post numerous pictures of themselves traveling around the globe and running in beautiful places. They select their best pictures and continue to post pictures from far-off locales, even when their current situation is much less glamorous. The mundane aspects of life are filtered out of social media, and sponsors may add to the pressure of posting only images that convey a certain lifestyle. All of these things can make the ‘elites’ look like they are living in a totally different reality.

But the reality is that only a handful of front runners are actually ‘professional’ athletes and the term ‘elite’ seems to really only mean ‘fast.’ I know several ‘elite’ runners who don’t like the term at all because it sounds pretentious. The Trail Sisters aren’t trying to change the terminology, but we certainly want to promote the idea that trail runners are a community, and regardless of how long it takes to finish a distance, we are more similar than different. We value being active, the beauty of nature, and setting big goals. But many elites also have lives outside of running that aren’t that different from everyone else’s in the race. Liza, Gina, and I usually have aspirations of placing high in the field or even winning when we line up, but we all have pretty ‘normal’ lives, too. This month we thought it’d be fun to provide a peek into what our typical days look like.

To set the stage, Liza, the oldest Trail Sister, lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband, Eliot, and her eight-year-old son and two-year-old daughter, Asa and Ruby. She teaches for the Wilderness Medicine Institute and coaches for Sharman Ultra Endurance Coaching.

Pam, the middle Trail Sister, is a full-time physician and a mother of two kids, Megan, age 11, and Liam, age 9. She lives with her husband, Mac, and kids just outside of Salem, Oregon.

Gina, the youngest Trail Sister, works remotely part-time for both Julbo and Ultimate Direction as their athlete and events manager, and she tackles a few other running-related projects.

From Liza:  
This is what most weekdays look like for me right now.

3:30 a.m.: Two-year-old Ruby, “Mooooooommmm!!!! Mommaaaaaaaaaa!!!” Sponsored-runner me: “Dear God in heaven! What time is it?!?”

3:31-5:00 a.m.: Lie under pink princess comforter whispering things like, “All the children in the world are asleep right now.” “Your mother needs sleep.” “Shhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

5:00-6:00 a.m.: Drink coffee. Make one ‘quesadilla’ for demanding and wide-awake two year old. “No cheese. Not cooked. Just peanut butter.” Drink more coffee. Skim an article about the importance of good sleep. Make playdough worms.

6:00-8:00 a.m.: Feed family. Say things like, “Keep the Millennium Falcon drone out of the kitchen.” “Hold it until we get to the bathroom!” Drive eight year-old to school. Clean litter box.

Liza Howard real life

Does this count as a core workout? (Please?) Photo: Eliot Howard

8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.: Goals while Asa is at school and Ruby is underfoot:

  • Strength training
  • Check in on coaching clients
  • Clean up house
  • Run with baby jogger
  • Exceptional mothering

Most often accomplished: Playdough worms.

12:00-1:00 p.m.: Lunch (“Quesadilla. No cheese. Not cooked. Just peanut butter.”) and naptime!!!!!!!!

1:00-2:30 p.m.: Work from home while entertaining two year-old. (Hahahahahah!) Drink coffee.

2:30-6:30 p.m.: Hang out with moms in front of the elementary school and talk trash. Pick up eight-year-old Asa. Oversee homework and Minecraft-ing. Prevent over exuberant kitten hugging. Drive minivan to and fro. Cook an un-Instagram-able dinner.

6:30-7:30 p.m.: Read books like How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? and Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer.

7:31 p.m.: Woohooooo!!!! The kids are in bed! Dance around the messy house with husband.

7:32-9:30 p.m.: Run on garage treadmill.

9:30-10:00 p.m.: Beauty regimen including deep exfoliation and eye cream. Kidding. Beer.

Everyday glamour aside, free running gear and help with race-entry fees and travel makes a huge difference in my family’s budget.  I wouldn’t be able to race as much, change out my running shoes before their 500-mile odometer turned, or wear cute, matching outfits if New Balance didn’t sponsor me. And I could not be more grateful. But, like Pam said, in our community the word elite means little more than faster.

Meanwhile in Salem, Oregon…

From Pam:
4:20 a.m.: Alarm goes off, and I am UP! I don’t snooze, ever.

4:20-4:50 a.m.: Throw on my running gear, grab my work clothes, pack up breakfast and lunch, make a cup of tea (decaf!), and drive to Winco (24-hr supermarket) parking lot to meet friends.

4:55 a.m.: Pre-run dynamic stretching drills. My running partner got me on to these when he was coming back from injury.

5:00-6:45 a.m.: Run! Salem has some dedicated morning runners and we usually have a decent group for our pre-dawn jaunt around the town. It definitely makes it easier to get up on a cold and rainy day when you know someone else will be out there with you. Even track and tempo runs are usually with the 5 a.m. crowd.

6:45-7:15 a.m.: Shower at the gym. When I am heat training, this is when I do my sauna time. (And then I get to work about 20 minutes later.)

7:30 a.m.: Get to work. Scarf down my breakfast. Answer a few emails and then settle in behind my microscope to tell people what’s wrong with all the bits and pieces that have been removed from their bodies. (I am a pathologist; I diagnose diseases by looking at tissue under a microscope and determining if anything is wrong with it, and if so, what.)

Pam Smith real life

Why, yes, I do own non-running clothes! Photo courtesy of Pam Smith.

10:00 a.m.: Put on the white coat, time to act like a ‘real’ doctor and see a patient for a procedure. My specialty is hematology and I do a lot of bone-marrow biopsies, and some other biopsy procedures as well.

11:00 a.m.: More slides, administrative stuff, and whatever else I need to get done before leaving work.

4:00 p.m.: Pick up Liam at school and drive him to karate while Mac and Megan are at 100 Mile Club. (Megan runs, Mac coaches.) When I am really motivated, I can get a few extra miles in here or 30-plus minutes at the gym. Most days I spend this hour staring into space (with a little reading or some social-media gawking).

5:30 p.m.: Dinner! We are all starving! We try to eat together as much as possible, but I admit it is fairly rare for us to all eat the same thing.

6:30 p.m.: Force Liam to bathe. Discuss what the maximum acceptable number of days without bathing is, and then point out that he is two days past this cutoff. Play a game with Megan while Liam is in the bath. Megan is an excellent game player and holds her own at adult games. (And I don’t go easy on her!) Liam, um, prefers other activities after his bath (light sabers, Nerf guns, drones–nothing too quiet).

8:00 p.m.: Whew! Time to start winding down. Make breakfast and lunch for the next day. Lay out running clothes and work clothes for the next day. Read for 15 to 20 minutes (currently Mutiny on the Bounty).

8:30 p.m.: Tuck Liam in. Megan tucks me in! Megan is allowed to stay up till 9:00 or even 9:30 some nights to read, so most week nights, she tucks me in!

8:32 p.m.: Zzzzzzzzz.

From Liza:
So, yeah, the elite and sponsored ultrarunner lifestyle isn’t all it’s Instagram-ed up to be. Gina’s description is up next and will sound a lot more idyllic, but I imagine your day sounded a lot more idyllic when you were in your twenties and before you had kids–when you might have chosen lifestyle over economic security or even a nice dental plan.

From Gina:
My day always begins when the sun starts to peer into my bedroom window. I’m an earlier riser even though I don’t need to be… no office to hussle to. First order of business is to make coffee. While I wait for my French-press brew, I fire up the Mac and log into my Gmail. I spend the next three hours in my sweats replying to athlete and brand emails for Julbo USA and Ultimate Direction. When speaking with an average of 35-plus athletes per day, it feels like a social catch-up with friends, mixed with lots of product orders and content creation. I’ll take a few 10-minute breaks to stretch or do a few planks when switching back and forth from brands or projects.

Around 10 a.m. I head out for a run. Most days I meet up with fellow Boulderite, Darcy Piceu. We live fairly close, so we meet on the trail and either head to the famed Mount Sanitas, or we drive to Chautauqua Park to run some vert. Normal runs last about 1.5 to 2.5 hours. Conversation topics are what you’d expect… for the most part.

Gina Lucrezi real life

Goofing down the trail from Sanitas. Can’t help but let my ‘crezi’ take over during a beautiful, fun run. Photo: Ashley Arnold

When I get home I always make a shake. Depending how chilled I am, I’ll either make a complicated smoothie including ingredients like berries, chia seeds, spinach, or will simply mix whey protein with almond milk and call it good.

While I’m sipping some yummy calories, I pull out my iPhone and skim emails for any urgent matters that I missed while running. Next, I’ll log into Instagram and post a photo from the run, most likely using too many hashtags. About 10 minutes later I’m in the shower to a) get warm, b) get clean, and c) stretch.

At 2:30 p.m. I finally make myself a legit lunch. Usually a salad with sauteed veggies and chicken… oh, and tortilla chips for the added crunch factor. I’ll keep the stoke flowing by jamming to Fleetwood Mac while sitting at my kitchen table, answering work emails and pausing for a bite here and there.

The rest of my afternoon is filled with creating content or researching various things in the running world. I’m generally interested in what is happening within the running industry, and secondly, it is part of my job to keep current with community happenings. And as a close third, I’m always looking for more little gigs since part-time work isn’t conducive for building a 401k… let alone shopping at Whole Foods.

When Justin, my boyfriend, arrives home at 5:30 p.m., I close my Mac and head to the gym with him for some weight training. This second workout happens about four times a week. I normally lift for one hour focusing on my upper body, and then do some maintenance work on my lower body.

Around 7 p.m. I’ll make dinner or we will opt to visit The Hungry Toad, Native Foods Cafe, or Proto’s Pizza. I like to go out because a) I want to get out of the house since I work from home, b) I normally don’t want to cook (I’m not great at it), and c) I don’t want to do the dishes. Conversation includes a quick recap of our days, and then a long list of new adventures I’m plotting.

By 8:30 p.m., Justin and I are finished with dinner and rooted into the couch in front of the TV. Either we are watching a Jayhawks game (this is mandatory during basketball season) or we are watching an episode or two of Homeland (so addictive). Though the TV is on, I have a habit of also tuning into any remaining work emails that may have come up. I’ll shoot off quick responses and then quit working for the night.

Around 10 p.m. I’m brushing my teeth, taking out my contacts, and hopping into bed. Within 10 minutes I’m usually asleep.

My lifestyle choice is obviously designed to compliment my training and racing. I want the ability to run whenever and wherever my heart desires. If I want, I can drive to the Grand Canyon tomorrow, or pack my car and move to Oregon next week. I’m as free as a bird, as long as I have enough money to pay for gas! Which leads me to the cons of this lifestyle choice… MONEY!

Choosing to work multiple, remote part-time jobs doesn’t help with any financial gains. Finding remote part-time jobs can also be a challenge. I’m not able to save money for the long haul, I can only afford catastrophic health insurance (fingers crossed I stay in one piece), and will have to drive my Xterra to the moon (238,900 miles) before being able to purchase another used car. Every choice we make has ups and downs!

In general, though, most everybody running ultras has to squeeze their training around busy agendas and obligations. But maybe having full itineraries strengthens our ability to handle stress, thus benefiting our racing? In any event, what separates most trail runners is only their performance at a race, not the lives they live beyond sport. We are a community that collectively loves running trails and being outside. We experience the same love for fresh air, beautiful views, and the endorphin rush that can’t be matched!

To further paint a colorful picture of our real lives, Liza, Pam, and I will post life happenings on our Instagram accounts today. We won’t sugar coat anything! I’m pretty sure these posts will be quite different from typical Instagram feeds and maybe hilarious. Here’s how to find us and follow along:

Follow our feeds, or search out our hashtags: #trailsisters  #adayinthelife

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you post on your social-media channels representative examples of your life or do you focus on posting about its more exciting and positive aspects?
  • Does anyone else want to play along with the Trail Sisters in revealing what a ‘normal’ day looks like for you–the highs and the lows included? Leave a comment!
Trail Sisters
Trail Sisters is a group of three women, each with unique opinions, ideas, and attitudes toward all things trail and ultrarunning. Pam Smith is a mom, physician, and lover of running who lives in Oregon. Liza Howard is a mom and 100-mile specialist from Texas. Gina Lucrezi is a Colorado-based short-distance speedster exploring the realms of ultrarunning.