Maria Shields, 61-Year-Old Speedster, Interviewed

An interview with 61-year-old ultrarunner Maria Shields.

By on August 22, 2012 | Comments

Maryland resident Maria Shields ran her first 100-mile race at the 2012 Umstead 100. The 61-year-old finished in 22:52:06. We think that’s speedy for not only a first 100-mile attempt, but also for a 61-year-old woman, so Meghan Hicks called her up to see how she did it.

Maria Shields - 2012 Umstead 100

Maria Shields running the 2012 Umstead 100. Photo: Blake Norwood

iRunFar:  Hi, Maria.

Maria Shields:  Hi there, Meghan, thanks so much for calling.

iRF:  It’s my pleasure. Now you’re from Maryland, right?

Shields:  Yes, in a town near Annapolis. It’s called Davidsonville. It’s only about 15 minutes from Annapolis, where the Naval Academy is.

iRF:  Yes. Are you an East-Coaster by birth or by import?

Shields:  Actually, I was born and raised in Portugal, but I’ve been in the United States for many years. When I came from Portugal, I was 16 years old. I’ve been in this general area since then.

iRF:  Were you in a military family or…?

Shields:  No, actually I just came with my mom and dad. We had an uncle that lived here. He asked us if we wanted to come. I’m so glad we did.

iRF:  How different your life could be!

Shields: I know. Really, I’m just so glad my dad made that decision to come to the United States. It’s awesome. I love it.

iRF:  Well, you came onto our radar here at iRunFar because you ran a speedy Umstead 100 this past spring. You are 61 years old, yes?

Shields:  Yes.

iRF:  You ran a 22:52 at Umstead. This was also your first 100. Is that correct?

Shields:  That’s correct.

iRF:  So, this is fascinating. You’re a speedy lady.

Shields:  Oh, thank you very much. It was a shock to me, too.

iRF:  What is your background in running? You must have some history with this sport for you to run a 100-mile race at age 61.

Shields:  Well, my first marathon was in 1996, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. Then, the following year I did the same one. I qualified for Boston, so I’ve been to Boston four times. Ten years ago, I ran the JFK 50 Mile. Then, I took a break from ultras, but I continued to run marathons, 10k’s, 5k’s, and so forth.

Last year, one of my girlfriends who I train with, she said, “You know what, we have to do some 50 milers.” So we trained together and we signed up for the Bull Run Run in Virginia. I did it last year and broke the age-group record. I did it in 11:42. Then the follow-up in November was Mountain Masochist in Lynchburg, VA. I did that one in 11:22.

iRF:  You picked a couple pretty hard 50 milers. Did you run with your girlfriend in both of them?

Shields:  She didn’t make it unfortunately. I did run with another friend that I’ve run with for many years. We were talking and she wanted me to run 100 miles. I said, “Oh, my gosh. I don’t know that I could do a 100 miles, that is pretty steep.” Anyway, we got to talking about it with another friend. He said, “Hey, if you want to do Umstead, as soon as the registration opens, it fills. You have to go online really quick.” So I did. I was beside myself, and I said, “Oh my gosh, this could happen to me.” So this was in November. I trained with 70 miles per week. My goal was 26 hours. So to do 22:52 was a big shock.

iRF:  How did you come up with that first goal? Was it the time on your 50 milers and extrapolating?

Shields:  Yeah, it was based on my times. I had to figure so much time to eat and so much time to take my breaks and so forth. I added everything up and thought, “Okay, if everything goes well, I’m going to try to do it in 26 hours.” Everything went so well. I never experienced any kind of fatigue.

iRF:  I think people a third your age running 100 milers would beg for that experience.

Shields: I really don’t know what happened to me that day. I just have to go by my training. I trained really well for it. Afterwards the recovery time, I had no fatigue; I didn’t hurt anywhere. It was a miracle. Everybody asked me, “How did you do that?” I said, “I don’t know.” I had my two girlfriends there with me. They fed me. They made me walk a mile every time to eat. They changed my clothes, my shoes, and they rubbed my feet. I was so spoiled.

iRF:  A brilliant crew.

Shields:  I have awesome friends. I couldn’t have done it without them.

iRF:  I want to ask you about the details of the race. At what point during the day did you ask yourself, “I’m not only going to pass my goal, but look at the people around me. I’m clearly beating people who are in a different age group?” Were those things going through your mind?

Shields:  Every loop I ran—there were eight 12.5 mile loops—I was thinking, “Alright, there are people in my age group here, so how am I doing?” The thought that was really going through my mind was, “How am I going to feel at 70 miles? Am I going to hurt? Am I going to be able to run anymore?” Every loop I ran, I was very consistent in my time. I felt great. My girlfriends, they could not believe it.

After the first loop, my friend got mad and said, “You’re going to fast,” because I’d run 2:09. I said, “But I’m feeling so good.” It was kind of a fun thing between us because every loop she’d tell me to slow down. But every loop that I was doing, it was very consistent in time. It just gave me encouragement to continue on because I was feeling so great.

iRF:  Congratulations!

Shields:  Well, thank you. I appreciate that.

iRF:  Let me ask you to put this race in the context of your life. You dabbled in ultramarathon running 10 to 12 years ago. You ran the JFK 50 Mile in 2001 after being a marathon runner for a period of time before that, right?

Shields:  Right. I’ve been a runner for 16 years.

iRF:  Okay, so adult-onset running and adult-onset ultrarunning. What inspired you to go down that path?  You said you have girlfriends who are really supportive. Was there anything else going on in your life that was a good reason for this adult-onset ultrarunning?

Shields:  Back then, when I ran my first marathon, I joined the Annapolis Striders, the running club. I trained with them for my first marathon in 1996 and 1997. I was very involved. But I’ve always goals for myself. Now, I want to go back and do another 100 next year and try to break that national (age group) 100-mile record of 22:15.

iRF:  So say that again. Is that the national age group record, 22:15?

Shields:  Yes, 22:15, by Helen Klein. She did that time when she was my age. I think she’s in her 80s now.

iRF:  So that’s what you have your eyes set on. A lot of people use ultrarunning as a means for bettering themselves or as a means for developing goals for themselves outside of their professional life or their family life—a true personal goal. Some people use ultrarunning as a way to go and see beautiful or unusual places. What does ultrarunning mean to you?

Shields:  I love the challenge. I love to be on the trails. I love the scenery, the beauty. I still love to run marathons. But ultrarunning is a different type of running. You’re on soft ground. You have the beauty of the trails.

iRF:  What about wear and tear? You’ve been a runner for awhile, you’re 61. Do you get any niggles or pain?

Shields:  Running keeps me healthy, I’m sure. If I don’t run for a couple of days, I start to feel little twinges here and there. I also go to the gym and work out. I do speed workouts on the track. I do something physical every single day. I’ve never really had any injuries.

iRF: I think of my mom. She’s in the same age group as you. She’s active. She goes to the gym, lifts weights, walks three or four miles on the treadmill almost every day. But if I called her up and said, “Hey, I talked to a lady your age who runs ultramarathons pretty fast,” my mom’s mind would be boggled. What would you say to women your age?

Shields:  Exercise because it’s so great for your health. If you’re a runner and you catch yourself saying, “Geesh, I’d love to run a 10k or a marathon or even an ultra,” then do it! Start training and follow a schedule and do it. It’s never too late to start running. That’s an absolute truth.

iRF:  Your love of running clearly propels you. You’re actively chasing records. Where we’ll hear about you next?

Shields:  I’ll go for that record at Umstead next year. Sometimes I wish I were younger.

iRF:  Older women are making waves in our sport, though. I’m sure you’ve heard of Meghan Arbogast. She’s 51 and she’s beating women half her age. She just came tenth place at the Western States 100. A few weekends before that, she was fifth at the World 100k Championships in Italy, not just among master’s runners, but fifth overall.

Shields:  Boy, that’s amazing. She inspires me!

iRF:  Well, gosh, Maria, you inspire me. Thanks for taking the time to chat.

Shields:  Well, thank you!

iRF:  We’ll be keeping our eye on you and that record next year.

Shields:  Well, I appreciate that.

Meghan Hicks

Meghan Hicks is the Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar. She’s been running since she was 13 years old, and writing and editing about the sport for around 15 years. She served as iRunFar’s Managing Editor from 2013 through mid-2023, when she stepped into the role of Editor-in-Chief. Aside from iRunFar, Meghan has worked in communications and education in several of America’s national parks, was a contributing editor for Trail Runner magazine, and served as a columnist at Marathon & Beyond. She’s the co-author of Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running with Bryon Powell. She won the 2013 Marathon des Sables, finished on the podium of the Hardrock 100 Mile in 2021, and has previously set fastest known times on the Nolan’s 14 mountain running route in 2016 and 2020. Based part-time in Moab, Utah and Silverton, Colorado, Meghan also enjoys reading, biking, backpacking, and watching sunsets.