Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Runner's Spotlight: Meet Rachel McPhillips

It has been awhile since I've done a Runner's Spotlight and I couldn't think of a better person to get the ball rolling again. I met Rachel last year when we shared a van for 36 hours during the Hood to Coast Relay. I vividly remember Rachel mentioning to me her desire to run the Mercedes Marathon as her first. I told her if she signed up, I would as well. Flash forward to the present and in just a few days, I'll be heading to Birmingham to run the Mercedes Marathon alongside Rachel. Well...most it. I'm still easing back into running from my recent injury so I'm planning to run about 16 miles with her.

I think the most satisfying thing about being a marathoner is witnessing someone else take on their first. Your first marathon is something you never forget. When I think back to mine, it brings nothing but warm memories. So, my excitement about Rachel's first is that she will soon get to experience all those amazing emotions of running a marathon. She has trained very hard for this and I know she is going to have a great race!

Rachel was kind enough to take some time out of her busy mommy life (she has two little ones) to answer a few of my questions. Runners, meet Rachel!

When did you start running and why?
Rachel McPhillips: I started running in the Fall of 2009 so I could mark "Run a 5K" off my bucket list. A month later, I signed up for my first half. It took a couple of those before I fell in love with running. Once I realized that running is about competing with yourself and not trying to prove anything to anyone else, is when it stopped being a chore and became a priority.

Do you remember what your first road race was?
RM: My first road race was the Jingle Bell 5K in December 2009. It was rainy, and cold and I wasn't sure if I would actually finish.

What was your most memorable race?
RM: I love to soak up the essence of a race. I think every finish line you cross changes who you are from when you crossed the start line. I remember vivid details about all of my races. There are 3 races that stick out in my mind-- one is Nike Women's DC, where I ran it side by side with one of my best friends, Molly. The Tiffany necklace at the end wasn't so bad either. The second race is Hood to Coast with Nuun Hydration. While that was definitely more of an experience vs the actual race, I met some of the most amazing people on that trip that I now get to call friends, plus run for a company that I truly believe in and love.  The third race that sticks out in my mind is the Talladega Half. It was my goal race and I basically had a panic attack in the beginning of it and fell off pace. I wanted to quit in the middle of it, but kept pushing on and ended up running the last half with a friend and we had an absolute blast!

Do you have a weirdest/funniest running moment? 
RM: All the weird moments are gross, so I won't share those with the Internet, but probably one of the funniest moments is when I tripped and fell during a race. I rolled down a hill (Not gracefully, at all, I might add) and actually had a lady turn around and come back for me saying "Are you okay?? I heard you fall!!" I was so embarrassed.

Who is the biggest motivator in your life? 
RM: My biggest motivator in life are the two little redheads that call me Mom. They watch and listen to everything I say and do, so it helps me to try to stay positive and set a good example for them. I want them to understand the importance of taking time out for yourself, hard work, and self motivation.

What is your favorite quote? 
RM: "We cannot be what we want to be by remaining what we are." ~Max Depree

You’re running your first marathon soon. How has your training gone? What are your emotions leading into the big day? 
RM: My training has been different than most, in that it's been grief-stricken and extremely therapeutic. When I lost my mom in October, I wondered if trying to tackle the 26.2 was going to be too much, but I just took it one run at a time, and never looked ahead too far. I thought for a while that training for this would bring me some sort of closure and peace with her death, but I realized a few weeks ago that it isn't going to do that. I know that she was proud of me for doing this, and also thought I was crazy. I had some of the most fun on my long runs with my friend Tanya, and if it wasn't for her, I don't know that I would have made it on some of those runs. While my heart is heavy with the loss of my mom, I am excited and feel ready to tackle this race. It doesn't hurt that I have some amazing Nuun Hood to Coast teammates coming to help me celebrate!

If you could only give one piece of advice to someone just getting into running, what would it be? 
RM: Don't give up! You will feel awkward and out of place in the beginning, but don't let that stop you! If people offer to run with you, take them up on it. Other runners are the only people who will get your drive for this, but don't get so caught up in what everyone else is doing that you forget why you started.

What’s next after Mercedes? Signed up for any other races this spring? 
RM: I haven't signed up for any races, but I think I want to concentrate on a 5K or 10K PR for the Spring. I also want to take on more trail runs.

Want to know more about Rachel? Check out her blog: Running Backwards in High Heels
Follow her on Twitter: @runinhighheels
Follow her on Instagram: runinhighheels
Rachel is an ambassador for Nuun Hydration and FitFluential.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Injured Thoughts

A little over two months ago I broke my arm during a trail run. A couple weeks later, I messed up my knee (not running related). Long story short, I was sidelined from running for about 7 weeks. I always say running should never be taken for granted. Yet, I didn't realize how true that was until I couldn't run.

Things changed quite a bit during my time off. My attitude was different. My mind went to a place I was uncomfortable with. The mental aspects of running far outweigh the physical and that became quite apparent. I could say it was frustrating, but it went much deeper than that. I was scared. I tried to remain positive, but it was hard.

Being injured feels like a break up. Something that was part of my daily life was missing. All that remained was a void…a void that was damn near impossible to fill. I thought about running, a lot. I missed it. I missed every silly little part of it.

But then, I got better. I was able to start running again. I’m still not 100%, but for the first time in awhile, I feel that I’m heading in the right direction. I’m bringing my legs back to life. I definitely lost quite a bit of my fitness and my sore legs remind me of that after each run. But, it feels so good to be back.

If I wasn't sure before, I am now. I love to run.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I run because...

Why do I run? It took a contest by Geoff Roes (2010 Western States 100 Champion) to finally get me to sit down and really think about it. He asked us to write a 350 word essay about why we run. In return, the essay he thought best answered that question would win a free entry to one of his week long Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning camps. Spoiler alert: I didn't win.

Even though I didn't win, I wanted to share what I wrote to him in this post. As runners, we are often asked why we run. If you're like me, you feel the answer you give never really delivers the message you're trying to get across. Even if the pressure of having to immediately answer was taken away, it's still hard to do. Don't believe me? Before you read on, take a moment and think about it. Why do you run?

My response to Geoff:

In 2011 I started a blog to answer the very question you asked.  I titled my blog, “I run because…” The title of my blog serves two purposes. 1) There is no one reason why I run and 2) each blog post I write is my best attempt at completing a very difficult sentence. It is difficult for me to finish that sentence because over my years of running, it continues to change. The reason I started to run 8 years ago is completely different for the reasons I run now. Moreover, when someone asks me why I run, I always find myself searching for that profound answer. More times than not, I feel I come up short.

I believe that when you are truly passionate about something, words can never fully express your emotions. It is something internal. It is a feeling you have that needs no words. But, after many years of pondering, this is what I’ve come up with:

I run because I love the way it makes me feel – happy.

I run because it is such a beautifully simple sport.

I run because of the amazing feeling I get when I exceed what I thought was ever possible.

I run because it calms me. It keeps me grounded. It humbles me.

I run because I love to explore and connect with nature.

I run because it helped me reunite with my dad after he passed. His presence is always most noticeable when I'm running. He is my source of strength.

I was apprehensive at first about sharing this because I feel it barely scratches the surface for why I run. Then, I realized something; it doesn’t matter if I’m ever able to fully communicate with a loved one, a friend, or a running mate the reasons for why I run. I know how running makes me feel and in the end, that’s all I need.

I run because it is my passion.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Running Year Review: 2014

2014 has been a bit of a transition year for me. My love for the trails and mountains has continued to grow and as a result, I ended up running more of my races on dirt than pavement...not that I'm complaining. My races took me to some incredible places over the year. It's easy to forget how many natural wonders we have within our country. In a way, I feel pretty spoiled.

Certainly, the highlight of my year was finishing my first 100 miler. It's been a goal of mine since 2012 and after an unsuccessful attempt last year, I was so stoked to get my finish this year on a much more challenging (and incredibly beautiful) course. But, 2014 was filled with lots of other fun races and weekend running adventures that I'm excited to share.


Antelope Canyon 50 Mile. An incredible course in Arizona that went through towering slot canyons and along the ridge of the ColoRADo River.


Rosaryville Off-Road Half Marathon. Fun, local trail race with my friend Kristy.


Cherry Blossom 10 Mile with Team Gravel Pit! New PR, 1:12:35.

Trap Pond 50K. 1st time event in Delaware. Was able to nab a PR, 4:40:52.


24 Hour Adventure Trail Run. Used this race to run my 50 mile long run for my 100 miler training. The race was held at one my favorite local trail running spots, Prince William Forest Park. 

Spent my Memorial Day weekend trail running in the Blue Ridge and Massanutten Mountains. Lots of vert. Lots of beauty.

Hawksbill Summit

Bryce 100. A race that has changed my life significantly. Something I will never forget.


Hood to Coast Relay with Team Nuun Hydration. Part 1 and Part 2 race recaps. Made some great friends and lasting memories.


Reverse Goofy. For a fun late season challenge I ran a marathon and a half marathon in the same weekend. 

Finishing the half

StumpJump 50K. Awesome trail race near Chattanooga, Tennessee with my friend Cathy.

Photo Credit: Wild Trails
Baltimore Marathon. Tried to go for a PR, but crashed and burned. Still had a great weekend with Kristy, Cathy, and Erin!


Became a published writer! Got my article published in the November issue of Ultrarunning Magazine.

NYC 60K. Ran side-by-side with my friend Jocelyn in her first ultra. We had a blast!

About a week after the 60K my running season came to an abrupt halt when I fell on a trail run and broke my left arm right below the elbow. Thankfully, I had no key races planned so taking the forced rest period came at a pretty good time.

Broken arm aside, 2014 was an amazing year! I explored so many new places and learned more about myself. Running is a never ending journey. Each race opened my eyes to something new. I'm not exactly sure what direction 2015 will head, partially because in addition to my arm I'm dealing with an issue with my left knee that is hindering my training. I hope to be 100% soon, but until then, running isn't going to be a big part of the picture. I foresee many hours logged on an elliptical and my bike until my knee is stronger. On a positive note, I will be running again with Team Nuun Hydration. It's been a fun company to be a part of over the last couple of years and I can't wait to work with them again in the new year! 

I hope you all had a great 2014 and I wish you many happy miles in 2015! Cheers!!!


Sunday, December 14, 2014

TNFECS - Washington, DC - December Update

Last week the 2014 The North Face Endurance Challenge Series (TNFECS) season came to a close in California. This race always showcases the best of the best in the ultra running world. It was an exciting race which saw the men's title go to Sage Canaday and the women's to Magdalena Boulet. Both ran stellar races in quite tricky conditions. A full recap of the race by Exploring Endurance can be viewed here.

For many athletes, TNFECS California is one last get together to see friends before the end of the year. Undoubtedly, the question many ask after this race is, "What races are you running next year?" For me, the next ultra I'm running in 2015 will be the season opener for the TNFECS in Washington, DC. I cannot wait for this race! It will be a great event to kick my trail running season off.

While my training for this race won't get going in earnest until the new year, I was hoping to get in some nice trail runs before the holiday. Unfortunately, I had a bad fall a few weeks ago on a trail run and broke my arm. Since then, I've been resting but I'm hopeful to get back to some light running before Christmas. This forced rest period hasn't been a whole lot of fun, but I've been taking it in stride.

Needless to say, I can't wait to get back on the trails and do what I love most. I know I will ready to go by race day on April 18th! Speaking of race day, all race distances are still open for registration, but will likely reach capacity, so don't wait. The next fee increase for race registration is on January 25th, so take advantage of the lower pricing. I promise you will not be disappointed if you sign up for this race!

I plan to get out for some runs on the Potomac Heritage Trail and in Great Falls at some point in January or February so I can capture some photos of the course for everyone. I'll be sure to include them all in a future blog post. I hope everyone had a great 2014 and here's to many more great miles in 2015!

Call for comments
  • What was your favorite race in 2014?
  • What races are you considering in 2015?
  • What are your 2015 goals?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Forced Rest

A couple weeks ago I was out on an early morning trail run with my friend Mike when I had a pretty bad fall. I tripped stepping over a large rock and fell hard on my left arm. I knew right away that something wasn't right. It hurt much more than a usual digger. My first thought was that I jammed my elbow really bad (if that's even possible?). Mike asked me if I was alright and I said I thought so. Still being a couple miles from our cars, I got back up on my feet and we continued on.

As we started running again, I felt better and thought that I was probably fine. However, when I got back to my car and examined my arm a little more closely, I realized I had a bigger issue. My left arm below my elbow was very swollen and I couldn't bend my arm without a lot of pain.

After a fun visit to the ER I found out that I had fractured my radial bone in two places right below the elbow joint. Luckily, the bone wasn't displaced. Had it been, it would have needed surgery to pin it back together. Whew!

The following morning I went to an orthopedic where I was given a beautiful full arm cast. Like any injured runner, I wanted to know when I could get back to running. The orthopedic told me it was not advisable to run while I had the cast on. This came as a pretty big disappointment, but I understood. In hindsight, after wearing this cast for about two weeks, I realize that it would be pretty difficult to run with it anyway, not to mention how smelly it would become with all my sweat getting inside of it. I don't want to be the stinky guy at work.

Getting injured is a runner's worst nightmare. We do everything in our power to prevent an injury from occurring because we know how important running is in our daily lives. However, we know we're not invulnerable. Injuries happen in running. It's part of our sport.

I take comfort from knowing that what happened to me could have been a lot worse. I could have broken my arm to the point where I would have needed surgery. Or, when I fell I could have hit my head on a rock. All things considered, I feel very lucky. Being laid up for a few weeks with a broken arm isn't the end of the world. Sure, I wish it didn't happen, but I'm doing my best to take a positive from a negative. I know this forced rest period will do my body some good. (At least that's what I'm telling myself, haha!)

I constantly preach that we should never take running for granted. This point doesn't ring more true than now. Running is a gift. We don't have to run, we get to. I know when I get back out there I’ll be carrying an even larger appreciation for it.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Race Recap: NYRR NYC 60K

When I first heard about the NYC 60K, I was immediately drawn to it. An ultra in New York City? Count me in! With only 300 runners, this wasn't your average NYRR race. My friend Jocelyn had expressed interest for sometime about running an ultra. We had been searching for a race that would work for both of us and this race ended up being the perfect fit.

Heading to the start
Bib pickup was held race morning at the NYRR Headquarters. The start (in Central Park) was just a short walk from there. Jocelyn and I met up at NYRR and hung out in the warmth of the building until the race started (it was in the low 30s). She had a little concern about how this run would go, but I knew her marathon conditioning would be a strong base to get through the 60K (37 miles).

The course was a 4 mile loop in Central Park, which we would run around 9 times. In addition to the main aid station at the start/finish, there was an additional water stop about halfway into the loop. We were also allowed to stash our own food/drink bag at the main aid station, which was nice.

The sun was just starting to creep over the tall buildings that surround Central Park as we set off. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and we were treated to beautiful blue skies all day. After a quicker first lap than intended, we settled into a comfortable pace. While some would find running a looped course to be boring, I don't mind. Each lap I noticed something new. The fall foliage in the park was gorgeous which made for a picturesque setting.

As the race progressed, the park came to life with other runners, cyclists, and hansom cab rides. Jocelyn and I talked about anything and everything during the race. It's kinda funny how easy it is to open up during a run. Our steady conversation made the laps pass quickly. I was under strict instruction not to tell her how many miles we had left. The only numbers I could say aloud were the number of laps to go.

During the 4th lap I bumped into a fellow Nuun Ambassador and Hood to Coast teammate, Eric. He told me he was gonna try to come out and say hi and it was nice to see him.

Eric and I (Photo Credit: Eric)
As we came into the closing laps, I could tell Jocelyn was starting to hurt. I joked with her that this is where the real fun begins! She told me I could run ahead, but there was no way I was gonna leave her side. I've been in her position before I know how much it helps to have someone next to you. Besides, she was still running so strong!

During last lap, Jocelyn was pretty quiet, but I understood why. The hills of Central Park started to feel more like mountains, but she powered up each one, refusing to walk. Finish line in sight, we gave it one last push. We finished in just over six hours with a 9:48 min/mile average! I was beyond impressed. She ran such an amazing race! Watching someone graduate from marathoner to ultra-marathoner is pretty awesome to see. Oh, did I mention she had run the NYC Marathon two weeks prior?!?! #beastmode

After the finish, I saw Mary Wittenberg (CEO of NYRR) and went up to thank her. She looked at me and said, "I think I posted a picture of you guys finishing on Instagram." She pulled out her phone and showed me the picture and sure enough, she had. She asked me what my email was and sent me some other photos she took of us finishing. You rarely get that kind of personal touch at a race and it was coming from Mary, no less. Pretty cool!

Jocelyn and I crossing the finish line (Photo Credit: Mary Wittenberg)
Last, a BIG thank you to the volunteers. They were absolutely incredible. It was definitely chilly out there and having them come out to help and support us was fantastic. I don't think there was one volunteer that didn't cheer us on as we passed. I was blown away. I loved this race and would definitely run it again in the future!
Garmin Upload
Mary, Me and Jocelyn