Ultrarunner Sally McRae sets her alarm clock for 4 a.m. every day. And, she never hits the snooze button. “As soon as you start listing off excuses, you’re doomed,” says the California–based mother of two who lays out her workout clothes nightly beneath a sign that says, “No Excuses.”
“So tell your brain to ‘shut up;’ and without a further thought, just go,” said McRae. “I can think about my excuses as to why I shouldn’t be training later, and the funny thing is, as soon as I start thinking of those I’m already sweating. I’ve never regretted getting up to train, but I’ve always regretted the excuses I’ve made.”
One look at 38-year-old McRae, and you’d find it hard to see her making any excuses in life, ever. Now considered one of the top ultradistance runners in the world, the Nike Trail athlete and three-time Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run competitor, initially wanted to become a professional soccer player while attending Biola University in Southern California.
But the self-admitted dreamer who hailed from humble beginnings had other things in store for her future. As the middle child of five, she grew up with a disapproving father and lost her mother to cancer when she was just 17. “The goals changed for myself, and as the years went on, I would run as a way to explore and a way to see a place,” recalls McRae. Her first 26.2 feat was the Los Angeles Marathon, with a time of more than four hours and bloody feet and blisters. But it was later, after catching the 100-mile race bug, that her whole world changed.
Today, McRae is sponsored by Nike and has logged thousands of miles on windy and steep trails across Chile, Italy, France and New Zealand. She’s also busy training for a 50K in Italy and the Ultra Trail Du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) 171K later this year. It’s clear that McRae’s world has definitely transformed.
When she’s not hitting the trails, McRae juggles motherhood, online coaching and a grueling training and travel schedule. “Running is such a beautiful parallel to life and I’ve been through so many challenges, and when I have no words left in me, I run,” shared McRae. In case she didn’t have enough on her plate, she added “Producer” to her list of achievements after debuting her short film Yellowrunner named after her running nickname. “It’s like this expression and art, and every part of my life comes out from the sunshine, to beauty, and pain, and it’s such a beautiful picture for my life, and the challenges that I had to overcome to get to that finish line.”
You can keep up with McRae via Instagram or join alongside her at one of her events by checking her competing schedule on Nike.com. Leaving us with some words of wisdom and encouragement, McRae had this to share about running and her favorite training trails.
Running 101 Tips
Set Smart Goals
Most goals are sidelined either because of a lack of motivation or because the goal wasn’t thoughtfully considered. Saying that you’ll run ten times a month is much more realistic than saying you’ll run for an hour every day.
Remember these are your goals, so you get to choose how long it will take to reach them. Keep in mind that all great things take time, and slow and steady triumphs over fast and stressful.
Celebrate the Struggle
Who said achieving anything was easy? Part of the greatest joy you’ll find in the process is realizing just how strong you are in overcoming challenges. So before you set those goals for yourself, embrace the fact that you will encounter setbacks, obstacles, and even heartbreak and then tell yourself, ‘those challenges make me stronger.’
Go-To Training Trails
I love the Bear Canyon Trail [a 6.4 mile, one-way route to the 10,064 Mount Baldy summit] because no matter how many times I climb it, it humbles me. It’s gnarly, beautiful, and a great way to strengthen your legs, lungs and mind. I typically train on this trail when I’m prepping for a big mountain race like Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc 171K.
Laguna Canyon Wilderness Park
I love this park because there are dozens of options for distances, climbing and variety. It also provides breathtaking views of the ocean and surrounding mountain ranges. My favorite spots to start are Willow Canyon Trailhead and Pacific Ridge Trailhead.