Runner Interview – Mary Claire Walker

When and why did you start running?

I started running when I was 10 years old. My mother is an active woman and took all seven of us children hiking in the Shawangunk Mountains while we were growing up. When I turned 10 years old, I started running with her in the fields of our farm. We then progressed to the neighborhood streets and the trails around our house. We were soon running on the trails of the Mohonk Preserve and the Shawangunk Park. I loved how free and strong I felt when running. I grew up in a large family on a farm and often felt lost in the many siblings but running made me feel like my own person. It felt like I could achieve something on my own. I had something unique to me that I could set my own goals and achieve. I ran my first trail 10 mile race at 12 years old and my first marathon at 16. Of all the children in my family I was the athletic one.  It felt good to have something that was my own. As I have grown more as a runner and a person my love for running has grown and has brought me through many tough times in my life.

Running has always been there for me as a constant, a place for me to be alone with my thoughts and feel that no matter what is happening in my life I can get through anything.

What’s your favorite race to date, and why?

My favorite race to date is the Yeti 100 miler. I had run a number of ultramarathons prior, but this was my first 100 mile attempt. My coach at the  time, Michelle Merlis, had prepared me very well with training both mental and physically. I felt ready, but I still didn’t know what to expect when I went past 62 miles. My previous farthest race was 100k. I was excited at the start and felt good, it was pouring rain. As the race progressed, I found a good rhythm and felt good. The whole race felt magical, I found that I could push myself into the unknown and through dark places I didn't know I could go. I had a friend who I knew for a couple years, we had grown closer over the summer and had been on a couple dates. He drove me to the race and crewed me for the whole race. After staying up for 24 hours he took care of me, and on the drive home we officially started dating. We are now engaged. This race brought us together and showed me that I have the mental and physical capacity to push through anything. I’ve had many wonderful raves before and after, but this race taught me that I am capable of anything I put my mind to.

What has been your biggest running adventure to date?

My biggest running adventure was running Devil's Path in 2019 as a long training run prior to Yeti 100 mi. We started around 6 am during the mist. The trail started out relatively easy during the first mile or so, then we were bombarded with rock faces and beautiful views while we climbed 5 of the Catskills high peaks. It is one of my fondest adventures to date, full of sweat and hard work, but it was rewarding.

What is your approach to training? Do you follow a particular training plan, or do you work with a coach and if so, who?

My coach is Devon Yanko. She uses Final Surge to give me my training plan a week in advance. Due to my work schedule, I have Wednesday as my day off, Thursday is my speed/hill workout day, Friday is an easy medium long run, Saturday is long run, Sunday is a recovery run, Monday is a medium run with strides, and Tuesday is a tempo run with some speedwork. I find this schedule works well for me and I have been consistently becoming a stronger runner.

What is your weekly mileage in peak racing/marathon training season? What is your approach to the off season?

During peak training my mileage goes up to 75-80 miles a week. I have a physically demanding job, so my coach takes that into account and I have found good results with this training. After my last A race at the end of September, I took a full week completely off from running; then my coach slowly worked me back up to 50-60 miles a week. We changed our focus from distance to focus on speed and hill climbs during the off season. Starting in January we began focusing more on race specific goals.

During our cold winter days, do you brave poor weather conditions or stick indoors on the treadmill? If you do run outside, what safety measures do you take?

I have severe asthma, so unfortunately when the weather drops below 32 degrees I have to run on the treadmill. If I try to run in the cold, I instantly have an asthma attack. Thankfully I have a treadmill in my apartment and l run before work at 4:30 in the morning. I have found a neoprene mask that helps a bit with warming up the air when I am outside and was able to run in 25 degree weather two weeks ago. I also run with microspikes if there is ice. I wish I could brave the winter as I love running in the snow, but I have found that the treadmill can be a phenomenal training tool.

List your PRs: Race, time, year 5k: Run for your life 5k, 21:09, 2013

10K: Training run, 47:58, 2021

15K: Stockade Athon, 1:18, 2021

Half Marathon: Dutchess County Classic, 1:44:36, 2013 Marathon: Spring onto the trials 6 hour trail race, 4:23, 2021 50K: Spring onto the trials 6 hour trial race, 5:17, 2021

50 Miler: Rock the Ridge 50mi, 9:16, 2021

100k: Catskill 100k, 14:18, 2019

100 Miler: Yeti 100mi, 23:40, 2019

What was your worst injury and how did you get over it?

My worst injury was in 2017, shortly after I raced a half marathon. I decided to train for The Mohawk Hudson Marathon. I did not have a coach at the time and found a plan off the internet. I ran every run too hard and caused a stress fracture in both of my tibias. I was unable to run the marathon and had to take a month off from running. Since then, I have hired a coach and learned to keep my easy days easy and my hard days hard. I have remained injury free. I also see Stephen Rhyder who is a wonderful sports massage therapist whenever I have a pain or niggle start, I go for a tune-up and he is able to fix me up immediately!

Your favorite shoe for training and racing

I currently run in Altra shoes, with a 0mm drop. I train in a variety of different models depending on my workout for the day. I run in The Provision 5. They are a wonderful everyday shoe for me.  I use them on road, rail trail, and some packed trails. They have medium cushioning and fit my foot perfectly. If I am doing a speed workout I prefer the Escalante racers. They are super responsive, and extremely comfortable. For trails I run in  the Superior. I find they have a wonderful grip and fit my foot like a glove. They feel like they are an extension of my foot so I can be stable and nimble on the trials.

Ever run in a costume?

I was supposed to run in Costume at the Hairy Gorilla in 2020. My fiance and I had super cute puzzle pieces that fit together as costumes, but then it snowed and I was too cold to wear my costume. So, we wore them when we volunteered for the Hairy Gorilla in 2021.

Do you work with a dietitian to enhance your performance? If so, who?

I work with Theresa DeLorenzo with Nutrition for Optimum Performance.  Under her guidance I have found my running performance has increased dramatically. Theresa has  been by my side for the past 3 years and has helped me improve my overall nutrition during training and racing. I highly suggest anyone who is serious about their running performance to find a good dietitian to work with!

What are your favorite pre-race and post-race meals?

For pre-race meals, I go for low fiber, higher carb, and simple protein. So, something like chicken with rice or pasta. I also stay away from leafy vegetables the night before to try to mitigate unplanned GI issues. I have learned that when I lengthen out my carb load to 5 days or so, my race performance is much better.

Post race, I always crave something salty. After taking gels and electrolytes for hours, I always want salty food. I try to go with whatever I am craving.  After my last Ultra Marathon, I wanted a burger and the one before that I wanted pizza. I just go with what my body is telling me post race.

What activities do you enjoy when not running?

When I am not running, I love to spend time with my fiancé and my dog Lilly. We go hiking and to the Farmers market in Schenectady. Our dog is elderly, so we have a dog Sport-sack to carry her when she gets tired. I also enjoy yoga, which I do with Theresa  DeLorenzo.

What challenges / races / adventures are you planning for the coming year?

his year I am training for my first Marathon since I was 16. I am also running the Grindstone 100 miler in September. In between I am planning on exploring as much of the Catskills and Adirondacks as possible. I also have my sights set on racing the Escarpment trail race, if it runs this year!

What is the greatest piece of advice you've ever received in the sport?

I’ve met some amazing trainers and coaches during my time as a runner and received so much advice. I think the best advice I have ever received is to be persistent. Good things take time, but with persistent work, anything is possible. The other piece of advice I live by is: Surround yourself with people who will lift you up and support your goals.

These two pieces of advice have gotten me through a lot in running and in life.

                           Mary Claire with her fiancé

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