AEC Athlete Spotlight: Tracy
AEC Athlete Spotlight: Tracy

I'm Tracy, and I wear a lot of hats in this world! I’m a mom, an adventure-seeking partner in crime to my spouse, a research scientist, a sewist, and a cheese aficionado. I can be found happily plodding through an ultramarathon several times a year. At 53, I’m definitely of an age-grouper mentality when it comes to running, and I'm quite happy about it. 




Get to know Tracy: 


  • How do you start your running career? 


It’s complicated. It’s been more like a running roller coaster. 


As a kid, I had severe asthma, and in the 70s, if you’re a sickly asthmatic little girl, you aren’t likely to be doing any sports. In college, my roommate was a marathoner, and I decided to start running for fitness. I continued running for fitness through my 20s and ran my first ultramarathon at 30. I had become friends with some unsavory characters in the running community (read: ultrarunners) at my local climbing gym, and when they learned I had just run a half marathon, they said, oh, if you can run 13 miles, then you can run a 50k, no problem. I have low sales resistance, so signed up. It was terrible. I have to really laugh about it now, but it was so bad. I was incredibly unprepared. So, of course, I signed up for more ultras. I found such joy in running out on the trails for long distances, and I never wanted it to end, but then, one day, it did. I became quite sick around age 40, but no doctor knew why. I developed optic neuritis and fatigue that was beyond fatigue. My entire body hurt all day, every day, and I simply couldn’t run or bike or do much of anything. I would spend the next four years seeing so many doctors and being poked and prodded until I was diagnosed with Lupus. For the next several years, I wallowed in the idea that I was a sick person. I developed a pretty disordered relationship with food and gained about 35 pounds. 


Slowly, a few years later, I began doing more things like hiking and camping, but it didn’t feel the same as my active days of running, climbing, and biking. Interestingly, during the Covid pandemic, when the world was shut down, I found myself walking a lot with my husband before and after work each day because we were both working from home. I even started running one day each week, and then I got adventurous and went camping alone in the Adirondacks on a four-day weekend, which I would have done a lot in my younger, fitter, healthier days, but no longer. I saw a sign for a 10k trail race at Paul Smith’s College, threw all caution to the wind, and signed up. I didn’t tell anyone and figured I would just keep it to myself if it went poorly. When I showed up, all the cross-country runners from the college were there, and I just wanted to crawl back into my car. In my mind, I wondered, “What are you thinking, you old woman?! You have no business being out here with all these young, fit people on the trail.” Well, I did ok. This was the first time I had toed the line in two decades, and it was both exhilarating and terrifying. Just like 20 years before, I was hooked all over again. I signed up for a couple of trail half marathons, another 10k, a three-hour race, and then a six-hour race. I told my husband I wanted to run a 50k and much more. I wasn’t ready to let all those ultrarunning dreams I had twenty years ago just fall away. My return to ultrarunning didn’t go so well because I tried to train like I did when I was 30, and it turned out that my 50-year-old body wasn’t a fan. I soon found myself dealing with overuse injuries. This is when I knew I needed to find a coach if I was going to really get after it in any serious way. And the Lupus? Well, it turns out that running suppresses your immune system. For many years, I hadn’t run because I was truly in pain and had unimaginable levels of fatigue. The fatigue of an autoimmune disease goes far beyond feeling tired. It’s next-level exhaustion. By taking medications to suppress my immune system, I had gotten a bit better and could run and hike. Now, what I say next may not be the case for all people with an autoimmune disease and is absolutely not medical advice (I’m not that kind of doctor), but running suppressed my immune system quite a lot, and by this past Spring, all inflammation markers in my body were gone, and I was gradually removed from various medications. For now, at least, the lifestyle changes I made as part of my return to running and the running itself had a huge positive impact on my health. 


So that’s my running career. I wasn’t a lifelong runner. I’ve never been a great, talented runner, but just a person who loves to be out in the woods and who lives for those long, uninterrupted hours in nature, running on trails. When I run, I feel strong. This last part is important because, for the most part, I have never felt like a strong person in life, but it turned out that I’m stronger than I ever understood. 


  • Podcasts, Music or silence on long runs? 


A little bit of everything. I like to have music during races, and I always have headphones with me for long runs, but I may not use them. I often prefer the sound of nature on my runs. When doing speed work, I don’t want distractions, so I won’t take headphones with me. I often prefer podcasts over music on long runs. I must admit to loving Oprah’s Master Class or Super Soul Sundays podcasts and listening to them on probably 50% of my long runs. 


  •  Any podcast, book or movie recommendations (can be endurance-related or not)? 


I love The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I read and listen to it often (several times a year!). I read it when I am going through difficult times, feel that life isn’t going as I thought it would, or when I need a reminder of the transformative power of resilience. It reminds me to embrace the ups and downs of this journey we call life and that it’s important to follow your dreams and take risks. 


  • Go-to quote? 


“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain 


  • Favorite meal after a big workout? 


Caulipower cheese pizza, and no, I’m not sharing.


  • Best city (or particular road / trail) to go for a run in? 


This is tough! Can I give a region? I love northern Arizona and southern Utah around the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce National Parks. 


  • Favorite race you've run and why? 


I’d say running the Lean Horse 100 miler on the Michaelson Trail in South Dakota. It was my first 100-mile race and, for me, the culmination of coming back and showing myself that I’m a fighter. I didn’t let Lupus win, but I instead found my passion again. Another part of the race that I loved was the weeks before. My husband and our youngest child rented a van, spent a couple of weeks camping, and sharing incredible memories in the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce. These are places so dear to me in my younger years, but I hadn’t been able to share them with my family yet. At Lean Horse, I also learned how much the ultrarunning community has one another’s backs. I didn’t have a pacer and put a request just a few days before the race on the race Facebook page. Caleb Carter from Newcastle, Wyoming, responded to my post and said he would pace me. He ran 50 miles with me through the night and the next day. We didn’t even know each other until the day before the race. When I felt I just needed a rest, he set a timer (10 minutes!) while I lay down on the trail. When my stomach had issues, he worked with my husband at the aid station to help solve the problem. And later, when it was nearly over, he told me there was never a point he thought I would quit. That meant more than words can convey. The idea that a complete stranger would simply show up for someone in this way, well, that’s the ultrarunning community, and it’s amazing.


  • Bucket list race that you hope to tackle someday? 


Grand to Grand is a self-supported stage race that goes from the north rim of the Grand Canyon to the Grand Staircase. It is 275 km in six stages over seven days. And, it’s not just a hope. I will do it in 2025 or 2026. 


  • Who are you following in the space/industry? 


People: Callie Vinson (@callievinsonn), Tommy Rivs (@tommy_rivs), Eliud Kipchoge (@kipchogeeliud), Sally McRae (@yellowrunner), Courtney Dauwalter (@courtneydauwalter), Heather Hart (@relentlessforwardcommotion), Laura Green (@lauramcgreen), Gary House (@garyhouse_), Meg Takacs (@meg_takacs), Corey (@corcor_the_herbivore), Lisa Mitro (@dr.lisa.dpt) 

Brands: Skratch, UltrAspire, TopoAthletic, Saucony, Solomon 


  • What are your favorite training apps and resources and why? 


I really love Training Peaks because, as a scientist who works with big data, I am all about digging into my data and seeing what I can learn to help me improve. 


I have an iFit-enabled treadmill, which is a lifesaver in the winter months. Love that I can “run with” some of my favorite ultrarunners, like Tommy Rivs. I always learn new things and get to “run” on beautiful trails!


  • Any favorite cross-training workouts or disciplines? 


Cycling, and I genuinely enjoy strength training. After the Lean Horse 100, Coach Brian helped me prepare for a self-supported 112-mile bike ride from my house to The Battery in New York City on the Empire State Trail. When I was injured and sought out a coach, Coach Brian gave me a lot of biking for cross-training because I wasn’t allowed to run for a couple of months. I ended up buying an endurance bike and enjoying it (not as much as running, though). I maintained a great cardiovascular fitness level during this time and eased back into running without cardio being a challenge. 


I’m getting an iFit-enabled rower in a few days, and I have a feeling I will love it! I have used rowing machines in the past. 


  • Do you have a moment that stands out as defining during your running career? 


I would say when I took 2nd place in the women’s 50 - 59 age group at the Dirty German 50 miler. This was a great moment for me because I had not only overcome the overuse injuries to run a solidly good race, but I felt like I had overcome my mental struggle of identifying with Lupus. I had spent so many years so sick, and having an autoimmune disease is such a challenge because you hurt all over, and you feel levels of fatigue that are indescribable to those who don’t have an autoimmune disease. And, even though you know that movement may help you feel better, it is hard to push through the wall of pain to find the other side. Even though I’d had been running again for a couple of years and was incredibly healthy, it wasn’t until I crossed that finish line on that day that I gave myself permission to feel like I just might be ok, to say, wow, this is really happening. 


  • If you had to pick one: morning or evening runs? 


Team Early Morning all the way, but for schedule and family reasons, I generally have to run midday at lunch. I work in Africa (though I sit in New York), so I often start work at 4 AM but then have free afternoons. 


  • If you had to pick one: hot temp run (90F) or cold temp (20F) run? 


Make it 110F, and you’ve got a deal. I like it hot. It’s common for people with lupus to have Reynaud’s Syndrome, which is a decreased blood flow to the extremities. It’s more than just being cold. My hands and feet will turn a purplish-black color, and I can experience complications from it … no cold for me, thank you very much! Growing up in California, living and working in the tropics for the past two decades, and now finding myself in a place with a real winter has been startling. 


  • If you had to pick one: speed vs endurance? 


Endurance. I’m so happy when I can spend hours on the trail. 


AEC Specific Questions 


  • What drove you to the decision of hiring a coach?


I wrote about this a bit above, so won’t repeat. In essence, when trying to do things on my own and following my old running plans from when I was 30 years old or looking at plans on the internet, I was battling overuse injuries. Most internet plans are written with the typical running being a 20- 30-year-old male who is a lifelong runner. I needed someone to look at my strengths and abilities and start from there, customizing for my lifestyle, schedule, and goals. I really wanted to tackle the 100 mile distance and I knew that to meet that goal, I was going to need a coach. 


  • What caught your eye about Coach Brian and AEC when you were searching for a coach to work with on your journey? 


When I was looking for a coach, a few things were important to me. First, I wanted someone who was a certified running coach. I had researched different running certifications and was interested in someone with a UESCA Ultrarunning certification. I wanted a coach who was experienced in the various distances I wanted to run. I wanted to avoid any coach who was an elite or professional runner because I am not and will not be an elite runner. I wanted someone with an impressive ultrarunning resume but who was also more of a regular person. I have a family and a career, and I needed a coach who realized that running was only one part of my life. I recall researching Coach Brian before committing, and I remember reading an article (and I am paraphrasing here) where he talked about enjoying coaching regular people who have big dreams and that he valued quality running over quantity. I loved these aspects because that is me. I’m a regular recreational runner with some big goals I’d like to achieve. And, being prone to injury and over 50, I can’t realistically engage in 100-mile weeks. 


  • What type of training / distance focus is your primary objective with AEC and Coach Brian? 


Initially, it was just getting back to running healthy and injury-free, so 50 miles was my big goal to start off. Once I conquered that, I said to him that I wanted to go for that 100 miler, and he said, let’s do it! I was so excited and scared all at once to tackle this distance. My training went really well, and I brought home some age-group trophies (in the marathon and 50 mile distance) and had some PRs (half marathon, 10k)! Then, for 2024, I decided I wanted to improve my times at a couple of specific races and tackle another 100 miler. I reviewed races and options and worked out a great schedule with Coach Brian for this coming year with some stretch goals. Ultimately, I want to do the Grand to Grand and have spoken with Coach Biran about this. I feel like I lost so many years to illness, but I’m seeing that I can do pretty well in my age group, and it’s been encouraging! 


  • Brian mentioned you overcame some obstructions early on in your training. Would you be able to elaborate on what you were up against? 


When I started working with Coach Brian, I was dealing with a Baker’s cyst, bursitis, and hamstrings tendinitis, all on my left side. These are all overuse issues stemming from poor glutes. I was told no running for 2 - 3 months. That might seem like an odd time to hire a running coach, but Coach Brian has a lot of experience as a triathlete, so working on the bike was where we started. I had been running through these injuries for at least six months. I simply didn’t know what to do. I would take a week off, start to feel better, and immediately overdo things. Coach Brian put guardrails on my training and eased me back into things once I was cleared to run. I had a bunch of races on the books, too, and Coach Brian worked with me to be realistic. He encouraged me to write to a couple of the race directors and see if I could get bumped down to shorter events, and for a three-day stage race (three days of trail half marathons at Zion, Bryce, and Antelope Canyon), he didn’t expect that I drop, but instead, I mostly walked. I had paid much money for this last event and couldn’t get a refund, and it was in all my favorite locations. The cutoffs were such that the races could be easily hiked. Starting to work with Coach Brian when I was having all these overuse issues was a game-changing decision for my running. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d still be at it and I definitely was never going to make it to that 100-mile goal. 


  • Do you have a defining moment (or proudest achievement) while working with Brian? (Might overlap with the earlier defining moment, totally fine!) 


Again, I’d go back to that 50-miler. It was really a special win for me. I went in thinking, I just want to finish, but I crossed that finish line and the race director was waiting to hand me a trophy. I recall there were eight+ women 50-59 that started and only four finished. It was a rough race because it rained and was a mud fest. Before the race Coach Brian and I had spoken and because this was a 16.5ish mile loop that you run three times and wasn’t too steep, he had me use an 8 minutes walking, 2 minutes running approach with some leeway for any big up or downhills. He said on the last lap to then give it my all and have nothing in the tank when I crossed the finish line. It was hard because I was getting passed early on by a lot of people, but I stuck to the plan. On that last lap, I lost track of how many people I sailed by. I had several people comment after the race on how impressed they were that I was able to kick it into a higher gear late in the race. 


  • If you had to define Coach Brian with only 3 words, what would come to mind?


Dedicated, Supportive, Knowledgeable 


  • Is there a piece of advice that Coach Brian has shared with you that really stands out as 'game changing' in your endurance career? 


Honestly, getting comfortable with run/walk strategies was huge for me. I used that same run 8 minutes and walk 2 minutes strategy at the Batona Trails 33 miler and was first 50-59 year old woman (out of five starters; three finishers) and 10th woman overall out of 25 women finishers (28 starters). I also used this strategy for the first 50 miles of the Lean Horse 100 miler and after 50 miles, I switched to 6 minutes run and 4 minutes walking until I eventually had to just run when I could. This year, my races aren’t as flat, but working on a strategy - which may seem like an obvious thing to do - wasn’t something I had done in the past and my races were struggle fests by the end, but now I finish my races feeling like I definitely worked hard, but I also feel amazing when I cross that finish line (and of course, I always save a little bit for my fans in the stands at the end).


  • How does Coach Brian help you prepare your mindset for big events or races? 


I love that he helps me keep my running in perspective. I love running out on the trails. I love the camaraderie of going to races. No one is paying me to be out there, it’s not my job. I get to do this and there is a lot of joy in having this privilege to train and run. Remembering this is so important (for me) because I am the type of person who can get so wrapped up in the details and nitpick at myself. I feel like he provides me with that balance I need to be a successful runner. 


  • What type of athlete would benefit from working with Coach Brian and AEC? 


If you are someone who has a busy life but you still want to hit some big goals, then I think Coach Brian is a great fit. If you value quality in your running over simply running loads of possibly useless miles, then you will love his style of coaching. If you’re someone who wants to be a lifelong runner, then he’ll help you do just that because he’s going to bring in the cross training and all of your workouts are going to have purpose and not just be running to add miles onto your legs when not needed. You’ll still get all the long happy runs your heart desires, but you’ll be doing them with an end goal in mind.