Meet My Friends: Karen, The Ultra marathoner

Ultramarathons are technically anything over and above the 26.2 of a marathon. I once ran an unofficial ultramarathon. I ran a marathon and then ran back and ran the last mile again with Red. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I am definitely not signing up for any ultras in the future, but I wouldn’t count them out completely.

Now, meet my friend Karen. She and I met in high school (with Speedy, too!) and now she runs ultramarathons in the mountains and heat of North Carolina. Awesome, right? She’s pretty rad. You should get to know her. Ultramarathoners are cool.



Name: Karen Murphy

Age: 33

Occupation: Lecturer at Duke University, Business Analyst (whatever that means) American Journal Experts


How many years you’ve been running:~20

How you got into running: I got too tall for gymnastics, was rebelling against the wishes of my parents that I go into soccer, and do not have the reflexes necessary to actually hit an object using another object. Also, I had always had good endurance when attempting to play those sports where you hit things with other things or throw things, so distance running seemed like a good fit.

What is your most favorite race you’ve run?

This is a crazy tough question. There are two races I run every year and love with all my heart: the Bolder Boulder (16 of the last 17 years), and the Uwharrie Mountain run (each of the last 9 years), so I guess those are my favorites because I keep coming back.

What is your proudest running moment?

That’s really hard to say – I’m kind of proud of everything and nothing with regard to running, but probably my most lasting proudest moment was the first time I got to run varsity cross-country in high school. I had worked so hard and it took two people being out of town, but I finally made it!

How do you build up to running ultras?

Make friends who run long races… they will take care of the rest 😛 Okay, really it’s just a matter of increasing the length of your long run. I think I started with a half marathon, then built up to a 20-mile trail race, then a marathon. As long as you build up incrementally, you don’t really notice a huge difference ( I promise you can run 5 more miles than a marathon… just walk the hills!) …and contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to run a million miles a week. I’ve run lots of ultras running 3-4 days/week, with 50+% of my mileage coming on the weekend. It’s whatever works for you.

Who/what inspires you to run?

I don’t know that there’s any one person/thing that inspires me. Mostly, I just really enjoy running. It’s nice to be outside, in the forest, with just me and my shoes (and my water bottle and maybe some friends) to see where the day takes me.

What training plan have you followed and had success with?

I have to admit here that I don’t really do a very good job with training plans. When I’m getting ready for a race, I definitely make sure to get the long runs in, but otherwise, I have a pretty established set of weekly runs that I do with various people/groups, and for reasons that are more social than anything else, I pretty well stick with those regardless of what I’m training for.

What is the one thing you’ve done that has made the most difference in your running?

Running with people who are faster than me. Makes a huge difference.

What is your favorite non-running way to sweat?

Yoga – it’s a nice yin to my running yang (you see what I did there?)

What is the toughest hurdle you have to overcome in your running life?

NC summers. I joke and complain a lot, but I am honestly terrible in heat and humidity, and we have both in spades here from about June through Mid-September. It is a real fortitude check every year, but man does it make those first few crisp days in the fall seem amazing!

Do you run in the morning or at night?

Mostly in the morning – I think I would naturally be more of an evening runner, but it just works better in my schedule to run in the morning. …and running in the evening is pretty unbearable here in the summer 😦

What keeps you going when you’re having a crappy run?

Hm. Not sure. I guess mostly having a plan before heading out the door. On days where I suspect I won’t be feeling good for some reason, I’m pretty good about saying I can run as slow as I need to as long as I’m out there, so I’ll just plod along and get through it. Bad runs have also been known to turn into lovely hikes at times – that’s the great part about trail running!

Do you have a pre-race/pre-run ritual?

Nope – I used to always eat oatmeal before a long run or race, but I kind of got tired of oatmeal, so now I go with whatever sounds good and will keep me going.

Why ultras vs. marathons?

I always tell people the food is better and the people are nicer. Both of these things are true (in general, of course). I actually think the real difference is trails vs. roads, but I’ve had world record holders take the time to tell me ‘good job’ after trail ultras. You just don’t see that kind of thing at a road race. Also, I’m not that fast, but I’m pretty stubborn, so ultras are a natural fit 😛

Why should someone start running?

It’s a great way to get outside and see more than you would on a hike. It’s also a great way to meet people. Probably 80% of my friends here were met running.

What is the best piece of advice you ever got about running and who gave it to you?

I don’t know if it’s the best piece, but it’s certainly the most memorable: “If you start in the front…and stay there…you’ll win.” -Morris Vogel *note – I have yet to successfully apply that advice, but maybe some day…

Rapid Fire Questions

-Run alone or with others: there is an important place for both in my world – lots of good thinking gets done on solo runs and lots of good socializing on the group runs!

-Favorite piece of running gear: an older version of this: – the neoprene makes it so your hand doesn’t sweat all over the bottle and get annoyingly slippery.

-Run with or without music: without – always without

-Treadmill, love it or hate it: ohmygosh – hate. I start counting the steps for every .1 mile. I’ve discovered I can tolerate the elliptical, though, if I watch TV while doing it and race through the commercials (as a side note, A&E has really long commercial breaks)

-Race fuel: I have recently discovered the wonders of Vespa – it’s made of Japanese Wasp magic. Other than that, a rotating variety of Gu-like products, salty boiled potatoes at aid stations, Coke, Nuun, cup o’ noodles is the most amazing thing during a cold ultra (though I disapprove of the styrofoam container, so I’m a bit conflicted here), whatever else the nice aid station people have out that looks good

-Gatorade or water: My first choice is Nuun, preferably berry, but I’m pretty flexible.

-Dream PR: All PRs are good PRs – with trail races, you almost have to have a PR for every course because they’re so different.

-Runner’s World or Running Times: Running Times, but really Ultrarunning because they have pictures of people I know every so often and their race write-ups are awesome.

-Favorite speed workout: I have two that I like in that “thank you sir, may I have another” type way. The first is 800m repeats alternating between 5k and marathon pace (no rest between) for 4-6 miles. It doesn’t sound that hard, but it’s surprisingly insidious after a couple miles. The second I discovered last fall thanks to our fearless Bull City Track Club leader: You do 5×100 at say stride pace (run 100 turn around, run back, turn around, etc.) then walk back to the starting line – do that say 8 times. It’s really really hard, but it’s over quickly. and you feel that awesome sense of having pushed yourself right to the edge of total muscle exhaustion for the rest of the day.

-Favorite running gear store: Bull City Running!! ❤ If you’re ever in or near Durham, NC, you need to stop in – everyone there is awesome and they know everything about everything about shoes.

-Favorite place to run: This is another tough one – nostalgia says the Highline Canal trail in S. Denver, but my local running home is Umstead Park in Raleigh.

-NYC Marathon or Boston Marathon: I did drink the kool-aid and ran Boston last year. It was kind of neat – the Wellesley corridor really is as amazing as everyone says, and some guy was offering fig newtons around mile 14, which was awesome. I’ll be honest, though, by about mile 17 all I wanted in the world was to turn. That’s a very long, straight race. New York would also probably be interesting, but my body has made it abundantly clear that it is not interested in any more pavement marathons, so I’m listening for now.

Sooooo…maybe I’m a little bit more swayed toward the ultramarathon route. Not this year, but Karen’s done a good job of making it seem more than possible. Walk, run, enjoy the scenery, eat food along the way–sounds like a picnic to me!

Now go out and run!


3 thoughts on “Meet My Friends: Karen, The Ultra marathoner

  1. Pingback: TRIbook - Your Ultra-Training Bag of Tricks: Stamina-Based Workouts

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