Q&A with Ultra Runner Phyllis Tsang

Phyllis Tsang
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New Balance and RootsRated have teamed up to profile runners making a difference in their communities. We asked each of our runners a series of questions to learn a little more about what running means to them, where they like to run and what are some of their running goals.

While she’s always been active, Phyllis Tsang has only been running for the past four years. In that time, however, she’s run multiple marathons, been competitive in several 50K’s, and completed 50-mile races.

Who is your running hero?
Derek Cernak. He leads a running club near Winston Salem that caters to non-runners called revolutions. He keeps track of everyone’s mileage on paper. He’s also an RD (race director) for a few races including the Hanging Rock Race. He’s my running hero.

(RR note: Cernak is the race director for some of the more unusual and fun trail races in the area such as the Rabid Squirrel, Up the Creek, and the Nightmare, a 40 mile trail race in November… at night.)

What is the difference, to you, between trail and road running?
Physically there is a lot more variation in the trail. Your ankles and legs move sideways more. A normal trail run, it can be only a bike trail, but will still have more elevation than any road marathon. When I train for an ultra I run back-to-back long runs. Twenty miles on Saturday and 10 or so on Sunday so I can learn how to run on tired legs.

Where was your most interesting run?
Ethiopia. I was there working with Engineering Ministries International (a non-profit who provides design services in third world countries). It’s a trivial thing but you don’t expect to get to run when you travel in some places. I was able to go for a morning run in the mountains and I ran by a group of men on horses. The story was that they had traveled through the town posting notes on the houses that the people needed to convert to Islam or move. They didn’t want to move themselves so they signed up to do this job. Actually, they had no idea what being Muslim was, they just didn’t want to move. (The guys on the horses) didn’t care at all when I ran by.

What’s the most difficult thing about trail running for you?
It’s hard for me to take time off (when I’m injured). I take 2 days off and feel good. So I run and I see that I’m still hurting. Then I need to take 2 weeks off because I didn’t let the injury heal. I miss spending time in the mountains when I’m injured.

What’s your favorite pre, during, and post run food?
I’m not picky about nutrition. I don't always eat before an early run. If I do, it will probably be a Clif or Lara bar since I usually have them with me. I usually eat whatever the race provides. After a run I crave coffee. There’s a great coffee shop in Toronto called the Second Cup. I would usually go there after a run for a coffee and a falafel.

What is your racing philosophy?
I’m not a good racer. I’m not competitive. I was surprised at my time at the JFK 50 miler (where she placed 4th in her division). I more enjoy taking to new trails. I’m not like most runners who like to preview a course before the race. I’m more into running new trails than beating a time. I enjoy the solitude. Attitude has a lot to do with how you feel. I usually need to mentally prep and think that I’m going to be out there for long hours. When I struggle in a race it's because I’m rushing. Oh, and don’t listen to anyone that says, “this is the last hill.” It’s never the last hill until you actually cross the line.

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