The Runner Diaries — Des Clarke

This week on The Runner Diaries, we have 36-year-old Des Clarke — a full-time worker, mom and ultra runner who is training for her first 100-mile race.

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Inspired by Refinery29’s Money Diaries and The Cut’s Sex Diaries, welcome to The Runner Diaries, where we’re sharing a behind-the-scenes look into a week of training with runners of varying ages, paces and GPS coordinates. Get The Runner Diaries delivered to your inbox, here.

This week, we have 36-year-old Des Clarke — a full-time worker, mom and ultra runner who is training for her first 100-mile race.

The Run Down

Name: Deserae (Des) Clarke 
Location: Danville, PA
Age: 36
Training For: Eastern States 100 Miler, the final race in the PA mountain running triple crown
Occupation: Research and development manager for Geisinger Health System’s Institute for Advanced Application
Goal race? Eastern States will be my first 100 mile race.
Following a training plan? Yes. I’m an RRCA certified coach, so I reviewed some plans online and then tailored them to fit my goals
Part of any running communities, clubs or training programs? Trail Sisters ambassador, RRCA Susquehanna Ridge runners
How long you’ve been ‘a runner:’ Since 8th grade cross country way back in 1994.
Goal weekly mileage: Varies, but during training 60-80 miles a week. I’d love to do more, but with family and work obligations it’s tough.


Runner’s Statement:

I’m a full-time worker, mom and ultra runner who constantly tries to find the balance in things. The week that I’m presenting here is a fairly typical weekday routine, with an additional running adventure on the weekend. Having a family makes those running adventures limited, but I wanted to be able to go and explore the course that I’ll be running in August for the Eastern States 100. It’s supposed to be a beast of a course, so I’m not sure if the preview will make me more or less nervous, but it will definitely make me more prepared.  (Plus, going with a group helps to calm some of my husband’s fears about me getting lost in the woods alone.)

Day One

5:30am – Wake up and do some yoga. Usually I do strength training in the mornings, Monday through Thursday, but I’ve been having some plantar fasciitis issues in my left foot. After back-to-back long runs this weekend it’s feeling a little sore, so I decided to take today easy and focus on rehab.

6:45am – Breakfast. Pretty much every day during the week I have a protein smoothie with soy milk, pea protein, cocoa powder, beans, spinach and a frozen banana. It’s a great way to refuel after my morning workout, and get a good boost of protein and nutrients to start my day.

6:45-8am – During my morning showers I end with 2 minutes of cold water. It’s not pleasant, but there are documented benefits to cold showers, including immunity, recovery, improved hair and skin, and not least of which is embracing the suck. Since it’s summer I drop my two boys off at the local recreation center for summer camp and drive to work.  

During the school year when they ride the bus I’ll sometimes walk to work, as it’s only about a mile from the house.

8am – I head to work. I’m a research and development manager at a large rural healthcare system. I luckily have a standing desk, but with my foot issues I haven’t been able to use it as much as I’d like. Fortunately, I’m able to ice my foot and do stretches and strengthening exercises while I work. I snack on dried edamame and cherries throughout the morning. I’m a grazer.

Noon – Lunch!  I have some rice and lentils with kale sprouts. Today I eat while on a conference call. I usually try to get away from my desk for a bit, but that’s not possible today.

2pm – I need a pick-me-up, so i get a soy mocha between meetings. I try not to consume too much caffeine as I noticed there’s a limit to its effectiveness for me and after a certain point it does more harm than good. However, with all I have going on in my life it becomes a necessary evil at times.

3:30pm – More roasted edamame. I’m vegan, so I try to pack in the protein where I can. While I’m training for ultras I tend to eat quite a bit, but usually spread throughout the day. Also, I try to make sure there’s at least an hour between caffeine and meals as it can hinder the absorption of nutrients, specifically non-heme iron found in plant sources. (There’s a variety of reasons I’ve chosen to be vegan.  I personally feel and perform better on a vegan diet.  I also choose not to support the way in which most meat is raised in the US, which I don’t feel is good for the environment, the animals, or the people who consume them.)

4:30pm – I leave work to go get the kids. Usually my husband picks them up and I run right after work, but like I said, I’m taking today easy. I do not handle not running well. Once I’m home, I make mac and cheese for the kids. I have corn tortillas with lentil tabouli and a side of kimchi. I know, none of it really goes together, but I like it and it’s good for me. After dinner I take a quick power nap. I find I’m usually more tired on days I don’t run. I don’t know why that is.

Evening – I go through the usual routine of getting lunches ready for the next day. I’m in the middle of planning for a relocation, so I spend some time in the computer in job search mode. I really don’t like spending even more time on the computer, but I see it as a short-term negative for a long-term positive.

9pm – I do another round of yoga — both to stretch out, and relax before bed. I have some hot chocolate with unsweetened soy milk, dark cocoa powder and protein powder. Watch a little Bill Burr on Netflix, and then in bed by 10:30pm.

Total Daily Mileage: 0 miles

Day Two

5am – Wake up and do a strength routine. My husband leaves for work by 5am, so I do this in my living room as my boys can’t be alone yet. My workouts are Crossfit-esque or taken from Spartan.com. They feature lots of variations on pushups, pull ups, burpees, squats, etc., with some barbell and dumbbell work.

Today’s workout is:

  • FT (For time): 50 burpees, 50 sit ups, 50 jump knee tucks (because my ceiling is too low for double unders), 50 sit ups, 50 burpees, 50 sit ups.
  • 3 min rest
  • 5RFT (5 Rounds for Time): 12 push press,  12 sandbag toss
  • 3 min rest
  • JT  – 21/15/9 modified handstand push ups, dips, push ups
  • 3 min rest
  • Annie – 50/40/30/20/10 reps of  jump knee tucks, sit-ups
  • 1 min dead hang

The rest of the morning goes much like yesterday: Breakfast, shower, drop kids, work. Today I snack on roasted edamame and mini sweet peppers.

Noon – Lunch is the same today as yesterday. Being the only vegan in the house I usually make a batch of something, eat it for a free days in a row, then make something else. I would love my family to also choose a plant-based lifestyle, but I’m not much of a “vegangelist.” Also, I know by modeling my eating habits I’m setting an example that will stick with them as they grow and make life choices.

Afternoon & Evening – I eat some homemade bars for a snack. There’s a recipe on No Meat Athlete that I use, these happen to be a cinnamon raisin variety with pea protein powder for an extra protein boost.  I have a patient meeting I’m helping to run and I don’t get home until about 7pm.  

7pm – By this point I have a headache because I’m so hungry.  I grab some more bars and some cashews.  I was supposed to do a 9 miler with mile repeats, but given the time I decide to flip-flop days and do 5 miles on the local rail to trail.  By the end my foot is a little sore, but it’s definitely improving over time — I just have to keep things moving in the right direction.  I’ve been doing stretches, rolling and icing throughout the day, one of the advantages of a desk job.  After my run I have some of my protein hot chocolate and a banana with some peanut butter and honey. I do stretches and icing for my for and I’m in bed by 10.

Total Daily Mileage: 5 miles

Day Three

5am – I wake up and do my strength routine. By now, you probably have my morning routine down. The routine helps things run as smoothly as possible in the mornings.  Today my foot is really sore. I’m not sure if it’s because of running, or because I spent a lot of time standing at the patient meeting last night.

Morning snack today is an apple and cashews. I also have a cup of coffee during the morning.

Noon – I have another patient meeting. Lunch is provided, so I have grilled veggies with hummus.

4pm – In the afternoon I have homemade protein bars and another cup of coffee. Since i worked late Tuesday I leave a little early. My workout is 9 miles total, with 6x 1-mile repeats at 10-mile pace mixed in. I feel pretty good, and I’ve been icing and stretching my foot throughout the day at work. On the last two repeats I have some weird breathing issue, like I can’t catch my breath. I think this happens sometimes when the pollen is high. When I get home I take some local bee pollen.

7pm – Dinner tonight is lentil tabouli and corn tortillas. I also snack on some nuts and raisins.

8pm – Tonight I decide to work a little on packing up stuff for a yard sale we’re planning, and I also finish up a training plan for a coaching client. Then it’s rehab exercises for my foot and hip (everything’s connected!) and some off my usual hot chocolate and in bed around 10:30. I “read” a little while my husband is in the shower, which means he picks the latest copy of Trail Runner Magazine off of my pillow when he comes to bed.

Total Daily Mileage: 9 miles

Day Four

5am – I wake up and do strength training. Normal smoothie, shower, kid-drop, work process.

8am – Morning snack today is mixed nuts and an apple. I also grab a soy cappuccino on my way to one of my meetings.

Noon – Lunch today was lentils and rice with kale sprouts and an apple.

2pm – I have a presentation to attend. I grab a coffee there but avoid the cookies (sometimes being vegan helps you avoid poor nutrition decisions!). I have a homemade protein bar when I get back to my office to prep for my run.

5pm – I leave work and head up the trail that I can literally see from my office window. Sometimes there are advantages to small town life! I run about 9 miles of rocky, rooty, decently hilly single track. For the middle hour I focus on pushing on uphill and downhill and then cruising on the flats.

7:30pm – Once I’m home I have tortillas with beans, guac, and nutritional yeast. I prep food both for the next day’s lunch and for my upcoming weekend adventure, shower, take care of my foot, and then I’m in bed at 10:30pm. The evenings really fly by during the week — it can be hard to get anything done!

Total Daily Mileage: 9 miles

Day Five

5:30am – Wake up. Friday is my usual rest day, so I just do some stretching and yoga in the morning. I keep to my smoothie and shower routine. The boys and I go to a local coffee shop as a special treat before work and day camp. I opt for regular coffee and aid the sugar trap.

9am – I have a morning snack, and eat almost all my snacks for the day. I have an apple, a homemade protein bar and cashews. I notice this can happen the day after a good workout like I had last night. I don’t limit my calories, but I do try to make good decisions about what I’m putting in my body.

Noon – Lunch today is red lentil pasta with homemade tomato sauce and nutritional yeast, a supplement/flavoring available at most health foods stores that provides a good source of protein and B vitamins, and also adds a nutty/cheesy flavor.

2pm – For my afternoon snack I grab a s’mores-flavored Luna bar. My office building has Avenue C, a self-checkout convenience store. The nutritional value of most of the food is terrible. In one section they have a huge sign that reads “nourish” with candy and cookies and chips underneath. … This is a long way of me saying I wouldn’t normally choose a sugar-laden snack like this, but sometimes you have to do best possible option!!

5pm – I arrive home and eat some lentil tabouli on corn tortillas. Then it’s time to pack up for my weekend adventure organized by Team Runhole. Team Runhole is a running group with people from all over the world that accepts all runners of all abilities with misfits encouraged.  Their motto is, “We make the mistakes so you can too.”  Jon, who is the official/unofficial leader is a great planner who set up the trip.  Anyone is welcome to come and join, and while he stressed that it would be self-supported, he did a lot of the planning and provided direction cards for everyone.  This trip will be a nice opportunity to preview some sections of the race course I will be running in a group setting — with some people who actually know what they’re talking about. 

I arrive at Little Pine State Park around 7pm. I hike up to neighboring Happy Acres Resort where the guys from Team Runhole are staying, and get the plans for the next day. Back at my site I have a Rebel protein shake. I lay in the car reading Trail Runner for a while and I think I fall asleep around 9:30 or 10pm.

Total Daily Mileage: 0 miles

Day Six

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5am – Wake up. I have some oatmeal with soy milk, cocoa, peanut butter, bananas and protein powder. I meet the Team Runhole group at 6 am. We go drop off the cars at the end point, and then around 7am we’re off on our runs! To fuel during the run I alternate between Justin’s nut butter packets and Betty Lou’s paleo java nuts and energy balls. For those keeping score, these are not technically vegan because they have honey, but honey is my exception (and these things are magical!). I match pace with a guy named Mike and we pull ahead of the group a little. We get lost twice — just slightly — but enough to tack on about 3-4 miles and put us behind the other group. At one point Mike decides to follow the highway back to his car. I want to still try for the trail. I spend another 6 miles trying to find the one turn. Finally, I give up and find my way back to a DCNR forestry site I know is close.

I explain to the woman at the counter where I came from, and where my car is. She doesn’t seem to know what I’m talking about and I start to feel panicked. She calls another gentleman who knows exactly what I’m talking about. He says he doesn’t know how anyone could find the trail I’m looking for when it’s not marked for the race. He says my car is 3 miles from here but doesn’t advise running along the highway. I know I’ve put in the mileage I was planning for the day (about 26 miles).  I also know that if the others make it back to the cars before I do, they will worry.  The emergency contact I put on my campsite registration is my husband, and if he gets contacted that his wife is lost in the wilds he will more than worry.  So… I accept the ride.  

2-2:30pm – Driving back to the park I stop at a small convenience store for a snack.  I am mesmerized by the air conditioning, and the choices of snacks and cold drinks.  I imagine what I must look and smell like to the other customers. I buy and devour a small bag of salt and vinegar chips and some kind of fruit-infused water. Back at my campsite I shower, drink another Rebel protein shake, and lay down for a nap. After I wake, I walk to the nearby store. I get a little bit of candy, most of which i don’t eat, and a Coke Life – whatever the hell that is. I just know they don’t have coffee and I need dose caffeine!

5:30pm – Back at camp, I have hummus, veggies and wraps. I want to do some training plan work, but everything at the camp is damp due to the showers earlier in the day.  I finally cave and drive 20-30 minutes to the closest Dunkin’ Donuts.  I get a hot tea for there, and a cold brew coffee for the next morning. I sit and lay out both my running and strength workouts for the remainder of my weeks until Eastern States.

9:30pm – I get back to camp, eat some more veggies and hummus, and go right to sleep.

Total Daily Mileage: 26 miles


Day Seven

5:15am – Wake up.  I eat the same oatmeal concoction I ate on Saturday.  It’s my typical breakfast when I am travelling for races, and also works well on this trip.  I pack up my campsite, which is fairly easy when you’re car camping and go to meet the group for car shuttling.

8am – Today’s start is a little later than it was the day before due to the longer distance driving.  After getting lost several times the day before, I vow to stay with the group, waiting at the tops of hills and any trail intersections where I’m not 100 percent sure of where I’m going. Again, I’m fueling my run with paleo protein balls and Justin’s.  On today’s run we encounter more miles of stinging nettle.  

If you have never encountered stinging nettle you should count yourself lucky.  It is a beautiful green plant that grows in damp areas near streams.  It has small, nearly invisible “stingers” on it that go into your skin when you brush the plant.  There is no visible sign of the reaction you are having, no bumps or reddness or swelling.  However, it feels like your skin is on fire with itching and burning.  The reaction typically fades rather quickly, but if you’re hiking through miles of it, the sensation becomes non-stop.  

The nettle is terrible.  I think very bad words in my head.  I consider stopping, but there is nettle in every direction.  When we reach the point of the trail where there is no more nettle it is the BEST. THING. EVER.

We also make a new friend on the trail, a nice big timber rattlesnake.  We hesitate on the trail as he watches us from the bushes.  We wonder, “Why is he sitting there watching us, why doesn’t he just crawl away?!”.  He is probably thinking the same thing of us.  One of the braver members of our group takes a long stick and gently prod the snake to encourage it on it’s way and we continue on ours.  

We finish up at or car drop off, a little more than 20 miles of running again today.  The course is beautiful and brutal, and I am both excited and nervous as hell for the upcoming race.  I stop on the way home for some Bai bubbly and another small bag of salt and vinegar chips.

4:30pm – I arrive home and shower to rinse off the trail stink. I also apply some cocoa butter vaseline to the nice rub spots and rash my pack has given me in the heat.  I get some coffee and we go over to hang out at a friends house.  I love my trail adventures, but it is really nice to be home with the family! 

7:30pm – We arrive back home and I eat a bowl of red lentil pasta for dinner.  I realize it’s the first real food I’ve had since breakfast this morning and it is awesome.  Then it’s time to fold laundry and prep for the next week of life.  Work, family and running keeps me really busy at times, but I’m not sure there’s anything I’d trade it for.

Total Daily Mileage: 20+ miles

Total Weekly Mileage: 69+ miles

A Look Back — Thoughts On The Week

This was one of my longer, higher mileage weeks for training.  I would love to be able to run more mileage, but I realize that this would require more time for both the extra mileage and the extra recovery needed, and I don’t have that luxury at this point.  The added morning training I do at least helps me build endurance and the ability to struggle through tough workouts, both of which are important in ultras. Looking back over my week of food and running, and comparing it to other weeks, I realize that consistency is a very important thing in my training.  

I typically run on my own, and while it was nice to have some company on the training runs, it’s not something that I feel like I need on a regular basis.  Every runner is different, and for me running is my time to escape into the woods and get outside my head.  To escape the daily noise and the constant barrage of emails, texts, Facebook updates, and 24-hour BREAKING news.

Also, after my adventure I am 100% sure that I would rather encounter a poisonous snake on the trail than a stinging nettle plant. As I am proofing log this a few weeks later I can attest to the fact that I have been barreling down a trail only to leap to the side gasping and thinking, “OH MY GOD IS THAT STINGING NETTLE?!?”  Hopefully I will not need therapy to overcome this.

About Des Clarke

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Des has long been known as the crazy vegan runner around her small town, and just started ultras last year (2016). On August 12th she will attempt to complete the Eastern States 100 miler, the final race in the PA Mountain Running Triple Crown.  The race has a finishers rate around 33%, and last year only 4 women completed all three races.  These statistics appealed to her, a possible indication that her friends are accurate in describing her as “not normal.”

Des is a wife and mother in an active family with two young boys.  She makes smart decisions because she often has to think for three.  She likes challenging herself, and hopes she inspires others to test their own limits.

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