Interview with 48 Hour Running Record Holder Phil McCarthy

Image Source: New York Daily News

On May 15, 2011 Phil McCarthy set the 48 hour running record at the 3 Days at the Fair trail races in New Jersey. McCarthy had finished with an impressive total of 257.34 miles. He had easily broken the previous record of 248 miles. He did this running 300 laps on a 0.8578 mile loop. This doesn’t sound anything like your average running race. Then again, Phil McCarthy isn’t your average runner. (Image source: New York Daily News)

ERR: How long have you been running?

Phil MCCarthy: I’ve been running since junior high track, but I only got serious after I moved to New York (in 1994 from Nebraska) when I ran a neighborhood 5-mile road race, the Stapleton Steeplechase, and then the 1997 New York Marathon. I’ve been running ultras since 2002, but got serious about that in 2004.

ERR: Where are your favorite places to run?

PM: I have some regular routes – one that takes me across the GWB and over to Yankee Stadium (although I’m not a Yankees fan), I like Ft. Tryon Park and Inwood Hill Park close to home, I like to run the trails on the Palisades in New Jersey, and I like to explore different neighborhoods of the city on my long runs, especially in the Bronx. I also love running across bridges, and my blog features all the bridges in NYC that can be run across (I’ve done close to 60 so far, with quite a few to go).

ERR: Why did you start running ultras?

PM: I had run a few marathons and I thought that I wouldn’t be able to get much faster, but I was curious to go farther, and to see how far I could go. So I ran a 50K, then a 60K, then a 12-hour, and gradually enjoyed running longer and longer distances.

ERR: How many ultras have you done?

PM: I’m currently running my 64th ultra (I think) – the New York Pioneer Memorial 100 Mile Trek, a 3-day stage race.

ERR: What are some of your greatest achievements ultra running?

PM: The 48-hour record has to top the list. I also ran a 235-mile 48-hour race in 2008, which is one of the best in the US ever. I won the 2009 24-hour national championship with 151 miles, and I’ve been on the U.S. 24-hour team for the world championships since 2007. At my first world championships in 2007 in Drummondville, Quebec I ran 154 miles and finished 4th in the world, the first time an American man finished in the top 10. I won the 2007 and 2009 editions of the Pioneer Trek, which are among my proudest wins. I’ve won the 2007 and 2010 New York Ultrarunning Grand Prix.

ERR: What made you want to try and break the 48 hour running record?

PM: After the race in Drummondville, Roy Pirrung and John Geesler (John broke Roy’s American record in 2003) mentioned it to me and encouraged me to try, and they both gave me advice. Always wanting to go further, it sounded like something I wanted to try, and it sounded possible. I give them enormous credit, especially John, for encouraging me to break his own record!

ERR: What did you do train for a 48 hour race?

PM: I just go about my normal training, running as many miles as I can, working in speed work and hill work. My longest training runs would be 35-40 miles, but I didn’t do anything special to train for a 48. The best training is my experience running 24-hour races, I’ve run 10 of them.

ERR: Do you carbo-load prior to the race?

PM: Not particularly. I had chicken and rice the night before the race (made by Julie Rosenfeld and Lydia Redding, whose house in NJ I stayed at the night before the race). I don’t think carbo-loading would help much after the first few hours.

ERR: Recently someone told me about their brother had done a multi-day ultra and he would take naps during the race. Did you take any naps during the 48 hours?

PM: For this race I didn’t. I laid down flat on the ground a few times, and once on a park bench, for 5-10 minutes at a time just to get off my feet to rest my feet, and I closed my eyes and was able to shut my brain down for a little bit, but I didn’t sleep. But I did feel refreshed after every time.

ERR: What were you using for nutrition during the race?

PM: I got a lot of liquid nutrition, from Hammer Sustatined Energy and Perpetuem, also from Cytomax and some Heed. I took some gels too, and some gel blasts, but I didn’t eat a whole lot of solid food. A protein bar, and occasionally a part of a hamburger, grilled cheese or quesadilla, and I constantly was eating fruit as well – grapes were very good, and orange slices and bananas, and they also had blueberries! I also took a lot of their chicken broth, which kept me warm at night and gave me sodium.

ERR: At what part of the race did you feel like you were going to break the record?

PM: I felt confident from the beginning, but I felt especially confident after about 25 hours, after I’d gotten through the first night and I’d dealt with my inflamed achilles properly which then stopped giving me trouble, and I was still running as strong as I had after 12 hours. But knowing that anything can go wrong, I didn’t really think it was in the bag until 3 hours to go.

ERR: What is it like recovering from a 48 hour race?

PM: For this one, my legs were in pretty good shape, my knees hurt, but that went away after about a day. My feet hurt though, from the strain and stress, and that’s taking some time to go away. This 3-day race isn’t helping!

ERR: What ultra events do you have on the horizon?

PM: Aside from the 3-day race I’m currently running, I’m running the Back on My Feet 24-hour race in Philadelphia in July, and the national championship 24-hour race in Cleveland in September. I have some other ideas, possibly JFK 50 Mile race in November, but nothing set in stone.

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