NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—It took five years for 29-year-old Megan McGrath to finally get picked in a lottery to be able to participate in Saturday’s oldest and most prestigious 100-mile trail race in the world: The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run.
But it was all worth it for McGrath, a New Brunswick resident who traveled to California for the race, and crossed the finish line early yesterday morning after 22 hours, 23 minutes, and 20 seconds.
McGrath was one of three women from NJ in the field of 399 brave and skilled athletes who started the endurance run at 5am on Saturday in Squaw Valley, California.
McGrath was the 14th woman to finish the race this year, and came in 76th place overall in this year's race.
She achieved her goal of reaching the race's finish line in Auburn, California in under 24 hours. Everyone who finishes in under 24 hours received a special silver belt buckle.
But simply being selected to participate was a challenge in and of itself.
“I was elated when I found out I had been picked… Trying to explain the significance of finally getting into this race [to friends] was tough, but they soon saw from my excited demeanor how important it was to me,” McGrath told New Brunswick Today.
Getting into the prestigious endurance race requires both skill and luck.
Runners must qualify each year by completing another ultra run. Each time that a runner does not win the lottery, she picks up an additional ticket for the following years’ lottery, but still must re-qualify.
McGrath typically runs two or three ultras per year.
“This is my fifth straight year qualifying for it and fifth straight year applying, and it was in December when my name got picked,” said McGrath.
“Each successive year my name would go in the hat twice, so in theory I had five tickets with my name on it in the lottery.”
And each year that she didn’t get into the race, she had friends who did, making her want to pursue it that much more the following year.
The "Stone Mill 50 Mile" a 50 mile trail run in Montgomery County, Maryland was McGrath's qualifier. She took first place among females overall there.
Originally from Buffalo, New York, McGrath is in her second year working in human resources with pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J). She attended Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business in Pittsburgh, where she earned her MBA.
After joining the company in July 2012 at its Janssen North America Headquarters in Titusville, NJ, she transferred and began working at J&J's worldwide headquarters one year later. McGrath now lives in New Brunswick as well.
Asked what she likes most about living in the Hub City, McGrath told New Brunswick Today that the thing she loves is the walkability of the city.
“I walk to work, walk to great restaurants and bars on George Street, walk my dog along the Raritan River by the Rutgers boathouse, and run through Johnson Park, and across the river to Highland Park.”
“It’s been nice to have the river right there and towpath and Johnson Park and the Rutgers Eco-preserve. I’ve gone running on those trails a lot and I think those trails are pretty underutilized by the local runners. I don’t see many people out using them if I’m running early in the morning.”
McGrath said her employer has been supportive of her running.
“There is a lot of support from my J&J managers and co-workers. They have heard me talk about this race, and they know how excited I am about it,” said McGrath.
“Everyone knows I’m doing this. They know I’ve really been looking forward to it for the past five years. I’m pretty excited and really nervous but I’m really looking forward to the opportunity and the adventure if nothing else.”
McGrath said the race would provide a boost to her division in an informal competition between two sub-departments of human resources.
“We are all wearing Fit Bit devices for about three months with the goal being which department can rack up the most steps and unofficially claim to be one of the healthiest departments at J&J, at least in HR!”
“I am wearing my Fit Bit during the race, so I joked with my department ‘I would earn us a lot of steps this weekend,’ ” she said.
“Everyone in my department at HQ in New Brunswick was thrilled to hear I could help the team so much! They've been very supportive. It speaks to J&J's commitment to wellness – both for employees and the surrounding communities.”
In the Train’ ing Run, a group event celebrating National Trails Day, McGrath (and several others) started on the Delaware and Raritan Canal in Trenton and ran all the way to New Brunswick, covering 34 miles of the trail on the towpath.
The event ended with a picnic and awards presentation held in Johnson Park for participants and their families.
Elaine Acosta, a Randolph, NJ resident and RVRR member, who goes by the nickname "Ninja," was one of the other NJ women running the Western States race on Saturday and Sunday.
However, for Acosta, completing the weekend's 100-mile endurance run was only the first part of her mission this year.
Acosta has entered the "Grand Slam of Ultrarunning" for 2014, which recognizes runners who complete four 100-mile trail runs in the United States.
The four oldest 100-mile trail races are: the Western States 100, the Vermont 100, the Leadville Trail 100, and the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run. All four must be completed in the same year to receive the award.