Please welcome the fifteenth American Trail Running Association (ATRA) Trail Ambassador presented by CamelBak, and the third in 2018. Meet trail running community builder and school teacher by profession, Sheila Eagan from Rochester, New York. This 33-year-old dynamo co-hosts a running-themed podcast, volunteers at races and for trail work days, is the secretary/treasurer for #TrailsRoc, founder of Tuesday Trail Trots, and co-owner of Trail Methods.
Eric Eagan, in his nomination letter writes of his wife, “Sheila consistently encourages runners of all paces at our local events. She is welcoming, reassuring, comforting – while at the same time pushing everyone to be better. She has spent countless hours on trail work projects, has volunteered at almost every single race in the area, and is involved in the behind the scenes work that often goes unnoticed. Her quick emails to check in with injured runners, her encouragement to struggling folks at an ultra, her focus to bring more women to the world of ultra running by running these races herself and then saying, ‘Yes, you can!’ to anyone who dares mention they can’t run that far. When I direct a race, Sheila is always on the course, checking our aid stations – making sure markings aren’t messed up – Touching base with sweepers and encouraging our runners. While it is my face they see at the finish, it was her work that got runners to me.
“The Rochester area is one of the best trail running gems in the country – and Sheila – in my opinion, is the most important person to the sport here,” continued Eric. “We would not have the trails we have without her, we would not have the races we have without her, and we most certainly would not have the COMMUNITY that we have without her.”
Sheila started trail running about six years ago. “I initially ran trails on recovery days,” said Sheila. “I was running roads at that time. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with the peace and serenity of the woods, the friendships I formed out there, and the relative safety compared to road running. Not having to worry about getting hit by cars was a major bonus.”
Sheila’s trail race volunteering coincided with her foray into the sport as a runner. She has been a member of #TrailsRoc since its inception in 2012. “It started as a group of guys, and I happened to be at one of their meetings and brought up that maybe women feel intimidated to come run with a group of men they don’t know at night on trails,” Sheila said. “We ended up hosting a ‘Ladies of the Night’ group run and we had so much fun. From there, I like to think of myself as the one saying, ‘what about…,’ insert a group of people who I felt maybe we weren’t offering something to. For example, after our first race ever (0 SPF Half Marathon), I was like, ‘but what about the people who aren’t ready yet for a really challenging half marathon? What about a fun race?’ And we ended up hosting Ready, Set, Glow, a 5 miler in the dark with glow sticks and glow costumes, and Mess the Dress/Filthy Formal, a 5 miler in muddy prom gear. Basically I think of things I wish existed and then get a bunch of people on board to do those things with me. I’m the oldest of 10 kids, and I feel like this has kind of been what my life has always been – getting people to go along with my crazy ideas.”
In her position on the #TrailsRoc board, Sheila has, “done it all,” from helping get permits and insurance, to creating a course, to marking a course, to sweeping a course. Sheila said, “I am always in charge of getting and then directing the volunteers for races. I shop for the race food, sometimes I cook for the races, clean up afterwards. In addition to working at our own races, I also have volunteered at some other organizations’ races and have helped crew/pace for friends at events, (which isa different kind of volunteering, but still counts in my book). My favorite races to volunteer at have been ultras. The vibe at an ultra is just unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. I cry so much at the end of ultras (when I’m racing but often more tears when it’s someone else running). And then I leave ready to sign up for everything and take on the world (in running and also just in regular life).”
Another program Sheila is involved with and created for #TrailsRoc, is Tuesday Trail Trots. “Trail Trots was born on a night-time winter run pretty early in my trail running days,” explained Sheila. “We’d been running with a group of mostly guys who were WAY faster and more confident on trails. It was dark, we were on a really icy ridgeline and my asthma was going crazy because it was very cold. There was another guy in the back with me, and he was like, ‘yo, I have beer back at the car. Wanna’ go back there now?’ Over beers, I mused that we really needed a group for beginners. I think I’d decided to start leading it and one of our friends actually suggested the name, and I loved it! It’s morphed now into Tuesday Trail Workouts to be more inclusive. So we do a mile(ish) warm up together, then I make up a half-mile route to run repeats – normally it’s hill repeats, but occasionally we also do speed work on a flat section of trail. We rotate through parks and I try to pick different routes in hopes that more people will begin to learn the trails in the area. We are SO lucky to live in an area that has really embraced outdoor spaces.”
Some of those outdoor spaces are featured in races Sheila puts on with her husband through Trail Methods. Many on the Genny is one of the races in their portfolio. Sheila said of the event, “It’s a 40 mile point-to-point ultra in stunning Letchworth State Park (voted best state park in the country in 2015). Eric and I had spent the summer of 2014 running and hiking every trail in the park, and we realized it would be amazing to be able to do it all in one day – all the way around the gorge – the Grand Canyon of the East.” The inaugural race was held in 2017 and this year’s race will be held on June 23.
Another event organized by Trail Methods is the Last Runner Standing race. “The race consists of a one mile loop,” explained Sheila. “The first time you have 20 minutes, then it goes down to 19, then 18, etc., until there’s only one person still able to complete the mile in that amount of time. “ This year’s event was held on March 10.
For the past few months, Sheila has been the co-host of Running Inside Out Radio Show. “Chris O’Brien, the creator, started with his podcast (same name), where he interviews different area runners about races they’ve run and things going on in the running community,” said Sheila. “The radio show is a half hour. Sometimes it’s funny and lighthearted, sometimes we get a little more serious.”
This March, the show will include women’s specific topics to celebrate Women’s History Month such as masters’ women discussing changes they’ve seen over the years, interviews with local chapters of all-female running groups, as well as featuring Girls on the Run.
Among the many roles Sheila fills, trail work days are of the utmost importance. “Trail runners can find a local group to help with funding and man power for trail work days. Groups are always looking for help,” said Sheila. “#TrailsRoc does a bunch of days each year, and it’s always super fun and also feels like good karma to be able to give back to the trails we love. We clean them, build new trails, make bridges and maintain trails by cutting back overgrowth, raking and adding gravel/mulch.”
Sheila has learned a lot through her involvement in the sport. “I think trail running has taught me that I am capable of whatever I want to do. When I registered for my first 50 mile race, so many people were like, ‘You’re running WHAT? That race is hard. It has hills. It’s not a beginner course.’ There was so much negativity. Since then, I’ve tried really hard to encourage everyone. You will have to train hard, you will have to persevere, you will have to really want it. And, if you do those things, you can accomplish whatever it is that you are thinking of, whether it’s 5 miles or 50 miles.
“Another big one for me was that you don’t have to ‘look’ like a runner to be a runner,” said Sheila. “I’ve always been self-conscious of my body and especially of my big legs, but running taught me that my ‘big’ legs are muscular and will carry me farther, faster and to way more exciting places than I ever could have imagined. When I’m running on a trail, I feel beautiful in a totally different and powerful way. It’s a feeling I wish all women could have, because I think too many of us spend too much time worrying about how we look and not recognizing how beautifully powerful our bodies really are.”
Advice for others getting into the sport includes a “just do it” mentality, either alone, or with a group. “One thing that was hard for me to accept when I first switched from roads to trails is that trail runners really do love to be out there, and they are the friendliest group I’ve ever met. So, if someone you KNOW is faster than you invites you along and stays with you, don’t feel bad. They wouldn’t have invited you if they didn’t mean it, and trails are about sharing with others and enjoying the time out and not so much about how fast you go.
“Also in the trail world there’s a TON of focus (at least around here) on ultras. And while ultras are pretty amazing, there’s nothing wrong with saying that you want to focus on shorter trail races,” offered Sheila. “Again, it’s all about being out there, enjoying nature, hanging out with friends and getting some exercise.”
You’ll not only see Sheila at local events volunteering, she’ll also be doing some racing of her own. She is currently training for the Cayuga Trails Marathon in Ithaca, NY, on July 21, which is held concurrently with the USATF National 50 Mile Trail Championships. Assuming the marathon goes well, she’ll shoot for a fast 50k in the fall.