An Interview with Sara Conrad (SC) after her 2019 Afton 50K win – Interview conducted by Kevin Langton (KL). Photo Credit: David Markman

KL: Hi Sara. Congrats on your awesome win at Afton (Sara was first woman in the 50k in 5:01:35). Can you tell us a little about yourself, maybe who you are when you’re not running?

SC: I live in Minneapolis with my significant other, Nick, (who rocked the 25k the same day) and our dog Kona. I enjoy hiking, canoeing, biking, snow shoeing, nordic skiing (former triathlete here). When I am not getting after it running, I get after it in clinic. I am a physical therapist assistant with Twin Cities Orthopedics, where I’m a running specialist. My team affiliations are with Mill City Running, Honey Stinger Elite team, and RAD Rabbit.

KL: What best prepared you for Afton?

SC: All of my training at Afton with my crew—Candice, Ben and Nick (as well as the support from these people as well). Also what prepared me is what I call my small amount of experience with 50k to 50 mile races. Each race is different, and each race has fails that you learn from. Learning from what has not worked is a gem for future races and training.

KL: What were your plans or goals for the race and how did the race play out for you?

SC: In the back of my mind I thought a PR would be nice, so we’ll call that my goal. I’m not very good at running in the heat and humidity, so I really stayed on top of my nutrition plan. My plan was to take the first lap at a conversational pace and I met some really cool people along the way doing so. The volunteers at the aid stations were amazing, and I was in and out of each aid station pretty quickly (the ice sponges really helped cool me off). I started passing women in the last 4 miles of the first lap, but had no idea where I was until I came through the half way point, when one of my friends at the aid station said that he thought I was in the top three. I started the second lap feeling really good, keeping with my own plan. As the race unfolded, I found myself catching up to the first place women before the last long climb before the big descent on the campground when I just decided to go for it! I just kept moving forward as fast as my body would go, digging deep to the finish. Winning was surreal for me. The best part was getting all of the hugs at the finish.

KL: Did you have any low points during the race? If so, what helped you through it/them?

SC: Of course I did. Everyone has a low point at some point during a long race. Mine was a couple of miles after I had taken the lead—I had some sharp knee pain that stopped me in my tracks just before the meat grinder. Luckily the meat grinder was next so I knew that I could walk it off a little—which I was able to do. I just wasn’t able to run at the intensity that I wanted to run at because of the pain. It was all mental at this point and I just kept telling myself to keep pushing forward and enjoy the rest of the trail 😉

KL: What’s something non-running that helped you at Afton?

SC: I have been going to a gym called Alchemy for a little less than a year. The workouts here really push me to another level and have really helped compliment my trail running (both Voyageur and Superior last year). One week before the race I had a workout that included max height box jumps. For the first time I was able to jump a 30 inch box (I am all of 5’2”) and was super excited! That day I thought, I am so ready for Afton now!

KL: Bonus question: Please make your own question (and answer) that reveals something you think we should know about.

SC: Can you talk more about Kona? Of course! She’s a border collie-lab mix that loves to run with us—she has been known to outlast us at Jay Cooke and on the SHT. Winter is really her jam. She loves her couch as well. She goes to work with Nick four days a week—keep an eye on your sandwich or piece of cake, she may beat you to it, lol. She loves running at Afton as well!

KL: I want to meet her! Thanks for taking the time to do this and congrats again.

Afton Trail Run
50KM & 25KM Trail Races
Afton State Park – Hastings, Minnesota
Saturday July 4, 2020
50KM 6:30AM
25KM 7:30AM

Opens Wedneday January 1, 2020 at 12:01AM CST
Closes Friday June 26, 2020 at 11:59PM CST
*Or once the field limit has been met
Complete Registration Details HERE

Directions to Race Start:
Afton State Park
6959 Peller Avenue South
Hastings, MN 55033
Hastings, Minnesota
Google Maps Directions HERE
Approx 25 minutes East of St. Paul, MN and 40 minutes East of Minneapolis, MN

Terrain / Course Description:
The Afton Trail Run consists of a hilly 25K loop (two loops for the 50K), winding through Afton State Park’s trail system. The race is held 100% off road, primarily on very runnable / not very technical single double and single track. There are 7 long climbs per loop, rising from the river valley and down again with a good mix of rolling and flat terrain between the hills.  Be sure to see maps, elevation charts and stats provided on this website HERE.

2 x 15.5 mile loops =  31 miles
Elevation Gain 4,670 FT
Elevation Loss 4,670 FT
NET Elevation Change 9,340 FT
11 Aid Stations
9 hour time limit
Complete 50KM Info HERE

1 x 15.5 mile loop = 15.5 miles
Elevation Gain 2,335 FT
Elevation Loss 2,335 FT
NET Elevation Change 4,670 FT
5 Aid Stations
8 hour time limit
Complete 25KM Info HERE

More About the Race / Area:
The Afton Trail Run is one of the most challenging and beautiful trail races around.  The race was established in 1994 and is now one of the oldest, largest and most competitive trail races in the country and routinely draws runners from all 50 states and beyond.  The race takes place entirely within the borders of Afton State Park.  Afton State Park lies on a glacial moraine, scribed with deep ravines running down to the St. Croix River.  The 169 mile St. Croix River was one of the original eight United States rivers to have significant portions placed under protection by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.  Within the park sandstone outcrops have been exposed in some of the ravines. The vertical drop from the blufftop to the water is 300 feet.  A few patches of remnant prairie survived the decades of farming that took place on the blufftop. Today the former fields are being restored to prairie and oak savanna. The ravines leading down to the riverbank are thickly wooded with oak, aspen, birch, and cherry.