Member of the Month: May, 2017
DCCS would like to congratulate Samantha Pitts-Kiefer on being nominated as the DCCS May Member of the Month! Here is her story.
Tell us about yourself? Where grew up? When move to the area? What do you do for work?
I like to say I’m from everywhere and from nowhere. I’ve moved around my entire life and so basically home is wherever I am. Some people might be surprised to hear that I’m British (though I’ve been in the U.S. for most of the past 20 years and have been a U.S. citizen since 2010). I was born and grew up in England, where my family is from, but went to junior high and high school at an international school in Tokyo, Japan. From there, I moved to the U.S. for college and majored in music at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. After school, I spent a couple of years of “down time” in New Zealand, where my parents and brother have lived since 1999, before moving back to the U.S. in 2001 to go to law school at Villanova University. After law school, I worked at a corporate law firm in London, England, and New York City for a few years, but decided I wanted to do something more fulfilling—something in public service and related to international security—so I went back to graduate school in 2010 studying national security and politics at the Harvard Kennedy School. That’s where I first became interested in nuclear issues. In 2012, I moved to D.C. and started working at my current organization—the Nuclear Threat Initiative (read more at www.nti.org). I work on addressing the risks posed by nuclear weapons and nuclear materials. It’s really interesting to work on a challenging problem and I feel like I’ve been able to make a real impact, while also having the opportunity to travel overseas for work. In 2013 I moved to Alexandria, where I now live.
When did you start running? Remember your first race?
I ran track and field in high school, but really didn’t do any serious running beyond one or two 5k races until 2012. My friend forced me to train for a half marathon with her in Boston, which I thought would kill me. I had no interest in running longer races until I read Born to Run in 2012 and I immediately wanted to run an ultra. I figured I should run a marathon first, so ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon in D.C. in 2013. I also joined the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club to see what this whole ultra “thing” was about and volunteered at the MMT 100 in 2013. I still remember seeing the runners’ headlamps coming down the trail in the middle of the night and thought it was so cool. A week later, I signed up for my first two ultras—the 12hr Adventure Trail Run and the Stone Mill 50 Miler. Unfortunately, I spent that summer injured and didn’t do much running, but managed to crank out 50k at the 12hr and made it to the 43-mile mark at Stone Mill before dropping after I missed the final cutoff. Since then I’ve been hooked, though I realized I needed to do a little more running than I was doing if I was going to actually finish races!
When and where do you typically run?
Anyone who knows me knows that I have a little bit of a lazy attitude when it comes to running and I am not a morning person. So most of the time I run locally on the Mount Vernon Trail. Or if I want to go “further afield” I’ll head to the Rock Creek Park trails. I do love running at Prince William Forest Park and at Fountainhead, so if I have a little extra time to make the drive I will head there and just enjoy being out in the woods for a few hours. I also try to make it out to Great Falls on Wednesday evenings for the DC Capital Striders "Wolfpack" runs. Recently I’ve had a little more time to get out to the mountains, which is the best thing to clear my mind and relieve stress. I hope to do that more often.
What do you believe is your greatest running accomplishment this far and do you have additional goals?
It’s hard to pick one running accomplishment. I think all of us runners feel a great sense of accomplishment every time we achieve a new goal—whether a new distance or an improved time. For me that includes finishing my first 50 miler in 2015 (Bull Run Run) after two previous DNFs; and finishing my first 100 miler at Devil Dog in 2016 after taking most of the fall off due to injury, sickness, and work travel.
However, I am really proud of (and honestly totally shocked about) my overall first place finish at the 24hr Adventure Trail Run this April. Again, people who know me know that I hate running in the heat and humidity and I will complain for days about it (blaming my English blood!). The 24hr race just happened to coincide with over 90-degree temperatures and extremely high humidity—basically the worst conditions I can imagine. I had hoped to do well given some recent improvement in my speed and endurance, and being more experienced, but I dialed back my expectations due to the weather forecast and having suffered some really bad vertigo in the days before the race. However, during the race I was surprised to find that I was able to keep going and push through the conditions and keep a pretty steady pace throughout the entire 23+ hours. It was the first time I ever went into a race planning to “race” it and be competitive and I couldn’t believe I managed to actually win the thing—I’m still shocked. That said, these things are always a team effort, so I want to give huge credit to my amazing crew and pacers (Josh Howe, George Scott, and Eryn Brown) and to the absolutely top-notch volunteers and race management (Athletic Equation—I highly recommend their races).
Coming next I have the OSS/CIA night 50 miler in June, but I feel like I’m ready to tackle some harder races, so on my immediate list for the next year are the Ring in September, Pinhoti 100 in November, and MMT 100 next spring. I’m also itching to run a 200 miler like the Tahoe 200 and some international races like UTMB in Europe and the Tarawera 100k in New Zealand. Mostly, I just want to continue spending time with the wonderful friends I’ve made in the ultrarunning community, especially the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club "VHTRC" and DC Capital Striders "Wolfpack". They are truly my family.