Monumental Runner – Omar Ali

Name: Omar Ali

Self-described age group: 50-55 (but I’m on the very low end of this age group)

Residence: Kensington, Md.

Occupation: Clinical scientist for a small biotech company

Volunteer roles in the running world: I usually volunteer for various roles with my running club (MCRRC). Most of the time, you can find me working as a course marshal or serving food at the end of a race. My favorite role is handing out bibs to runners – it’s fun to see the excitement on people’s faces, especially if it’s their first race.

How has your running changed in the last six months: I usually run with the club’s Experienced Marathon Program (XMP) in the summer and the club’s Winter Trails program in the…well winter (and I really miss running with these groups). With nothing in the immediate future to train for, I’ve just been maintaining some base mileage. I’ve definitely gotten slower during the pandemic, which has been discouraging. But I figure I’ll regain the speed once I start training for a race again. The time off from training has forced me to get a little more serious with strength and cross-training, which I’ve always neglected.

Why you run: To relieve stress. To think about the day ahead (if I run in the morning) or to think about the day that was (if I run in the evening). I’m currently working on my Master’s in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, so lately I’ve been using the running time to think about school work.

When did you get started running: I was never a runner in high school or college. In my 20s, a co-worker asked me if I would be interested in running in a charity race that she was organizing (it was the second Annual Goff Memorial 10k in Potomac). I remember race day being really hot and I probably ran in a cotton t-shirt (rookie mistake). But I was hooked. Shortly after that, I registered for Cherry Blossom (back when you had to send in a paper application – it was the 90s, so signing up for a race online really wasn’t a thing). And yeah, I registered – there was no lottery back then.

Have you taken a break from running: Twice, for plantar fasciitis. Let’s just say pool running is the most boring form of exercise on the planet.

Training shoe: Road: New Balance Fresh Foam 1080. Trail: La Sportiva Bushido II.

Coach or training group: MCRRC’s XMP, Winter Trails, and Speed Development.

The hardest race you’ve ever run: A 5k trail race in Whistler, British Columbia. It was my first trail race and I was woefully unprepared for the conditions (running through alpine snow and ice in August). The elevation gain was crazy and I ran on loose scree, which is something we really don’t have around here. But it was beautiful.

Most adventurous decision you’ve made with your running: Taking up trail running. I’ve done a few 50k trail races (including Seneca Greenway and Rosaryville).

Running mentors: Hmm, how about running idols? I can think of two: Anthony Fauci (obviously) and Martin Hehir (he went to my alma mater, Syracuse University, and I love to see how he balances professional running with family obligations and his day job, medicine).

My favorite place to run in the D.C. area is: The Mall. An early morning run through the Mall before the tourists descend (when tourists were a thing) is the best feeling – I have the city to myself.

Favorite local trail: Rock Creek Trail. I live pretty close to Ken-Gar Palisades Park, so I usually run on the trail a few times per week.

My best race was: 2015 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Everything came together that day (the weather was perfect, my stomach cooperated, and I had a ton of friends and family cheering me on).

Favorite local race: PNC Parkway Classic. The race is never too crowded, you can’t beat the scenery, and I love the gentle rolling hills that come early on in the race, when your legs are fresh.

Ideal post-run meal: After a short run, greek yogurt and granola. After a long run, pancakes or waffles. And cake. Definitely cake.

Favorite flavor of gel, gu, etc: Chocolate Outrage GU (it tastes like frosting, which is always a good thing).

Pet peeve: Heat and humidity on race day. I’ve run TOO MANY Marine Corps Marathons where it has been miserably hot.

Goals: This year, Berlin (if it happens – I managed to get in through the lottery) and then Stone Mill 50. I’d like to run Chicago again at some point (I have unfinished business with that race) and London someday.

Your advice for a new runner: Just start running. But first, go to a running store and get a good pair of running shoes. And find someone to run with – it’s more fun to run with others.

Favorite running book: I don’t really have a favorite running book, but I do have a favorite running movie: How to Run 100 Miles by Brendan Leonard. I watched it for inspiration before my first ultra.

Song in your head during a run: Katy Perry’s Firework was playing through my head the other day, but that’s only because I was thinking about how big those fireworks were during the Inauguration.

Have you dealt with a major injury: Nothing that has needed surgery. Aside from plantar fasciitis, I’ve taken a few spills while running trails, but nothing too bad.

Running quote: The training is the work, the race is the celebration.

Why is the D.C. area a great place to be a runner: We’re really spoiled with the sheer variety of places that you can go for a run in this city. And we’re also spoiled by the number of well-run races put on by various clubs and organizations in the area. Whether it’s roads or trails, you’ll find something different to run every day. Now if we could only figure out how to dial back the heat and humidity during the summer (and the fall)…

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