Kranz: Ultra marathon a life-changing experience

Kyle Kranz

Kyle KranzRunning on the white line

Most people have no idea these races even exist. I did not until a few years ago. However, there are ultra marathon events where people run 50k, 50 miles, 12 hours, 100k, 24 hours, 100 miles, or more! For some it is enough just to finish, others are going for speed and time, others for distance. The concept of doing a foot race that starts and finishes on different days or where you are lapped by the sun is crazy to many, intriguing to some, and I thought I would share my experience.

Last summer I did the Lean Horse 100 mile race out in the Black Hills. It started in Hot Springs and went 50 miles out before turning around. My farthest run to date was doing the Brookings Marathon twice in a single day, or 52.4 miles. I knew I could do the 50-mile event, so decided on the 100. Only by going too far, can one find out how far they can truly go.

The day of the race finally arrived, and this is what it all came down to. An ultra is a unique event, where women compete with men and the fastest runners are most of our parents’ age. I believe the average finishing age at this race was 46 years old and six of the top 10 finishers were over 40!

At an ultra there is generally an aid station every 4 to 6 miles. It is funny thinking about a 5k having one or two aid stations and ours were spread out twice the distance of that race. Due to this, most of the participants carry a bottle, maybe two, along with whole food. Potatoes, fruit, GU packets, pizza, etc. During 100 miles, many eat as much as 7,000 calories to try to keep up with the 12,000 calories used that day.

Everyone started very slowly, a light jog. Over such a distance you start slow to conserve energy for later. Also the general rule is if you cannot see over the hill, you walk up it. Doing so takes much longer, but will help you put off fatigue over the distance and allow you to hopefully finish. Running so slowly, along with the walking, allows for conversation. I met this 60-something year old couple from New Zealand during the race and I ran 30 some miles with a 57-year-old lady from Chicago who taught me many things about these races.

Those aid stations I mentioned are amazing places. During the first 25 miles everyone is pretty condensed still, so the stations get overrun by men wearing short shorts and women wearing backpacks filled with water. Everyone is grabbing at the tables of energy bars, fruit, and PB&J sandwiches, refilling water bottles, having blisters popped by the volunteers, and throwing away wrappers. Later on in the race everyone thins out. It’s not the morning anymore, and the sun has come out. Men start re-applying stuff called Body Glide to their privates and nipples to prevent chaffing. Guys are pulling zip lock bags filled with water out of their shorts and asking the volunteers to refill it with ice, which they do without hesitation. People start to get more and more fatigued as the afternoon passes and the sun sets. In the evening at the aid stations, instead of making PB&J’s, they are serving stuff like grilled cheese sandwiches, noodle soup, and many types of cookies.

I ended up DNFing (did not finish) at mile 70 due to a left hamstring that was in pretty bad shape– most likely from the constant and gradual incline and decline of the trail. That is something which is hard to train for here in Brookings.

One thing is for sure. If you manage to run a distance that you previously thought impossible, it changes you as a person. All excuses go out the window. Anything that you think is beyond your abilities or too hard suddenly looks a little more manageable. Life clears up. It is also my belief that anyone can finish an ultra. There’s a man that has walked the Lean Horse 100 mile course every year it’s been put on! Running farther than a marathon is mainly about not giving up. That was my success in my failure at the Lean Horse 100. I may have DNFed, but I did not let myself walk when I wanted to the most like I had succumbed to in previous ultra distance runs. I kept on running when I got tired, because I knew what I wanted most (to walk) would hurt more than anything at that moment. So I kept going.

Why do I run? The answer is easy. Go out and run 50 miles, and you will know why.

kyle is a senior majoring in nutrition. View his blog at