Respecting the race: How 5 time finisher Kaci Lickteig approaches Western States

HOKA ONE ONE Athlete Kaci Lickteig is no stranger to The Western States ® 100-Mile Endurance Run. Having run the race every year since 2014 and won it in 2016, she now returns for her sixth race from Squaw Valley to Auburn. The course is everything she enjoys about trail running and the 2016 Western States Champion hasn’t lost any love for the race.

After a 10th place finish at UTMB last fall and a win at the 2019 Black Canyon 100K, she is looking forward to another opportunity to challenge herself. We sat down with Kaci to discover what drives her to compete year after year.

Photo credit: Chris Perlberg
Photo credit: Chris Perlberg

HOKA: What do you love about Western States?

Lickteig: That’s hard to answer because I love everything about it. I love the people whom I’ve come to know since my first experience in 2014. I love the community and atmosphere surrounding the race throughout the week leading up to the race. Everyone walking around seems so starry-eyed, excited, and grateful to be there. Seeing the veterans, the first-time runners, and all the legends that have made Western States what it is today. When you set foot on the Auburn track and hear your name being announced over the loudspeaker, that is the best feeling in the world, regardless of your placing. That is why I keep coming back.

HOKA: Your consistency in training volume and comeback after races on Strava is impressive; how do you do it?

Lickteig: The key is consistency. I’ve been running for about 16 years and the key to my health is being consistent and listening to my body. I know to keep 80% of my runs very easy and 20% at a higher effort, depending on my training cycle. I’ve also learned to take recovery days when needed and I never push myself out the door if I know I will not enjoy the run at all or if it risks injury. And I just love running! It is part of my life and I joke about being married to it!

HOKA: What motivates you the most to run through the harsh winter months?

Lickteig: I can’t see myself not running. It really is something I look forward to doing and when I miss a few days I feel like part of me is missing. I enjoy, as silly as that sounds, embracing the elements and getting out the door. I need fresh air, to feel my body move, and to get the rush of endorphins running through my body.

HOKA: What gives you confidence before big races?

Lickteig: What gives me confidence is feeling both physically and mentally fit. When my body feels strong and has no lingering niggles and I know I put in all the work possible I feel mentally ready to take on the race. I want to be at the start line knowing I did everything right in training to make me capable of being my best.

HOKA: 100 miles is a long way, what do you focus on while you’re out on the course?

Lickteig: What I focus on during a 100 miles is not focusing on 100 miles. I break the race up into aid station to aid station – that way, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. I look forward to when I get to see my crew, the next section of trail that I will run, and then when I get to pick up my pacer. I like to focus on the scenery and embrace the moment that I am in. It makes the time fly by and soon enough the finish will be there.

HOKA: What lessons did you learn from your previous adventures at Western?

Lickteig: I’ve learned to respect the race, the distance, and the terrain. The quad punishment from the downhills made me suffer during my first experience. The next year I was more patient and had a better day. Then everything seemed to click in 2016 and I was able to have the best day ever. In 2017 I had too much emotion going into the race with my grandma fighting cancer, and when you have those kinds of feelings going into a big race it can lead to a massive blow up. Then in 2018, I had only 3-4 months worth of training for the race due to breaking my pelvis in October of 2017. So each year has given me a different experience and they have changed my life for the better.

HOKA: How will that knowledge affect the way you approach this year?

Lickteig: I will approach this year with the same respect and patience as I did in the past. I know how the course flows and what I need to do to make sure I run my own race. I am really looking forward to this year and what kind of day and story I will have from it.

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HOKA: You seem to have Western States dialed. What advice would you have for someone trying to complete their first Western States Endurance Run?

Lickteig: I would recommend staying patient early in the high country and not overloading your quads and legs too early. You want to be able to come into Foresthill able to run. Then once you get across the river and up to Green Gate you will want to keep moving forward because that section can feel very long if you have to walk. There are only a few big climbs left so this is where you can make up the time you saved back in the high country.

Once you hit No Hands Bridge, give it one last push up to Robie Point and know there is still a good climb up to the final mile sign…then it’s relatively all downhill from there! Follow those red footprints closely and make sure you don’t make a wrong turn as you head towards the Auburn Track, where your friends, fans, and buckle are waiting for your arrival!

HOKA: What model of HOKA will you be racing in?

Lickteig: My favorite HOKA for the trails is the Torrent. I love the fit and feel of this shoe. The Torrent is lightweight and has adequate traction for the trails. I have used these shoes in snow, mud, dirt, and rocks and they make me feel confident in their ability to grip the trail when I am running.

HOKA: What do you look forward to when it’s all over?

Lickteig: I look forward to sitting down, going back to the hotel for a nice shower and sleeping. Then waking up to go out and cheer on the people coming in at the Golden Hour, the last hour of the race. For me, knowing people are giving it their absolute all to get under 30 hours and seeing how hard they are still pushing is so inspiring to me. I love to help bring them in with encouraging words and if possible to trot beside them as they make their way to the track. That is probably one of my most favorite moments of the race.

After a solid block of training, Kaci is ready to toe the line. Follow the HOKA Instagram Story and Twitter for updates on Kaci’s 100-mile race this Saturday, June 29th.

Want to hit the trails like Kaci? Check out the HOKA Torrent.

Torrent

Concrete to Cacti: Latoya Shauntay Snell’s first 100K

Almost sixteen months ago, I experienced a tumultuous low in my life.

I had a miscarriage with twins, contemplated quitting running and told a few of my loved ones that this would be my last season. I’d break the news to my once intimate following on Running Fat Chef that I was leaving this sport forever. However, those plans were disrupted by a heckling spectator at the 2017 NYC Marathon.

Although the brief altercation of being fat shamed was terrible, it was a life altering experience that forced me out of my self-defeatist comfort zone. Sharing this terrible experience made me viral overnight to a community who didn’t know I existed. Before I knew it, I became an accidental activist for the body positivity moment and one of the many voices for the back of the pack runners — I never looked back.

Before this series of events, I had read a copy of my ultrarunning buddy’s book where she talked about her first 100K race and proclaimed it was a “party in the desert.” Despite loving her story, I came to my own definition of why people like her did it: insanity. I thought any person who was willing to sign up for a 100K has to be a borderline idiot.

Post NYC, my buddy jokingly pestered me about the 100K she had completed, the Javelina Jundred 100K. It is a race in Fountain Hills, Arizona with a multi-loop course and a generous 29-hour cut off designed to prevent delirious participants from feeling isolated.

This race started to sound desirable, and less than a few months later, I embarked on this crazy adventure. I used a regiment crafted by HOKA Athlete Megan Roche and started training in April.

When I arrived in Arizona, visiting the expo was electrifying. Unlike the road races that I’m used to, the Javelina Jundred expo was intimate but buzzing. I was greeted by five elite athletes, all of who participated in the festivities through running or volunteering on the course.

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When race day arrived, I watched the 100 milers take off. They looked like moving Christmas lights scurrying around McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Before I knew it, I was at that same start line ready to take on 100K.

I’m used to watching people pass me on the course, but being a back-of-the-pack runner has its pressures. To some, if you’re not running fast enough, you are a glorified walker. At 5’3 and with a 240-pound muscular frame, the fact that I identify as a runner is comical to some. People like me are suggested to lose weight, scolded to move faster and accused of eating too much or lacking discipline. None of these factors stop me from running — in fact, they fuel me.

Such statements convinced me to use my first 22-mile loop as an ode to some of the worst things that I had read or heard directed to friends, family members, my social media followers and at times, myself. In so many ways, I thought that anger would push me through.

This perspective changed when I linked up with a fellow back-of-the-pack ultrarunner named Lisa. She showed me a personal note that she wrote to propel her throughout the course, which included a reminder to smile. Although Lisa didn’t know it, our conversations and breaks of silence replaced my angry intentions. Plenty of endurance athletes use these events to confront their personal demons. However, life handed me a smoother alternative option when I met Lisa.

My first loop gave me many first-time experiences. Ten minutes away from Coyote Camp, I saw what appeared to be a dog dart off in the distance. It was actually a coyote. Surprisingly, I wasn’t scared but fascinated. Reaching our first aid station, Lisa and I indulged in a shot of Fireball, a random shot of whiskey and a cup of IPA with HOKA Athlete Tim Tollefson. We saw runners who dressed in costumes prancing through the desert. Pumped with energy, we iced our bodies in preparation for the rapidly growing Arizona heat.

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Lisa and I parted, and the sun whipped my body into submission. The heat was growing more oppressive by the moment. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I had another 39 miles to go. I hit a wall, and my mind danced with the idea of giving up. I thought about the excuses that I could tell my friends and family members, but my heart didn’t feel right about it. When I left Rattlesnake Ranch, my silence became a burden, and I opted to play music from my phone.

Notifications started rushing in on my phone. I had decided to dedicate my second loop to slow runners and tears streamed down my face as I allowed hundreds of messages to fuel me. I shuffled my blistered feet through the sunset until I hit Jackass Junction.

Clearly “the party in the desert” wasn’t a joke; Jackass Junction could be heard from a quarter mile away. The lights were shining and people were dancing inside the tent. I sat down, and two volunteers came to my side offering two cheeseburgers and two cups of coffee.

A mile after leaving Jackass Junction, two hot dogs rushed past me, one of which was HOKA Athlete Tim Tollefson. He asked how I was feeling, and I assured him that I was doing okay. I trekked on through the night.

The stars spoke to me, and the shift in the temperature brought me to a calm. The loop-style course served me well as runners moving in both directions exchanged supportive messages. The ultra community is unique in that way. For the first time, I felt like I truly belonged with other runners.

Slightly after midnight, I finished loop two. My feet were inflamed, and a few suggested that I take a nap before heading back out to the course. I had hoped to finish the course before the 24-hour mark, but at that point, I just wanted to finish and push my body further than I ever had.

After a two-hour break, I received my final lap bracelet and headed back out on the course. My headlamp died. In complete darkness, I used my phone light to navigate through the trails. I told myself to remain calm.

Finally, I was greeted by the sunrise. The heat started to pick up, and I wanted this race to be over. I called my husband for words of encouragement. He reminded me that my last loop was for me — the woman who dropped out of high school because of seven missing gym credits.

As close as I was to the finish line, it still felt so far. After hearing a few conversations, I realized that I was the last 100K participant on the course. I chuckled to myself. “I’m going to be DFL.”

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With 2.75 miles remaining, I felt like I was walking on nails. I had an hour and a half left to make the cutoff, and I refused to be pulled off the course. I dug deep, pushed past the sound of my grunts and speed walked my way through.

I could hear music playing, and I thought it was my imagination playing tricks on me. As I arrived at Javelina Jeadquarters, the banners were still up, and I was amazed at how many people were still there to cheer me in. I was overwhelmed with emotions. Nobody cared that I was a plus-size athlete or that I was the last runner on the course. I was a 100K finisher.

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I love the sense of inclusion I felt in a sport where you don’t typically see bodies like mine. Even though a 100K still makes me nervous, I’m looking forward to a new goal: 100 miles. Perhaps being a “borderline” idiot isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Shop the shoe Latoya conquered her first 100K in, the Speedgoat 2.

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Couples on the run

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“We met working at Rogue Valley Runners in Oregon. He was going to a wedding alone and I hinted that if he wanted someone to join him… I just happened to have the same day off. He texted me the morning of the wedding and asked if I could be ready by 2PM. I bought a dress that morning, he picked me up, and we’ve been dating ever since. Cole asked me if I would join him on his first 50K race and be his support crew at The North Face 50K. Of course, I said yes! Cole winning was awesome. He worried that he would get passed as he power hiked up the last major climb. But honestly, I was just so relieved to see him round that final corner into the finish line. This race was to push him in a new way and it definitely did. Right before he turned into the finish line, he grabbed me and kissed me and then sprinted into the finish. At the end of the day, finishing healthy and strong is a huge accomplishment whether he won or not. We celebrated his win with a hot tub soak and an ice cold beer, talked about the race and started thinking about future races, drove back to Sacramento that night and woke up early one more time to watch my parents run the California International Marathon.”- HOKA fan Jocelyn Schmidt and her boyfriend Cole Watson, 2016 winner of The North Face 50K.

Quit Your Job and Travel

HOKA Athlete Jen Benna is known for dominating in the ultra world. She’s had podium finishes at almost every ultra she has run in the last 4 years, most recently including a 3rd place finish at Leadville Trail 100.

This year, Jen made a big change in her work, family life, and training. She took the leap to quit her full time job to focus on the more important things in life. The first step was packing her life into a camper and moving to Alaska for the first stop on her journey. Jen says the hardest part was making the decision to do it, and seems to have no regrets since. We sat down with Jen to learn more about this huge lifestyle change and the incredible positive impact it has had on her and her family.

ultra-lifeHOKA: What made you finally make the decision to quit your job and start traveling with your family?

Benna: I don’t think changing my lifestyle happened overnight. But certainly there were a few wakeup calls that pushed me to rethink what I was doing with my time, my life, my family and why. There’s always been a wanderlust in my blood. A desire to not stand still, to be in nature, in new places and to share them with my children and my husband. But as time went on, I was feeling so confined within a corporate job and only getting a few weeks of the year to travel. I kept thinking is this it? Is this all we get? I mean, I was so grateful to have a great job and to provide for my family, but I was getting a feeling that I needed to take a break. Then, my little brother passed away very tragically and we had been dealing with ongoing health issues after my daughter’s surgery and ICU for over a year. The stars really aligned and the universe was telling me- it’s time, it’s time to go. You can work your whole life, but you may never get another chance to go do something big like this anytime soon. My whole life had changed and I knew it was time. So we went.

HOKA: What was the biggest thing that held you back from doing something like this earlier? How did you get past it?

Benna: I think particularly in the US, in our culture, work is king. You go to school so you can get a job, to make money, to provide for yourself, for your family. I always bought into that. It was what defined me coming out of college. Work hard, find a great job, do something good and take the time you get for vacation and make the most of it. I have always had a strong work ethic and I never thought I could ever leave a job to do something that on the surface seemed so wild, so irresponsible, so different from our cultural norms. And to do it with a family? I never thought it was possible, even though I dreamed about it for years. 

I finally stopped caring what everyone thought. I knew my husband and I were resourceful, had saved enough to be frugal and that jobs could come in the future. But time would never come back to me. I could never get back my children’s youth and the time with them was worth sacrificing, living simply and stepping out of the comforts we got so used to.

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HOKA: What lifestyle changes were a part of this decision?

Benna: The most important thing we had to do was to decide it was possible. To change our mindset. Then the lifestyle changes could happen. To budget, to save, starting with basics such as not eating out very much or shopping only for necessities. The other major part was just getting used to not being on the phone, email or working so much. It was really hard at first. I wanted to check my phone, to call my co-workers, clients, etc. because I have worked almost continuously since I was 14 years old. Then I realized I can breathe, I can not feel guilty about being with my kids or not working. It took a complete mental overhaul. 

HOKA: What was your favorite part about Alaska?

Benna: Alaska was our choice because of how far out there, how wild it really is. We spent almost 4 months there minus my time training and racing in Leadville for the LT100. So it’s really hard to pick my favorite place, but a few moments really standout. Taking a 6 hour bus ride into the backcountry with just what we could carry on our backs to camp at Wonder Lake was a standout. As we camped out in subfreezing temps, I read my children Dr. Seuss in our tent, snuggled up, surrounded by blueberry bushes and the Alaska range. We loaded the kids into our running stroller and ran long distances amongst majestic moose, caribou, and grizzlies. Because of weather we had waited all summer to see Mt Denali and on the last day, the 20,320 foot peak came into view. I have never been so in awe in my life. Denali changed us. It seeps into your mind, it creates a desire to be near it, to stand on it, to respect the mountain. It capped off the most wonderful experience for our family.

I also ran the Historic 33 mile Chilkoot trail, which in the late 1890’s was the back breaking mountain crossing to the Klondike gold fields in Dawson City. Brave gold seekers traversed the “Golden Stair Case” on foot, by sled and hand made boats.  Many people perished on that trail and it brought a whole new perspective to running. I ran the trail in about 8:00 flat and without intention, later found that I had set a fastest known time on the trail for females. It was the most pure line through the mountains I have ever run. Combined with so much history and with only brutal wilderness surrounding, it was perhaps the highlight of my time running in Alaska.

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HOKA: Where will you be traveling next? How did you choose your locations?

Benna: After many short trips to Spain, we fell in love with the country, the people, the mountains and the culture. I think that’s where we will spend our late winter and spring.  

We have to be realistic about how many places we can travel with our two young kids. We have to figure in adequate time in each place to let the kids acclimate, to not feel rushed and to be rested. We don’t want to hurry. So less is more for us. If we get to know a few places really well and we feel like locals, then the goal is achieved. 

HOKA: How long do you plan on maintaining this lifestyle?

Benna: If I could find a way to support our family with this lifestyle I think we could do it for a long time. It’s nice to have a home base and to know it’s there when we need it, but I could see us traveling for many months of each year. Of course, the challenge is figuring out financially how to do that. So we know it might not last for a really long time and we are prepared for that. But in either case, we have gained a new perspective that puts family, health, marriage, travel and purpose over seeking endless financial riches. With these new priorities, our lifestyle will never be the same no matter how we end up supporting ourselves.

HOKA: What is the biggest challenge of this lifestyle? What is the biggest benefit?

Benna: The biggest challenge is being in new places and having to figure out your bearings. The logistics of traveling with kids so young (2 and 6) can be challenging. What might look to be a 4 hour drive can quickly turn into 8 with stops, temper tantrums, and food needs. Patience and letting go of control over that is the only way this life works. Being a great mom is always the priority- not the travel itinerary. 

The biggest benefit is the absolute freedom we have. We homeschool our older child and we do her school work from mountain vistas or from our camper or from picnic tables. There is no set place- no conformity. She is learning as much as in traditional schooling but we are adding in so much about what we are seeing and experiencing that its a robust education for her. We are so simple and inspired in what we see and do each day that at night we are absolutely spent. I have never felt my heart so full.

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HOKA: How has your training been influenced by this lifestyle?

Benna: Alaska in particular has reinvigorated my running in a way I can’t fully express. The mountains there are unlike anything we have in the lower 48. I once spent 5 hours to cover 15 miles with Geoff Roes and his Juneau running friends, only to have to glissade down several thousand foot snow fields in a whiteout, hoping we weren’t too close to the cliff face somewhere below us. I started to learn how to really run technical terrain and there weren’t a lot of runs that were without major views, clean and cold mountain air, lots of rain and the chance a grizzly could be really close by.

But in general, I was able to really put in the work this summer for Leadville more than I could before. I had hiccups, sure, but I could finally justify being out there more. I also was able to take more time for prehab, PT work and the little things that add up to putting forward your best foot come race day.

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HOKA: What is your next big race? What are your expectations for it?

Benna: I’m leaning towards jumping into the mix at the North Face Endurance Championship 50 in San Francisco this December with the intention that it will make me work hard for my real first A goal race next year- Transgrancanaria 125k in late February. I really don’t expect anything for TNF50 other than it will be really fast, always a deep field in one of my favorite places to run, the Marin Headlands. I think this summer and even Leadville taught me that I only race well when I am really in love with the course and the race. I loved Leadville with such a passion that finishing on the podium was just icing on the cake. So no more racing just to race. If I toe the line, I expect to compete with passion.

HOKA: How do you think this lifestyle will influence the people your children grow up to be?

Benna: Our young children are one of the major reasons we took a leap of faith to change our life. They are growing up so fast and I want to give them a basis of simplicity in such an overwhelmingly technology driven world. Not having any internet nor TV was a blessing this summer. Instead the kids enjoyed making friends, hiking and riding bikes at remote campgrounds. I understand that technology has it’s place in modern society but the foundation of who they are should be more simple than that. I want to give them mountains, camping, hiking, respecting our land as something that grounds them growing up. 

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HOKA: What does your daily life look like now?

Benna: My life is a lot more unstructured and less rushed than ever before. We prioritize my daughter’s learning, my running, good eating and resting more than we ever have before. I actually am reading books for fun now- which is something I never ever had time for. Sleep is really important and I think I am making up for the past 5 years of not really sleeping much. With two kids however, we are so busy I wonder how I was able to work full time, run so much and be a mom.  I am a happier person not being so stressed out.

HOKA: What advice do you have for someone considering to make a big change like this one?

Benna: To really think about life as if you have already lived it. Will not changing your life cause you regret? Will you always wonder- what if I listened to my heart and went for it? In the end, if the answer is yes, than you should make the changes that will allow you to follow your dreams and everything else will fall into place. 

Pete Kostelnick to Attempt Record Breaking Run Across America

The summer of 2002 was almost half a lifetime ago for me—I was 14 and had just driven out to California from Iowa with my family, and visited San Francisco in the process. That summer marks the last time I was in San Francisco, as well as the last time I had been away from school or work for more than a month. On September 12, 2016 (my 29th birthday), I will set forth on a running journey from San Francisco to New York City to break the fastest crossing of the US by foot, which has stood at 46 days and 8 hours since 1980. I’ll have an amazing four person support crew to back me up—Dean Hart, Chuck Dale, Cinder Wolff, and Trasie Phan—along with many others helping out remotely.

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2016 has been a very up and down year for me—starting the year fresh off 163 miles in 24 hours at the Desert Solstice Track Invitational and a trip to Jamaica with the wife, to dropping (DNS and DNF) from several races planned in the springtime due to becoming severely anemic and low in iron. I debated giving up running altogether, but with some great advice from fellow runners and family, got back on my feet to finish my first race of the year at the Western States 100 in June in under 20 hours. I followed that up on fresher legs with a sub-22 hour course record at the STYR Labs Badwater 135, aka the “World’s Toughest”. Coming off that race, I quickly ramped up my mileage to log just over 900 miles in August with relatively solid workout splits in the 7-8 minute per mile range.

To break this record, I will need to achieve roughly 500 miles per week. I have no idea what that feels like aside from a 423 mile jaunt across Iowa in seven days in 2013. Lady America will smile, grab me by the hand, and take me for a dance before winding up to slam me into the pavement multiple times. Then she’ll go to work on me—she’ll torture me with fire until my skin peels and my eyes burn, she’ll deprive me of sleep, and she’ll make me confused and irrational. If I can survive her treatment of my legs, feet, skin, stomach, and mind, she may reward me in the end.

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I’ve come a long way over the last couple years. Since 2013, all of my personal best times have greatly improved. What’s the secret? Well, I’ve dropped about 25 pounds—naturally smaller framed, I’ve gone from 170 to approximately 145 pounds. I’ve also figured out what nutrition does and doesn’t work well for me specifically. But perhaps my biggest asset has been the switch to HOKA shoes during the winter going into 2015. I’ve had many races of various distances where the first wheel to fall off was fatigued and achy legs. As a result, I was not putting up the times I knew I could and my legs were suffering. For this run across the US, I plan to wear only the Cliftons, and am very excited to now be partnering with HOKA.

Ever since reading about Charlie Engle and Marshall Ulrich’s run across the country in 2008 I’ve wanted to run across the country someday. But it wasn’t until recently that I gave a thought about the record. This year didn’t seem ideal for many reasons to go for this record—but if there’s anything I’ve learned about opportunities, it’s to pounce on them, take the first step, and never looking back when given a chance. Many friends, family, and colleagues have done just that for me this year.

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I’ve driven to every state you can drive to, including Alaska, and enjoy the open road more than anyone I know. This run will let me see familiar territory through an entirely different lens. I’ll literally run by my house in Nebraska, run through my hometown in Iowa, and my mother’s hometown in Illinois. I’ll run through Yosemite and many other iconic lands I’ve toured before I ever ran a 5K. My first memory on a bridge is my brother “playfully smothering” me with a pillow as we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge in the early 90s to me yelling “I can’t breathe!” in the background on camera. This time I won’t be taking the Golden Gate out of San Francisco… and I’ll be breathing much easier.

Track Pete’s progress here.

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