Altra Elite Athlete Kyle Pietari is a master at balancing his life as a family man, a lawyer and an elite ultrarunner. We caught up with him after his recent victory at the Run Rabbit Run 100-miler to learn a little more about his life, training and background in the sport.
10-14-2019 By: Altra
When did you start running? Why?
While running in middle school and high school I learned that running is of great value to me. I consider it an ideal hobby, since it keeps my mind and body healthy, gives me a competitive outlet, is a great mode of transportation and can be fit into a busy schedule.
Throughout college, I wanted to be a consistent runner, just recreationally, but I consistently struggled to motivate myself to get out the door. Finally, after college, I took a drastic step. I started working a paper route in the winter in Duluth, Minnesota, hoping that would give me the motivation I needed to start running regularly. For over four months, I had to run at least a few miles through the snow every night tossing newspapers. The obligation to be out every single day, even when it was -20 degrees Fahrenheit, was exactly what I needed to build the framework in my life to become a consistent runner. I've been running ever since. My newspaper route strategy worked!
How long have you been running ultras?
I ran my first ultra in 2011, in Moab, Utah, which is my favorite place in the world for running.
How do you balance your life as a family man, lawyer and elite ultrarunner?
First, doing so requires having nearly all aspects of my life structured in the right ways. I take a whole-life perspective. Most importantly, my relationships and support networks, especially with my wife, need to be strong and mutually supportive. For example, I have to rely on my wife, Stacy, for so much in order to have time for work, running and my kids. To get so much support from Stacy, I have to make sure I'm returning the favor by being a supportive husband.
Second to that, I have to be careful to avoid activities that take up time, but don't help me reach my goals. I avoid driving any time I can run somewhere, so I have been a daily run-commuter for eight years. I also don't own a television and have given up most hobbies aside from running. The more minutes in the day I can put towards parenting, work and running, the better.
I don't always feel like I have balance, even when I'm truly thriving. Often the only way to fit everything in is to throw life out of balance for a short period of time by getting very little sleep. Then, other sacrifices need to be made to catch up on rest. For me, these sacrifices are worth making if it means I'm able to be a serious runner.
Most importantly, I see vast rewards in life come from committing to the things I care most about and avoiding things I care less about. This is a great lesson that running has taught me.
What is your advice for someone who wants to get into ultrarunning but doesn’t feel like they have the time?
Three pieces of advice:
First, structure your life to have time to get out the door to run or walk every single day. Most importantly, adjust your schedule to take the thinking out of it. I run a lot because I've made it necessary for transportation. I also structure my social life around meeting people for runs, which really helps with motivation. If I don't have to run on a given day, I often skip it. I struggle with planning and motivation just like most people.
Second, try running as a mode of transportation. This saves both time and money. I've been a daily run-commuter for over eight years and I've made it work in a variety of jobs, workplaces, schedules and climates. I also like to "run" errands.
Third, get comfortable jogging at a slow, comfortable pace for most of your miles. There's no such thing as too slow. Let me repeat that: there's no such thing as too slow, especially for ultra-training.
What did winning Run Rabbit Run 100-miler mean to you?
It was satisfying to get my first win at a major, highly competitive race. But really, it didn't feel much different from my other 100-mile finishes. Finishing any ultra-journey yields a supreme sense of satisfaction, whether in first, last or anywhere in-between. Nailing a competitive goal can only add so much in a sport designed to max out the emotions, no matter what happens. If winning actually mattered a lot, this sport could not be what it is.
We know you ran this race last year. Did that experience help you this year? What did you do differently that may have led to your victory?
I learned a lot from my first year at Run Rabbit Run and the experience made a huge difference this year. Run Rabbit Run is a really tough race to execute well at. The race has huge temperature swings between day and night and shifts between low elevation and high elevation. Also, more than half of the race is at night, in the dark. Both years, I had blurred vision all night due to corneal edema. So gear logistics matters a lot. This year, I had an awesome crew, Joshua Stevens and Aaron Smith, helping me at aid stations. They saved me a ton of time. Last year, I made rookie mistakes regarding gear and aid station logistics.
What is your fueling plan for a 100-miler?
I start out trying to take in about 300 calories/hour of just sports drink and aim to maintain that until nausea sets in. After I start puking—which happened really early, at mile 36, at this race—my plan shifts to sipping sports drink as much as I can without puking more, all the way to the finish line. I supplemented with plain water, since I'm usually very dehydrated by the end of a race. Other than that, I only ate two gels during the race and had one celebratory sip of soda at the last aid station, as a toast to the epic adventure that I was about to finish.
You’ve placed top ten 4 consecutive years at the prestigious “super bowl of ultra-running”—Western States 100. What keeps you coming back to this race?
Western States is where I can experience the best competition, the most enthusiasm and the most exciting race dynamics in the sport of ultra-running. All four years, I was racing all-out against people all the way to the finish line. That rarely happens in any other 100-miler. Everyone shows up to Western States treating it as a 100% effort, focus A-race. The results are spectacular.
What advice would you give someone who is thinking about running a 100-miler?
If you can run a marathon slowly without getting hurt, you can sign up for a 100-miler. Accept that failure is common and one of the most valuable aspects of this sport, and just give it a try!
Watch the documentary “Balance” below to learn more about Kyle