Interview with 2016 UltraRunner of the Year Kaci Lickteig

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Omaha Nebraska’s Kaci Lickteig ran her first ultramarathon in 2012 at the age of 25. She won that race. And her next eight ultras too. But that comes as no surprise, because Lickteig is a natural-born elite ultrarunner and she has always made it look easy.

At age 30 Lickteig reached the pinnacle of the sport with a dominating win at the Western States 100- posting the third fastest time in the venerable event’s 40+ year history – and on one of the hottest days on record. Before and after that huge win last year, Lickteig won six other ultras (including three overall wins) and placed second at the highly competitive Lake Sonoma 50-miler in April.

Lickteig is currently riding a 7-race win streak, including most recently an arduous night-time 50-miler in 20 degree temperatures and 10,000 feet of climbing at the Hitchcock ultra in Iowa. We wanted to find out if it all really is peaches and cream for this powerful young woman who is dominating the sport.

UR: Congratulations on a fantastic year of ultra-racing, how does it feel to be Ultrarunner of the Year?

To be named Ultrarunner of the Year, is such an honor and privilege. It feels surreal to me as I never would have dreamed I would be named UROY among all the people who I have looked up to and aspired to be like in this sport.

UR: What stands out most from 2016?

My most satisfying performance this past year had to have been winning Western States. That race means so much to me. I had a phenomenal day where everything went right to allow me to run one of the best races, if not the best race, in my life.

UR: You make it look so easy, but can you share some of your challenges over the past year?

I can attest that it isn’t always easy. I have had several challenges starting with my injury (Calf-Achilles) back in February which forced me to take time off. That was all my fault too. I wasn’t following my training plan and kept pushing my body until it said: “no more.”

At that same time I was feeling exhausted and found out I had severe anemia too. I stopped running and found myself in the gym doing cross training and weights. It wasn’t fun at first, but it got me back to being healthy. I did activities that were pain-free, in order to not aggravate my injury worse and cause a further set back. I got down on myself at first, but decided that I wasn’t going to let this injury get the best of me. I found peace within myself once I accepted my injury. I looked at the bright side and found non-running activities that I could do to make me stronger altogether. Also, the silver-lining was that by cross training and taking time off from running, it would allow my iron stores to increase.

Another helpful measure was having my running partner, Miguel Ordorica, turn into my cross training partner. It helped me tremendously to have someone to go to the gym with. I can’t ask for a better friend and training partner than him. He saved me through this process of getting my feet back under me.

UR: What was the high point for you this past year?

Oh boy, this is a very tough question to answer. I had so many high points it’s hard to just pick one. I will nail it down to two that stick out the most. The first one is obviously winning Western States, which was a dream come true for me. The other was running The Bear, with the crazy weather and constant course changes. However, I had the best team of friends help me through The Bear, which I could have never have done without them – Roch Horton and Cat, Miguel Ordorica, and Zach Miller.

UR: Can you share some of the keys to your success in ultrarunning?

Three keys to my success would have to be consistent training, meaning staying injury free. Choosing goals that I really want and put my whole heart and soul into attaining. And being happy! I am a person who doesn’t like to be sad or angry, so finding ways to keep my life in balance keeps me running happy and healthy.

UR: What is a typical training week like for you?

A typical training week includes running several different types of runs. That means I will have some days as endurance runs (1:45 to 2+ hours at an easy pace), recovery runs (1:15 to 1:20), steady state runs (30-45 minutes of higher intensity paces within a 1:45 to 2+ hour run) or tempo runs (3×10 minutes at high intensity with half rest for 1:45 to 2+ hours), long runs (3 to 5 hours), and a rest day. I will run on average 95 to 105 miles per week in 12 to 14 total hours of running and about 3,000 to 5,000 feet of vertical.

UR: Do you do cross-training or strength-training or other non-running activities?

I honestly don’t cross-train or strength-train. If I do anything besides running it is walking my two dogs for 2-4 miles.

UR: What is your diet like- anything new or unique in your approach?

My diet consists of everything and anything, meaning I don’t follow any diets. I eat healthy, but not overboard to where I limit food groups or foods in that manner.

UR: What role does your coach play in your success?

Jason Koop is my coach and he plays a significant role in my success. He brought me from being a mediocre ultrarunner to a UROY. I have worked with him since February of 2014. Since then, we have collaborated together to find the right type of training that works best for me. He has been so vital in my success and achieving my goals. I am so grateful for his guidance and assurance.

UR: What advice would you give others?

My advice is to stay positive and focused on the goal. Try not to overwhelm yourself setting too many big goals at once. Set a primary goal to work towards, then take it day by day. Make small goals each day that you can accomplish leading up to the big goal. When you look back and see your success each day leading up to your goal event/challenge, it should give you a lot of confidence and help you preform the best you can. And never think a goal is too big or too small…reach for the stars and make your dreams come true!

UR: What are your racing plans for 2017?

My racing plans for 2017 will be in a similar format as in the past. I will start off having a couple 50K to 50-mile races, a marathon, and small road races in preparation for the 44th Annual Western States Endurance Run. Western States will be a primary goal race for me, as I love that race so much. I have then decided that I am going to run my first international race this year. I have been given the opportunity to run UTMB and I have decided that I want to give it a shot. I am really looking forward to racing this challenging run and competing against the best in the world. It will be interesting to me to see how I do coming from the flatlands…but like I said before, I like to dream big.

Kaci Lickteig at Western States. Photo: Matt Trappe

UR: What is on your longer-term bucket list?

My long term bucket list at this time includes running Hardrock 100.

UR: What is your favorite ultra?

Hands down my favorite ultra is Western States. I have grown to love that race more and more each year. I love it because of the people, who make this race unforgettable. And I absolutely love the course too.

UR: What new ultra do you most want to try?

For now, Hardrock 100 and UTMB. I look forward to taking on new challenges and getting out of my comfort zone.

UR: Can you describe your past running and what prepared you for such success?

I started running back as a junior in high school. I was a back of the packer then. I remember having to walk-run during cross country races in order to finish. However, when I would cross that finish line it felt so rewarding (regardless of place).

In addition, at that time my mom had just recently quit smoking and picked up running as a hobby. She would take me to the gym or to a one mile paved bike path with her to run/walk. I soon found running to be a passion and something that she and I could do together. I still remember having so much trouble keeping up with her and I made it a goal of mine to work up to running as fast as she could. I wanted to be like my mom because she has always inspired me. Then one goal led to another which led to another and I was hooked on running!

I continued my running path during college as a walk on for the University of Nebraska-Kearney (UNK). I competed for two years at the Division II. Once I graduated from UNK in 2008 I moved to Omaha for Grad School. I started running road races and marathons. I met a friend and also physical therapist, Christy Nielsen, who had qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon twice. She inspired me to work towards that goal for 2012. I ran several marathons trying to work my way down to the 2:46 Olympic ‘B’ standard qualifying time for 2012. I had one last shot at the California International Marathon held in December 2011. I put my whole heart into that race and finished with a personal best time of 2:44:14. I made a dream come true to be able to run at the Olympic Trials in January.

After that my friends talked me into my first trail ultra in February of 2012. It was the Psycho-Wyco 50K located in Kansas. I cannot tell you how much fun I had running that race. It was that race that hooked me. I found myself in love with the ultra community and trails. That is where my ultra story started.

I have literally worked my butt off to get to where I am today. I was not blessed with talent or good ‘genes’, my success has been from determination, perseverance, and an inner drive to work hard towards my goals.

UR: Your nickname is the Pixie-Ninja, who gave you that nickname? Do you like it?

My friends made that nickname up for me. They have said on the trails I look like a pixie dancing, and on the roads I am like a ninja flying. I do like it as it is unique and fits me well.

UR: You must have an intense fire burning deep inside you – is that the case?

My inner drive is strong. I am very goal driven and I feel the need to set goals. Once I set a goal I will work as hard as I can to achieve it. If that means failing several times in the process. I don’t let failure set me back, rather I let it fuel my fire more and learn. I am very stubborn, as my grandma would say.

UR: Can you share a time when you hit a deep low in a race?

The biggest low I remember hitting in a race was during my first Western States (2014). I blew out my quads/hip flexors by mile 40 and was forced to walk any downhills thereafter. I overcompensated and ended up causing severe bursitis in my opposite hip. I got to Foresthill ready to be done. I was so sad and mad at myself when I got to my pacer, Miguel. I felt like I let him down and everyone else who had been following me. Miguel helped talk me into continuing and taking it one aid station at a time. I didn’t want to stop, that is not in my character. So, we walked and ran only short areas. I remember coming into Cal-2 aid station and seeing Nick Clark sitting in a chair having a bad day too. I chatted with him and his pacer Jacob and we made a pact to continue together. We were both in the pain cave, but misery loves company. We made our way up the 6-min hill (more like 15 minute-hill) and decided that no matter what, we were going to finish. We fist-bumped and that was where I decided I would not quit no matter how painful it was going to be. I struggled the remainder of that race, but found my way to the track and finished. It was the hardest race I have ever done. If it wasn’t for a great pacer, coach, and that pact with Nick, I would have never finished.

UR: How did you decide to become a physical therapist? Does your practice enhance or otherwise aid your running?

I decided to become a physical therapist because I have always loved exercise and physical activity. I worked in a gym during college and helped as an assistant personal trainer. I loved seeing people get stronger and achieve goals. I also wanted to do something in the medical field and discovered that physical therapy was similar to a personal trainer. After shadowing a few physical therapists I discovered that is what I wanted to do.

I believe being a physical therapist helps me understand my body and know when something is an injury versus soreness or normal training adaptations. I have the knowledge to know when to stop or when to continue, unless I get too stubborn and that leads to injury.

UR: What do you like most about the sport?

What I like most about ultrarunning is the people who are involved in it. The people are what make this sport special. I have met so many people because of ultrarunning that I admire and aspire to be like. This sport has made me a better person. I also like that you have to put in the work to get what you want. That makes accomplishing goals that much more rewarding.

UR: What is it like to be an ultrarunner based in the Midwest?

Being an ultrarunner based in the Midwest can be challenging yet rewarding. We get to train in the four seasons, some of them being more brutal than others. We may not have the mountains or oceans, but we have hills and they can be just as hard to run on as the mountains. We have beautiful landscapes to explore. For example, the great plains and sandhills, the loess hills, the pastures and farmlands. Honestly, who doesn’t love being able to go out and run in the open roads/trails and feel free. It’s really how you look at the big-picture, you can find happiness wherever you are.

UR: How is the ultra-scene and community different there?

The ultra-scene and community here in the Midwest is like the others, where we are close-knit and welcoming. We believe that everyone belongs if they have that passion and love towards the sport. We are always looking out for each other and you can always feel support from everyone.

UR: How have you seen the sport change in the past four years?

I’ve seen the sport grow in the past four years. It’s become more mainstream than in the past. More media and attention has been brought to the sport.

UR: What other ultrarunner(s) do you admire most?

I admire so many other ultrarunners. If I was to name those who I admire the list would never end. Honestly, everyone out there doing this sport is admirable and I find inspiration in them.

UR: What concerns you most about the future of ultrarunning?

What concerns me is the fear of cheating and doping. It breaks my heart to hear about people doing these things in our sport. If they can’t love the sport for what it is worth, then why are they doing it? Cheaters never prosper as my grandma always says, and their time will come. Its just going to take time. Hopefully, sooner rather than later. I wish people would just be honest and clean, is that too hard to ask?

UR: If you could change one thing about the sport, what would it be?

It would be to have no cheaters or thoughts of cheaters/doping in our sport. That everyone is competing on a level field.

UR: What secret about you would people be most surprised to learn?

Here are some fun facts about me: I was raised by my grandparents. I grew up riding horses and was in 4H. I played the French Horn in band. I love art and free hand drawing. I love archery (only shooting fake targets). I played the piano growing up. I used to sing and would travel the United States for concerts. I love muscle cars.

UR: Does your family understand and support your ultrarunning?

My mother was the only one at first to understand and support my ultrarunning. It’s a funny story that when I ran my first 100-mile race, the Black Hills 100, I had to completely hide it from my grandma. I didn’t tell her that I was racing 100 miles, but a shorter distance (50K). However, because of social media and Facebook my grandma found out before I returned home. When I got home I was given the silent treatment for the whole week!! She didn’t let me know that she knew, however I knew she knew I had run 100 miles. Finally, the ice was broken and she forgave me, and after that she understood my crazy passion for ultrarunning. She is just a worrier and loves me. She thought I could die from a mountain lion, falling off the trail, running too much. That’s my grandma and I love her for that!

UR: How do you make time for ultrarunning?

I have built my lifestyle around ultrarunning by making it a priority in my daily routine. I go to work for 8 hours, get off work and head home to let the dogs out and run. I then make sure I rehydrate and eat after my run and get ready by organizing everything for the next day. I plan my weeks by my schedule that Jason sends me and will adjust and be flexible with it. On the weekends I plan my runs then I plan the rest of my day. Or if I have something planned with family or friends that comes first and I plan my runs accordingly. Family and friends always are number one to me, then comes running. The key is to make ultrarunning a lifestyle is to have fun and be flexible, never making it feel like it is a job.

UR: What do you most like to do in your free time?

My free time is either spent with family or my pets. I love to walk and hike with my dogs and explore places. I also love to hang out at home and watch old episodes of Seinfeld or listen to music as I do housework. It doesn’t take much for me to be happy. Just doing simple things is all I need.

UR: What is your favorite song?

I don’t have a favorite song because I love all music. My top bands include Tool, Linkin Park, Thousand Foot Crutch, Seether, Slipknot, Nine Inch Nails, Incubus, oh the list could go on and on. I really like to listen to rock, metal, and classic rock when I run with the occasional pop song mixed in. I only listen to music if I am running solo or doing a workout, or sometimes during races if permitted. Music excites me and pumps me up.

UR: What is your favorite TV show?

My favorite TV shows are Seinfeld, Modern Family, The Amazing Race, and yes…The Bachelor (hate to admit that one!). My favorite professional teams include The Bears and the Panthers. But, to be honest the Huskers are my team!!

UR: What message would you like to share with your many fans out there pulling for you?

Thank you so much for your overwhelming love and support. I love reading your kind words and posts on social media. You make me feel special and I hope to do the same in return. I hope you know all of you inspire me to be a better person on and off the trails/roads. Thank you and I hope we cross paths in the future. Until then keep working towards your goals and believe in yourself and that you can make your dreams come true too.

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About Author

Karl Hoagland has been the Publisher of UltraRunning Magazine since June, 2013. Hoagland is a former investment banker and hotel entrepreneur, having worked at Goldman Sachs, Montgomery Securities and Larkspur Hotels & Restaurants after graduating from Brown University in 1987. Since running the Quad Dipsea in 2003 Hoagland has been obsessed with ultrarunning and everything about it, especially the community and new friendships he’s made. Karl especially likes to take on challenges and strive for improvement. Ultrarunning is the perfect platform for such endeavors, and his big goals are to encourage others and help the sport grow.

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