Yeti Ultra Challenge

Kate’s driveway finish line—and mileage tracker.

By Kate Walton

In January I set my 2020 race plan; train for a half marathon in April using the Train Like a Mother Heart and Sole program then transition that training to the Race Like a Mother Missoula Marathon for the last week in June. Missoula was to be my marquee race of the year, not only did I have hopes for a very strong race, I was meeting up with dear friends I’ve met through AMR for a fun weekend away in a beautiful part of the country.

Like all of you, there was one day in March after which nothing has gone how I planned.

As March turned to April and our family’s events started to fall off, one by one—school, softball games, speech contest, Prom, swim meets, disappointment upon disappointment—I still clung to my Missoula Marathon training plan. I executed it every day as written for months, building endurance and improving my pace and fitness along the way. The race director announced he would make the final call about running the race May 7th, but the writing was already on the wall.

The spark to run the Yeti 24 Hour Ultra Challenge started when I saw another BAMR Beth Pretti post about it on Facebook. The Yeti 24 Hour Ultra Challenge is this: Run 5 miles every 4 hours for 24 hours: 6 runs for a total of 30 miles.  Intrigued, I mentioned it to my good friend BAMR Julie Patno. The fact that I’ve run 3 of the  4 ultra marathons I’ve done with Julie should tell you all you need to know about her influence on my race choices.

Soon a plan was hatched to run the Yeti the weekend after the inevitable cancellation of Missoula to acknowledge and test our training in this most unconventional way. Our virtual race weekend group quickly expanded to include Susan, Tamara and Melissa as our chief cheerleader and virtual crew.

Yeti Ultra Challenge

Leg one featured the Missoula Marathon hat…that is not being worn at the Missoula Marathon this June.

Starting Friday I ran my legs at 1pm, 5pm, 9pm, 1am, 5am and 9am. The truth is the running was the easiest part of this challenge. Balancing recovery, nutrition, lack of sleep and pacing of the day was the hard part. Scraping myself off the couch at 12:45am to go for a run left me questioning my life choices. At some point during our 24 hour challenge Julie texted me: “How about next time we try talking each other OUT of doing things for a change?”

For the first 3 legs the recovery period was very nice.  I ate a little something, foam rolled, put my legs up the wall and when I set out again I felt reasonably fresh.

In contrast, for the last 3 legs the recovery period was much harder. I was tired, but wasn’t able to sleep. I was hungry, but struggled to eat. I was cold and it took me awhile to get my temperature stabilized when I returned home from the overnight runs.

After all was said and done I only ended up with about 2 hours of recovery between each segment. By the time I tended to changing clothes, eating, foam rolling and settling down each time I returned home. I maybe slept 3 hours total.

To help the transitions I had all my clothing laid out in the guest room, including what I wore between segments. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about running an ultra, the fewer decisions necessary mid-event, the better.

Kate (in front) with her BRF Megan. Smiles all around for having a goal and achieving it!

I also set up a small aid table, (which my family raided on the regular like all good volunteers at races do) with snacks in a variety of salty and sweet things. I had green juice, chicken broth with rice, peanut butter and jelly, potato chips, gummy bears, pretzels and Peanut M&Ms. I took one Gu before my 1am leg. While I am seasoned enough to know you really should eat food that digests easily, I rolled the dice and ate a breakfast burrito at 2 am. Luck—and the stomach gods—were on my side.

I don’t think it would have ever occurred to me to do the Yeti Ultra Challenge if it weren’t for the disruption I’ve experienced due to COVID-19. And yes, I have to acknowledge my good fortune. My people are healthy, we are able to sequester without difficulty. My job and my husband’s job are able to be done remotely. But this has been hard. I didn’t realize until this weekend how disconnected I have felt, even from the people under my own roof.

Before beginning the challenge, I had expected to do my run by slipping in and out of the house while my family went about their days. I knew they cared, but I didn’t think they would pay much attention.  Instead my stepdaughter Meghan spearheaded the family cheer squad and she was there to send me off and welcome me home for every single leg. I felt overwhelmed when I crested the hill heading toward my house at 2am and could see all three of my daughters standing in the driveway with their cell phone flashlights on waving me home. They created chalk finish lines for each segment while my husband John served as official DJ playing the theme from the “Chariots of Fire,” some Bruce Springsteen and Post Malone.

I was dreading the 1am leg so my virtual race partner Tam synced up her segments so we could be on the phone together. We exchanged our husbands cell phone numbers so we would know who to call if something unexpected happened. That hour passed in a blink as I ran through my town in the middle of the night chatting on the phone like a teenager.

Yeti Ultra Challenge

Kate runs an ultra, and everyone in the family gets 5 Guys: Kate, John, her three daughters (Meghan, Ava, Amelia).

In *regular* time I run with my friends several mornings a week, meeting up in the wee hours to share the road. In COVID time I have run exclusively alone for the past two months. My friend Megan joined me in person on legs 2 and 6, staying as distanced as possible. We have run so many miles together for so many years and her steadfast support and company after so many solo runs made those miles ever so much better. When my legs felt like lead I actually felt like I had a rope tied around her waist and she was pulling me along.

In the early days of the sequester when I was really struggling I saved a quote from Cheryl Strayed that says:
“You let time pass. That’s the cure. You survive the days. You float like a ghost through the weeks. You cry and wallow and lament and scratch your way back up through the months. And then one day you find yourself alone on a bench in the sun and you close your eyes and you lean your head back and you realize you’re okay.”

I thankfully wasn’t alone, I wasn’t on a bench or the beach, but the experience of running the Yeti Ultra Challenge, being cheered by my family, running with friends both in person and virtually I felt more okay than I’ve felt for weeks. In fact I was awash in gratitude yet again to running for the connections strengthened through this shared experience.

(Oh – and I get a really cool t-shirt.)