From the World 24H Championship to the Spartathlon
The American UltraRunning Dream
From the World 24H Championship to the Spartathlon
The American UltraRunning Dream
July 4th, 2015by Andrei Nana
In ultra running two races are viewed as the most elite races on the planet, the IAU (International Association of Ultrarunners) World 24 Hour Championship and the Spartathlon. The races are sharply different, however the meaning for the athletes who dream to compete in them is very similar.
The IAU 24H WC is held every two years on a course selected by the IAU and as the name suggests, it is a 24 hour race. Athletes from all over the world representing their national teams travel to the chosen location to run on a short loop course -- usually 1kilometer to 2 miles in length -- for 24 hours.
The Spartathlon is an independent point to point race, held every year on the same course. Running over 153 miles of terrain composed mostly of road and some trail, the race crosses a mountain range around mile 100. In its 32 years of existence, the Spartathlon has become one of the most elite races in the world, perhaps due to the history, symbolism, and professional organization of the event. Following an application process set by the ISA Board of Directors; individuals are selected to compete, however over the past few years, increasing numbers of countries are represented at the race -- by very well organized teams wearing team shirts and carrying national flags.
Four women from the U.S. National 24H Team who competed and won gold at the IAU 24H WC in Torino, are part of the U.S. Spartathlon Team that will head to Greece at the end of September. They are titans of ultra-running with different levels of experience and a “World Champion designation” attached to their names.
The four are part of the largest American team ever to participate at the Spartathlon, and form the largest women’s team to race in Greece.
Born and raised in Hungary, for the past 11 years, Katalin has called Florida home. Individual 2015 World Champion, finisher of 7 races of 100+ miles or 24 hours Katalin is a relatively new name in the world of ultra-running -- she ran her first marathon 5 years ago and her first ultra-marathon 3 years ago.
Her first major race was the 2013 UltraBalaton in her native Hungary, which she won. One year later she qualified for the U.S. National Team at Desert Solstice where she ran over 150 miles in 24 hours. Last year, she took 2nd place at the Spartathlon and this year won the IAU 24H WC.
Katalin credits her success to her strong support group. As she explains, “I feel very lucky, because I have a strong support system; I have many friends and they have supported me throughout my running career, as well as my sponsors DryMax and Nathan Sports.” She describes her experience at the World Championships as one of honor, “I had an uneasy feeling on my way to Torino. I have a hard time adapting to new situations and new places. I arrived two days prior to the race and to my surprise, I didn’t have jet lag, and I adjusted right away. My teammates greeted me with a warm welcome and all my anxieties vanished. Running as part of the US team was a real honor, and the gold medal brought me incredible happiness!”
Now Katalin trains for Greece: “I ran the Spartathlon last year for the first time. This historic race has an unbelievable vibe, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I’m looking forward to it this year again!”
With a doctoral degree in Oceanography from the University of Miami, Aly specialized in the study the effects of global climate change on coral reefs, an ecosystem she is truly passionate about. She is a certified SCUBA dive master and has had an opportunity to explore coral reefs around the world, both for research and as part of her work for the US Peace Corps where she served as a volunteer (2004-2006) in the Republic of Fiji.
Discussing her running background Aly states, “I have always run. I started in middle school, and just never stopped. I had modest success as an NCAA DIII runner in college in the 5K, but I wasn’t much of a stand out. After graduation, I just never stopped running. As a US Peace Corps volunteer in Fiji, running was the one consistency I could rely on in the midst of foreign culture. As an intern in South Africa, running became a way to explore an amazing and beautiful country. When I started my PhD at UM running became a time to meditate and think about anything and everything. It turns out pursuing a PhD requires a lot of thinking, and before I knew it, I was logging some pretty high weekly mileage. I never raced much, other than the ING marathon, but in 2011 I signed up for my first 100 mile race, the Keys 100, 100 miles from Key Largo to Key West. I won’t lie, my first attempt at 100 miles was an epic fail. With poor nutrition and disastrous pacing I ended up quitting after just 68 miles. But I learned from my mistakes, and the following year I raced, I finished, won, and got the course record (16:07, beating the previous course record by over 2 hours, in a time that would rank me second in the nation in 2012). I returned the following year to claim the title and overall (men’s and women’s) course record of the 50 mile race (6:51). I was hooked.”
Describing her new goal, Aly continues, “I would like to race in the 2014 Badwater 135 mile ultra-marathon. Held in July, the course starts in Lone Pine and finishes at the Mt. Whitney portal, Badwater is considered to be one of the most challenging ultra-marathons. To qualify, applicants must run a minimum of 3 100+ mile races, and then be one of the 100 chosen among hundreds of applicants. At this point I still needed 2 more 100 mile races, so I set out to race the 2013 Ghost Train 100 in Brookline NH, and the 2014 Long Haul 100 in Tampa, FL. I came in 1st place in both of them; I finished both of them in course record times. Despite being relatively new to the sport of ultra-running I was elected the 2013 Florida female ultra runner of the year by USATF.”
Before Badwater, Aly competed in the 2014 Keys 100 where she finished 1st overall in a course record time of 14:42, the second fastest time ever run by a woman in the US. For Aly, Badwater was a great learning experience. As she explains, “Though I placed 1st among the females I was hoping to be a little more competitive overall, but I was mostly happy with my 8th place finish.”
After Badwater, Aly decided to qualify for the US National 24 Hour Team. With an incredible distance of 140.987 miles -- at the Icarus Florida UltraFest in November 2014, -- six months later, she found herself on a plane to Italy to represent the USA in the World Championships. Aly relates, “Words can’t express what it feels like to represent the USA in a world competition. I don’t think it really hit me until the parade ceremony the day before the race as the stadium erupted with applause when team USA stepped out onto the track. I was so excited to race, so proud to have a chance to represent the USA.”
This September, Aly has her eyes set on the Spartathlon. “This race has been a fary-tale for me -- an epic adventure I have heard so many stories about but never thought I would get a chance to experience myself. Now my chance has come. I am excited to travel to Greece and to be a part of one of the most epic races on earth. To add to this excitement I am once again joined by the amazing 24hour team women: Connie, Katy, and Traci. I look up to all three of these athletes and have learned so much from them in Italy. I am honored to have an opportunity to race with them again” Aly tells us.
Aly credits her success to several people in her life. As she explains, “I am supported by my loving boyfriend, Teddy, who has been by my side for every ultra I have ever run. DII computers and their president Tom Drummond have made my dreams of racing these past 2 years a reality. I am also supported by Compressort USA, Pink Sirens, Pearl Izumi, and forever supported by IRun and the IRun family.”
A 43 year old mother of two teenagers, Traci is know for her outgoing personality and passion for running. Her entrance into running includes losing 80 pounds and later running her first marathon in 2004. Since then, Traci has paced over 15 marathons, including helping 2 blind men complete the New York Marathon in 2010 as a guide for Achilles International. To date, she has completed 96 marathons and 28 ultra-marathons, winning 19 marathons and 13 ultra-marathons all while holding the indoor 48H World Record and 48H American Record. In 2014 Traci was named Masters Ultra Road Runner of the Year by USATF.
Traci credits her success to her family and sponsors. She relates, “I could never have accomplished what I have so far without the help of my husband! He is always there supporting me during the race, as well as before and after. He won't let me carry my luggage before a race to ensure I don't hurt something. He helps me get around and get dressed afterwards when I am gimpy :) My kids are also very supportive. My son Logan helped me get my blog up and running and has read anything written on me as well as my journal posts. My daughter runs with me at times. My sponsors are also a critical part of my success! Altra Running Shoes have been phenomenal for me and made my feet much happier. Running Skirts, Hammer Nutrition, DryMax Socks, and Nathan Sports have provided me with lots of items that keep me clothed, fed, and hydrated!”
Talking about the IAU 24H WC, Traci tells us, “Running in Italy was an amazing experience. There is nothing like representing your country! It's an individual event, but also a team event. The highest three team members mileages are added up to form a team score. I had a hard race. My calf started bothering me early in the race. I started listing the last couple of hours. But, there is no way I could stop when my whole team was counting on me. Wearing USA on your uniform is my way to represent my country and my teammates. I wasn't about to let anyone down. I struggled, but managed to individually make the podium, set a new PR, and help the women win GOLD, also setting a new women's team record in the process! We had a great team both on the men's and women's side. It was awesome to make some new, hopefully, life-long friends!”
At the end of September Traci will again carry the US flag as part of the U.S. Spartathlon Team. Asked what it means to her, she explains, “Spartathlon is one of two of my bucket list international races. The history behind the race is epic! In addition, I love to travel and look forward to touring Greece and all its' history. I expect a long, hot race with some really tough climbing around 100 miles. But, I plan to be prepared for all of that. Spartathlon is a race I have heard so much about and want to race to the best of my abilities. My husband will be crewing for me as usual. We are looking forward to competing and vacationing.”
A world ultra-running legend and one of the most known names in the American distance running communities, Connie has lost count of her races. According to her, she runs “a lot.” She later explained, “Someone counted and I guess I have won over 80 ultra-marathons now. Also I have won over a dozen national championships on all terrains and distances.” When asked about what she considers her biggest accomplishment, Connie shyly relates, “Biggest accomplishment, or honestly just plain luck I won the JFK 50 miler 3 times.” What she doesn’t say is that she also won gold with the U.S. National 24H Team at the World Championships in 2013 and 2015, and was named USATF Ultra-runner of the Year in 2003 and USATF Masters Ultra-runner of the Year in 2011.
For Connie, running started in elementary school -- in the District of Columbia -- and continued throughout high school in Ohio and college at the University of Massachusetts -- where she graduated with a degree in Sports management
After helping the US win gold in Italy at the IAU 24H WC, Connie decided to focus on the Spartathlon. She explains, “I have wanted to do the Spartathlon for years. It is a dream!! I never been to Greece and always wanted to go there.”
For these four superstars, it isn’t hard to tell that running at the World Championships and Spartathlon in the same year, is the ultimate dream. In fact, it’s probably every ultra-runner’s dream. What do they share? A common love for the sport and a common love for the Spartathlon and Greece.
The four women from the U.S. National 24H Team are also joined by Brenda Carawan, Amy Costa, Lara Zoeller, and Elaine Stypula to form the largest women’s team of any country to compete at the Spartathlon. With the men, they will follow in the footsteps of other American ultra legends, such as Scott Jurek, Roy Pirrung, Mary Larsson-Hanudel or Dean Karnazes -- who all carried the American flag in Greece.
For more information about the U.S. Spartathlon Team and/or sponsorship opportunities please visit:
U.S. Spartathlon website: www.spartathlon.us
U.S. Spartathlon facebook page: www.facebook.com/spartathlon.us
U.S. Spartathlon twitter: @spartathlon_us
U.S. Spartathlon email: [email protected]
U.S. Spartathlon phone: 865-414-0362