iRunFlat: The Sub-Three Pipe Dream

Ultrarunner and new dad Kyle Fulmer asks, “Is a sub-three-hour marathon attainable for a geriatric millennial like me?”

By on May 21, 2024 | Comments

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by guest contributor Kyle Fulmer, who lives with life partner Sujin and their newborn baby in Boulder, Colorado. When properly motivated, he plays on the trails with the Rocky Mountain Runners. He also coaches trail runners and ultrarunners with]

After 10 years of ultrarunning, and a baby having just entered the family, can I reinvent myself as a runner and snag that elusive sub-three-hour marathon? Or should I pick up a radical new hobby like pickleball or cornhole and forget all about this running silliness?

Over the last decade, I have run over 45 ultramarathons, averaging around 2,500 miles per year. Granted, most of those miles were relatively slow, or at least not very fast, though almost all those miles have been ridiculously fun. Conversely, the Boston Marathon, with its Beantown history, glitz, and glamour, also looks kinda’ fun. And I have enough ultra-shiny medals at the bottom of that storage bin in my closet, for now.

So, I think I do want that blue and yellow jacket to hang up in my closet over my stationary box of medals. This must be a better objective than acquiring a new bin of pickleball equipment, right? I never really liked the look of K-Swiss shoes, anyway.

Kyle Fulmer - early days of training

Those early days of training! All photos courtesy of Kyle Fulmer unless otherwise noted.


Fun is why I got into this sport of trail running. Big Red, Amy, and Uncle Larry introduced me to the trails. Long days out. Endless stories. Soul searching. Distant mountain gazing.

The newness and adventure of my first 10-mile day was outrageous. I can still feel that nagging pain in my peroneal tendon, reminding me of the joy. Is that a good thing? Little did I know that little niggle would migrate over to my Achilles and be my buddy for a decade. The following weekend, or sometime after, we did 18 miles in the mountains. I brought no calories and was pretty sure I was left for dead. When I finally got to the top of the trail, Big Red was sitting on a rock. What took you so long? The dizzy delirium must have been somewhat intoxicating because we were running 30-plus miles around Mount Baldy just weeks later, where I first flew down the trail on that invigorating second wind that I’ll never forget.

I also tasted batteries at some point, or blood. Not sure which. Mostly batteries, I recall.

Kyle Fulmer - first 40 mile training run

First 40-mile training run… Some of us survived.

Big Red (Dry Eyes)

After six months of running, Big Red asked me to crew him at the 2013 San Diego 100 Mile. He didn’t let me pace him, of course, but he did ask me to crew. When he came into the mile 43 aid station, cross-eyed, stumbling, and completely dehydrated, I thought there was no way the race officials would let him continue, but they did. I was useless to help him. I had no knowledge yet of race nutrition, hydration practices, body care, nothing! I knew nothing. All I could do was helplessly watch him slam an Ensure, guzzle some coconut water, and stumble away.

Umm, yeah. Boston, or anything, must be better than this.

At the next aid station, his runner friend Rafael was waiting for us. His other pacer, Amelia, was sleeping in the back of her truck. Rafael was overly excited to show me his brand-new Ultimate Direction running vest. I had no idea what a UD was, and I had certainly never seen a running vest before. Amelia, groggy, sat up and said she saw Ann Trason. Wasn’t that amazing? Sure. Who is Ann Trason? She went back to sleep.

Then, Rafael smiled and asked me when I would run my first 100 miler. One hundred miles? I barely run 10 or 20 miles a week. Nonetheless, Rafa benevolently put a curse on me when he said, “One day, you will run 100 miles.” He was right. I would later find out that the beauty and splendor of sunrise experienced over mountain peaks truly can’t be beaten. Rafa and I would go on to share many hard miles and drink far too many ounces of nasty-looking, unfiltered water together.

Boston should have filtered water, you would think. Even the Prairie Dog Half Marathon surely has clean water.

Ok, this is sounding better. How many intervals do I have to do, and for how many weeks?

Born to Run? Why Would You Even Wear Shoes?

I am an ultrarunner born from the “Born to Run” daze, the generation who supposedly doomed the Ultra-Old-Garde to fit in or fade out with this new future-fangled foot squadron of cookie-cutter gram-worthy staleness, $5 gels and $15 bowls of ultra porridge, devoid of the Vienna sausage link lunatic fringe that bore its existence.

Hyperbole? Maybe. Not according to those salty dogs.

I was 32 years old with no idea what I was doing and spending time on the trail for the first time in my life. Every corner I turned and every rock I kicked was new. It was fantastic. And, no I can’t walk down the stairs. Just wait for me, please. Ouch, ouch, ouch, my feet hurt.

I have never podiumed in a race. I have a few top-10 finishes in tiny races, but largely, I am somewhere at the front of the mid-pack, lumbering away. For ultra-standards, I am kind of large, over 200 pounds, especially when I am not watching my diet and staying true to my usual high-fat, high-carb mantra. I mention this background to set the table for the initial question: Can I, after all these years of trail and ultra, spin a 180, find some speed, and return some turnover to my legs? Can I get my weight down to 180 pounds. Do I want to?

I will be able to run with fewer gels, though, and probably only a single handheld water bottle. No waistbelt or version 12.0 hydration pack needed? Sign me up!

Kyle Fulmer running on pavement

Not the gait of a sub-three-hour marathoner!

A Brief History of My Oval Running

In high school, I ran track. My events were the 400 meters, 100-meter hurdles, 300-meter hurdles, and anchor for the 4 x 400-meter relay. I wasn’t a standout, but I could run the 400 in the low 50 seconds, though I weighed 50 pounds less than I do now.

I think I finished second in the league in all three of the solo events, and we won the league in the 4 x 400, except that we got disqualified after the race because I threw the relay baton into the infield after the race! Oops. That outburst of feign showmanship cost us a trip to the Southern Section meet. In the solo events at the Southern Section, I got the doors blown off me. I can still see everyone running away. Bye!

Oddly, though, I imagine the same thing happening in the marathon. The bonk at mile 20 was eerily like my bonk at mile 28 of the Avalon Benefit 50 Mile recently. The aid stations had no gels, and I only brought two nut-butter packs and a Ziploc baggy of chocolate-covered cashews. I did drink half a beer at mile 41 to partially drown my sorrows, and for the caloric intake.

Hmmm, I don’t think that mistake will correlate to the roads. At least, I hope not. Maybe I should bring my own gels, just in case. And remember to pack a finish-line beer.

Confidence? Who, Me?

Do I have any? I think I do. Maybe. I’ve run sub-24 hours in four out of eight of my 100 milers, and I know I can tough it out at the “normal” ultra distances. Can I tough out 26.2 hard miles on the pavement? Do I even want to? I think I do.

There won’t be any time for my usual mid-race pity parties on the trails. Nope, gotta’ suck it up and hammer! Three hours of intense focus, and work. Eek.

After partying away my 20s, I found running rather by accident. I was told about the Santa Barbara Red Rock Trail Run 50 Mile in California and gave myself a year to train for it. Four weeks after starting running, I ran the Saddleback Marathon in the Cleveland National Forest. I cried when I saw the finish line.

My training after that consisted of 30 to 60 minutes of walking and jogging the hills around my house during the week, and four- to 10-hour trail epics with my new best friends on the weekends. It was a painful learning curve, but it hooked me on this madness.

Kyle Fulmer enjoying the mountain view

Does Boston have views like this? Photo: Eric Lee

Baby Steps

Entering this new phase of life, I don’t think those same eight-hour gallops in the woods will be in my best interest this year. My wife has been amazingly patient with me in my decade of running. She didn’t marry a runner. But she did marry a party animal, and I hope this newer me is a little (a lot) better partner than the previous version of me. I think that speedwork and shorter distance for this year might benefit me, my family, and my life at home.

It’s been stated many times that ultrarunning, for the most part, is a selfish endeavor. True, we give back to races, we help each other out, we are there for each other to provide emotional support and blister care, and — most vitally — we adhere to the ethos that what is said on the trails, stays on the trails.

But we do spend a lot of time out in nature reveling in the splendor and serenity of the universe, and unless we are actually there with our partners or families, we are often there alone or with our fellow trail animals. By no means am I advocating giving it up, but I might be advocating for periods of balance. I truly believe time on the trails has made me a better, more patient person, but the trail is long, and the trailheads are many, and I can get back out there whenever I want.

In that spirit, I’m thinking between diaper changes, I might go pound some flat gravel and pavement. Can I run 45 minutes to an hour a day, and still get my kicks? Can I get by with a “long” run of two hours on the weekend? Will I still find the same joy in the process? If the sub-three-hour marathon is possible, how long will the training take to get me there? If I am completely sleep-deprived from this past April to forever, is this sub-three goal attainable for a geriatric millennial like me?

Kyle Fulmer running in mountains with friends

Hopefully we get to do this again in 2025, the Hardrock 100.

Are We There Yet?

With the baby now here, I think I’ll give the sub-three marathon a try.

The trails will still be there a year or two from now. I still have one more year of Hardrock 100 lottery eligibility for 2025, and maybe a year of shorter and faster might actually fix, or substantially alleviate, the 10-year niggles? Maybe my stride and cadence will improve.

This whole essay was just a selfish ploy to convince myself to give it a go, anyway. Training for that sub-three must be better than picking up pickleball, right?

Call for Comments

  • Have you ever drastically changed your running goals to fit your life circumstances better? How did it go?
  • How do you remember your introduction to ultrarunning? Fondly? Surprised that you survived?
Kyle Fulmer mountain running

We’ll get to the end of this long-winded story, eventually. Photo: Eric Lee

Guest Writer
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