After a long and winding journey, Kaci Lickteig is back again at the 2018 Western States 100. In this interview, which was part of the iRunFar Live at Western States show, Kaci talks about what it’s like to arrive at the starting line after a major injury over the winter, what she learned from her difficult run at Western States last year, and the growing sense of camaraderie and companionship among women in American ultrarunning.
Kaci Lickteig Pre-2018 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar – Meghan Hicks: For those of you here in the live audience, we have the iRunFar store at the back of the room. We’re selling t-shirts, Buffs, Drymax running socks. Take a sticker as you leave. For our online viewers, you can shop online as you watch at www.irunfar.com/store. Thank you for helping keep iRunFar afloat!
iRunFar – Dylan Bowman: So, we’re back again with Nebraska’s own Kaci Lickteig. This is five years in a row for you. You’re the 2016 champion of the race. We spoke to Stephanie Violett this morning and I asked her the same question: looking back now on these five years, and particularly having won the race, which is something that very few of us will ever be able to even dream about doing, what has that meant to you as an athlete and as a person? What does it mean to you to come back to the race so many years in a row?
Kaci Lickteig: Definitely this has become part of who I am as a person. This community and everything about it, I want to keep coming back and experiencing it, and meeting all the new people who are finally getting to run this race. It’s been a really life-changing experience for me.
iRunFar – Hicks: That’s Andy Jones-Wilkins. You just heard AJW’s arrival here. Switching gears, I wanted to ask about something I’ve seen in the women’s American ultrarunning contingent right now. There’s been a real evolution in the idea of competing with women, as opposed to competing against. I feel like it’s started in the last three or four years with the picnics you have on the escarpment. Can you talk about your sunrise dates, and what’s going on with women’s American ultrarunning right now with that spirit?
Lickteig: Definitely. For those of us that are out here, we came to this sport because of the community and the love of being together. Seeing our friends doing the same things that we are creates that sense of community. Just being together, enjoying the sunrise and knowing that we’re all in this together, we’re going to help each other along the way. First, maybe second – it doesn’t matter as long as you’re having your best day. We’re all friends. That’s what’s important. That’s what this is about: we are all friends. You can be a competitor and compete against yourself, and help your friends along the way.
iRunFar – Hicks: Last year, you were in this race. You had… would it be fair to call it an epic of sorts?
Lickteig: Oh yeah.
iRunFar – Hicks: And it took the companionship of women, right? It was a women’s journey to the finish. What does it mean to keep coming back to this race that’s got such a strong, positive female presence?
iRunFar – Bowman: Maybe you can tell the story of how Stephanie Case picked you up at your low point.
Lickteig: At the river, I was having the lowest point you can imagine. I was sitting there for probably over an hour, sitting there contemplating whether to get my wristband cut or not. I didn’t think I had it in me to walk 20 more miles to the finish. So I had my own pity party. I sat there and thought about it more and more and more. Stephanie Case – if you haven’t heard of her, she’s an amazing runner and an amazing person – she just sat down there and started chatting along. Her crew brought her chicken nuggets from McDonalds and she was eating them and having the time of her life.
She was like, “oh yeah, I threw up about two minutes ago. I’m doing really well, but I’m going to keep going. Why are you here? I didn’t expect to see you here.” I was like, “I didn’t expect to be here. You know, things happen during 100 miles and I can’t get myself out of this hole.” She asks, “you’re finishing, right?” I was like, “oh, I don’t think so.” She said, “oh, you’re finishing.” She basically pulled me up out of me chair, put a light around my waist and said, “we’re going to the river.” Then she dragged me to the river.
We got in the boat and I said, “okay, you got me this far, but now I’m just going to drop at Green Gate.” But then I started going and I was getting my spirits up. I got across the river and I said, “okay Miguel, we’re finishing this.” Miguel Ordoricawas my pacer. And that’s what happened. If it wasn’t for her… she dug me out of that really deep hole. I wouldn’t have finished. It’s such a community and something I’ll never forget.
iRunFar – Hicks: Awesome. I’m sorry [for gesturing to the audience while you were speaking], we’re trying to tone down AJW.
iRunFar – Bowman: We’re trying to tell AJW to shut up from the front of the room.
Lickteig: He’s taking my time away.
iRunFar – Bowman: Not to go from one difficult experience to another, but shortly after the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanclast year, I understand you had a pretty significant injury. Could you walk us through what your injury was and how your progression has been to recover from that?
Lickteig: After UTMB, I made the mistake of not recovering well. I did too much, too soon. I ended up in the last race I did that season, having a stress fracture and not knowing it. It basically debilitated me for the next several months.
iRunFar – Hicks: You were on crutches. You couldn’t do anything.
Lickteig: No. For four weeks I was non-weight-bearing. I literally happened on October 22. On November 22, I got the email from the Ultra-Trail World Tour about getting into Western States. So here I am, unable to even walk, using crutches still. I was thinking, “oh my gosh, I have to go back to this race, it’s the race of my life.” So I knew right then that I was going to dedicate my complete fall and winter training blocks to getting recovered. I was not going to have anything set me back. I went through physical therapy, I did so much cross-training and lifting weights and everything, just to be able to get to the start line. Now I can say I’m 100% healthy.
iRunFar – Hicks: Woohoo!
Lickteig: Yeah, I’m super-happy.
iRunFar – Hicks: So you were non-weight-bearing for a long time. Eventually you could do some shorter walks and then run and then races. You were able to do a 50-mile race at Silver State, which you also won. You’ve won every race of your comeback, basically. Can you talk about the process of adding in miles, going from zero to 100, quite literally?
Lickteig: I remember the first day when I was thinking, “I can’t run a mile, I don’t know how I’m going to run 100 miles.” I was very scared. I built up very slowly and I did a marathon trail race down in Kansas. I thought to myself, “this will be the first step. If I can get through a trail race that’s a marathon distance, I can take another step forward.” I was able to run that race and then I recovered from that. I was sore, I still had injury soreness off and on, but I knew it wasn’t the sharp soreness of my injury. So the next stage was Silver State, which I knew would be a really good test for me. I knew if I could finish that, I could run 100 miles. Thankfully, my body was healthy. The race went really well and it continued to move on since then.
iRunFar – Bowman: It’s good that you’re a physical therapist and you were able to keep yourself in check and be intelligent in your comeback. I wanted to ask you about something else I found to be really cool recently. Your mom ran and finished her 100-mile race. I feel goosebumps just thinking about it. Can you tell us what it was like seeing your mom get ready for it and seeing her finish?
Lickteig: That’s going to be one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. She signed up for this race last year, actually. She was going to run the Kettle Moraine 100 last year. My grandma had her fight with cancer and my mom wasn’t able to train. So this year she decided it would be her goal race. She asked me to pace her for the last 37 miles of it. It was phenomenal to see her get there. She was healthy the whole way through her training, she ran the race. I got to pace her. She had the most positive attitude – she’d get to these low points and she’d say, “I’m not quitting, I’m going to finish.” Just the remarkable experience to have with your mother like that is something I will never forget and always cherish. She’s already thinking of her next 100.
iRunFar – Bowman: Of course!
iRunFar – Hicks: It’s a slippery slope.
iRunFar – Bowman: Will she be here this weekend?
Lickteig: No, she wishes she could be.
iRunFar – Bowman: She’ll be watching iRunFar, for sure.
Lickteig: To all those out there, she stopped smoking at the age of 40 and picked up running. At first she ran one or two miles at a time. Now she’s 56 and she did her first 100. So it’s out there, that you can do these at any stage in your life.
iRunFar – Hicks: Ultras are for everybody.
iRunFar – Bowman: Well, that’s a great lesson, and a great place to end. So, let’s give it up for the 2016 champion, Kaci Lickteig. [Audience applauds off-screen]