Becoming Ultra

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell
  • 107th Airlift Wing
Sitting and waiting, watching a video that will soon start announcing names. The heart starts racing in anticipation of hearing her name called as one of two people that will be selected.

The application process was lengthy, and the suspense has led to her hearing her name announced as being one of four finalists. More anticipation and the feeling sinking in that this might possibly happen.

Another announcement and now she is one of two finalists, thinking in shock that this is going to happen. The final announcement and her name is again called signaling that now she actually has to do this.

Out of 65 international applicants, Master Sgt. Krystalore Stegner, the recruiting and retention manager for the 107th Airlift Wing here, was selected to take part in a project called "Becoming Ultra." In its second season of production, Stegner is one of two featured subjects preparing to run their first 50 mile ultra-marathon.

"I actually found it on the Team Red, White and Blue endurance running page," said Stegner. "It was an application process, you had to submit your inspirational story of why you want to run an ultra-marathon, let alone be part of this project."

The Becoming Ultra Project features two champion ultra-runner coaches from Sharman Ultra Endurance Coaching. Each coach picked an applicant, with one being military and the other a civilian, to coach and guide through the necessary training to be able to run the grueling 50 mile race.

"I've done 12 marathons now," said Stegner. "I'm getting stronger both physically and mentally and I'm almost to the point where I can wake-up and run a marathon with little to no training."

With the challenge of a conventional 26.2 mile marathon being conquered, the training to prepare for one has become very minimalistic, said Stegner. The challenge of competing a marathon isn't there anymore, said Stegner, her wide eyes full of confidence.

The coaching Stegner received took place during the six months leading up to the American River 50 mile race, held on April 2, 2016. During her training, she was able to tell her story through such outlets as social media, videos, blogs and photos.

Champion ultra-marathon runner Liza Howard was Stegner's coach for those six months. The training, which required extraordinary commitment, included scheduled workouts, injury prevention, medical care and nutrition, all of which is continuously calculated.

"A lot of early mornings before work," said Stegner. "I ran anywhere from 5 miles to 15 miles before work, and then I also did cross-training at night, so it was six months of very intense training just for this whole project."

For the Master Sgt. who is known for exuding optimism, it was all about reaching beyond what you think you are capable of.

"If you just step one foot forward in front of the other, it's amazing what your body can do and what you can put your mind to," said Stegner.

By the time 2015 was coming to an end, Stegner took all the winter weather Buffalo had to offer and was outside running an average of 50 miles per week. Total mileage amounted to a staggering 1,015.7 miles over the six-month period.

All of the running involved was not as simple as going outside for an easy jog. The weeks were distinctly split up into a combination of speed work, hill workouts, speed and hill workouts, and long runs on the weekends, said Stegner.

The high level of training has a certain purpose, as a person goes through certain experiences while running 50 miles that you don't get doing anything else.

"It trains your body to run on empty, run on tired legs," said Stegner. "Because ultimately you're running 50 miles in one day so you have to prepare your body for that, and your brain. Your body and your brain tend to break down when you're running for nine, 10, 11 or 12 hours, so you have to mentally prepare for that."

Once race day finally arrived, the hard part was already done, said Stegner, which outstretched arms.

Ultimately, no amount of training can prepare you for what you might come across on the race course however.

"The hills at Folsom Lake where the race was, it was a mountain," said Stegner, raising her voice. "I mean, boulders I climbed over. I remember getting to the top at like mile 35 and was thinking, 'what was that?' because I was literally climbing boulders and I still had around 20 miles to go."

For trying to pace yourself and get over such obstacles, there is no training that can prepare you for that, said Stegner. What does prepare you though, is waking up every day and dedicating yourself to your goal and your mission and sticking to it, said Stegner.

Documenting and sharing everything she went through, Stegner was able to inspire others, plenty of whom let her know how much it meant to them.

"I had a lot of people throughout the training that wrote messages to me on my Facebook or sent me text messages," said Stegner. "They said things like, 'hey I was on the treadmill and it pained me to run even 3 miles and I think you're running 50 so I pushed a little bit harder.'"

The last 10 miles of the course were uphill, giving the runners a 2,200-foot change in elevation. For the final 3 miles, Stegner ran to the finish line with the American flag in hand and enthusiasm and smile, she earned the race spirit award given by the race organizers.

With a time of 9:08.26.6, Stegner finished being ranked 69th overall and 6th in her age group out 530 finishers. The race itself had a 14-hour time limit.

At the end of the race, there was the thought of being thankfully to being healthy, said Stegner. When you set your mind to it, it's important to follow through no matter what, even if you have to walk to your goal and cross that finish line, said Stegner.

After running 50 miles, the need for challenges is still a source of motivation.

"I don't think I'll stop here," said Stegner. "I do have a wedding to plan for this October and I qualified for Boston next April, so I'm going to run that first and then we'll see."
It is the idea that nothing is impossible if you dedicate yourself to accomplishing your goal.

"If you set your mind to it, you can do anything, you really can," said Stegner. "A lot of struggles we go through whether it be chronic illness, injuries or bad weather outside, don't let those things get to you. Go at your own pace, do what you say you're going to do and follow through and be committed to yourself and your health."

Not everyone has to have the aim of being able to compete in ultra-marathons. The goal however, is to simply start somewhere.

"Start with small goals and go from there," said Stegner. "Just keep reaching for that next goal and reward yourself and never lose sight of your goal and dedicate yourself to that. You never know till you spread your wings how far you'll fly."