Photography Credit: Golden Harper, Creator and Founder of Altra Footwear
As 2018 came to a close we went through our Immortal applicant process and team updates. One of the bigger changes was the decision to add some new Elite Immortals to the team if at all possible. Kyle Pietari was someone we have had our eye on for a long time and as our conversation progressed we realized our goals as a brand and his lifestyle as a busy father, lawyer, and runner aligned quite nicely. Kyle is a very interesting individual in that his life is crazy busy and in order to get the time to train and be competitive he has had to do things a little differently than the traditional runner. Kyle Pietari is a lawyer, father, and ultrarunner. Kyle is an adept mountain runner who prefers 100 mile mountain races with fast, runnable downhills. He began running as an adult in 2011 and has since created a list of impressive wins and finishes. He has 3 consecutive top-ten finishes at Western States and finds that a large majority of his training comes from his daily run commute to and from work. Kyle also holds the FKT for the fastest downhill mile (3:46) on the steepest county road in America, Lickskillet Road. Kyle structures his life to ensure he has time for the three things he is most passionate about; family, work, and running.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background in running?
Kyle: So as a kid I always liked any kind of running race, I played a ton of sports, did cross country in middle school and was always pretty competitive. In college, I lost the running habit because I did not run collegiality and it was really hard for me to get myself out the door with any consistency. I tried and failed many times due to lack of motivation, and because I really didn’t know how to train properly. For several years I struggled, and every time I could finally get myself out the door, I would run as hard as I could and end up injuring myself and be back at square one. After I graduated, I told myself running is something I love so much that I have to make it part of my life, and I can’t fail this time, So I committed, it January in Duluth, Minnesota. I got a paper route and would cover anywhere from 3-7 miles, 7 days a week, jogging and tossing newspapers in the snow. I was running in big Goretex snow boots. In January in Duluth it’s often 10 degrees below zero, or colder. But I had to cover the ground to deliver papers, so I used that as a psychological tool to get myself into the habit of running daily. It definitely takes time to build habits, building my running habit took over 6 years of trying and failing, even though I knew it was something that I loved.
Can you talk a little bit more about finding your way back to running and creating the habit?
Kyle: Absolutely, so the part that I struggled with during that time was figuring out a good way to make running relaxed and easy and fun. That was a steep learning curve for me because I only had a background keeping a super competitive mentality in sports. Once I learned how to just slow down, take in the experience, and let go of having an agenda other than just to be running for the sake of running, I was able to avoid getting injured and escape from the mental stressors that so often kept me from getting out the door. For me, four months of carrying newspapers on a defined route and jogging in snow boots made it easier to not care about pace, distance, or route and that was so key for me. The obligation to go every single day was also key. Once I built the neural pathways to crave daily running and the musculoskeletal strength to handle it, daily running has been a habit that I haven’t had any problems maintaining.
So it took you learning to not be so competitive to help create the habit of running. When did you decide to get into racing again?
Kyle: I did that paper route up until I moved to Colorado where I have lived since. By that time I had built up enough fitness to start thinking about doing my first Ultra. I ended up doing that in October of 2011 and have been a dedicated and passionate ultra runner since. I’ve always been drawn to races, and I race whenever I have the fitness and spare time.
Looking at the present time, what is your source of motivation?
Kyle: It’s about my philosophy towards running. Mainly, should I run? And Why? My number one source of motivation goes back to my deliberate decision to embrace running as part of my lifestyle after I realized that running is the best way to keep myself healthy, happy, and connected to a global community. Running also helps me cut down on my environmental impact, which is something I care very much about, because I run for transportation.Considering all of these reasons, running really is an ideal activity for me to embrace. To take that underlying philosophy and apply it through my lifestyle is my number one goal. I have more than enough reasons to make running a lifelong thing for me, and once I came to that realization, it made it much easier for me to commit to build running into my lifestyle. Now, I don’t even have to think about it anymore. I just run. A lot.
How have you continued to adopt run commuting in your current life?
Kyle: I’ve figured out ways to make run commuting work in a variety of climates, professional settings, and social contexts. Run commuting is essential for me to sustain a runner lifestyle. The key is to just go for it. I love that it saves me a ton of money. I don’t have to park or pay for gas or worry about getting into a car accident. It also keeps me really fit. Just by running to and from work every day, I’m halfway through enough training to be able to compete at high level against professional athletes. It’s also mentally refreshing before and after work. So overall, run commuting is highly functional for me for accomplishing multiple goals. And it’s so positive for the environment, which again is something I am very passionate about.
Let’s talk current goals for 2019, what do you have in the works?
Kyle: So Western States in June is definitely a big one for me, as it was for the past 3 years. Right now, because I raced a lot in 2018, I need some time to recover and then rebuild for my fourth consecutive Western States. Western States is a great course that emphasizes things I love about Ultra running. I am a good downhill runner, but not so great at the uphills, and it’s primarily a net downhill course. Being the most competitive 100 miler in the country, it’s a race where I can toe the line against really good competition, and I love that. Run Rabbit Run in September is probably the second most competitive 100-miler in the country, and that is my number 2 goal, as it was for 2018. I’ll see how those go before I decide what else to race. Really I am seeking out good competition, and I want to compete at the highest level possible at the 100-mile race distance.
How have you found your place in the ultrarunning community and have you enjoyed it?
Kyle: After you have shared miles with somebody, sometimes even just 1 mile, you feel connected to that person, sometimes more so than you do with people you see every single day in your regular non-running life. Running is so conducive to building friendships and bringing people together, and that is one of the best things about it. Western States specifically has a very special culture because so many people are committed and contribute to that race. It’s not only the racers, but also the crews, volunteers, organizers, and spectators around the world who help make it the premier event that it is. There is just a lot of attention that goes into that particular race. That gives people a shares sense of community.
Your most recent race & win came from the Brazos Bend 100, what made you want to run that race?
Kyle: I have long wanted to see how fast I can run a 100 miler and Brazos is one of the fastest trail courses in the world. I focus on mountain races, and they aren’t typically fast races compared to a flat course. So Brazos was a chance to see how fast I could do it. The day before the race there was a very heavy rainstorm that lasted throughout the night, and the course turned into a mud fest. The mud was really fun, but it made the course slow, so I didn’t get to do what I had set out to do. I hope to try again in the future. Brazos is such a special race because it’s a loop course and there are so many people on the course between the various race distances, which makes it extremely social. Throughout the race you’ll see everyone on the course a bunch of times, and it’s so nice to give and receive so much encouragement and be a part of this big party. I finished the race with a time of 15:51:26. I didn’t know until I finished that they have a special belt buckle if you go under 16 hours. Even though I was hoping to go a lot faster, I was very happy to receive one of those belt buckles. Most importantly, I had a lot of fun.
You hold an FKT on Lickskillet Road for the fastest downhill mile, what sparked your interest in that?
Kyle: I always knew that I was really good at downhill running compared to my flat and uphill ability. A few years ago, I noticed that it isn’t common to have downhill events, FKTs, speed trials, or any of that. It does exist, but hardly, and I really enjoy it. My favorite kind of running is fast downhill running. Before I ever heard of Lickskillet I was running on this fire road on Green Mountain near Denver, and I noticed I could come close to getting under a 4 minute mile. I still don’t know if I can do it on that particular road, because it’s more technical than Lickskillet. But the idea of breaking four infatuated me. When I finally heard about Lickskillet I knew it was going to be the place, and I had to give it a shot. When I did, I told myself going into that I was going to run as fast as I possibly could every single second until I reached the bottom. The top is the steepest part of the road and the only time I could go all out there was when my legs were fresh. SO I didn’t pace myself, but it got less steep towards the bottom, so I literally went all out from the get go. I was really surprised and excited by my finish time!
How have you prioritized things in your life to make time for everything that is important to you?
Kyle: I think making time for our passions can be a struggle no matter what you’re doing and it’s something everyone deals with. For me, building running into my daily schedule and making it a requirement makes it easier. The key is to take the thinking out of it; no matter what, I know that I have to run to work and run home every day. Given the nature of my job, I often don’t know how late I’m gin got be at the office. Fairly often I can work past 10 pm, and sometimes I leave the office after midnight. Even then, it doesn’t matter, I know I am putting on my running clothes and running home. Honestly if I wasn’t run commuting I would not be a competitive runner, since it would be too hard to find the time to train. The other key point is, of course, to focus on having good coordination and communication with my wife, Stacy.
If the world could know only one thing about Kyle Pietari, what would that be?
Kyle: I believe strongly in being deliberate about how we live our lives. Sometimes that means taking steps to implement something new and challenging, and only by approaching it with commitment and discipline can we reach the outcomes we want. But you have to be able to decide what outcome you want for your life before you begin taking those steps. When I think about how to incorporate running into my lifestyle, I think through the impact it has on me, my family, and society at large. I consistently believe that running is the most positive hobby I can embrace so I embrace it with passion.
Kyle Pietari is someone who thinks through his decisions before he chooses to pursue something. But the accomplishments from his professional life to his competitive life show his dedication to the goals he sets for himself.