Kale Poland: The Life Of An Ultramarathoner

Mar 6, 2015

Kale Poland does ultra-marathons, but that sport's name is a little misleading, as it now encompasses a lot of really long races of every sort, including triathlons. You may have heard of the Ironman competition: 2.5 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a marathon. 

But not for Kale Poland. He has done many 50-mile running races, of course, also a few double-ironman races, even triple and quintuple ironman distance events. But in 2012, he was the seventh American ever to complete what he calls a “deca”. That’s ten times the distance of an Ironman.

There are two ways of doing a race like this. One is you do an Ironman every day. When you finish you go to bed and wake up the next day to do another, ten days in a row.

But what Kale did is called a continuous deca-triathlon, where each leg is simply ten-times as long as a normal ironman, and after the starting pistol the clock never stops.

That’s a 24 mile swim, a 1,120 mile bike ride, and a 262 mile run.

Kale’s races go for days. That deca-Ironman he finished, took 12 days. And remember this is continuous. Any time that he slept, which was for a few hours a night, the clock as still running.

And just in case that sounds slightly appealing to you: the swim was in a pool, the bike-ride was on a 1 kilometer course that takes two minutes or so to complete, and the run was on similarly tiny loop, all within one city park in Monterrey, Mexico.

The question that anyone who doesn’t do races like this inevitably asks, is why? Why do it? He tells this story of attempting his first 100-mile running race, which he didn’t finish. He says he got to run for a little while with the guy who eventually won a 200-mile race going on at the same time on the same course.

Credit Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

  Kale doesn’t hate every race that he does. He enjoys a lot of them.

The race that I suspect he’s most proud of, and liked best was last year. It was called the Peak 500: a 500-mile running race in Vermont.

It was fifty laps of a ten mile course that went up and over a mountain every time. Kale calculates the elevation change was equivalent to going up and down Mount Everest four and half times. It involves sections that are off-trail, a section of hiking up a stream, and brutally steep climbs and descents.

So he came prepared.

The run took eight days. Five people started, and he and one other were the only ones to finish.

A friend had given him two pairs of fancy ultra-running shoes to race in, but when that friend came to visit, that wasn’t what Kale had on his feet.

By the end of the race, he could only fit into size 13 shoes… fully two sizes bigger than what he usually wears.

And he was starting to hallucinate.

Kale finished. He won actually. The other guy was only 3 hours or so behind him, which is basically winning by a nose in a race this long. His big move was sleeping only an hour or so on the last night… which is maybe where the hallucinations came from.

He was only the fourth person ever to finish this event.

Kale had to go to the hospital after the Peak 500, because the blisters on his feet were so bad. But that’s all just sort of part of the process.

It’s a process he’s ready to go through again. The same organizer is putting on another absurdly long running race this year. This one is 888 kilometers.

Kale doesn't have a car. When he commutes by bike, this is what he uses, other wise he runs.
Credit Sam Evans-Brown

He’s also got a couple of long-distance speed records that he’s going to try to break, one biking and one hiking. He doesn’t want to announce the attempts until a week or two before, for fear that some other crazy person will try to steal his thunder.

But really these races are just jabs to get him out the door.

It’s the getting out the door that he is shooting for. Kale says a friend of his really articulated it for him, years ago. 

Of course, that’s assuming your feet haven’t swelled two sizes.

He says he’s still got those size 13 Walmart shoes. He is saving them for this summer.