May and June were shaping up to be hectic months in the Pietari home in Brighton, Mass.
Kyle Pietari, 29, was about to graduate from Harvard Law, studying for the Patent Bar Exam, training for the mid-August Leadville Trail 100, and preparing to move to Colorado with his wife, Stacy, and their two children.
It didn’t seem like life could get much busier – and then UltraRunning Magazine came calling.
Pietari had finished second in the UltraRunning Race Series standings, where the winner receives a Golden Ticket into the Western States 100. Race Series winner Paul Terranova of Texas was already in the Western States field, however, so the Golden Ticket went to Pietari.
Western States was June 25-26, barely a month away. Life just got a whole lot busier.
“I didn’t know I was going to Western States until mid-May,” Pietari said. “I’d been in Leadville training mode with my fingers crossed that the rankings would work out in my favor.
“Doing peak training for Western States made that month extremely stressful because we moved, I graduated, took the Patent Bar, and then immediately traveled for the race. It was one of the most hectic months of my life, and I’m lucky I passed the Patent Bar. I owe so much to my wife, Stacy, for making it all possible.”
Pietari’s training for Leadville—a mountain race with more than 15,000 feet of vertical gain where he placed fourth in 2013 and second in 2015—set him up well to transition into preparation for Western States and its more than 18,000 feet of climbing.
Living in a busy, urban area near sea level while juggling law school and parenthood made it nearly impossible for Pietari to get to the Middlesex Fells or Blue Hills Reservation for trail training, but he said it didn’t hinder his ability to prepare for the mountains.
“So much of my training for Leadville last year and for Western States this year was done in Boston,” he said. “I feel like it’s not as tough to train for these mountain 100s in a city like Boston as a lot of people might think, but it definitely takes creativity.”
Pietari commuted by foot to campus, running 2.75 miles each way. When class lectures were offered via video, he watched them while hammering out miles on the treadmill. He multi-tasked law school reading by doing it while hiking on the treadmill, mixing in one-mile speed intervals.
“Most trail-runners are anti-treadmill, and I definitely get that,” he said. “I’m the exception, not the norm. I’m just pro-running, period. As long as I’m running, I’m happy and grateful for every mile I can fit in. I can do an entire long run just running around one city block if that’s what I have to work with. I’ll just be thrilled that I’m running.”
Trips to the grocery store doubled as workouts when he’d hike and run with his kids in the double-baby jogger stroller.
Additionally, Pietari was a regular at the November Project’s workouts on Summit Avenue, a location he said provided plenty of opportunities to practice running steep uphills and downhills, as well as power-hiking.
Pietari had three goals for Western States—finish in under 17 hours, place in the top 10, and stay positive through the ups and downs of the race—but he didn’t have much time to worry about any of them. His brain was preoccupied with the Patent Bar, which he took a week-and-a-half before the race.
Not only did the exam keep him from stressing much about race strategy, it also kept him from studying and overanalyzing the course. He knew a bit about the layout, but not much else.
“I just trusted that everything had gone well with my training,” he said. “I knew I was substantially fitter than I’d ever been before, so I just trusted that.”
Pietari planned to run the first 40 miles conservatively to avoid overheating and blowing up on the course’s front-loaded climbs. He started off smooth and steady, navigating the 2,550-foot climb up Emigrant Pass during the first 4 1/2 miles, and he cruised into the first aid station at Lyon Ridge (mile 10.5) in 21st place out of the 353 starters. Despite going at least a mile off-course near the second aid station around mile 16 and slipping back to 47th place, he was undeterred and reclaimed a spot in the top 20 by mile 38 at Dusty Corners.
As he entered the race’s notorious Canyons section, the temperature rose to 90 degrees. Big climbs and big heat go hand-in-hand in the Canyons, but Pietari kept cool by using plenty of ice.
“This is the first race I’ve ever done where I’ve run with ice,” he said. “Basically every aid station from the third one on I’d fill my arm sleeves with ice. I wore a waist belt for my water bottles the whole time, which meant I could put a ton of ice in my tank top—front, back, and sides—and it would stay put. And I’d put ice in my hat. That was definitely a whole different element to a race that I’ve never experienced before, and I think it helped a lot.”
In addition to ice, Pietari managed his nutrition well. He only consumed gels and water with powder mixed in, aiming for 300 calories per hour. He credited the steady calorie intake with allowing him to pace consistently.
After holding his ground throughout the Canyons and reaching the Michigan Bluff aid station (mile 55.7) in 19th place, the temperature began to cool off and Pietari’s pace picked up. He seized upon the numerous fast downhill sections to improve his position. It was precisely what he was waiting for.
“I knew that the race was fast in the last 40 miles for people who were conservative early on, and that it cools down a bit,” he said. “I’m a terrible uphill runner and hiker, but downhills are my strength, so I knew if I was conservative early it would pay off.”
Over the course of 15 miles from Michigan Bluff to the Peachstone aid station, Pietari blazed down descents of 1,100 feet, 1,150 feet, 600 feet, and 500 feet, picking off other runners as he surged into 13th place.
He was closing strong and wasn’t done climbing.
By the time Pietari reached Browns Bar aid station at mile 89.9, he was in 11th place.
His goal of placing in the top 10 was within reach. As additional incentive, the top 10 finishers receive an automatic berth into the next year’s race.
“It was tough. At every aid station my pacer and I were trying to verify what position we were in. We were getting pretty good information, but it was always questionable where we were,” he said. “I knew I was right around that 10th-place spot, more or less, and 11th place is where you don’t want to finish at Western States.”
He moved into 10th by mile 93.5, and worked his way up to eighth by mile 98.9 before hammering down the final hill and onto the Placer High School track where he sprinted to the finish line.
“I wanted to leave it all on the course, and I had a little left in the tank so I wanted to empty it,” he recalled. “I hit the track and ran it like I was finishing a 5K. It felt amazing. There were so many people out there that I got to do high-fives all around the track while running all-out. I just wanted to run as hard as I could for the love of it and soak up the moment.”
Andrew Miller, 20, of Corvalis, Ore., was the overall winner in 15:29:36; Didrik Hermansen, 36, of Oslo, Norway, finished second in 16:16:08; and Jeff Browning, 44, of Bend, Ore., claimed third in 16:30:40.
Pietari said he was proud to represent Boston at ultrarunning’s original 100-mile race, and he was pleased that he achieved his top-10 goal while doing so.
Now that Western States is complete, Pietari is on to the next chapter of his life. He’s headed to Colorado where he will enjoy some quality family time and prepare the state bar exam before beginning work in November at a firm in downtown Denver.
He’ll do a little bit of running, too.
“I need to fit in a little training for Leadville in August,” he said. “I’m hoping to race it competitively, but my expectations are substantially lower than Western States—and by all rights they should be—because Western States was my priority race this year.”