TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- What do you do when running a 26.2-mile marathon just isn’t enough? Two members of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center team at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, tack on about another 75 miles!
Capt. Kyle Imhoff, Air Force Civil Engineer Center Detachment 1 executive officer for the commander, and Lt. Col. Jeff Klein, deputy director for AFCEC’s Operations Directorate, consider ultramarathoning – running races greater than 26.2 and up to 100 miles – a hobby and have no plans to stop.
Klein, who has run eight ultramarathons, nine marathons and more than 20 shorter races, completed his first marathon in 2011.
“I was deployed with a person who was really into running marathons,” said Klein. “At the time I was running just to stay fit, so I just decided to try it. I am a competitive person and during my first half marathon I felt strong near the end of the race and ended up passing a bunch of people. That strong finish boosted my confidence and I just became hooked on the sport.”
Imhoff’s decision to start running came in 2016 during his time at the University of California, Davis. While attending school, he’d stopped working out, gained 20 pounds and ran the slowest time on his fitness test by a minute-and-a-half. After watching a documentary about the Run Rabbit Run 100-mile race, Imhoff set a personal goal to run a 100-mile ultramarathon. Three years later, he ran his first ultramarathon— a 50-mile race in Steam Boat Springs, Colorado.
Marathon training has become a way of life for both Airmen. Klein runs between three to seven miles, five days a week as part of his typical training regimen while Imhoff adds long weekend runs.
“I did a worldwide virtual race out of Kenya, for a free t-shirt,” said Imhoff. “The goal was to run five miles every four hours for 48 hours, but I did it in a compressed time frame instead and ran 60 miles in 24 hours.”
Although they started running races for different reasons, both men say they love that they are able to eat more and still stay healthy because of their hobby.
“With the volume of running I do, I am able to stay in shape and can exercise my sweet tooth more. In essence, I run to eat,” Klein said.
On average, Imhoff burns between 800-2500 calories a day.
“I am healthier overall for sure and I have focused more on eating the proper foods, where I never did before,” Imhoff said.
Fueling the body is especially critical on race days with runners wearing vests with necessities like water, energy and electrolyte gels, blister kits and dry socks. Aid stations along the route also provide water, electrolyte drinks and grab-and-go snacks to keep runners going.
Unlike standard marathon races, ultramarathons aren’t non-stop running.
“It’s not really running 100 miles straight, there is plenty of walking involved and while you don’t sleep, you do stop for a few minutes at aid stations for water, fuel and to change gear like socks and shoes,” said Klein.
With ultramarathon running gaining in popularity – ultra races have grown 345 percent since 1996 according to data from RunRepeat and the International Association of Ultrarunning – long-distance running is a hobby anyone can take up, Imhoff said.
“It was the atmosphere of the ultramarathons that has kept me in the sport,” Klein said. “The typical ultramarathon is much more laid back than the average road race, you usually see 50-500 total participants compared to some road races boasting over 10,000. Also, most of the ultras I’ve run were on trails which I’ll take over pavement any day.”
The runners offered two main pieces of advice: start slow and create accountability.
“Take it slow, start with a smaller race and build up slowly,” Klein said. “The easiest way to get injured is doing too much too soon. And stretching is key … typically, when I get lax with stretching I get injured.”
The accountability piece is to keep you motivated, Imhoff said.
“I told my friends and family right away that I was going to do a 100-mile race for my 30th birthday. So, then I had to, otherwise I would have lied to them,” Imhoff said.
When Imhoff set out to complete his 30th birthday ultramarathon goal in October 2020, he experienced first-hand the importance of comfortable, dry shoes after several river crossings and miles over unstable rocks left his feet swollen and slowed down his time.
“On a perfect day, I could have run that ultra in 24 hours,” said Imhoff. “But, I had to slow down because of the condition of my feet. I ran the first 50 miles in 12 hours, but the last 50 took me 26.”
With 30 miles left, his dad, wife and a friend joined him to power-walk the last 20 hours of the race and take him over the finish line.
“From start to finish, I put everything I have into racing,” said Imhoff. “At the finish line I’m physically exhausted but mentally stronger.”
Although physically exhausting, Imhoff said ultramarathoning makes him more ready and resilient in all aspects of his life.
Klein agreed, “being able to push past the physical discomfort after being on your feet 24 hours-straight builds confidence and mental resilience.”