For This Ultrarunner, Running with MS is a Blessing in Disguise
Kevin Hoegler running the 2020 Loopy Loop 12-hour ultra.
Living a Life Never Imagined
Kevin Hoegler is a newcomer to the ultrarunning world. His ultrasignup.com page shows he ran his first ultra in 2020. I became aware of Kevin when I tuned in to the RunYogi Diaries podcast on YouTube, and learned he has MS (multiple sclerosis). But MS has not stopped Kevin from running ultra miles. I was impressed by his attitude, his positivity, and how MS fits into his ultrarunning life.
In a recent interview, Kevin shared his thoughts on his training, nutrition, hydration, the role of spirituality in the physical act of running, the importance of pacers and crew, his advice for runners of any distance, and living and running with MS.
When Kevin was 18 and in college, his body went numb from the waist down while running. "In September it will be eight years since I was diagnosed. It was really scary for me and my family. We were so concerned. What's my future going to be like. But I'm so blessed. I have been able to live a life I never imagined. MS is a blessing in disguise."
Kevin adds, "It's always a small victory when I think about it. I'm able to go out and run. I go for longer runs now than I did before being diagnosed with MS."
Running with MS is also a form of healing and a way for Kevin to manage his MS holistically. "Caring about the foods I eat, running, and working out goes a long way."
Most healthy runners might not practice Kevin's discipline when it comes to training, even during maintenance. When he's not training for an event, he runs 50 - 60 miles a week. "As I try to ramp up close to an event, I usually target consecutive weeks of above 70 miles, then drop to a 40 mile week, then ramp up to 70 miles a week," says Kevin. He adds, "The week before the race I'll do 30 miles." To keep his legs loose, Kevin runs 12 -15 miles the week of a race.
Kevin adds strength training twice a week consisting of functional exercises such as lunges, kettlebell swings, goblet squats, and box jumps. Deadlifts, pullups, and pushups target this upper body.
Nutrition and Hydration
Physically training for ultras has come easier than mastering nutrition and hydration during an event. "I need to adjust my nutrition," says Kevin. In May, he had some issues at the 24-hour event at 3 Days at the Fair. "I struggled with with staying in front of my nutrition. I felt fine the first three hours, and then I felt light-headed. I needed a little more sugar. I was slamming down a lot of bars and sugar. I think I drank a little too much caffeine and started to have crashes."
Despite the crashes, Kevin placed 3rd male with102 miles in 22:08:26. During his long runs this summer, Kevin will try to narrow down what works best for him in terms of nutrition and hydration.
A Spiritual Experience
For many runners and for Kevin, running is a spiritual experience. "It definitely is. I'm a believer in God and faith. When I go on long runs and I'm alone during the dark parts of the night where it's two or three in the morning and it's pitch black and a lot of people at the races are sleeping, in those moments I feel really connected with my faith during these ultramarathons."
Kevin adds, "I feel really encouraged to continue to run, to run hard, and to trust in the plan that's out there for me and just to believe and dig deep, and ask for strength. I'm alone and not alone. And I pray a lot during my runs when it's late night. I'm thinking about the strength of God and the saints. That definitely helps me during those late hours and pushes me to keep going."
Hitting the Wall
Kevin's ultrarunning life is impressive. It hasn't always been easy but he's learned quite a bit as he makes it to the finish line.
During the pandemic, he took on one of the few events that took place last December - the Daytona 100, his most difficult ultra to date. "I didn't know what I was getting myself into. Looking back, I didn't train as well as I should have. I hit a wall at mile 35. I didn't know what was going on." Walking a few miles, getting some food, and ingesting caffeine revitalized him. But he bonked again at mile 90.
"I could barely move forward. I didn't have a pacer." His brother crewed him and drove his car alongside him in the dark of the night. Without a pacer and barely able to move, Kevin crossed the finish in 23:26:00.
At Daytona 100.
Kevin knows the importance of a pacer and a crew. His mother and brother crewed him at 3 Days at the Fair. Having a pacer has been more challenging. "It's coming along. I have a couple of friends but it's hard to ask friends to travel to a race. It's something still in the works."
Running with MS to Motivate Others
At times when sleep-deprivation and exhaustion set in, what keeps Kevin going is MS and the MS community. "When I'm tired, I think about the MS community. I think about the people that want to feel a sense of encouragement in their life. I want to keep pushing and keep running because I want to be a sense of hope for these people."
Running with MS has become Kevin's calling. Kevin wants to help and motivate others. As he runs, he also wants to push himself and grow as a runner. "I'm thinking about the growth that I'm going to experience during the run. I want to see what I'm made of, what I can do, what I can accomplish."
Some might see a MS diagnosis, or any disease and health challenge, as debilitating and a reason to stop moving, but not Kevin. "I realize how fortunate I am to have MS and to be able to do the things I do. For me, MS has become this fuel source. I want to run these ultramarathons as a way to show other people with MS that their life can continue being "normal." MS, for a lack of a better word, is not a death sentence."
Running for MS at 3 Days at the Fair.
"I'd like to think, God willing, I'll be able to keep up all this running for the foreseeable future and be able to help out a lot of people, and encourage people to grow and be the best version of themselves."
Attitude Is Everything
Kevin offers the following advice to anyone experiencing a health challenge. "Attitude is everything. Forge your own path. It's easy to find all the horror stories online of a diagnosis. It's easy to see what negative things can happen. But it's a lot harder to see the positive."
Kevin's experience shows that, as he puts it, "diagnosis is not destiny." "A diagnosis is not an end all, be all. You're the one in charge of the way you think about it, the way you handle it." Being positive is key. "A health challenge doesn't have to be something that holds you back; it can be something that can propel you forward."
Tips for Tackling Your First Race of Any Distance
1. Know Your Why. "A 'why' holds you accountable. In a way, it helps you not to quit. It makes you have a reason to go out there and continue."
2. Be Prepared. Things will go wrong on race day but being prepared by having time on your feet and trying new nutrition and hydration before race day will pay off. "You want to have as few questions marks as possible on race day." Being prepared will help you to plan your race and to attack it on race day.
3. Have Fun. "It's so easy to get caught up in competition and get frustrated and aggravated. Remain happy and have fun." Crossing the finish and placing well is nice but finishing is most important. "Ultimately, what matters most is that you finished that race and that you are able to say, 'Wow.' And got it done."
Dream Ultra and More
His dream ultra? One of the Triple Crown Races. No doubt Kevin, who is on life-long MS treatment, will not let MS stop him from realizing his dream.
"Running has given me a big sense of confidence that I will always have. Running has taught me to believe in myself." As Kevin continues to run, he will turn to his mantra - "You got this. Keep digging. Keep pushing."
All photos courtesy of Kevin Hoegler.
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