In 2020, American ultra-endurance athlete Katie Spotz became the first person to run across the state of Maine in one shot, covering the 220K journey in 33 hours, 46 minutes. She is currently tackling another ultrarunning challenge, this time in her home state of Ohio, which she will cross entirely on the Ohio to Erie Trail as she attempts to break the women’s world record for most consecutive ultramarathons. The current record stands at 10, and Spotz is looking to run 11, making the challenge 550K in length. Like last year’s event (and her previous ultra projects), she’s using this world record attempt to raise money for clean water initiatives, and she is working with an organization called H2O for Life. Spotz kicked her challenge off on Monday, and she hopes to break the world record on July 1.
Spotz is no stranger to long and arduous endurance challenges. She cycled across the U.S. in 2006, covering 5,000 kilometres from Seattle to Washington, D.C., she completed a 523K swim along the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania and New York in 2008 and she rowed across the Atlantic Ocean in 2010, completing the solo 4,900-kilometre journey in 70 days.
Spotz uses these challenges to raise money for water projects around the world. She called her Allegheny River challenge the Swim for Water, her journey across the Atlantic was known as the Row for Water and last year’s run across Maine was the Run4Water. Her current project through Ohio is also dubbed the Run4Water.
Running across Ohio was actually Spotz’s original plan for an ultrarunning challenge, but COVID-19 restrictions made the planning too difficult, so she shifted her focus to the state of Maine, where she lives. She raised US$26,000 (C$32,000) with that run, and this year she’s hoping to hit US$34,100 (C$42,200), which will correspond with her 341-mile record attempt.
Before starting her run, Spotz said her biggest focus for the run would be her daily recovery. “The time you spend recovering is more important than the time you spend running,” she said. “Your ability to run is dependent on how you recover.” She said that, while many people might assume that the running will be the key to her success, in reality, it’s what she does after each 50K when she’s off her feet that will determine how well she performs throughout the Run4Water.
“I feel like this is like gambling with your body,” she said, referring to the arduous nature of ultrarunning. “After my run across Maine, I stopped running for a month because I love running too much. I know if I’m not recovered, I might end up getting injured and enter a yo-yo sort of injury cycle.”
As any runner knows, though, even if you do everything right and train carefully, you can become injured, which is what happened to Spotz. She spent the last month leading up to her Run4Water hardly training at all, which she said was a huge challenge in itself. “The best thing I could do was pretty much nothing or very little activity,” she said. “I do feel undertrained, but healed and recovered. That’s the best I can do.”
Her run across Ohio was originally planned as 10 marathons in 10 days, but Spotz said she stumbled upon the female world record for most consecutive ultras. “I look at world records online just because it’s fun,” she said. “When I saw the ultramarathon world record, I decided to go a bit farther.” Previous attempts for this record have been run on tracks, Spotz said, but that didn’t appeal to her.
“I think that sounds miserable,” she said with a laugh. “One of the joys of running for me is seeing things along the way.” That’s why she chose to follow the Ohio to Erie Trail, which will give her plenty of scenery to admire from start to finish.
H2O for Life
Spotz is certainly driven to break these records, but she said she doesn’t complete them to have her name in a history book. “I don’t care how long I have a world record,” she said. “I just care about what I can do with the record while I have it.” She uses these record attempts and successful completions to raise awareness and funds for causes that matter to her, and water projects have been a passion of hers for a long time now.
“I rowed for water, I swam for water, I rode for water,” she said in a 2020 Canadian Running interview ahead of her first Run4Water. “I vividly remember one of my professors mentioning that the wars of the future will be fought over water. My eyes were opened to this issue.”
For this year’s run, Spotz has teamed up with H2O for Life, a nonprofit that delivers water and sanitation to schools around the world. Her 11 ultramarathons will raise money for 11 water projects in Uganda. So far, Spotz has raised more than US$27,000, and she is well on her way to her total fundraising goal with more than a week left of running.