Emily Buckley, editor in chief
For most people, the idea of running hundreds of miles, alone, in the wilderness sounds impossible, but for Mike McKnight, who was born and raised in Cornish and currently lives in Smithfield, it is something he looks forward to and says helps him appreciate all he has.
His running story began 11 years ago when he decided to train for a half marathon with his sister. He quickly fell in love with running and decided to continue training and walked on to the Utah State University (USU) track team. Six months into his newfound sport, he was in a skiing accident at Beaver Mountain and shattered his L1 vertebrae. Two rods and nine screws were surgically inserted into his spine and his doctor told him he’d likely be bedridden for at least a year — and that running was out of the question for at least as long. To give himself time to heal, Mike deferred his schooling for a year and ending up losing his job.
His body miraculously healed faster than anyone expected, and Mike started running again three and a half weeks after surgery. Within two months, he was running 5 to 10 miles a day. And, since he didn’t have a job or school to focus on, he kept pushing himself. Eventually he began working again and through work became acquainted with another local runner, Cody Draper, who introduced him to ultra running.
“He invited me to start training with him,” Mike said. “I instantly fell in love with running in the mountains. I signed up for the [28 mile] Logan Peak Trail Race in 2013 — that was my first ultra — and I have been actively involved ever since.” After the Logan Peak Trail Race, Mike quickly worked up to 100 miles for the Bear 100 within a year and half.
“I really liked the 100 mile distance, and started focusing on that,” Mike said. “Then in 2016, I learned that 200 miles existed. So, I signed up for my first 200-mile race in 2017.”
After completing his first 200-miler, Mike learned that there were two other 200-mile races that were part of a series called the Triple Crown of 200s. Each race is held 60 days apart. “I figured that since I just finished the first one, I might as well go all in and sign up for the other two,” Mike said.
He ended up finishing the series in 205 hours — the fastest combined time of the Triple Crown series.
Mike is a full-time coach. Some of the athletes he trains are preparing for their first 200-mile race, while others are just beginning their running journey. Find out more about his training program at lowcarb-runner.com.
Mike chooses to live and raise his family in Cache Valley for many reasons, not the least of which is the iconic mountains. “This area is even better than Boulder. Better than Flagstaff. Cache Valley is the best!”
“I was amazed that I was able to do so well,” Mike said. “But I also knew I could really improve my times. A lot went wrong at those races including a stress fracture and IT band issues. I walked a lot, and still finished first. I thought that if I addressed my injuries and built up my strength to avoid injury, that I’d be able to really improve my time at those races.”
Mike gave himself two years before racing the Triple Crown series again. He improved his time by over 40 hours and won each individual 200-mile race in the series in addition to winning the Triple Crown.
“It was at this moment I realized I was good at the 200-mile distance, and really enjoyed all the aspects of the distance including sleep deprivation and the pacing strategy,” Mike said. “Since then, I’ve put a huge focus on 200-mile races.”
Mike says the run he is most proud of wasn’t even a race, though.
There is a term in the ultra world called fastest known time (FKT). There are hundreds of trails around the world that runners try to claim the fastest known times on. One of the more popular is the Colorado Trail, a 500-mile trail from Durango to Denver. The majority of the trail is over 10,000 feet in elevation.
“In 2020, I went after the FKT on the Colorado Trail,” Mike said. “At the time, the record was just over 8 days and I was able to beat it by finishing in just over 7 days. That is definitely what I’m most proud of as a runner.”
So how does someone train to get to the point of running these kinds of races? “Physically, you gotta be consistent,” Mike said. “Get out and run, even if it’s raining and snowing. Consistency is king.”
In addition to consistent daily one-to-two hour runs, plus longer four-to-six hour runs on the weekends, Mike says he regularly practices running while sleep deprived by running in the middle of the night or doing a late-night run followed by an early morning run.
He says the mental training starts with figuring out your why. “If you don’t have a strong why you won’t finish,” Mike said. “Constantly think about that why and make sure it’s stronger than your reason to quit.”
For him, his why is because he can. “Breaking my back made me uncertain about my future in terms of being physically active,” Mike said. “So, because I have the ability to, I choose to.”
What’s next for this multiple Triple Crown, FKT-title holding runner? Mike says he has noticed he struggles in the heat so this year his focus is on hot races. He’ll be running a race in Death Valley, California where temperatures reach more than 120-degrees Fahrenheit. He is also planning to attempt a FKT run along the 800-mile Arizona Trail in October.
Mike’s running philosophy boils down to this: “Running and pushing your limits should be something that you love to do. It shouldn’t be something that you feel forced to do. If you wake up and think ‘well, I better get my run done,’ then you probably need to find a different hobby. Comfort is a waste of potential, and you should love being uncomfortable.”
Mike is currently transitioning from working as the executive director to becoming a volunteer for RODS (Racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome), a non-profit organization that inspires families to answer the call to adopt a child with Down Syndrome. He has utilized athletes, including himself, to raise funds to aid in the expensive fees associated with adoption. He says it can cost around $40,000 to adopt a child with Down Syndrome.