Racing in the Time of Corona - Kyle Masterson Runs 4th Fastest 50km in History

March 5, 2021

Note - We'll have a longer, live interview on Tuesday at 8pm EDT as part of our Chaski Night Live series on Instagram Live (@Chaski.Endurance) - be sure to tune in for that!

On Wednesday, July 22, Chaski Coach and Diadora-sponsored pro Kyle Masterson became the 4th fastest human in history at the 50km distance (31.1 miles), clocking a time of 2:44:38, exactly 1 minute behind the 32-year-old world record at the distance.

How fast is that? It's a pace of 5:17.9 per mile, 3:17.6 per kilometer. It means going through the marathon in 2:18:57 and running another 5 miles. It's ten 5Ks at 16:28 in a row without stopping.

Running in the time of COVID is a unique challenge and this performance highlighted that. Kyle ran in a field of 4 athletes as was the only finisher; two of the runners served as pacers and his fellow racer dropped out after falling well off pace. This left Kyle with 17+ miles of solo running, racing the clock and the history books.

We caught up with Kyle for some quick takes (once he'd had a chance to refuel and catch his breath).

What was your goal going into this race? We had a few goals. Mainly we wanted to just try to run as fast as we could. We believed the World Record to be possible, but knew we’d need a really great day. I’d say my first goal was sub 2:45, and then the second was the World Record.    What was the story behind the race? How'd it come about? How long have you been training for it? I was originally getting ready for the Comrades Marathon in June. That was cancelled due to COVID. Shortly thereafter Joe Fejes contacted me about there being an elite 50km race as a part of the 6 Days in the Dome event. I was on board from the start, as I just love racing and felt it was a great opportunity. It was actually a bit hectic the 6-8 weeks leading up to the race.

Originally I believe there were 6-8 guys set to do it [including Chaski's own Tyler Andrews]. That kept falling as guys pulled out for various reasons. Then 6 Days in the Dome was cancelled as most entrants pulled out. For a couple hours the 50km was also off. Then back on. Then the date was maybe moving. Then it moved back to the original date.

Fortunately, my sponsor Diadora was able to help pay for the costs involved and race director Steve Durbin made it happen. All of us who competed, and all those who followed the race owe a big thanks to them for giving us something to get excited about in such a dull time for sports fans and athletes.   I basically have been training for this since 2 weeks after the Olympic Trials. Originally I was preparing for Comrades, and then around late April, early May the focus switched to a flat 50km.    Can you share any of your biggest, badass-est workouts with us during this buildup? I don’t keep very good details of my workouts. I have a strava account, but don’t record many runs with GPS and don’t log my workouts. I typically finish the session and move on.  

However, a few workouts stick out. Early after we switched to focusing on the 50km I did a 41 mile run in Alamosa (7,544 feet elevation) and averaged 6:21 pace. Alamosa is quite flat, but that was a good aerobic stimulus.  

On the other end of the spectrum I did 7 x mile with 3 minutes rest and averaged 4:37 about a month before the 50km.

It looked like things started off smoothly, but you ended up alone fairly early in the race (before the halfway). What happened in that first half of the race?

We definitely wanted to have a pack and create a race environment for as long as possible. I haven’t historically been a great time trailer. I much more enjoy pure competition. I knew I’d have to do a better job just going fast in a time trial like environment, but we wanted a pack and some pacing for as long as possible. However, early on my teammate Kris Mugrage’s shoe came untied. So only a few miles in one pacer stopped with him, and the other kept going with me.The two pacers were planning to switch off and on to be able to go farther, but basically the both ended up being on their own; one (Arturs Bariekis) accompanying me and the other (Dougie Davis) leading Kris back to us. Unfortunately it took its toll and both pacers were out by 55 minutes. They were a big help and I greatly appreciated them doing selfless work to be a part of making something big happen.    

Your splits looked fairly consistent up until about 46km. Was there an acute issue in those last 4km or just accumulated fatigue?

Honestly I felt great as far as energy, heart and lungs go. My limiting factor in all previous marathons and 50kms has been cramping. Today it didn’t begin until much later in the race, and didn’t come on as strong, but it still eventually led to me just becoming extremely stiff. I kept getting slower each lap simply from not being able to move my legs, which was incredibly frustrating.With 3km to go I felt a sharp cramp in my left calf, which had been taking a beating as the inside leg on 224 turns. It didn’t happen again, but I realized the record was slipping away and if I was too risky in trying to push through I may end up on my face and limp it in minutes off of that 2:45 goal, and way off the WR.    

This was a huge performance - second fastest American ever, top 5 all time (I think). Are you stoked about that or bummed that you were so close?

I’m very pleased. A few knowledgeable sources seem to believe it’s 3rd fastest ever [Edit: we believe Kyle is the #4 all-time performer ever behind WR holder Thompson Magawana (2:43:38), American Record holder Josh Cox (2:43:45), and Boston Marathon Champion and overall running legend Yuki Kawauchi (2:44:08)]. However it is bittersweet. With 6 miles to go I was under the record by a little bit and believed in that moment I could keep taking time off it. Unfortunately it slipped away. I’m very pleased with the effort and really enjoyed focusing in on just trying to run fast.  

What do you need to do differently to get the record next time?  

That’s a great question. I’ll have to sit down with my coach, Damon Martin, and look into that. I believe there are some areas I can do better. I let my mind get away from me during some of those laps just past half way but still far from the finish. I can do a better job focusing in on one lap, mile, kilometer at a time there. I also believe that with each marathon/50km race I run my body is getting better at not cramping. Additionally, I think coach is going to tell me I got a little too antsy through miles 13-17...and he’s probably right.    

What's next for you on the running calendar?

Pacing my wife Lauren for a time trial Saturday. Pray for my feet. They’re mutilated!   After that, I am not sure. We hadn’t looked too far beyond the 50km. I’ll sit down with coach and see what is next. Obviously COVID is a factor in every decision at this point. But at the end of the day I’m a professional athlete and racing is in my blood, so we will try to find safe opportunities to race.

— Kyle Masterson

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