Physical Therapy Graduate Runs, Wins Ultra-marathons

Physical Therapy Graduate Runs, Wins Ultra-marathons

By Therese Vaughn

Her friends call her “Pixie Ninja” and her coach says she “floats” when she runs. At about 95 pounds, Kaci Lickteig, DPT’11, may very well have winged lungs and fairy-dust-powered feet. Recently featured in the New York Times as one of the nation’s top ultra-marathoners, Lickteig runs races of 50 and 100 miles.

Last June, the Creighton graduate and Omaha physical therapist placed second among female competitors in the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, the oldest and most prestigious trail competition in the world. Legendary for her end-of-race kick, Lickteig outpaced all competitors in the field during the run’s second half.

Lickteig grew up in the small town of Dannebrog, Neb., and completed her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree before settling in Omaha to work as a physical therapist at an area hospital. She only began running as a junior in high school after her mother, Lori Leonard, quit smoking and began jogging on a treadmill at the local gym. “It killed me to run five minutes,” Lickteig told the blog for the Greater Omaha Area Trail Runners (G.O.A.T.z), an Omaha group she belongs to.

However, with a mom like Rosie the Riveter — Leonard worked as a welder for 25 years — Lickteig’s determination came naturally. Her best friend urged her to sign up for cross-country, and while she frequently lagged behind her teammates and walked up hills, she never gave up.

A few years ago, Lickteig became interested in even lengthier long-distance running. She joined her G.O.A.T.z friends to run her first 50k — the Silver Rush race, in the historic mining town of Leadville, Colo. “I’d only run a five-mile trail run before that,” she said, astonishing herself and the entire ultra-marathon community by winning the race.

An ultra-marathon refers to any footrace longer than the traditional marathon of 26.2 miles. These grueling trail courses challenge the high-endurance athlete with treacherous ground, bad weather, elevation changes and the near-cosmic mileage from the shot of the starter’s pistol to the finish line. For the ultra-marathoner, it’s not about running 50 or 100 miles at one time, it’s about embodying each moment of time along the way — even if many of those moments bring friction blisters and stress fractures.

Lickteig went on to win her first 100-mile race — the Black Hills 100 in Sturgis, S.D. Flanked by ponderosa pine and the Centennial Trail, the Olympic Marathon Trial qualifier made astonishing time. In 19 hours and 12 seconds, she broke the women’s course record not by seven minutes, but by seven hours.

Although its folklore casts running as a solitary endeavor, Lickteig seldom runs alone. She trains with two of her three dogs, her running group G.O.A.T.z or with her running partner Miguel Ordorica. She also runs with her mom, who has two 50-milers under her own belt.

Demonstrating the same long-distance dedication to patient care, Lickteig works full-time as a physical therapist in a local hospital’s post-operation unit. She helps patients recovering from surgery get back on their feet and on the road to health, mobility and function.

This winter, Lickteig suffered from a bout of anemia and a subsequent injury. Unable to run, she herself went to a physical therapist who helped her recover. Within five weeks, the ultra-marathoner placed second at the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile race.

In a recent interview, Lickteig said: My grandma always tells me, “You’re just driven. You’re going to do whatever until you finish.”