From a sucky diet to 200-mile winner
By Henry Howard
An annual physical at age 35 changed Carl Kidwell’s life.
"You know, Carl," the doctor told him, "your blood pressure's sky high. Your cholesterol's through the roof. Your diet sucks."
Kidwell wanted to get healthy and knew the doctor was being honest. He did not want to go on three different types of medication. What other options did the doctor suggest?
“He says, ‘Just move 30 minutes a day vigorously. Go work out, get on an elliptical, take a walk at lunch,’" Kidwell recalls. “So I started doing that actually like 15, 16 years ago. That enabled me to move into more of a routine of working out.”
Kidwell was in great shape when he served in the Navy. But over time, poor diet and limited exercise took their toll.
“When you're 35 years old, things start changing on you,” he says. “The diets that you're on are a little bit different and I started gaining a good bit of weight. I had friends of mine from the military who were passing away from heart conditions and stuff like that.”
Discovering ultra running
Kidwell was determined to get healthy. But at first, he would feel like throwing up after only 100 to 200 yards. Soon he entered 5Ks, 10Ks and half marathons. Then came a marathon about eight years ago.
“I really want to do that,” Kidwell recalls thinking at the time. “I really want to see what it is to run a marathon, 26.2 miles. So I set on a quest to do that. I wanted to push myself a little bit more. I'd kind of gotten bored with 5Ks, 10Ks and half marathons.”
He learned a lot from the first marathon related to training, the inevitable bonk and more.
“I couldn't walk for two weeks afterwards, getting up and down stairs was difficult for me,” he says. “But what can I do to change that? What could I have done better? How can I move forward to make this not as painful? Because it's a sport that I really enjoy.”
Kidwell changed his workout routine, running regimen and diet. It paid off with some sub-four hour finishes at the Marine Corps Marathon and Charleston, S.C. Then he entered a team race, the Wambaw Swamp Stomp 50-miler, and discovered ultra running.
“I'm seeing this one guy go back and forth, and I asked his wife, ‘Hey, where's his other relay members?’ She says, ‘He's doing this by himself. The 50 miles by himself.’”
Inspired by what he saw and heard, Kidwell tried to process it.
"Wow. That is just amazing,” he thought. “Of course I sat there for a long time and thought about it, seeing this guy just grind on for a 50-miler by himself in eight, nine hours. The next day, I started looking up ultra marathons. What is this about? I thought we were just doing like a team sport out there. There's guys out here very serious about this.”
Honoring his late son
While Kidwell was training for his first 50-miler, he lost his older son, Mick, to an accidental drug overdose.
“This is kind of a sensitive subject for me,” he says. “It’s hard to explain. I started going out to trail running just to run, to kind of get over some of my grief and things I might have done wrong or whatever. But like I say, my oldest son passed away in 2014. And that's when I really started looking at pushing myself hard. Not because I felt like I need to be punished, but because I just had a lot to think about and some things to work through.”
The miles just sailed by.
“When I started doing these training runs, I really started realizing how 32 miles went quickly for me,” he recalls. “And I did my first 50-miler in 2014 or 2015. And I thought, ‘Well, this is pretty good. I think I can do a 50-miler.’ So I did a 50-miler and did really well in it, like nine hours and 15 minutes. Of course I was a little bit younger then.”
Kidwell eyed a 100K and then a 140.6-miler, “an Ironman on foot,” called El Diablo in Charleston.
“Those really kind of broke me into what you can do mentally to push yourself through,” he says. “There's sleep deprivation. I really wanted to see what more I can do to push myself harder. What can I do to almost fail? I did fail a few times and no fault to my own.”
Kidwell honors Mick during his races.
“I have another son, and we always talk about it and he asks, ‘Hey dad, do you think he's watching?’ Of course, I think he is, but that's just me. Some people believe in that, some people don't. I do honor him. I carry a bracelet with me of his at all times. I don't really announce a lot of this. There's very few people who know that I had an older son who passed away. I'm honoring him, and I'm honoring some Gulf War veterans who were my friends who committed suicide. I run in their memory. And I run in my memory too to push myself to not ever forget.”
‘What can I accomplish?’
Kidwell’s ultra journey reflects that desire to push.
“It's weird because I totally skipped the 100-mile ultra and went directly to the 140.6,” he says. “I figured, ‘Well, this is the hardest one so far, let me go and try that one.’ And it's just one of those things, you always sit there and wonder who am I really and what can I do? I've accomplished a lot in my life career-wise, family-wise and everything else. What more can I do to push myself? Not because I want to punish myself for anything at all whatsoever. It's just what can I accomplish? What can I mentally overcome over physical?”
Kidwell’s first 140 was in memory of his father, who passed away right before the 2016 race.
“He couldn't believe I was going to run 140 miles,” he remembers. "If you look at my pictures on Facebook for the 140 miles, the dog tags I was wearing were my dad's. I ran to be inspired by him.”
Kidwell finished third in that race, and second the following year, before moving up to the 212-mile version in 2018. The course is eight 18 ½-mile loops plus four 16-mile loops.
“It's definitely a challenging course,” he says. “It can get really muddy and sloppy and slidy. So we have that as well, too. You're going up and down different things, you're jumping over tree roots. I don't know how many times I've fallen down out there in the forest with the tree roots. Of course there's snakes, and there's crocodiles that can be on the trail that you might run into.”
From failure comes victory
After back-to-back Did Not Finish (DNF) attempts, Kidwell won the 212-miler this year. The first two were learning experiences.
Regardless of the distance, Hell Hole is a swampy race. And in 2018, the area received lots of rain in the two weeks leading up to race day, making the conditions even more challenging.
“The race director actually had to reroute the course at 4 in the morning because it was basically knee-deep and hip-deep water for three miles,” he recalls. “I got to mile 80 or 90 and had already switched out four pairs of shoes, all my socks, and I looked at Kevin who was my crew and I said, ‘I'm done. I am not going to go back in that swamp another freaking eight times for the next three miles again.’ That was a mental thing. That wasn't a physical thing, I wasn't injured or anything like that. It's just one of those things that I probably could have pushed through if I'd have sucked it up, and I didn't.”
Kidwell teamed up with Karen Jackson — “The Smiling Sandal Runner” — for his second attempt in 2019. That year the weather was mild leading up to race day. It was dry and the temperatures had been around 75 degrees, not the typical 90 to 95 degrees.
However, the temperature spiked to 110 degrees when the race started at 1 p.m.
“We're trying to conserve energy on our loops and the sun and the heat just beat us down,” Kidwell says. “We got behind the cutoff times. You have to have a certain amount of mileage within 33 hours, we weren't going to hit that. So we kind of DNF'd out of that race because we weren't going to hit the cutoff times. What I learned from that is to move conservatively during the day, but also move faster at night when it cools off.”
His strategy this year was to do a walk-run routine and to move well during the day but even better at night. It paid off with his first finish at the distance and the overall win.
With that goal accomplished, Kidwell’s bucket list includes Eastern States 100, Western States 100 and Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim.
As a successful 212-mile finisher, he understands the differences between those races and the more popular 100-milers. So what are a couple of tips for someone who who's going to go from a 100-miler or 24-hour race to one where they are out for multiple nights?
“My suggestion would definitely be to get your nutrition down as it plays a huge role,” he advises. “And make sure you're taking care of your feet. That's huge. Not taking care of your feet will drop you from a race bigger than anything.”
So, will he go back to the 212-miler at Hell Hole?
“There is the course record out there,” he says. “And I do know that I did spend a little bit more time than I should have at a couple of aid stations. There might be a time when I do that. I'd have to do it in the next year or two. I might go ahead and try for the course record, or maybe just go out there with somebody who wants to finish it.”
Name: Carl M. Kidwell
Hometown: Dixon, Missouri
Number of years running: 15 years with 5Ks, 10Ks, half and full marathons. A little over seven years in ultra running.
How many miles a week do you typically run: “When I am not training for a specific race and just doing my regiment, I put in 30 to 35 miles a week. Additionally, I do strength training three to four times a week, which is super important. When training for a race, typically I am pushing upward of 50 to 60 miles a week.”
Point of pride: “Two of them actually, Hell Hole Hundred (El Diablo) 140.6 (Ironman on foot) second place. Last Annual VOL State (LAVS) road race (314 miles) rookie year, placed 13th overall, eighth in the screwed division.”
Favorite race distance: “100 miles. It is just enough to make you question yourself, but not so much that you can’t talk yourself into getting to the end.”
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: “For breakfast, my diet typically consists of avocado toast with “everything bagel seasoning” and of course fruits like pineapple to go along with it. A couple of days leading up to a race I will eat sushi (California Rolls) for lunch and dinner for two days before a race. Weird, I know, but it works for me. For electrolytes, I drink Body Armor (Mixed Berry) to keep the electrolytes in. Throughout a race I will drink Tailwind.”
Favorite piece of gear: “My watch, Coros Pace 2. Lots of stats and battery power is exceptional!”
Who inspires you: “For this, I would say the people around me. I am inspired by many disabled veterans I have come into contact with over the years who are just trying to make it. There are many others out there who have some sort of disability who ignore the unfortunate cards they have been dealt with in life and just move forward. When I see that, I ignore the weight on my shoulders as I am inspired by their resiliency.”
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: “There are so many, but my top three that just keep me moving are an odd combo, so here they are: “No Diggity” by Blackstreet, “Days Go By” by Dirty Vegas, and “Come to Me” by the Goo Goo Dolls. The songs just vibe well with me.”
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: This has nothing to do with running, but it is inspirational to me for so many reasons. “Sometimes people come into your life and you know right away that they were meant to be there.”
Where can other runners connect or follow you:
• Facebook: www.facebook.com/carl.kidwell.3/
• Instagram: carlkidwell68