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Nature's Gym

“You can’t train to not feel pain, so I train so I can tolerate it. To me training is part of the journey and a way to experience the world. And I do it as hard as I possibly can so when I’m in a race, I won’t have to say to myself, “I wish I had…’”

Ultra-marathoner Katie Kubont has no off button. Her friends call her the Energizer Bunny. They say she’s relentless, crazy and has NO idea how to relax like she’s some sort of perpetual motion machine. Does she deny any of it?

“I never tell myself that I cannot, I always tell myself that I can,” Katie said recently.
“That may sound fake, but it’s true. Anyone can do anything. Is it that you can’t, or is it that you really just don’t want to?”

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Great question. Especially for a “Yooper” from Northern Michigan where summer’s short and winter brings six months of ice and snow. Training never stops, though, so Katie’s lucky to have found a best friend and training partner as crazy about hitting the winter trails as she is: her Australian Shepherd named Noque.

“I love Noque’s desire to make me happy and proud. I’d researched running dogs and came across Australian Shepherds. I saw her fluffy squishy face come across my Facebook page and just knew I had to have her,” Katie said. “Her personality is very unique and goofy and she’s always trying to make me happy and proud.”

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Katie named Noque after the Noquemanon Trail Network where they can be seen training together no matter the sun, snow, rain, ice or fog. The network starts right outside downtown Marquette and has more than 150 miles of trails. In the summer, they’re popular among families and college kids. In the winter, they access some of the most desolate places in Michigan. And it’s usually just Katie and Noque out there!

“On the trails, Noque’s off leash and trained to stay with me. She ignores other people, dogs, squirrels and distractions,” Katie said. “She slicks back her ears to pick up speed and will look up at me from time-to-time with this look on her face that is saying, ‘How am I doing mom!?’

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Noque is always pushing Katie. The two have a true connection and feed off each other to complete the challenges of the trail together. To Katie, training is the evidence of progress. When she’s able to run further, run faster, become less fatigued and recover quicker, she knows the training is paying off. Plus being outside and getting to do it with her best friend is icing on the cake.

“Noque’s been on some intense runs with me where we broke numerous course records, but what I love most about trail-running is the opportunity to get off of the grid. Noque, too. She hates road running, but on the trail we hurdle over logs together, hopscotch rocks and limbo under trees.”

Ultramarathons tend to attract obsessive people. It’s not unusual for a person to spend five or more hours a day on the trails training alone. Sometimes it can get lonely, your body hurts, you’re alone in your head, but with Noque by her side, it’s never so bad. Michigan is a gym all its own.

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“My favorite part about being outside is seeing so much of the world that so many people may never see. The world has its own playground, treadmill, stair-stepper and its own weight room. In one run, you can see different trees, feel the different terrains underfoot, feel the different temperatures on your skin and see a wide range of wildlife. My favorite is the different nature-like smells. Probably Noque’s, too!”

Marquette is a very active community with road bikers, snow bikers, hikers, climbers, skiers, trail runners, you name it. And the UP is one of America’s best kept secrets when it comes to winter training. You’re living on the edge of nature and taking on its challenges every day. Katie’s learned to embrace it and use it to push her training to the limit.

“I hunger for the adventure, the unknown, and the changes nature can bring from day-to-day.  I enjoy the climbs up mountain tops gasping for air, legs screaming and my hair matted to my forehead. Pushing myself to exhaustion is the most relaxing and rewarding part of the day.  Getting dirty, soaked from the rain and having icicles on my eyelashes from a snowstorm, make me smile. Not to mention running in thunderstorms, hail, 70mph winds and higher, rain, scorching heat, ice, puddles, mud, rivers, the list goes on! I love it when nature adds extra challenges.”

To us it might sound brutal, but to Katie it’s why she calls Michigan home. And the good news is, she’s got a buddy by her side who thinks of the world of her and wants to be out there as much as she does!

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