April 12, 2024 at 12:32 p.m.

Chisago Lakes alum conquers Canebrake 200

2012 graduate Kailee Carlson recently finished a 200 mile ultramarathon in Atlanta


By JEFF NORTON | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment
Sports Editor

Kailee Carlson was never the star athlete in her career at Chisago Lakes High School that spanned from 2008-2012. Sure, she participated in track and field and tennis, but she didn’t make it to the state tournament, or win any major awards.

So when she finished a 200 mile ultramarathon on March 26 just outside of Atlanta, Georgia – a distance that only .0075 percent of the world can do – it made the feat all the more impressive.

Carlson, who is now 29 years old, has grown from a solid contributor in Chisago Lakes High School sports to an elite level athlete over the last decade. And then mix in the fact that she earned her doctorate degree, has been a travel nurse from Washington to Hawaii and now owns her own business, and it’s been a wild ride for the 2012 graduate.

Growing up in Chisago City, Carlson was always interested in things that pushed her, and that brought her to participate in long distance track and field running and tennis, two sports that require a lot of endurance and energy. After high school, Carlson attended Gustavus Adolphus College where she was on the cross country team, pushing the distances she ran even further, and majoring in nursing. During that time, she did clinicals in Alaska and an internship in Sweden, revealing a love for travel.

It was only natural for Carlson to combine those two loves of hers and become a travel nurse. She spent a year as a nurse in the state of Washington, and then went to a place most Minnesotans don’t come back from, Hawaii. She spent another year as a travel nurse there before deciding that the pull of family was too great. She moved back to Minnesota and was working at a hospital in Woodbury when she was introduced to traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. “I had always wanted to do something more holistic,” she said of the light bulb that went on when she worked with an acupuncturist for the first time. 



Carlson decided to return to school to get her doctorate degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine with a sports emphasis. It was a tough three and a half year program, but Carlson finished it and has now been a licensed acupuncturist for nearly two years and owns Dr. Kailee Acupuncture, which is based out of the Performance Running Gym in St. Louis Park.

During her travels all over the world, Carlson never lost the fire and passion that she had for competing, especially running. Her cross country career at Gustavus blossomed into 50 kilometer races after graduation, and then to 50 mile races. She competed in her first 100 mile run while she was in Washington, and that led her to eventually sign up for the Canebrake 200 mile race this spring. 

“I was never really the fastest one in running but I really liked challenging myself and seeing how far I could push myself and how long I could be uncomfortable for,” she explained. “I like the mindset of ultra distance runs. You have to get in your own head and dig deep. It became less about the time and more about the completion.”

The Canebrake 200 is  a grueling race through the trees and flowing waters of Sweetwater Creek State Park in the western suburbs of Atlanta, GA. The cap to finish the race is four days, which essentially means a competitor needs to finish roughly two traditional marathon distances (26.2 miles) per day to finish in time. If Carlson wanted to see how long she could be uncomfortable for, this race was a great barometer.

With the race on the horizon this winter, Carlson started a strict regimen of training and dieting. There ‘s been no drinking since the new year, and no caffeine, so when she needed to use caffeine during the race, it would have a great effect on her. She gravitated towards whole foods that gave her energy, and she focused on strength training with her partner, Jacob, who is a personal trainer and running coach. “I knew I was going to have to be strong on my feet for four days, so strength was a big focus during training,” Carlson said.

Once the race got going, there were challenges almost immediately for Carlson and the other 28 competitors. She explained the first day there was a downpour of rain, turning the course into a sopping wet pile of mud, which did a number on her feet. “I started to get blisters early and my feet were throbbing,” she said. And then, around mile 50, an old injury crept up and started to put doubts in Carlson’s mind. “I knew coming in that the only thing that would stop me would be something physical, so I was extremely nervous. But, with Jacob there, he did some work on me and the issue went away over the next 10-20 miles, so I was able to keep running.”

Carlson barely slept for the duration. The runners are allowed to stop and rest at any time as the course is a continuous loop of five and 10 mile circles, but she said it was extremely restless sleep. She would close her eyes and be up within 1-3 hours, wondering how she was going to compete again as the pain in her feet grew. “Every time I got up, I wondered ‘How am I supposed to do this again?’”

But Carlson persisted. She just kept finding the same landmarks over and over again and knew the miles were ticking down and she was getting closer. After 84 hours, three minutes and 26 seconds, Carlson finished the last step of the 200 miler, coming in 15th place. She said her partner, parents and friend all ran the last five mile loop with her and they just sprinted as much as they could.

“It was such an adrenaline rush to finish. It’s the best feeling in the entire world, but it’s hard to describe. It’s an out of body experience,” she gushed. “After putting your body through it but then feeling the completion, there’s nothing like it and it’s very overwhelming. Everyone was crying and smiling and just giving the biggest hugs.”

Obviously physical and mental fortitude are involved in running a race like this, but Carlson opined that the mental aspect is absolutely the harder part. “You need to be physically in shape to do this, but even if you're the best athlete out there, if you don’t believe you can do it and get in that pain cave, you still may not be able to complete this,” she said. “I just dont give myself the option to give up. I go in knowing I am going to finish the race. I have an awesome team and community behind me and that community helps me believe in myself. I always remember that today is hard, but will I be here tomorrow? Yes.”

In her future, Carlson said that immediately after the race, she was a very hard ‘no’ on doing that length of race again. But, now that she’s had time to settle and regain feeling in her toes, she said that she could see herself doing an even longer race, such as the Moab 240 miler.

In the meantime, however, she plans on sticking with her 50- and 100-mile courses to stay ready for the next challenge.

Carlson understands that not everyone is going to get up and run an ultramarathon, but the discipline, focus and attitude she has towards her runs are something that everyone can apply in their lives. “It all starts with the belief that you can do it. The whole time I’m out there, the only thing setting me apart from others was the belief I could do it,” she said. “If you don’t believe in yourself, you won’t get it done. If you really want something, you need to go in with the mindset that you want to get it done and nothing else really matters at the time.”


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