A Story to Tell

Athletes love their routines. Their training regimens stay the same, their diets too. It makes them feel comfortable and secure. It’s about the familiar. It’s preparation. It’s their comfort zone.

But every so often we meet an athlete who thinks differently, an athlete whose comfort zone doesn’t fit in a tidy comfortable box. Sure, they still need their routines of training and nutrition but they’re looking for something else. They’re looking to experience something out of the ordinary and something different. They’re looking for a story to tell.

She’s run it six times. The first three as a ‘bandit’, the last three for the Krystle Campbell Memorial Fund team in memory of one of the three people killed in the April 15, 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line. It’s the Boston Marathon and she first ran it in 2005.

Kelly Hansen grew up in a small suburban town surrounded by the cornfields of Minnesota. A high school lacrosse player and slalom skier she headed east after graduation to attend Boston University. She fell in love with the city, its people and their ideas, its neighborhoods and its vibe. And it was 2005 when an ‘ex’ challenged her to run Boston. She didn’t train and she never registered but she stepped to the starting line in Hopkinton and ran as a ‘bandit’. She finished, proved someone wrong and happily gave up running for three years.  

36 months after her Boston ‘bandit’ run she noticed a flyer promoting the San Diego Rock n’ Roll Marathon benefiting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Like so many others, LLS had an impact on Kelly’s life. While growing up in Minnesota, both of her maternal grandparents had died of Multiple Myeloma and it would be this cause and race that would kick start Kelly’s running career.  

It sits among the icebergs and the penguins. Its some 75 miles off the coast of Antarctica in the Southern Ocean and every March a couple hundred runners line up on King George’s Island to compete in what is known as The Last Marathon. She ran in it in 2010.  

Kelly graduated from BU in 2007 and entered a job market that had tanked. During college she had worked part time at a restaurant and to make ends meet she continued working there. She also found an unpaid internship at a post-production company in Boston. It wasn’t much but it was something, maybe a ‘foot-in-the door’, maybe not. But in one memorable week, a dishwasher, a producer and their stories, would change Kelly’s life forever.

He was from Africa and washed dishes at the restaurant. He told Kelly that he worked several jobs to send money home to his family and to his pregnant wife. His village needed a cow too. His story changed the way Kelly sees the world.   

A producer at a post-production company was a traveler. She shared with Kelly her experiences traveling east to west, north to south and country-to-country. Her stories inspired Kelly to see the world.

That was the genesis. That was the seminal moment in Kelly’s life when she needed to travel to run.

For the next two weeks Kelly planned. It wasn’t going to be about guided tours or sunny cruise ships. It was time to feel uncomfortable. It was time for new adventures and challenges. Three months later Kelly set out on a 10-month trip. She would cross the equator a couple times and travel over 43,000 miles! Her first stop was a marathon in Guayaquil, Ecuador; it was then on to Peru, Argentina, and a marathon in Auckland, New Zealand. From there she headed north to Japan, ran a marathon in Khon Kaen, Thailand, followed by adventures in Laos and Cambodia. Kelly left Southeast Asia and spent time in India, then tracked her way northeast to Nepal, where she hiked to the Mt. Everest Base Camp. The ‘almost-a-year’ trip ended with her running the Sweden Marathon in Stockholm, the Safaricom Marathon in Lewa, Kenya followed by a cool down stay in the United Kingdom.

Kelly was running marathons and hiking, experiencing different cultures and different foods, and always, coming out the other side of every journey, with a story tell.

They call it  ‘5,164 Steps Into History’ and it’s considered one of the world’s most challenging marathons. It’s run through villages and has a brutal switchback hill. Many of the original sections are a little more than rubble and its run on one of the world’s oldest and most recognizable structures. It’s the Great Wall Marathon. She ran it in 2013.

Since that first Boston Marathon in 2005 Kelly has run an additional 22 marathons. She’s traveled to 24 countries on all seven continents. In addition to the races we’ve already mentioned, she ran the 2500th Athens Greece Marathon; ran one in Reykjavik, Iceland; in DaNang, Vietnam; and a coast-to-coast Ultra Marathon, on Faial Island (Azores), Portugal; she ran a marathon in Havana, Cuba; and this past November, Kelly ran a race through the temples of Bagan, Myanmar.  

Today, Kelly has a successful career as an editor in a production company telling stories for world-class brands such as Puma, Toyota and Reebok. She will continue to travel and continue to run. She hopes to run the Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset Ultra Marathon; The Petra Marathon in the desert of Jordan; and the Patagonian International Marathon in Chile.  

For Kelly this journey was never completely about the running or even about her times. They’re important, but so are the people she’s met; like the kind and gentle 80 year-old who helped her with a flat tire in Myvatn, Iceland. It’s the foods she’s tasted; like a Christmas dessert of bees and grasshoppers marinated in soy sauce while in Kyoto, Japan. And it’s the cultures she’s experienced; like living in a bamboo and grass hut, along side water buffaloes in the middle of a rice field  in Goa, India.

All of this has great meaning to her. Every run and every hike is different. Every country and every experience is different. For Kelly that is the story. It’s the challenges and the possibilities, the fear and the reward. It’s what she loves about running and traveling. It’s Kelly Hansen’s story.

For more about Kelly check out her journal, her photos and her experiences at www.bebacksoon.life.