Lubbock couple completes ultramarathon; trekking 155 miles, strengthening marriage

Published: Aug. 31, 2022 at 11:10 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - A Lubbock couple is back in town after competing in an ultramarathon, trekking 155 miles while carrying all of their supplies on their back.

Ken and Jana Stephenson completed RacingThePlanet: Lapland, a race through the northern region of Finland.

Competitors traversed the Finnish countryside in stages. The first four are about a marathon long. Days five and six are combined for a 51-mile trek called the long march, followed by a 12k on the final day. Runners carry their food, clothing, and other supplies on their back, while organizers provide tents, water and medical care.

“You have to carry your own equipment, so you carry your food and your clothing and any required items that they have like blister kits and things like that. So, we carried a backpack that weighed about 22 pounds to start with,” Ken said.

After nearly 46 hours of running, hiking, and wading through water, the couple crossed the finish line together.

“For Jana to understand what I went through and for me to understand what she went through, it’s hard to explain that to anybody else. To do that together and to accomplish it together, it’s just like a pretty amazing feeling,” he said.

The Stephensons met at Lubbock Christian College, back before it became a university, and have been married since. Throughout their marriage, they’ve kept active by biking, running, and hiking. They’ve hiked the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim, a bucket-list item for Jana. She says after Ken did that for her, she wanted to pay him back by completing the ultramarathon in Finland.

While they’ve always enjoyed exercising and endurance events, it hasn’t always been easy.

“There have been times where I haven’t felt...it’s like, I’m done. I can’t. Our very first half marathon that we ran, he was at the finish line waiting for me and I came up and I said I never want to do anything like that again, ever,” Jana said.

While they laugh telling the story, Ken and Jana say challenging themselves as a team has only made their marriage stronger. Running alongside people from 43 different countries gave the Stephensons the chance to meet others who wanted to challenge themselves, too. Jana says it’s good to do hard things.

They heard about RacingThePlanet from a friend, Russell James. He’s a professor at Texas Tech who has completed several ultramarathons.

“To purposefully put yourself in hard situations like that, and then know that you can work through them and that you’re not going to quit, and when I don’t feel like going on, he’s there, to step in and say you can do this and vice versa,” she said.

She says the race helped remind her of all she’s blessed with, and that all she has to do is make it to the next checkpoint. Ken, an orthopedic surgeon, says this race showed him he can face whatever challenge comes next.

“Whenever I get in a difficult surgery or I’m in an uncomfortable situation physically, then I just think back, I’ve done worse. I’ve been through more difficult times and you can make it, you can be resilient,” he said.