Engineer road racers team up for challenging ultra marathons

College of Engineering home to competitive road racers

In a grueling test of mental stamina, physical endurance and emotional willpower, a daring group of engineer road racers who are TU students and alumni ran a 100-mile road race earlier this year. Brothers and engineering majors Max (petroleum) and Ben (mechanical) Sinor joined electrical engineer Zack Kirkendoll (BS ’13, MS ’15), graduate student Caleb Lareau (BS ’15), Cameron Philpott (BSBA ’15) and chemical engineer Aaron Vokoun (BS ’01) in running the Prairie Spirit Trial Ultramarathon near Ottawa, Kan. Although they didn’t train together for the event, they competed with a TU connection.

“There’s still something about this group that drives me to do something like this,” said Lareau, a second-year biostatistics doctoral student at Harvard University. Lareau discovered running as a hobby while conducting undergraduate research with avid runner and TU Professor of Chemistry Gordon Purser. Since then, he has completed several marathons and Ironman competitions. Lareau said TU facilitated his ability to succeed academically but also try new things and develop as an athlete.

“When you set lofty goals and push yourself, there’s a level of shared activity that allows us to develop close friendships,” he said.

road racers
(Left to right) Caleb Lareau, Cameron Philpott, Aaron Vokoun, Zack Kirkendoll, Max Sinor and Ben Sinor before the start of the Prairie Spirit Trial Ultramarathon.

The competitive environment fostered among TU’s College of Engineering and Natural Sciences is mirrored in students such as the Sinor brothers who are familiar with the rigors of fitness. Max received all-state in wrestling and soccer his senior year of high school, and younger brother Ben followed in his footsteps. Regulars in the gym who previously had completed a few marathons and trail events, they kept their ultramarathon training to a minimum; the demands of their TU coursework left room for only a few long runs.

“It took Ben and me roughly 28-and-a-half hours to complete the 100-mile run,” said Max, who plans to work as a drilling or reservoir engineer after graduation. “What makes us work is really the thought of not letting the other down. The thought of me hindering Ben was probably my biggest driving factor.”

Similar in strength and speed, the brothers are extremely close and constantly challenge each other’s fitness limits. They were determined to race to the finish and not worry about time.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect when we began, but I think overall it was interesting,” Ben, a prospective structural design engineer, said “I got food poisoning from a taco at about mile 60 … never trust a bad taco, no matter how hungry you are.”

The taco incident and other memorable moments along the course provided comic relief for the TU runners including Collins College of Business graduate Philpott. He had completed marathons with Lareau in the past, but was very surprised to learn Lareau had signed him up for the 100-miler without asking. Lareau believed in his ability to finish but also wanted to share the agony of running such a long distance. The ultramarathon was one of the hardest things Philpott had ever done, but he developed a kinship with the engineering athletes and completed his first Ironman this summer with Kirkendoll, Lareau and 2016 chemical engineering alumnus Colby DeWeese.

“You’re so exhausted, but you still find a way to laugh,” said Philpott, an employee of the Grand River Dam Authority in northeast Oklahoma. “My friends push me to do crazy things, but everybody works themselves to the absolute limit.”

Each student and alumnus is working toward their own personal fitness goals, and not all of them plan to run another ultramarathon.

“This was a one-time deal,” Max said. “It’ll make for a good story when I’m older.”

road racers
Ben Sinor, Cameron Philpott and Max Sinor fit in an early morning jog at Tulsa’s Centennial Park.

The six TU runners tallied 575 miles of running in under 155 hours of comprehensive race time. Purser said the camaraderie and friendships that evolve are the most important results of events like these. Many of the guys with whom he has run the past 10 years are still some of his closest friends.

“Overcoming the challenges of these grueling events bonds us like nothing else could,” Purser said. “I am so proud of every one of these guys.”

Whether they sign up for another event or take a break, all agree TU’s well-rounded culture and strong sense of community provided each athlete with a unique opportunity to overcome their toughest physical limits.

“People at Harvard can’t believe I had time to train,” Lareau said. “Without the TU base, I couldn’t have. It’s truly a special place.”