Twenty-eight year old, Grand Junction, Colorado resident Kim Dobson has a lot to smile about. Two Saturdays ago, she won and blasted a fierce, new course record at the Pikes Peak Ascent in Manitou Springs, Colorado. But she has a lot of other reasons to be happy, including a new job as a cross-country coach, an upcoming racing trip to Europe, and a marriage to, according to her, a really cool guy. In the following interview, learn about Dobson’s record-setting Pikes Peak Ascent win and a whole lot more!
iRunFar: It’s a couple days after your race now. How are you doing?
Kim Dobson: Good. I’m just kind of getting back into the swing here. I’m getting ready for Jungfrau Marathon here in a couple of weeks.
iRF: Oh, you’re going to Jungfrau. There are a couple of girls from America going—Ashley Arnold and Stevie Kramer, too, right?
Dobson: Yes. Stevie is going to be there, and Brandy Erholtz is going, and Gina Lucrezi. It will be a fun group.
iRF: It sounds like a good girl adventure.
Dobson: Yeah, I’m really excited and it sounds like we’re all staying three nights together. Usually when you go run a race, it’s so rushed that you don’t get any time to talk to people. So it will be fun to be down there for three days together.
iRF: You’ll get to bond. I went on vacation there last summer and, holy smokes, the scenery is amazing.
Dobson: Yeah, I’m so excited—just the pictures I’ve seen. They do a course tour on their website; it looks so pretty. It will be really fun. It will be my first race in Europe, so that’s pretty exciting. Time-wise, it will be the longest race I’ve ever run. Usually the winning time is around 3:30, so it’s going to be quite a bit longer than most of the races I do. I really like “long,” so I’m looking forward to experiencing something over 3.5 hours.
iRF: Let me back up a little bit so iRunFar readers can learn a little bit about you. You’re 28 years old, right? And I believe you’re a school teacher, so this must be your summer break?
Dobson: Right. I was teaching second grade for the past four years in Aurora; my husband was a medical student out there. He just got his medical residency in Grand Junction, so we recently moved here. I’ve always dreamed of coaching high school cross country. It just so happened when he found out his residency was here, a couple of months later there was an assistant and a head coach opening for coaching cross country at Grand Junction High School. So I applied for that position, and I got the head coaching position for that. With the coaching and knowing I wanted to travel to Jungfrau and focus on some of my races in the fall, I decided not to teach this year. It wasn’t going to work schedule-wise.
iRF: You’ll have a little break from the classroom. You’ll still be teaching, you’ll just be teaching in a whole different way, right?
Dobson: Yeah, exactly. There are so many parallels between coaching and teaching; it’s been cool to see. It’s taken me a few days in the beginning to get used to the high-school mentality. It was kind of funny. But now that I’m used to the high schoolers and what makes them tick, it’s the same principles of teaching and coaching, it’s just a different audience. I miss teaching, but I hope once I return from Jungfrau to look into subbing or tutoring or doing something else with elementary-aged kids.
iRF: To keep that part of your world stimulated, right?
Dobson: Yeah, exactly.
iRF: I saw your husband, Corey Dobson, at the Pikes Peak Marathon last weekend. As he crossed the finish line, he had the hugest grin on his face. He seems like a ball of positive energy. Is that what life with him is like?
Dobson: Yeah, he is. I think we motivate each other. He’s so supportive of me. I’m so grateful for that support. He encourages me, “Go drive two hours to get to a mountain if you need to.” He was really motivating this summer since he wasn’t able to join me for as much of the training as usual. He was really encouraging for me to get out there and go even when he couldn’t. He gets more nervous for my races than I do. He’s been busy with residency, so he was just going to go out and see what he could do, but he ended up running his best time at the marathon. It was his third year there. He had his fastest ascent and his fastest overall time, so that was really exciting. I saw him at the summit and he was smiling. He had a nice grimace on his face on the way down. It was really fun to watch. We enjoy watching each other run.
iRF: Any competitive edge between you two?
Dobson: At first, there definitely was. We started dating in college, and I was doing a lot of long running on my own for fun. I’d always have more endurance than he did. He’d come along with me and by two hours, he’d be pretty much walking. So I was used to having more endurance. Then when we got married right out of college, for some reason I got really slow for about a year. He started improving a lot. So that was hard year, for every time we’d run he’d smack me in the face. I think we figured out how to motivate each other and not annoy each other when we run. We have different strengths. He has more natural speed than I do, and I have more endurance. I tend to do better at higher altitudes. I think we both know our place in the Dobson family. I just try to keep him in sight when we run intervals. And on our longer runs, he just tries to keep me in sight, so it’s nice to have opposite strengths and still be similarly paced. So now it’s just positive competitiveness. We joke about household records on training runs and races, but it’s all fun. It’s a healthy competitive relationship.
iRF: You’ve got the quintessential background in running. You ran in high school, you ran in college, you spent some time road running, and now you’re doing mountain and trail running. You’re a 2:45 marathoner, right?
Dobson: Yeah, last September.
iRF: And a 1:21 half marathoner, right?
Dobson: I think that’s my fastest, yes.
iRF: And you ran the Olympic Trials Marathon this spring?
Dobson: Yeah, I did. That was really interesting. [And for clarification] I ran in college but not on a team. I’ve always loved the long run, so in college, I’d run on my own and with friends, and then I did a few marathons just because I was always intrigued by the marathon… and some half marathons.
iRF: You’re developing a pretty deep relationship with mountain running. You’ve twice won the Pikes Peak Ascent and twice taken second. You’ve twice won Mount Washington and you’re the course record holder at Mount Evans Ascent, right?
Dobson: I was. That (Mount Evans Ascent record) actually got broken this year by Stevie Kramer.
iRF: Oh, it did? Shoot, sorry, Stevie!
Dobson: She had an awesome race and she ran under 2 hours. I can’t remember her exact time.
iRF: That’s coming back to me now.
Dobson: Records are being shattered right and left. It’s really cool to see.
iRF: You must have along the way developed a love for running up mountains.
Dobson: Yeah. Like I was saying, I always liked the longer running, which is why I did the marathons and half marathons in college for fun. As far back as I can remember I liked going uphill, whether it was hiking or biking or cross-country skiing. I always seemed to do better when there was an incline. I always really enjoyed the feeling. I think my parents even noticed that when I was young. When we would go cross-country skiing when I was seven, I loved the long uphills. I think that’s always been a part of me. But it really all came together after my husband and I got married in 2006 and we started hiking some 14’ers. We both really developed a passion for that, especially my husband. He was so focused on those. We wanted to climb all the 14’ers together—that was a big goal. So we spent the first few summers of our marriage doing a lot of hiking of the 14’ers. I think that was really building some of the base for our love of mountains—climbing and running up them. He did finish all of the 14’ers. I started to get a little chicken towards the end.
iRF: The harder ones?
Dobson: Yeah, we had eight of the hardest ones left and Corey was going to go back to school in a week. So he had to do all of them in a two-week span. It was a little too stressful for me. So I did some of them with him and I think I ended up five or six shy.
iRF: So you’ll have to go back out someday, to finish all of them?
Dobson: It’s been awhile, especially for the harder ones. So now I’d need to work back into them. I do think it’s always been in me, that love of uphills. Then when my husband and I got married, we discovered that shared passion between us and we just started to do a lot of hiking. The hiking plus the long distance running just really came together. When we did Pikes Peak Ascent for the first time in 2009, I think it all really came to the surface. “Wow, this is something I love to do. This is something I can do pretty well. I want to pursue it. I want to see where it could take me.”
iRF: So you love the idea of being out on a mountain, climbing up it, and being the tallest thing around. Then there’s also this competition aspect. You also like to race really fast up mountains. When did that light come on for you?
Dobson: For as long as I can remember, whenever I was on a hill, I always wanted to see how fast I could get up it. It wasn’t necessarily about trying to beat someone else up it, but it was the personal challenge of how fast I could get up it. When I ran Pikes Peak Ascent for the first time in 2009, I think it was the biggest challenge I’d ever experienced—this big mountain and almost 8,000′ of climbing—that challenge of pacing it right and running as hard as you can right up to that red line but not crossing it. I loved that feeling you get in your legs after you’ve been climbing for thousands of feet, and the gasping above tree line, and you can feel your heart beating in your chest. The whole mental and physical aspect of running up a mountain was really intriguing to me at that race. I kind of did it just for fun, and I did pretty well. It made me curious about what I could do if I really focused on this and really pushed myself.
iRF: So you committed yourself to the mountain. You ran first in 2009 and you’ve done it every year since. You ran a 2:41-ish in 2009 and 2010, and last year you took a leap and finished 7 minutes faster in just over the course record. Then this year, you made another giant leap and you killed the course record by 8.5 minutes. We’re talking about a 13-mile race, a half marathon. If you told any half-marathoner you improved your half marathon time by 8.5 minutes, they’re going to, I don’t know, die. What do you attribute this progression to?
Dobson: I think the main thing is within the last two years, especially 2011 and 2012, I’ve really spent a lot of time running. It hasn’t been anything unheard of, but it’s just doing a lot of the small things to make you the best you can be. I’ve tried to steadily increase my miles. Before 2009, I was maybe running 10 miles per week, other weeks 30, other weeks 40, maybe 10 the next. Over the past couple of years I increased to running 50 mpw. Last year, I was consistently 60 mpw. This year, I’m running 70 mpw. I’m increasing the training load and the intensity. I’m just learning how to really push myself. I’m doing intervals; I’m doing tempo runs. During the winter, I’ll do a lot more of that on the flat roads which I think helps with the leg speed. Then in the spring, I start to do more hills and start to transition to intervals, tempo runs, long runs to the hills, and I do that more on the mountains and the uphills. I think that’s been good balancing out—taking some time to work on flat running, and then spending the other half of the year running uphill.
iRF: It sounds like more of a typical training foundation?
Dobson: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s been a huge part of my improvement. I’ve also paid more attention to the little things. I’ve tried to do a lot of core work to stay strong. I used to get injured a lot in college and a couple of years after college. So I’ve tried to do more strengthening like lunges and core to prevent those injuries. I’ve tried to get better about stretching and eating healthy and getting good sleep. It’s all the little things you know you should be doing, but I’m trying to make that a part of my training, too.
iRF: Tell me for a minute about discomfort. There’s nothing comfortable about running uphill 8,000′ for 13 miles up to over 14,000′ altitude. How do you approach a race thinking, “This is just going to hurt? It’s going to be beautiful, but there’s going to be more hurt than beautiful.”
Dobson: I’m not really going to get to notice the beautiful. I think if you do the right training, then you have to remind yourself that you are capable of it. And if you really think about what pace you’re capable of, it’s getting in that mindset that “This is uncomfortable, but I can do this. I’ve put in the work, I trust my body to make it to the top.” I think it takes practice knowing how hard you can push before you blow up. I try to keep pretty good tabs on my effort level during the race to make sure I’m not breathing too hard, especially at Pikes in the first half (the lower half elevation-wise), the breathing has to be more in the moderate-hard zone. Then once you get to Barr Camp at Pikes Peak, for example, then the breathing can be more rapid.
iRF: So is that how you’re monitoring yourself—just biofeedback? You’re not looking at pace or heart rate?
Dobson: Yes, it’s definitely by effort. I wear just a little stopwatch that I glance at Barr Camp and at A-Frame, mostly just for data. It’s interesting for me to have that information so when I look back at previous years, I can figure out what my pacing was and try to figure out what my pacing was on a good year and what it was like on a year it didn’t feel as good. On a mountain race, the terrain varies so much, it’s really hard to pace it. So I think going on effort is the best way to go. When you wear a watch, I think you can be discouraged if you’re not hitting the times you want to hit. Or you can freak yourself out if you’re going too fast.
iRF: Did you glance down at your watch on Saturday and go, “Oh my gosh, I’m so far ahead of where I thought I might be?”
Dobson: Yes. The past two years I’ve been at Barr Camp at about 1 hour, 17 minutes. So this year, I knew that if maybe I got there in 1:15, that would be pretty good, 2 minutes faster, and then maybe I could be 2 minutes faster up top. So I was thinking that maybe if I got through Barr Camp at 1:15, that would be good, if I felt good, too. Since that’s about the half-way point time-wise in the race, I try to get there thinking once I pass Barr Camp, I’m going to step it up a gear. Then once I pass A-Frame, I’m going to step it up another gear. For me that works to break the distance into chunks and know when I get to that mark, I’m going to kick it in a little harder.
So this year when I got to Barr Camp, I was tired, but I did feel like I had another gear to step into. I looked at my watch and it was 1:12:30. I was shocked! I was praying a lot. I’d memorized a verse from Isaiah that said, “Do not fear, I will help you.” I just kept saying that verse in my head because fear was creeping in that I was going too fast. At the same time, I’d put in the training. I’d really prayed about it. I felt good about the effort I was putting forth. So I just had to trust that I was going at the right pace, and I was going to make it. I’d done everything I could physically and mentally to prepare. I really had to keep that mindset the whole race. I did look at my watch, too, with one mile to go, and I realized I would probably be under 2:30 even if I had slowed down as long as something terrible didn’t happen. And anytime I took my focus away from my effort and started thinking about time or place, I could just feel myself getting excited and my heart beating faster. And I had to get back to that mental focus and try to block out anything else that was going on and just be in my groove running up the mountain. I think it wasn’t until the last three minutes of the race when it flattens out a little that I finally let myself get excited and let myself hear the crowds and realize what was happening. But for the rest of the race, I really tried to stay focused on just getting up the mountain and not think about the finish line and what was going to happen when I crossed it.
iRF: In the last little bit when you realized you were going so far under the course record, did you punch it as hard as you could, or were you just like “I’m so far under I’m just going to have my twinkle toes and take my time?”
Dobson: At that point, I had so much adrenaline, I did push it as hard as I could, but I also tried to soak in the moment. I’ve had a lot of races where I’m trying so hard to get to the finish line as fast as I can that I’m collapsing as I’m crossing. My husband teases me about that. So I wanted to enjoy this moment. Even before the race I told myself that if I get there and it’s not within seconds of the record or seconds of that 2:32 (the time women must run to claim the Pikes Peak Ascent Time Bounty), I was going to enjoy it. So I let the adrenaline take over and I ran as fast as I could, but I also tried to soak in the moment. It was the most memorable finish line I’ve ever experienced.
iRF: You’ve won the race twice, and now you’ve got a really stout course record. Do you have any business left with the mountain? Does this race or this mountain keep calling to you?
Dobson: Well, a little bit of both. Pikes Peak is one of my favorite races and it’s where I discovered my love of mountain running. So I do see myself coming back for years to come. And I hope to compete in it for many years to come also. As far as dropping my times—at this point, I’m not really thinking about that. It’s more coming back just because I love the race. I see so many friends and family members out there that it makes it such a special weekend. So I would like to just come back and compete. Someday I would also like to try the marathon, so that’s another goal. But I do think I’ll spend some time focusing on other races now. I feel very satisfied with my race. I feel really thankful that everything came together so well in training and on race day. Sometimes when you finish a race, you feel like you have unfinished business; I don’t with Pikes right now. I see myself coming back because I love it.
iRF: You’re going to go run the Jungfrau Marathon. What else is on your schedule for the next six months?
Dobson: That’s officially the only race I’ve signed up for. So I will have to think about that after the race. I’d like to do some of the races over here on the Western Slope. I know the Rim Rock Marathon is supposed to be awesome. I believe there’s a longer race in the Black Canyon. I ran the Black Canyon Ascent in May and really enjoyed that. I was blown away with how beautiful that part of the state is. You don’t really hear anybody talking about it, but it’s gorgeous. I heard that there is a race on the northern part of the canyon, so I’d like to check that out. But I don’t have anything set right now. I guess the Pikes Peak and Mount Washington and some of those others were the focus. So I’ll just find some of the races that look fun and enjoy them and think about what I want to do in the years to come.
iRF: Cool. A couple quick questions to help readers get to know you—the running you and the non-running you. Answer with first thing that comes to mind. Favorite post-race food?
iRF: The song that comes on your iPod that you’ll hit repeat for every time?
Dobson: That’s a hard one… so many good ones… can we come back to that one?
iRF: If you had one word to describe your husband, Corey, what would you say?
iRF: Your favorite racing shoe?
Dobson: Mizuno Ronin.
iRF: The most injury-prone spot of your body?
iRF: Cross training—yay or nay?
iRF: Night owl or early bird?
Dobson: Early Bird.
iRF: Who’s your running role model?
Dobson: Oooooh… Kara Goucher.
iRF: If your parents had to describe you in one word, what would they say?
iRF: If your cross-country runners had to describe you in one word, what would they say?
Dobson: Oooh, that’s a good one… invested.
iRF: How about that song?
Dobson: It’s hard because I go through seasons, you know how that is. Lately it’s been the “Written in the Stars.”
iRF: Kim, thank you so much.
Dobson: Thank you so much. I really appreciate you calling me. It was fun to talk with you.
iRF: Well, congratulations on a huge personal goal reached. That’s a real stout record, girlfriend.
Dobson: Thank you! It definitely taught me not to place limits on what you think is possible.
iRF: I think that means we’ll be seeing a lot of you in the future.
Dobson: I hope so.
iRF: Good luck in Europe and good luck to your cross-country team this fall.
Dobson: Thank you so much. Take care.