The Sweet Life: Chatting With Kasie Enman
Kasie Enman rocks. The mom of two can run, and win, on just about any surface out there. All while juggling parenthood, living off the land, and growing a maple-syrup business in her beloved Vermont. I talked with Kasie about how she’s gotten to where she is.
iRunFar: Kasie, you grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire. Can you talk a little about that?
Kasie Enman: Manchester, New Hampshire is a large city in New Hampshire but it’s more like being in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. It’s not the capital, but it’s the largest city in the state. New Hampshire has quite a lot of really nice mountains in the northern part of the state but Manchester is in the southern part and there is really not much of a trail running culture down there. That definitely wasn’t part of my life when I was living there–it was city living.
iRunFar: Was it cool place in which to grow up?
Enman: Well, I was born there and I lived there all the way through to when I graduated from high school. I lived in the same house and the same place. I really never felt that it was a good fit for me. It was just this scary city. As a kid, I really despised cars and roads and lots of people. I wanted to be away from it all. I had that feeling–I’d never lived away from it all–but I had the feeling that I wanted to be away from it all. When I left and came to Vermont, I finally found the place where I belonged. I just thought that it was much more me.
iRunFar: Were you always sporty, even living in the city?
Enman: I was always a runner. I started on the middle-school track team and I was on the cross-country, indoor-track, and outdoor-track teams–I was a 12-season varsity athlete at our high school.
iRunFar: Okay, wow. What age were you when you started running?
Enman: I didn’t actually start training–like running more than once or twice, here or there–until I was in high school. Before that though, my dad, who’s the only other one that runs in my family, did a lot of road races. Sometimes they’d have the one-mile kids fun run or whatever at his races. So I’d done things like that, just small running races from when I was about seven or eight years old.
iRunFar: Did your talent show itself early?
Enman: You know, it’s funny, I definitely had some talent but was never the most talented. We had a very good team in high school and we trained really hard, so from the very beginning it was a combination of working really hard and having some talent. I was varsity on our teams but never really our number one–I didn’t really win races but I was always up near the front.
I have three older siblings and all three of them went to the University of New Hampshire, our state university, and all three of them joined the sailing team there and sailed. I just presumed that’s what I would do. As a kid, you think, That’s what my older siblings did so that’s what I’ll do, too. It wasn’t really until I was applying for colleges, at the end of high school, that it occurred to me that I should be on the running team at college because I’d been having a successful running career as a high-school student! I started looking at other colleges and noticing what would be a good fit in terms of the team and the college itself and where it was. I landed at Middlebury College in Vermont.
iRunFar: Had you traveled there before? Had you taken a trip to Vermont?
Enman: I visited colleges–all the colleges I applied to I went and visited. Middlebury is a really beautiful campus surrounded by mountains and open land and it really had a good feeling for me. It was like, ‘This is the place I want to be!’ It felt really safe and had a good vibe.
iRunFar: Like, “This is where I belong.”
Enman: Yeah, it was a feeling. I don’t think I could put my finger on it–I didn’t really know that I wanted to be out in the country–but when I got there it was pretty clear to me. That was the only college I picked and I got in and went there… And I haven’t left Vermont since! I met my husband there and he’s from Vermont originally and they have a family business, which is where we live.
iRunFar: As far as your running goes, how did you progress when you went to Middlebury? Were there key moments or memories that stick out?
Enman: The biggest thing was that when I was in high school, I was a nervous wreck about running. I had the wrong perspective on it. I was very stressed out by it and felt like I ran because I had to or because our coach made us or because I was good at it. I didn’t enjoy it. It felt more like I got tricked into doing this sport and now I’m stuck. I felt under the influence of our coach and our team and that it wasn’t something that I wanted to be doing.
Looking back now, I can see that most of that was nerves and me not knowing how to process the nerves that can come along with racing. Our team was very successful. They were expected to win every time they raced and I put the pressure all on myself as a young athlete. You know, there’s that fight or flight response and I definitely had the flight. I just wanted to get away from it but didn’t know how or even if that was a choice.
Then, when I got to college, it was exactly what I needed. If I had gone into another high-pressure team again, I don’t think I would have made it another year or two in the sport before quitting and burning out. Instead I entered a team that had just what I needed. It was just low key enough but also still stimulating and challenging in positive ways. And it was fun! Going into that new environment, that new setting, opened the door for me to start to love running and, at the same time, I started getting a lot faster. It started to connect in my head that when you’re having fun and loving it and enjoying yourself and being positive, you also run faster. It was a no brainer at that point–that was the route to take.
iRunFar: Do you still find that now, when you’re less stressed and in a good place mentally, you perform better?
Enman: Absolutely. When I look back at my good races, it’s when my whole family is there with me. It’s when we’ve been in a place for a while and settled. That’s when the best races come–when we get to go on family trip and just kind of be there, relaxed and together is when I race best.
iRunFar: You studied anthropology in college. Can you tell me about that?
Enman: Yeah, it was a sociology and anthropology major and I spent a semester in my junior year abroad in Zimbabwe studying some of the music and arts there. That was right before the shit hit the fan in Zimbabwe! I was there January through May in 2000. While I was there, Mugabe decided to oust all the white farmers and their economy’s bottom fell out. It was a really stable, well-off country when I got there and there were riots and craziness by the time I left. I couldn’t run there alone as a female either. You had to wear skirts below your knees and it just wasn’t a safe place for me to run. But it was a great experience and was the first time I’d traveled out of the country.
iRunFar: After college, when you started working, was it difficult to balance working and running?
Enman: I didn’t have an exact career track that I wanted to be on–I still don’t! But after college I got a job being the cycling and pedestrian coordinator for the city of Burlington, Vermont, nearby here where I live. That was a one-year thing. During that time I just kept running. I was focused mainly on road racing and some cross country at that time. I got my teaching certification and went into that for a while, taught in elementary school, and then started doing some more outdoor education and alternative ed–like work-based learning.
I did that right up until I had my daughter, five years ago. I decided to stay home with her and continued that with number two, my son. Basically that’s when we started our maple sugaring and I have a couple of jobs that have come up that I can do from home. I coach our local running club and have a group called First Strides Vermont that’s women who’ve never really been runners. I’m basically a stay-at-home mom with a bunch of other stuff on the side.
iRunFar: It sounds like you guys have a really cool set-up there at your home–Sleepy Hollow–with the bike and cross-country ski centre and the maple syrup. How did all that come about?
Enman: The year that Eli [Kasie’s husband] was graduating college, his parents saw this land for sale where we now live. It had been a ski centre in the ’80s and those owners had gone bankrupt. The property was just logged for lumber during all of the 1990s. Then it went up for sale around 1999, 2000. His parents were curious about opening it back up as a cross-country ski centre with a bed and breakfast.
Eli’s father is a builder so he had the skills to renovate the lodge and Eli was a Nordic ski racer and very into that, so he had the expertise to turn it into a good ski centre. Eli’s mom is also an accountant so she had the skill set to help with the financial side of it. They saw it as this great opportunity and they asked Eli, who hadn’t even graduated yet, if he would be interested in going into this. They’d put all their money into buying it so they couldn’t pay him for a few years but we could live here and hopefully, some day, it would become a viable business. He said yes!
I’ve never been an employee of them, I help out with things, though. We’ve subdivided a parcel of land for our house and that’s where the sugar house for the maple syrup is–that’s just mine and Eli’s. His sister has also come out and help with the business. She’s more into turning it into a wedding-event centre. Skiing isn’t always financially viable because of the weather so having the weddings have made it more stable. She also subdivided some land and built a house. All of us are living here, but it’s important to maintain some separation, too, when you have your entire family right there!
iRunFar: Sounds great! How is the maple-syrup business going? Is it something you enjoy?
Enman: Yeah, that’s been going well. People always say that if you’re doing maple syrup for the money, don’t do it because it’s really hard to profit from it! We think of it more like a hobby at this point. We’re at the point where we have a thousand trees tapped and when we have the amount of trees that we can double that, then we will be looking at it being able to be a source of income. Even right now, today, we’re trying to add some trees into our line. But, you know, it’s good so far.
iRunFar: Weren’t you doing some energy gels from maple syrup, too?
Enman: I had that idea a while ago but a nearby sugar maker also had the idea. They’re a much bigger operation and they had the ability to get the packaging and stuff. They sell it; it’s called Untapped. But at one recent race, I took a tiny soft flask and put maple syrup in that and added a pinch of salt. I’m just using it on a personal level. They beat me to it basically!
I’m just thinking of what could I do once my kids are both in school and sugar making is one of the options. There are definitely ways to do it better. That would be fun. I really love the idea of living off the land, with the woods and working from home and on my own terms. We have a lot of solar here, too, the vegetable garden, the blueberry bushes, and the apple orchard–we do our best to live off the land.
iRunFar: Awesome. A backtracking question, as far as trail and mountain running goes, how did you go from running roads and cross country when you were younger into running and excelling on that type of terrain now?
Enman: It’s funny, I feel like I’m an unlikely candidate for it because I have a fear of heights and I get lost really easily. I didn’t come from a background where I was doing lots of stuff in the mountains–I’m not a climber or mountaineer. I’m just a runner. Definitely with Skyrunning I feel like I’m surrounded by a lot of people with a very different background. I don’t think there’s too many with as much of a road-running and track background.
iRunFar: But that’s a really cool aspect of it–that you’re doing so well coming from the tarmac and track.
Enman: Yeah, people ask me how I do those crazy races but if I can do it, probably anybody can because I’m not a risk-taking, crazy person generally! It’s really hard to pin down exactly where I got into it but I had a year where I had a foot injury and it hurt to run on the flats. I was an obsessive runner who didn’t want to take any time off, so I discovered that I could run uphill pain-free. So I started running uphill a lot and started looking for races that were uphill. I discovered that there was a New England Mountain Running Series. Some of the races are up and down but there’s also uphill only, so I signed up for those and also signed up for Mount Washington Road Race that same year. Going to those races, you meet the mountain runners of the area.
iRunFar: They come out of the woodwork.
Enman: Yeah, they come out of the woodwork. People were asking me if I’d considered making the U.S. Mountain Running Team. I’d never even heard of it. They told me I needed to go to this race or that or that I needed to apply here at this time. So then I started looking into that and thinking that I wasn’t that far behind those who were making the team–this was the team for the short-course World Mountain Running Championships. This was probably 2007 or 2008.
I tried for quite a few years to make that team but was always one spot away from making it! These days, it’s one race and the top-four women make the team. Back then, they would have one race out East where the top person would make the team. Then they’d have one race out West where the top two would make it. And then you could apply to get another spot. I’d always get second when you needed to be first or third when you needed to be top two. Or I’d apply and they’d tell me it was down to me and one other person and they’d choose the other person with more experience or they lived out West and no one knew me because I lived here.
I didn’t make the team in 2007, didn’t make the team in 2008, didn’t make the team in 2009. Then in 2010, I was pregnant with my daughter at the time of the selection races and couldn’t do it–that was the first year they switched to having the one race.
The following year, 2011, I had two goals: one was to get the Olympic Trials Marathon standard for the 2012 Trials. I had my daughter in August of 2010 so I had one year to do that. My coach basically said that, if I could get the standard at the Boston Marathon in April, then I could do a summer mountain-running season! I decided that was what I really wanted to do.
So I got the [Olympic Trials Marathon] standard that April. I ran 2:39 at Boston and thought, Now I can do the mountain season! I had full focus on that and went to the [U.S. Mountain Running Team] qualifier race in July and won by, like, a lot!
iRunFar: You crushed it–just making sure that there would be no selection issues this time ’round?
Enman: Yeah! Then I was on the U.S. team for the world championships that was in Albania, and I won worlds! I was like, I couldn’t even get on the team and now I go and win the world championships! Things just went from there. Adam [Chase] from the U.S. Salomon team contacted me and asked if I had sponsorship or any interest in going to some of these other races.
iRunFar: You didn’t have any sponsorship at all, at that point?
Enman: Not for the mountain running. I was on a road-running club team and I had funding to get to road races but not mountain races.
iRunFar: Okay, after Adam came in and got you on board with the U.S. Salomon team, it didn’t seem to take long before you were part of the international set-up. How did that come about?
Enman: Yeah, it was January [of 2012] when Adam called me about the sponsorship and I thought it would be fun to go some other races. He was saying Pikes Peak and places like that. I didn’t know what was out there. I’d definitely never heard of Skyrunning. I was thinking it would be cool to try a race out West because that’s where most of the races were. He said, “Let me send you some shoes so you can see if you can run in Salomons and like the shoes.” He was saying that if I did well in some other races around the U.S., there is this international team and maybe next year that opportunity might open up.
Then, literally a couple of days later, I got an email from Greg Vollet[, the Salomon international team manager,] saying, “Here’s a list of races that you can go to.” There were maybe 20 races, all around the world, with most of the Skyrunning series on there. I looked at the email and thought that maybe it was a mistake and something had been lost in translation. He also mentioned the Advanced Week with all the other athletes and I was thinking, Has he invited me to this? I wasn’t even on the team yet! I went to Advanced Week in Greece and that was the first thing I ever did for Salomon.
iRunFar: That must have been pretty mind blowing. Were you aware of people like Kilian, Anna Frost, Rickey Gates, and runners like them?
Enman: No, I knew absolutely nothing! Prior to Advanced Week I think I’d done a little research but, no, I knew nothing. Then, talk about mind blowing, when I went to the first sky race in Europe! To me, mountain running meant a hundred, maybe 200 people, no fans, very low key. No fanfare, definitely no inflatable archways and blaring music.
I went out to the Dolomites Skyrace and Giir Di Mont and was like, This is insane! I felt like I was at a major road race–I didn’t think that existed at mountain races. I had mixed feelings because I thought, This isn’t mountain running. To me, mountain running is low key and chilled. What’s this? But when you get the opportunities to go to really cool places, you don’t turn them down. That’s how it’s been since then.
iRunFar: And this all happened after you had your first kid.
Enman: Yeah I had Eli and Acadia [Kasie’s daughter] with me for all those races I did that first season.
iRunFar: Did your performances improve after giving birth for the first time? You hear of women coming back seemingly stronger after becoming a mother.
Enman: Yeah, I have heard women saying that they felt physically better and stronger but that was not my experience! I felt like I was a complete wreck for the first year and then I was finally coming around and had some great success. I was feeling like I was just getting back to my own self but I was constantly exhausted from not sleeping through the night and breastfeeding–which I did for two years with Acadia, so through [all those races] we just talked about. I was thinking, How could you have a physical boost when you’re torn to pieces and exhausted all the time?
I say, if anything, your mindset can change. I definitely had a drastically changed perspective and that can help your racing. I felt that I could go into a race and it didn’t matter anymore. If it went badly or went well, I’d be able to finish and have my family and be content with life. For me, it was harder the second time coming back from pregnancy. Two kids leads to more sleep deprivation and I got really chronically fatigued. After having Acadia, my first kid, everything had gone so well. I won worlds just a year after I had her and had a really, really successful spell coming out of pregnancy the first time. I expected too much the second time and kinda’ pushed a little harder and dug a hole. I spent a long time digging out of that hole, I think. I still haven’t gotten back to where I was.
iRunFar: I wanted to ask you about that, about balancing everything because you travel a lot, you have the business, your kids, coaching, training, and racing. How do you do it?
Enman: [Laughs] Every year I try to find a better balance. I try to change things to make it better every year. Last year I ended up racing more than I meant to–too much racing. This year I tried to race less but every year I’m tweaking things to learn from what I did wrong the year before.
iRunFar: It’s a work in progress?
Enman: Absolutely. Then, just when you figure it out, the kids change, your schedule changes. It’s definitely on going.