Fellow Williams College Ephs Pam Smith and Nikki Kimball took the top-two women’s spots at the Western States 100 this year. Now, they’re facing off again at the Run Rabbit Run 100. In the following interview, Pam and Nikki talk about how they benefit from experience in 100-mile races and what their training has looked like since their runs at Western States while Pam shares how Nikki inspired her to get into ultrarunning.
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Pam Smith and Nikki Kimball Pre-2013 Run Rabbit Run 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar with Pam Smith [right] and Nikki Kimball [left] before the 2013 Run Rabbit Run 100. How are you doing?
Nikki Kimball: Good.
Pam Smith: Good.
iRF: You’ve been here before, Nikki.
Kimball: I have. So has Pam.
iRF: You’ve run the 50. Did you win the 50?
Smith: I ran the 50 last year. Yes.
iRF: So you’re both familiar with the course in a general sense. [Both nod.] What are the biggest challenges you two face out there this weekend?
Smith: I think weather might be one of them depending… I think they’ve got 50% chance of thunderstorms, and from what I’ve seen here there’s been quite a bit of thunderstorms since we’ve arrived. So that could be a challenge.
Kimball: That and the altitude. The altitude is quite a bit higher than Bozeman and slightly higher than Salem, Oregon.
Smith: Just a bit. Just a bit.
iRF: Just a bit. That will be a challenge. Did you guys come up this week or have you guys spent some time here?
Kimball: I was here earlier. Jenny Pierce and I showed up last Saturday night and we camped in the pouring rain until last night or a couple nights ago.
iRF: When you got a hotel room… because it’s still pouring.
Kimball: It’s still pouring, yes.
Smith: I got here yesterday.
iRF: So the altitude could be an issue?
Smith: Yeah, it could be. I have been sleeping in an altitude tent, so hopefully that helps, although not to the same extent I did before Western States. I did 10 days.
iRF: So you two were one, two at Western States. You guys both really had to focus on Western States to have that kind of performance. How have you bounced back 2.5 months later to hopefully have another top notch 100-mile performance?
Smith: I was insanely focused on Western States. I don’t think it was until afterwards that I realized almost how much mental energy I had put into that. I’m not sure I have entirely bounced back to be honest. My training over the summer has been much more lax.
iRF: You’ve been pacing a lot, right?
Smith: I’ve done a lot of pacing. I’ve been having a lot of fun. I’ve had three pacing gigs and I had a trail marathon. I definitely have had a lot lower volume with the training and just not in the same mind frame of getting up at 4:30 a.m. every morning. Some mornings it’s nice to sleep in and I allowed myself to do that this summer.
iRF: So you’ve mentally recharged a little bit?
Smith: So I’m partly just coming back here to sort of help me get back into that and enjoy it and to sort of say that I’m back.
iRF: With World 100k’s off the table, does that help you focus on this more?
Smith: No, I guess my next big goal for me is Desert Solstice. I know that’s not one of the big, or what people would consider the big, popular type races, but I have some personal goals that I’m seeking there. So that’s where I’m going to put that next big burst of intense focus.
iRF: You, Nikki, you had a great run at Western and one good 60k between.
Kimball: Yes, and I purposely didn’t go all out on that 60k. There was no reason to. Western showed me that, after 14 years of racing ultras, I need rest. I think I did well at Western because I’d been forced to take basically three months off training with various surgeries and fractures. I think that that taught me something. I’ve been over racing for way too many years. I actually probably trained harder and higher volume this summer than I did before Western but then took a serious taper for this. Hopefully that pays off. I don’t think I overtrained over the summer. I only raced once. Hopefully that will pay off tomorrow.
iRF: So you did have a couple down years.
Kimball: Exactly. Yeah.
iRF: You would characterize it as a couple down years—maybe late 2000s—2008 or 2009 and that time frame?
Kimball: The late 2000s.
iRF: You’d have to say you’ve already put yourself back up there. Do you feel that way—like you’re as strong as you’ve been?
Kimball: Well, no, I mean, I’d love to be as strong. My times show that I’m not where I was from 1999 to 2007, but I also have more experience and I can run smarter now than I could then. I had the physical capacity not to have to run a really smart race every time I raced then. I don’t have that capacity now, but I’ve got a lot more experience. I think that’s very beneficial in a 100.
iRF: How much does smarts and experience play a role? Both of you ran what would be characterized as really smart 100s in your careers. You’ve really highly documented it.
Smith: I think it’s a really big deal. I think on a talent basis alone, I certainly was not a standout in the list and line-up for Western States, but I think maybe some of the race preparation and other decisions that I made sort of gave me a little bit of an edge. So I’m going to go with, yeah, smarts playing a big deal or at least race strategy kind of being very important.
Kimball: Yeah, rooming together here and with Jenny… Pam and I have talked about it. We’re hoping smarts play a big role in tomorrow’s race. It’s an experience thing. I know how I ran 10 years ago. If I tried those same strategies here, it would not work.
iRF: Cassie Scallon has some great wheels. There are a bunch of women here that have done fantastic performances at Pikes Peak Marathon… there is some serious speed here. Do you go out and just run your race from the gun or do you…?
Kimball: For me, I think I’ll have to. I can’t stay up… those women live in Colorado. A lot of those women are living at a higher altitude than either of us is. I have some advantage at 4,500 feet, but not much. That’s not much altitude. I don’t think I can stay up with them when they take off at the start. I don’t think I’m capable of it.
Smith: I tend not to usually be a fast starter myself. I just know that about myself and have to realize I’m going to start behind them. I’m not going to try to race them from the get-go. Hopefully things play out differently at the end. If they stay strong and they stay speedy—good for them. They’ll have a great race. I don’t think I can go into it thinking that I’ll try and run the same way that they run.
iRF: Especially Nikki, last year, Karl Meltzer, another masters runner, was in sixth 20 miles in and felt awful. Do you draw inspiration from another runner who’s shown that experience really pays off in a big race?
Kimball: Yeah, definitely. I definitely do. And I draw that inspiration just from the races we had at Western.
Smith: She showed that at Western. I was telling her today—it was so amazing to me, Nikki, at the finish line, it was like, “Here comes Nikki Kimball.” I was like, “Nobody told me about Nikki all day.” They were like, “Amy [Sproston] is this far behind you; Aliza [Lapierre] is this far behind you; Rory [Bosio] is this far behind you; Meghan [Arbogast]…” All of a sudden it was Nikki. Obviously she had this smart race and just moved through the field.
iRF: Now you guys chose to room together here at Run Rabbit Run. Why is that?
Smith: Sleeping with the enemy.
Kimball: Yeah. That’s exactly right. You’re turning redder than you normally do.
iRF: It’s the sun up here at 8,000 feet.
Kimball: Yes it is. Actually Fred [Abramowitz, the RD] contacted me because he knew that I was already going to room with Jenny and initially with Candace [Burt]. He said, “Well, Pam just entered. How do you feel about rooming with her?” I said, “Oh, we went to the same college. We’ve got to have that Eph pride—that Williams College pride. Yeah, we can room together.” Then it just kind of worked from there.
Smith: I told Nikki this before, but she was one of my inspirations getting into this sport because I used to read about her in the Williams College alumni magazine before I was a runner.
Kimball: You were always a runner.
Smith: I was a runner, but I wasn’t an ultrarunner. I looked at that and said, “Wow, that sounds so cool. I could do that someday.” Now I am.
iRF: So really, Nikki Kimball sort of…
Smith: Well, Nikki and Greg Crowther, who was my college classmate as well. So there were a lot of stories about them and being able to relate to them going to the same school—so they were kind of my inspiration for getting into this. So it was kind of cool getting to room with her.
Kimball: It’s a small school. Williams College grads just kind of stick together a little bit. We network a lot with each other. When you have a school with 2,000 people, you just… we didn’t know each other when we were in school.
Smith: I knew Nikki because she was a cool senior and the star of the ski team, and I was a lowly nobody. She didn’t know who I was.
Kimball: I wasn’t fast enough to run on the cross-country team, so there you go.
iRF: So you guys did overlap at school and on the athletic teams—not on the same teams?
Smith: One year.
iRF: One year. Williams, for being a small school, has quite the reputation for strong athletics and it’s sure represented in this room. What is that like? It’s a 2,000-person college and you’re both there at the same time, then finishing Western States—did it cross your mind when you heard, “Nikki Kimball is coming around the track?”
Smith: Oh yeah. Definitely. You have that college pride and you want to see other people doing good things from your school. Yeah, Go Ephs!
Kimball: Every time I’ve won Western States, I’ve been paced by another Eph—Zach Grossman. So it’s sort of… yeah, it comes together.
Smith: Small world.
iRF: Very small world.
Kimball: Small world.
iRF: So could we see two Ephs at the front of the field come Saturday?
Kimball: I wouldn’t mind repeating Western States finish list.
Smith: I wouldn’t mind. I definitely don’t have the same level of confidence going into Western States, but, like I said, play it smart and hopefully it comes out. So I’d be happy if that was the outcome.
iRF: I don’t know if I can say this as a Haverford College grad, but best of luck to both of you.
Kimball: Thanks, Bryon.
iRF: One bonus question. What do you two think of Amherst?
Smith: [laughter] I don’t think we’re allowed to say those words.
Kimball: [laughter] You’d have to beep them out.
Smith: Not on camera.