Even with three Western States 100 wins already under her belt, you better believe Nikki Kimball still has thoughts of winning another cougar in her ninth go at the race. In the following interview, Nikki talks about her mental toughness, why younger runners should focus on running faster races (while they can), and her growing thirst for adventure.
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Nikki Kimball Pre-2014 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Nikki Kimball before the 2014 Western States 100. How are you, Nikki?
Nikki Kimball: I feel great, Bryon.
iRunFar: You’re back here yet again.
Kimball: Yet again. Number nine.
iRunFar: So does that mean your main goal is to finish?
Kimball: If I finish I get in next year.
iRunFar: You’ve run here a lot. You probably have a pretty certain goal in mind.
Kimball: The certain goal is to run this course the way I know how to run it.
iRunFar: Yeah? So no time or place goal?
Kimball: No. If I run the best I can, then everything else falls into place. I can’t control everyone else’s race.
iRunFar: No, you know enough how to run this race really well by feel. You’re not looking at split charts.
Kimball: No. It looks like a pretty relaxed start. I think my race strategy always is always the same. I start out pretty slow and just move up through the pack from there. I was looking back at… I actually did look back at some splits yesterday because I have new crew and they wanted to know where I was going to be. I was just looking at the last few years and it’s Duncan Canyon and I’m in 50th place and go up from there.
iRunFar: Probably singing and hanging out with people.
Kimball: It’s such a bummer that Rory [Bosio] is not here because we can’t sing songs about outhouses and that kind of stuff.
iRunFar: You could do it alone.
Kimball: I could, but Rory has got a better voice.
iRunFar: You’ve won this race a couple times…
Kimball: Three times.
iRunFar: Three times. And then you had what you described yourself as a down period and came back from that to finish second last year.
iRunFar: Where does that put your goal for… do you think you can…?
Kimball: I definitely want to be top five. It’s definitely possible to win it. I think the women’s field is equally fast to last year but slightly less deep because there have been a lot of injuries it seems like. There are probably 10 women in the field who could really legitimately win it plus 10 others who could, if everything goes perfectly, win it. So it’s still a super-exciting race.
iRunFar: You ran Marathon des Sables this spring. Good experience?
Kimball: Yeah. Really good experience. I went in there with low expectations. I just thought it was going to be a training run. It was very different from what I thought it would be. I’m always in such a bad mood in March and April. It’s just the worst time of year for me. I went in it with a pissy mood and didn’t want to do it. Then it just exceeded all my expectations.
iRunFar: You ran really well. You won.
Kimball: And it was a come-from-behind win!
iRunFar: Do you think it was a good training block as well at the same time?
Kimball: It was a good training block, but it did… I underestimated the running… I overestimated how hard the running would be. It really wasn’t that bad at all or that difficult. But I underestimated the tax that the travel and the lack of sleep would take on my body. It really took me longer to recover. How do you know going into an event like that when you’ve never done a week in the desert and sleeping in odd… and going super light on the advice of your partner, which is right, but…
iRunFar: You can survive…
Kimball: You can sleep without a sleeping bag, it’s just not very much.
iRunFar: What keeps bringing you back to this race?
Kimball: Once I’d done it seven or eight times, I was like, Well, I’ve got to get 10. That’s part of it. And it’s super competitive. I like that.
iRunFar: You do like that. You do this competitive side, but you’ve also been going internationally a lot and you’ve been travelling a lot more—more than you did even when you’d won Western States a couple times. What has brought that about? Is it opportunity? Is it your desire?
Kimball: It’s opportunity. I don’t make enough money to travel on my own a lot or to be comfortable spending money that way. So the Ultra[-Trail] World Tour helped me with MdS. I definitely couldn’t have afforded to do that on my own. India—I got that trip paid for. So if somebody gives me the opportunity, I will absolutely do it.
iRunFar: You’ve had almost a ten year span, even more than that, at this high level. What other major changes have you seen in ultrarunning? There are the opportunities for the elites, but what else has changed?
Kimball: There’s a lot more money coming into it. There are races with real prize money. When I started ultrarunning, I was working 45 hours/week as a physical therapist instead of 25 to 30. That is a big difference. Just the depth of the field—you always have runners who can compete very well in the current fields, but just a few of them. Now you have 20 of them who are running at that level.
iRunFar: What has you excited to keep racing ultras?
Kimball: I think now it’s different than it used to be. I used to be extremely competitive and faster than I am now. So it is hard. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was keep running when my times were just so much slower, but that got me through a very, very low point. I’m starting to come back again. But I think it’s that I love to run. It’s more about the running itself now than the competition. I know I can’t run 50 milers the way I used to. Hundred milers are more of a mental game. So, yes, I’ve lost some physically, but I’ve gained a lot mentally. So that’s interesting. Just trying to figure out what you can do with running—I’m much more into the fastest-known-time (FKT) stuff and the things like MdS. I think it’s good to wait for those things. When one is at her peak, one should do the 50-mile stuff and the stuff where you can really use that speed, but you’re not going to have that speed forever. That speed might last 10 years. I’m in year 16. I just entered my 16th year.
iRunFar: Does that mean you have other adventures planned or going on in your head?
Kimball: Yeah, I do have a lot going on in my head. It’s just finding somebody who’s willing to sponsor that or those ideas. It’s more… the Arizona Trail has been through my head. Lots of different FKTs. I’d love to go back to Marathon des Sables. I think that was a fantastic race. Hopefully I can get back there next year. That’s the kind of thing I want to do now. I want to do stuff that’s really mentally challenging not just physically challenging.
iRunFar: You’re good at the mental part, aren’t you?
Kimball: I don’t think I’m that talented a runner, I’m just really, really stubborn.
iRunFar: Well, go out there and show people how stubborn you are on Saturday.
Kimball: Thanks, Bryon.