With her 11-plus year history with the sport, Kami Semick is no stranger to the ultrarunning scene. As you’ll hear, Kami is recently returned from living abroad for the past 2.5 years, and she’s excited to line up for The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. In the following interview, Kami also talks about how the American trail and ultrarunning scene has changed during her time away, what kinds of running get her excited these days, and some adventures she’s planning for 2015.
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Kami Semick Pre-2014 TNF EC 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks here with iRunFar, and I’m with ultrarunning icon, Kami Semick about a day and a half before the 2014 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships here in the Marin Headlands, California. Hi, Kami.
Kami Semick: Hi, Meghan.
iRunFar: How are you?
Semick: Good. I’m doing great.
iRunFar: I have to tell you, this is a huge honor for me. We were just talking, but when I got into ultrarunning, you were a role model that I looked up to. To be able to sit here on camera and be able to speak with you is a huge deal for me. Thank you.
Semick: Thank you!
iRunFar: I don’t even know where to start. You had a decade or more of really phenomenal ultra performances, but you might be a name that newer ultrarunners, at least here in America, might not be familiar with because you’ve been spending some time abroad. You and your family lived in Hong Kong for two years?
Semick: Two-and-a-half years.
iRunFar: Your time in Hong Kong was borne out of your husband’s work?
Semick: Yes. Actually, it was at this race probably five years ago when I had just finished a run and I was doing some stretching and I ran into an ultrarunner from Asia, from Hong Kong, who is a North Face athlete, Stone Tsang, and Stone was stretching also and we started up this conversation. I said, “How is running in Hong Kong?” He said, “It is phenomenal. We have so many trails.” So when my husband had this opportunity, that conversation popped up for me in the back of my mind. Without doing a lot of research, I said, “Let’s do it. Let’s move to Hong Kong. Let’s go check it out.”
iRunFar: So you did that and you spent some time running there. You learned how to run stairs both up and down.
Semick: Yes. Not great, but I can handle them now.
iRunFar: You did race while you were over there. I know you ran The North Face 100k in China, elsewhere in Asia, and you ran the Lantau…
Semick: Yes, there’s a 50k in Lantau, and I ran the Hong Kong 50k, and then there’s another… it’s a time trial actually, which is kind of fun, around Hong Kong which is about 40 miles, and then I was part of a women’s Trailwalker team and we broke the course record. That was probably, of all the racing I did in Hong Kong, the Trailwalker event was the highlight.
iRunFar: You were on that team with Claire Price and…?
Semick: Jeanette Holmes and Jeanette Wang. They were a lot of fun.
iRunFar: You’ve been back in the States for a little under a year now—eight months or nine months or something like that?
iRunFar: When you look back on your experience there in Hong Kong, do you have some perspective on how it went, your time there?
Semick: I really felt like I actually needed a change from the running scene here in the States. You kind of get to a point in your career where you kind of need a break mentally, and I just wanted to see a different part of the world. That time in Asia really gave me that opportunity. So I took hold of it and did some really interesting travel and had some amazing experiences and saw some great parts of the world. One of the things in Hong Kong, it affords you the ability to just hop on a plane and I did stage races in Nepal and stage racing in Tibet and China.
iRunFar: You really experienced Asia.
Semick: Yeah, it is just such an interesting way on your feet to experience the culture. The people who I was working with on these various events, I kind of got hooked into a guy who had a similar perspective on how he wanted to experience travel in Asia. So we were in some really remote spots really seeing how the locals lived. That’s interesting to me.
iRunFar: That’s awesome. Yeah. So now you’re back and kind of imbedded in the North American ultrarunning culture again. It must have changed a bit while you’ve been gone?
Semick: Shocking, actually, to see how ultrarunning has exploded. During my time in Hong Kong, the sport really took off. Races were popping up—100k and 50k—and filling up within a day. Then to come back here and to then see how much the sport has changed—more competitive, more prize money, people from all disciplines moving into the sport—I think it’s really interesting. It’s kind of fun to be mixing it up again.
iRunFar: Welcome back.
iRunFar: I want to go back in your story again because one of the things that I remember from when I got into ultrarunning eight or 10 years ago was a The North Face ad campaign with you running with your daughter. You had her in a backpack and you were bombing down a hill. Your quad muscles were just bulging holding the weight of her up. You just said a minute ago that she’s 12 now and she’s about your height. When you look back at that time in your running, it was a quieter sport and you were running alone at the front of a lot of different races. Is it kind of funny to look back on now?
Semick: Well, I think one of the things, kind of reflecting back on that time, is that it takes the intersection of a lot of different special things to happen in order to enable you to be one of the best runners. So, I look back on that time in my life and kind of building myself up towards that, the pinnacle of some of the things that I’ve achieved, it really is a special time. It takes a special community. It takes a certain place in your life to allow you to do the things… to allow me to do the things that I did. I’m forever grateful for that and grateful to my daughter for the extra training she provided me.
iRunFar: Can’t put her in a backpack anymore.
Semick: No. Sometimes I wish I could.
iRunFar: As a pre-teen, she’d probably be mortified if you tried.
Semick: Oh, goodness, yeah, absolutely.
iRunFar: Your previous—It’s hard to look at it as a previous career, but from my perspective it was, Kami Semick “then,” Kami “went to Asia,” and “now Kami’s back,” so that’s sort of my window looking at you. You ticked off about all the big races and had podium finishes in them. You had a third place at Comrades, a win at the 100k World Championships, another podium at the 100k World Championships, a second place at Western States, a third place here, is that right?
Semick: Yeah, and I actually won this race here a few years ago.
Semick: That’s alright. You know more about me than I know. Flattered.
iRunFar: You checked them all off the list, but yet you’re still back at one of the ones that sort of floated to the top as one of the most competitive races now in North America. Still want to do this stuff?
Semick: Yeah, in coming back from Asia, I guess I’m trying to figure out what I want to do next. The things that have captured my heart is this intersection of really interesting travel and racing or exploration. The film that I just helped put together and produce, Tracing the Tea and Horse Trail, I think that really exemplifies more of the direction I’d like to go, but having said that, sometimes when I’m running, Ah, I still have it! This feels good! I want to see how far I can go and how fast I can go. I’m just kind of taking those two things, the exploration as well as the competitiveness, and we’ll see where I go with that.
iRunFar: You told me just a minute ago to make no mistake, you are here to compete this weekend. Given some physical setbacks in the last half a year or so, you’re still here to run as hard as you can and exploring might come second to that this weekend?
Semick: I won’t be looking for the local tribes along the hills of the Marin Headlands, so yes, I’ll be more focused on how many people are in front of me.
iRunFar: Looking forward, do you have some adventures or some exploratory runs on your actual calendar or your dreamscape for the future?
Semick: Yeah, I’m headed to Nepal in April to do a stage race in the Mustang region which is a lesser known region of Nepal. All regions in Nepal are lesser known, but this is even lesser known than that. That will be a big focus for me. Then I just want to see where my fitness is at. I’d love to go back to Comrades because it’s an uphill year. I think that that course really suits me well, the uphill course does. We’ll see what happens there. Then there’s something interesting in Norway, more of a point-to-point kind of run, that I can make it competitive or I can just make it exploratory. I haven’t decided yet on that. We’ll see where things go.
iRunFar: Some adventures up your sleeve all around the world.
Semick: Yes. That’s kind of where I’m at right now.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you this weekend. We’ll look forward to putting your picture on the Internet during the race.
Semick: Thank you. Thanks, Meghan.
iRunFar: Good luck, Kami. It was a huge pleasure to speak with you.
Semick: Thanks for taking the time.