We’re excited to try something a little different before the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships, a pre-race interview show hosted by iRunFar’s Meghan Hicks and TNF runner Dylan Bowman. In this debut show, we interview Megan Kimmel, Ruth Croft, Stephanie Howe Violett, and Ida Nilsson. Check it out!
This is an experiment, so leave a comment to let us know your thoughts on how it went. Thanks!
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
To see who else is running, read our women’s and men’s previews of the TNF 50.Watch our men’s pre-race interview show, too. You can also follow our live coverage of the TNF 50 starting at 5 a.m. PST on Saturday, December 3rd.
[Editor’s Note: We owe a big thank you to Dylan Bowman for suggesting this concept along with co-hosting the show as well as the San Francisco Running Company for hosting us in their Mill Valley location.]
2016 The North Face 50 Mile Women’s Pre-Race Interview Show Transcript
iRunFar-Meghan Hicks: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar.
iRunFar-Dylan Bowman: Hi, Dylan Bowman.
iRF-Hicks: Of iRunFar.
iRF-Bowman: Of iRunFar. Sitting in for the one and only Bryon Powell.
iRF-Hicks: Sitting in for the ginger.
iRF-Hicks: We’re here with the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships women’s pre-race interview show. It is Thursday. It is two days from race day. We’re bringing you a unique pre-race style interview format here. We have employed local sportscaster, budding journalist Dylan Bowman.
iRF-Bowman: Thank you for the invitation to participate this weekend. It’s a lot of fun.
iRF-Hicks: Good morning. It is a thrill to be here co-hosting this show with you.
iRF-Bowman: The feeling is mutual.
iRF-Hicks: I’m in your homeland. We’re actually sitting in the San Francisco Running Company. I don’t know, what are we a mile-and-a-half from your house right now?
iRF-Bowman: We are about a mile-and-a-half from my house right now and a mile-and-a-half from the course.
iRF-Hicks: You’ve also just self-proclaimed yourself as the future Mill Valley mayor?
iRF-Bowman: Self-proclaimed future mayor of Mill Valley, yeah. Hopefully I can enlist iRunFar in my campaign team to canvas the area when the time comes.
iRF-Hicks: We’ll be your canvassers. We are here to introduce the women’s show today. We have four interviews coming up with four women’s favorites. Who are we going to be seeing today?
iRF-Bowman: We just finished talking to Megan Kimmel, the defending champion from Colorado. After that, we talked to Ruth Croft, a Kiwi who lives in Taiwan. Then Stephanie Howe Violett, who has been on the podium here twice from Bend, Oregon, was here. Then Ida Nilsson was here, who is kind of a newer character on the North American scene, but is somebody who seems really impressive. It was a lot of fun to talk to them all.
iRF-Hicks: You’ll be seeing those interviews in just a minute. Just outside the back door of San Francisco Running Company here and up the hill a little bit we have the TNF 50 course. It’s just right there. The course changes a little bit every year. It’s really hard to call a course record here because historically things have changed. Surprise, there are some changes this year. Can you talk about what we’re going to see out on the race course in terms of those changes, and can you talk about the conditions out there right now?
iRF-Bowman: Sure, there have been course changes in two specific places. They’re pretty minor changes. I think it should speed the course up slightly. Just purely speculating, but I’d guess the course is about five to 10 minutes faster than it was last year. Basically, they removed two singletrack sections in the first 10 or 11 miles of the race and diverted those sections on the wider, faster fire road. It does add maybe 200 feet of vertical, but again the terrain is such that the I think the increase in climbing will be neutralized and then some by just how fast the terrain is that the runners will be traversing there early.
Then to the conditions, I think the trail should be pretty much perfect. We have had some moisture including yesterday, it rained a little bit, but it’s certainly won’t be a mud year like we’ve experienced in the past. With the forecast being as it is, dry and cold, it should kind of make the trails probably pretty tacky. The forecast is maybe 60 [Fahrenheit] at the tops, at the upper end, and sunny. I think overall we’re looking at really fast conditions. Historically there’s always been a good-weather year, bad-weather year, good-weather year, bad-weather year, and this time we’ll have two good-weather years in a row. I’m excited to see how the race goes.
iRF-Hicks: I always bring my biggest, baddest rain kit to this race. Even though the weather forecast was good before I left home, I have it. It will probably be in the trunk of my car just in case.
Just to clarify for people because we really like to nerd out on the splits between different aid stations, the two changes are between the start and Tennessee Valley, and Tennessee Valley to the runners’ first pass through Muir Beach. After that, the course runs the same. So then it’s fair to compare previous years’ splits.
iRF-Bowman: Yeah, I think so. Like I said, I think the course will be a little bit faster this year but not significantly.
iRF-Hicks: One of the best parts about being friends with you and hanging out with the trail running community with you is you just have a sportscaster style, and you’re very analytical about analyzing fields and how competitions went down. It’s a real pleasure to have you here. I really want to hear your prognostication on the women’s field. It’s a deep women’s field this year.
iRF-Bowman: Yeah, it is. I think it’s going to be a really interesting race. Thanks again for letting me be part of the coverage team. Yeah, I think, like I said, we interviewed four people today all of whom I think have a legitimate shot to win or be on the podium. You can’t go past the defending champion. I think Megan Kimmel has proven she has what it takes to win here. Obviously she’s also been on the podium a number of times.
iRF-Hicks: What do you think about her? She had a heck of a season, but then she had this blip on her radar with the Moab Trail Marathon a couple weeks ago.
iRF-Bowman: I think sometimes that’s kind of what you need in order to get your priorities back on the right track. She said she’d been doing a lot of work on her house. That may have contributed to a sub-par performance at the Moat Trail Marathon. Who knows? Maybe she eased off a little bit on the home renovation. She’s talented enough where even on a sub-par day, she could win or be on the podium here. I also think the fact that she’s so good at the short distance really serves her well. I’m of the belief that 50-mile racing is closer to Sky racing than it is to 100-mile racing. The type of training you need to do for those shorter races she’s so good at translates really well to 50-mile racing in a way that maybe 100-mile training doesn’t. She’s certain… like I said, you can’t go past the defending champion.
Ruth Croft, I think, is also a scary-talented runner who finished fourth here last year and also seems to have a little bit of a chip on her shoulder. She wasn’t totally satisfied with a fourth-place finish, which shows you she’s got high expectations for herself. I was really impressed with her when I met her at Tarawera 2015 where she had an amazing ultra debut.
iRF-Hicks: Ruth may have over-raced early last year. She went out hard and chased Megan and ultimately faded a bit at the end. She has such a competitive air about her. Do you think she has the ability to be a teensy bit more patient?
iRF-Bowman: I don’t want to spoil our conversation if we talk about it. We’ll let the viewers watch that first. I think she has a different strategy this year. We’ll see if it pays off. Beyond Ruth, we spoke to Stephanie Howe Violett who has been an institution on the circuit for a long time.
iRF-Bowman: She’s been well established and has proven she can win the biggest races in the world with a win at Western States. She’s been on the podium here twice. She’s coming off her injury but seems to be in a really good headspace which was good to see.
Ida Nilsson I think is kind of a wild card. I could easily see her winning. The performances she’s had this season on the European circuit have been really dominant. Not just on the European circuit, but she was at The Rut 50k and won that by a large margin as well. She’s a two-time NCAA champion, which is highly impressive and something we don’t really have.
iRF-Hicks: Her raw leg speed is insane.
iRF-Bowman: Right. Then sort of in that same vein, Magdalena Boulet (Olympic marathoner) is a fan favorite at least here locally and pretty much wherever she goes.
iRF-Hicks: I think she’s a fan favorite wherever she goes.
iRF-Bowman: She’s amazing. She won here a couple years ago, too. I’m really rooting for Magda. Then beyond that kind of core group, I think there are a couple other interesting people out here. There are a lot of interesting people, but personally, I’m excited to see how Kasie Enman does who has never raced this distance in the past. I don’t think she’s done a full 50 miles.
iRF-Hicks: I think this is her first step up from 50k.
iRF-Bowman: She finished second recently at the USATF 50k [Trail National] Championships, which was here on a lot of the same trails. She finished second to Megan Roche who is, you know, very, very talented.
iRF-Hicks: Local superstar short-distance stud.
iRF-Bowman: They had a battle of the race. It came down to the wire. Megan got the best of her that day, but they were both under the previous course record which had stood for 15 years or something like that. Kasie Enman I think will be really interesting to see her run. She was the World Mountain Running Champion, too. They don’t just give those away, I don’t think.
iRF-Hicks: You have to earn those, don’t you?
iRF-Bowman: Then I think a newby to keep your eye on who I’ll be excited to watch is Claire Gallagher from Boulder who put down an insane performance in Leadville this year in what was one of her first ultras. I think she’d maybe done two or three before then, but that was definitely her first 100. If I’m not mistaken, the only person to run Leadville faster than Claire was a certain Ann Trason. That’s pretty impressive company to keep. I think if Claire has done the right training, she could certainly be up there with the interviewees we mentioned.
iRF-Hicks: Are you willing to put it out there and take a women’s podium?
iRF-Bowman: If I had to guess, I’d go Ida for the win, Magda for silver, and Kasie Enman for the bronze. That’s pure speculation.
iRF-Hicks: That’s risky odds picking there.
iRF-Bowman: Don’t put money on it. It’s impossible to predict.
iRF-Hicks: You heard it here first. Let’s move the show on and get on with it with our interviews. Thanks, D-Bo.
Megan Kimmel Pre-2016 The North Face 50 Mile Interview
iRunFar-Dylan Bowman: This is Dylan Bowman here at San Francisco Running Company.
iRunFar-Meghan Hicks: And I’m Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and we’re here with Megan Kimmel, the 2015 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile women’s champion. Hey, Megan.
Megan Kimmel: Hey, Meghan. Hey, Dylan. Thanks for having me.
iRF-Bowman: Yeah, thanks for coming. Welcome back. We were just talking, and this is your fifth year in a row here. You’ve run the gamut. You have a DNF, you’ve been a champion, and you’ve been in between a couple of times. You’re the defending champion this year. What keeps bringing you back to this race?
Kimmel: What keeps me coming back, and what gets me on the plane to come here every single year is it’s kind of what I’ve used as a test piece since the get-go. Those were my thoughts coming into this one. I don’t really know how I’ll race with the training I’ve had for the past couple months, but I figure I’ll find out. It will either be a big mistake, in all honesty, or I’ll fare better than I thought, or maybe I’ll just be really surprised. I have no idea this time.
iRF-Hicks: It’s been a little while since we talked to you. I know Bryon has been with you at The Rut. Let’s recap your season a little bit. You did the Skyrunning thing a lot in Europe. Talk about your summer.
Kimmel: It actually ended up being a lot of Skyrunning. I picked up a couple of races by chance and opportunity that were associated with the Skyrunning Series. I went out to China twice. One was for Skyrunning…
iRF-Hicks: Twice? Whoa.
Kimmel: Yes, the first one was totally planned. I was really excited to go out for that first Skyrunning race out there. That turned out great. Then I got invited back to go check out the Gobi Desert for a race. Those were a couple extra trips. That second one was extracurricular. That wasn’t a race at all. That was a lot of fun to go on a running trip that didn’t have some intense race with it. Other than that, I think it was mostly Skyrunning. I had a really intense June where I did four races technically kind of in three weeks. I crushed myself.
iRF-Hicks: Held it together.
Kimmel: Then I did have a nice break. I’m kind of having trouble remembering it all.
iRF-Hicks: You had quite a year. It was the year of wins and runner-up performances in shorter Skyrunning races, in summary.
Kimmel: Yes, pretty much.
iRF-Hicks: Then I saw you just a couple weekends ago on the Moab Trail Marathon course where you were runner up this year. You said, as you ran by me, “I’m so tired!”
Kimmel: Uh-huh, I was really, really tired that week. I had a lot going on with this house project that I’ve been involved with for two months, and that was the worst week where I was busy for deadlines all week long. I was laid out on my couch two days before the Moab race.
iRF-Hicks: Trying to recover?
Kimmel: Yeah, huge back pain from physical labor. It’s kind of what everyone knows not to do before your race—gardening, physical labor in general.
iRF-Bowman: While you taper.
iRF-Hicks: Drinking beer.
Kimmel: Drinking recovery beers a lot of the night… no. So, I went to that race, and I just felt horrible all day. I never got going in the morning. I ran it really slow in comparison to my two previous years. That was no surprise. It was fun to be out there. It always is.
iRF-Bowman: As we kind of touched on, you’re more well-known for shorter-distance races, Sky races, mostly up to 50k. This seems to be the longest race you do during your season. For most of your competitors this weekend, most of them have done a handful of ultra races. I was curious to know if you think that might be kind of an advantage you might have in terms of this being the longest race of your season, whereas some people may be a little bit more tired if they’ve raced a lot, or if you think it might be a disadvantage because you don’t race a lot of ultras? I’m just kind of curious to get your thoughts on that.
Kimmel: The advantage of it is I’m fresh for it. I’m not like, “Oh, another ultra.” It’s been a whole year since I have done that distance even though I’ve done some almost ultra distances within the Skyrunning realm. Yeah, this is the longest in mileage and duration for sure. Freshness, I think, is definitely an advantage. But I think in my head I’m just kind of… at this point, I feel pretty solid with finishing the 50 miles. I don’t have a lot of concerns about that. But I can’t say I’ve got it all dialed yet. I think I’m somewhere in the middle. I’ve done enough of them now, that I have the confidence, and maybe I have the freshness that it might be exactly what I need to do well at this one this time. Yeah, it’s a different realm for me compared to the rest of my year. More than anything, it is the end of my season. I’ve done a lot of racing, so I think some girls are maybe coming in here quite a bit fresher. Normally if you’re doing a lot of ultra races, you’re not racing that much. I think some people could be coming in with some really good preparation while I’m just, “Oh, man, this is my last race of the season.” For me, this is kind of the season finale more than anything else.
iRF-Bowman: In the same vein, talking about the other girls coming in, because of the fact you don’t race a lot of ultras, you probably don’t race a lot of the people you’re going to be seeing this weekend throughout the course of the year. Do you have an idea of the people who you kind of need to be concerned about, or do you not concern yourself with looking at the competition before the race?
Kimmel: Yeah, in general I don’t even concern myself the competition because you never know who is going to come. You might not even know them.
iRF-Hicks: Or it changes at the last minute.
Kimmel: It changes at the last minute, or just that it’s someone you don’t know is ready to race and hits it. Of course, I know Magda [Boulet] is here, and Ruth [Croft] had a really great race last year. I’m assuming she’s still on the roster for starting. Yeah, the rest of the gals, I don’t know who they are. You always expect them to be the winner.
iRF-Hicks: You have a descending order of performance here. You started out a little…
iRF-Bowman: Or ascending, depending on how you look at it.
iRF-Hicks: Right. You always seem to run with the same style. You take it out hard. You take it out aggressive. You’re either the pacesetter or one of the pacesetters at least until you can no longer do that anymore. Last year you took it out hot. You were setting the pace for the girls. You stuck it. Is that what we’re going to expect to see out of you on Saturday?
Kimmel: Yeah, I hope so. For me, it’s really important with… I guess racing in general in most races, it’s pretty important for me to keep an eye on the leader which is really hard in this race because it’s in the dark the first hour.
iRF-Hicks: All those dudes.
Kimmel: Oh, man. I do like to start up front. That also kind of gives me a gauge for how I’m feeling for the day because I like to be at that level. I come out here to be at the front of the race. I can’t say I always come to races for that reason, but the majority of them I do. So if I’m not really up there, then… I don’t want to say I’m not reaching my objective, but for a lot of races I’m not reaching my objective.
iRF-Bowman: I hate to harp on the fact that you’re such a strong short-distance runner, but I’ve kind of been curious to know if you ever or if you have ambition to ever focus on longer races for a season. Because when I look at somebody like you or Joe Gray who are both very successful shorter-distance trail racers, it’s kind of scary to think about what you could do if you did focus on it full-time. Are you ever thinking about doing that, or are you content racing more often, doing the short races, traveling more, and things like that?
Kimmel: Yeah, this is actually kind of what I’ve had as the end of 2016… 2016 is kind of what I figured as being the end of my short-distance racing, and 2017 is what I figured would be going into more ultras for the reason of kind of… in general with short distance, you do race so many more races. There’s a lot more travel involved. I’m looking to kind of mellow out a little bit and be around home and create more of a home life which is really hard to balance out with all the short-distance racing especially if they involve a lot of traveling to other countries. Yeah, for quite awhile now this has been my transition time. I’m having a hard time leaving short distance, and I won’t totally leave it, but I’m now looking forward to kind of taking it into the direction of the ultras. But at that, I am kind of going to baby step into the mids before hopping into 100s.
iRF-Bowman: Tor des Geants next year.
iRF-Hicks: Go big or go home.
Kimmel: Yeah, not on this one.
iRF-Bowman: Good luck this weekend. Thanks for coming over and chatting with us this morning. You’re the defending champion, and again, we wish you the best. It looks like we have a great forecast. It should be a fun day.
Kimmel: Yeah, 60 degrees [Fahrenheit], it might be the nicest TNF in history.
iRF-Hicks: In history.
Kimmel: Thank you guys both very much.
iRF-Hicks: Good luck.
Ruth Croft Pre-2016 The North Face 50 Mile Interview
iRunFar-Dylan Bowman: Dylan Bowman here with iRunFar sitting in for Bryon Powell.
iRunFar-Meghan Hicks: And I’m Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. We’re here at the San Francisco Running Company in Mill Valley, California. It’s a couple days before the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. We’re with Kiwi Ruth Croft. We’re also over-caffeinated. Good morning.
Ruth Croft: It’s 8 a.m. That’s impossible.
iRF-Bowman: Welcome. It’s good to have you back in California.
iRF-Bowman: You’re a Kiwi, but you live in Taiwan, and you spent your summer in Europe, and you went to school in Portland. So you’re quite, quite international.
Croft: You’ve done your homework.
iRF-Bowman: Yes, I did my research prior to sitting in.
iRF-Hicks: His journalism debut.
iRF-Bowman: So you’re back in the U.S. This is your first time back since the race last year?
Croft: Yes, this is my first time back.
iRF-Bowman: You’ve been here for a little while?
Croft: I got here last week, last Saturday. I was in L.A. I went to see some friends. You know Justin Houck? I saw Chris and Alicia [Vargo] in Arizona and then came up two days ago.
iRF-Bowman: Making a little trip out of it?
Croft: Yeah, I don’t like to fly in and race because it takes me about five days to get over jetlag and start feeling normal again.
iRF-Bowman: You’ve had a great year this year. You finished third at Transvulcania earlier in the year which is kind of the European equivalent to The North Face 50 Mile. Then obviously you finished second at [Trofeo] Kima, a notoriously difficult and technical race. You also won a 50k there in Hong Kong. So how do you feel about your season and how that set you up for this race?
Croft: My season, to be honest, I got to Europe and had the opportunity to do some other races. I did Sierre-Zinal and it didn’t really go well. My fitness wasn’t really where I wanted it to be. It had been really hot this summer in Taipei, so I found it really affected my training. I got over to Europe and did Sierre-Zinal. I’d talked about doing Kima before I went up to Europe, but we decided (Jono [Wyatt] is my coach) it wasn’t a good idea because I hadn’t run anything that technical. I didn’t have the chance to train. It’s also a little bit at altitude, so we said, “No, don’t do it.” Sierre-Zinal went bad or wasn’t great. Then I did the Matterhorn [Ultraks] a week later. Then I decided that I had the opportunity to do Kima, and it’s such an awesome race, and it’s only held every two years. So I just decided I’d give it a go.
iRF-Bowman: Do you feel like it set you up for a good race here?
Croft: Those races like Kima and Glen Coe [Skyline] are totally different. You were on chains, you’re scrambling, and so you’re out there for eight or nine hours but not exactly running eight or nine hours. But yeah, I hope it set me up for this weekend. We’ll find out.
iRF-Hicks: You’re back. You were here last year. You’re the returning fourth-place runner. Can you give us a little bit of feedback on your experience here last year and maybe what had drawn you back all the way across the ocean, across time zones, across international date lines to do this all again?
Croft: One, is the timing of the race. It’s a good run to finish the season on. Also, I just felt last year… I don’t know… when you do a race for the first time, you kind of learn a lot about it and what you can do better the next time. I think I took a lot away from last year and hope I can improve on it this year.
iRF-Bowman: What is it you think you can improve? When I saw you in the race last year, I think you were in second on the out-and-back, and you finished fourth. You slipped a little bit in the second half of the race. What happened there? How do you think you can improve it?
Croft: I blew up in the last aid station bad.
iRF-Bowman: A lot of people blow up there.
iRF-Hicks: Before the last climb?
Croft: Yeah, I ran through the aid station, and right after the aid station, I got passed by Ellie [Greenwood] and Larisa [Dannis].
iRF-Hicks: Just on the last climb?
Croft: Yeah, it’s such a runnable course, and I’m not used to that as well. I wasn’t expecting it to be so like that. So I think you start quite fast. I need to be more conservative. Those hills just keep coming and keep coming, and by the end, if you’ve gone out too fast, it just catches up with you like last year.
iRF-Hicks: You took it out pretty hot. You were within seconds of the lead for quite a distance in the race.
Croft: Yeah, but it just pays to be conservative in the beginning and start to try and push it in the second half.
iRF-Hicks: So if we’re seeing you in fourth or fifth place early on, is that where you’re thinking maybe where you want to be? Are you going to try and stay in visual contact? How are you going to approach trying to start more conservatively in this race?
Croft: Yeah, just probably be back a bit further and not be in a rush to have contact with the lead because it’s a long race. Yeah, it really pays to be more conservative.
iRF-Bowman: Speaking of long races, last year you did a couple 100k races. You had an awesome ultra debut at Tarawera 100k when you and Ruby Muir had quite a battle. She got the best of you that day. Then you had an astonishing run at CCC last year in 2015 where you won the race in a crazy-fast time. You beat Magdalena Boulet who is sort of a local legend here in the Bay Area. I think you were the only person to actually get the better of her in the 2015 season. Talk a little bit about that year and how your progress has been through ultrarunning.
Croft: Tarawera was my first ultra. I think once I got that out of the way, I figured out my nutrition and all that thing. Then with Europe, I was just lucky. I planned it out really well. I had five-week running block over there before CCC just getting used to training in the Alps. I think in August, everything went really well. It was just one of those races where I felt really good from start to finish. That was it pretty much.
iRF-Hicks: You live in Taipei in Taiwan, which is a gigantic metropolis. I think my question will ring familiar with a lot of people around the world with people who try to be trail runners or who are trail runners but who live with not the best access to trails. Can you talk about your life in Taipei, what your usual running schedule is like? Do you spend a fair amount of time on the roads, or do you get out to trails? What’s it like?
Croft: It’s not like Hong Kong where trails were really accessible. Taipei is not quite like that. It’s tough. I have a couple of training partners, and we train in the morning along a riverside. We go up some hills and that, but during the week, it’s quite a lot of road. On the weekend, we try to get on trails. There’s one national park in Taipei, but even so, it’s not trails. It’s like cobbled steps.
iRF-Hicks: With green things around you?
Croft: Taipei is pretty green. Of course, it’s not ideal for training, but you make the best of what you’ve got. The hardest thing for a lot of runners coming from Asia is just the heat in the summer which is what I’ve struggled a lot with this year. You’re constantly in humidity. We had a 50k in Hong Kong, and it was 90% humidity. You’re just losing so much water. I found I’d get into work at midday and have this massive headache because it’s so hard to replace all that sweat. Also, your body recovery just slows down so much. I don’t know. It’s not the best, but I’ve got a lot of support from Garmin and a lot of different training centers. I make it work.
iRF-Bowman: Like I mentioned, you have a background running on the track and cross country. You went to University of Portland, so you have a lot of experience doing faster, shorter stuff. You’ve proven that you’re also great in the more technical mountain courses. You obviously have skill on the faster, flatter courses. Do you have a preference between the two? This course here is sort of in between—it’s relentlessly hilly, but super fast. Talk a little bit about your opinion of those kinds of courses.
Croft: I definitely prefer something like CCC where there are some really runnable sections but also some technical sections. To be honest, I find The North Face for me is quite fast, and I don’t really enjoy when you don’t have that break up of hiking and stuff like that. Then if you go to Kima, it’s the opposite and it’s way too technical. I enjoy it, and it’s awesome to do, but I didn’t feel like I was comfortable and could really relax.
iRF-Hicks: Last question for you. You’re a brand new Scott athlete. What shoes are you wearing on Saturday?
Croft: I’m wearing the Supertrac RC.
iRF-Hicks: This is a shoe not a lot of people have seen yet. Can you describe it?
Croft: I’ve worn it at Kima. It was awesome on rocks and all surfaces if it’s slippery or if it’s dry. I don’t know. I’m terrible at speaking about shoes.
Croft: Right, really good traction.
iRF-Hicks: The shoe is all about the traction.
Croft: Yeah, it’s pretty lightweight as well.
iRF-Bowman: Good luck. Hopefully you have a better experience than the last 10k of last year.
iRF-Hicks: May the final climb treat you well.
iRF-Bowman: The weather looks favorable, too, so it should be a good one.
Croft: Yeah, thank you.
iRF-Hicks: Good luck, Ruth.
Stephanie Howe Violett Pre-2016 The North Face 50 Mile Interview
iRunFar-Meghan Hicks: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar.
iRunFar-Dylan Bowman: Dylan Bowman also of iRunFar.
iRF-Hicks: We’re here in Mill Valley, California. It’s a couple days before the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. I’m with Stephanie Howe. Hi.
Stephanie Howe Violett: Hi.
iRF-Hicks: Welcome back to racing!
Violett: Thank you. It’s been awhile.
iRF-Hicks: The last time we saw you race was last year’s UTMB. You have been on, pardon my language, a hell of a ride since then.
Violett: It’s been a year.
iRF-Hicks: Talk about what’s been happening in your world.
Violett: Where to start? Do you want the long story?
iRF-Bowman: Start with the injury. Tell us about that.
Violett: The injury—I’m not sure when it started. My left Achilles and heel would always get really tight after a race. I’d limp around for days after. I remember just one day it just didn’t go away. It was just there. For a whole year, every time I ran, it was bothering me. It got to the point where after Western States in 2015, I couldn’t really train. I couldn’t run more than 10 miles without suffering the next day. I made it through the fall, ran UTMB—it didn’t go super well. I was just frustrated and decided for surgery.
iRF-Hicks: So you went abroad.
Violett: Yeah, I went to Sweden to see Dr. Alfredson. He’s done a number of runners. It was a great experience. The surgery was something that was going to happen no matter what, so I did it. The recovery was supposed to take three months. I’m a numbers person. You tell me times, and I’m like, “Good. I’ve got this.”
iRF-Hicks: ”11:52 a.m. three months from now.”
Violett: I marked it on my calendar, “March 16, you should be good.” So, that was in my mind. I just need to make it through these three months, and then I’ll be good. I got to that three-months deadline, and it was sort of better but not great. I thought, Okay, so I’ll have three more months to train for Western States. That race just means a lot to me. I really wanted to do it. In my mind, I had to get there. I had to do it. I maybe jumped back into training too soon. I thought in my mind that after surgery, you’re healed, so you can pick up where you left off. I learned that the hard way. No, you actually sort of have to start over. What you thought was your normal before, you have a totally new normal. Long story short, I started training and I tried to make it to Western States, and I got a stress fracture. It wasn’t really surprising because the whole previous year when I was running, my right leg would get sore. It was working a lot harder trying to compensate for the injury I had which was on my left side. One day I woke up after I went to the Memorial Day Western States Training Camp—it was great, and then it wasn’t great.
iRF-Hicks: You ran all the miles there, didn’t you?
Violett: I ran all the miles. It was tough for me, but I made it. I was really like, You’re getting there. Then I flew to Boston and did a short run and felt this tweaky feeling in my hip flexor. Turns out it was a stress fracture in my lesser trochanter which is a really weird spot. It’s not load-bearing, which is good, but it meant the torque… I was just overusing my right leg. Anyway, there goes my whole summer. Honestly, at that point I realized I need to do something different. You need to reset. I just kind of let go. I actually had a great summer. I didn’t run. I didn’t do any cross training. I wasn’t trying to train for a race. I just let it all go. I did things like normal-people stuff.
iRF-Bowman: You did normal things?
Violett: I did normal things.
iRF-Hicks: What are normal things?
Violett: It took me awhile, but I do a little bit of art. I really like to cook, so I spent more time doing that. I traveled a bit, not for adventure travel, but I went to see my best friend from high school. I visited my parents. We went camping in the Boundary Waters. Just stuff like that, simple things, like took my dog for a walk when I could walk. I realized when I got back to training again, things felt good. When I say training, I mean back to running—going out and just feeling it out. So for this race, this is the least—I don’t want to say least prepared—but the least serious I’ve ever been leading up to a race. I really just wanted to be healthy. I’ve done what felt good which means running maybe three days per week, sometimes four lately. I feel healthy which is super important to me. I’ve just learned a lot over this last year. You never wish for an injury, but in some ways, it was so good for me because my perspective.
iRF-Bowman: Do you think you benefitted a lot of from having a deep rest, having a year off of racing?
Violett: Definitely. I think it helped. If I’d have had anything else going on, it better have healed by now. For personal growth, I think it really helped me as a person and to kind of see what’s important to me. Running, to me, I want to do it for a long time. I don’t want to get these really good results for two years and then be done. I want to do it my whole life.
iRF-Bowman: Do you feel 100% confident in your foot?
Violett: Yeah, all my injuries are great. My body feels good. I just feel a little bit like, Oooh, racing? What’s that?
iRF-Hicks: We want to ask you about that. You are the sweetest, nicest, most competitive person. You have top finishes here. You have two podium finishes. Are you here to race? Let’s be honest.
Violett: I’m here to do my best for sure. I think just knowing how this past year has gone, I have let go of a lot of that. Coming into this race, of course I want to do well. Normally, I’d be gunning for a podium spot. But I’ve learned that I can’t. My body can only do what it’s going to do right now. This is a tough race to come back to in this state. I’m just going to be happy, truly, just be happy to finish. That said, I’m going to be racing, but I’m also not going to be hard on myself if my body is just not… I don’t know what’s going to happen after 30 miles. Hopefully everything is still going.
iRF-Bowman: Just like riding a bike.
Violett: Well, that’s… exactly. Once the gun goes off, I think I’ll be in my zone. Right now I’m just kind of like, Ahh, I don’t know.
iRF-Bowman: Speaking of being in the zone, you have raced recently. You did a local 50k near where you live in Oregon. It seems like that went pretty well. You won your race. You nearly beat your husband. Tell us about that. Did you give a proper effort or was it just more…:
Violett: No, well, yeah. It was totally spontaneous. Zach needed to do the race because he wanted a point for UTMB. “Oh, I’ll do it with you.” We were going to just run together, but he decided he wanted to race. “Fine, go off. Go off.” I almost caught him at the end. I had a good day. That was kind of a push for me to run that hard at that time. I ran kind of medium hard, and it went well. That was a great confidence booster. Okay, my body is healthy enough to do this. I think I can run 50 miles.
iRF-Bowman: Awesome. Good to hear. In the same vein, because this is kind of your reintroduction to serious racing, if you can call it that, I’m wondering if you’re now kind of hoping to continue your momentum. You’d spoken off camera that you guys are about to go to New Zealand. I was wondering it you’ll use this to springboard into next season, or if you’ll take the winter easy and then get back into racing.
Violett: I’m trying to figure that out now. I’m going to see how this race goes. If it goes well, I do have a goal of getting back into Western States. It’s just something I want to do again this year. I’m probably going to pick one of the earlier season Golden Ticket races. The one will depend on how this goes but looking at the first three. I do want to have a ski season because I missed the entire ski season last year. I to think I will have to take some downtime, but I’d prefer to race through January and February and then take the time off… not time off, but less serious running, and then prepare for Western States hopefully.
iRF-Hicks: Last question for you. I’ve seen you at this race in epic weather, covered in mud, slip-sliding your way around. Fingers crossed, we have a good forecast. There may actually be views. What are you looking forward to out on the course?
Violett: I will say I’m cursed at this race. I’ve never run the full course. Every time I’ve been here, it rains horizontal the entire time. So I wouldn’t say I love that, but that weather favors me. I’ve grown up in places with harsh weather conditions, and we just run through it.
iRF-Hicks: Minnesota for the win.
Violett: Exactly. I don’t know. I’d be psyched to have a sunny day where I don’t have to wear a rain jacket and be like hunkered down the whole time, but we’ll see. I don’t know. I’m here. Chances are, it’s going to be rainy.
iRF-Bowman: It’s not going to be raining. It’s going to be an ideal day. The forecast is 57 [Fahrenheit] and sunny. It will be chilly in the morning, but I don’t think it will be wet or hot in any way. I think it will actually be really fast conditions.
Violett: I’ve been running in snow in Bend just to prepare. Snow is kind of like mud. Sun would be nice, too. I’ll take it.
iRF-Bowman: One more question while we’re on the subject of snow. I noticed you have been skiing a little bit now. You’ve been riding your bike a lot. You’ve been running three or four days per week. Do you feel like that has helped you work on your fitness without necessarily putting all the pressure and physical abuse of the running on your body?
Violett: So much. I used to be more of a multisport athlete before I was a runner. I just did a little bit of everything. I think that’s a better way for me to train. When I started running more competitively, I started running six days per week. I think I’m going to get back to more of a cross-training mix of running and cross training because it does take that pressure off my body. I’m someone who needs that break. I think it was really great. I just kind of did what I felt like. This has been an interesting training up for this race. Normally I do a work out and a long run and it’s very structured. This has been not like that. It’s been very much just run easy. I haven’t done any workouts. We’ll see how that goes. One thing I did focus on was strength training. I was actually working with a strength coach. I’ve never done that before. It was really cool. I had to relearn how to use my body basically and start using my glutes. A lot of my problems come from not using muscles as they should. That’s been a big part of helping me get healthy. I feel really good. Cross training has been awesome.
iRF-Bowman: You sound awesome.
Violett: I’m so happy to be here. You guys have no idea. I’m probably going to cry at the finish. This race just means a lot to me to be here.
iRF-Hicks: Have your tissues, kids.
iRF-Bowman: Cool, well, good luck. We’re excited to watch.
Violett: Thank you.
iRF-Hicks: Best of luck. It’s a real pleasure for us to get to welcome you back to trail running. It’s this type of energy, this jubilant competitiveness, that is really exciting to document. So I’m overjoyed for you. Good luck.
Violett: Ahhh, thank you. Thanks.
Ida Nilsson Pre-2016 The North Face 50 Mile Interview
iRunFar-Dylan Bowman: Hello again. This is Dylan Bowman with iRunFar.
iRunFar-Meghan Hicks: And I’m Meghan Hicks of iRunFar.
iRF-Bowman: This is our fourth and final interview here on Thursday at SFRC [San Francisco Running Company]. We’re here with Ida Nilsson. Ida, welcome to California. How are you?
Ida Nilsson: Thank you very much. I’m well.
iRF-Hicks: You’re Swedish, but you’re not unfamiliar with the U.S. You went to university here.
Nilsson: Yes, in Flagstaff, Arizona.
iRF-Hicks: We want to talk to you about your history with collegiate running before getting into ultrarunning, but before that, let’s talk a little bit about your season. You’ve had quite a year. There were some high highs and a bit of a low low this fall. We saw you win Transvulcania this spring which was a heck of a blast off to 2016.
Nilsson: Yes, it was a great start. I got really great introduction to Skyrunning. I loved the race over there.
iRF-Hicks: You kind of spent your summer Skyrunning, right?
Nilsson: Yes. I kind of did a little bit of everything. I did a few road races also but mostly running in the mountains.
iRF-Hicks: This is sort of a whole new thing for you running these technical courses up high in the mountains. What has the 2016 experience been like for you?
Nilsson: It’s been really fun. I’ve tried some more extreme races that I can’t really handle yet—the Dolomites and then some easier ones. Transvulcania was nice—still some technical parts in the downhill, but for me it’s a race I can handle. It’s good to practice and always get better both to be fast in the uphill and then go down fast also.
iRF-Hicks: We last saw you race in September when you ran and won The Rut 50k. I think that day wasn’t the best one for you. You might have started feeling an injury that day?
Nilsson: I felt great during the race actually. It was right after the race I started to feel some pain in the leg. I thought maybe I was just a bit sore after the race. Yeah, I took some days off. I got a lot of different treatments, but nothing really helped. I thought I would have time. I had three weeks to do therapy and get healthy again, but it just got worse and worse. Actually, I had two months with no running.
iRF-Hicks: Ultimately did they figure out what your injury was?
Nilsson: Yes, not completely. I had my guesses and some people had some guesses. It was I think more muscles than nerves. It wasn’t in the bone at least, so I was happy about that. It was hard to figure out. I did a lot of small different stuff that helped and also just the rest and got well again.
iRF-Hicks: Keeping off of it.
iRF-Bowman: Rewinding, we already mentioned you went to Northern Arizona University. It looked like you had a quite successful college career. You were a two-time NCAA champion. What were your events? What was your strength?
Nilsson: I did the steeplechase and the 5k as my main things.
iRF-Bowman: I saw also that you dealt with a pretty serious injury after your college career? Can you tell us a little bit about that? It seems like it kind of took you out of the sport for a few years.
Nilsson: Yes, it did. When I finished college, I really wanted to go for running. I moved back to Sweden, but the problems all started. I got a lot of injuries. I was coming back all the time, but finally I got a serious hip injury, and I felt like I had to completely stop. It took four or five years until it healed up.
iRF-Bowman: You came back in 2013 and started racing again. Is that kind of when you picked up ski mountaineering as well?
Nilsson: Actually, it was last summer that was my first summer really racing again. Ski mountaineering was also… I started three years ago up north in Sweden. I love to have the snow and mountains. So I started to do that and a bit more cross-country skiing. It was actually last winter when I moved to Chamonix and did the World Cup and really learned the sport.
iRF-Bowman: Is it true that Emelie Forsberg really motivated you to try ski mountaineering and kind of encouraged you to participate in the racing scene in the European circuit?
Nilsson: Yeah, not in the first place. I was in a different place and started training and did a few small races in Sweden. But then she helped me a lot last winter when I moved to Chamonix and was just really patient. It was great to have someone to learn from.
iRF-Bowman: One of the best, too.
iRF-Hicks: You’ve come to San Francisco before as a tourist or as a visitor during your time at NAU? Is that how you ended up here before?
Nilsson: Yes, I’ve been here once during university. I was doing a race at Stanford, and I saw a few things like Chinatown and the Wharf. I’ve never seen this area where the race is, so just driving over here today, it looks beautiful in the distance with the hills and mountains. It looks great.
iRF-Hicks: What’s brought you to target The North Face 50 as… I don’t know if this is your season wrap-up, or if this is going to be you kicking off a new year, but how did this get on your hit list?
Nilsson: Yeah, I really felt like now that I couldn’t do Ultra Pirineu, I had no finish for my season. I would like to do one more race. This will be my final running race. Then for a few months, I’ll focus more on ski mountaineering and then start running again in the spring.
iRF-Bowman: As Meghan mentioned, you’ve had a really successful running season this year. You won Transvulcania which is kind of the equivalent to The North Face 50 Mile Championships in Europe. You also won the Mont Blanc Marathon and The Rut 50k all by rather large margins. Does that give you a lot of confidence going into this race? Are you comfortable with races of this distance, about 80k?
Nilsson: I wouldn’t say comfortable because still I have just done Transvulcania and one race last year, UltraVasan that was actually this distance. It’s still new for me and especially now when I haven’t been running so much. But I started to feel more comfortable in the longer distances more this summer. I feel more comfortable now with three weeks of training with both skiing and running, so I feel more fit than I was a month ago. I felt very unfit then. I would have felt awful running this. We’ll see how it goes. It’s quite rushed training. I trained a lot for three weeks. We’ll see how it’s going to be.
iRF-Bowman: Obviously this is kind of the end-of-the season party, and at least for the North American ultra circuit, it’s one of the most competitive races of the year. You probably have not raced a lot of the women who are going to be at the front of the pack on Saturday. Are you familiar with any of the other runners? Do you look at the start list at all? Are you going to be keying off anybody during the race?
Nilsson: No, I don’t know too many of the other women. I’ve met Megan [Kimmel] a few times. I know she’s going to be very strong. It’s a lot of runners who are strong. Since I’m quite new, I’m getting to know more and more people all the time at every race. It’s very nice. I get more friends and get to know more people. It’s good.
iRF-Hicks: I don’t know if I’ve seen you race enough to have seen your style, but when I watched you race, you’ve kind of gone off the front. I don’t know if that’s because you just have more raw leg speed than the rest of the field, or if your style is to go out hard and push it early. Have you thought about strategy for this weekend?
Nilsson: I think this race will be nice because I think it will actually be possible to run more in a pack if you want to. I feel like some of the Sky races it’s not really possible to run that even. People have like they’re good in the uphill or the downhill, and it’s never like you’re really able to run in a pack like you do in a road race or in track. Sometimes I can miss that feeling. I think actually this is the kind of race where you would be able to run more together. It could be nice maybe if we can keep together in the beginning. It’s a long race to go by yourself.
iRF-Bowman: That’s interesting you say that because Meghan and I were talking about that yesterday that a lot of times at this race, the men’s race seems very pack oriented where you might see five or seven or 10 guys together early or maybe through half way. We haven’t ever seen that in the women’s field. It will be interesting. I think we have the depth and the level of competition this year to see that. It would be really cool and exciting.
iRF-Hicks: You’re a Salomon runner and from among your team we have multiple previous champions of The North Face 50. In the girls, we have Emelie Forsberg and Anna Frost. Have the girls given you information on what to expect and what it’s going to be like out there?
Nilsson: Yeah of course I talked to Emelie now because we have spent three weeks together training.
iRF-Hicks: Ski training or ski and run?
Nilsson: I have been running also. She joined me for some runs. We actually did a small race together also in France but mostly skiing. I’ve tried to do afternoon runs just on the road up and down. It was good. She said, “Oh, this suits you so well because it’s not technical at all.” We’ll see. I think I will enjoy the course. I like when it’s running the whole time. For me, that’s the best when you don’t have to hike too much.
iRF-Hicks: The girl wants to run. Just let her run, okay?
iRF-Bowman: You said you already started training for the upcoming ski-mountaineering season. Do you think that as soon as you finish the race this weekend you’ll jump straight into ski-mountaineering season, or will you take a little downtime prior to racing?
Nilsson: Of course I need an easy week after, but then I will ski again and prepare for the World Cup. I will see. I have to recover until my body feels fresh again. I think it’s good to start with something new. It’s more easy for the body in some ways to not have the pounding. That will be good.
iRF-Bowman: Good luck on Saturday. It’s great to have you here. I think you’ll really enjoy the course and trails and the Bay Area. Best of luck.
Nilsson: Thank you very much.
iRF-Hicks: Good luck, Ida.
2016 The North Face 50 Mile Women’s Pre-Race Interview Show Conclusion
iRunFar-Dylan Bowman: Okay.
iRunFar-Meghan Hicks: We’re back.
iRF-Bowman: We are back. We hope you liked it. Obviously this is a new format for iRunFar interviews. We hope you guys enjoyed the new format and what all the women had to say. I was really impressed with all four of them. Thanks also to San Francisco Running Company, obviously, for opening their doors to us this morning. We’re going to do the same thing tomorrow.
iRF-Hicks: With the men.
iRF-Bowman: With the men, so stay tuned for that. I will be really fun.
iRF-Hicks: Thank you also to Dylan Bowman for hosting today. Thank you to The North Face for sponsoring iRunFar’s coverage of the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. See you on Saturday!
2016 The North Face 50 Mile Women’s Pre-Race Interview Show B Roll
iRF-Meghan Hicks: Let me pull up my notes about Ms. Kimmel.
Megan Kimmel: Notes.
iRF-Dylan Bowman: We won’t do good cop/bad cop style interviews.
iRF-Hicks: Are you sure?
iRF-Bowman: Tell me about your training!
iRF-Hicks: This is Dylan and I’s first interview together. It could go any direction.
iRF-Bowman: We’re going to do awesome.
iRF-Hicks: Go for it, boss.