This is Megan Kimmel’s seventh time racing The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships! In this interview, Megan talks about why she keeps returning to TNF 50, how she thinks her 2017 season of racing has gone, why she’s so successful racing in Europe, and her preparations ahead of this weekend’s race.
Megan Kimmel Pre-2017 The North Face 50 Mile Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with co-host, Dylan Bowman, and Megan Kimmel before the 2017 TNF 50 Mile. How are you, Megan?
Megan Kimmel: I’m doing good. You guys?
Dylan Bowman: Excellent.
iRunFar: Alright—another good rainy morning in the Bay Area. You’ve been here six times previously…
Bowman: Seven, right?
Kimmel: I don’t count, but it’s something like that. I would say six for sure.
iRunFar: Have you run any trail race more than this?
Kimmel: I don’t think so actually, and it’s not really my style to come back to do a race repeatedly, but yeah, I like to have no rhyme for my reason, so I guess I have to have one.
Bowman: Has it been six years in a row?
Kimmel: Yeah, I think so. I don’t think there’s been a year that I’ve taken off from it since 2011 maybe would have been the first one? I’ve always used this race, especially back then, I really used this race to dip my toes into the water of ultra distance. I’ve always been using it kind of like a trial. For the first year, I knew I probably wasn’t going to finish, but I came out anyway, and it was one of my best race experiences ever with all of the circumstances.
iRunFar: Was that the mud year where your calves went real late?
Kimmel: Yeah, it was the double loop. Really, I come back here now past the experiential part of the ultras because I honestly just love the experience of running out here. The trails are so smooth. It’s such contrast from the races I usually do in the mountains that it’s… I love it.
Bowman: I was going to ask you about that because it is kind of different from the sky-racing type races you’ve been so successful at. This year you’ve done a couple longer races that have taken seven or eight hours in Europe. How have you find that? Do you enjoy the longer-distance racing, or do you find that Skyrunning distance is more your cup of tea?
Kimmel: I’ve always wanted to have the full gamut, and I’ve always thought about this time of my racing time to be the time I’d go more into ultras. I’d have to say it’s kind of been a long-term plan. Yeah, I certainly have always gravitated toward and really enjoyed the half-marathon-to-marathon Sky discipline with the technical and the elevation in the mountains, but when it comes to ultras and longer distances, or maybe even regardless of the ultra distance, I like to have a lot of variation. This course is actually very similar to a lot of what I do for training and the kind of style I actually really like in contrast to the mountain running because it’s fast; the trails are really smooth; you do have turnover. You can kind of turn the brain off a little bit more and get more into a zen state compared to really technical running in the mountains where…
Bowman: It’s high stress?
Kimmel: It kind of is.
iRunFar: Or high focus at least. You did build up over a series of years, and then you had a win here and a second place here, and then you were 10th last year. You were up at the front pushing hard for awhile. What happened?
Kimmel: This race is actually really tricky for me because it’s at sea level, it’s very runnable, and I really think that I do have that classic problem where my lungs can go, but my muscles, they don’t have the training for the quicker turnover. Last year, I felt good, I didn’t feel like I was really cranking it out or trying very hard, and all the sudden, my calves would not go further. But I also came here last year with a very low base of training for me. For three months I had about 40 miles average per week, 45 maybe, and one 70-mile week maybe. I knew coming out here was not what I thought would get me to the finish line. At the beginning of the race last year, I was surprised, and I was just going with it. It’s just didn’t last.
Bowman: What has the build up been like this year as it compares to last year’s training?
Kimmel: I feel pretty good with my base right now. I’ve had a couple months home, and I’ve been more around 70 miles per week. I’ve been getting in some decent long runs of four and five hours. I hope my training is good for this race. I’d be really excited to be in that average 70 mile per week and be able to crank out a 50 miler. Yeah, I think it’s kind of night and day. I really was not prepared last year and came to do it anyway. I feel pretty prepared this year, so I hope to have a better performance.
iRunFar: I remember talking to you two years ago or probably for a series of years where every time at the end of the year we’d talk and you’d be like, “I really want to race less next year. I’m going to race less next year. I swear.” This has not been that year.
Kimmel: I made a big mistake this year, and I totally got carried away with what the Skyrunning series had to offer, and I overbooked a lot of races, and I kind of exploded in the middle of the year. I had a lot of other stuff going on in life, too, but more than anything, I tried to do way too much.
Bowman: Talk about that, too, because you are maybe the most successful American who has raced in Europe over the last several years. I think that your performances are probably on par with or better than any other American that has been over to race in Europe consistently. How do you manage to make all those flights to Europe? What’s your approach to traveling so much? How have you been able to maintain consistency? You say you’ve blown up a couple of times, but you’ve pretty much been incredibly consistent over the last five or six years.
Kimmel: Yeah, I do feel like this was the one season where I just did not pull off what I wanted to pull off. When it comes to traveling and racing, I honestly think the most important thing has been to… I kind of just go with the flow. I think you have to when you’re traveling. You can’t be stuck too much on one regime or one kind of training program. You have to try to make the most of your time home and your time while traveling. Within that also, the upside of traveling a lot for those races is you are racing quite a bit, so you are getting some pretty high-caliber workouts going on even while you’re racing.
Bowman: Kind of use that as training also.
Kimmel: Yeah. Really, I don’t know how it’s worked out.
Bowman: Do you fly back and forth in between races?
Kimmel: I mostly do. A lot of people would think it’s ideal to stay out there, and it probably is for a lot of people, but I do a lot better when I’m at home. I feel a lot more grounded. I know my trails. I get to be around my family and friends, and that’s kind of what I just need more than being in Europe. And it’s pretty expensive to be out in Europe, so the only way I’ve ever been able to really make it work is to be traveling to and from the United States. Sometimes I’m there on really short trips like five or seven day trips.
iRunFar: You’ve made it work a couple times this year. You had a really, really good run at Mont Blanc Marathon. You beat Ida Nilsson by nine or 10 minutes there and another good one at Glen Coe Skyline. Were those probably your two highlights of your season?
Bowman: You did the longer-distance sky-racing races as well and had success with those as well.
Kimmel: Yeah, the Val D’Isere race was kind of middle of the season. That’s when I kind of came home. My season was pretty good, I just had this small little block where I’d been traveling too much. I came home and wasn’t home long enough. All of a sudden I was getting back on an airplane, and I just was not psyched. I had two races back-to-back.
iRunFar: What was the other one?
Kimmel: The other one was Tromso which was a really cool traveling experience but not such a good race. That little section was a turning point in 10 years of my racing. As a little tangent, I came home and was like, What am I doing? Why am I running? Why am I racing? What is this all about? I stayed low for a little while, and all of a sudden, I snapped out of it. I feel like in the last two months, I’ve kind of enjoyed running more than I have in a really long time.
iRunFar: Did you have to hit the bottom for a little bit to move on?
Kimmel: Yeah, I think so.
Bowman: I think we’ve all been there.
Kimmel: It’s an important place to be because the potential is you can go a lot higher, but you have to hit that bottom part first.
Bowman: One more thing I want to ask you about—the men’s race now is, in order to win, you basically have to go as hard as you can from the start. What’s the dynamic like in the women’s race? I think the year you won, you were kind of off the front the whole time. Is it similar? Do you have to approach it the same way in order to win the race on the women’s side? Do you have to go all out from the beginning?
Kimmel: I think there have been years where women have, but I think it’s different with women. I think that women in general don’t have that “go out hard and intense” as the men do, so I think it’s a trickier race because the women tend to change a lot more over the course of the race. This year is going to be really interesting I think because the competition for the women is, I think, the most stout I’ve seen it. There are a number of really fast gals. I think it’s going to go out fast regardless.
Bowman: There might be a bit of a pack going on?
Kimmel: Yeah, I think it may be one of those years where we have more of a pack than many of the other ones where it’s been a couple gals flirting with each other throughout the race. I’m not sure if we’re going to have to go hard or not. I’m hoping not. That’s what I always say before it all goes off in the race. I think the potential for the women is a lot higher than it’s been. It will be exciting once there’s a group of four or five gals pushing each other throughout the course.
iRunFar: I know I’m excited to watch this weekend. Best of luck out there, Megan.
Kimmel: Thank you.
Bowman: Good luck.
Kimmel: Thank you, Dylan.