American Nikki Kimball won the 2014 Marathon des Sables (MdS) in the Moroccan Sahara. In the following interview, Nikki talks about how her week of racing played out, how she gained an advantage over the rest of the women’s competition, and whether she thinks she’ll race the MdS again.
[Editor’s Note: Get up to speed on this year’s race with our full 2014 Marathon des Sables results article.]
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Nikki Kimball, 2014 Marathon des Sables Champion, Interview
iRunFar: Hi, I’m Kirsten Kortebein and I’m here with Nikki Kimball. Congratulations, first of all.
Nikki Kimball: Thank you very much.
iRunFar: I have a couple questions for you. Can you walk us through the first couple days of the race? You were in a deficit until the long stage. Where was your mindset? Were you trying to get your bearings or simply surviving? What was your thought process behind that?
Kimball: I kind of am always a come-from-behind runner at least as of late. So my intention the first day was to do it as a training run and to be completely fresh after day one. That’s exactly what I did. Day two, I kind of decided to push Laurence Klein just to see if she’d try to push harder, but I did that just for a couple kilometers of the first race and then backed off again because I know she’s way faster on the flats and that I’d have to win by being really, really smart if I was going to win. Those were the first two days.
iRunFar: Nice. Very cool. Can you tell me about what happened on the third stage when you did finally pass Laurence? Was there a mindset shift for you or was there a new confidence? What were you thinking then?
Kimball: No, I just… the third stage I felt great the whole time. I did the first two stages because I was going easy. I felt confident and good the whole time even before seeing her. It’s always exciting seeing the person you were trying to pass in front of you. I see that pink outfit and that perfect running stride and I’m like, Yeah, that’s great!
iRunFar: That’s awesome. The fourth day for you ended up being good, but mentally you have said it was quite tough. Can you articulate the difficulty be it physical or mental or emotional? Was it anything to do with the head or the distance or the climb? What was it?
Kimball: The fourth day was mentally only tough because I had a bad patch between Checkpoint 3 and 4. I actually was in a really good space. I was happy. That was good. I knew that I had to nail it on that day. That was my strength. That was my only trump card I had in this race because I don’t know the race, I hadn’t done any heat training; so I knew I had to nail it. The toughest part was definitely I just slowed down. All of a sudden I was dragging a piano behind me. It was just so bad. But then I got to Checkpoint 4 and everybody else said, “Oh man, that was so bad.” So realizing that we were all miserable together and it wasn’t just uniquely me, I realized I probably hadn’t destroyed my race going slowly in that section.
iRunFar: That makes a lot of sense. After you did pass Laurence, did you change your approach at all or did you just keep doing your own thing and focusing on your own race?
Kimball: I was sort of focused on my own race. I passed her before Checkpoint 2 and then it was just sort of my race from then on. I stayed within myself and tried to govern my body. Then I really pushed the last two checkpoints from Checkpoint 4 on. I wanted to build the biggest cushion I could so I could relax today. So that’s what I did. I didn’t leave anything on the course.
iRunFar: Yeah. Very good. Then can you tell me what for you was the best part of the race and what was the worst or what was the most difficult or unexpected for you?
Kimball: The best part was just finishing today just because I wasn’t in a good headspace today. Finishing—I was just ready to be done because we weren’t really racing the last stage because we had an hour between each of the top ladies. So it made it hard to do the last stage because I’m used to still being in a race, but it wasn’t. So I guess the best and worst were just out of juxtaposition. If you just had the worst part that you’re really not psyched on and then being done with that, it’s just great.
iRunFar: Yeah. Is there anything that you found to be unexpectedly difficult about the MdS that you hadn’t really thought about in advance? Any unexpected weather elements or anything strange like that?
Kimball: Not at all. I talked to Meghan Hicks a lot about this race, or not a lot but more than anyone else, and I’ve talked over the years to Jay and Lisa Smith-Batchen. Between those guys, they prepared me well for this. So I kind of knew that that was going to happen. I guess the unexpected really great thing was climbing the jebels. There were some just stunning views. I did not think it was going to be this beautiful. Yes, it’s stark and kind of all one-colored here, but there are differences in the tones of the colors and there is a unique beauty to this place. I’ve never seen anything like it.
iRunFar: That’s for sure. What are your thoughts in terms of next year? Do you think you’ll come back?
Kimball: I doubt it, no. It’s a bad time of year for me to be fit. It’s been fun, but I think I prefer either regular ultras or Fastest Known Times (FKT) or stage races that are team events or something like that. This is great. It’s been a fantastic experience, but I think probably not. You might ask me in a week and I might say, “Yes, I can’t wait to do it again!”
iRunFar: Cool. Well maybe, perhaps, we’ll see you next year.
iRunFar: Thank you so much, Nikki, and again, congratulations.
Kimball: Thanks so much, Kirsten.