Nikki Kimball is the Ridge Run course record holder for women. In the 27 years the Ridge Run has taken place, she is the only woman to have run the Ridge in under four hours. In fact, over the years, she has run it four times and all four times under four hours.
Not too many years ago she was ultrarunner of the year (more than once) and at the time arguably the best woman ultrarunner in the world. Nikki (41) has had amazing longevity in the sport and is still a world class ultrarunner; holding her own against the best in the world. Yet, it is common to see Nikki enthusiastically participating in local Montana races such as the Ridge Run.
Nikki has graciously agreed to answer some questions and taken time out of her busy schedule to pen some words. Enjoy her stories, thoughts and insights on the Ridge Run.
Editor’s Note: Originally I had put together some questions that were tailored specifically for Nikki and addressed such topics as her amazing longevity as a world class trail ultrarunner; her thoughts regarding why the only elite runners that have entered the ridge run are those that live in Montana like herself; and what items and equipment she sees as essential in a trail race like the Ridge Run. Unfortunately there was a bit of a mix up and I did not follow up quickly enough on those questions and instead Nikki answered a set of questions she pulled off the Blog from another interview. I apologize and perhaps in the near future we can add a few more of her thoughts.
What was the first year you did the Ridge Run?
What led to your decision to do it that first time?
I moved to Livingston in early July, 2004. Not long after it seemed that on all my training runs on trails people would ask, “Are you training for the Ridge Run?” So I asked around. Most people told me it was the most technical race ever created, so naturally I wanted to run it.
What do you remember from that first year?
I actually remember a lot of what surrounded the race for me. I knew that I would be going into the race on slightly tired legs given the fact that it would be held only two weeks after U.S. National 50 Mile Championships. I also remember Chronicle reporter, Tim Dumas calling me out of the blue for a pre race interview. I had run the course in training by this time and done some comparisons of other races I had in common with Scott Creel. Based on my studies of Scott’s results and the course, my best time prediction was 3:53.
In any event Tim asked me, “do you want to break four hours,” and I replied, “Yes.” I did not mention my time prediction, but still, my simple statement of, “Yes, I’d like to break 4 hours,” apparently sparked some talk. I wasn’t trying to be cocky, but when asked if I want to break a certain time, as long as that time is reasonable, I’m hardly going to answer, “No. I’d rather go slower than that.” After the race, my friends told me they’d over heard several people around the finish line talking about, “the girl from out East talking big about breaking 4 hours,” and how, “She’s only at Baldy now. There’s no way she’ll make it.” I was glad I hadn’t offered my private time prediction to Tim. I had had no idea how much people talked and cared about this race. I later learned that even my close friends had been comparing my chances against those of my training partner, Abi Larson.
3 hours, 53 minutes after starting and having gratefully missed all the side line conversations, I simply crossed the line whereupon my friend Andrea said, “Thank you. You just won me a six pack.” “You bet on me?” I asked. She replied, “It’s more ethical than betting on Greyhounds.”
Post Scrip: Never before or since have I guessed my time on a first attempt at a race to the minute. In fact, I rarely try to guess my time at all. I have to thank Scott Creel’s consistency in racing for allowing this guess.
Editor’s Note: In 2004, I had to work the finish line and could not race (the only year out of the last dozen I could not participate). Instead I had the pleasure of watching Nikki finish the race. I have distinct memories witnessing Nikki running down the last section of the course below the M to the finish. It was impressive to watch her powerful yet nimble flowing downhill technique. On this section, she passed several runners whose legs (quads) were obviously spent. Nikki was still surprisingly fresh and enthusiastic.
Do you have any advice for those preparing for the Ridge Run, who are not at the elite level?
I’m not sure that the speed of the runner matters for most aspects of training. All those training for this race need would do well to do the following:
-Train on the course if possible. It’s easy to go off course, something I do every year. But the thing about going off course is that if you basically know the ridge, you know very quickly when you’ve made a mistake. I’ve never lost very much time in my off-trail explorations. I think training on the course gives an athlete the confidence, that even if she goes astray, she’ll figure out her mistake and remedy it quickly.
-Train on steep up and downs. Try running hard downhill stretches of trail followed by up hills or flats. If one is not prepared for steep down hills, then the short, steep pitches off Sacagawea can blow an athlete’s quadriceps muscles early and make for a very long, unpleasant day.
-Train on technical terrain. If one is coming from trail racing in Europe or the Appalachian Mountains, the BRR will not seem technical. But as Western races go, BRR is extremely techy. Most trails around the Rockies and the West Coast will not prepare a runner for the Ridge Run. An athlete must work to seek out technical training venues for this race. Also, dynamic balance and hip strength work, commonly used in rehabilitation of athletes with sprained ankles are very good to do in the months leading up the BRR. Doing ankle “pre-habilition” early may well prevent the need to rehabilitate the joint later.
Do any particular years stand out for you?
My first year’s realization that the Ridge Run was so important to Bozeman and its athletic community, overshadowed any surprises in the years to follow. The course is fantastically beautiful and demanding. It deserves its place among Bozeman’s iconic events. I only needed to race it once to recognize that.
Do you carry a water bottle or totally rely on the aid stations?
I carry water the entire way. If I could run it in less than 3:15, and it was a cool year I might go without. Last year I ran with a hydration pack instead of a hand held bottle. I was filming parts of the course for a documentary while I ran and I needed my hands free to do that.
Is there any special fueling or sports drinks that you like or that have worked well for you?
For the first 10 years of my ultramarathon career, I could eat anything and get away with it. After the first decade, however, my system became more sensitive such that I would get sick from most race fuels. I’ve switched now to a high fat/high protein/low carbohydrate diet in the weeks prior to my races. This, along with the supplement Vespa which is designed to work with this type of diet, allows me to race on fewer calories. I can now eat without getting sick as I can get the same effect from 100 calories of fuel that I used to get from 300 calories.
What shoes have worked for you or do you recommend?
I’ve raced most years in The North Face Single Track. It’s a neutral trail shoe with good forefoot protection. I need the protection to avoid stone bruises which many shoes allow. In many races I can run in a wide variety of running shoe styles without difficulty. The Ridge Run is rocky enough though to demand good protection from stone bruises if one wishes to run her fastest on the descents.
That said, the only time I had foot trouble in the race was last year. I was wear-testing a set of triathlon-like flexible laces. These were meant to be able the stretch to accommodate the varied demands trails place on the foot. I’d used them in training, but not on extremely steep down hills. Oops. It turns out that stretchy laces allow the foot to move way too much on steep down grades. Who knew?
My heel two weeks after the 2011 Bridger Ridge Run shoe lace test: Unfortunately I ran a six day stage race with both heels looking this way the week after BRR. Do not agree to test products (especially those not even made by your sponsor) during this race!