Nikki Kimball – ‘Hints ‘n’ Tips’ Marathon des Sables #MDS2015

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Nikki Kimball is one of the most highly respected ultra runners in the world, Her running CV is beyond comprehension. It all started in 2000 with a win at Escarpment Trail Run 30k at the age of 29.

In 2004, Nikki had a break through moment with victory at the iconic Western States. Nikki also won again in 2006 and in 2007 she did the ultra double winning Western States and UTMB in the same year.

An ever present in the world of ultra running, Nikki has often been referenced as a true pioneer of the sport. In 2014 Nikki ran the Marathon des Sables for the first time and won! The Marathon des Sables is 30+-years old this year so I wondered, what knowledge could Nikki pass on before the next edition.

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It’s been a while Nikki, when did we last speak?

No, we spent a week together in Morocco.

Exactly… April, not that long ago I guess. A great place to start: was that your first multi day race?

I have done Jungle Marathon in Brazil, very similar to MDS but a lot less comfortable due to humidity. I did that in 2009. You need to carry all your gear just like MDS and I have done Transrockies too which is like summer camp.

I knew you had done Transrockies but not the Jungle Marathon.

 Oh yeah, Transrockies is a vacation.

 What enticed you to Morocco and MDS, great way to start a year?

Yes, I guess. I thought it would be great training for Western States. That was my initial goal. The UTWT helped me get me to Morocco so I must thank them. I had wanted to do MDS for some time but the financial side was an issue. I got the opportunity and wow; it was just awesome. It was so much more than what I expected. I was overwhelmed by the race. It is so professional, so impressive it is quite mind blowing. It was an incredible week of running.

So many have a perception of what MDS is. From a UK perspective it is an expensive race… USA also. The entry fee is high; I guess travel from the UK is okay but less so from the USA. It costs thousands of pounds and dollars. I am often asked: why does it cost so much? But having experienced it, it is the biggest circus I have ever seen.

Oh yeah. It’s amazing. The logistics are amazing. They have full medical teams and so on… There is a good reason why race entry is so much. It is beyond impressive. It is an unbelievable undertaking.

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From your perspective, the ‘Batchens’ (Lisa-Smith and Jay) are heavily involved as USA agents. Lisa-Smith has won the race. Did you speak with them pre race?

Oh for sure. I stayed with them and asked every question possible.

So you came well prepared?

Yes I think so. I also spoke and spent time with 2013 ladies winner, Meghan Hicks, so, between Lisa and Meghan I was well looked after. They understood the race and they could pass that on. You know, the feel of the race. Races have a feel and MDS definitely has a unique feel.

 Great that you should get advice from the other Americans who have won the race?

Oh yeah, we all live relatively close together so it was great.

 Talk me through the 2014 race. Give me some highlights!

Wow, the first couple of days were fun. I didn’t push it hard and I enjoyed the atmosphere. I was kind of having some depression problems prior to MDS. I have major depression anyway and I was kind of not doing too well going into the race. I remember on the first day… I was climbing a dune and I could see nothing but sunshine and happy people. My mood lifted. It was just amazing. The depression broke and it was really instrumental to setting the stage for the race. Day two and three was easy and then I guess it was the long day that I made my move. I had planned beforehand that I would try to win the race that day.

 Yes I remember pre race when we chatted that you said you would make a push that day. You expected Laurence Klein to be faster on the short days but the long day would play into your skill set and 100-mile experience.

I have never had a race go so well. It went perfect. Exactly to plan; easy couple of days and then ramp it up. I’m really happy with how it all went.

Did you get nervous early on? You know, thinking that you were giving time away to Laurence or did you have complete confidence?

I had confidence that I was racing the best way for me and that my strategy would give me my best performance. I had no idea how Laurence would race. I couldn’t control her pace, so I just ran my own race. I didn’t know I would beat Laurence but equally I wasn’t convinced I would loose to her either. After day two one of the French reporters asked me, “At this point do you think that you could possibly beat Laurence?” Big mistake… I was polite but I thought, ‘I will show ya!’

Well it’s a French race and Meghan won in 2013 so I guess they were hoping they would have a French lady back on the podium.

I guess so.

You upset the apple cart. Once the long day was done, did you just consolidate?

Absolutely! I have just completed sixteen years of ultra running. That is a long time. Once I took that lead on the long day, I knew I had no need to push. I could just defend and race smart. I don’t even know how many ultras I have done… but I know I don’t need to destroy myself.

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Great tactic. No extra points or extra prestige for winning by more hours. A great lesson for us all here!

I knew I had races coming up so I wanted to be sensible.

It’s a new year and MDS is not far away…  Runners are now suddenly panicking. The race is just months away. So may questions. What rucksack, what shoes, what sleeping bag, what food, tell us about bivouac and so on. What tips do you have for everyone that worked for you?

I had a very light sleeping bag and that was all I needed. I was warm in that but I do believe 2014 was a warm year. It didn’t really get cold at night, so, you may need to be careful on that. If you are racing and want to be competitive then weight is everything. You must go as light as possible. I didn’t have a sleeping pad, no luxuries, and no creature comforts. But if you want to ‘complete’ it makes sense to have a few comforts but don’t go crazy, remember you have to carry it!

How about food, what strategy did you use. You need a minimum calorie allowance.

Yes, I carried the minimum.

How did you break those calories down? It’s always a big debate; fat v carbs, dried food, bars, liquid, gels and so on. What did you do?

I took advice from Lisa and Meghan and a woman called Susan Hunt who had done loads of research on MDS. I went with what I thought would work for me. That is what you have to do. For me, I did one freeze-dried meal at night, which provided good calories. I rolled out all my food before I went to Morocco and mad it as small as possible and then put it in new bags. I just added water and then put them back in the sun to warm it so I didn’t need a stove. I also took a great deal of calories in peanut oil. It’s oil that lasts (it doesn’t go rancid) and it has loads of calories.

How did you carry that peanut oil?

I decanted it to small plastic bottles. I had over 1000 calories of peanut oil and I added it to my food. It was easy calories. If I go to MDS again I would take more. It worked really well.

So you had 1000+ calories to last the week?

Yes, I wasn’t eating 1000 calories of oil a day but I would definitely take much more for another trip or race like this. It’s great; just add to food and it really works.

 

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What did you do for breakfast?

I had dehydrated potatoes but it didn’t really work for me. I don’t eat a high carb diet anyway so it was a struggle. They tasted great for a couple of days and then I couldn’t stand it. I was throwing my breakfast away, crazy.

Yes, so many struggle with what they thought was safe food and then they can’t eat it. I remember Meghan saying she had a favourite bar that she loved. It was a bar she could eat anytime, so she took them to MDS. After day one (I think) she couldn’t face them! It is funny how your palette changes so quickly when under stress.

Exactly. I’m not sure how you find out what works though? I think variety is good. You need to play safe to a certain extent.

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What would be a breakfast choice now?

I would still take potato but only for a couple of days and then I would take some other freeze-dried option.

On the trail each day, how did you get calories?

I ate dried mango. I loved them and I never got sick of it. They were really great. I also had little packets of ‘Vespa’ for amino acid. That helped too. I knew I would burn my own fat for calories. You can’t race on 2000 calories alone so you will burn fat. I didn’t need to eat all that much really.

Great point! You have already mentioned you don’t eat much carb so am I correct to assume that you have a low carb and low sugar diet. You look to be fat adapted.

Not always but yes, for the last few years I have raced this way. I let myself go a little in the off-season but when I am racing I need to be 100% on my nutrition game. It’s all about balance, running is important but not all consuming.

I guess you prepared for MDS when the New Year started, what was training like. Did you do anything specific so that you knew you would be performant in Morocco?

When I signed up for MDS, I got invited to India to do a run. That wasn’t planned so I had to fit that in. This race was in February. It was a 100km in the heat in a salt desert on the Pakistan border; that was perfect! It was a great jump-start. I had no heat training at all really from that point onwards but I did run in the snow and that worked great. Running in the snow is very similar to the sand and dunes.

Yes, sand and snow very similar feel when running.

Yes, I have been running in the snow this winter and it has reminded me of MDS. Obviously running in the cold isn’t ideal but snow-running technique was brilliant. I have however always run well in the heat. My Western States performances confirm this.

What about back-to-back runs, speed sessions and running with a pack?

I didn’t run with a pack at all… I had one of those WAA packs and they are incredible. It fit me like a glove. I recommend people train with a pack but I do ski mountaineering and I always use a pack so I don’t need to adapt. I am 100% used to it.

I mentioned speed work and back-to-back runs. I guess you have been running so long that running a multi day is second nature?

Yes. I did no back-to-backs or speed. I have been doing this running thing for years.

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You have an incredible running history. You’ve won Western States and UTMB and so many other incredible races, so where does MDS fit. Is it one of the best?

Oh yes. It’s up there. It was a surprise for me. I didn’t expect it to be as fun and as challenging as it was. As I mentioned, I was a little depressed pre race and so therefore I was a little down. But the race kicked me out of that and I had a ball. I’d love to go back some day. It was a wonderful learning curve too. I met so many amazing people. It holds a special place in my heart.

I agree, MDS is quite special; I feel fortunate to witness the race from the outside looking in. Documenting each participant’s journey through images and words. Final question; how difficult do you rate MDS?

It’s no easy race if you are pushing at the front. But it’s as easy or as hard as you want it to be. The cut offs are generous and that provides so many with an opportunity, which is great. But if you are looking to be at the front, you have to be fit, dedicated and focused. It’s not the hardest race I have done but it is also not the easiest.

*****

Nikki will race The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica (HERE) in February and will hopefully peak for the 2015 Western States.

Nikki has a new film about to be released called FINDING TRACTION that documents her journey on the Long Trail (see Here)

If you require any photography, words or articles re Marathon des Sables please email using the contact form below.

 

 

Western States 2014 – Race Preview

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An incredible weekend of trail and mountain running will unfold on the 27th – 29th of June. In Europe, the Skyrunning World Championships will take place on the trails of the endurance capital of the world, Chamonix.

Across the pond in Squaw Valley, the super bowl of trail will take place. The best male and female trail runners will arrive to do battle over the 100-mile distance in what is arguably, the most iconic ultra race in the world, Western States.

One could say that WSER has come a long way since the 70’s when Gordy Ainsleigh blazed a trail, but in reality, little has changed. WSER is still a relatively low key 100-miler that gains worldwide attention due to the history and the quality of the competition.

2014 will not have previous winner and course record holder, Ellie Greenwood on the start line. Equally, we will not have 2-time winner, Timothy Olson. So, does that mean it’s wide open?

Unlike me, I am going to make a prediction from the off!

Men’s champion 2014 – Rob Krar

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Ladies champion 2014 – Nathalie Mauclair

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The Ladies

I can hear the gasp! Nathalie who?

You may be right, I am sticking my neck out here and although Nathalie Mauclair hasn’t run Western States before, I am going to go on my gut feelings, the love of a dark horse prediction and basically put it all on the line and say, Nathalie can do it! Nathalie was a relatively unknown last year and a quality run at Transvulcania La Palma placed her on the map. Winning the World Trail Running championships proved it was no fluke and then to top it all, Nathalie only went on to win Raid de la Reunion, arguably one of the toughest 100-miles races on the calendar. Those three results alone show fast running over technical terrain, just good old fast trail running and the ability to endure, hike and last on a trail for a long time. Nathalie may well turn heads at WSER and although UTMF didn’t go to plan earlier this year, if Nathalie has good form and she has no injuries I am going to stick to my guns and say, Nathalie for the win!

Last years winner, Pam Smith has experienced both ends of the WSER spectrum and understands what it is like to be on top of the podium and way down the field struggling just to finish. Post WSER in 2013, Pam went on a blitz with a 14:11:26 at Desert Solstice for 100-miles, a win at ORRC Autumn Leaves 50m and 5th at Run Rabbit Run. A relatively quiet start to 2014 can only mean one thing, Pam has been in hiding and training; training hard!

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Nikki Kimball cannot be ruled out in any race, especially WSER. Nikki knows how to run the race, loves the heat and although she may not be the fastest lady, (on paper) experience counts for so much. This came to fruition last year with 2nd place. I remember Nikki crying at the finish of Transvulcania, she said, ‘I am back!’ Injury issues put to one side, Nikki now races less but when she races, she makes it count. Great proof of this is her win at the 2014 edition of Marathon des Sables. Nikki will be in the mix.

Stephanie Howe if the early 2014 performances are anything to go by,  is on a roll. A 2nd place 7:33:24 at Lake Sonoma 50m and a win at Mesquite Canyon 50km  must have the female competition looking over and thinking, ‘we gotta keep an eye on her!’ They do. I think Stephanie will move up and almost certainly break top-5 and to be honest, any podium place is for the taking if it all comes together on the day. A 2nd behind Emelie Forsberg at UROC and a win at Speedgoat 50k just proves the potential.

Kaci Lickteig is not a runner I know a great deal about. But what I do know is that she ran 6-races in 2013 and won every one! In 2014, Kaci placed 2nd at Rocky Raccoon 100-mile, 3rd at Sonoma just 10-min behind Steph Howe’s first place and recently won Ice Age Trail 50m in May. That is a lot of racing and will either mean that Kaci will be in the form of her life in Squaw or just a little jaded. If it’s the former, I see top-5!

Emily Harrison placed 7th last year in 20:28 but on recent form at Lake Sonoma 50m (7:26:15 for the win) and Casumett 50k (3:15:01), one has to think that Emily will break top-5 and stir things up. One year on with more experience, Emily will potentially have a break through performance.

Meghan Arbogast like Nikki Kimball knows WSER like the back of her hand and to put this in perspective she placed 4th last year and 2014 will be Meghan’s 8th WSER. A recent 5th place at Tarawera in New Zealand shows good form but in reality, it may well mean nothing. Meghan now lives on the WSER course and in 2014 we may well see her in the best form ever. Can she get the coveted sub 18:30 time she so desires? It may not be politically correct but you have to take your hat off to this lady, not many 50+ runners can kick the butt of runners considerably younger.

Rounding out the top-10 or maybe sneaking top-5

Liza Howard in 2014 was 1st at Umstead 100-mile and 2nd at Bandera but I don’t think will race?

Denise Bourassa has finished WSER twice and placed 8th in 2013

Leila Degrave placed 9th in 2013

Beth Cardelli arrives from the Southern Hemisphere where she is a consistent top performer. Beth run WSER in 2011 and placed 12th with 22:16:28. If she has a good day, top-10 is within her potential for sure.

Shaheen Sattar took her WSER slot with 3rd at Rocky Raccoon and backs up her place with 2nd at Leadville in 2013.

Ones to watch:

Larisa Dannis in 2014: 3rd Ice Age Trail 50m, 1st Land Between The Lakes 50m and 4th at Rocky Raccoon

Tera Dube in 2014: 4th at Miwok 100k, 9th Lake Sonoma 50m. 4th Ray Miller 50m

Sally McRae in 2014: 6th at Lake Sonoma and 2nd at Ray Miller 50

Silke Koester in 2014: 2nd Zane Grey 50m. and 4th at Bandera 100k

 

 

The Men

Rob Krar was on fire in 2013. Relatively unknown until that incredible win at Leona Divide and then the FKT in the Grand Canyon. I remember interviewing him post that incredible rim-to-rim-to-rim and he spoke about WSER and how the 100-mile distance was a complete mystery to him and how he would give it the utmost respect. Well, the respect worked and he took out 2nd place. Following that up with a stomping UROC win ahead of Dakota Jones and then TNF50 victory gave Rob the award of Ultra Runner of the Year and rightly so! With no Timothy Olson in the race, Rob along with Ryan Sandes will have huge targets on their backs. Rob can handle that pressure and for me is the hot favourite.

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Ryan Sandes missed WSER last year after getting injured and what followed was a year to forget for Ryan. However, he has more than put that annus horribilis behind him with an incredible start to 2014 with a win at Transgrancanaria, a FKT on The Drakensberg Traverse and quality run at UTMF behind Francois d’Haene. Ryan knows how to run WSER and his 15:03:36 behind Olson’s 14:46:44 in 2012 shows he has all the potential to top the podium, providing he isn’t too tired. Krar ran 15:22 last year against Olson’s 15:17 so a battle royal is predicted.

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If in form, Miguel Heras could very well upset the apple cart. Miguel has had a real rollercoaster with injury and just earlier this year had to miss Marathon des Sables with injury. Word is, that Miguel is in great shape and ready, if that is true, watch out! Looking back to 2011, Miguel had 6-victories that included Transvulcania La Palma, Ronda dels Cims and Cavalls del Vent, that is some result sheet. Add to that his incredible 5:33:13 at San Fran 50 in 2012 and 2nd at UTMB in 2013 and Miguel can win WSER, no doubt!

Ian Sharman has been very quiet, sacrificed a quality run at Comrades and for one reason only, to have the best run possible at WSER. Ian has a great record at WSER and has continually moved up through the ranks, 5th in 2012 and 4th in 2013. Pulling off 4th whilst continuing on for ‘Grand Slam’ victory and a new Grand Slam record was nothing short of miraculous. Ian will have his work cut out in 2014 against a top quality field.

Nick Clark

Tough guy, Nick Clark needs no introduction. He’s pushed and pushed at WSER and last year pushed Ian Sharman for the Grand Slam and actually held the combined CR, albeit for just 30-min or so before Ian took it over! Clarky is focused on WSER once again and so desperately wants that top slot. He has placed 3rd twice and run under 16-hours a couple of times. Now a vet, statistics would say that in this field he would be hard pushed to podium but you can NEVER rule him out. He would be a popular winner!

Along with Nick Clark and Ian Sharman, British hope will rest in Jez Bragg. I had actually forgot what great results Jez had had at WSER. In 2009 he placed 3rd in a time of 16:54:35 and 4th in 2011 going 1-hour quicker in 15:55:08. Placing 15th male in 2012 was a blip and of course since then, Jez had a little ‘jolly’ in New Zealand. The Te Araroa expedition needed considerable rest and recovery. Placing 10th male at UTMB in 2013 shows us that Jez is on his way back. However, WSER has moved on in the last couple of years and Jez is going to need to be in great shape to contest the top-5.

Dylan Bowman

Dylan Bowman has changed his training and outlook since the 2013 UTMB, a race he was forced to miss with a last minute injury. Getting back in shape and improving fitness gave D’Bo 5th at San Fran 50 in December 2013. Following this up with a great 9th place at Transgrancanaria, Dylan was truly devastated with the effort that Canarian race took. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone so affected by a race. Jump ahead and for sure, we can expect a prepared and ready D’Bo for WSER. His recent win at Ray Miller 50 in 6:23:17 means a great deal and his WSER record of 5th in 2013, 7th in 2012 shows that a break through performance is due. 2014 may well be the year?

Excitement will circulate around the 100-mile debut performance of Max King. Max is super talented with incredible depth and ability over a variety of distances. A WMRA world Champion, a fast marathon runner and consistently performant over the 50k and 50m distances, Max potentially could be an unstoppable force over the WSER route. However, I don’t think it will be this year! Records show that as the race gets longer, Max starts to slow a little and more importantly has terrible trouble with his stomach. I think Max is going to need a consistent WSER run just to find his feet. The difficulty will be if Max can hold back the reigns in the first half of the race. If he does, we may well see him in the top-10. If not… it may be a struggle to finish. In 2014, Max has already had to great results with a win at Ice Age Trail 50m in 5:41:07, 7th Lake Sonoma 50m in 6:37:20 and a win at Chuckanut 50k in 3:35:42. I wonder, could he hold that pace for 100-miles?

Rounding out my potential top-10: Thomas Lorblanchet, Brendan Davis and Jorge Maravilla.

Thomas Lorblanchet seemed to disappear after his victory at Leadville. He left Salomon and joined Asics and then just recently the click started to happen. Thomas won Course des Templiers, arguably one of the biggest trail races in France at the end of 2013. His recent 6th at Trail Du Ventoux 46km in March provides little information on his current form. But I often assume, no news is good news and he has the potential to be a surprise package.

Brendan Davies is so focused on WSER. I posted a recent photo of him training on a treadmill, fully dressed with a face maravillamask on and heaters blowing on him. Pure dedication! Maybe too dedicated? He races a lot and races fast. Already this year he has toed the line Narrabeen all nighter 12-hour, MSIG Sai Kung 50, Tarawera, UTMF and TNF100 in Australia. Brendan likes to run and prefers trail if it’s not too technical. So, WSER will play into his hands.

Finally, Mr. Smiler, Jorge Maravilla will be looking to improve on his 8th at WSER from 2012. Jorge had a blip in 2013 placing 23rd but his recent win at Bandera 100km and US Trail Championship title must go a long way in boosting his confidence.

To be honest, WSER has so much depth that a winner and certainly a top-10 finisher could come from anywhere, so, although the following names don’t make my top-10 prediction, anyone of them could!

Chris Price may well be the big surprise after 4th at Hardrock and 2nd at Zane Grey.

Karl Meltzer is preparing for the AT and lacks the speed of many of the other guys but he can run 100-miles with his eyes closed, knows how to pace the perfect race and loves to sweep up as everyone crumbles.

David Laney has already raced a great deal in 2014 – 2nd at Chuckanut 50k and Bandera 100k. This will be his 1st 100-miler.

Matt Laye won Rocky Raccoon 100 in February… should he be in the top-10 prediction?

Vajin Armstrong has been a dominant force in the Southern Hemisphere running for some time and in 2013 he ventured to Europe and placed 2nd at Swiss Alpine Marathon and Zugspitz. A win at Bedrock 50 in 2014 is backed up with 3rd at Tarawera, 4th at Hong Kong 100 and 13th at Transvulcania.

Yassine Diboun placed 9th at WSER in 18:44.

Dominic Grossman winner of Angeles Crest 100 in 2013.

Ones to watch:

Paul Terranova

David Eadie

AJW

And a notable mention for Steve Spiers.

 

Who have I missed and what do you think?

One thing is for sure; it’s going to be quite a race.

Marathon des Sables 2014 #MDS2014 Images – Stage 5

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The 29th edition of the Sultan Marathon des Sables.

STAGE 5 RICH MERZOUG / IGADOUN TARHBALT 42.2KM

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Marathon des Sables 2014 #MDS2014 Images – Stage 4 (The Long Day)

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The 29th edition of the Sultan Marathon des Sables.

STAGE 4 BA HALLOU / RICH MERZOUG 81.5KM

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Marathon des Sables 2014 #MDS2014 Images – Stage 2

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The 29th edition of the Sultan Marathon des Sables.

STAGE 2 ERG ZNAIGUI / OUED MOUNGARF 41KM

MDS2014 Stg2

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Marathon des Sables 2014 #MDS2014 Images – Stage 1

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The 29th edition of the Sultan Marathon des Sables.

STAGE 1 OUEST ERG CHEBBI / ERG ZNAIGUI 34KM

MDS2014 Stg1

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No reproduction or sharing please.