Ultra-Luminary - Page 3
When Columbia Sportswear bought the grassroots footwear company January 2006, the Montrail-Patagonia Ultrarunning team was slashed to 16 athletes and Moehl’s job was dramatically altered. Though she was offered a position at the restructured company, she turned it down. The same period, Moehl and Sybrowsky separated, the reasons for which she keeps personal.
“Krissy, you need some windshield time,” a friend and fellow ultrarunner, Garett Graubins, told her at an outdoor-industry tradeshow. He was right.
After a quiet separation, a wistful Moehl packed up her car and spent the reminder of 2006 zigzagging across the Western United States, interrupting the road trip for a few side-trips by air to race or visit friends in Alaska, New Hampshire, California and Virginia. While on the road, she strung together visits with fellow ultrarunners Roch Horton, Hal Koerner, Kimball, Emily Baer, Luanne Park, Nate and Petra McDowell and thru-hiked the 482-mile Colorado Trail with National Geographic Adventure’s Adventurer of the Year, Andrew Skurka (see Bonus Content on www.trailrunnermag.com for more about Moehl’s trip). “I wanted to see where my friends love to run and eat at their favorite restaurants and coffee shops,” she says.
With each mile logged on the highway and on foot, Moehl regained a sense of personal peace and balance, racking up five women’s course records at races between 50 miles and 100K. “There aren’t many problems a long run can’t solve,” she says. The overwhelming hospitality and generosity she received at every stop of her fervid tour further expanded her “ultrarunning family” and reinvigorated her spirit. “It was such a powerful time during which I could adjust to the upheaval and plant my feet again.”
Starting 2007 with a new post as Nathan Sports’ promotions manager meant Moehl would be spending more time than ever marching through airport corridors and running on treadmills in cramped hotel gyms or on flat asphalt roads. The regimen was far from ideal training for her new objective: Colorado’s Hardrock 100-miler. Held at an average of 11,000 feet in elevation and boasting 33,000 feet of ascent, it is notorious for cracking even the strongest, most seasoned runner.
Moehl’s saving grace was her familiarity with Hardrock’s course, having paced Leland Barker, a veteran of 60 ultras (“He dropped me twice,” she says), Stephanie Ehret, Moehl’s teammate at the Trailwalker Hong Kong 100K in 2002 (they won) and Roch Horton, twice. It wasn’t until last year that Moehl says she “had the guts” to race Hardrock herself.
She arrived in Silverton, Colorado (where Hardrock starts and finishes), two weeks early to acclimatize and pre-run the route through the San Juan Mountains over four days. She also reviewed her race-preparation checklist:
Trained properly for a 30-hour mountain ultra? Not really, but perhaps that 40-mile training run in Seattle six weeks ago with Scott [Jurek, who was also running his first Hardrock] made up for it.
Acclimatized enough to get over 14,000-foot Handies Peak with out blowing up? Hopefully.
Organized an impromptu soccer game with local kids to take mind off pre-race jitters? Check.
Toenails painted purple with silver sparkles for good luck? Check.
Under cloudless skies on a warm July evening, Moehl jogged into Hardrock’s aid station at Ouray (mile 56) feeling fine but a little lonely after a long day running solo. She was happy to see her friend and Silverton local, Emily Baer, 31, there, looking bright and strong. Baer was on pace for her best Hardrock finish ever (she was 20th in both 2004 and 2005). Krissy picked up her pacer, Africa, and the two chatted and laughed their way through the next four hours as they ascended 13,000-foot Virginius Pass to Telluride.
Later that night at Chapman Aid station, four-time Hardrock winner Karl Meltzer was getting back onto his feet after a two-hour snooze just as Moehl rolled in. He was surprised to see her—and impressed. “It’s such a hard race that your average pace is maybe four miles an hour,” says Meltzer. “You don’t need to be fast—you need to be strong. Krissy seems to excel in this kind of tough mountain terrain.”
From there, 23-year-old rising ultra star, Kyle Skaggs, was Moehl’s pacer. “I kept thinking, I have all this experience and here’s this kid reminding me to eat gels and not go too fast,” she says. Similar to the magic that took place at Wasatch three years earlier, Moehl tapped into a powerful internal energy source that catapulted her through the final 18 miles in 5:42, just three minutes off race winner Jurek’s split for that same section. Moehl’s women’s course record of 29:24:45 placed her third overall, only 26 minutes behind second-place Meltzer.
“While previewing the course’s last couple of miles, I cried picturing what it would feel like to finish Hardrock,” she recalls. “When it was the real deal, I was working so hard there were no tears. But after kissing the rock, all the emotion just poured out.” Moehl’s moving moment at the finish-line boulder became a YouTube video.
“What was unexpected was how well it went,” she says. “My running had been suffering, and I just didn’t feel focused or in a solid place personally from which to train properly.”
So what invigorated her?
Eight people from three different states converged in Silverton to support Moehl’s Hardrock quest. It was the kind of outpouring of friendship and support she never takes for granted. “It was amazing to get all these people together and pull something off that I didn’t think was possible,” she says.
It’s 11 a.m. in Bend, Oregon, and Moehl taps away on a computer in a small office she shares with her boss, John Sterling. After less than a year at Nathan, Moehl left (they still sponsor her) and took a job with the Conservation Alliance. Though she now sits behind a desk five days a week, she still carves out time to run. It’s Taco Stand Tuesday at Footzone, a local running shop. She leaves a few bucks with the shop employees and after a speedy seven-mile workout with the guys, returns to the shop where a hot burrito awaits.
Back at the office, Moehl is immersed in a new world of environmental conservation funding and policy rather than athletes and running-shoe technology. As a runner she valued not shortcutting trails or littering as a way to protect the environment, and now with the Conservation Alliance, she helps allocate funding to projects protecting the wild places that house the country’s most beautiful trails.
She’s nesting and quickly establishing new social circles, though some of her Bend friends have no idea she’s a top endurance athlete. And that’s how she likes it. Even while at Montrail, where her job was to promote others’ accomplishments, she never made much noise about her own.
Moehl is also putting the final touches on the Chuckanut 50K, a race she’s directed for five years. As site of her first ultra victory, the event is dear to her. She’s even put Peggy in charge of the burrito bar that feeds Chuckanut’s 350 participants. “I get more excited to race direct than anything,” says Moehl, who’s sleeping only four hours a night because her mind is whirring through an endless to-do list. “I love creating this race experience and bringing first timers into the ultrarunning world that I love so much.”
She’s eyeing ultras she’s never done before like October’s inaugural Grindstone 100-miler in Swoope, Virginia. However, some of her peers believe she has yet to reach her full potential at the country’s most competitive 100-mile classics. “I’d like to see her race Western States really hard,” says Jurek. “There aren’t many women who could keep up to Nikki, but I have a good feeling she’d be close.”
Wherever Moehl focuses her energy next, whether it’s racing, race directing, environmental advocacy or being a bellwether for the sport of ultrarunning, will benefit. “She brings so much to everything she does, we’re just lucky she fell into this sport,” says Roch Horton.
Elinor Fish is Managing Editor of Trail Runner. This article originally appeared in our August 2008 issue.