Adam Kimble’s rise to the podium and FKTs
(Tahoe Rim Trail photos by Helen Pelster)
In the decade he’s been running, Adam Kimble has graduated from the entry-level short road distances to 100-mile ultras and the 170ish-mile Fastest Known Time at the Tahoe Rim Trail. It’s the variety and the ultra-running community that drives him to keep exploring, motivating others and redefining what is possible.
After playing baseball for and graduating from Division I Bradley University in Illinois, Kimble took up running in 2011.
“I’d been around the community a little bit because my father-in-law was really involved with his local running club and doing all kinds of races, mostly 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, marathons every now and then,” he says. “I started to develop a love for just being around the people.”
Kimble ran a half marathon in that first year, then decided to run his first marathon in 2012, the Chicago Marathon. After initially thinking he had “been there, done that,” Kimble signed up for another marathon.
A couple of years later, at a friend’s encouragement, Kimble signed up for his first ultra, the catalyst that led him to becoming a professional ultra runner.
Trial by fire
Kimble, who at the time lived in Chicago, launched his ultra journey in May 2014 at the Tryon Farm Trail 50K in Michigan City, Ind.
“I'd never really done any trail races, but decided to mix it up and fell in love with it after that race,” he recalls. “I kept going from there. And the next thing I knew later that year, I'd done a 50-miler and a 100-miler and was well on my way to being a part of the ultra-running community for a long time.”
In northern Indiana, spring can bring wet conditions.
“The funny thing was it was one of those classic introduction to trial by fire,” he recalls. “It had rained a bunch the week leading up to the race. Literally a quarter of a mile into my first 50K, I was shin deep in water. So going from running pavement all the time to that was quite a change up, but something that I really grew to love.”
It wasn’t just the course conditions that illustrated the differences between road and trail races. While the streets of Chicago are packed with onlookers as tens of thousands of marathoners pass by, the Tryon ultra had a few hundred participants and far fewer spectators.
“I think the atmosphere of major road marathons is incredible,” he says. “Even as a professional ultra runner, I still try to get in about a marathon a year really for that reason. I love being a part of that. But that said, the flip side of it was really cool where you're in this really random rural area with 100, 200 runners. There's not a lot of fanfare. And people are just doing really impressive things and challenging themselves in incredible ways.
“The bare-bones approach is something that I love because it's just doing it for the love of the sport and for the love of challenging yourself to be a better person. And that, to me, is what the community is all about.”
‘An incredible race’
It did not take long for Kimble to realize that not only was the ultra community amazing but that he had a special talent for the sport.
“The turning point for me was in 2015 when I ran a self-supported stage race in China called the Gobi March,” he recalls, saying there were about 250 runners from 40 different countries. “It was an incredible race. I got to meet a lot of wonderful people. I ended up winning. Afterward, I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if this is something I could do for a living or something that I could build my life around.’ That was when it became possible in my mind.”
Kimble continues to be a competitive runner today, while also race directing and coaching other runners.
“While I've been really blessed and fortunate to do all kinds of things that tie into my professional ultra running, at the same time, nothing about making it my career has changed how I feel about it,” he says. “I'm still doing it for the same love. I'm just kind of pushing myself differently in some ways. Sometimes there's more on the line because it is my career, but really my frame of mind and how I approach things has never changed.”
A top five FKT
Last year Kimble’s FKT at the Tahoe Rim Trail was among the top five of the year as selected by judges for the Fastest Known Time website. His successful completion followed an attempt in October 2019 when he finished but did not break the FKT of the 170-mile trail that circumnavigates Lake Tahoe.
“The first time I made some errors in terms of timing and meeting my crew,” he recalls. “There was a crucial point on the course where it was tough for the crew to get to a certain point and they were trying to get there, but it just took a little longer than expected. So I ended up missing them.”
As a result, he forged on without fuel and water for more than 2 ½ hours.
“That really set me back. When I finished, I was really grateful to have finished, but it also kind of it left a little bit to be desired in the fact that I knew I could've done it better. And there were some mistakes that we could clearly have improved upon.”
Kimble was signed up for July’s 100-mile race in Tahoe. But as fate would have it, the pandemic canceled the race. Bring on a new FKT attempt.
“I told myself I was going to do it again, but I had no idea when that next attempt was going to be,” he says. “I already had the race date carved out in my mind. So I thought, well, rather than run this race course, why not go after the TRT FKT again? So that was the reason for the timing and doing it again so quickly. Fortunately the second time it went really well and I was able to get the record.”
Learning and pushing forward
While such a long FKT requires physical stamina, there also is a mental aspect a runner needs to be successful. Kimble summons a quote from Winston Churchill, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
“I just love that so much because I think it encapsulates what it's like to go after big goals and not let the potential of failure or just falling short of your initial goal, not letting that set you back in the future,” he explains. “The best thing that I can say to people in a position like that, where they've gone somewhere and haven't achieved it the first time, is the only way to improve and to put yourself in a better position to succeed is to take what you've learned and apply that to something the next time around.”
Kimble cites the example of Jim Walmsley, who misfired on his first two attempts at running Western States. Walmsley analyzed what went wrong, addressed those issues and now has not only won Western twice but set the course record in back-to-back years.
“The lesson there is it's not always going to go well the first time,” Kimble says. “But if you regroup and you take what you learned and you apply it again, you're going to put yourself in a much better position to succeed, or at least improve upon that first time. And that's really all you can ask for is having an opportunity to put what you've learned to work.”
His motivation was not just to improve on his time from the previous year.
“There's something sacred about the trails that you can call home and the place where you do a lot of your training,” says Kimble, who has lived in Tahoe for over four years. “The Tahoe Rim Trail has just become so special to me. There was this innate connectivity that I felt with the trail. And so it was just always in my mind that I was going to do this. It was just a matter of when. So the fact that it's such a big part of my training for other races was a big part of why I wanted to go after that record.”
In setting the FKT, his finishing time of 37:12:15 broke the previous supported time held by Kilian Jornet by about
“I was really excited and fired up to have this record held by a local,” he says. “There were a lot of people in our running community near Tahoe that had expressed that to me too. When I told them I was going after the record, both the first and second time, I got a lot of people saying, ‘It's about time that a Tahoe local is the one that holds that record.’ There was definitely a sense of community pride on the line. And that was a big part of what motivated me.”
A variety of challenges
As a runner who has been atop the podium at races and on top of the world after achieving FKTs like the TRT, Kimble is well positioned to compare and contrast the successes of each.
“That's a really good question,” he says. “It depends on all of the things that go into a given race or FKT. The Tahoe Rim Trail is always going to stand out to me because of all the things I mentioned and how much the trail means to me. Also for me, a big part of it is competition. So when I go to a race that's really highly competitive and have a great race, that means even more to me. Of course, breaking a record held by Kilian Jornet helps you feel like what you did was something that stands out a little bit.”
Kimble has completed a wide variety of races. Deserts. Mountains. Flat trails. Roads.
“I've discovered that I love pushing myself in different ways,” he explains. “It's funny, right? You could go out and run a 5K or a 10K. And if you're used to running ultras, that will seem like nothing. But the difference is that when you're running a really short race, you're pushing so hard that it hurts so much more, but just for a much shorter period of time. And then, you've got a 100-miler and beyond. That stuff is the slow burn where it's always hurting.”
While race calendars continue to be updated this year, Kimble currently has the 100K Ultra Race of Champions, Leadville 100 and the 31K at Javelina on his radar. He was drawn to Javelina due to its well-known atmosphere. Leadville is considered his “A” race for 2021. And the draw to UROC was to spread out his geographic diversity.
“I’ve had my mind on UROC for a while,” he says. “I had been focusing on trying to see more of the U.S. in my racing. I've done a pretty good job of doing some races in the Midwest because that's where I'm from. And then out in Northern California, we've got an endless amount of trail races that you can run out here.”
Kimble’s first race on the East Coast was the Vermont 100 in 2019.
“I had an awesome experience there. The Vermont 100 to this day is the hardest conditions I've ever had to race. It was low 90s with 100 percent humidity on race day. I've run those desert races where the temperatures were well over 100 degrees, but it was dry heat. And Vermont was so much hotter than those. It's not even close. It's crazy to think about it.”
As an athlete and coach, Kimble embraces what I’ve told my athletes this year: Dream big.
“I love that. In my experience, even when you dream big and you put yourself out there and you say, ‘This is what I'm going for,’ even if you don't achieve that top level goal, a lot of times you'll still be surprised by what you were able to accomplish. I would much rather see somebody throw out a goal that they or someone else thinks is impossible. And then just see what happens. Sometimes you get there and sometimes you get close, which is almost just as good.”
It’s a secret sauce of big goals and consistent training.
“We’re all capable of so much more than we think we are,” he says. “I'm constantly sort of rewriting my own idea of what I can do. It starts with what I like to tell my friends and athletes that I coach and everybody else is that it's important to set really big goals. But just set really big goals to start working toward them kind of day by day. Because a lot of times what happens is when we put in the work and we focus on just getting from point A to point B on a daily basis, we can really do a lot of incredible things and surprise ourselves.”
That’s not unlike when Kimble set out to do his first ultra in a remote field in Indiana.
“Sometimes when you set out to achieve something and you look at the entirety of the goal, you can get overwhelmed,” he says, referencing a first-time 100-miler. “Someone might say, ‘That's impossible. How can I do that?’ If you just break it down, take it day by day and just focus on being present, then by the time the 100-miler comes around, you'll not only be able to finish it, but probably even run a much stronger time than you thought.
“It's one of those things where I think we can't sell ourselves short and we just have to focus on being present every day and doing what we can do in the moment and watching how that pays dividends in the long run.”
Name: Adam Kimble
Hometown: Minooka, Illinois
Number of years running: 10
How many miles a week do you typically run: 75
Point of pride: Winning two television shows: "The Wheel" on the Discovery Channel and "The Price is Right" on CBS.
Favorite race distance: 100-miler
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Favorite night before a race meal is pizza, favorite food during a race is fruit (i.e. watermelon, strawberries and oranges)!
Favorite piece of gear: rabbit FKT 3" race shorts!
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: "Shake It Out" by Florence and the Machine.
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." -Winston Churchill
Where can other runners connect or follow you:
• Website: www.adamkimble.com
• Facebook Athlete Page: @AdamKimbleUltrarunner
• Instagram: @adamkimble818
• Twitter: @adamkimble818
• Strava: Adam Kimble