Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Blazing Fast Kami Semick (An Interview)

It’s rare that a runner can excel on both the road and trails, ranging in distances from marathons to 100k’s. But that is exactly what 39-year-old Kami Semick has done in the last year, winning the female division in the Seattle Marathon (2:53:11), Miwok 100k, Where’s Waldo 100k (course record), Kettle Moraine 100k (overall winner, overall course record), McDonald Forest 50k, Hagg Lake 50k (course record), Angel Island 50k (course record), Peterson Ridge Rumble 60k (course record), and placing a close second at the White River 50-mile national championships. With her recent streak, this Bend, OR-based runner and mom finds herself in the enviable position of leading the Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series hotly-contested women’s ultra division going into the last month.

(Kami Semick after winning the Where's Waldo 100k, August, 2005,
photo courtesy of Craig Thornley, Copyright All Rights Reserved)

I caught up with Kami after her come-from-behind-win at the Where’s Waldo 100k, and she graciously agreed to an interview.

First, congratulations on a great season! You’ve really posted some amazing times in the last two years. Have you been focusing on specific races this year, or just trying a bit of everything?

Thanks! My goal this year was to successfully complete a 100k race, and to build a solid base this year in order to step up to the 100 mile distance next year. I hit my 100k race goal at Miwok, and was pretty surprised at how well I ran. So, I thought, what the heck, I’d go for Montrail’s 100k Ultra Cup series. The final race in that series is the Great Eastern 100k coming up September 17.

How was Waldo for you?

Whew! Waldo was tough for me – I’ve been battling a nasty cold and now a sinus infection since White River three weeks ago. I finally gave in and got some antibiotics on Wednesday to clear up the infection. I started feeling human again yesterday, but the antibiotic/sin-u-tab cocktail I had this morning at 4 am wasn’t such a bright idea. I battled concrete legs and dizziness for the first 50 miles of this run, and then finally broke through and starting actually running! So the last twelve miles was a lot of fun.

How many races do you target per year?

Well, I didn’t really think it through this year, and I’ve been racing quite a bit. Next year when I start adding 100 milers, I’ll definitely par back the schedule.

Your time at the Seattle Marathon (2:53:11) was amazing, particularly for an ultrarunner. Do you commonly mix up road and trail racing? Which do you prefer?

Thanks, I was surprised at the marathon as well. But I typically don’t mix the two. Seattle was my second road race in about 10 years. I decided to run it on a whim. My parents live in Seattle, and it was a good way to burn off all that pumpkin pie I ate at Thanksgiving, since the marathon is the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I definitely prefer longer distance races, and I love trails. In the future I may do a road marathon here and there just to work on speed.

How long have you been trail running? How did you get into the sport?

I’ve been trail running for about fifteen years. Not the distances I’m running today, but I’ve always had a passion for running in a more natural setting verses the roads. In my early twenties, I was a computer programmer, and my first assignment was with the DMV in Nashville, Tennessee. I found Percy Warner Park, which is a huge, fabulous park on the west side of town, and spent my weekends running and mountain biking on its trails.
I started running longer distances and running ‘competitively’ in the last two years. I thought it would be fun to have a goal, so I entered a 50k trail race in 2003. Then, I just became addicted!

Do you cross-train outside of running (and chasing your 3 yr old daughter)?

Baronie is pretty fast, no doubt, especially when butterflies are involved.
I’m big on cross training. Variety is the spice of life! I love all sports that get me outside – mountain biking, road biking, climbing, skiing, snowboarding, hiking…love it all. In July of this year, I joined my husband on a 200+ mile one day bike ride from Seattle to Portland. Last year I did quite a bit of mountaineering. I make sure to take total cross training days two to three days a week, or more if I need to stay off my feet. I also do yoga on a regular basis.

Who crews for you at the longer races?

I haven’t really needed a crew yet. I’ll definitely look into pacers for the 100 mile distance. My husband usually has his hands full on race day with our daughter, so I’m lucky if he can manage a picture of my back crossing the finish line.

Do you train with a running club, or have a group of other ultrarunners you train with?

There are some fun ultra runners here in Bend and Sisters, but it’s definitely a challenge to coordinate schedules. We get together now and again, but I primarily run by myself.

I was recently in Bend, OR, for the Haulin’ Aspen Marathon and it’s a great town. How long have you lived in Bend? What brought you there? Where did you grow up?

Yeah, Bend is pretty great, isn’t it? We moved to Bend about three years ago from the San Francisco Bay Area. We lived in Berkeley when Baronie was born. It’s amazing how fast your priorities change once you’ve had a child. We wanted to downsize, live in a smaller community and spend more time together as a family doing fun stuff versus in the car commuting. Bend filled all of those needs.

I grew up mostly in the Pacific Northwest – Washington and Idaho.

What/who inspires you to race?

The day after Miwok, I was on a walk with my dad. We were reflecting on the race, and how well I did. I said, “Yeah, that was fun. I probably won’t go anywhere with ultrarunning, as it’s tough on Tyson (my husband) and Baronie (my daughter).” I expected my dad to agree with me, and reinforce my feelings I needed to make it easy on the family. But, he looked at me and said, “You have to go for it.” So, that’s what I’m doing. Thanks, dad. I couldn’t do this without the support of my family, and my biggest fans, my mom and dad.

(Kami charging at the Where's Waldo 100k, photo courtesy of Craig Thornley)

What are some of your favorite races/locations?

I really like to see new trails. So my favorite is the trail I haven’t yet run. Of the trails that I have run, I love the Marin Headlands, home of Miwok, and the awesome trails in the Three Sisters Wilderness outside of Bend.

Lastly, a few training questions. What’s a typical training week look like for you? How many miles? Do you mix in other sports regularly?

If I’m not recovering or resting up for a race, I try to do two long, hilly runs (3-4 hrs each), if I can, back too back. Then throw in couple of fast 10 mile runs during the week. Cross training to fill in the rest of the days.

I don’t keep a training log. I like to run according to how I feel. My guess as far as mileage goes, is that it’ll range from 40 miles a week with a lot of cross training, to maybe 90 miles, with some cross training.

Some ultrarunners have told me you have a great kick at the end of a race. Is there something in your training that helps you stay strong in the final miles?

In training runs, after warming up I work on running a consistent pace. And it’s not unusual after a long run, for me to go on a hike with the family and carry Baronie in a back pack for an hour or two. Maybe that helps. For race strategy, I try and run below the red line for the first half, so I have something left at the end. Although, that can be tough when I’m running with a pack of fast women. It’s a challenge to have the discipline to hold back.

What are your favorite foods/race snacks? Any other products?

Fig bars, potatoes and salt work when I’m not nauseated. Otherwise, I try to choke down some gels. Although I’d never drink a coke outside of a race, it sure hits the spot near the end of a long race.

As far as other products are concerned, I go as light as possible. I carry two water bottles, and I make sure to put on sunscreen before heading out to a race. Sunscreen is important to me, so I use a product called Himaya. I really like it because it lasts all day, it's sweat proof, waterproof, doesn't sting my eyes and isn't greasy.

You’ve raced a few ultras without much time to recover. Any recovery tips/secrets you would like to share?

Rest and cross training. For cross training while recovering, I really like running in the deep end a pool. For me, pool running really helps my muscles get rid of the lactic acid while allowing the tendons and ligaments to recover. I also try to eat some extra protein to help in muscle recovery. I tend toward a vegetarian diet, but have learned that protein, usually fish or lean chicken, makes a big difference for me in recovery. And a glass or two of red wine always seems to help balance running, relaxing and life.

Any tips you would like to pass on to somebody trying their first ultra?

Sure – run painfully slow in the first half, so you can fly in the second half. And make sure to talk to the people around you; it’s fun, and you might just make a good friend.

What’s next on the race/run agenda?

The Great Eastern 100k, September 17.

Thanks for a great interview!

Thank you Scott. Great blog!


  1. Another deep water running recovery nut! I think you're cracking the secrets on these super-athletes.

  2. great interview..enjoyed reading it.

  3. Nice Story, really enjoyed it. Check out our blog/site if you get a chance.

  4. I hadn't heard of the Montrail Ultra Cup Series. What is the grand prize if you win the whole thing?

    Kami is leading the 100k competition, btw. Here's the link (


  5. What a great story. I happen to know this incredible person and can't say enough great things about Kami. In addition to being an amazing athlete she it truly an incredible human being!

    Love you much Kami!!!

  6. Just to answer Emma's question, I'm not sure what the prize is for the montrail ultra cup 100k series, maybe a pair of shoes or something;-)


  7. Justin -

    Thanks for your comment (and good luck with econ class!). Your thoughts about the economics of trail running are very interesting. But I would suggest thinking about it slightly differently.

    I'm sure you have heard of the term "utility" in economics. It is roughly described as "the advantage or fulfillment a person receives from consuming a good or service". All economics is based on how people deal with scarcity of assets (like time, available product, etc.) in order to maximize utility. Money can be both an asset and utility (which is why it makes the world go 'round)- you are describing it above as a utility, since it is a benefit.

    The utility received from trail running is composed of things like peace of mind, accomplishment, simplicity, health, and entertainment. For trail runners, this utility far outweighs the utility gained from money, or from working an extra hour that produces money but none of the above benefits. You can actually think of it as proof that utility must be something other than money, since otherwise no logical person would do it.

    But it also raises the question of why folks like Kami run so far. One would expect the marginal utility for running an additional mile to decrease, and for most people, the utility would be almost nothing once you've gone 20 miles or so. At some point it provides no value, and you are motivated to do something else that produces more utility (like sleep or go back to work). Whatever this utility is beyond mile 20 is only recognized by a small group of people (about 20,000 ultra runners in the world). But it clearly is a large return for them.

    The best part about the utility of ultra running is there is little scarcity of supply. You just go outside. So if your demand curve for mileage is fairly flat (ie, you get high utility from running lots of miles), you can just keep running and never run out of supply.

    The real scarcity in the equation is time. Given a fixed amount of time, everyone will look to maximize utility for that period of time. Adam Smith (and Abraham Maslow) would say that a person focuses on their basic needs first, and once that is covered, find the activities that maximizes utility. So you work just enough to get outside and run.

    My two cents, anyway. Keep blogging, Justin - this is exactly why this hobby is so fun because you can think about things in new and interesting ways.


  8. Great interview...I ran/trained with Kami on her first marathon in FL when we were in college - she was way fast...even back then.

  9. Kami is the 2005 Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series Ultra Overall Champion!!!!


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