Vermont’s Long Trail traverses the Green Mountains, which stretch a full 273 miles along spine of the state, including peaks over 4,000 feet.
It can take even the fittest hiker several weeks to complete, but ultra runner Nikki Kimball holds the women’s record of running the trail in just 5 days, 7 hours and 42 minutes.
She broke the women’s record in 2012 on her first attempt at running the trail. Her time is the top five speed records of all time, both men’s and women’s. Now she has set her sights on breaking all the records, which would mean running the gnarly trail in under four and half days.
The documentary Finding Traction follows Nikki Kimball and her quest to become the fastest person in history to run America's oldest hiking trail. It airs in Vermont this October.
Kimball says she set her sights on running the Long Trail at a young age:
“I think I must have been 11 or 12 years old in the [local] ski league, and we had a meeting one night, and a rumor went around that meeting that the men's U.S. ski team ran the whole Long Trail,” says Kimball.
“From that point on, I just thought about running the whole Long Trail. That's where it started.”
Then in 2012, on her first attempt running the Long Trail, Kimball broke the women’s running record. To run a 273-mile trail, Kimball is assisted by a crew who meets her at road crossings to bring food.
The terrain is rough; the trail is rocky, muddy and steep, and climbs to over 4,000 feet.
But Kimball says the hardest part is “just getting used to not sleeping, or sleeping just a couple hours a day.”
At one point in the run, which is shown in the documentary, Kimball becomes nearly delusional with exhaustion. She hasn’t slept in hours, and she begs her pacer runner for just 5 minutes of sleep.
“Every fiber of my being was in pain like wanting to sleep,” she says.
“It was like a three year old having a temper tantrum because he's been up all day. It was nothing but that singularity of thought: I just I just need to sleep.”
She says what kept her going on the trail is not wanting to let down her pacer – stopping to sleep would have left the pacer alone further down the trail without shelter or aid.
Breaking the glass ceiling of sports
Kimball says she’s set on breaking the Long Trail running record because she knows she can. Kimball is 44 years old, and she says she’s getting a bit slower after 16 years of ultra running, but still she’s set on her goal.
“Twice in my life I've been top three out of men and women of a national championship,” she says. “And I just I know that women can break some of the records that are out there that are held by men.”
“And I also know that women are still not being paid equally in sports. And I think you know we have to do things in the media to show that we are worth watching.”
Breaking men directors helps prove that, she says.
Kimball is hoping to run the Long Trail again next September.