(Last Updated On: November 25, 2014)
Crested Butte athlete, Stevie Kremer, caught my eye years ago. I’d see her skinning up the mountain (Crested Butte ski area) regularly. She was SO fast. It isn’t unusual for her to skin and ski two runs in the time that I do just one. Next thing I knew, she grabbed a second place finish, overall, in the Grand Traverse and has been gaining international attention over the last few years in long-distance trail running.
Stevie Kremer is much more than an athlete. A talented elementary teacher, she balances her athletics with her commitment to work. And she is recently engaged to Marshall Thomas who is also a talented ski-mo racer.
In spite of Stevie’s incredibly busy schedule, I had the opportunity to interview her a few weeks ago. Here’s Stevie’s amazing story, in her own words:
1) I heard you were actually born in Germany! Can you tell us more about that?
I was born close to Frankfurt.
I just recently became a dual citizen. I had a Green Card up until about three years ago. My whole family is German. My dad used to work with the German Bank and he got transferred when I was a year old. My parents moved to Connecticut and they’re still there as well as my brother and sister. But, the rest of my family – grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles on both sides still live in Germany.
To you I sound fluent in German. But, to Germans, they definitely know I live in America. I can get by fine. But, I think I have an American accent.
I grew up in Connecticut. I studied at Colorado College in Colorado Springs and moved to Crested Butte in 2006.
2) Did teaching bring you to Crested Butte?
I had my Master’s in teaching so I essentially wanted to put that to use. But, my first year here, I worked at the Group Sales Department at Crested Butte Mountain Resort because there were no teaching positions open. But, the following year I was offered a job.
3) How did you get into skiing and running? Was it always competitive for you?
I grew up alpine skiing in Vermont. Skimo happened about 4 or 5 winters ago. I had a pair of tele skis and Marshall started putting skin on his tele skis. And so did I. So, we started going up the mountain (Crested Butte ski area) that way. It was just a fun work out. I mean, I’d never been backcountry skiing or anything like that. I had just gotten a pair of skins. So, we just started going up the mountain. But, we saw that these lighter weight skis were coming out. I hadn’t really heard of ski-mo races. Although they were starting to race on those skis in the Grand Traverse. I did 2 yrs of the Grand Traverse on Nordic skis. Marshall borrowed a pair (of lightweight AT skis) for his second year of the Grand Traverse. One summer, we were at the Father’s Day sale at the Alpineer and Marshall bought a pair of skis and bindings for us right then and there in the middle of June. That’s how we kind of got into it. In racing, you meet people, and they encourage you to race more. That’s kind of what happened.
Running, on the other hand, is just always an easy way to stay in shape. In high school, I played soccer in the fall and I was horrible. I played tennis and golf in the spring. I wasn’t a basketball player, so I was looking for a winter sport. There weren’t a lot of sports offered, but one of them was indoor track. I just liked staying busy, so I did indoor track. But, I didn’t run in college or anything like that – I mean, I didn’t compete – I ran with friends. The year before my senior year, I trained for the Boulder Backroads Marathon. It wasn’t like I did well. I finished in just under 4 hrs. But, I realized it was really fun just having a goal. So, after that, I ran a few more marathons –all road. And I never did well. The best I did “in my head” was the Boston Marathon, where I got top 50th, which is not good. It wasn’t until I moved to Crested Butte 8 years ago (in 2006) that I started running on trails, and really liking trails and climbing up mountains. At first I started hiking up fourteeners. I soon realized that some of them I could just jog up which was fun because it didn’t take as long. That’s kind of how I got into running.
My first running race was the Cart to Cart, probably 6 years ago. I was last. I was with Lacey Wright. But, it was so fun. We did the shorter version (13+ miles). At the end of it, I met a friend, Dawn Howe, who I still run with to this day. Even though I was last, she still wanted to make plans to run with me! So, that was my first race. And some of my other first races were the Golden Leaf Half Marathon in Aspen and the Sage Burner in Gunnison. I stayed pretty local my first year or two of racing and then I started going a little outside of the Crested Butte / Gunnison and Aspen area. Then, I did one on Mt. Evans. And then I did the Imogene Pass run in Telluride. I was doing okay. Nothing crazy. It wasn’t until I moved to Italy (I taught abroad in Italy for a year in 2012-13) that I got into international racing. That’s kind of what really started it off.
The summer before I moved to Italy, someone convinced me to try out for the US mountain running team, which is only 8.8 K. And I’m not a short-distance runner and 8.8 K is only like 5 miles. Obviously, I wanted to be a part of the team and represent the US. But, I didn’t want to run just 5 miles. It’s one race and the top four make the US Mountain Running team and I was fourth! I think my time was like 51 minutes. It was in New Hampshire and my parents have a place in Vermont. So, we got up that morning at like 4:30 and they drove me. I was so nervous. I don’t think I’d ever been so nervous for a race before – just because both of my parents were there. But, I got fourth, which was a huge shock to me. That race was in September. And that year I was going to be in Italy. And the World Champs happened to be in Italy. So, it worked out perfectly. My whole international running experience happened pretty much because I was moving to Italy.
4) What do you like more? Running races or ski mountaineering races?
I love the simplicity of running. All you need is sneakers. You could run in jeans if you needed to. But, I love the idea of ski mountaineering because I love going up and pushing really hard. And then I love skiing down. I love the mountaineering part, which isn’t that big of mountaineering. But, I love putting skis on my backpack. I just love that there is more than just one aspect to ski mountaineering. My athletic life couldn’t be any better. I don’t really have a preference. But, now, it’s the end of running season and I’m so ready to ski. I’m excited. And at the end of ski-mo, I’m ready to run on trails. So, it’s like the perfect balance.
5) Tell us about your competitive running schedule this season.
This summer, I competed in the Sky Running series. That started off in Spain in May during Memorial Day weekend. Then in July, I did more local races. I like being here in July. August I had a race in Sierre-Zinal which is in Switzerland and then another one in Zermatt – the Matterhorn Ultraks Marathon. And then the series ended in Limone, Italy in October.
Sky Racing now has Continental or Country Sky Races. I did an Irish Sky Race during the second part of October.
6) What exactly is “Sky Running”?
The World Sky Running Series is 5 races and they’re all above a certain altitude, above 2000 m I believe, and on technical terrain. And the Sky Series has to be between 21 and 42 Km roughly. There’s an Ultra Series which is more and then a Vertical which is just a vertical race. This year, I did 4 of the 5 races in the Sky Running Races. Now, countries are adopting the Sky Running and making their own series. One of the US ones was in Silverthorne, at Copper Mountain. Speed Goat was one in Utah. So, now countries are making their own series too.
7) I saw in a recent interview that you went to a race in Europe and you were going to be there only for 20-something hours? Do you have to miss a lot of work for races? Do you find it hard to balance teaching with your racing career?
For the race in Zermatt, I was only there for like 20 hours. School started that Monday and the race was Saturday. And we have mandatory days at the school. So, I left Thursday evening. And, all of these races, because they’re in the mountains, you get to the airport, and you still have a 3 hr car ride. I didn’t get to Zermatt until around 7pm on Friday and the race started at 7 am the next morning. I was in tears. I saw this guy that I recognized and I was just trying to stretch my legs out because I’d been sitting for almost 48 hours. He saw me and asked, “Are you okay?” And I just lost it. I was like, “What am I doing?” It was crazy.
The Italy race, I came the day before as well, because with work it’s so hard to take too much time off. It was the first Saturday of October Break so it was hard to take time off before. So, I left Thursday night again, got there Friday afternoon and then raced Saturday.
Teaching balances me so much. I think I would get injured. You know that feeling when you go on a great ski or great bike ride and you’re like, “Oh, I still have an hour. I could keep going!” I think that if I had every day free to just wake up and then run and then eat and be bored and then run again I think I would get hurt. I think I would get bored. I think that having something completely separate from running balances me out so much.
From what I’ve gathered, most of the people I compete with don’t seem to have jobs as strict as teaching. Sure, there are a lot of international racers that run – and that’s they’re job. But, I’ve met a couple of racers that are consultants and they can kind of work on their own schedule. And there’s a lot of coaches I’ve noticed and they can write their coaching over email. So, teaching is one of the harder jobs I think to have for racing – especially for those random during –the-school-year races. (Note that 3 of the 5 Sky Running Races were during the school year). Teaching is not as flexible of a schedule as other jobs.
8) What have been some of your most memorable running and ski-mo racing experiences?
One race that will always stand out was in 2012 when I was [teaching abroad] in Europe. My dad travels a lot in Europe still for business. So, he goes to Germany all the time for work. So, when I moved to Italy and had all these races, so if he happened to be near there, he’d go to my races. He convinced me to do the Jungfrau Marathon which is in Interlaken, Switzerland. Since I was in Italy, it was a really cheap flight from where I was. And my dad was going to meet me. This was the first week of us being at school. I was so homesick. So, I got hammered. And I woke up Friday morning in tears thinking, “I have to run a marathon tomorrow. What was I thinking?” That night I got on a plane (to go to Interlaken). My dad and I didn’t get to the hotel until about midnight. The next morning I woke up. I guess it was maybe my attitude, “I don’t know what I’m doing here…” But, I ended up winning that race. And it happened to be the World Long Distance Championship. Signing up for it, I didn’t know that. It was just the coolest feeling because the first 15 miles were just flat pavement. I was in like 25th place. But, I didn’t care because I had no expectations. No one knew who I was. I had no pressure. But, after mile 15, it just went up. For the next 9 miles, we just went straight up and all these people were just dropping. I crossed the finish line and I couldn’t believe it. It was so cool because it was so unexpected and my dad was there. I know it sounds cheesy. But, it’s just so fun to have someone to celebrate with you. It was one of my first experiences with drug testing. Not that drug testing is fun, but it makes you feel important! That was my most memorable running race. Not because of the end result. But, because of the whole situation.
My most memorable ski-mo race is finishing the Grand Traverse with Marshall. That was cool. It wasn’t the easiest or smoothest race. I mean, I was in tears – again – clearly I cry a lot! It was just so cool because we pushed so hard. Just getting there and Glo freaking out that a girl had come in second place. I called my dad before he was even awake. My dad and my mom are my biggest fans. And that was just a cool experience. I never thought I could do that well in the Grand Traverse.
Marshall and I don’t do the Grand Traverse together anymore because he got really strong. I think he realized that with me, as coeds, we could do okay, especially if he’s pulling me. But he knows how well he could do with another male that’s as good as him if not better – which I respect. Maybe one day we’ll race some more together but he’s just so strong right now that I don’t want to hold him back.
9)How does trail racing in Europe compare to the US? Similar? Different?
The terrain in Europe is way more technical. 90% of the races I did in Europe I had to hike. They were just so steep that it was impossible to run. If I have the option I prefer to run, even if it’s the slowest run. I like having the momentum. But, in Europe, I didn’t even have that option because it is so steep and technical.
“Technical” in running means rocky, steep, roots, fallen trees – things like that. But, primarily rocky. Big rocks. Not like pebbles. It’s big rocks that you have to jump over – you jump off them. You use them as like padding as you go along the trails.
The altitude in Europe is way lower. Getting up to 2500 m is big, whereas [in Colorado] we start at almost 3000 m. It’s not very high there, but they’ll go from like zero to 2,500 m in like 6 miles. It’s so steep.
10) Advice for people starting out in ski mountaineering races? Trail running races?
I’d say focus a lot on transitions. Going uphill skiing, that’s practice. But, transitions are something that takes skill, I think. I recommend practicing. People practice their transitions in their living room. They just practice on the carpet. They take their skins on and off, their skis on and off. I have yet to do that. But, there’s a good chance I might try that this year. I mean, it’s hard when you go uphill, you get to the top, everything is going great, and then someone jus whizzes right by you because their transitions were just that fast. So, my biggest recommendation would be working on transitions.
For running, the best advice I ever got, and I truly believe this – speed work is your friend. Whether that’s interval work or tempo runs, just running fast for a certain amount of time definitely makes you a faster runner. For longer races, do longer intervals. I do 2, 3, 4-minute intervals. I truly believe that’s the way to make you faster.
11) What are you looking forward to in ski-mo this season?
I have to work a lot on my transitions. If it was just up-down and someone else could do my transitions for me, I think I would do okay. But, I need to work on those transitions. And, my technical downhill I have to work on quite a bit as well. I’m just excited. I’m getting a new pair of skis from Salomon I think. So, it will be really fun to ski on some new skis. It’s just so fun. It’s still fairly new to me. I’m still learning. I’m just so excited to be out there on snow.
12) What races are you planning on doing this winter?
There’s the Cosmic Series which is a bunch of races throughout Colorado at ski resorts. I hope to do the majority of those. There’s also the United States Ski Mountaineering Association races. Those are in Utah. That was really fun last year doing those. I think there’s going to be a few more uphill only races, verticals – which I love to do. The Worlds are in Verbier which is amazing and I’d love to do them. But, it’s the week before our February break and I can’t take days off before break. So, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Which is fine.
I’m excited about the local races. That’s what’s nice about the ski-mo is that I love how intimate it is – although I know we want it to grow and once it does grow it will be great. I mean we have about 40 to 60 racers. But, having smaller races is really fun as opposed to these huge hyped up races in Europe. Those really take it out of you.
13) Are you planning on doing the Grand Traverse this season?
I’d love to. I don’t have a partner. Maybe Jari (Kirkland) will do it with me again. But, right now I don’t have a partner.
14) What’s next? Upcoming goals?
I would love it if I could run a big race on every continent – and set a record. I would love to go run a race in Australia and Asia and Antarctica.
15) I hear you’re engaged! Congrats! Do you have a plan for the wedding?
We are getting married in February in Crested Butte. I just want babies. We’ve been together for 7 years. They say women get stronger after having children. I’ve been to places all of the world that I never would have thought I would have gone to all because of running. But, if my competitive running ended right now, sure parts of me would be bummed out, but I could still be happy if that meant a family was here. I don’t want to end running because I’m injured. That’s not what I mean. But, if family is going to start dominating my life, that’s an okay reason to stop competitive running for me. There are some great runners and athletes out there that have families. So, I think I can still manage it. And if not, well, I’ve had fun for 2 yrs.
Just look at Rebecca Dussault. She has 4 kids. Maybe 5. And she’s going to crush the ski mountaineering this year. She’s going to win it all I bet. It doesn’t work for everyone and I won’t be ecstatic if I can’t go back. I’ll be bummed out for sure. But, the more moms I talk to the more they say that there are other priorities once you have a kid. You don’t stress as much about a race. I am a disaster before a race. I can’t look anyone in the eye. I’m so nervous. I go to the bathroom like 50 times the hour before the race. A friend of mine who just had a kid too, whose a really competitive racer, she wasn’t too stoked on being pregnant. She said that she doesn’t get as nervous now because her priorities have changed. She said, “you know I didn’t do as well at this race, but it doesn’t matter because my son is waiting for me at the finish line.” I kind of am looking forward to that part too – not being so stressed out.
16) Anything else?
Well, I just did an article for backcountry.com about the transition from ski-mo to running. And one thing I learned in the last two years was how much it helped me to put on crampons on my shoes and run up the ski mountain. I have theses Hillsound Trail Crampons – they’re awesome. You can’t even feel them on your feet. They’re like Yaktrax but they have spikes on them. And it helps your downhill running because you’re out of control. That’s how you’re supposed to run technical downhills. You’re supposed to be somewhat out of control and let your legs do the work because if you push too much you don’t get the momentum you need to overcome the obstacles that are there. The downhill running with these crampons – it’s so steep and slippery that you’re kind of sliding in the snow – I think it definitely helps with running.