Racing with the Gods
by Than Acuff
Stevie Kremer is in the midst of an incredible whirlwind tour this summer. After spending time the past couple of years climbing the ranks of the endurance trail racing circuit, including winning the overall world skyrunning title two years in a row and being named to the Salomon team, Kremer is stretching her winged feet to new races in new lands, taking her from China to Germany to Greece and then Japan.
Kremer returned to the racing fray this summer when she headed off to China to compete in, and win, the invite-only Red Bull Female Summit Quest race on Mt. Yuhzu in China on June 5.
Following that, Kremer made her way to Germany to race in the Zugspitz Ultratrail marathon on June 18. Kremer admits that the race was not her best, as she never managed to pull out of her funk before or during the race.
“I just knew it wasn’t going to be a good race for me,” says Kremer. “I just didn’t feel good.”
She did manage to take second place but was unable to pull herself up for a last effort for the win.
“I never had that oomph I needed to get ahead of the first-place woman,” says Kremer.
Kremer believes that part of it may have been the energy surrounding the race in Germany, that is, the energy that was somewhat subdued compared to other races she competes in. And while the bigger races mean more pressure, Kremer feels that may be part of the secret to her success.
“I don’t know, maybe stress and anxiety drives my racing,” says Kremer.
Eight days later, Kremer was the center of attention when she headed to Greece to compete in the 13th annual Olympus Marathon on June 26. The Olympus Marathon is the biggest mountain marathon race in Greece and is 40 kilometers long, starting at sea level and climbing up Mt. Olympus, the mythical home of the Greek gods.
“This is the biggest race there because you’re running with the gods,” says Kremer. “You’re running under Zeus’ throne.”
Furthermore, 80 percent of the field of runners are from Greece, so when Kremer showed up as one of the few Americans, and the only one with a history of trail running success, she was immediately taken in, garnering the spotlight for the three days of pre-race festivities. As a result, expectations among the fans and race organizers were high for Kremer.
“It was crazy because the level of athletes isn’t necessarily super-high but the hoopla surrounding it is enormous,” says Kremer. “I was treated so well at the race and everyone was asking me if I was going to break the record so I didn’t want to disappoint.”
In addition, Kremer expected the course to have its challenges, as the women’s record time was five hours, 29 minutes and most mountain marathons take winners between three and a half and four hours.
Kremer channeled that nervous energy appropriately on race day and opened the gradual five-kilometer start running with a Salomon athlete from Greece. Once the course hits the five-kilometer mark, it rises a little under 10,000 feet in the next 15 kilometers and that’s where Kremer made her move.
“I knew she was a strong downhill runner,” says Kremer. “So I wanted to build a lead because I’m not that good on the downhills.”
By the time Kremer reached the high point of the course, she had a 20-minute lead and dropped into the steep, rocky descent along a trail that kept switching back and forth for the next 10 kilometers.
“At every turn you had to stop,” explains Kremer. “You were definitely careful with your footing.”
The challenge didn’t end there though, as during the descent, the course throws in another 1,500 feet of climbing, forcing runners to switch gears a handful of times.
“You’re going downhill feeling good and then a hill comes up and you’re climbing again,” says Kremer.
Then, there was the heat. The race starts at 6 a.m. because of the heat, but this year was especially hot as temperatures got up to 104 degrees toward the end, causing one of the elite men in the field to crumble with heat stroke.
Kremer pushed through the heat, switchbacks and leftover hills to hold her lead for the win, although the second-place woman did cut 14 minutes off the gap, and set a new course record time of five hours, 21 minutes and 36 seconds.
“When I finished and broke the record it was one of the most pleased I’ve been after a race,” says Kremer.
Kremer is back in Crested Butte now but will soon return to the Land of the Rising Sun when she heads to Japan to compete in the Fuji Mountain Race, a 21-kilometer uphill race on Mt. Fuji, on July 22.
“The only reason I’m this eager to race is the new and exciting races and places,” says Kremer.