Mountain Run special to Kimball Pier
After running it so many times for so many years, Kimball Pier pretty much knows the route from Squaw Valley’s base village to High Camp by heart.
She knows all too well how the lungs and legs burn from the 2,000-foot climb over 3.6 miles. Tough? No doubt. Yet, there’s no place the 48-year-old Truckee woman would rather be, which made her victory in the women’s division of the 26th annual Squaw Valley Mountain Run last Saturday all the more special.
It marked her third triumph in the Squaw Valley race, though her time of 37 minutes, 56 seconds was no personal record. That didn’t matter in the least. For Pier, who competed in road races on an international level in the 1980s and ’90s, the third time truly was a charmed one.
“I was kind of surprised, actually,” she said. “At my age, I wasn’t expecting it. I had won it twice before, but the last time was back in something like 1999.”
What really makes this so special? It was the route for her first run 31 years ago. As it turned out, the route led her to such achievements as running competitively for Nike, qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials Women’s Marathon in 1984 (the inaugural Trials for women), 1988 and 1992, in addition to the 1989 World 15K Championships in Brazil and the 1991 World Cup Marathon in London.
“Whenever I go on that road, I remember how long ago it was and how it changed my life,” Pier said. “Since then, I’ve always been really attracted to running on trails and in the mountains. That’s why I really wanted to put a high priority on Squaw Valley.”
These days, Pier is a therapist/drug and alcohol counselor for Sierra Family Services in Tahoe City. But the story was much different when she was a teen living at Squaw Valley in the mid-1970s, when she admits to having “made a lot of decisions that were not good for my health.”
Running played a large role in turning that all around, and it all started with an invitation to run to High Camp some time around 1975.
“One day my boyfriend said to me, ‘Why don’t you run with me up the lift access road,'” Pier recalled. “Up to that point, I had never been a runner. I was a smoker. It was my first experience trying anything like that, and I remember discovering a whole new realm of lung tissue.”
But she was hooked.
“Running is probably what saved me from my downward spiral,” she said. “It was a long, hard journey back, but running was the thing that gave me way to feel good about myself.”
Pier was still running recreationally a year later when, as a freshman at Sierra College in Rocklin, she discovered the school had a new women’s cross country team.
“I had just started school and didn’t know where to go, so I went to (coach) Gary Judd and asked if I could run with them,” she recalled. “He asked, ‘Why don’t you come join the team?’ I told him I didn’t even know how to compete. He told me to just come out and have fun, so I did.”
Within two years, she was a Golden Valley Conference champion, and later, she ran at Western State College in Gunnison, Colo., then for a brief time at the University of Washington.
Pier’s running continued to progress in the 1980s even while raising two children ” Jessie, now 24, and James, 18 ” and after moving to Seattle, she really came on strong. In 1991, she took third at the national women’s marathon championships in Long Beach then came back six months later and ran a career best time of 2 hours, 35 minutes and 15 seconds at the 1991 Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
“I had a great run in the ’80s and ’90s,” she said. “But then I began to tire of running on the roads. I always loved running on trails, and in the mountains.”
Ultimately, that was the bottom line when she decided to leave Seattle and move back to her old home town four years ago.
“I lived in Seattle for 17 years, but I’m not a city girl. I always wanted to come back home. Always,” Pier said. “I’ve come back and settled here in Truckee and it’s like I’m living a dream. It’s wonderful to be back and reconnecting to this area.”
These days, Pier keeps busy with triathlons, trail races and some ultramarathons (she was second woman and ninth overall at the 2005 Silver State 50K). And, of course, the Squaw Valley Mountain Run.
“I’ll run that race as long as I can. I saw one guy up there Saturday who is like 83,” she said. “That’s what I want ” to run that race when I’m 83 ” or until I creak so loud I can’t stand it anymore.”
U.C. Davis standout runner Patrick Parsel was the overall winner on Saturday. Parsel, 20, ran 29 minutes, 13 seconds to finish ahead of Bill Raitter (30:27), Scott Peterson (31:20) and Truckee’s Peter Fain (32:30). Sarah Raitter was the second woman in 38:38 and Emma Garrard third in 39:13.
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The Barracuda Championship is set to tee off next week, bringing PGA golfers to Tahoe Mountain Club’s Old Greenwood course for the second year in a row.