Ultra-Luminary - Page 2
"She's tough, gritty and competitive, but outside a race she's a sweetheart," says ultramarathon legend and friend David Horton. Photo by Ben Moon.
In 2001, a mended Moehl returned to the race circuit at The Seattle Running Company’s White River 50-Miler, which served as the National Trail Championships. Moehl jumped at the chance to apply her knack for organizing by volunteering to help the race director as well as compete. Putting aside her personal pre-race rituals, Moehl rushed around and delegated duties to race volunteers until the starting gun went off. Tucker, then Montrail’s president, noted both her behind-the-scenes industriousness and impressive seventh-place finish against a very competitive women’s field. He soon made Krissy a dream-job offer: manager of promotions and the Montrail-Patagonia Ultraruning Team.
The greenhorn quickly gained respect from the expansive 85-member endurance team. “She created a sense of family that became the glue of the sport,” says Roch Horton. As the team generated head-turning local and national media coverage, other companies began creating similar athlete teams, bringing ultrarunning out of obscurity and into the mainstream.
“I became known as the Montrail Girl,” says Moehl, who became a ubiquitous presence at ultra events across the country. Her newfound passion for the sport fuelled her boundless energy for racing, supporting fellow athletes as a pacer or crew member and assisting race directors.
“Krissy is a stellar pacer, because she understands the fine balance when it comes to knowing when to push and when to nurture,” says Darcy Africa, who Moehl paced at Western States in 2005. Moehl is known to fly across the country to pace anyone who asks, even if they’ve never met.
“As a pacer, you share raw moments in life that only ultrarunners go through,” she says. The list of people she’s paced and races she’s volunteered at far outnumbers those she’s competed in.
Before long, the Montrail Girl was smitten with the Montrail Boy, Brandon Sybrowsky. The then 30-year-old from Montrose, Colorado, stood out for being a prolific 100-mile racer as well as his long, blonde dreadlocks and braided goatee, making him a distinctive character around which Montrail built its marketing campaigns.
They met at Wasatch (a race he’s done 15 times) in 2001. “They were like two little kids, running and talking all the time,” says David Horton, who witnessed the burgeoning romance during the Mount Masochist 50-miler in Lynchburg, Virginia. Living in different states, the couple only connected on whirlwind rendezvous at ultra races or weekend visits.
The following year at Wasatch (she was working for Montrail; he was racing), Sybrowsky took Moehl for a short trail run up a canyon to a grassy meadow. There, to her surprise, was a table laid out with food. With all the right elements in place—nature, singletrack and delicious treats—Sybrowsky asked her to marry him. The two wed in June 2003 and settled in Seattle.
The union created the closest thing ultrarunning had to a “golden couple,” a fitting label in light of their honeymoon spent running a 150-kilometer race through the French Alps. The newlyweds joined their friend Topher Gaylord, an American living in Italy and 600 other runners in Chamonix, France, for the inaugural Ultra-Trail Tour du Mont Blanc. Sybrowsky and Gaylord ran most of the way together, finishing second. Moehl loped in seven hours later, drenched and nearly hypothermic after spending 29 hours and 40 minutes in cold, rainy weather wearing only running shorts and a T-shirt. “It was mentally the hardest thing I’d ever endured,” she says. Though it was all she could to do walk the last 30 miles, quitting never entered her mind. Her tenacity was rewarded—she was the first female finisher, three hours ahead of the next woman and in 24th place overall.
The French sports magazine Endurance picked up the American honeymooners’ story. The sudden media attention from newspapers and magazines abroad and at home flattered the coy couple, who, despite their combined immense talent, was known for being friendly and unpretentious.
In 2004, three Sybrowskys toed Wasatch’s start line. Brandon had placed third in 2002 and 26th in 2003, so there was speculation about his chances; his brother, Travis, was looking to improve his 92nd-place from two years earlier; and Moehl (now Moehl-Sybrowsky) hoped to break the 24-hour threshold, an ambitious goal for the brutally technical mountain course.
The husband-and-wife duo ran side-by-side for the first 62 miles to Upper Big Water, where Moehl met her pacer, Horton. Feeling strong, she and Horton hiked briskly from the aid station, while an undertrained Brandon dropped back. “It was a bit of a dilemma to just walk away from him,” she says, but the decision resulted in her first 100-mile win. When Brandon crossed the finish line almost four hours later, race director John Grobben asked him, “Do you know what your wife did?”
It wouldn’t be the last time Moehl would have to make a choice between staying a situation that was holding her back or moving ahead on her own.
Her amazing Wasatch achievement was the highlight of a stellar season including wins at the San Juan Trail 50K, Baker Lake 50K and third at the National Trail 50-mile Championships. Her natural talent was apparent, but it was her adeptness for meticulous planning and learning from past mistakes that let her harness that natural ability into back-to-back victories. In the first half of 2005, she won four 50K races as well as Portland, Oregon’s March Mudness 100K and South Africa’s Addo Elephant 100-miler.
Though she excelled at each new challenge, some questioned her decision in 2005 to tackle the Grand Slam so early in her career. At that time, she only had two 100-milers to her credit.
“She puts the time and effort into her training and has the 100-miler mindset: listen to your body, be as tough as nails, pace yourself and be patient,” says Jurek. “I thought she should aim for winning Western States rather than run four 100-milers, but she got the bug so bad she was going to do it no matter what.”
True to form, Moehl carefully planned each race’s splits. The numbers served as a motivational carrot-on-a-stick, but more importantly, she looked forward to working with her parents and friends serving as support crew. “Ultrarunning is not just about me,” says Moehl. “I rely on other people’s energy to keep me going. My mom was my constant; she knew what I needed at every point.” First was Western States, where Moehl finished fourth woman (20:53); just three weeks later she won the Vermont 100 in a time of 18:41. Next was Colorado’s Leadville Trail 100, in which she was second (22:03) despite freezing rain, and finished off with a third-place run (26:34) at Wasatch.
However, the high of being the youngest-ever female Grand Slammer was soon overshadowed by challenges in other areas of her life.