With photos by Jordi Saragossa/Salomon
On a raw, rainy April day, three miles up a dirt road in Huntington, Kasie Wallace Enman is coaxing the evaporator to life in her sugar house, holding her toddler Ansel in one arm and throwing logs on the fire with the other.
She and her husband, Eli, have a thousand maple taps at Sleepy Hollow, the old inn, bike and cross country ski center that Eli and his family have brought back to life. Sugaring is a short season and, as she admits in her understated manner, “I have a lot going on right now.”
Enman has a 6-mile race to organize on May 17— the Sleepy Hollow Mountain Race, a USATF points race that is part of the New England Mountain Running Championship. She is coaching running part time with the Green Mountain Athletic Association. In a few weeks she is slated to race her second Vermont City Marathon, defending her 2012 title as the only Vermont woman to ever finish first.
“And, oh yes,” she recalls, last week she was in Mallorca, Spain representing Salomon International Trail Running Team and madly signing autographs.
In Europe, Enman is on her way to becoming a household name. In 2014, in her second season of racing ultramarathons, she tied for second in the Skyrunning World Series Ultra category, having raced a high-altitude trail event every month from May through September.
The Skyrunning series consists of trail running (or scrambling) at altitudes over 2,000 meters in three events: Vertical (climbing either a vertical kilometer in altitude over less than 5K in distance), Sky (22K to 50K cross country races) and Ultra (50K and longer).
Invented by alpine mountaineers, skyrunning has gained a following on the six continents where the series is held, but nowhere so much as in Europe. “It’s amazing, over there you can be racing on a mountainside in the middle of nowhere and there are crowds along the trail cheering for you like it was the Tour de France,” Enman says.
Kilian Jornet Burgado, the 2014 SkyRunning World Series Champion, has become something of a legend and is now attempting to speed climb the world’s highest peaks, earning the Catalan, the title of National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year. His girlfriend, Swede Emilie Forsberg, 28, was the women’s 2014 World Series Champion. And Kasie Enman, the 35-year-old mother of two from Huntington, Vt., is hot on her heels.
Enman did not find skyrunning. It found her.
Growing up near Manchester, N.H., Enman raced cross-country in high school and then led the Middlebury College cross-country team to a Division III National Championship. Eli Enman was also a Middlebury College runner and in 2002, Kasie did a 5K in the morning and married Eli in the afternoon. The pair became constant contenders on the New England running circuit, running road races, trail races and, in winter, snowshoe and cross-country ski races.
In 2006, Kasie Enman set her sites on her first distance event, Burlington’s Vermont City Marathon. She had trained with her coach and friend Jeff Staab, but the morning of the event found her taking antibiotics.
“My throat was so swollen I could barely swallow. I knew I just couldn’t race, not feeling like that. I was so disappointed as this was my home state and I wanted Vermont City to be the first marathon. It was on my bucket list. ”
Instead, she rested, signed up for another marathon three weeks later in Minnesota. She finished the Grandma’s Marathon in 2 hours, 44 minutes, racing the second 13 miles in exactly the same time as the first, and earning a spot in the Olympic Trials to be held in Boston in 2008.
Enman went into the Trials ranked near 50th, based on her qualifying time. She started off at a strong pace, and was in 20th place at the halfway mark. She felt good, kept her pace nearly to the second and started to pass people. She crossed the finish line in 11th place, with a time of 2 hours 37 minutes, which remains her personal best.
“Kasie is remarkably consistent,” says her friend and running partner Norm Larson, whom she met through GMAA. “She doesn’t like to — or really need to — wear a watch. The other day we agreed to do three sets of three miles, with a mile recovery in between, and each 3-miler faster. I timed her and she did 18 minutes, 41 seconds, then 18:21 and then 17:49, decreasing her time by 20-second blocks (without even knowing her times). A lot of people couldn’t do that.”
Another secret to Enman’s success, says Larson, is “She likes to mix it up. She’s a great runner, but she also loves to compete on snowshoes or skis.” In fact, Enman jumped into and won the U.S. Snowshoe Racing Championships when they were held at Bolton Valley in 2006. “But really,” says Larson, “she is happiest running the miles of muddy, rooty, rocky trails behind her house. She flows through those like water. It’s just beautiful to watch her trail run.”
In June 2011, less than a year after she gave birth to daughter Acadia, she won the U.S. Mountain Running title at Mount Cranmore, N.H., which earned her a spot on the U.S. team (alongside three Colorado runners) in the World Championships in Albania. “She’d been trying to just make the team for several years,” says her husband Eli. “So it was a real surprise to her and to everyone when she won the Worlds. I think that was the first time she knew that she was international caliber.”
Enman did more than win, she smoked the international field of 52 women to win the 8.8 kilometer/1000 meter climb in 40 minutes, 39 seconds, more than a minute faster than the second place competitor.
Shortly after, she was recruited by the French outdoor sports gear giant Salomon to join its international running team.
“I figured that sponsorship would mean some free shoes and maybe race fees,” Enman recalls. Instead, it involved her being flown to Greece in April 2012 for “Advanced Week” – a week of working with trainers and fellow team members.
“They gave me a list of all the Skyrunning events, on five continents, and said ‘so here’s the schedule.’ I had the option to choose, but for someone who always like to take advantage of every opportunity, it was a little overwhelming.”
But Enman’s daughter had just turned two. “I said, ‘whoaaa.’ Then, ‘OK, maybe just a few of these.’”
She picked four races in the Alps she could do back-to-back over two weeks so she could bring Eli and Acadia along. The first, Austria’s Grossglockner on Sunday, July 15, involved a 1500-meter climb over 12.7 kilometers, a “warm-up.” The following Friday found Enman in Italy’s Dolomite mountains for a Vertical K, followed by a 28K Skyrace that Sunday. The fourth and last race would be the longest she had ever run. The Giir de Mont, less a run than a 32K mountaineering experience, traverses a cow path, with steep climbs and descents.
On the morning of July 30, Enman set out with 830 other runners. Her feet were bound and taped from having worn through the skin on her heels during he 28K Dolomite Skyrace the week before. She quickly took the lead in the women’s field prompting clanging cow-bells from the surrounding crowds, pats on her rump as she pushed through the throngs and cries of “prima donna! prima donna!” (literally, first woman! first woman!).
She wasn’t wearing a watch, but with World Series champion Emelie Forsberg on her heels, she held her pace. Soon, she was alone in the women’s field, keeping her steady, short gait, and pushing on the downhills, where she excels. When she crossed the finish line, 3 hours, 45 minutes and 50 seconds later in the longest race she had ever run Enman was a remarkable 18 minutes ahead of the second-place woman.
As it turned out, Enman, the relatively unknown American, had just set a women’s course record for the Giir di Mont. That record still stands.
“I am a momma first, who also leads a blessed life running in mountains, racing for PRs on the roads, freelance writing, coaching and living in the moment,” is how Enman describes herself on her Facebook page.
Coming off the incredible first year on the World Series, Enman found herself pregnant with son Ansel. For Salomon, it could have been a disappointment to see their rising star sidelined. Instead, the sponsor created a beautiful video showing Enman running through her pregnancy (she ran up until she gave birth), her home life with Eli and her children.
Ansel was born in June 2013. And in 2014, Enman was back with an intense schedule that had her racing as follows:
May: in the Spanish Pyrenees for the Zegama Sky Marathon.
June: the U.S. Mountain Running Championships at Loon N.H., and the Mont Blanc Vertical K and marathon in Chamonix, France.
July: the Mount Washington (N.H.) Road Race and Snowbird’s (Utah) Speedgoat 50K; August: the 46K Ultraks in Zermatt, 31K Sierre Zinal in the French Alps and Italy’s grueling Kima 50K.
September: the Rut 50 in Big Sky, Mont.
She posted top-five finishes in nearly every event, but her highlight was Kima. Kima is without a doubt Skyracing’s most grueling event. The 50K course covers 3,800 meters total elevation, climbing seven passes, all over 2,500 meters, and reaching a top altitude of nearly 3,000 meters. “It’s a course where you have to use your hands,” says Enman. “There are chain ladders and rebar and it’s easy to get vertigo.”
At times, clouds socked in the trails, making it difficult to see. At 26K, Emelie Forsberg had an 11-minute lead on Enman, but then disappeared, having veered off course. “All of a sudden people were yelling ‘prima donna, prima donna’ to me,” Enman recalls. At first she didn’t believe it. But 7 hours, 53 minutes and 42 seconds later she crossed the finish line in first.
Enman’s combined top three finishes out of five races in the 2014 Skyrunning World Series Championships put her behind winner Emelie Forsberg and tied for second with Anna Frost in the Ultra category. She received several thousand dollars in prize money and bonuses from her sponsor, Salomon. But unlike social media stars Forsberg and New Zealand’s Anna “Frosty” Frost, who have their own websites, Facebook followings of 80,000 and more, Enman is a quieter, almost reluctant, professional.
“I think I made enough money to cover the expenses of bringing my family to events,” she says. “I’m actually just as happy racing locally here in Vermont.”
In 2015, with an ankle injury still plaguing her, she is hesitant to commit to what races she will do, but has her Skyracing schedule laid out and has made plans to bring Eli and the kids to events in Oregon and Utah. She attended the April Advanced Week in Mallorca and in February flew to Hong Kong to race the MSIG Sai Kung 50K. “I’ve never been to Asia and thought it would be a good chance to see it,” she says.
She finished third there, but is now taking things a bit slower.
“I’m crazy, my life is crazy, right now,” Enman admits with a sigh as she stokes the fire at her family’s sugaring operation. A warm amber trickle of syrup starts to flow from the tap and she feeds Ansel a sip. “If I could have anything right now, I’d have a nutritionist and cook following me around. Right now, Eli cooks and I just eat whatever, whenever I can.”
Enman does not seem particularly stressed. At 35, she has the remarkably fresh, freckled skin of a teenager. Her curly strawberry blonde hair is tied back in a tight ponytail and her blue eyes shyly dart down and around when she speaks. She still seems surprised at her own success. After finishing second at the 50K Speedgoat in July 2014, an interviewer from the online site iRunFar.com congratulated her on her first ultra-marathon.
“Thank you,” said Enman, “but I’m not sure 31.2 miles really counts. I don’t consider myself an ultra-marathoner yet.”
With an undergraduate degree in anthropology from Middlebury College and a master’s degree in sustainability from Antioch College, Enman is already thinking about the next chapter. “I wasn’t looking to be a world-traveling marathon runner,” she says. “Some days I’d like to just simplify my life and go hike the Appalachian Trail or something. But I’ll ride this out as long as I can.”
What keeps her going? “She’s stubborn and pretty competitive,” says her husband Eli, with a laugh. “We have a good rivalry,” he says. He recounts the time she was biking along side him in a marathon and he asked her what her personal best finish time was down to the second. “She wouldn’t tell me,” he says with a chuckle, “because she didn’t want me to beat it.” Ironically, he finished in the exact same time (2:37). The 2015 Vermont City Marathon will be his first chance since to break that, but this time Eli and Kasie will have to race a marathon head to head.
“I am stubborn,” Kasie Enman admits. “I spend a lot of time focusing on the mental side of things.” She visualizes sections of races long before they happen and then listens to her body to maintain her pace, step by step. “If I try to think about the whole big thing, it’s just too much to think about. You can’t deal with it.”
“I just try to live in the moment,” she adds. “You can deal with the moment.”