Chris Kimbrough’s victory at the Sky Island 50K on September 18 proved that a good sports surgeon, perseverance, and physical therapy can work wonders. Kimbrough won the Capitol 10,000 back in 2014 in a time of 35:36, but has since transitioned to trail running. However in late 2019 and early 2020, she was sidelined for months with a serious posterior-tibialis tendon injury.
Enter Dr. Charles Hubbard, who specializes in reconstructive foot and ankle surgery. Hubbard repaired Kimbrough’s ankle, but the hard work had just begun. She spent months committed to physical therapy, rehabbing the ankle and swimming to stay fit. Last May, she successfully tested the ankle by helping to pace running buddy Mallory Brooks running the Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim.
Though Kimbrough, a 51-year-old mother of six, didn’t push herself, it was clear that all systems were go.
“I’ve probably run more than 1,800 miles since the surgery,” said Kimbrough.
And not just any miles either. Her training includes some of Austin’s most challenging courses. Like repeats on the Mount Bonnell steps and gut-busting workouts on the Hill of Life, a trail connecting the Barton Creek Greenbelt to Scottish Woods Trail in Westlake. She got in plenty of other gnarly trail runs too, including trails around Southwest Parkway, Bull Creek, St. Edward’s, and a loop around Lake Georgetown, exactly 26.2 miles.
“The Grand Canyon run actually helped prepare for Sky Island,” said Kimbrough. “But the training I did this summer was way beyond that, and it showed. One day I did 16 repeats on the Hill of Life—up and down that made for 16 miles. I leave cold water at the top on those runs. I also did a 30-miler from Barton Springs to the Hill of Life and then back again. That was brutal.”
Sky Island, a rugged race in the Davis Mountains, is 31 miles with about 4,400 feet of climbing. “It’s at between 5,000 and 6,000 feet of altitude,” Kimbrough said. “It’s basically switchbacks all the way up a mountain. You do a loop around top twice, then climb another mountain. Finally, you finish by scaling a third mountain and then descending it to the finish. It’s really technical—very rocky and really overgrown.”
Not only did she win the women’s race, but Kimbrough came in fourth overall in a time of 5:26:21, breaking her own course record for women set back in 2017. Carrying two bottles of electrolyte replacement fluids on a vest—about a quart total—and filling them up when she could , Kimbrough bested her 2017 time by more than 20 minutes.
“I drink a lot of Tailwind, and another electrolyte replacement called DripDrop,” she said.
In typical Kimbrough fashion, she was both modest and honest about her feat. “I felt great. I don’t know what got into me,” she said. “I felt really strong the whole way. The heat and humidity training in Austin helped, because it was much drier out there—about 58 degrees at the start but getting up to 85° towards the end.
The top five were as follows: Matthew Ferro- 5:07:24; Justin Wendling- 5:16:18; Matthew Griffith- 5:22:08; Chris Kimbrough- 5:36:21; and Michael Natenberg-5:36:30.
“I ran a lot with Michael Natenberg,” commented Kimbrough. “It’s really nice to keep pace with someone. I’d catch him going up the hills. But Mike is really good on the downhills.
Next up for Kimbrough: helping her friend Mallory Brooks go for the “fastest known time” record at the Mount Yale 360, a 21.8-mile trail loop around one of Colorado’s fourteeners north of Buena Vista. “Mallory wants to break five hours,” said Kimbrough.
Upcoming Races: Saturday, October 9 at 8:00 a.m., Goodlife Taylor 5K at Bull Branch Park in Taylor. Saturday, October 9 at 9:00 a.m., The Great Pumpkin Dash 5K Run at Country Estates Swimming Pool in San Marcos.