Guest interview by U.S. Junior Mountain Running Team leader Paul Kirsch. Paul is also founder of the Loon Mountain Race and lives in Madison, New Hampshire. Above photo: Mike Scott.
Tabor (Scholl) Hemming grew up running, as she describes in her bio at her website, “on dirt roads and cow trails.” In high school she competed in track, cross country and nordic skiing before she went on to run for the University of Colorado.
I first had the pleasure of meeting Tabor when she competed at the 2013 and 2014 World Mountain Running Championships as part of the USATF Junior Mountain Running Team. The first thing I noticed back then is, like so many in the mountain/ultra/trail (MUT) world, she’s a really kind and positive person who knows how to turn on the competitive switch when the gun goes off. Truly she was a perfect ambassador for her country at an International competition.
Fast forward eight years later and we reconnected at the USATF Mountain Running Championships at the Whiteface Mountain Races in Wilmington, New York. Tabor won the race and secured her spot on this year’s US Mountain Running Team that will compete in Chiang Mai, Thailand in November 2022.
This week, I caught up with Tabor to get her reaction on her new National Champion status.
[Paul Kirsch] So, Tabor, you just became the US Mountain Running Champion. What emotions went through your head when you realized you were going to win the race?
[Tabor Hemming] Honestly, I was pretty stunned! I came into the race wanting to win, but so did all of those women on that front line. When I crossed the finish line, I was really overjoyed because my career has been anything but linear and I don’t really have many results that show the work I’ve put in. By winning, I felt this sense of relief that I am on the right path and determination does pay off. I realized I was going to win literally right on the home straightaway…the rest of the time I was too worried about getting caught because my legs were going to jello the last 1k or so. Once I saw the finish line, shoot, I was like “Holy cow, I am actually going to pull this off.”
[Paul] Tell us about the course. We’ve heard it was steep and technical. Did it live up to that billing?
[Tabor] Two weeks before the champs I did the VK at Broken Arrow and told my husband Eli “Well that was the steepest and hardest race box checked off for the year.”
Then the day before the race we went and checked out the Whiteface course (by that I mean standing at the bottom and looking up the mountain) and immediately knew it was going to be steeper and harder than the VK. It was SO steep and nothing like I had “run” before. I ended up hiking most of the uphill and it was by far the hardest mountain race I’ve done. Also the downhill was gnarly, like so, so steep. It’s now Wednesday and I still have sore quads!
[Paul] Did you have a specific race strategy going into the event? And were you able to execute on that strategy?
[Tabor] My race strategy was pretty simple: Go out with the race, shell yourself on the climb, and then stay on two feet on the descent. Turns out it worked! I knew I was fit and just had to hurt and I’m pretty darn good at hurting.
[Paul] A lesser known fact to some, this will actually be your third US Mountain Running Team. You competed as a Junior Athlete in 2013 (Poland) and 2014 (Italy). What do you remember about those race experiences? And did those experiences help you in your transition to the pressures of college running?
[Tabor] Those were absolutely incredible experiences that I feel super blessed to have been able to be a part of at that age! Getting to see the world via running has been a driving factor of why I’ve stuck with the sport. One thing that I remember from those race experiences is that there are a lot of people out there working just as hard (if not harder) than you do…so you need to stay humble. When I was that age I thought I was hot shit and going over to Europe and getting my arse handed to me by other girls my age was a really good lesson for me. Those experiences certainly helped me when transitioning to college, because I went from being the big fish to a minnow really quick. By learning where I was on a world stage, it allowed me to embrace not being the best while still having the desire to want to get there.
[Paul] You had a pretty great career at University of Colorado, including helping the Buffaloes win a National Championship and All American honors. What do you remember most about your time competing in college?
[Tabor] I had an amazing time at CU and am/was incredibly humbled to have been on the team when I was! What I remember the most about my time there was the belief in me by the coaches (Mark Wetmore, Heather Burroughs, and Billy Nelson). They saw something special in me and even though I went through a lot of injuries while there, they never gave up on me. I have them to thank and one of the reasons I am still pursuing running post-collegiately.
[Paul] Tell us about your journey from college running back to the mountain and trail scene. Was it a big adjustment? Did it seem completely natural?
[Tabor] So coming out of college was a little different for me because it was right during the start of COVID in 2020. I exited with no indoor/outdoor championship races and no national and/or international circuit races to compete in. It was really anti-climatic. I decided to try and continue to pursue track under my college coaches post-collegiately, but then in January of 2021 I sustained a femoral neck stress fracture. The recovery from that was really hard, but I was determined to make track my “thing”.
After months of rehab, I entered my first track race out in Kansas put on by SoundRunning in May of 2021. While waiting in my hotel room for the race (it wasn’t until like 8pm) I had this overwhelming feeling of dread come over me and I asked myself “Why am I here?” I realized that I didn’t love track, the training for it, or how it made me feel. That night I raced, had a terrible race, and made the decision on the cool-down that I was going to do something different. At the time I didn’t know what, but I knew it wasn’t going to be around the oval. A few weeks later, my brother was going to go to Buena Vista, CO and do a trail half marathon for fun and he invited my husband and I. We went and did it and I remembered why I had fallen in love with running in the first place…trails! So then I pivoted and decided I’d go back to what I had grown up doing.
[Paul] Who is your coach? When did you get to share the news with them about your win?
[Tabor] David and Megan Roche are my coaches! They are the most incredible humans EVER! Social media shared the news with them before I did, because I forgot my phone when I went to drug testing. But once I got to my phone, they gave me overwhelming affirmations!
[Paul] Any advice for other young athletes or post-collegiate athletes who are looking to dip their toes into trail and mountain events?
[Tabor] Don’t give up! I know that sounds really cliche, but it’s so true. Over my 5 years in college I sustained 8 bone injuries. It was hard, it sucked, I cried, was depressed, and I contemplated giving up running entirely, but I stuck with it and found joy doing it in a different way (trails). I would advise other athletes when they are having a hard time to keep trying, switch it up, and find your why!
[Paul] What does a typical week of training look like for you?
[Tabor] I typically run around 70 miles a week, but don’t quote me on that because I don’t track mileage or anything. I usually do 1-2 days of a run with strides, 1 harder workout, a long run, and then lots of hiking actually. I don’t consider the hiking training, but more of play! My husband and I got a puppy and we are waiting until he is a year old or so to really start running him, but he has A LOT of energy. So we got creative and take him on hikes, which we found are a really fun way to get out on the trails more often. It’s nothing fancy or special, just consistent.
[Paul] You are not the only Hemming that made the Mountain Team. Your husband Eli also qualified at Whiteface. What’s that feel like to know you will both be going to Worlds together?
[Tabor] Absolutely amazing! Eli and I got into trail running as something to do together, so to be able to have success at the same thing at the same time is incredible! Plus, we told each other we both had to make the team because we wanted to make it our very belated honeymoon (got married in Sept. 2021).
[Paul] Do you have any other key races this Summer you are planning to compete at?
[Tabor] Lots! My goal this year was to go to big races to get my teeth kicked in…I want to know where I am at and how I stack up. That way I can work on things for next year! Races on the calendar are the SpeedGoat 28k, Sierre-Zinal (Switzerland), Run the Rut, Pikes Peak Ascent, Sky Peaks 26k and the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Thailand.
[PRO TIP: Want to learn more about the the US Mountain Running Team? Check out this article about the team’s 35 year history.]