Alex Nichols is one of the top American entrants in the 2015 IAU Trail World Championships. In the following interview, Alex talks about how his training has gone ahead of his longest race to date, if Team USA has considered group-racing tactics in their team medal search, and what he thinks are some crucial points on this course.
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Alex Nichols Pre-2015 IAU Trail World Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Alex Nichols before the 2015 IAU Trail World Championships. How’s it going, Alex?
Alex Nichols: Pretty good, yeah.
iRunFar: This is a big race—a lot of teams internationally, a lot of great runners. Does it have a different feel for you?
Nichols: Yes, compared to a lot of the races I’ve been in, it seems like it’s a combination of the competition from many different types of races put all together into one. It’s really, really deep.
iRunFar: It really is. There are a few standouts—Luis Alberto Hernando is that kind of person—but there are 30 people that could be in the top five even.
Nichols: Yeah, that’s what I’ve been thinking a lot about this race. There are so many people that can be good on a single day that you really never know what’s going to happen especially in a long race like this.
iRunFar: Does it feel at all like The North Face Endurance Championships, because you’ve run that a couple times. There’s usually a lot of depth there. Or is this even stronger?
Nichols: I think people might disagree with me, but I’d say this is stronger mainly because it really is taking so many different countries and people that maybe we’ve never heard of that have been training like crazy and they could come out of the woodwork. In the U.S., I think we kind of know who the contenders are, but in a race like this it could be anybody.
iRunFar: In the U.S., you usually get a François [D’Haene] or Miguel [Heras] or somebody, but those are very known factors. Here, who knows what the Norwegians are going to do? Or the Lithuanians?
Nichols: Yes. I don’t think you can take anybody for granted because you just never know what’s going to happen out there.
iRunFar: So does that mean you have to take it out hard to be in contention, or knowing that you can’t control the other people, just run your own race?
Nichols: I’m always one to run my own race. I think it’s pretty obvious. At the same time, I think you have to be aware of at least where you are in the field as long as you have a specific goal of where you want to finish. I think it doesn’t matter who the people are in front of you, but just knowing where you are and what you need to do to make up the gaps, that’s important, instead of being right on the front all the time.
iRunFar: Being part of a squad, three members score out of five running for Team USA, does that change your strategy at all? Is there any talk of Americans running conservatively to have a bunch of good finishers, or do you just go all out and risk blowing up? There really are different takes on that.
Nichols: Yeah, I don’t know. I personally would really like a team medal and I think it’s going to be maybe harder than what we think to do that. I’d really like to see our team not blow up. But, I think it’s still up to the individual because you can’t tell somebody to race differently than they’re used to.
iRunFar: You and Alex Varner are probably on paper the two stronger team members. Do you send out Tim Tollefson to hopefully go and take it up to the next notch because he’s sort of newer to these races maybe?
Nichols: Yeah, I guess we’ll have to talk about this stuff. We haven’t really sat down as a team or anything.
iRunFar: But is it something maybe worth talking about as a group? It depends on what the group’s goals are. If it’s one person trying to get on a podium individually, that’s different than focusing on a team medal.
Nichols: Right. That kind of stuff could happen. Maybe that’s something we need to be prepared for in case another team does it. We don’t want to get sucked along into some kind of crazy tactics.
iRunFar: You’ve been running really well of late. Last October you ran a really strong race at Les Templiers. You ran great time at Red Hot Moab 55k. You ran the second-fastest time and beat Rob Krar. Were you feeling strong at the end of last year and the beginning of this year?
Nichols: Yeah, I think it was just getting things dialed in in longer races and just knowing what to expect and what things are going to feel like, and then knowing what my strengths are and being able to use those to my advantage.
iRunFar: You’ve had a break since mid-February when you ran Red Hot. Do you think you’ve continued to maintain that fitness? What’s been happening?
Nichols: I had some injury issues through April which was unexpected. I’ve really prepared for this race in a different way than Moab because Moab is fast. We’re running sub-7:00s for 33 miles. This race is over 9:00-minute pace for the winner last year. I haven’t worked as much on speed and tried to get more strength. It’s different, but I think fitness-wise it’s similar just in a different way.
iRunFar: You’re probably, on the American squad, the most experienced of the delegation by far. You’ve seen a little bit of this course. What advice would you give your teammates in terms of this terrain?
Nichols: Looking at the course, I think the downhills in the second half are going to be really crucial. If you can kind of get through the first half without trashing yourself, it looks like there are some really big downhills that people could be blowing up on—so staying relatively fresh for those.
iRunFar: Speaking of staying relatively fresh, even if you were to win on Saturday, it’s going to be your longest race ever, time-wise and distance-wise. How are you feeling ahead of that challenge?
Nichols: I’m feeling okay actually. I did a pretty long, hard run about a week ago that gave me a lot of confidence that the distance is something I can handle without too much issue. I’m more worried about just the sheer elevation gain compared to distance or time. I’ve never done anything like this course.
iRunFar: 17,000 feet of gain.
Nichols: Yes, that’s what makes me nervous more than anything else.
iRunFar: You saw the type of vert that is. It’s straight up or straight down.
Nichols: Yeah, it’s going to be a long, tough race.
iRunFar: Have you been able to focus your training on that sort of climbing and descending at all?
Nichols: Yes, both before and after the injury, I was just really focused on getting a daily basis of up and down all the time. Then even just working on hiking and making sure my hiking is up to par because especially later in the race when you’re kind of stumbling around, it’s really easy to lose ground by just not moving forward.
iRunFar: Does that feel strange? Just a couple years ago you were doing all of this short—I don’t want to say “short,” but shorter races—you were running everything. Does it feel weird, “Oh, I’ve got to work on my hiking today?”
Nichols: Yeah, it took a transition for sure, but it’s about being prepared for the race. Before the Red Hot 55k, I didn’t do any hiking training. This is a different kind of race, so I had to get ready in a different way.
iRunFar: You feel ready?
Nichols: Yeah, I think I do.
iRunFar: Best of luck out there on Saturday, Alex.