Alex Nichols is in Hong Kong! He’s starting his 2018 racing season off early with the Vibram Hong Kong 100k. In this interview, Alex talks about what has inspired him to race 100 kilometers so early in the year, his thoughts on his 2017 racing season, how he’s going to mentally and physically approach this race, and what else he has on tap in 2018.
Alex Nichols Pre-2018 Vibram Hong Kong 100k Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here with Alex Nichols. It’s a couple days before the 2018 Vibram Hong Kong 100k. We’re in Hong Kong.
Alex Nichols: Yeah, it’s pretty wild to be here.
iRunFar: I just got here late last night. You just got off the plane a couple hours ago. We both recorded PR-length flights to get here.
Nichols: Yes, mine was 15 hours 50 minutes on the dot. I’m pretty tired.
iRunFar: You got off the plane just now. You haven’t even slept yet.
Nichols: Yeah, 15 hours, 50 minutes and basically two days and one night of missing time.
iRunFar: Yeah, because you crossed the International Date Line, and you literally advanced through time. Is that house it works?
Nichols: Yeah, it’s exciting. I’m up there with Doc Brown now. It’s good.
iRunFar: We’re in Hong Kong. You’re here for a race. It’s the beginning of your 2018 racing season.
Nichols: Yeah, it’s an early start. We’ve been fortunate and unfortunate in Colorado and have had really dry weather, so training has been pretty good.
iRunFar: Chilly at times, but not a lot of snow, so trails have been runnable.
Nichols: Yeah, we’ve just had maybe one decent storm this whole winter.
iRunFar: A couple days ago?
Nichols: Yeah, just on Sunday. Things have been really good for trail running,
iRunFar: But not so much for skiing or climate.
Nichols: Yeah, that’s rough on all the resorts right now.
iRunFar: Let’s talk about your 2017. On paper, to me it looks like you had a good year—a win at Black Canyon, a second at Western States, and a third at Les Templiers. When I look at your year, those are your highlights. Is that what you’d say also?
Nichols: Yeah, for sure. It feels like Black Canyon was a long time ago even though it was basically a year ago.
iRunFar: A year ago that was what you were prepping for.
Nichols: Yeah, and when I think back on it, that was maybe the best race of the year for me. It was really good, just the conditions and how fast we ran. Western States was good. It wasn’t great.
iRunFar: You finished second!
Nichols: I don’t know. There wasn’t ever a race in 2017 that was perfect.
iRunFar: “Nailed it.” Survived it—but survived it pretty well, let’s be honest.
iRunFar: So now we’re here. It’s 2018. It’s a couple days before the start of the Hong Kong 100k. Have you planned out your year? You being at an early season Ultra-Trail World Tour race, is that sort of foretelling or foreshadowing what your season is going to look like?
Nichols: Yeah. I’m doing this race essentially to get enough points to get into UTMB, so I really need to finish this race. That’s the number-one goal.
iRunFar: So if everything goes to heck, you’ll be walking it in to get the points?
Nichols: Yeah, for sure. I don’t know what the cutoff is. I might want to check that in case.
iRunFar: Actually I found out tonight that it’s 32 hours. I think it’s 32 hours. Don’t quote me on that. It’s something like that you can have a nap. [Editor’s Note: The race’s cutoff is actually 30 hours. Sorry!]
Nichols: Thirty-two hours—whoa—I might miss my flight if that happened. Maybe that’s what I’ll focus on—finishing the race and getting to the airport.
iRunFar: You’re here looking for your UTMB points. Is that your ultimate goal for the year?
Nichols: Yeah, pretty much. I’ll do the Madeira Sky Ultra in early June. Those two races are the ones that are really concrete at this point. Beyond that, we’ll see what happens.
iRunFar: The Hong Kong course—we’ve now had several years of this race bringing over Americans and international competition, so you’ve gotten some beta from people who have come and suffered and thrived before you. What have you heard about this course? What has been your strategic approach mentally and physically getting prepped for it?
Nichols: In the training that I’ve done, it’s been more focused on the back half of the race because everybody says it gets a lot steeper and really stair-filled. That’s been a big complaint from a lot of people. I’ve really focused on that making sure I can even have that sort of ability to be able to go through stairs quickly especially on the downhill. You do get better at it if you practice it.
iRunFar: Because of a coordination—eye-foot—or is it just the mechanical…?
Nichols: I think it’s that—getting the rhythm of going down stairs quickly. When I started sort of training for this, I was not very good. All of a sudden, I can double step…
iRunFar: Triple step?
Nichols: Maybe not triple step, not yet. I’m not that good.
iRunFar: You’re kind of sounding like a Dipsea Race strategic planner right now.
Nichols: Yeah, I can see a lot of similarities. It’s all bout being smooth and fast at the same time.
iRunFar: As I understand it, the final 25k of this race is pretty tough—three really big climbs and going over Hong Kong’s high point, which is 1,000 meters.
Nichols: Yeah, that’s really exciting. I didn’t know that until maybe a few weeks ago when I watched the video online. Going over that last peak just before the end, it looks really steep. At mile 55, that’s going to be really tough.
iRunFar: When I think of Alex Nichols, the racer, you’re really good at figuring out how much energy to use in the first part of the race and the same amount of energy for the middle, and you look like you have the same amount of energy for the end…
iRunFar: When a race is so different, the course is so different at the beginning versus at the end, how does that factor in for you in terms of how much energy to use?
Nichols: For me, it’s just always the first couple miles when you’re running and people are feeling antsy and running pretty fast, I think to myself, I still have 59 miles to run. If I can’t run 59 miles at this pace on a completely flat course, I probably shouldn’t be doing that knowing that the last 25k has 5,000 feet of climbing.
iRunFar: Have you practiced with any long runs or long days out that start flat and finish steep?
Nichols: Not necessarily. I’ve done more up-down days instead of focusing on one big climb and one downhill just working on that transition from down-to-up, down-to-up.
iRunFar: My last question for you is with regard to recovering from that epic flight you just took. When we get done with this interview are you just going to crash and wake up 15 hours later and start over again?
Nichols: Yeah, that would be the goal. I think with any of the European races I can sleep pretty well for long periods. I’ll probably sleep 12 hours tonight, 12 hours tomorrow, and hopefully 12 hours the next night.
iRunFar: Be ready to go. That’s definitely something that when you come so many time zones over, getting the extra stresses on your body right is interesting.
Nichols: Yeah, I think that’s maybe something people don’t consider when they see Americans racing abroad or Europeans coming to the U.S. You’re definitely at a disadvantage, and you just kind of have to work that into your plan.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you on Saturday, and best of luck to you and your long sleep tonight.
Nichols: Thanks. Thanks, I’ll do my best.
iRunFar: Good luck, Alex.