Alex Nichols has already had a long and successful season, but a strong finish at the 2015 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships would be a pretty good layer of icing on top. In this interview, Alex talks about his favorite parts of his season so far, how he’s modified his training specifically for this race, and what parts of the course suit his strengths.
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Alex Nichols Pre-2015 The North Face EC 50-Mile Championships Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here ahead of the 2015 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships. I’m here with Alex Nichols. Hi, how are you?
Alex Nichols: Hi. I’m pretty good.
iRunFar: It’s two nights before the race. We’ve got two nights to go. You just got into town. How are you doing?
Nichols: Pretty good. Happy to be here. Yeah, it’s kind of a long travel with lots of weird things, but I’m happy to be here. My brother is getting married tomorrow.
iRunFar: You have a big weekend!
Nichols: Yes, I’m looking forward to that.
iRunFar: Not just a day of rest before the race…
Nichols: Yeah, it’s a pretty small thing, but I’m excited for him and looking forward to that.
iRunFar: Your race this weekend is not necessarily the main event.
Nichols: Yeah, that’s actually been kind of nice. I’ve been focusing on the race, but I feel like I’m not as nervous about it.
iRunFar: You have some healthy distractions.
Nichols: Yeah, I haven’t really thought about it up until getting here. That’s been good.
iRunFar: Awesome. You’ve had a long year. We’ve seen you in races around the world. Your season really started in May. You did some other shorter training races before that, but we saw you race the IAU Trail World Championships, and you’ve just been bam, bam, bam on the month or every month-and-a-half since then.
Nichols: Yeah, that’s kind of how I spaced it. I could get by with doing one per month, not ideally, but six weeks I actually feel like for me personally is reasonable as long as it’s not a huge race time-wise. A three hour race is different than a ten hour race.
iRunFar: I feel like the Alex Nichols that we’ve seen at races this year is different than the Alex Nichols we’ve seen in the past. In previous years, you’d turn up to a starting line healthy and then you can’t race because you’d get injured, and then you’d turn up healthy and then you can’t race because you’d get injured. This year you seem to have been healthy and in shape all the way through the season.
Nichols: Yeah, I think it’s kind of just luck honestly. Maybe my body has gotten used to doing the racing and the training, but my training this year hasn’t been different than other years. I just happen to have avoided injury a little better. Yeah, I have been really trying to focus on just getting to the start line because that’s really what it comes down to. You can’t do well in the race if you don’t start.
iRunFar: If you’re not there.
Nichols: Oh, my gosh!
iRunFar: Wow! Such an amazing miracle. I want to ask you about your thoughts on your season because looking at it from my perspective, it seems like you’ve had a heck of a year, and you were just awarded the USATF Ultra Trail Runner of the Year as a notation of that. Has it been a year of riding highs for you, or when you look at your balance of work this year, what are your thoughts?
Nichols: I’ve done well in races that I wouldn’t necessarily say have been my best races, so I think I’ve been pretty consistent, but I definitely have had races where I was much happier with the race than others even though maybe the place was still pretty good.
iRunFar: Highlight reel for you—what are your highlights?
Nichols: The Moab Red Hot 55k…
iRunFar: Yes, the hometown race!
Nichols: I was really happy with how I ran well—everything went perfectly and I ran fast. Then probably the World Trail Championships—that was the first race I’ve done with so much elevation change. That was… to get sixth I was super psyched and to lead the U.S. team. Then Mont Blanc was good also, but I feel the depth was more competitive at World Championships. Actually, since Mont Blanc, I haven’t quite had the perfect race. Even though I was able to come back and do good races, I was never feeling that excitement about my own performance, I guess.
iRunFar: Looking to this weekend, some have said in suppositions the last couple weeks that maybe this isn’t a course that suits you as much as others. There’s a little bit less elevation change and a little less technicality. What are your thoughts on that?
Nichols: It’s different than the races I’ve focused on this year, but I wouldn’t consider myself a “slower” type of runner. Ultrarunning is still pretty new to me. Up until this year, I’ve never run a race where I’d consider running “well” a 10-minute pace. I still run fast.
iRunFar: “Just watch me run fast!”
Nichols: Yeah, it’s a different type of race especially with the whole focus of the year being steeper races. It is different. I don’t really know how it’s going to go.
iRunFar: Yeah, take me to the starting line a little bit. Are you going to pull the typical Alex Nichols and sit back and watch some of the initial shenanigans before you take action?
Nichols: I always just try and run the most consistent race that I can personally. Yeah, I’m probably not going to take off and do something crazy, but I’ll still be running fast from the gun. It just might not be as fast as other people.
iRunFar: You’ve been on this course before. You’ve raced an altered version in 2012 which was the biblical flooding year. You kind of know the gist of how it works here. What are some pieces of the course or formats of the race that suits you?
Nichols: The big climb up Cardiac is really runable, and for me, that’s sort of the kind of training I’ve been doing up to this race is to get ready for that type of grade, I guess. Then it still has… some afterwards still has some really steep climbs, so I guess I’m just planning on trying to stay comfortable on the runable stuff and still get ready for the steep stuff because in the second half there are some very steep sections.
iRunFar: That has been, at least for the last couple years, where the race has been decided is on one of those last two climbs.
Nichols: Yeah, I think the key is you still have to be there when those climbs arrive. I can’t be 20 minutes off the back and expect to come back in the last 10 miles. Those climbs are hugely important.
iRunFar: Is this the official end of your season? Are you going to give yourself a break after this?
Nichols: Yeah, I don’t think there are any more races I could do even if I wanted to. Yeah, it will be probably a few months off.
iRunFar: Do you have plans for the winter? Are you going to literally take some time off running or go into some cross training?
Nichols: In Colorado Springs, you can pretty much run year ‘round because it melts. So I’ll probably do short runs, but I’m not going to have any focus to my training.
iRunFar: Then have you sorted any races for 2016?
Nichols: No, I really haven’t. I was waiting for the Skyrunning schedule to come out, and it finally did. I’d like to go to Transvulcania. I think I could do well there. Besides that, I don’t know.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you this weekend. We look forward to seeing you out there.
iRunFar: Bonus question. You just had shoes delivered to you here in San Francisco today—the last-minute shoe acquisition. What are you going to race in?
Nichols: I still don’t know. They sent a few, so I just need to figure it out in the next 24 hours and then wear them as much as I can. I’ve got pretty good feet in terms of blisters, so I’m not too worried.
iRunFar: Alright, good luck to you.
Nichols: Thank you.