Kiril Nikolov had a breakout trail running performance with his second-place finish at The Rut 28k. In the following interview, Kiril talks about his history with orienteering, how he came to increase his focus on trail running, and how his strategy for this weekend’s race paid off.
For more on how the race went down, check out our results article for The Rut 28k.
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Kiril Nikolov Post-2016 The Rut 28k Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Kiril Nikolov after his second-place finish at The Rut 28k 2016. Congratulations.
Kiril Nikolov: Thank you.
iRunFar: Is this your first trip to the United States?
Nikolov: Yes, first ever.
iRunFar: You’ve traveled a bunch running orienteering races?
Nikolov: Yes, my main sport was orienteering, but now I’m focusing more on Skyrunning and running races and just fun.
iRunFar: You were in orienteering, but how long have you been competing in running or endurance sports?
Nikolov: Nearly 20 years now. I started with athletics when I was 11 or 12 years old and then switched to orienteering when I was 15. I’ve been a professional orienteer until this year. I’m not sure about next year, but I think I will stop it. We’ll see.
iRunFar: How did you find orienteering because it’s not a common sport? I don’t know how common it is in Bulgaria.
Nikolov: In Bulgaria before the Soviet Union crashed it was a really famous sport. At the biggest event in Bulgaria at that time, they were gathering 4,000 to 5,000 people. We had some experience. Comparing to the other sports, still orienteering is not a small sport in Bulgaria. Quite many people are doing it.
iRunFar: When you started at 15, when did you become a professional?
Nikolov: After my first World Orienteering Championship (WOC), because in orienteering the senior class is after 20. I went to my first WOC in Switzerland in 2003. I was quite okay. I was 12th and 15th to my surprise. I said, “Okay, let’s try to be a professional.” I achieved some big goals, so this is how I started. I moved to Scandinavia to train for a Swedish club. Then I changed to Norwegian to finish. Yes, it was a big moment for me to do that step.
iRunFar: What brought you to pure trail running?
Nikolov: I’ve been doing quite many running races in Bulgaria, mostly road. In Bulgaria, I very often take part in National Cross Country Championships.
iRunFar: For quite some time?
Nikolov: Yes, and for mountain running championships. I love it. Running in the mountains, whether it’s orienteering or running, is really nice. Also where I live, in Sofia, next to Sofia, there are not so big but quite high mountains over 2,000 meters, so it’s really easy to reach and to run there. I love it.
iRunFar: Why have you started thinking about transitioning from orienteering to trail running and Skyrunning?
Nikolov: Many reasons. I like to try something new. A few years ago I started to do some projects in Bulgaria with the running. My first project which made me a bit famous in my country was doing the five highest peaks in Bulgaria in less than 24 hours with moving between the peaks with a car. Then after that, the results were quite surprising. We get so much attention and media coverage and so on. I decided, there is a legendary route in Bulgaria which is 600k crossing the whole country and staying on top of the mountains because the mountains separate the country. It was a record of 5 days and 14 hours which was over 30 years old. I tried to set the new record in 2014, but I didn’t manage. I got an injury quite early on the second day. But the next year I tried again, and I set a new record of 4 days and 13 hours which was really great. This is how… the sponsors love it, and you need to live from something. Orienteering is not that famous of a sport.
iRunFar: How do you train? You’re competing in short orienteering races. You’re competing in something like this. Then you’re running 600k in a couple days.
Nikolov: The thing is that I love to do short races. I like to run fast. Mostly I do a lot of intervals no matter what I’m training for, even for long runs or short runs or even for runs like this. I do a lot of uphill intervals. Also I try to… when I have a goal or competition, I try to focus more on that. If it’s a flat race, I do more flat running. If it’s a mountain race, I do more mountains. But the truth is, I guess what makes me good in up and downhill running is I’ve been living in a town in Bulgaria that is also next to a mountain, and I’ve been doing a lot of running over there before I started to be a professional.
iRunFar: You ran the Dolomites race earlier this season, and you were in the teens position-wise?
Nikolov: I was 13th at Dolomites.
iRunFar: With a result like that, did you think you could possibly finish second here?
Nikolov: I was doing the Dolomites a few years ago and the results were better, but this year in the spring early season, I had a lot of issues. I was sick and had small injuries also. Dolomites, I was not in my top shape. Two weeks after Dolomites, it was also Skyrunning in Andorra at Comapedrosa. I was 8th over there, so the shape was improving. I was not sure what to expect of this race, but I took it more seriously than I was doing at Comapedrosa. I came here a week before also to fix the jetlag and also to check the course how it is. I split it into two. I ran it on Monday and Wednesday and was otherwise mostly recovering and taking it easy. So I knew the course very well which helped me make my strategy.
iRunFar: What was that strategy?
Nikolov: Because when I was running a few days ago it was really warm. I said, Okay, if it’s this warm, I need to not start too hard and be prepared with the water and to have some water with me and to have enough energy gels to take before every uphill. That was the strategy today, and it worked. In the beginning, some of the guys started really fast. I said, Okay, let’s see if they keep it to the end. I know that if you don’t know the course too well, after the first up and downhill, then you’re dead if you do it too quickly and if you don’t save some energy for the end. Yeah, I was surprisingly feeling well at the last uphill. I said, Okay, today was good and I’m in good shape right now, so I deserve the place where I was.
iRunFar: You had a great run out here. Do you have any more races this season? Are you going to run Limone?
Nikolov: Yes, I’m going to Limone and also will try to do—for Skyrunning you need four races to do the overall ranking, and that will be my fourth, so I will do that one as well.
iRunFar: Congratulations on your good run here, and good luck.
Nikolov: Thank you.