Sweden’s Ida Nilsson brings a rare kind of leg speed and a brief but high success rate in trail ultrarunning with her to the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships starting line. A two-time NCAA DI track-and-field champion and a 10-time Swedish track-and-field national champion, let’s just say the woman has wheels. In this interview, watch Ida talk about her 2016 season of racing so far, the injury she dealt with this fall and her recovery from it, and how she rates her fitness coming into TNF 50.
By the way, Ida’s interview is part of a pre-race women’s interview show. Check it out!
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Ida Nilsson Pre-2016 The North Face EC 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar-Dylan Bowman: Hello again. This is Dylan Bowman with iRunFar.
iRunFar-Meghan Hicks: And I’m Meghan Hicks of iRunFar.
iRF-Bowman: This is our fourth and final interview here on Thursday at SFRC [San Francisco Running Company]. We’re here with Ida Nilsson. Ida, welcome to California. How are you?
Ida Nilsson: Thank you very much. I’m well.
iRF-Hicks: You’re Swedish, but you’re not unfamiliar with the U.S. You went to university here.
Nilsson: Yes, in Flagstaff, Arizona.
iRF-Hicks: We want to talk to you about your history with collegiate running before getting into ultrarunning, but before that, let’s talk a little bit about your season. You’ve had quite a year. There were some high highs and a bit of a low low this fall. We saw you win Transvulcania this spring which was a heck of a blast off to 2016.
Nilsson: Yes, it was a great start. I got really great introduction to Skyrunning. I loved the race over there.
iRF-Hicks: You kind of spent your summer Skyrunning, right?
Nilsson: Yes. I kind of did a little bit of everything. I did a few road races also but mostly running in the mountains.
iRF-Hicks: This is sort of a whole new thing for you running these technical courses up high in the mountains. What has the 2016 experience been like for you?
Nilsson: It’s been really fun. I’ve tried some more extreme races that I can’t really handle yet—the Dolomites and then some easier ones. Transvulcania was nice—still some technical parts in the downhill, but for me it’s a race I can handle. It’s good to practice and always get better both to be fast in the uphill and then go down fast also.
iRF-Hicks: We last saw you race in September when you ran and won The Rut 50k. I think that day wasn’t the best one for you. You might have started feeling an injury that day?
Nilsson: I felt great during the race actually. It was right after the race I started to feel some pain in the leg. I thought maybe I was just a bit sore after the race. Yeah, I took some days off. I got a lot of different treatments, but nothing really helped. I thought I would have time. I had three weeks to do therapy and get healthy again, but it just got worse and worse. Actually, I had two months with no running.
iRF-Hicks: Ultimately did they figure out what your injury was?
Nilsson: Yes, not completely. I had my guesses and some people had some guesses. It was I think more muscles than nerves. It wasn’t in the bone at least, so I was happy about that. It was hard to figure out. I did a lot of small different stuff that helped and also just the rest and got well again.
iRF-Hicks: Keeping off of it.
iRF-Bowman: Rewinding, we already mentioned you went to Northern Arizona University. It looked like you had a quite successful college career. You were a two-time NCAA champion. What were your events? What was your strength?
Nilsson: I did the steeplechase and the 5k as my main things.
iRF-Bowman: I saw also that you dealt with a pretty serious injury after your college career? Can you tell us a little bit about that? It seems like it kind of took you out of the sport for a few years.
Nilsson: Yes, it did. When I finished college, I really wanted to go for running. I moved back to Sweden, but the problems all started. I got a lot of injuries. I was coming back all the time, but finally I got a serious hip injury, and I felt like I had to completely stop. It took four or five years until it healed up.
iRF-Bowman: You came back in 2013 and started racing again. Is that kind of when you picked up ski mountaineering as well?
Nilsson: Actually, it was last summer that was my first summer really racing again. Ski mountaineering was also… I started three years ago up north in Sweden. I love to have the snow and mountains. So I started to do that and a bit more cross-country skiing. It was actually last winter when I moved to Chamonix and did the World Cup and really learned the sport.
iRF-Bowman: Is it true that Emelie Forsberg really motivated you to try ski mountaineering and kind of encouraged you to participate in the racing scene in the European circuit?
Nilsson: Yeah, not in the first place. I was in a different place and started training and did a few small races in Sweden. But then she helped me a lot last winter when I moved to Chamonix and was just really patient. It was great to have someone to learn from.
iRF-Bowman: One of the best, too.
iRF-Hicks: You’ve come to San Francisco before as a tourist or as a visitor during your time at NAU? Is that how you ended up here before?
Nilsson: Yes, I’ve been here once during university. I was doing a race at Stanford, and I saw a few things like Chinatown and the Wharf. I’ve never seen this area where the race is, so just driving over here today, it looks beautiful in the distance with the hills and mountains. It looks great.
iRF-Hicks: What’s brought you to target The North Face 50 as… I don’t know if this is your season wrap-up, or if this is going to be you kicking off a new year, but how did this get on your hit list?
Nilsson: Yeah, I really felt like now that I couldn’t do Ultra Pirineu, I had no finish for my season. I would like to do one more race. This will be my final running race. Then for a few months, I’ll focus more on ski mountaineering and then start running again in the spring.
iRF-Bowman: As Meghan mentioned, you’ve had a really successful running season this year. You won Transvulcania which is kind of the equivalent to The North Face 50 Mile Championships in Europe. You also won the Mont Blanc Marathon and The Rut 50k all by rather large margins. Does that give you a lot of confidence going into this race? Are you comfortable with races of this distance, about 80k?
Nilsson: I wouldn’t say comfortable because still I have just done Transvulcania and one race last year, UltraVasan that was actually this distance. It’s still new for me and especially now when I haven’t been running so much. But I started to feel more comfortable in the longer distances more this summer. I feel more comfortable now with three weeks of training with both skiing and running, so I feel more fit than I was a month ago. I felt very unfit then. I would have felt awful running this. We’ll see how it goes. It’s quite rushed training. I trained a lot for three weeks. We’ll see how it’s going to be.
iRF-Bowman: Obviously this is kind of the end-of-the season party, and at least for the North American ultra circuit, it’s one of the most competitive races of the year. You probably have not raced a lot of the women who are going to be at the front of the pack on Saturday. Are you familiar with any of the other runners? Do you look at the start list at all? Are you going to be keying off anybody during the race?
Nilsson: No, I don’t know too many of the other women. I’ve met Megan [Kimmel] a few times. I know she’s going to be very strong. It’s a lot of runners who are strong. Since I’m quite new, I’m getting to know more and more people all the time at every race. It’s very nice. I get more friends and get to know more people. It’s good.
iRF-Hicks: I don’t know if I’ve seen you race enough to have seen your style, but when I watched you race, you’ve kind of gone off the front. I don’t know if that’s because you just have more raw leg speed than the rest of the field, or if your style is to go out hard and push it early. Have you thought about strategy for this weekend?
Nilsson: I think this race will be nice because I think it will actually be possible to run more in a pack if you want to. I feel like some of the Sky races it’s not really possible to run that even. People have like they’re good in the uphill or the downhill, and it’s never like you’re really able to run in a pack like you do in a road race or in track. Sometimes I can miss that feeling. I think actually this is the kind of race where you would be able to run more together. It could be nice maybe if we can keep together in the beginning. It’s a long race to go by yourself.
iRF-Bowman: That’s interesting you say that because Meghan and I were talking about that yesterday that a lot of times at this race, the men’s race seems very pack oriented where you might see five or seven or 10 guys together early or maybe through half way. We haven’t ever seen that in the women’s field. It will be interesting. I think we have the depth and the level of competition this year to see that. It would be really cool and exciting.
iRF-Hicks: You’re a Salomon runner and from among your team we have multiple previous champions of The North Face 50. In the girls, we have Emelie Forsberg and Anna Frost. Have the girls given you information on what to expect and what it’s going to be like out there?
Nilsson: Yeah of course I talked to Emelie now because we have spent three weeks together training.
iRF-Hicks: Ski training or ski and run?
Nilsson: I have been running also. She joined me for some runs. We actually did a small race together also in France but mostly skiing. I’ve tried to do afternoon runs just on the road up and down. It was good. She said, “Oh, this suits you so well because it’s not technical at all.” We’ll see. I think I will enjoy the course. I like when it’s running the whole time. For me, that’s the best when you don’t have to hike too much.
iRF-Hicks: The girl wants to run. Just let her run, okay?
iRF-Bowman: You said you already started training for the upcoming ski-mountaineering season. Do you think that as soon as you finish the race this weekend you’ll jump straight into ski-mountaineering season, or will you take a little downtime prior to racing?
Nilsson: Of course I need an easy week after, but then I will ski again and prepare for the World Cup. I will see. I have to recover until my body feels fresh again. I think it’s good to start with something new. It’s more easy for the body in some ways to not have the pounding. That will be good.
iRF-Bowman: Good luck on Saturday. It’s great to have you here. I think you’ll really enjoy the course and trails and the Bay Area. Best of luck.
Nilsson: Thank you very much.
iRF-Hicks: Good luck, Ida.