Bulgaria’s Mariya Nikolova is on a steadily upward trajectory with her UTMB and other ultra-trail race results over the last several years, including a ninth place at UTMB in 2017. In her first interview with iRunFar, Mariya talks about how she converted to trail running after running track-and-field for several decades, what the trail running scene is like in her home country, and to what she attributes her rapid improvement in the sport.
Mariya Nikolova Pre-UTMB 2018 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m with Bulgaria’s Mariya Nikolova. It’s a couple days before the 2018 Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. We’re here in Chamonix. Hi, Mariya! This is my first time meeting you.
Mariya Nikolova: Hi! It’s nice to meet you.
iRunFar: This is our first time interviewing you, so could you tell us a little about your background? What do you do for a job and how did you get into trail running?
Nikolova: I started trail running before seven years, in 2011. I’m working as a strength and conditioning trainer. In my spare time I’m doing trail running, just to relax and be in nature.
iRunFar: Did you come to trail running from another sport? Did you run when you were younger? How did you start doing this?
Nikolova: Before trail running I was in track and field.
iRunFar: What distances?
Nikolova: Different disciplines. I was training for fifteen years. I did heptathlon, high jump. I also ran 800 meters. I started with heptathlon [hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meter run, long jump, javelin throw, 800-meter run]. After that I did different disciplines.
iRunFar: Wow! Well, I guess with your height, I’m not surprised at the high jump.
Nikolova: [Laughs] Yes. I’m 1.81 meters in height [5’9″].
iRunFar: The Bulgarian trail-running scene. What’s it like? What are the trails like, and what is the culture of trail runners like in your country?
Nikolova: When I started, we were a few people who do this trail running and ultramarathons. Today, we’re a lot of people who love to run trails, to go the mountains. We have very beautiful mountains, different mountains. Some mountains have a lot of forests, the others are a bit like the Alps.
iRunFar: The kind of mountains with no trees and big views?
Nikolova: Yes. We have this also.
iRunFar: What is the most competitive race in Bulgaria right now for trail running?
Nikolova: Today, we have a lot of races, ultramarathons in Bulgaria. Every race has its own charm. They are different, they can offer a different challenge. I can’t say that one is the main one.
iRunFar: Here we are in Chamonix. It’s a couple of days before UTMB. You’ve finished UTMB twice before?
Nikolova: Three times: I ran it in 2013, 2014, and last year.
iRunFar: Last year, you cracked the top ten. You finished in the top ten.
Nikolova: Yes. I’m glad, not exactly to be in the top ten, but to do my personal best. Even with the weather conditions – I don’t like the cold – it was a surprise that I survived all the snow and the wind and low temperatures [laughs].
iRunFar: Yeah, both nights were not good weather.
Nikolova: Yes, I only had one night on the course. I finished at 11:00 p.m. [in 29:04].
iRunFar: But people finishing at that time of night had a thunderstorm while they were up high, right?
Nikolova: We had rain and very strong wind. Several days before the race, I climbed to the peak of Mont Blanc and, then, I used the same gloves for the race as what I used for the peak [laughs]. It was very cold, really, and the cold tired the muscles more than normal temperatures.
iRunFar: You seem to be improving very quickly with your ultra-trail results over the last couple of years. You improved your UTMB time and you had some other success in races. You just came in second at Ronda dels Cims – Andorra Ultra Trail Vallnordtwo months ago.
Nikolova: Yes. Also, last year after UTMB, I won Cappadocia Ultra-Trail. This year, I showed better results than last year in the races I did. Ronda dels Cims was my big challenge this year, because it’s a long race with very high accumulated elevation and hard track with technical parts. For me, it was a challenge.
iRunFar: This race will be shorter in comparison.
Nikolova: Not shorter. Shorter maybe hours-wise [she finished Ronda dels Cims in 39:36].
iRunFar: A faster track.
Nikolova: Yes, a faster track.
iRunFar: Given your improvement in ultra-trails in the last couple of years, do you know why that’s happened? Have you been training harder or racing smarter? To what do you attribute your improvement?
Nikolova: I have experience now, from over the years. I also started to go to the mountains more frequently and spent more time in the mountains, running and hiking. I think that’s the reason I am doing better now.
iRunFar: Just more accumulated miles on your legs?
Nikolova: Yes. Absolutely.
iRunFar: Your legs can tolerate bigger mountains and longer days.
iRunFar: It’s just a couple of days before UTMB but you just told me that tomorrow you’re going to climb Mont Blanc.
Nikolova: Yes, it’s a tradition [laughs]. Every time we come here, we go to the top of Mont Blanc if the weather is good.
iRunFar: And here we are having some beautiful weather.
Nikolova: Yes. Today and tomorrow the weather will be good. I’m not sure about during the race.
iRunFar: Well, you can never trust a weather forecast until the day of, right?
iRunFar: So you don’t have any trouble with your legs if you do Mont Blanc a couple of days before the race?
Nikolova: No, we don’t do it at an intense pace, and I have enough time to recover. After that, I will rest.
iRunFar: All resting after that. Well, best of luck at Friday’s UTMB, and thanks for the interview.
Nikolova: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.