Germany’s Nele Alder-Baerens is one of the women’s favorites for the 2018 IAU 100k World Championships. In the following interview, our first with her, Nele talks about her history with road ultrarunning, how she recently managed an injury which required a week layoff, and the extra planning and logistics of road ultrarunning as a person with physical disabilities.
Nele Alder-Baerens Pre-2018 IAU 100k World Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Nele Alder-Baerens before the 2018 IAU 100k World Championships. How are you?
Nele Alder-Baerens: Yeah, it’s fine that I’m here. I hope to enjoy the atmosphere of the World Championships and to enjoy the nice country and see the race.
iRunFar: You’ve run some incredible times at 50k and 100k and six hours. What do you think your best performance is in the past?
Alder-Baerens: My best performance ever I’d say is the six-hour world record. I’m proud of it.
iRunFar: That’s 85…?
Alder-Baerens: 85.492 kilometers.
iRunFar: You remember, yes? That’s an incredible distance over six hours and a good part of the way through 100k. Your best 100k is…?
Alder-Baerens: 7:29 but two years ago.
iRunFar: That’s not that long ago. How has your season gone this year?
Alder-Baerens: The season starts now, but a few weeks ago I had a distension in my femur and for that I had to take a complete break of running.
iRunFar: For how long?
Alder-Baerens: For one week, but last week I just started slowly running, so I don’t know how my performance will be or how my condition will be. But it’s life. It’s how it is. We’ll see how the race will be.
iRunFar: But you had good training before that?
iRunFar: So maybe it was a good break.
Alder-Baerens: But since it’s a distension, I don’t know if it will be completely healed or not. We all see. I can run 20k, but after that, I don’t know. We will see.
iRunFar: Do you enjoy the 100k distance?
Alder-Baerens: I enjoy it, but I don’t enjoy the undulation of the course. I like it more flat.
iRunFar: Even flatter?
Alder-Baerens: Yes, the flatter the better.
iRunFar: Do you live in a very flat place?
Alder-Baerens: Yes, but I think here it’s 60 meters per lap, and that I don’t like.
iRunFar: That will be a challenge for you?
Alder-Baerens: Yes, but I like the heat and I like the asphalt, but I don’t like the hills.
iRunFar: So two of three, that’s okay. Everybody runs the same course.
Alder-Baerens: I think the Croatian women will be very strong. I also think Radka Churáňová—I have respect for her and the Japanese. I also think the Spanish woman [Alicia] Pérez will be a good competitor.
iRunFar: Yes, they can be very strong. There could be some good Americans in that mix.
Alder-Baerens: Yes, I’ll be really happy when I come through and would be in the top 10, but my dream would be to be in the top five.
iRunFar: With your times that’s quite possible.
Alder-Baerens: Yes, but with the injury and undulation…
iRunFar: Maybe the undulation will be good to change the muscle movements.
Alder-Baerens: Yes, I will start very carefully.
iRunFar: You’re have challenges. You are deaf and partially blind?
Alder-Baerens: Yes, and I’m very myopic. I also don’t really see in three dimensions because I can only see with one eye. This eye is bad. I don’t see if there’s a stone or something. It’s also the cause of my injury because I fell over a stone that I didn’t see. That’s also why I like flat courses and not trails because I don’t see in three dimensions, and if there is some stuff or holes or speed bumps or whatever…
iRunFar: Speed bumps would be very difficult if it’s the same color. The side of the road you can see?
Alder-Baerens: Yes. That’s my problem. Also, before a competition, I have to consult my trainers that all points have to be clear. I can’t communicate during the competition if there are any changes. If they change the shirt or the cap, I don’t recognize. That’s why I have to clear all things before competition. During the competition…
iRunFar: You have to be very methodical and have a plan for external aspects.
Alder-Baerens: Yes, I have to see all nutritional energies. If there are some problems, I have to think about before the race like if I need toilet paper or what happens if the temperature raises and I need more water—what happens then? For all the problems, I have to plan before the race.
iRunFar: And those other people need to know. You need to know the plan if someone is going to help you.
Alder-Baerens: You have to say, “If the problem is this, then you have to do that,” and so on. During the competition if we have a notice, they write something down, and I’ve got to read it.
iRunFar: Do you run without your glasses?
Alder-Baerens: I wear my glasses, but I don’t run with my hearing aids. That’s why I’m deaf.
iRunFar: You do run with your glasses.
Alder-Baerens: Of course, of course.
iRunFar: You’d be running in a small circle.
Alder-Baerens: Yes. I also don’t recognize the runners. Is this a female or not? Is this a favorite or not? I don’t see the colors of the shirts. I don’t recognize the faces.
iRunFar: If it’s someone in front of you, you don’t know if it’s a male or female competitors.
Alder-Baerens: It’s an open race, I think, and that’s why there are a lot of runners. I hope I can see after the first turn how is my next competitor.
iRunFar: Is it someone in your competition, or is it someone one lap behind you in the open race?
iRunFar: Do you find you have to have a plan but also be flexible during the race?
Alder-Baerens: I try to have all the problems in my mind of what could happen and discuss it before—how many water and how many eat and how many drink and what happens when? During the race, I try to run my own race.
iRunFar: I imagine you have to.
Alder-Baerens: It also happens that my clock shut down and I have to run with my body. It was, for my world record, I was without a watch. I just ran on my own because the watch was shut down.
iRunFar: The six-hour record was in your head?
Alder-Baerens: Yes, and I try to run how my body feels and how the mind can be strong. This is my own race. Whatever other runners do…
iRunFar: A lot of people say that, but it has to be the case for you.
Alder-Baerens: Of course, in the last 5k of the race when I see there is some runner, I try to catch, but during the race when someone overtakes me and I feel it’s not my speed, I say, Okay, let go. It’s not my pace. Okay.
iRunFar: Do you ever have it in a race when maybe some of the other runners try to tell you something and they don’t know you can’t hear them, is that a challenge sometimes?
Alder-Baerens: It’s an advantage and disadvantage at the same time because when you hear someone, you can make some gains, but if you are deaf, you’re more focused on your own. It can be an advantage because you only are running how you feel. You don’t over-pace or under-pace. We will see.
iRunFar: When there are fans on the course and people cheering for you and there are crowds getting excited, can you feel that?
Alder-Baerens: No to the crying out, only the hand signs and clapping of the hands. Sometimes I am also so focused on the streets that I don’t look left or right and only in the end place of the race maybe I see the clapping the hands or… [demonstrates the cheering sign for the deaf].
iRunFar: Okay, if I want to cheer for you on Saturday… Nice. Will you go run the course tomorrow?
Alder-Baerens: Yes, not today but tomorrow we’ll check the course and how the undulation is.
iRunFar: Best of luck. I’ll be cheering for you out there.
Alder-Baerens: Thank you. Do you have a cap I can see you? I will recognize you if you tell me which color your shirt and hat are. Thank you.
iRunFar: Thank you.