Alex Nichols took third at the 2014 Grand Trail des Templiers. In the following interview, Alex talks about his non-traditional path to his podium finish, how the race played out for him, and what he thinks about racing ultra distances.
Be sure to read our results article for the whole story on this year’s Grand Trail des Templiers.
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Alex Nichols 2014 Les Templiers Champion Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Alex Nichols after his third-place finish at the 2014 Grand trail des Templiers. Alex, awesome run out there today. When you were probably 10k into it and probably 100th spot, were you thinking, I’m going to podium today.
Alex Nichols: No, I wish I could say that I was but definitely not. I was hoping for top 10 because that would at least hopefully help the team out since it was a team competition, but I had no plans of top three.
iRunFar: At all or once things got going?
Nichols: No, no, not really. I thought, on a good day, top five.
iRunFar: So, walk us through your race. Was it strategy that you started out slow and that far back place-wise?
Nichols: The thing is that, I was looking at my splits before the race. I had a fast times, a slow time, and even though the first checkpoint I was in 32nd, I noticed, I was still ahead of the fast split that I had down for myself. It wasn’t that I was going slow, everybody was going really fast.
iRunFar: Insanely fast.
iRunFar: Then when I saw you around 42k in, the full marathon, you were like, “I’m in the mountains now!”
Nichols: The first marathon was like 25 miles of pretty flat, fast stuff and it was just getting a little old. It’s supposed to be a mountain race. I was expecting a lot of vertical, which there is, it just all happens really late. So once we hit those first few big descents and climbs I finally felt like I got into a good rhythm, and I knew I could start moving up.
iRunFar: When I saw you, you had just moved into ninth at the marathon point. Then you’re moving up through the field. When do you catch Sage Canaday?
Nichols: I caught him with 10 miles to go. Yeah, I was actually really disappointed it was Sage because of the team competition; I was really hoping he would be up front. I think it kind of helped because he ended up staying really close to me. So it was… yeah, just kind of working together a little bit.
iRunFar: So you guys did get in sync for a little while.
Nichols: Sort of. I thought he was gone and then all the sudden he was there again. I think he kind of rallied from a kind of a bad spot in his race.
iRunFar: And you, you kept on rolling. You get to the bottom of that last hill with just over 10k to go and you start going up. How are you feeling?
Nichols: This race was interesting because I felt really good for awhile and then all of a sudden I felt really bad, really quickly right at the base of that climb. It was a big climb. I think you were saying it was 1,300 feet vertical in a mile. It was really exposed to the sun and really hot. We hadn’t had an aid station in 15 miles or something. All of the sudden it got really tough.
iRunFar: How do you power through those tough spots? Is there any time where you’re just like, I just want to sit down on the rock next to the trail? Let me tell you, I did that a couple days before and it felt good.
Nichols: That would have been nice. No, it was just… somebody actually told me in English, which was great, that Miguel Heras was 2:45 in front of me at the base of that climb. I thought, Well, if I work really hard, maybe I can catch him and move into [fourth]… I think at that point it would have been fourth. So that was the goal.
iRunFar: Then you’re rolling down the hill. Did you catch anybody on the descent off the mountain?
Nichols: No, well, yeah, eventually. The really steep part I was having a terrible time. I thought Miguel was going to come back on me.
iRunFar: Envisioning it from afar, thinking of you descending this really technical, really steep top part, that’s where you were catching the bodies. No?
Nichols: Well, yeah, the race got so hard in that last 10k that even though I’m a fairly good descender, it wasn’t up to my normal standard, that’s for sure. Sure enough, I saw Zach [Miller]. I was shocked to see him with about a mile or a mile and a half to go. It was, again, really disappointing. He was just moving so slow.
iRunFar: So, you come in third, outrunning Sage and Miguel and these guys—Zach who has less experience—but they all have ridiculously good 50-mile resumes. Welcome to the club, man.
Nichols: Yeah, it was a really good result. I think the distance, obviously, is good for me. The course suited me because it was more mountainous in the second half. But to say I’m a “50-mile guy” the way Zach is? I don’t know if that’s going to happen. They’re really hard races. I don’t know…
iRunFar: What makes them hard? The short race can be really hard in its intensity. What makes the longer race…?
Nichols: I think it’s just muscle breakdown, getting to that point where you just can’t go any harder because you’re so physically destroyed, where in some races you can’t go harder because of lactic acid or you’re just not fit enough. These races are more just really kind of injuring your body, I guess.
iRunFar: So coming across the line you were pretty beat up?
Nichols: Yeah, I was. I didn’t feel it at the time because I was so happy, but yeah, it’s a tough race. They always are.
iRunFar: Would you agree that this is probably your best ultra result?
Nichols: Yeah, the competition this year because of the whole team thing was really huge, and I ended up running a time that would normally win at this race which I didn’t see coming. Yeah, just everything worked out.
iRunFar: Including the team win.
Nichols: Yeah, I know. I was hoping… deep down, I didn’t tell the rest of the team this, but I was hoping we could get three in the top five. I wasn’t sure who they would be. To actually have that happen is pretty big because there were some pretty good people here.
iRunFar: Totally. I think one of the great aspects that the organizers had is that, they could have divided up U.S., France, versus Europe, and had it be anybody from those countries, but they were very specific that it’s only the people from your country or that were the designated team, so it wasn’t five versus 1,800 French.
Nichols: If it was us five versus anyone from the country of France, that doesn’t…
iRunFar: But, in the end, you guys beat the field as a team.
Nichols: Yeah, it was a true win.
iRunFar: Resounding. Is this the end of your season?
Nichols: No, I’m planning to go to The North Face. This was kind of pretty good timing for that—a good ‘training run,’ I guess. Not really, no, this was a serious race. As long as I recover from this, I’m planning on doing it.
iRunFar: So you were having a pretty good run at The North Face a couple years ago, if I remember correctly, and you blew out an ankle probably?
Nichols: Yeah, really badly. I was in really good shape that year. I still don’t know if I’ve ever been back to the shape I was that year. Hopefully this can kind of head in that direction.
iRunFar: Do you think after a long season—you raced in Europe, you’ve had a long Skyrunning season, you were injured for a bit—do you think you can actually build off this and train and make yourself stronger or is it just kind of holding on at this point?
Nichols: Yeah, for me, it’s just all about enjoying the running. Right now, I’m enjoying it, so I don’t really feel the need for a break. Maybe that will change after The North Face, but at the moment it’s fun to get out there. That’s not always the case. Whatever is working is working.
iRunFar: It’s still pretty good running on the trails around your house?
Nichols: Yeah, Colorado Springs—Zach and I live really close, it’s a pretty good place. It’s not very technical, but obviously you can learn.
iRunFar: You can, and teach some people out there. Congratulations on a great race here and best of luck getting ready for The North Face.
Nichols: Yeah, thanks.