Alex Nichols is a couple days away from running his second 100-mile race and his first Western States 100. In this interview, Alex talks about how his first 100 miler went when he won the 2016 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile, how he has specifically prepared for the terrain and climate he’ll find this weekend, and if he thinks he’s got a shot at finishing on the podium.
Alex Nichols Pre-2017 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Alex Nichols before the 2017 Western States 100. How are you, Alex?
Alex Nichols: Doing good. How are you?
iRunFar: Alright. Your travel was a little more… slower than expected.
Nichols: Yeah, it was just slightly faster than driving to get here today, but whatever.
iRunFar: You’re here. It seems over the past year you’ve made a real—I don’t know if it was conscious—step to longer ultras after doing a lot of 50ks and 50 milers. Was that a conscious decision?
Nichols: It just sort of happened. I guess I saw it coming a little bit, but a lot of it is that I like to do races that are exciting to me and sort of bucket-list-type races. I’d kind of wiped out all the shorter races I wanted to do like Sierre-Zinal and Zegama and all that stuff. What was left was things like Western States.
iRunFar: It seems like coming up in the longer distances, you’d dabbled in 50 milers before, but you’ve run as strong or stronger than you ever have at this longer stuff. Did you change things up with your training?
Nichols: No, I think it’s just having the background of always having done long runs for 50 miles and doing 50-mile races, it all just builds up over time.
iRunFar: And the experience of actually doing them?
Nichols: Yeah, definitely. I always say that lifetime base is a big thing.
iRunFar: You’ve got a substantial lifetime base at this point.
Nichols: Yeah, exactly.
iRunFar: That said, Run Rabbit Run was your first 100 miler last year, and you said the last 20 miles were a little bit rough. What went rough there?
Nichols: Yeah, it was crazy—I’m going to shoot myself in the foot—but the whole day was pretty easy up until the last 20 miles. My knees started hurting, and I had an arch problem in my left foot—just little things that creep up, but it’s 100 miles. It’s to be expected.
iRunFar: With 20 miles to go, what went wrong? Was it the knee and arch pain?
Nichols: Yeah, just little tendinitis things and just pains.
iRunFar: No implosion energy-wise?
Nichols: No, energy-wise I was good, just little mechanical things.
iRunFar: You’ve had some stuff like that before in other races like some of The North Face races or in training. Have you done anything to try to correct those problems ahead of time for this?
Nichols: Yeah, the specific knee-tendinitis things I’m trying to do more fluke-type things. I don’t know. It’s 100 miles. We’re not really made to run that far as fast as possible all at once, so it’s going to hurt a little bit, I think.
iRunFar: Now, you did have a sort of ‘real’ injury period this spring. What was wrong, and have you bounced back from it?
Nichols: Yeah, I ran Black Canyon 100k, and it went really well. I started easing back into things, and then sort of the very outside of my left foot got really aggravated and really swollen. It was the base of the fifth metatarsal; there’s a little joint there. At one point I thought I maybe pulled a chip of the bone off. Lots of people weren’t sure exactly what was going on, but it was super painful. I couldn’t run at all for maybe six weeks or so.
iRunFar: Since then, it seems like you got back at least for a few weeks to your normal training volume and intensity. It just went away one day?
Nichols: Basically—I guess it’s gone now. I had time to do a condensed training block.
iRunFar: You feel pretty fit?
Nichols: Yeah, it’s weird. I think it’s the lifetime base again. I’ve done things in training that indicate that I’m at or beyond where I’ve ever been.
iRunFar: That’s awesome. You’re probably a little fresher than you would be if you’d pushed through the entire first half of 2017 training block.
Nichols: Right. There’s always the other risks of other injuries if you do a really solid three-month training block. Maybe you get a little crazy and do too much.
iRunFar: Moving back a little bit to Black Canyon. You had a really good race there. Share a little bit of that.
Nichols: I was expecting it to be hot and net downhill, and that’s how I trained. Then race day came, and it’s a monsoon and out-and-back with a big gradual climb for the whole second half. So, it changed, things, but it was just a really hard race. Everyone just ran super hard on that first half, and then the second half was just holding on for everybody. Even I think I went out to hard in that race.
iRunFar: Yeah, but you held on pretty well.
Nichols: Yeah, I was really happy with that. It was a really good race.
iRunFar: Obviously that was a 100k and not 100 miles, but does that with Run Rabbit Run give you a reasonable amount of confidence going into Saturday?
Nichols: Yeah, especially Black Canyon because that’s more similar to this faster overall pace. I think as long as I take what I learned from that combined with Run Rabbit Run and that sort of patience, I think it could go well.
iRunFar: Back in the day, you used to pace Anton [Krupicka] a bunch of years, and he was famous for going out extremely aggressive. You come from a faster ultra background. How are you going to temper your effort early, or are you not going to and just going to roll with it?
Nichols: Just talking to Kaci [Lickteig], you’ve got to respect the distance. It’s still a really long race. I might run a little harder, but I’m in it to finish. That’s my…
iRunFar: You’re not going to try to push Jim [Walmsley] the first half?
Nichols: You never know what’s going to happen, but I’m going to finish… hopefully… knock on wood.
iRunFar: You’ve been the sport enough to know some of the other folks racing here and maybe what you’re capable of. Do you see yourself possibly finishing on the podium or winning this weekend?
Nichols: That was definitely the goal before the injury. Based on the last few weeks and how training has gone, I think it’s a good goal to expect the podium.
iRunFar: Nice, that’s pretty good confidence right there.
Nichols: Yeah, it’s a long race, and obviously the competition is really good, so I can’t say for sure, but I think if everything goes well… it’s…
iRunFar: It’s going to be hot this weekend obviously. Have you run any races that have been this warm?
Nichols: That’s a good question. I’m not really sure. It’s been pretty hot in Colorado Springs. I’ve been trying to run in the heat, but honestly, I think fitness is the most important thing.
iRunFar: What do you think would be the biggest challenge this Saturday?
Nichols: I think going into it making sure I can still get nutrition down because the only time I’ve ever had nutrition problems was on a hot day on a training run. Your stomach can go south pretty quickly on a day like that, so I’m just going to be really aware of making sure I stay hydrated so I can keep getting calories in.
iRunFar: Are you going to do anything to try to keep yourself cool to facilitate that?
Nichols: Yeah, ice, ice water, and things like that. I am probably going to run with a hat. I’ve never run with a running hat in my life. Leading up to this, I ‘practiced.’
iRunFar: You practiced running with a hat? That sounds somewhat ridiculous.
Nichols: I didn’t want to leave anything to chance, so I got some training in with the hat.
iRunFar: That’s good. Don’t try anything new on race day… break in the hat. Is it well-shaped and ready to go?
Nichols: Yeah, I’m still getting used to it, but I think it will be good. I cut my hair.
iRunFar: You did cut–you’re not going to cut it any shorter?
Nichols: No, this is good. This will be good for another year.
iRunFar: Alright, well, best of luck out there, and have fun.
Nichols: Thank you.