Sweden’s Ida Nilsson says she surprised even herself in taking second at the 2022 Trail World Championships 80-kilometer race. In the following interview, Ida talks about her long journey with injury and recovery over the last few years, how she didn’t know she was as fit as she is until she was feeling good in the race, her in-the-race decision to run aggressively, and how the race played out from her perspective.
For more on how the race played out, check out our 2022 Trail World Championships 80k results article.
Ida Nilsson Post-2022 Trail World Championships 80k Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar here with Ida Nilsson. It’s the day after the 2022 Trail World Championships 80k. Congratulations on your second-place finish.
Ida Nilsson: Thank you very much.
iRunFar: How are you feeling? This is quite a journey to this position and this performance yesterday.
Nilsson: Yes, it felt really unexpected for me because I had so many bad races. And especially I had to drop out of CCC and I didn’t feel confident. Like I haven’t run an ultra since 2018. My main goal was, Okay, I need to finish, and I want to do it like decently well. So, I was more hoping maybe I can be like top 10 or top 15 or something like that. But yeah, basically, I felt good. It was like, Ah, this feeling I have missed for a while. So then yeah, I was sort of, it’s like, oh, maybe I shouldn’t run with Blandine [L’Hirondel] in the beginning. But then if, yeah, if you have good legs, never waste good legs. [laughs]
Nilsson: I went for it. It was, yeah, it was fun to actually be in the competition again. I’ve had so many races now I haven’t really been in the race. Just be kind of just back there and not competing, so that was, yeah, so great yesterday to be like, close the whole race. And we actually had a good fight for a while at least before I died. [laughs]
iRunFar: Well, you didn’t die. You finished second at the Trail World Championships, so there was no death there. But let’s back up to the beginning a little bit. Early on in the race, you were up in the front. Did that surprise you? Or did you, like you said, you had good-feeling legs. Did you just decide, okay, I’m going to try and see what we do?
Nilsson: Yes, it kind of surprised me that Blandine gave me kind of a little lead. It was never much. It was always like, when you saw the aid stations like 30 seconds or one minute or something. But still when you’re in the jungle you don’t see anyone, so I don’t think she saw me either. So she couldn’t really know how, how the gap either really, so. But then always when it was a little bit more open and you could see, you could like tell, it’s not much distance. You can make it up really quickly. But then I thought like I had the lead going into the 49k aid station that I was like, Oh, maybe this downhill I will be a little bit better.
Because I know she’s a good descender of the last descent and so maybe I went a bit too hard, but I thought like, Okay, I’m in the lead in a world championships. I will try here. Give it my best those 10k. And it felt okay, but as soon as I started to climb after that, I noticed I was dead in my legs. And I think I had a bit, I was a little bit dehydrated. Took a little bit too little energy as well. Yeah, I messed up something I picked up at the aid stations. And also, the loop was, is way longer than you think as well. Like I don’t, but it was yeah, I tried to, but it felt like forever, that uphill.
iRunFar: This is the last uphill to the final high point before you make the descent to the finish.
iRunFar: Yeah. So I mean, that’s where I think the race was decided. Blandine, you had a gap at the bottom there because you had pushed pretty hard, and then Blandine must have passed you somewhere on that climb?
Nilsson: Yes, quite early, because she had a totally different speed than I had. So she was like going strong there and yeah, I was really tired on that really steep climb. Then I think it was a little bit better in the end, but it was a lot of hiking there in the last uphill, so not much running uphill, the last two-and-a-half hours. [laughs]
iRunFar: But I think you also had a pretty strong downhill, the final downhill to the finish?
Nilsson: Yeah, it wasn’t too bad. Like I actually, downhill I felt, I mean, I felt I was really tired. [laughs] But otherwise the legs still kind of worked downhill. It was more I think I got like, yeah, overheated as well. My heart rate was like … like it was really, really high. I was breathing so hard like this really. [takes gasping breaths] Like for two-and-a-half hours and the uphill was not good.
iRunFar: When Blandine passed you and you were then in second place, were you in the mindset of like, “I need to protect second at all costs,” or where were you psychologically then?
Nilsson: Yes, I was like, okay, maybe I messed up and I don’t even medal, because I was moving so slow and I didn’t know we had such a huge gap. I knew we had been running kind of fast until then and, but I didn’t know it was like 17 or 12 minutes. I don’t know what we had, but it was quite a big gap.
iRunFar: You didn’t know the gap.
Nilsson: No, and it’s hard to get sometimes, and then it’s like a long time since someone knows and so it was, I was kind of scared because I was like, Oh, someone must catch me. Because it was really, really, really slow there for a while.
iRunFar: I feel like it’s a very sweet, like yesterday was a very sweet finish for you to like, what’s the right way to say it? Like just sort of explode back to the scene again. It was just boom, Ida’s here.
Nilsson: Yeah, I was so happy because I think like the years when I was good enough and I think I could have medal, yeah, like in 2016, 2017, 2018, and I wasn’t allowed to run. And then now when I could run, I was like, Oh now I’m not good enough. I was before. But it was yeah, it was yesterday, yeah, really cool to make it happen.
iRunFar: I don’t want to dwell on it too much, but it’s a familiar journey for people where you know, like you’re trying to get your fitness back, and get back to where you were. Could you share a little bit about what that process has been like for you?
Nilsson: Yes, yeah. It took a really long time. It started with I got a stress fracture in the navicular a small mid-foot bone] in 2019 in the spring. And then …
iRunFar: This was, you were road training then?
Nilsson: No, I was actually doing a road marathon because I …
iRunFar: In the road marathon?
Nilsson: Yes, in it. I got 25k in and it happened and I couldn’t take another step. So it was right in a marathon. And then yeah, it’s like a stress fracture, right. That takes like a long time, like eight months, one year, almost two years. So I was resting and then after that time I went. I was like this doesn’t feel good. Still, like it’s not going well, and then was in the middle of the pandemic and was really hard to find good help.
iRunFar: Health care.
Nilsson: Yeah, yeah. It felt like it wasn’t the priority in the world for a while there. Like your injury you inflicted on yourself, kind of. [laughs]
iRunFar: Yeah, yeah.
Nilsson: But then I went, I saw some good doctors and I said, Okay, we need to do this. It was actually another problem in the foot as well, except the stress fracture, so that’s why it didn’t heal well. So they did like a double surgery and then it was starting over again, another year of resting. And last summer I could run some but then downhill didn’t work for the foot at all.
And then this year it’s yeah, then the COVID-19 and everything. I got that during the Zegama Marathon, then I was sick like three or four times after that again. And it just didn’t work. My immune system, my uphill, or like I said I had an elevated heart rate for a very long time after. So yeah, that was always like, I’ve been racing but always felt really off. And it got a little bit better and better, I think for each race kind of. So it was nice to feel like normal yesterday.
iRunFar: Yeah. And then prior to this event, you were at high altitude. You were in Nepal for a couple of weeks.
Nilsson: Yes. So that was yeah, it was kind of unorthodox. But I have been on higher altitude before. Like before races. And I think it had worked okay then. For example, one year before Transvulcania I went to China and did the sky race there and it was high. And now it was the same. Like it’s really hard when you’re there and you feel like, Oh, I don’t do any fast running and how are you supposed to run like really fast? I mean, but actually, it was good for me because yeah, I feel it helped me in the uphill, and I felt good when I came here, and yeah. I had a week here to get used to the heat and stuff, so …
iRunFar: And ultimately even if you’re training slower there, your body remembers how to run, doesn’t it?
Nilsson: I hope so. [laughs] You just get a little more sore in the muscles after when you haven’t run.
iRunFar: Yeah. Well, that was really fun for me to watch. You had such a strong performance yesterday. I hope it was really fun for you, too.
Nilsson: Yeah, until the last two-and-a-half hours. It was nice.
iRunFar: Then it was a bit of an ultra grind.
iRunFar: Reminds you why you like 40k races.
iRunFar: Congratulations on your second-place finish at the 2022 Trail World Championships 80k.
Nilsson: Thank you very much.