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.
Read our women’s and men’s previews to see who else is racing before following our UTMB live coverage starting on Friday.
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.