Tommy Nielsen: Jedi Master

AJW discusses Tom Nielsen and his accomplishments.

By on August 1, 2014 | Comments

AJWs TaproomAt 5 a.m. on Saturday morning in the predawn darkness of Wrightwood, California, 55-year-old Tom Nielsen will toe the line for his 10th Angeles Crest 100 Mile. Assuming all goes according to plan, he will cross the finish line in Pasadena, California less than 24 hours later. The run will culminate a 20-year quest that has firmly established Tom as one of the toughest 100-mile runners of the past two decades.

Tom first ran Angeles Crest in 1994. That year he finished 14th in a time of 23:39. Over the next two years he trained extensively on the course with Southern California locals Ben Hian, Rob McNair, and Al Valverde and by the time he returned to the race in 1996 he was ready. That year he ran solid all day and finished second in 20:22. That run was the beginning of a five-year stretch in which Tom finished second again, third once, and first twice. He came tantalizingly close to his long-term goal of sub-19 in both 1999 and 2000 and by the time he moved east in late 2000, he had clearly established himself as the Iron Man of Angeles Crest.

A three-year stint working on the East Coast allowed Tommy try his hand at Massanutten, Promise Land, JFK, and Bull Run Run. At the latter he set a course record in 2003. However, Tom’s heart was always in San Diego with his beloved ‘Bad Rats’ and upon his return in 2004 he started right where he left off with a third at AC in 2005 and a second in 2006. After a five-year hiatus, he finished his ninth AC in 2011 and is now poised for #10 this year.

All this is, of course, an incredible set of accomplishments. But, it only tells part of the Tom Nielsen story because beginning in 1998, while he was ripping off his streak at Angeles Crest, he also finished four consecutive Western States 100s, finishing no lower than fourth. In the 2000 race he finished second to Scott Jurek and has the distinct honor of having the closest second-place result in Jurek’s seven victories (23 minutes behind). In 2005 and 2006 Tom pulled off two more top 10s between Squaw and Auburn including an incredible fourth-place finish of 19:41 on a brutally hot day in 2006. He then returned for finish #7 in 2010.

Tom Nielsen and Tracy Moore, 2006 Western States 100

Tom Nielsen (right) and Tracy Moore during the 2006 Western States 100. Photo: Luis Escobar

What makes these accomplishments all the more extraordinary is the way in which Tom competes. He prepares meticulously, trains relentlessly, and executes his race plan flawlessly. He also has the race-day guile of a true Jedi Master. In the 2005 Western States, Craig Thornley was having a great race and as he ran between Browns Bar (mile 90) and Highway 49 (mile 93.5), he realized he was in eighth place.

Then the unexpected happened, “When we got to the river bottom we heard voices behind us. Jeff looked back and all he saw was a green light–must be a glow stick. But all of a sudden we had company. It was the wily veteran Tom Nielsen going stealth (lights off) and his pacer with a deceptive green headlamp. Man, these guys have tricks up their sleeves.”

Tom truly knows all the tricks! Watching him and his crew at an ultra is like witnessing a NASCAR pit crew at work. His attitude is always positive, his enthusiasm genuine, and his drive complete. And, similar to someone else I know, if you’re within a half mile of Tom at a race, you know it because he is always talking!

So, everyone, there is a great race on tap this weekend in Southern California. There are some truly talented and strong runners who will be attempting to tame the brutal AC course and I urge you all to follow along. However, this year especially, pay special attention to bib #4. He may not win but I can promise you he will show us all just how to get it done like all the best Jedis do!

Bottoms up!

Ps. From the mind of Dominic Grossman:

Tommy Nielsen - Guillermo Medina - Jussi Hamalainen - AC 100 10-year comparison

Brew’s Beer of the Month

Fitger's BrewhouseJen, Charley, and I have been hopping (no pun intended) around the Great Lakes region this past month. My favorite new beer up there was the Big Boat Oatmeal Stoat from Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth, Minnesota. It’s like Left Hand Milk Stout with more coffee and less sugar, and it’s poured on nitro. So, yeah. It’s a smooth delicious beer, especially after a spring or fall run on the Superior Hiking Trail, which passes within feet of Fitger’s enormous copper kettles.

We’re headed west now and have August events in Colorado (Steamboat, Grand Junction, Glenwood Springs), Montana (Billings, Missoula, Helena), and Idaho (Coeur d’Alene). Check out Jen’s website for more info or email me at [email protected] if you want to grab a beer.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you seen Tom Nielsen in action over the years?
  • Do you have any good anecdotes about his racing that you can share?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.