*To get things kicked off and help set the mood we asked Alex what songs were in his head during this adventure, If you want to have a listen to while you read his interview click below (opens in new tab) Here
T+T: So let’s start with the important stuff, we know you are quite the gardener. How are those giant zucchini coming along this summer?
Alex: My crops were coming along quite well until just the other day. We had a huge hailstorm in town that decimated many of my veggies. I was out training on Pikes Peak when the storm came through and forced me to spend about thirty minutes huddled under a little pine tree. I later found out that a tornado had touched down just a few miles from my hiding spot, which is super rare for those types of elevations. I ended up with some bruises from the golf ball sized hail and my squash got pretty shredded. It was a rough day.
T+T: Oh man, Really sorry. Hope you get some good growth and harvest before summer ends! Switching gears to your Nolans 14 record, how did the FKT vibe compare to a traditional trail race environment? You had some company along the way but did you enjoy the solitude and freedom or were you longing for some cheers and aid station help? Did you find that you were able to put out a similarly hard effort on Nolans as you have been able to in traditional races?
Alex: For the first 12 hours or so I was in full-on race mode. I was focused on staying efficient and tried not to let myself stay stationary for more than a couple minutes at a time. If I had to stop for any reason I would start counting the seconds out loud so I was aware of the time. It was working really well until the fatigue and sleep deprivation kicked in. Once I got to that second night at around 30 hours into the FKT my motivation shifted and I lost my sense of urgency. Running in an actual race, competing against other people, is definitely a big benefit compared to being alone in the woods. I wish I could have been out there racing against someone. But as it was, it was really just me and the mountains.
T+T: Obviously there were some major highs and major lows over the 46 hours… Anything in particular that helped swing things from low to high?
Alex: My biggest upswings came from the sunlight. After my first night of summiting Shavano, Tabeguache, Antero, and then Princeton I hit a pretty runnable section just as the sun was rising. I wish I had the Strava data for that section because I was flying! I suddenly felt amazing and absolutely crushed those few miles. Looking back on it I probably ran too hard. I still had ten 14’ers to go, but it was hard not to run fast with an amazing sunrise and a nice swath of smooth trail.
On the second morning I experienced a similar rally. I was feeling like absolute death on the summit on La Plata, just as the sun was coming up. But by the time I hit mid-morning on Mount Elbert I felt totally rejuvenated. After descending Elbert I reached the trailhead of Mount Massive in the afternoon and I was back to race focus. The positive force of the sun on my trek just can’t be over exaggerated.
T+T: When things got real rough on Friday night/morning what was going through your head/what kept you moving?
Alex: Those rough times up on La Plata were almost like sleep walking. I was moving slowly and I wanted to lay down more than anything. I just kept thinking about having only two more mountains to go. I had to convince myself that I had already submitted 12 mountains and quitting with just a little more to go was ridiculous. It almost felt like those last two mountains were the last 400 meters of a 5k, even though it was actually nine hours to go. I couldn’t quit just as I was getting ready to kick it in!
T+T: What’s the first thing you did when you got home after finishing?
Alex: I spent the evening in Leadville after finishing. That night was one of the weirdest of my life. I started out by losing the ability to open my eyes. I couldn’t sleep but I also couldn’t open my eyes, it was really bizarre. After that I lost my voice. I think a combination of local forest fires and breathing hard at high altitude for 46 hours just ruined my throat. I had been developing a sore throat during the course of the FKT, but by the time I finished I could only croak a few words at a time. It was not exactly a wonderful victory party.
T+T: Give us some details on what you did to recover after Nolans?
Alex: I took a full week off from running after finishing Nolans. I went on a really fun camping trip with my family and tried to get as much sleep as possible. Sleep is huge for me, and everyone really. I’m still not quite back to normal when it comes to my sleep schedule, but I’m getting close.
T+T: How is UTMB prep going? Are you eating gelato every night to prepare for Chamonix?
Alex: Gelato! I knew I was missing something. I’ve settled for Ben and Jerry’s lately. But the training has been coming along really well in the last couple of weeks. It has been a strange transition from the steep mountaineering fitness I developed for Nolans versus the more traditional running fitness that is needed for UTMB. I’m getting used to the hard efforts again, but overall I feel pretty good.
T+T: Are there any other FKTs that you have your sights set on down the road?
Alex: At this point I really don’t have anything in mind. I would almost like to give Nolans another go next year, just because I left so much time out on the trail. With a better route and a few minor changes I feel like I could have run at least a few hours faster. But then again, losing my sight and voice was not such a great thing… so stayed tuned.
Link to the last 20 miles of Nolans on Strava https://www.strava.com/activities/1672360193
Link to follow Alex Nichols awesome adventures on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/axelnichols/?hl=en
Photo courtesy of IRunFar
Photo courtesy of David Hedges
Photo Courtesy of Megan Hicks