Athlete of the Month November 2016: Nic Errol

The suspense is over. My November Athlete of the Month is here…

Nic Errolultramarathon race nic errol teenrunner

I met Nic when at the Tribe 10km Race back in August, and after hearing about his story, I knew he would definitely be featuring as Athlete of the Month one day…

Nic was born in Australia, and was always active from a young age. A state ranked swimmer in primary school, he remained competitive in high school, as well as playing water polo and hockey. Growing up in Western Australia, Nic was always exposed to the outdoors, and loved being outside. When he finished high school, he remained active, but never really ran. Hiking, swimming and martial arts were his key forms of activity, and he didn’t consider himself a runner until he moved to London in 2013.

It’s pretty amazing to think that now, Nic is a Nike Pacer, Elite Ultra-marathon runner, and planning his 2017 adventures. This love of running came to him when he was lost on a run in Hampstead Heath- 20km in and Nic didn’t feel tired or pain: he felt free. From that moment on his love for endurance running began.
But enough of that, let’s hear from him!ultramarathon race nic errol teenrunner mountain

1. Let’s start with the basics: what does a normal training week look like for you?

It really depends on what I have coming up, and if I am in the middle of a racing season. I did a 120 mile week at the start of the year leading up to my debut 100 km race, which was my first race in the year. After that, my focus was on recovering, staying healthy and injury free, whilst keeping the legs ticking over. My mileage dropped off a lot, and began to build back up to 100km weeks before my second race of the year in May. May through to the end of July I raced 3 big mountain races, so the in betweens was less volume, lots of easy runs, with some specific hard effort long runs and shorter speed work.  Every ultra is different, and since May, I now have a coach, who is an elite runner on the Nike Trail Team. Alicia Shay (now Alicia Vargo as she just got married) is a full-time coach and elite athlete, and she plans every single workout for me, and it changes every week. She prescribes workout based on how I feel, what I have done, what races I have coming up, and other factors and data she gets from me. Because ultra-running doesn’t have a ‘season’, I run all year round, and have a coach to ensure I am looking after myself, peaking when I need to, and not setting myself up to seriously over train and potentially injure myself to the point I can’t run. So in short, I run 5-7 days a week, but anything from 5kms to 30 miles in a single run. transvulcania race nic errol teenrunner

2. In addition to your running do you do anything else to help improve-like for example circuit classes, yoga, meal plans or massage treatments?

I absolutely love yoga. It started as something to help my running, and at the time I started to begin training for my first marathon, fixed lots of little niggles in my knees and hips that had come up. Classic runner issues. I then just began to love yoga for yoga. I practice consistently at home, plus do both classes (mostly hot yoga). Whilst yoga is SO good for running, in that it stretches, strengthens and works on mobility all at once, It has also become something I just really enjoy practicing. I love challenging myself, particularly with inversions and arm balances, and am lucky to have some amazing teachers that push me.
Yoga is also such a perfect way to challenge the mind and body, and I find it allows me to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Being in the heat, and working towards a challenging pose, focusing on the breathing, and managing those moments where it feels overwhelming, really do translate to other areas of life, and of course running. Other than yoga, I do some general exercises with a resistant band, roll my feet with a golf ball and have a brilliant osteopath that I see regularly for massage. On top of that, I eat well and ensure that I eat high quality meals that give me energy, help me recover and just allow me to keep getting out the door to run. Other than that, and something I am working on, is getting more sleep, and taking rest days (and actually resting).
If you want to give yoga a try, why don’t you check out my yoga for runners blog?
nic errol ultra marathon beach aid station race teenrunner

3. Nutrition is obviously key during those longer races: so what are your go-to foods and drink?

You’re absolutely right. Nutrition is so important for endurance running. I use a product called Tailwind, which I first head about through elite ultra runners. It is a powder that you mix into water, and has a perfected blend of salts, electrolytes and everything needed to run a 100 mile race with nothing else. It has great flavours, and was designed by endurance athletes living and racing at altitude in Colorado, who got sick and tired of feeling sick and tired when nutrition products failed. I first tried it in 2015, and loved it. I fill my bottles ups with that, and as I sip throughout the race, I know I don’t have to worry about taking on extra salts or electrolytes. Its had a 100% success rate and the UK distributor now support me with my races which is brilliant.
When I am racing, it’s just easier to drink instead of mess around with food (and then hold on to the rubbish). Plus at altitude, if you are racing hard, you can get quite a dry mouth, so Tailwind means I just sip and run and don’t worry about anything else. So thats what I carry with me in my bottles, and when I get to an aid station, I eat real food there.
Every race has different food options (which vary quite a bit depending which country you race in), so I just eat what I feel like at the time. I love watermelon and broth. Chocolate is good sometimes, and in really long efforts, pasta is good.
Coke is an ultra runner favourite, and I try to save that until I am at least 1/3 of the way in. Gu (another nutrition company) have just brought out a product based on the Dutch waffle, which looks amazing. A lot of elite athletes used that during the 105 mile Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, and it is something I can see myself taking with me out on the trail.  nic errol during ultra marathon trail race teenrunner

4. Throughout your history of ultras, what has been your hardest most gruelling challenge?

Lavaredo was my toughest race this year. Ever, actually. It was 119kms, with 6000m of elevation. Running through the Dolomites. I finished 125th, in 18 hours 19 minutes, and whilst physically I felt fine, mentally the entire race was a struggle. We started at 11PM, and a storm had just come through. Thunder and lighting, and tons of rain. I don’t know what happened, other than it was just a struggle. It was the first time racing alone, in that I had no friends either racing the same race, no crew, or no one at the finish waiting for me (one of my closest friends was supposed to be there, but a situation out of her control meant I was on my lonesome). It was such a beautiful course, but it was brutal. Whilst I handled the physical aspects fine, I just at times felt like lying down and having a nap. At the 95km aid station, I think I sat down for 20 minutes or so, trying to convince myself it would be ok if I quit. I have never had to deal with mental issues like that before, so the fact that I still got on with it and finished (and raced competitively), was absolutely my biggest and proudest finish. I felt broken at the end, and turns out a lot of the elites had rough a day too. I still don’t quite know what it was, but I learnt so much that race, about my capacity to endure, to suffer, and to persevere. I finished and was in bed within half an hour. But I woke up the next day, and felt great, and raced a 51km mountain race in Switzerland a few weeks later and just loved it!

nic errol finishing ultra marathon race teenrunner
5. Here’s the classic question: Why do you run?

My relationship with running has grown so much, in such a short period of time. I guess the simplest answer is, running is an opportunity to express myself, in my rawest and purest form. I love that I can be free, be wild, be connected and be communicating through movement. I am in love with the mountains, and It is such a privilege to be able to explore and experience mountains, forests, and this incredible natural world, through running. If I didn’t run and get to experience all that I have, I truly believe that I would not have grown to be the person I am today. Whilst people think its crazy doing what I do, in all honestly, these ‘crazy’ races are the what keeps me from not going crazy! In a world where it is so easy to get caught up in negativity, and things that have absolutely no positive impact, running strips away all of that ‘garbage’ and just brings me back to earth and what is really important. The mountains are very good at humbling you, and every time I am out there, I am reminded of that fact. Nature is one of our greatest teachers.

ultramarathon race nic errol teenrunner mountain aln6. Would you say you prefer ultras over the common 26.2? A normal marathon must seem like a walk in the park to you now!

Well, I just love the mountains, and the trails. I love the wilderness, and love the idea of pushing far beyond what is considered normal or achievable. I never really doubted whether I could finish a marathon, but doubt and fear and so many emotions are present thinking about running 100 miles through the mountains. I am drawn to things that are almost impossible. Almost. That knowing and willingness to embrace suffering and know that a finish is never guaranteed until you cross that finish line. And then there is the part of me that likes the racing side. A bunch of runners just pushing the pace in big mountains, knowing full well how reckless it is to be running that fast and pushing the body that much, and that at any moment it could all come crashing down. Just being able to find that place where you care so much that you don’t care at all, and you just go for it, and just keep fighting even when you are so drained and fatigued. The camaraderie and relationships that are forged both racing and supporting, are unlike anything else I have experienced. You have such ah high ratio of volunteers/supporters to runners, and for some 100km and longer races, you are allowed pacers from 60km/miles, which is a new element. My debut 100km, I had a pacer, plus a team of 3 others assisting me at all the allowable crew points (set places on the course where runners are legally allowed to have crew give them food, new gear etc). I have also been a crew and a pacer, which is such a rewarding experience, and something that I feel could not be replicated in a standard road marathon. Saying that, I ran the Amsterdam marathon 2 days ago. It’s a very different style of racing, just hard and relentless for as long as you can, whilst an ultra is so much more diverse in how you race.ultramarathon race nic errol teenrunner mountain beautiful

7. What has been the favourite moment of your career so far?

Placing 19th at my debut 100km was definitely a highlight especially with such a world class field of runners, but if it was one race it would be Transvulcania. 73kms, with 8000m of elevation, where you run from one side of a island to another, over a volcano. It has so much elevation in 73kms, and is just brutal. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever run, and considered one of the toughest and most competitive races in the world. The sheer elevation profile is horrendous and the final descent scares even the best runners. It was a huge test, and my first real experience with anything that big. A true sky-running race, I just raced with my whole heart and ended up running to 110th place (after being 600+ at 7kms), in such a stacked field of incredible runners. I was wrecked when I finished, but I had such a beautiful day out there racing, and proved to myself that I can still compete even living in a city without any mountains or technical terrain to run and train on. I am going back to race again next year and can’t wait to get out there again.nic errol during dark ultra marathon trail race teenrunner

8. You mentioned you’re a Nike Pacer- what does this involve?

So Nike London have a free run club, now running 3 sessions a week. RSG (Ready Set Go) is a run designed to get people into running, if they are new or haven’t run in a long time. We then have a weekly Speed Run, which is on track a lot, or other locations in London, and as the name suggests, is a Speed session. The final session is what we call Home Run, offering 5, 7 and 10kms, with various pace groups, and is a tempo/recovery run. As a pacer, I along with the other pacers, help facilitate these sessions. We have a Nike Coach lead, and we as Pacers support from start to finish. Every run has a range of pace groups (we cater for everyone ) and Pacers are mixed in with each group, and led the way, maintain the pace, and make sure everyone is enjoying themselves, safely. Nike put on lots of other events, so we are supporting them with all of those too, which is always lots of fun. This is where I first started running with people when I moved to London, and because its free, its accessible to everyone. We have an amazing community, and Nike have run clubs all over the world. I have run in different counties and through the Nike community, have running partners across the globe.ultramarathon race nic errol teenrunner mountain dark

9. In the future, what are you hoping to achieve? Are there any races that you really want to tick of your bucket list?

Western States 100 is my DREAM. It was a youtube video of this race that changed everything for me. I qualified back in February and will be in the ballot for the 2017 race, so fingers crossed. UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc) is on my list for 2018, and I plan to run CCC (the 100km sister race) next year. Other than that, the Bear 100 in Utah, Hardrock 100 in Colorado, are just some of the races I want to do. I am planning to run the entire Wonderland Trail around Mt Ranier next year, but not as a race. Just run the full trail for a different experience. There are so many places that inspire me and I have a lot of goals both racing and running, which all involve challenging myself, and experiencing as much of this incredible world as I can. Moving into other areas of alpinism such as climbing, skiing etc are also on my radar. I just love being out in the mountains and the wild, and there are so many options. But the 100 mile distance is where I feel I will be best at, so that will be my focus over the next few years.nic errol beach ultra marathon race teenrunner

10. The final question (the one everyone wonders), what do you think about during those super long races…and how do you motivate yourself to keep going when you’re really hurting?

Food. Lots of thoughts about what I will eat, what I want to eat, what I should eat, what I could eat. That for sure. It does help that lots of the places I run are just out of this world beautiful. Mountains, lakes, waterfalls; If I am going to suffer anywhere, at least the view is good. I chat to people if I am racing too, if we end up sharing and working together in sections. Other times I am in race mode and just put all my energy into racing. When I am descending from big mountains (kms and kms of steep, technical running) It is literally thoughts like ‘don’t die’. In many cases the paths are such that if you did fall, at best you would go to hospital. So there is plenty of times when I have nothing else in head other than watching and measuring every step. And other times, It’s a serious question of why on earth I thought running 100kms through the mountains was a good idea, and what would be a good excuse to let me stop running.

ultramarathon race nic errol teenrunner transvulcaniaUltra marathons, especially the 100km + races, bring the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Life in a day in many cases. There are times when I am just so happy with life, and everything feels magical. Minutes later I could be in the deepest pain cave, and barely able to think about the next 10 minutes. let alone anything else in life. It really does vary, but when it gets really really tough, I just remember that I chose to be here, and that in life, it is such a privilege to CHOOSE how you suffer. I have this incredible opportunity to do things that many people can barely comprehend doing, and I always manage to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And whilst the nature of intentionally pushing oneself to the point of breaking will mean that at some point in my running career, I won’t finish a race, I want to find out how far I can go until that happens. So when all is said and done, I always have that final choice, and I just think about all the things and people in the world that mean the most to me, and just keep moving forward.

Follow Nic…

I would just like to say a huge thank you for answering all of my questions, and I hope that you get that Western States place.

If you guys want to hear more from Nic you can read his blog, or follow his Instagram feed.

Originally published on TeenRunner

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