Akmaral Meirman is Talking Trail Running

On 8 May one of the more adventurous trail races on the Asia Trail Master series' calendar takes place in Kazakhstan for the second consecutive year. The Tengri Ultra Trail is rapidly becoming a cult event, given its compulsory camping alongside the mighty Ili River (due to the remoteness and relative inaccessibility of the race area), but also for the cultural context. Tamgaly Tas is just 120 km outside of Almaty, but there is no wifi or regular mobile signal. There are caves with prehistoric drawings, open air BBQ, on race day you run through grasslands and canyons with the snowcapped Tian Shan mountain range on the horizon. A genuine outdoor event. Last year, the race was won by local runners who impressed with their speed. Akmaral Meirman was the fastest woman, on what was then the 56km race (this year the course has been upgraded to 70km). With a view to next month's second edition of TUT, we spoke with the enthusiastic Akmaral, who turns out to be as passionate a runner you can possibly meet! Akmaral Meirman is Talking Trail Running this week. 

By K. Van de Velde

Akmaral's running playlist! 

Akmaral's running playlist! 

Q: You are currently living in Shymkent, which is the third biggest city in Kazakhstan, but I think totally unknown for most people outside of Kazakhstan. Could you tell us a bit more about your home region?

AM: Shymkent is in the southern region of my country and well known in neighboring areas as one of the unique ethnic places to live in and visit. I think it's also the warmest place in Kazakhstan given both its altitude and climate.

Were you also born and did you grow up in Shymkent?

I was born in Shymkent and still live here. I love this city and my family don't want to move anywhere else.

Was running part of your upbringing as a child and teenager?

In my childhood there were not many museums or theaters to go to, so I liked to run on the track in the stadium near our home. I chose it as a hobby then and it's still my favorite.

What is the favourite sport in your home region, and do you have any sport idols? 

Unfortunately, sport in our region is not so popular, just boxing. I do not see people running or biking as common as in Europe, or even Almaty by comparison. But I hope one day it will happen:-)! I do have two idols in the running world - Marat Zhylanbaev, he is from Kazakhstan and I am very proud of him. Secondly, Scott Jurec inspired me to run my first marathon after I read his book Eat and Run. 

Astana and Almaty already have marathon events. Do you see potential for an international running event in Shymkent?

I know Astana and Almaty already have marathons, but it believe in Shymkent is a better place for trail running. We have really beautiful places here to go and run in. 

You are also often taking part in road marathons, in fact. Even in Europe. What is your fastest time on the road?

I did take part in Frankfurt marathon twice, in Paris and also in Vienna now. Fastest was 3.21 last year in Paris, but now I want to beat my record in Vienna (...and Akmaral did, she finished in a splendid time of 3:07:50!

Last year you won the 1st edition of the Tengri Ultra Trail. Was this your first trail running race?

Tengri was my first trail and I really liked it, that's why I come back this year. It  probably won't be easy to run 2 road marathons and 1 ultra in one month, as I am also running the Almaty Marathon at the end of this month.  But Tengri Ultra,  I can't miss this event, it's really close to my heart and I can't wait to take part in it again! 

Do you like trail more than road running?

I do like both trail and road races. Running is my passion, regardless on which terrain. 

Akmaral won the women's Tengri Ultra Trail last year. 

Akmaral won the women's Tengri Ultra Trail last year. 

Are you part of a special running team, professionally, or are you just traveling to races as a hobby?

Now I am traveling just to races as a hobby, but who knows, maybe one day it can become my profession:-)

What do you do for a living?

I have a husband and 3 children, and I enjoy their their endless support, that gives me power to live, work and move on. I have a family restaurant and work as a President of our Federation of Athletics.

What is the running community in Kazakhstan like? In Almaty, it seems many people have started running or other sports.

Yes, in Almaty leisure sports is booming, but people in my region do not yet run much, but let's see what can happen in a few years!

Do you feel the so-called " runner's high " ?

Running for me is not like a drug. It's like my friend, who is always with me. With its own character. Sometimes sad or happy. Sometimes we don't want to see each other but also we can't live without each other:-)

How much do you train? Do you have a coach or do you use a running coaching app?

I train with coach now for 1,5 years, trying to improve my speed. So six times a week , twice a day, 20-40 km every day, that's my training programme. Of course,  including intervals, tempo runs and other types of workouts. Now I want to work more on speed rather than just run marathons as usual long runs. This or next year my goal is to run a 24 hour race. And of course,  trails on the Asia Trail Master series can be part of my programme as well. With pleasure!

What was your worst running experience so far?

My worst experience was…hmmm,  there is none, really. Every race is close to my heart and I love them all. I choose races by places I have never been before, by people I want to see there and experience that I want to gain.

Do you pay a lot of attention to your running shoes and gear?

I do pay attention, especially to my running shoes, and it's always Adidas :-)

In your opinion, what are the biggest issues facing the sport of trail running in the near future? What is it you would not like to happen?

I really like trails because people take part in it as a part of their life and as a hobby. Trail runners are usually friendly and open, and I want it to continue this way

Do you think you can repeat your victory in the TUT next month, now that the race distance is also longer (70km)?

I did not know what to expect last year, as it was my very first time, but there was no any regret, that's why I come back and hope to run better than last year even if now it's 70 km. Will see !

 GOOD LUCK in any case!