Jan Nilsen is Talking Trail Running

Next week we have two big races coming up in the Asia Trail Master series: Rinjani 100 in Indonesia and Magnificent Merapoh Trail in Malaysia. Two races in, of course, different countries and with diverse characteristics, after the Rinjani 100 team had to move forward its event date compared to previous years. The agony of choice for Asia's trail runners. Seemingly undecided a few months ago, Thailand-based Norwegian Jan Nilsen signed up for both races. Eventually, he has decided to aim for the grueling volcano run in Indonesia as that is the terrain where he excels the most. High numbers of elevation gain is what drives Jan Nilsen. Since last year, he has become a popular appearance in the Asia Trail Master series with several strong runs and shows of sheer determination when his fragile feet let him down. Nilsen is a contender to become a Grandmaster soon, and also in the 2016 Asia Trail Master championship he is a favourite to end the year in a very high position. Last year, he was 8th, but could have ended way on top where it not for the DNF at Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra. Let's get to know Jan Nilsen a bit better, as he prepares to challenge Arief Wismoyono next week in the Rinjani 100. 

Q: Jan Nilsen, you are a Norwegian living in Thailand. What brought you to Asia initially? 

JN: I first went to Asia on holiday trips, liked the weather, people, food and nature. After a long period of bad weather in Norway I decided to move permanently.

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

Not really, I started playing football with the local team around age 11, and I liked to walk and run with the family dog on the local trails.

Which part of Norway are you from?

I am from a large island near Bergen in the western part of Norway which is constantly battered by strong winds and cold rain.

Over the past two years, you have become a well-known and highly respected face on the Asia Trail circuit. What is it that attracts you to this sport? 

I love the nature, the sea and the mountains. Running trail races takes me to many beautiful places I would never get to see otherwise.

When and why did you decide to take part in trail running competitions?

Another Norwegian, Helge, who I was working with asked me to join him for an adventure race near where we lived in Thailand, a few months later he again asked me if we should do TNF 50 km in Thailand, so that became my first trail race and first ultra.

What is your best time on the road marathon?

I have never done a road marathon and will never do. I and my feet hate running on road.

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

Yes many times, the feeling of a nice trail run with beautiful scenery away from traffic and other noise gives me a feeling that only can be described as runners high.

There are rumours that last year you prepared for Bromo Tengger Semeru by running circles on a large container ship. Tell us, is that true?  

Not true. I have been working for more then 10 years on different ships in the oil business and my only trainings on ships have been on the treadmill.

It seems that the longer and higher a race goes, the better for you. Still, you have had issues with injuries, such as blisters, as well. What have you learnt in this context?  

I have learned theat my best running asset probably is my stubborn head. The blister problem came from sand and dust getting into my shoes, so I have now started using gaiters and hope that problem is solved.

How do you prepare for these tough ultras. Any special training recipe? 

Nothing special, I just try to get a good long workout at least every second day. I do most of my training on the bike as there are not much trails where I now stay in the Northeast of Thailand. Most coaches will probably call all my training junk miles, lol.

In recent months you have been bumping into Manolito Divina several times. In your view, what is so special about Divina? 

First of all he is a very nice person, and a very good runner. He is already the trail running idol in Phillipines.

How did it feel to defeat him in TNF Philippines? 

It always feels good to win! Manolito had a fall and injured his ankle in that race, just as I had my problems in the Eco race in Malaysia. Ultras almost never go as planned, small problems and injuries become bigger the longer a race goes.

Next weekend you are up against Arief Wismoyono, the 2015 Asia Trail Master champion, in Rinjani 100. How do you see your chances against him? 

I hope to give him a good fight. I have done well in races with a lot of elevation gain lately, I hope for good course markings and am begging for the gps file of the trail, so without any injuries I can do ok.

The Rinjani climb is feared by many. Which word or term would describe Rinjani best according to you? 

I hope awesome will be the best word. The pictures I have seen are really awesome.

You are currently 11th in the ATM championship ranking, but a strong result in Rinjani can push you into the top 3. What other ATM races are you planning for this season?  I would love to do Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra again with its stunning scenery, and I have already signed up for the CM 50 Ultra, and maybe I pick one more race.

Last month you took part in the test run of the new Ultra Trail Panoramic in Thailand. Tell us about what runners can expect there in December?

The Northwestern part of Thailand means endless mountains with many nice trails. It is a trail runner's heaven and I hope there will be more ultra races in that area. We ran the middle 50km of the planned 100 miles race. It is a mixture of remote and small single trails combined with wider dirt trails.  

Do you have any sports heroes? If yes, who and what is so special about him / her?

I really dont have any sport heroes, but I admire people like Killian Jornet, Francois D'Haene and  Wardian. Especially Wardian, who is doing a crazy amount of races. Completely different from so-called experts' advice.

You often travel to other countries to take part in trail running events. How do you select the races?  

I am looking for races with a lot of elevation gain and on real trails. Sadly many races have too much road and concrete covered paths.

Do you have a specific objective in trail running, or you just wish to run for fun? 

I just run for fun

What was your best trail running experience so far? 

The Bromo Tengger Semeru 100 miler last year was stunning even though I DNFd at 140 km while still in the lead with Ullas Narayana, the winner. Blisters... 

Trail running in Asia has developed very fast in the last few years, how did you experience that in Thailand?   

There is a lot more in the media about trail running. A few trail running teams are  starting up with more sponsors showing interest. Trail races are sold out and the races are getting better organized.

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? 

More and more trails get covered in concrete and some authorities put restrictions on when and how many participants can take part in races, like in Hong Kong.

Would it help if trail running became an olympic sport? 

Yes that will give trail running more publicity and become more attractive to sponsors.

What do you think about the Asia Trail Master series? Wouldn't the Grandmaster Quest (6 races of +70km in 2 calendar years) be a nice additional challenge for a runner such as yourself? 

I really like the Asia Trail Master series. I find races on the calendar that I would not hear about otherwise, and it is a good mix of races in many countries. The Grandmaster Quest is a nice challenge and I hope I can make that this year.

Do you have any tips for race organisers? Things every organiser should pay special attention to?

Provide a gps file of the trail on the event web site as early as possible. Use good experienced trail runners that have been around in many races in your race planning. Invite elite runners for test runs before new races. Did I mention gps file? Many of the races have bad markings, markings are removed and children play with markings. There is nothing more frustrating or dangerous then getting off course and lost in a race. If you want elite or international runners to join your race the markings and gps file have to be good. A reasonable mandatory equipment list. Some race organizers seem to copy the UTMB mandatory equipment list and it sometime feels like having to gear up for an Antarctic expedition instead of for a trail race in the tropics.

What is your favourite running music? 

I dont listen to music when running. The sounds of birds and other animals, rain fallling and water flowing are more beautiful than any music.