Abdoullah Mitiche is Talking Trail Running

Upcoming weekend the 2017 Asia Trail Master Championship series begins in Indonesia with the Tahura Trail. Taking place in Bandung, West Java, and one of the most popular races in the country, the fifth edition will see loads of strong runners at the starting line this Sunday morning. Both defending Asia Trail Master champions Manolito Divina and Tahira Najmunisaa will begin their new campaign, and will face strong local opposition in the 42 km race. Not in the least by Abdoullah Mitiche. Born in Algeria, Mitiche won the race last year as a triathlete in love with Tahura Trail. Now residing in Jakarta, Mitiche is determined to give the established trail running stars a run for their money again this weekend, and does not even exclude going after the Asia Trail Master Championship title himself one day. Currently, though, Mitiche's season planning sees him focusing first and foremost in long distance triathlon and IronMan. We were talking trail running with Abdoullah Mitiche, and disovered a genuine athlete with a very interesting story. 

By K. Van de Velde

ATM: Where were you born and did you grow up ?

AM: Algiers, a hilly city on the Mediterranean sea and the capital of Algeria, a country with a tradition of middle-distance running (800m to 3000m) and a home specialty in the 1500m: 4 Golds at this track race in the last 6 Olympics have been won by Algerian runners (2 men and 2 women). 

ATM: Was running something you have always done, or is it a recent hobby?

I’ve always loved Running, but haven’t regularly practiced it until 6 years ago.
Growing up, I loved the instant feeling of freedom and speed it provided and the rewarding sense of achievement at the top of a hill.
Back in high school, I joined a sprint team for almost one season, which was completely different from the running I do now: Training for 200m and 400m races, we didn’t do long runs (we didn’t have to), but we learned the ABC’s of running drills, clearing hurdles, and most importantly: Sucking up pain outside one’s comfort zone!
And after trying many other activities recreationally in the following years (basketball, parkour, hiking, tennis and even ultimate Frisbee), it’s not until end of 2010 (at age 28) that I became a runner, thanks to an Australian runner, Stephanie, then Minister Counsellor at the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby, who persuaded me I could run further than I thought I could.

ATM: What do you do for a living?

I’m a Risk Management consultant in the telecom industry; my office job takes most -if not all- my daytime but has also enriched my experience and taken me to uncommon yet wonderful places: Haiti, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea and for the last 4 years: Indonesia.

 ATM: You are mainly a triathlete. Have you completed an IronMan already?

I’ve been a triathlete for the past 4 years; and after a couple of experimental and introductory short course races (Novice, Sprint, and then Olympic distance), I soon realized I’m more suited to long course events and enjoy them much more; I’ve done 10 since: 8 Half-Ironman distance (70.3) and 2 Full Ironman, all of them in South East Asia.

ATM: What is your ambition as a triathlete?

4 years ago, I would’ve answered: “Getting faster” but then Joe Friel, my Triathlon guru, taught me better: “Goals should be event outcomes, not vague statements about your dreams of success. They should be well-defined, measurable … and just out of reach” to quote him. So my mid-term triathlon goals –Brace yourself for some geekiness- are: to improve my swimming to sustain a 1:45/100m pace for 1h, increase my cycling FTP (Functional Threshold Power) to 305 watts, and run a 3h15 marathon off the bike in an Ironman race.

ATM: Are you member of a sports club?

No, but I’m a proud member of the Indonesian sport community that welcomed me to its family and treated me as one of its own. “Indorunners” is the running community I joined as soon as I started calling Jakarta home; Triathlon Buddies is my triathlon community; When it comes to Trail, I was lucky enough to have met Om Wailan, a fellow-member of both those communities, who knows the local trails like his pocket and likes exploring new ones. He showed me around my first trail runs in Indonesia.

ATM: Do you have any sports idols, athletes you look up to?

My early idol would be my father, former national record holder of Triple jump and a true amateur who combined between his athletic passion, medical studies and surgery profession.
My encounter with Morceli, 3-times 1500m world champion and Olympic champion, left quite an impression on me as a 12 years old boy: I saw him training in one of Algiers’ running tracks, he called me and my cousin when he was done, handed his autographs to us and told us: “Chase your dreams!”
Other sport idols are Kilian Jornet and Javier Gomez.

 ATM: When did you discover your talent as a runner?

It must have been my marathon debut: The Sahara Marathon, in February 2012; a 100% sand trail race in the Algerian desert, that I didn’t train or taper for specifically as I was training for my first 100km Ultra 2 months later; Ultra training means back-to-back long runs and I wouldn’t let a “C race” compromise my training for my “A race”, so I went for a 3h run the day before; to my surprise, on the next day: I clocked 3h24 in my first 42k and ranked 9th overall in an international field; It did hurt but all I remember now is how much I loved it, I thought: "I  might be good at this endurance stuff! I should do more of it!"

 ATM: What does your training plan look like? How does trail running fit in?

I’m a big advocate of scientific and structured training, and think it’s the most efficient, fastest and safest way to optimize fitness and performance. I divide (or periodize) my season into periods: Base, Build and Peak, then divide periods into blocks, then divide blocks into 3 to 4 weeks, each block would culminate with either a recovery week where volume backs off or a race; races are ordered by priority from A to C. My weekly training volume ranges between 13 and 19 hours depending on the period and the block.
I love trail! I feel close to nature there, “The meditation of the trail” as Jack Kerouac beautifully puts it; I would do most my running on trails if I could, but I live in Jakarta, one of the most urban metropolis in the world, and I could only run trail occasionally on weekends or holidays, in either Sentul (around 50km south of Jakarta) or Bandung (180km southeast). For 2 years in a row, I’ve been dedicating my end of the year holiday to trail running as an Off-season activity; in fact, I’m just back from a multi-day ultra-trail in the Sahara where my friends and I covered around 120km over 4 days in the breathtaking Algerian desert; during which we were at least 100km away from the nearest electricity socket, water tap, mobile tower or civilization sign we otherwise take for granted; my face got sunburned, my hands and feet froze in -3° at night, but I got my fix of trail endorphins (and sand).

ATM: Where do you do cycling training?

As a triathlete, cycling represents at least 55% of my training volume; I used to be do all of it outdoors (the “old school” way), at crazy hours as early as 4am to avoid Jakarta’s epic traffic and reduce my exposure to pollution. I now do around half of it indoors on my Kickr smart trainer that adjusts resistance according to the specific wattage I want to achieve in my effort and recovery intervals; I even embraced a virtual reality technology recently called Zwift that allows cyclists to ride together on virtual islands with climbs and descents and even races. I do most my outdoor cycling with my KGB (Kelapa Gading Bikers) friends, on the hazy roads and flyovers of Jakarta city center on weekdays and in Sentul hills on weekends.

 ATM: Do you pay attention to your food before a race? Are there any special products you take in preparation for your race?

I take nutrition pretty seriously, we call it Triathlon's 4th discipline; when one sets off on an endurance event that lasts the entire morning (or the entire day), our food intake before and during the event has direct impact on our performance. I never skip my race morning breakfast, I usually have it early (2h before the start), and keep it simple, high carb, low-fat, low-fiber.
No pre-race special products really, but my usual race morning breakfast is: a banana (or couple of dates), milk (chocolate or plain), toast with honey, black coffee. I’d have lost some fluids by the time I finish my warm-up and line up at the start-line, so I either down a gel with some water or sip from a small bottle of electrolytes drink while waiting for the gun to go off. 

ATM: What is your best time on the road marathon?

With my focus on multi-sport events, it's been over 2 years since I last ran a stand-alone road marathon: Jakarta Marathon 2014 is the last one I ran and remains my PB in 3h06, way off my Sub-3 target! My "lame excuse” is that I raced Ironman Malaysia 4 weeks before the marathon and hadn't recovered from it, but I want to have a crack at the 26.2  either late 2017 or early 2018. As a Jakartan runner, one of my targets is to run Sub-3 Jakarta and Bali Marathons; heat and humidity are always going to be hindering factors in our tropical climate, but we just have to deal with it.

ATM: Do you often take part in trail races, or was Tahura Trail 2016 rather an exceptional event for you?

I race trail whenever I can fit the event into my training and racing calendar. I must admit things used to be more spontaneous and much simpler when running was my only discipline, but the questions I now have to answer before putting any stand-alone race on my calendar (not only running but also cycling races) are: Does the date fit in my blocks? How far is it from my “A race”? Does its distance fit into the program? Will I be able to do a long ride and swim the day before/after? ...etc. But with the right planning, I could fit around 8 running races a year, probably half of which are Trail.
ATM: What do you like about Tahura Trail?

Tahura is a Classic event in the Indonesian Trail Running calendar. It’s a race I never missed since its first edition in 2013, here is why:
It's only 2-3h drive from Jakarta.
It’s a full-fleshed Trail Race that features breathtaking 45% climbs, mud, rocks, water crossings, bushy single tracks, treacherous descents, slippery cobble-stone, alleys through kampungs, cabbage and eggplant farms, and an epic elevation gain; a real all-terrain trail.
It grew to become one of the best and most popular trail events in Indonesia, thanks to its organizers commitment to improve it every year: smooth registration, a punctual start, a very well-marked trail, sufficient water stations and marshals on course, accurate timing system, quick results. I've seen all these aspects improve year after year.
I usually meet my big trail running family in this event (even many triathlete friends), and catch up with them in a pleasant festive ambience.
The last reason is not objective and rather bias: I stood on Tahura's podium a couple of times but it took me 4 attempts, 4 years in a row to finally win it; it's my story of stubbornness.

ATM: What is your favourite type of trail race?

Long course, diverse terrain and hilly profile.

ATM: What is your dream as a trail runner?

Reading the ultra-trail literature out there played a big role in getting me into running, so it’s always been a dream to run an iconic race from that literature like Western States 100 one day.
In Indonesia, Mount Rinjani Ultra (MRU) in the beautiful island of Lombok is a trail race I’ve always wanted to do, but could never make it as it usually conflicts with a key triathlon race in Bintan island I always commit to; I hope I can run it one day and have a go at breaking its course record.

ATM: Running, and trail running, has seen a boom in popularity also in Indonesia recently. How did you experience this?

I’ve seen it grow exponentially: Back in 2012, runners down the street used to be a rare sight, running events could be counted on fingers and I used to see much more bikers than joggers on Jakarta’s weekly Car Free Day (CFD). Runners grew in numbers in the past 4 years; there are running events almost every weekend now (sometimes more than 2 on the same day), some of which draw thousands of participants, most running events are Road, but increasingly Trail too; many Jakartan cyclists avoid Car Free Day on Sunday, “It’s been taken over by runners” they mutter.
The running boom in the country is in my opinion only the tip of the iceberg, research studies show obesity has been rising rapidly in Indonesia and is becoming a major threat to public health; While urgent policy work is required to address the problem, I think we runners should play a leading role and be part of the solution: Raising health-consciousness, advocating running-friendly cities, demanding a minimum of green space “square meters per capita” in urban areas, sidewalks, trails …etc.

ATM: How do you see the future development of trail running?

I believe trail running will continue to grow in popularity in the region and the world, not only because health awareness and runners’ numbers will continue to increase, but also because more road runners continue to look for less urban and more beautiful sceneries, cleaner air quality, and just runs that are more pleasant and more fun; all that can generally be found when we return to nature and run trail; with this comes a responsibility to protect environment, keep our trails clean and keep them green, “Leave nothing but footprints”.

ATM: Many athletics federations in Asia do not recognise trail running as a genuine discipline. Is this holding the sport back?

Definitely, would any cycling federation stop recognizing MTB as a cycling discipline?! It’s unthinkable; MTB is a well-established and fully recognized part of cycling.
The same terrain differentiation applies to Trail running; I really hope its growing popularity will convince Athletics Federations in the region to regard it more progressively, recognize it, support it and nurture its young talent; Trail is not Track, nor Road, not even Cross-country, but it’s still Running.

ATM: Should trail running become recognised as an olympic sport?

Yes; Going back to Road vs Off-road cycling comparison, Mountain Biking (MTB) was born in the 70’s, then became an Olympic discipline in 1996; BMX followed and made its Olympic debut in 2008.
When it comes to Trail Running, even though the sport is relatively new, the activity itself is not only older than its track and road siblings, but as ancient as humans themselves!
I think IAAF recognition of Trail Running as an official running discipline in 2015 is a step in the right direction and would eventually lead to the sport becoming Olympic.

ATM: How is triathlon organised in Indonesia? Are there many events?

Triathlon is a relatively new sport in Indonesia, but one of the fastest growing; many pure runners and pure cyclists like to go outside their “comfort sport” and take up a multi-sport challenge that adds 2 more disciplines to what they are familiar with; they represent the bulk of people taking up triathlon. Finishing a triathlon is also becoming the next box to tick after a runner finishes a full marathon, or a cyclist completes her first running race, and as fun and addictive as it is, many stick around and sign up for the next (generally longer) triathlon event. I find this quite inspiring! It reminds me how I started and why I love Triathlon at the first place. Which brings us to triathlon events, Top 5 yearly events:

  • Sungailiat Triathlon (Bangka) [Distances: Sprint, Olympic, Long course]: born as a Duathlon in 2012, it never stopped improving, adding new distances and drawing more participants each year.
  • Triathlon Buddies Mini-Tri (Jakarta) [Distances: Novice, Kids]: is my community’s anniversary, it strives to introduce Triathlon to newbies (I was one of those newbies when I joined it 4 years ago).
  • Ironman 70.3 Bintan [Distance: 70.3, Iron-kids]: The first Ironman race in Indonesia in 2015, it’s making endurance Triathlon more popular.
  • Bali Triathlon [Distances: Sprint, Olympic]
  • Bintan Triathlon [Distances: Sprint, Olympic, Kids, Youth]

ATM: What do you think about the Asia Trail Master series? Could you see yourself tring to win the ATM championship one year?

I think it’s a brilliant idea to bring the Asian Trail Running scene together and connect quality races in different Asian countries into one series system that rewards runners of all capabilities, it certainly adds to the sense of achievement we get from practicing the sport we love; which makes me think: there should be something similar in triathlon on national or regional level!
I love endurance sport and intend to do it as long as my heart beats and legs move; so I do have in mind, at some point, to dedicate a season or 2 to single-sport events; winning ATM championship would be an exciting goal to aim for in the running year(s)!

ATM: Will you compete again in Tahura Trail next week?

Of course! Not only to try to defend my title, but to stay true to my tradition since Tahura’s first edition 4 years ago.

ATM: Finally, what is your favourite piece of running music?

I’m not a big fan of headphones while running, and find the sound of my breath and footsteps to be very musical, but I do find inspiration in some songs lyrics, like Mano Chao’s: “Il faut courir tous les jours, il faut courir. Il faut gagner tous les jours, il faut gagner. Il faut subir tous les jours, il faut subir”. It translates to: “One has to run every day, one has to run. One has to wineveryday, one has to win. One has to endure everyday, one has to endure”