Nienke Brinkman, the trail running star who started running during the pandemic | Sports

Nienke Brinkman debunks the most common saying in trail running: that athletes run in the mountains when they can’t be fast on the flat. “I would put those to climb that mountain and then we talked.” And she points out those alpine masses of the Sierre-Zinal, the race that changed her life in 2021 and that took her a year later to conquer the Zegama-Aizkorri and the general of the Golden Trail Series. It is not a bad bag for a frustrated hockey player who did not start running until the pandemic and who also shines on asphalt, since she is European bronze in the marathon. That’s why she says that she loves cliffs and roads like mom and dad. “When you have passion, you can always surprise yourself. I have surprised myself many times.

This Indonesian-raised Dutchwoman tried to break through as a hockey professional, a physical foundation that allowed her to cut deadlines when she took up running. It was a therapy against the covid and the stress of his doctorate in geophysics. “I have played sports all my life, I like to be busy. I wanted to get out there and not think about anything but the rhythm. There came a time when, I don’t know why, she wanted to run a marathon, but all the events were cancelled”. Faithful to her preparation, she finished her task despite the suspension of the one from Amsterdam and made the virtual tour in 2h39m. “It was very important to me to see what she could do.” She thus finished in a mountain race, the Zermatt Marathon, in July 2021. She won and was invited to the Sierre-Zinal; Despite her skepticism, she was second.

Nienke Brinkman, during the European championship, in Munich, in 2022.
Nienke Brinkman, during the European championship, in Munich, in 2022.ANP/Getty Images

He remembers the thirst he suffered that day because he did not prepare his nutrition well. “I didn’t want to carry jerry cans because it’s extra weight for the ascent, I was stupid.” There she put her philosophy into practice: “I have to go strong on the climb, which is my strong point, and then we’ll see who catches me.” Two years later, she wanted to complete the circle with a victory this past Saturday, but her status as her favorite languished before a virus that always kept her out of her mind.

When Kilian Jornet achieved his tenth victory in Zegama last year and broke the event record, it was Nienke, 29, who overwhelmed the clock: he not only won, he dropped the best time by 22 minutes and left it at 4h16m43s. “I felt like I was in the Tour de France because of the amount of people who respectfully cheer you on, without touching you, you just walk between them. I think I gave it my all and the conditions helped.” That time took her suddenly to the international elite.

His life is a balance between the strength of mountain training and the speed of the asphalt. Two very different mental exercises. “For me it is very difficult to make a decision because I love both of them in a different way, people ask me all the time. Maybe the balance is good. The marathon is very focused on pace and the mountain is a race against your mind. There are such hard segments going uphill that when I’m training I want to get back on asphalt”. In his first marathon, in Valencia in 2021, he exceeded his expectations with a sidereal time of 2h26m34s, the third national mark; the following year he broke the Dutch record in Rotterdam with 2h22m51s and then took bronze at the Europeans in Berlin.

The prestige and the pocket also play in this combination of surfaces. “There are asphalt runners who would be good in the mountains. There is a lot of money in the asphalt, I can understand that. In his case, he defends the mixture as something essential in his rapid growth. “The trail has made me grow a lot mentally because it has taken me to dark places. The marathon is basically waiting and waiting until you decide not to wait any longer; It’s only five or eight kilometers of suffering and then it’s over. I have in mind so many moments in the mountains, some at the beginning of the races… ”At the same time, he talks about the constant rhythm that the asphalt demands. “You don’t have any period where you can relax a bit. I like that it’s so different, even though basically it’s the same: you run with your legs”. When he accepted Nike’s offer, he demanded that flexibility: “That they let me do whatever I wanted.”

No one more suitable than her to emphasize that the mountain is not a consolation prize. “No one guarantees you that you will do well on the trail if your career has stalled on the asphalt. It is as if bad road cyclists switched to mountain biking”. He doesn’t contemplate long distances until later in his career. “These types of races compromise your speed and at the moment I don’t want to do it.” After running in Switzerland, she will leave the mountains and seek the place for the Paris Games in the Amsterdam marathon: the minimum is 2h26m50s for one of the three Dutch places. She has all the ballots. This asphalt neophyte intends to lose 2h20m one day, exercising that healthy habit of surprising herself. And by the way, to the rest.

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