Trail Runner of The Year: Fourth

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The final count down to number one is well underway but we have a few more exceptional athletes to celebrate on our way there. The athletes in fourth position had standout performances that captured our attention! From flying up and over short mountainous terrain in course record time to having the most exciting and celebrated second place finish potentially ever in our sport – they kept us on the edge of our seats. If you have missed any of the inaugural TROY awards coverage you can catch up here: fifthsixthseventheighthninth and tenth.

In fourth position we have Nike’s Nienke Brinkman and Salomon’s Mathieu Blanchard.

The road and trail wonder Nienke Brinkman lands in fourth position after a standout 2022

Rookie of the year? While we realize Nienke’s first trail season wasn’t 2022 – her course record setting performance at this years Zegama-Aizkorri made it crystal clear that she was going to be a standout in the trail running world. A standout on the road as well the Dutch athlete continued to balance both disciplines into 2022, and while her road performances don’t technically count in TROY voting it’s hard to ignore what she is doing on all surfaces. After Zegama she continued to tear up the Golden Trail Series with wins at Pikes Peak Ascent, Flagstaff Sky Peaks, and all but two stages during the Golden Trail Series Finale giving her the overall series win in the process. Here’s to having Nienke on the trail for a long time to come!

FT: What was your personal highlight from 2022?

NB: For me it was Rotterdam marathon. In this race I broke the national record for the marathon, which was a huge achievement that is very important but also the way the race went was a highlight. Everything I planned went the way I wanted 🙂 Besides my running performance I am extremely happy that in 2022 I successfully defended my PhD. This means I can now fully focus on running!

FT: What was a struggle or something you learned in 2022?

NB: For me it was hard to deal with the level of stress I had. I don’t like to disappoint people, so 100% for PhD and 100% for running sometimes gave me a lot of stress. I do think that this stress level is something that I can now optimize in order to optimize my performance.

FT: What are you looking forward to in 2023?

NB: I have now the time to fully focus on running, which means I take the recovery side as an extra challenge to learn. I hope this can help me to take the next step in my running. The road marathon will be my priority in 2023 because I will try to qualify for the 2024 Olympics.

Mathieu Blanchard a star on the rise lands in 4th in the inaugural TROY awards

A star on the rise? While Mathieu might be relatively new to the sport compared to some of his peers, he’s made quick work diving in with both feet. The French athlete races a lot and does so incredibly successfully – making consistent and steady progress up the ultra ranks in the process. This year alone Mathieu was fourth at Madeira Island Ultra-Trail, first at XTERRA GOZO, fifth at Lavaredo and first at Megève Nature Trail. The crown of his season though played out over nearly twenty hours of live broadcast as he battled with Kilian Jornet at the 2022 UTMB du Mont-Blanc. Watching them push each other to a record setting performance, breaking twenty hours, meant that Mathieu’s second place performance became more important than many other prominent wins in 2022. Bravo Mathieu – we know 2023 will be full of many more race highlights.

FT: What was your personal highlight from 2022?

MB: A list!

1 – Uapapunan polar expedition. It’s not trail running, but it was a highlight because the goal was also mental, to succeed in putting my focus elsewhere, to reign in both mentally and physically. It worked very well because when I resumed running in March, I was extremely motivated, mentally and physically strong, and ready to tackle a big season.

2 – The Salomon season opening training camp. It was my first year officially on the global Salomon team. For me this team is the holy grail. When I discovered trail running in 2017 the best runners were on this team, and they are also a pioneer in trail running equipment. Finding myself in this camp was a highlight because it was the consecration of all my work and passion.

3 – Lavaredo. While this is not a performance highlight (5th overall) but rather a confidence building highlight. I had a serious ankle sprain only one month before the race. I was able to apply the right protocols, understand new elements in the management of traumatic injuries, mentally work on my optimism, to be able to run this race.

4 – UTMB. I guess you know this highlight!

5 – HMDS Jordan desert. Again, this is not a performance highlight. A family story, with my handicapped little brother Luca, whom I took there to surpass himself, to break his denial of disability, and to show the world that no one is limited.

FT: What was a struggle or something you learned in 2022?

MB: Two main difficulties. 1 – To try to build my confidence, in order to break my impostor syndrome. I’m very new to this sport, I don’t have a classic athlete’s background, I have to make my place, it’s not easy mentally, but I’m working on it. 2- The sprained ankle in the middle of my season made me seriously doubt my ability to perform at the UTMB, but determination and optimism have shown me that you always have to believe in it.

FT: What are you looking forward to in 2023?

MB: I was lucky to win Golden Ticket at UTMB for entry into the Western States Endurance Run. I don’t want to repeat exactly the same season every year, I want to experience something new for 2023. First central objective: WSER! I’m going to prepare myself with a lot of speed and heat acclimatization sessions starting with the Coastal Challenge Costa Rica in February, then the Paris Marathon and the Marathon Des Sables in April. I’ll see how I feel after WSER to consider other races, maybe UTMB…

Two very different paths lay ahead for Mathieu and Nienke’s 2023 seasons, but that’s what our sport often highlights best. We will be cheering ferociously for Mathieu at WSER and champion our rising trail queen in her hopes of making the 2024 Olympics on the road – congratulations to you both! So who made the top three? We hit the final stretch tomorrow morning!

Keep exploring


Trail Shoes: Class of 2024


Trail Performance of The Year: 2023


Trail Runner of The Year 2023: First

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