The Transalpine Run covers 236km of challenging terrain over 7 days. Jens has been competing in the gruelling event for almost 10 years and, along with teammate Irene Senfter, claimed the 2021 Mixed Master title.
Not bad for a former triathlete who came to trail running only after a devastating knee injury left doctors thinking his running days were over.
We spoke to the man they call Running Jesus (although that’s not because of his miraculous recovery) about his love of the sport, what it takes to compete over seemingly impossible distances, and how Joe Nimble’s revolutionary footwear has helped improve his performance and his recovery times.
How did you first get involved with trail running?
I suffered a serious knee injury a few years ago and the doctor said I would no longer be able to run, let alone manage a half-marathon. For a year, I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without experiencing pain, and driving a car was out of question.When the pain eased, I began to run a few metres. In the beginning, I ran roughly 400 metres. But I continuously improved and began to explore my surroundings.I ran through forests and in the mountains in my area and was amazed by the beauty. My passion for trail running was awakened and has stayed ever since.
What is it about this type of running and the long distances that appeal to you?
Trail running gives us an opportunity to explore new places in the mountains, getting immersed in nature. I am repeatedly overwhelmed by the beauty I encounter in the natural world, often forgetting everything around me and completely losing track of time.That’s why I continue running on and on, and always discover something new. The terrain is just so varied that I never get bored.
What are the extra challenges when it comes to running as a team, and how does it help you?
It’s special because everyone in the team must be able to rely on one another.Stronger runners have to hold themselves back to avoid overextending less resilient runners. They have to help and support the less robust, whether physically or psychologically.It is said that “suffering shared is suffering halved”, and that occasionally makes running in a team more enjoyable. You can learn a lot from others when you run with them in a team.
What makes the Transalpine Run different to other races?
Going out every day and running in the most beautiful places in the world is just wonderful.Sure, it’s hard to leave early in the morning each day with sore muscles and give it your all. But to cross the finish line with a smile is a nice reward for all the exertion.You always have a partner with whom you can share joys and sorrows, and that’s really something special. Everyone in the team has the same passion. Everyone enjoys the highs together and suffers the lows with each other. We are like a small trail running family for a week.
You wear the Joe Nimble nimbleToes Trail Addict, how have you found they help your performance?
I noticed that the wide toe box allows my toes to move freely. This gives me more support and stability.I am less prone to twisting my ankle and have a stronger foot because of the toe box. This gives me more confidence and bravery, and therefore more speed on difficult terrain.
For anyone who hasn’t tried Joe Nimble shoes, what makes them so different?
Compared to conventional shoes, Joe Nimble shoes offer more toe freedom and hence strengthen the foot muscles – especially the big toe muscles.Running in Joe Nimble shoes is more challenging in the beginning – the foot needs a little time to adapt, but it’s healthier. It’s a challenge that I welcome and one that makes me a better athlete.
What is your experience of the MICHELIN sole, how does it affect your performance and the way you run?
I have only had good experiences with MICHELIN soles.I previously owned running shoes of another brand that were equipped with MICHELIN soles so I was already very enthusiastic about the characteristics of the sole, which is durable and has a good grip.These qualities give me confidence in the shoes, allowing me to better feel the ground and better manage my running behaviour. It means I can call on my inner resources at the right moment and convert them into speed on the terrain.
How do you prepare your body to perform over 7 or 8 consecutive days? Do you have any tips for endurance runners to prepare for these races, and how to keep getting ready to go again on day 5, 6, 7…?
I schedule a long running session roughly every fortnight. I start early in the season with a 3 to 4-hour run, increasing the length steadily towards the peak of the season.Shortly before the race, I prefer to run a 100-170 km race. If I can manage that, I know I’m ready for a 7 to 8-day event.In a race lasting several days, regeneration is very important. How you do that is a personal choice – I rely on massages and wear the special Joe Nimble recovery sandal, which helps me recuperate.
Has using the Joe Nimble shoe changed how you recover between stages?
I was able to observe the effect of the recovery sandals quite carefully this year, as I completed two stage runs over six to seven days. I can categorically say that they accelerated my recovery.My muscles essentially remained reasonably loose despite the exertion, and I didn’t have heavy legs in the following days. This is one more reason to rely on these great shoes by Joe Nimble.
And finally, you’re known as ‘Running Jesus’ on Instagram – how did you get that nickname?
I have very long hair, which I usually tie up. On one occasion, I was forced to wear my hair loose as I had lost my headband in a race.Other participants noticed it and said: “Here comes the Running Jesus!” Someone then addressed me by that name, and I wasn’t even aware that he was referring to me. The name spread among participants, and eventually everyone called me by that nickname!
It’s one title among many for an athlete who routinely does what many of us would consider unthinkable. Extreme Athlete. Adventurer. Inspiration. Champion.
But at his heart, Jens is a man who just loves to get out and run.