Thursday, March 25, 2010

Catching up with former Crystal Springs Uplands School and Brown University runner, Nick Neely...

Today we chat with former Crystal Springs Uplands School and Brown University runner, Nick Neely.  Nick graduated from CSUS in 2003 following a successful hs career, juggling multiple sports.  You can see some of his Cross Country and Track and Field accomplishments below which included a sub 15:00 effort on the track during the tail end of his senior season.  Nick went on the run at Brown University and although several of his seasons were curtailed by injuries, his indoor 5000m. time is ranked in the top 10 and he was one of the key members of their Cross Country team.  Nick recently completed his first marathon in 2:24:38 and now has a new goal to shoot for in his next attempt at the distance.

1)  What sports did u participate in before and during high school?
Before high school, I played just about everything, except football (unless Nerf counts). Tennis, soccer, golf . . . and even, for a week, fencing. In high school, I stuck to XC, basketball, and baseball for four years. I also ran a few track races my junior year, and then managed a full season 'round the old oval as a senior.

2)  How did you end up participating in xc and track and field?
Well, as a 7th grader, during my first-year at CSUS, I was a member of Doc Ingersoll's illustrious XC squad. (Doc, sadly, passed away a few year later.) I may have been the 5th-man at one point, but maybe not. As I remember, I was doing the ~ 2-mile "Tea Garden" run--our local, once-a-week time trial through the streets of Hillsborough--in about 16 or 17 or even 18 minutes. Less than 20 minutes, anyhow.

As an 8th grader, I played soccer. I wasn't fast, didn't have any fancy footwork. (I sometimes played goalie, and the others on the team used to say that, trying to save a shot, I fell to the grass like a tree--thump!) I planned on going out for soccer as a 9th grader, but got cold feet--something about playing with the big boys, which seems farcical now, because it was nothing to worry about, and I just was growing into my stride.

Anyway, I went out for XC. Coach Dave Robertson did a bit of convincing, I think. At the end of the first week, we ran Sutter Trail along the Crystal Spring Reservoir, a great place to run. As a newbie, Dave let me out the gates in an earlier wave of runners, before the Varsity-to-be. But they never caught me. Dave told me, afterward, that I'd better get rid of my flat-soled tennis shoes and find a pair of trainers. Within a month, I was the fastest on the team. I had a good training partner in Robby Ocampo, a senior. He was a workhorse, more of a middle-distance guy (or B-ball player, really).

Coach Caruana convinced me to do track as a junior, on the side (I was playing baseball). Sam Kuo was throwing shot put, then--she was the whole CSUS track team then. I ran my first 1600 that season in 4:50 or so, I think. Then at NCS, ran 4:29 in the prelims.

3)  What were some of your highlights in XC during HS?
I made State as a freshman, then failed to do so as sophomore, which was a great disappointment (I had some hip problems, then forgot my "racing shoes" at NCS, which psyched me out). As a Junior, I finished 7th at state, running 16:45-ish at Woodland Park for 5k. As a senior, I won the Stanford Invite D5, NCS at Hayward High in 15:23, and finished 2nd at State in 15:55 (Tim Nelson, now a 27-mid 10ker, won easily). It was all a highlight, but being in the top-5 for time, for all-divisions, as a senior at NCS felt like an achievement. What I remember most? Among other things, falling on my face at the  finish line of the Cowchip Classic as my legs gave out during my first race of my senior year. I hadn't done a single tempo run over the summer--that race was a bit of shock to the system.

4)  What about track and field?
My senior year, I ran 9:55 in my first-ever 3200. A month later, I ran my second in 9:22. Then, I faded *incredibly* hard in the last 200 of the NCS 3200 to miss out on State, nicely bookending my last year of HS running. (I was on pace for about 9:12, but ran a 55-ish final half-lap and collapsed on the line.) But a few weeks later, I went down to LA and ran 14:58 for 5k on the track, qualifying for Junior Nationals.

5)  You juggled baseball and track during your Jr and Sr seasons.  How did you manage to do both sports at the same time?
Looking back, I'm not sure! I went to baseball practice, then around 5:30 would either go for an easy run or head up to San Mateo CC to meet Coach Car for a workout. Sometimes I'd get a run in during the middle of the school day, running around our small soccer field, or heading out into the Hillsborough's namesake hills. Doing both was a blast, but I probably missed out on that last, perhaps most vital, bit of potential in both sports. Such are the choices...

6)  You had an interesting training partner during your senior season in former HMB and current Del Oro coach Kevin Ostenberg.  What were some of the things you learned from running with him?
He was my only workout partner in high school and I admired him for pushing me. He showed me how to pace a workout by the book, something I'm still learning. It was also inspirational to know that I could run competitively for a long time. I don't think I ever properly thanked him for sweating it out there with me: Thanks Kevin! It made all the difference, really.

7)  What were some of the factors that led you to picking Brown University?
I wanted to go to a top-tier academic school, and I wanted to get away from home a bit. I wasn't savvy about recruitment (and didn't have any track times, really, to my name), but had no trouble walking on to the team. The quality of the team was such that I would have to improve a lot to make an impact. It's a D1 school, competition's stiff. I also thought about Amherst, but wouldn't have had anyone to push me there. Mainly, I was drawn to Brown's overall tenor. I wanted to take photography classes at RISD. I was attracted to it's so-called New Curriculum--there are no course requirements.

8)  What were some of the biggest differences for you between hs and collegiate running?
Commitment became imperative. It wasn't enough to just show up at practice and work really hard. It was a lifestyle choice, that was clear. But all four years, I never really was able to sustain that commitment, which is what it would have taken to get to the next level, to a truly national stage. I had some mild successes while in college, but my hesitancy to truly dedicate myself manifested itself in lots of ways, including prolonged injury (bad achilles). It's telling that I ran my best times coming off more casual summer or winter-break training; when I got back to school, I often let myself get distracted and run down.

But it was amazing to run day in day out with others of my ability. I never had that in high school. And many of those guys will remain my closest friends. We hammered workouts, and we had a great time before and after.

It was also cold! If you're serious about running (and from California), you might want to stay West.

9)  Now that you have a chance to reflect back to hs, what do you feel really worked for you in terms of training?
Getting up, gradually, to at least 50 miles of running a week will take many high schoolers to another level, in and of itself. Repeat 1000s also, of course, will help. Kevin and I were doing repeats in about 3:05 if I remember correctly. I think I responded better to longer stuff. Running shorter repeats seems to break me down a little.

10)  What could you have done differently?
Run a bit more mileage, perhaps. I would have also thrown in a distinct long run--12-14 miles. I would have rested more. I would have paid more attention to the small things. These last two items are things I could have done better during college, too.

11)  Following your time at Brown, tell us a little about some of your pursuits and different locations.
I earned a Master's degree in Reno and had a great time running around the city, especially on the bike path along the Truckee River. Then I lived in a cabin in the woods of southern Oregon for the last six months of 2009 as part of a writing residency (where I did no running, but a fair amount of hiking). Now, I'm in Colorado, working for High Country News, an environmental magazine.

12)  What led you to trying out your first Marathon?  How did the race unfold and what time did you end up running?
Well, I've always been a bit faster over longer distances. So taking a stab at marathon seemed like the next logical step. I was confident I could do serious tempo runs on my own (far less enthused in solo track workouts, though I still do some). While studying in Reno, I was able to get in a 2.5 month workout cycle in preparation that included 20 mile runs at a brisk pace (one around 22 miles), tempos of 8-10 miles, and a half-marathon in Phoenix a month before, where I ran 1:10:28. I was averaging about 70 miles/week in 6 days.

The marathon in Austin unfolded awesomely, though I didn't feel very fresh leading up to the race. I started out conservatively, went through the hillier half in 1:13-mid, then ratcheted it down from there to finish 6th in 2:24.38 (5:30 pace). Afterward, I lounged poolside and ate Texas BBQ.

13)  What is the next challenge for you in the Marathon?
I'm still getting my legs under me again after a hiatus from running, but I'm thinking about upping the anty, in terms of training, to shoot for the Olympic Trials standard of 2:19 this fall at a major race, maybe Chicago or NYC. It may be an ambitious goal, and it will certainly take another level of committment, but I've got nothing to lose. We'll see...

14)  What would your advice be for a high school runner who has aspirations of elite running in hs and beyond? 
Take care to rest (i.e. sleep) and eat well, and so on. Working hard during practice is no guarantee of success.

While in college, I was told by an accomplished alumnus that he felt he could really only do two things at a time at an "elite" level. For instance, school and running. Or school and a serious relationship. Or school and partying. (To be sure, some throw school out of the equation.) That's something I've thought about, and have come to believe, but I haven't been able to limit myself to just two things. Not yet. If you're doing 3-4 extracurriculars, though, and you think you're doing them all to the *best* of your abilities, think again. If you have elite aspirations, make running one of those two things.

15)  Anything else you might want to add?
Don't forget to look around on the jog.  I try to notice new things on my regular loops each time I run them. To explore new trails and neighborhoods, to have chance encounters with animals and other interesting sights, is a large part of why I run. When I visit a new city, one of my favorite activites is get out on a run and see the place on my own terms.  

Thanks for reading!

Thank you very much for your time Nick!  AJC

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