Saturday, January 21, 2017

Catching up with Harker senior distance runner, Niki Iyer

Today we chat with Harker senior runner, Niki Iyer. This past season, Niki won her 2nd WBAL individual title on the Crystal Springs course with a time of 17:36.1. She finished in 3rd place at the CCS Division IV race and unfortunately was not able to compete at the state meet due to an injury. As a junior, Iyer finished in 5th place at the CA state cross country meet. On the track, she scored double victories in the 1600 and 3200 at the WBAL championship meet. She followed that up with a personal best 10:29.52 victory at the CCS finals. At the state finals (photo to the left courtesy of Kirby Lee and, Iyer finished in 3rd place with another personal best of 10:24.39 trailing only two of California's all-time greats, Fiona O'Keeffe and Destiny Collins.

1) How did you get your start in running? What other sports have you played?
I started off as a competitive ice skater but when I moved to California from Florida, I couldn’t find any ice rinks in my area so I switched to playing soccer up till about 8th grade. My first cross country season ever was in 6th grade and I wasn’t super competitive—I was just trying to get in shape for soccer season and because I played midfield I thought that running would improve my endurance J I’d say I had my first real track season in 8th grade when I ran for Coach Allison Burzio and her club, Forza.

2) What was your experience before high school? Track PRs before 9th grade?
To be honest, I didn’t have much experience at all. I ran for one track season and went to the AAU JO’s in 8th grade. At the time, I’d only run the 1500 and the 800 and my PR’s were 4:55 and 2:24 respectively.

3) Highlights from your 9th grade experience in both XC and TF? What did you learn from your freshman experience?
My freshman year (in both XC and TF) was so much fun! Looking back now, it’s crazy that I had no idea what all those abbreviations were- CCS, WBAL, CIF, etc. I ran one Frosh-Soph race in XC at the Lowell Invitational and from the second race onwards, I ran in Varsity. I didn’t know what to expect out of myself in most of these races and quite frankly, I had this weird running strategy (or lack thereof) where I would go out super hard from the beginning and hold on to dear life to try to finish in 1st place. I think I was also more obsessed with placing and times and because I had never been challenged in races up till CCS, CCS was a huge shocker for me.

My biggest regret from freshman year is that I don’t think I took the time to really enjoy the process and each race. I was so anxious about every race and trying to “win” it all. I wish that I hadn’t been put on a pedestal so early so that I could have spent more time with teammates and understood that XC and TF are about camaraderie :D

4) What do you feel was your break out race as a 9th or 10th grader that gave you the confidence that you could compete with the best runners in our state?
I’d say my break out race as a 9th grader was definitely the Serra Invite. That was my first race at Crystal Springs and I was in the 2nd varsity race competing against some of the best in the section. My goal was to maybe break 19:00 on the course so to get 18:01 made me realize that I could really challenge myself and make it to State. I also remember watching the Championship Varsity race and seeing Anna Maxwell go by at the time was so inspirational. I looked up (and still do) to her so much and it made me realize that there was so many things I could try to push for in the sport :D

5) Through your high school career, who are the runners that you have looked up to and served as role models for you? What did you learn from them?
I’ve looked up immensely to Anna Maxwell, Sarah Robinson, Maddy Price, Corey Gonzales (my former teammate), Fiona O’Keeffe, and Gillian Meeks :D I think the most impactful thing I learned was patience. I learned that you can’t just go out and nail every single race and every single workout—sometimes, you need to take a step back and understand what’s going on before you jump into things. I also saw so much tenacity in each one of those runners and the amount of adversity they had to surmount, and I have so much admiration/respect for that!

6) Who are the coaches that have had the biggest impact on your running?
Jorge (Chen) and Coach Chisam have been so crucial for my high school development and although this sounds cliché, there is honestly no words for me to express how grateful I am. Coach Chisam was the first person to notice me in high school and it was really awesome that he taught me about CCS and WBAL. Jorge has been instrumental in my development from a crazy, long-haired runner to a future collegiate runner—he’s taught me so much about being patient in races. I’m so thankful to Coach Woodcock for always being my moral compass and being the friend I always need, to Coach Allison introducing me to the world of TF in the first place, and to Coach K at Harker for kicking my butt and forcing me to come to practices in middle school (haha). I also want to make sure to mention Menlo runner, Rob Miranda. He's my best friend and my training partner. Not having him this past season was so hard, but he's been there countless times to pick me up.

7) You finished in 3rd place at last year's CA state track and field meet in the 3200. What was your plan heading into the race and how did the race unfold for you?
To be honest, state was a complete shock and surprise for me. My entire season, I had set my mind to place in the top 2 at CCS so when I ended up winning it, I really couldn’t believe it. After seeing that my time was 10:29, Jorge told me that I had a serious shot of making it on the podium if I could stay patient during the race and not make any weird surges like I did at Arcadia. I also found out the race was going to be super late at night so I had a couple of practices around 10 PM to simulate what that would feel like. When the gun went off, I just latched on to the front pack and my goal was to just stay with them and make a move the last 600-400. Fiona made a move in the 2nd lap but the pack stayed together so I stuck with it. We started to string out with 1600 to go and at that point I think it was myself, Morgin, Destiny, Amanda, and Jenny racing together but I’m not quite sure what happened to be honest. With 800 to go, Destiny and I were battling for 2nd to 3rd but the girl has some serious wheels and she ended up passing me.

8) What does a typical week look like for you? Any morning runs? Typical weekly mileage? Length of long runs? 
My weekly mileage is 35-40. My training is more speed oriented and less heavy on mileage so my longest runs are only about 8 miles. I do morning runs and morning workouts depending on the school day—my school is on a block schedule and on B/D days I have a 1st period free so I’m able to train in the morning those days :D

I don’t really have a “typical” week because things always vary due to races and hard workouts from the week

Monday- Long run day with pickups every mile (Usually about 50m)
Tuesday- Speed Endurance Day- 800-1600 repeats (sets of 4-5)
Wednesday- Speed Day- 200-800 repeats
Thursday- Long run (no pickups)
Friday- Speed Day or Pre-Meet
Saturday- Speed Endurance Day or Race Day
Sunday- Recovery Run (if I raced on Saturday) or OFF

9) Favorite XC course? Favorite XC invitational? Favorite XC workout? Favorite long run location? Favorite TF event? Favorite TF invitational? Favorite TF workout? Favorite free time activity?
Favorite XC course- Mt. Sac!!
Favorite XC meet- State is always the best
Favorite XC workout- mile repeats at Coyote Point
Favorite long run location- Sawyer Camp Trail
Favorite TF event: 3200 by far :)
Favorite TF invitational: Arcadia Invite is always super fun
Favorite TF workout: I'd say 400s make me feel race ready every single time :)
Favorite free time activity: I love hiking especially at the Fremont Older Preserve; I'm also really into biotech so I spend a lot of time with science research.
I'm also devoutly Hindu so I spend a lot of time in the temple because I find that it's been my anchor and give me so much peace.

10) You are attending Cal Berkeley next year. What led you to choosing Cal? How much of a factor was running when it came to choosing Cal?
My last official visit was to Cal and not to sound corny or anything but it was by far the most memorable one. I did a few visits to the East Coast and came back realizing that there was something missing. People always told me that it would be a gut feeling when I found the school I’d like to attend and I think that’s what it came down to for me. I really connected with Shayla, Chas, and Coach Sandoval and understood their long term goals for the team and individual. I love that they balance both our individual goals and the team’s goals. Academics wise, there’s no question about Cal’s Engineering program—I’m so honored and grateful that I get to attend such a prestigious university and continue doing what I love to do. I think the thing that really bought me over was the team. I’ve truly never seen anything like it before; the I love that it’s a combined program so everyone is super super close :D I’m so excited about furthering my academic and athletic careers at an amazing place!

11)What races are you most looking forward to during the upcoming track and field season? Any goals that you would like to share?
I’m looking forward to every single race this season because each one is my last one of high school. I’m taking everything one step at a time because I want to really enjoy this season. My biggest goal is to be present for ever moment. I also really hope to lower my PR in the 32 and in the 16 as much as possible and hopefully get back on the podium at state because that was a life changing experience :D

12)Anything else you want to add.
Thank you so much for interviewing me! Your blog is awesome :)
I'd also just like to leave a piece of advice: "The only time you should ever look back, is to see how far you've come" :)

Thank you very much for your time Niki! AJC

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