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Nell Rojas — February, 2020
Nell Rojas, in just her second marathon, won the 2019 Grandma’s Marathon in a personal best time of 2:28:06. Her third marathon was the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, where she finished in ninth place in 2:30:26. In Nell’s marathon debut, she finished in seventh place at the 2018 California International Marathon with a time of 2:31:23. She won the 2018 Denver Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon and set her personal best of 1:10:45 at the 2020 Houston Half Marathon. Nell won the 2019 Bolder Boulder 10k, forty years after her father, Ric, won the inaugural event. She placed eighth at the 2019 Falmouth Road Race. In between college and her recent road racing, Rojas was an accomplished Obstacle Course Racer who won her first OCR race, finished second in the Tough Mudder World Championship and beat one of the world’s best OCR racers in her first Spartan race. She graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2010 where she was a Big Sky Conference Champion in the indoor 5,000 meters and outdoor 3,000-meter steeplechase. At Boulder (CO) High School Nell was four-year captain of both cross country and track teams, named Most Outstanding Female Athlete in cross country and track all four years. Her personal best times include: 800m – 2:13.96; 1,500m – 4:36.36; Mile – 5:01.20; 3,000m – 9:46.08; 5,000m – 16:28.11; 3,000m steeplechase – 10:17.88; 10,000m – 34:32; Half Marathon – 1:10:45 and Marathon – 2:28:06. Nell is an endurance athlete coach at She enjoys time with her dog, Babs, and was kind to spend nearly an hour and a half on the telephone for this interview in the spring of 2020.
GCR: Two years ago, you were a triathlete and obstacle course racer training for your first Ironman triathlon and now you finished in ninth place in the Olympic Trials marathon. When you take a moment to reflect on your recent journey in the marathon, how improbable was it and how exciting has it been to reinvent yourself after age thirty?
NR It has been fun and very unexpected. It’s been a kind of release because I had big dreams when I was growing up dealing with running. To finally be able to realize them is a great feeling.
GCR: We will talk in more detail about the Olympic Trials marathon but, first, what are your big picture takeaways from toeing the line in the race and finishing in the top ten?
NR One take is that everyone is human so, even the women that I have idolized for a while and who have been on the racing scene for years, are human and have good races and bad races. They are great, great runners but I know that I can run with them and I can compete with them. They are not aliens that I can’t ever catch. The other one is that I should not put limits on myself. I had to race that race to realize that I could compete with them. There is no way of knowing that before racing that caliber of runners. So, those are the big pictures that I took away from that race.
GCR: You did not take the more typical route post-collegiately of racing shorter road races, moving up to the half marathon and then to the marathon. What are the positives and negatives when you look back at the last seven or eight years of your different fitness and exercise path and where you have landed as a top ten U.S. marathon racer?
NR Some of the benefits of running my first marathon at age thirty-one is that I am mature mentally to do this and I’m mature physically to do this. It takes a lot of both to be a successful marathon runner and to have a good, long, successful marathon career. I believe I do have nine or ten more years in the field. There are quite a few marathon runners who start right after college, when they are young, and they have one particularly good performance and then they can never get there again. It could be because mentally they cannot handle it or that it is mentally tough on their body or that they get injured. I had a chance to become a good all-around athlete competing in triathlons and obstacle course races and doing strength training to get where I am, and it has helped boost my big aerobic engine. It is a big benefit that I am fresh and excited, and I have a long road ahead of me.
GCR: Most marathon runners, female and male, have a similar body type that is ultra-thin and can become fragile and prone to injury. Do you feel that you are giving some credence to breaking the mold by your cross training and slightly more muscular and strong build?
NR I sure hope so. One of my big purposes that fuels my fire is that I do show people that you do not have to have that classic thin body type, run tons of miles and do things one way. I would like to show people not by speaking, but by showing and doing and being successful that you can do things your way and you do not have to fit the mold.
GCR: When you decided to train for a strong marathon in 2018 in advance of preparing for your foray into Ironman triathlon racing, could you have imagined the success you would have in your first marathon when you were aiming for a sub-2:40 or a sub-2:35 and popped a 2:31?
NR When I was training for that marathon and looking at the numbers, even without having done a marathon, I kind of knew based on what other women were doing that I kind of knew where I would be against them. My long run numbers and my threshold run numbers had my goals going into it as a ‘B’ goal of 2:37 and my ‘A’ goal would be where I was fairly certain that I could break 2:35. What I did not know was that that was fast. I had not dived into the world of marathons to know what was competitive and what was not and what was impressive. My thoughts were just coming from a logical point of view. When I finished, I was thinking, ‘That was good.’ But as each day went by and I talked to more and more people, I realized how good that was.
GCR: Your training at the time was balanced between cycling, swimming, running and weight training. Could you take us through how your training changed focus in the three to six months before the 2018 California International Marathon?
NR The only thing I did differently compared to the training I had been doing since college is that I threw in four 20-mile runs. Training was basically the same.
GCR: Were you coaching yourself or was your father, Ric Rojas, who is a great runner and coach, working with you and exchanging training ideas through that time period?
NR He was definitely coaching me. I am a coach also and learned a lot from him. He listens to my input. We have conversations where I say what I think, but he still writes the training program.
GCR: How difficult is it to separate the father-daughter relationship and the athlete-coach relationship when you work with your father and to balance each of your training ideas?
NR It is very good now. It has been tricky in the past. There was a time when I was a professional triathlete where he was coaching me and then we were kind of coaching me together. I was kind of his assistant coach, but he was my dad and that was extremely hard. There was a period where we did not talk for a year because we got in an argument, but we worked it out and all is good now. The relationship is better than it could ever be, and I am incredibly happy with it.
GCR: Since CIM was your first marathon and you mentioned your goals which topped out at sub-2:35, can you relate your race strategy and then how you adjusted during the race based on how you were feeling and also when you were racing much faster than anticipated?
NR When I went into that race, my dad and I had a long-term, big picture goal. My dad told me that he wanted me to just jog it and to get a feel for what a marathon was. He is the one that has always believed in me and he told me that I could have a ten-year career at the marathon distance and that I should start easy and have a strong finish. He did not want me to have a bad experience like a classic bonk at twenty miles. He wanted me to start out at 6:30 pace, but he also knew that would be impossible. I started easy and my first mile was a 6:10 or 6:15. I tried to hold back as much as possible and to go easy. What happened just past the 10k point was that I got into a group of this pack of guys. There were twelve or thirteen of them and they also happened to be from Boulder. I got in the group and we kept picking it up and picking it up and picking it up. I felt good the whole time. At one point a guy who was ahead of me looked to the guy who was next to me and said, ‘What is your goal for this race?’ He said, ‘2:30.’ I was thinking, ‘Oh no. I am in the wrong group.’ That was around halfway. I looked behind me and there was no one there. I thought, ‘Well, this is my gang and I’m going to stay with this group because, if not, I will be on my own.’ I kept picking it up and I negative split the last half of the race. My last 5k was my fastest. My mom and my dad were both there watching. They would be at different spots along the way. My mom said afterward that my dad looked down during the race and was extremely nervous. ‘She’s going too fast. She’s going too fast.’ But he said that I looked good. He told me later that past twenty miles I still looked strong and he calmed down a bit.
GCR: After dropping that 2:31 time, was there any question that Ironman training would be postponed, and you would switch immediate focus to the marathon?
NR That happened within seconds. I thought, ‘Oh thank God I don’t have to do an Ironman.’
GCR: What did you do over the next six months to get stronger through more miles, tougher tempo runs, hills and speed work to get ready for the 2019 Grandma’s Marathon which would be your second marathon?
NR I told my dad that I was ready to get faster and to do this. He said, ‘We’re not changing anything.’ I said, ‘What? Dad, I know I can run more mileage.’ But he said, ‘No, that worked, you looked great, your form was great, and you looked strong. You could have run faster. You have more experience now under your belt. We’re going with the same plan.’ It was basically the same exact pan. I probably ran a few miles more per week because I did and didn’t tell him.
GCR: He is going to find out now!
NR (laughing) I think he knew!
GCR: As a prep race, you won the Bolder Boulder 10k forty years after your father won the inaugural race. How cool was this and especially when you were passed late in the race and had to sprint and kick to retake the lead and to win?
NR I am glad it happened like that. I thought I had the race in the bag because I hadn’t seen any other women and fans were cheering for me. But they were saying, ‘Go girls,’ with a plural. I was thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got this.’ Then, right when I turned left into the stadium with 300 meters to go, this woman passed me, and my heart just sank immediately. I thought, ‘I guess I’ll just win in another year.’ This all happened in a split second. Then I thought, ‘No! You’ve got to do this now.’ I won by only zero point one second. The Bolder Boulder race to me has been a lifelong dream. My dad won the first race and I was so proud of him when I was growing up. That was a huge deal with dad beating Frank Shorter and it was kind of our family’s claim to fame in Boulder. Winning the race showed me that I followed that dream for thirty years and achieved it. That is insane. It meant a lot.
GCR: Back to the marathon, could you take us through the first half of Grandma’s Marathon, how you were feeling and assessing your competition and when you mentally moved from racing strong for a fast time to racing for the win?
NR I approached that race kind of knowing what I was capable of through my training. I knew I could run 5:40s and had no doubts of running 5:40 miles (interviewer note – 5:40 pace = 2:28:28). I did not know if that would produce a win, but I hoped that it would produce a top three or top five finish. The first half I focused on myself, my splits every mile and staying relaxed. What happened is that when water stations came everyone would separate and get their bottles. Guys would go to the left and girls to the right and we would all come back and regain our group. About halfway through I came back to hook up with the group and there was no group.
GCR: What did you do the rest of the way since you didn’t have the lead group of women together after that?
NR From then on there was me and this guy I had run CIM with. I knew he was trying to run the exact same pace as me. We had done one training session together in Boulder. He’s about six feet, five inches tall and I said, ‘Can I just run behind you? I’ll buy you dinner.’ And he said, ‘sure.’ A couple miles later he started slowing down and I asked him why. He said, ‘I just can’t keep the pace,’ and he dropped off. I had about ten plus miles running alone. There was a broadcaster in the car in front of me and I could hear most of the commentary she was saying. I kind of knew that I was gaining the lead and gaining more of the lead. At that point I kept thinking of the Bolder Boulder and how I thought I had it in the bag and I did not. So, I just kept running scared like there was a woman about to pass me at any second. I ran as hard as I could into the finish.
GCR: When did you take a glance back, maybe in the last quarter mile, and know you were going to win, take in the crowd and then how exciting was it to break the tape?
NR I honestly looked back but didn’t believe I could relax. That Bolder Boulder race was terrifying, so I just sprinted. Breaking the tape was exciting. It was new for me, but very logical.
GCR: Was it a bit surreal to be on the podium in a fast time of 2:28:06?
NR I think that while I have been going through this process, I didn’t realize that it was a big deal. I knew that I had won a marathon, but I didn’t realize that 2:28 was that fast. I was just thinking, ‘Okay, cool!’
GCR: With another six-month preparation period before the Olympic Trials Marathon, what was similar and different in your training as you readied for the Olympic Trials?
NR It was basically the same program with a quicker pace. I did not realize that until I looked back at my training logs. Whoa! I was running quicker, but it was the same program.
GCR: When you toed the line in Atlanta for the Olympic Trials, what was your strategy and what were your ‘A’ and ‘A+’ goals?
NR My ‘A+’ goal was to make the team. I would say that my ‘A’ goal was top five. Obviously, my goal was to make the team but, after that, I wanted to run a good race, a solid race and to see where that put me. Approaching the race was not like approaching my first two marathons where they were fast races and I was running for time. It was running for place on a hard course. There was a lot of running off instinct because I couldn’t plan that. I didn’t know what other runners were going to do. I did know that if someone went off the front very fast that I was not going to go with them. I wanted to always be in contact with the lead pack and that worked out well for me. The leaders went out very appropriately for me and it was slow the first couple miles. I had to see what other runners were doing and try to race.
GCR: There was a large pack before the racing got a bit more intense in the last 10k. How did this first twenty miles of the race develop for you, was there anything unexpected that transpired and how did you handle the winding up of the race?
NR I knew it was going to happen because I felt like we were running very comfortably the whole way. I was surprised there were only thirteen of us in the lead pack for most of the race. I didn’t understand because there were many women that I had raced half marathons against who had beaten me, and they were not in the pack for some reason. I was surprised how easy and how slow it was for the first fifteen miles. Classically, at twenty miles was when the moves happened. Nothing happened before then. The second we hit twenty miles a couple women went, a couple women died, and a couple just stayed. That was the moment I was completely depleted of glycogen. I had never felt that before and learned that lesson. It was my third marathon, but my nutrition did not go well. I ate probably half the calories I had eaten in each of the first two marathons. It felt like people had told me it felt. One second I was feeling good, and the next second my whole body was just done. The last 10k I just told myself, ‘Keep moving forward.’
GCR: Though you didn’t hit your ‘A’ or ‘A+’ goal, other top runners like Jordan Hasay and Molly Huddle didn’t either, so not everyone had a great race. How were you feeling physical afterward and then mentally as you look back at your ninth-place finish?
NR The moment I finished I was incredibly happy. I was ecstatic. Ninth – that was great. I was ninth in the country and that was amazing. Then, as the days went on, I analyzed the race more and more, and I could have done better. It was not my day. The women that made the team put it all together and it was their day. They had great days, but it could have been any of us having a great day. As time passed longer and longer, I felt that I learned a good lesson but, if I had one more marathon under my belt at that caliber, it would have been a different day. I would have approached it differently since I would have learned more lessons beforehand. Now, I will not say I’m disappointed. I am happy with it and I’m excited for my next marathon.
GCR: We’ve jumped right into your recent foray into the marathon, but let’s take a journey back through your participation and competition in sports starting as a youth and through high school and college so we get an understanding of the building blocks of your fitness. In what sports did you compete as a child and young teenager before you entered high school?
NR I was a soccer player like every other little kid. I was a decent soccer player. I started playing basketball in fifth grade and basketball was my passion. I liked it and I excelled at it. I loved practicing. I also ice skated. I ran the four-week track season in middle school but did not run otherwise at all. I high school I started running. I was talented, but not crazy talented.
GCR: In high school did you consider yourself primarily a runner who played basketball or a basketball player who also ran?
NR My freshman and sophomore years of high school I was a basketball player and a runner equally. My junior and senior years I got more serious about running and less serious about basketball, mainly because I got relatively worse at basketball as I was shorter than most of the other girls.
GCR: You were a solid performer in high school with times of 5:18 for 1,600 meters, 2:18 for 800 meters and 18:11 for 5k in cross-country but were not an upper echelon runner. How would you describe your high school competitiveness and racing?
NR I would say it was anticlimactic. Nowadays, I am a private high school running coach, but it wasn’t like that for me. I did not run during the summers or winters. In the winters I played basketball. In the summers I travelled and had fun. I did not reach my potential, but I walked onto Northern Arizona University’s distance running program which ended up being spectacular for me.
GCR: What were some highlight races for you in high school in cross-country or track where you raced well in a big invitational or upset somebody that you or others didn’t think you could beat?
NR There is a big cross country meet for Colorado, New Mexico and Utah called the Liberty Bell. It is a fast course and that is where I ran my 18:11. I was third behind the Kaltenbach girls, who were national champions at the time. I was neck and neck with Katelyn Kaltenbach, who was my age, and she outkicked me. That was my best high school race.
GCR: How did you decide to go to Northern Arizona University – was it the academics, athletics, coach or a combination?
NR My dad encouraged me to look at NAU because he knew it was a good school for running and he saw my potential. And I wanted to run in college. We went and checked NAU out and I liked it, though I didn’t love it. We talked to the coach and he said I could be a walk on to his team. He said he did not expect a lot from me though. I love Boulder and NAU has a similar climate, four seasons, beautiful running trails and that is why I picked NAU.
GCR: Could you tell us about your coach and what he did to change your training program and to step it up compared to your program in high school?
NR I had Coach Hayes who was a great coach and I liked having him when I started my freshman year. I had a breakthrough my freshman year. I bumped up my mileage and was running fifty of sixty miles a week instead of twenty-five or thirty. There was a serious structure that would not let me goof off.
GCR: We always try to score for our team in conference championships. Did you feel like a good contributor right off the bat since during your freshman year you scored in two Big Sky Conference events in both the indoor and outdoor seasons? And how was it doing so as a walk on athlete?
NR I think what happened is that when I got to NAU I was having more success than some of the girls who had had amazing high school running careers. That kind of fueled me. I wanted to travel, and I wanted to go to the meets. That first year I started out seventh on the cross-country team and moved up to be a scorer in fifth place. I also found the steeplechase that year as an event I was good at from the start. So, that was fun.
GCR: When we flash forward a couple years, how big a year was 2009 when you won the Big Sky Conference 5,000-meter run and took second place in the 3,000 meters indoors before winning the steeplechase and finishing fourth in the 5,000 meters outdoors? And what were the highlights of those two victories?
NR It was fun knowing that I was the favorite to win races and it was exciting. In the steeplechase I was in the lead by a lot the whole time. In the indoor 5k it was extremely exciting because I beat some of my teammates that I looked up to and who I thought were amazing runners. I outkicked my teammates in the 5k and to beat them was a highlight.
GCR: How exciting was it to represent Northern Arizona at the NCAA Championships, which you did twice in cross country and once in outdoor track and field in the steeplechase?
NR That was a big deal. That is hard to get there. To qualify was exciting. In track I remember being very, very nervous because I hadn’t been at that level. I do not think I handled the nerves that well when I was that young. In cross-country it was fun. When I went to NAU there was a feeling by the runners that it was a normal thing to make it to Nationals.
GCR: When we look at how you raced in cross country, in the steeplechase during track season and then after college in triathlons and obstacle course races, do you have perhaps a unique blend of toughness that suits you especially well in the marathon?
NR People say that I am really tough. Even those I know very well like my mom and my friends. I don’t feel like I am that tough and I don’t think about it. That did bother my some leading up to the Olympic Trials Marathon because some people would say, ‘I think you’re going to make the team because you’re tough.’ I would think, ‘Am I tough? I’d better be tough.’ I guess what it means is that I have always been tough. This characteristic that isn’t even an option and is a part of who I am means I must be tough.
GCR: After a good college running career, your pathway included competing in endurance events and coaching triathletes and runners. What are the primary tenets of your coaching program and what have you learned from coaching others that has helped you to be a better athlete?
NR When I coach people a couple things are very important for them to understand. We look at the long-term goal. A lot of runners come to me and say, ‘I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon.’ So, I want to look at where they are, and often they are a long way away. I tell them, ‘You may not qualify this year. You may not qualify next year. It may be three or four years down the line.’ It is important to be patient. I have to explain that to them. They must enjoy training and be positive about running. It is so easy not to be. As you know, running has to be a positive in your life because it is hard. They also must do strength training and cross-train to be more of a well-rounded athlete. I do believe as an athlete and with my experiences in coaching that it will help in the long run for runners to excel. My dad and I also emphasize that when we step to the starting line it is better to be slightly undertrained and then to overperform rather then stepping to the line over trained or injured. Less is better than more, and you have to listen to your body.
GCR: What do you feel is the relative importance of quality versus quantity in training and trying to achieve the right balance?
NR I am all about quality. I think people get wrapped up in mileage numbers, and they are just numbers. A lot of times the benefit a runner gets is not worth the risk when going out and running a hundred miles a week just because the elite athlete that runner looks up to is running a hundred miles a week. I’m a big believer in speedwork, even for marathon. I believe it can translate very well versus running tons of miles and beating up your body.
GCR: What do you do to tweak your health, fitness and training to help you as an athlete, and also those you coach, to stay on the right side of what I like to call the Two I’s – improvement versus injury, which is a fine balance?
NR I am a strong advocate of strength training as people who follow me know. I do a lot of strength training and I don’t believe that any runner, if they want to compete well, can get away with no strength training and only running. So, strength training is the first thing I emphasize. Next is to listen to your body and not only to your coach. You are the only person who knows how you feel, so you should take a day off every once in a while when you are way over trained and you couldn’t sleep well or you are stressed for some reason. Take a day off. It is well worth it and will be good in the long run.
GCR: With the increased knowledge in recent years of the science of training to race faster and improved nutrition, are there refinements that you are executing differently in training compared to what your father’s generation did that are helping you and those you coach to be more successful as racers?
NR Nutrition is an area that has improved. My dad jokes that Frank Shorter and he would eat a big pastry after their long runs. They would have a croissant. Recovery is much better nowadays because we know that we need to get protein and carbs. I don’t know how much strength training my dad did during his racing years, but when I was growing up, he did it with me. He has been strength training now for a long time, but probably wasn’t doing so much during his prime running years. So, strength training has improved. That is a very recent big boom in running.
GCR: How important is the mental part of training and racing and developing skills during speedwork or hills or negative split workouts to enhance the ability to endure increasing levels of discomfort?
NR Pacing is something that many runners either do not want to do or do not understand or just don’t get. One reason I am successful is that I pace well. I am not scared to hold back the first half of a marathon and I have proven that is a good way to race. That is how I finish strong. Running is very mental and takes a lot of maturity to handle the mental aspect of running and to put it in perspective. It is all about perspective and understanding that races are data points and we learn from them. We try to execute our plan the best we can do but should not freak out and start out too hard.
GCR: How difficult is it to find a balance between coaching others to reach their potential and still taking the necessary time for your own training and recovery, especially if an increasing number of athletes are requesting your coaching services?
NR It has been very tough finding that balance. Before my recent success in the last year of marathoning, I was hustling hard to build my coaching. And I had a strength training gym. I was out all day running with clients. I could run with five clients in a row. I was doing whatever I could to build my business. When I decided that I could not have all these clients in a row if I was going to have success, especially when the Olympic Trials were approaching, I knew I had to do something. I restructured what I do, and I am still figuring it out. More of my coaching is online now which means I am not seeing as many runners for one-on-one sessions. I’m also coaching a group track session with all of my athletes and I’m coaching runners through Training Peaks. I am doing much better with it now.
GCR: You mentioned that you do some private coaching of high school athletes and I can relate as I did that from about 2008 to 2014 and I found it interesting due to the varying levels of acceptance by the coaches. What do you find in that arena where parents are hiring you to help their kids do their best and improve their chances to get a college scholarship while coaches either welcome you, are so-so or don’t want you there helping at all?
NR First, when my dad started coaching privately in the 1980s, he had a winter group of high school runners he helped. He is well-hated by coaches in this area. It is hard because there are a handful of kids who are super-talented, they have the motivation and they want to do well. Then there are the high school coaches who are pushing a hundred plus runners and they do not have the time to spend one-on-one with runners to give them the extra edge. They do not have the time because all these kids have so many questions or don’t know if they are doing something right. The coaches are not giving them splits to hit or other tactics and help they need. The kids come to us and we have decided that they should be able to be as good as they are going to be. They reach out to us. I understand the coaches getting upset about us helping, but they do not have the capacity and these kids want to get better. It is a fine line to balance, but I try to be as respectful as possibly while also helping as many kids as I can. What is strange is that, if we look at any other sport, club coaches and club teams are not just accepted, but are expected. Running is the one sport where it is almost totally taboo.
GCR: I would like to ask one more question looking back at your running career before we look ahead. Even though you have only been a road racer for less than two years, you have ran some fast half marathons and placed in the top ten at Falmouth just ahead of Desi Linden. What stands out from some of these other races as far as competition, tactics and getting to know your strengths and areas where you can improve?
NR At all the shorter race distances below a marathon I have huge room for improvement. That will help my marathon. If you compare me to my marathon competitors and look at their 5ks, 10ks and half marathons, the shorter the race, the faster they are than me. All the shorter races will be to help my training for the marathon.
GCR: What are your plans for the next few years as far as marathon racing, other distances, possibly racing your first Ironman triathlon and then aiming for the 2024 Olympic Trials Marathon?
NR An Ironman triathlon is something I want to do, and I wish there were more time in the day and life was a little bit longer so that I could fit all that in. We never know what is going to happen, but I will probably focus on marathons for the next four years at least.
GCR: When we review the top competitors in marathon racing and Ironman triathlon, is it possible that you have the talent, drive and dedication to finish in the top three at the 2024 Olympic Trials Marathon and make the Olympic team and then to also place in the top three in the Hawaii Ironman triathlon?
NR That would be awesome. I think ‘Yes.’ I don’t see why not. You are the first person to ask me that. I would have to bike more.
GCR: As we recover from the coronavirus pandemic what, all things considered, will possibly be your next marathon?
NR If the 2020 Boston Marathon is run in September, then I will do it. If not, probably Chicago, but I don’t know. We’ll see.
GCR: What advice do you have for younger runners in middle school and high school to improve consistency, minimize injuries and reach their potential while also making running a lifetime sport?
NR My biggest point for both of those age groups is to have fun. Don’t put tons of pressure on yourself. You do not want to peak in high school. You do not even want to peak in college. Middle schoolers have thirty years remaining of very good running in them. Have fun and play different sports. That helped me. And start working on strength training.
GCR: Reflect on when you speak to individuals or groups about the major lessons you have learned during your life from working to achieve academically and athletically, the discipline of running and endurance sports, the patience of training many years with a goal, and coping with adversity that can help them to succeed. What can you to share with my readers?
NR One thing that Desi Linden says is, ‘you just have to keep showing up.’ All runners are going to have good days and bad days. The way I look at this is that both are just as beneficial. I like my bad days. I get more out of them than if those days had been good days. As long as we keep showing up, we never know what is going to happen.
  Inside Stuff
Hobbies/Interests I have always been a traveler and like to travel. I like to eat. Eating is number one
Nicknames My dad called me ‘Sweetie Piper’ and my mom called me ‘Shbubby.’ My brothers and I call each other ‘Smith’ and most of my best friends also call me ‘Smith’
Favorite movies I don’t watch many new movies. I do like comedies. My favorite movie is ‘Elf’
Favorite TV shows I like ‘Friends’
TV reality show dream Whatever is the one for tough people. My mom watches ‘American Ninja Warrior’ and, if I were able to do that, it would be awesome
Favorite music I am mainly into mellow music. I like Joshua Radin. I also like punk rap music
Favorite books I just finished the last Harry Potter book last night. That was part of my plan to relax me and to calm me down before the Olympic Trials. I started the first Harry Potter book and read them all and would say they were amazing
First cars I have had crappy cars my whole life. My first car was a Honda Accord. It was dented an all twenty sides of it. Then I had a Honda Civic that was a two-door car. It was even more dented and no one else could sit in it. It felt terrible
Current car Now I have a Honda Element that I love. It is good for training and hauling equipment around
First Job I worked at Glacier Home Made Ice Cream which is a local shop. I ate so much ice cream. I became lactose intolerant for a time from eating so much ice cream there
Memorable Halloween costumes My favorite is when we did ‘Three Blind Mice.’ I like partners. ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ was fun because we were wearing roller blades. I cannot believe they let us into bars with those on
Family My parents are both great. They are amazing. They love me and spark me. Somehow, I got very lucky and have the best family ever. I will say that, but other people say that too. My parents did a great job of raising us. I have one brother, Jeff, who is so different. He is not the average person who is systemic and follows the trends. He finds what he likes, and he is funny and smart and is an awesome person who makes me believe that you can do your own thing and be happy. My other brother, Enrico Robert, is a professor at NYU. He is very driven and very smart. He is a biologist and a physicist. When you speak with him, he is a philosopher and a humanitarian and knows about everything. He also likes to party. My brothers have had the biggest influence on me because I look up to who they are. I love to follow in their footsteps
Pets I finally got a dog before the Olympic Trials in November. Her name is ‘Babs.’ She is awesome and a very good dog, though it was stressful to get her before the Trials. I don’t know why I decided to do that
Favorite breakfast I am a protein lover, so I like eggs and bacon and sausage with toast and veggies
Favorite meals : I like everything, but I love a good homemade pizza. I love food with curry and any Thai, Indian or Mexican food. I grew up eating a lot of Mexican food. My dad cooks good Mexican food
Favorite beverages Coffee
First running memory Since my dad was a well-known coach in Boulder, I got to go to some practices and stayed by the high jump mat. I remember running a relay race with a friend and she was so slow that I knew we were going to lose the race
Athletic heroes When I was growing up, my running hero was my dad. I was always very proud of his accomplishments in running. Michael Jordan – because I was a baller. He was basically on every spot of every wall in my room. I also looked up to Mia Hamm, the soccer player. Those were my three heroes when I was growing up. Now in running I am a big fan of Des Linden. I like what she stands for, I like her mottos and I think she is an awesome person
Greatest running moments We have mentioned a lot of them. Winning Big Sky Conference races, especially that indoor conference 5k, was important to me. Making it to Nationals was also important to me. The one that kind of jump started my recent running success was when I ran the Rock ‘n Roll Half marathon in Denver before I ran the California International Marathon. I only ran a 1:15 but to me that was very good. A lot of times you can double your altitude half marathon to predict your marathon time six weeks later. So, that was important. And each marathon I have run has been such a learning curve and so important to my running career. The Bolder Boulder 10k win was the best thing that happened
Greatest triathlon or OCR moments In my first obstacle race I won. There wasn’t too much competition for me, but I did win five grand. That inspired me to do more. In my second race it was the Tough Mudder World Championship. There was this woman, Lindsay Webster, who won everything and probably made a hundred fifty grand a year. I was second to her by a couple seconds. That was great. Then, in my first Spartan race I was against one of the world’s best OCR racers and I beat her in our first race against each other. I started thinking that, if she were that good, I could probably be that good
Greatest coaching moments I cry all the time when my racers race well or do not. Marlena Preigh last year won the 800 meters at Simplot which is a big high school track meet in Pocatello, Idaho. She basically time-trialed and earned a scholarship to go anywhere. There are so many moments though that are important in different ways
Worst racing moments I have them all the time, but I am trying to think of memorable down races. My last OCR race was a Spartan race and I had just beaten Nicole Mericle and people were saying, ‘Nell is going to be a big deal in the obstacle course racing world. Oh my God, this is her first series race – her first Spartan. I got there and was kind of sick and I was flat. I was thinking that I shouldn’t even be there. I was just not ever going to have a good race that day. I did about one hundred and fifty burpees in that race because for every obstacle that you fall off you have to do thirty burpees. I fell off nearly all of them and was running about eleven-minute pace
Childhood dreams In the middle school era, I would be in the WNBA or the Olympics. In high school I wanted to be in the Olympics
Worst date ever This surgeon had just moved to Boulder and I think he was being insecure about not being too athletic. If you come to Boulder, almost everyone is an athlete and looks like an athlete. He kept telling me, ‘I’m not an athlete’ and ‘I don’t like athletes.’ Then I had to drive around in his Tesla with him forever and I got sick. It was terrible because they go from zero to a hundred miles per hour and I got sick
Funny memories One in college I remember is only about ten days before our college cross country conference championship and someone decided to have a party. The whole team went to a party and the next day we had a long run. We drove down the mountain to Sedona on this windy road and people were throwing up. The alcohol intake was very apparent. Someone peed their pants. It was so obvious. When we got there, our coach started reaming into us. That comes up a lot. What were we thinking? Why couldn’t we just wait ten days?
Favorite places to travel I am so lucky that I can go to Arizona. I love going to Sedona. I love New Mexico and had my favorite childhood memories there. I love the food there. We will go for a weekend and enjoy New Mexican food. Outside the U.S., Nepal has been my favorite. It is amazing. I would love to go back