CRC: Let’s start right off with the highlight of the season. What was it like to qualify as a team for the NCAA championships? This is the third time in team history for the OSU women to punch that ticket. How does it feel to be part of something historic for Buckeye XC?
Abby Nichols: This season has been so exciting for our whole team. Right from camp at the beginning of the season, something felt different to all of us about this year. The new freshman brought a lot of good energy and our returners looked so much stronger than ever before. We always know going into a season that we can’t play around in our conference or region because they are the most competitive. There’s been so many “almosts” in the past and we finally put it together better than ever this year. It was really special for all of us to be a part of Buckeye XC history.
CRC: When you step up to the line at NCAAs, against the best in the country, what's your mindset? How do you mentally prep for that challenge?
AN: When I step up to the line at NCAAs, my mindset is the same as any other race. I earned that spot on the line, so I know I belong there. Because it is a bigger stage, the atmosphere around you is a little more intense, but inside my head it’s the same. Honestly, the more that you overthink any race, the more overwhelming it will be. I try to keep things simple.
I mentally prep myself by visualizing the race in my head a few days leading up to the race so that on race day I don’t have to think about it until I’m living it out. This means visualizing different scenarios, because the race RARELY goes the way you would dream it to on a perfect day.
At nationals there is incredible competition and insanely talented individuals. It would be easy to get there and spiral into thinking that they have something that you don’t. If you want to be at the top at nationals, you can’t afford to think like that. I know they are no different from me, so that gives me confidence on that line. Every day or any race could be the one that you take off. I’ve had those days and races to get to where I am now, and I know there will be more! So, every race I prepare my mind to be calm enough to be at my best that day, which could be “that race.”
CRC: Stepping back earlier in the season, OSU hosted the Big 10 championships. There were 8 nationally ranked teams in the conference at the time. How does the competitive Big 10 field prepare you for regionals and nationals? And what was it like racing the conference meet here in Columbus on home turf?
AN: Our conference and region helps our team get used to competitive and difficult races. With that experience, it helps everyone on the team see what part of the race they need to work on. It also helps to have experience being in the middle of a pack, so later in the season you don’t get lost in the numbers.
It was so special having conference on our own turf. We were practicing out there before the sun was up, and having that in the back of our minds while we raced helped us fight. I’m so proud of the race our team put together at home, and all the support we had from Columbus and our school was so amazing.
It personally hit really close to home for me because I knew that my dad raced on that golf course in high school. I also grew up going to my grandparents’ house right across the street from the course. I knew I was home and though I didn’t quite place to my expectations, I couldn’t have been happier with who I was surrounded by between my family and team at home.
CRC: Tell us about your early running days. You were a multi-time Div II state champ for Alter. Did you start running in high school or earlier?
AN: I did “Munchkin” track and CYO when I was a young kid, and the talent for running peaked out a little then. Later, all of the running I did was for gymnastics warmups. One day at gymnastics, a father in the gym asked me if I was a runner. It stuck with me ever since, that the way I ran moved a stranger to ask me that.
Fast forward to freshman year, my best friend and I decided to do track. We lasted three days of what we thought was torture before we quit, laughing about why we’d ever like running track! Well, I ended up being disappointed at my laziness that spring, so I decided I would try again.
First track practice as a sophomore, I got dropped in a distance run so badly, I thought about quitting again. But I couldn’t be a quitter twice! I kept showing up and it slowly got a little easier. I lined up for the first 800 of the season and shocked myself when I won. Right away, the team started to realize that we could put together a really good 4x800. After dropping time every meet, we won state that year, and I podiumed for the open 800.
After that track season, the coaches convinced me to try cross country. I wasn’t planning on doing it because I cheered football in the fall, but they helped me work it out. Friday night lights and Saturday cross country meets became the norm. Then as my potential became more clear, I retired from cheering on the sidelines.
It was a domino effect from there, I was hooked on improving and competing. The girls on my team were so fun and loved being active. My coaches at Alter were so kind and helped create that atmosphere of joy around the sport. I feel like God was always guiding me down this road to run without me realizing it. When I run, I feel like I’m meant for it. When I’m sprinting down that last stretch, I feel like I can do anything! It was as simple as that and still is.
CRC: What led you to OSU XC?
AN: The race that really changed my future was the state mile, junior year. The race went down to the wire and I gave it everything, but finished runner-up. To my surprise I received an email from Coach Vergote because she saw something in me in that race and she wanted me to visit.
That next fall, I had it down to two schools. My dad wanted to do a coin toss to help me decide and he said, “Which is heads?” With the most confidence I had through the whole process, I told him, “Ohio State!” and we didn’t even flip the coin because the decision was already obvious by my choice for heads!
CRC: The average runner really has no idea what goes into elite level NCAA training. Could you break down a basic week? What kind of mileage and workouts are you doing?
AN: The average week mid season for me and most of the distance team looks like a pretty light first day of the week, a tempo/strength workout, a medium long run, an easy recovery day, another workout that serves a different purpose than the first (maybe intervals for speed), a long run day, then an off day.
Some seasons our off day is in the middle of the calendar week, other seasons it’s the end. For the women who do higher mileage, we do doubles a few times a week in the morning or evening depending which time of day practice is. Usually, strides are done at the end of easy days and long runs. We all do different mileage depending on what works best for us or what we need to do to stay healthy. Some of the women do 30 miles a week, while others thrive off of 70.
CRC: Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring runners who are chasing big goals of their own? What does it take to break through to that next level?
AN: For an aspiring runner chasing big goals, I would say that a goal should never be a burden, but something positive. I see some runners make their goals so big and heavy that it creates problems in their life and keeps them so restrained that they aren’t enjoying themselves. A goal should be something that you enjoy working towards because the process makes you happy or proud of yourself.
To break through to the next level, I think it takes a quiet confidence - confidence in your abilities, potential, training, reason for doing what you’re doing, just a humble confidence. There will be workouts or races that make you feel defeated, but that shouldn’t break the confidence you have. The path to success takes so many baby steps and road blocks, so persistence and patience in going after that goal is key.