Matt Baum (flrunners.com): Chris, you just came off of a huge cross country season. Which was quite an improvement from the 2001 season. Can you tell us what you did differently to be so successful?
Chris Nickinson: I made a big leap in my training last spring. Previously I had been running only about 40 miles a week, and I was taking somewhere around three or four days off every month. A long run for me up until that point was 8 miles. By the end of the fall I was closer to 50 miles a week, with a long run 10-12 miles on Sunday mornings. I also stepped up the intensity by training with AJ Wilson (Florida State Freshman) 3 or 4 times a week, but I wasn't doing everything he did. Coach Whiteside [Coach at Booker T. Washington] basically had me do a modified version of what he would do. Before this I would just have to work harder in the normal workouts and runs that I did with my teammates, but that can be a challenge when you don't have something to compare yourself with. It wasn't until this year that Coach Whiteside stepped up to the plate and helped out when our super Sophomore Eric Mayes went down with a knee injury during our first workout. I was actually trying to keep up with Eric and Whiteside, if you can believe that.
MB: You ran two excellent races at the State Meet and at Footlocker South. What did you do to prepare yourself for those two races?
Fav Food: Spicey chicken sandwich and crawfish poboy
Future Goals: Make lots of money, so I can retire at the age of 40.
As for the Footlocker race, I was really happy with that performance. I ran it the year before with a time of 16:56, and was determined to place better. I was aiming for a top 40 finish, but I didn't get a good start, and anybody who has raced in the seeded race at McAlpine knows that you need a good start. The first mile was chaos. I really wish I was the size of Steve Hassen because I saw him come barreling down the right side of the pack like a freight train, and it seemed like nobody was giving him a problem. As for my self, I quickly found a familiar face in Jeff Masterson, and I just hung with him until he got away after the downhill. By the way, he ran a awesome race. After the downhill I just ran until I had nothing left.
MB: So what have you been doing after the cross country season?
CN: I took a week off. I did the typical runner stuff. I guess Chris Solinsky wrapped it up perfectly by saying he was trying to get fat. When I started back I spent three weeks just going through the motions. I only ran about 20-25 miles a week those weeks, and with the exception of a local road race that most of the guys on the team does, the first weeks were really easy. After that I slowly began picking up the pace and distance. I find running road races is a good way of keeping a tab on progression. I try to run one every two weeks or so until track starts. They are generally ones that I ran back in middle school. My training really accelerated when I got a voice mail about 4 weeks ago from AJ asking me if I wanted to run a mile in Gainesville on the 9th. At the time I had been planning on running in the Pensacola Double Bridge Run. I had run the 5k the year before, and I'll give a little secret. The course is short. Way short. So, just incase anybody is wondering why I ran my supposed 5k pr in January of 11th grade, that is why. Anyways, I hadn't decided if I was going to race the 5k or use the 15k as a long distance tempo/fartlek type run, but it didn't matter. Eleven days before the race in Gainesville I did my first "real" workout of the year. The week had already been long because the Sunday before I ran 13 mile with AJ and Joep Tichealgaar while I was in Tallahassee. The workout called for a fast mile on the track, a tempo run, and another fast mile on the track. The workout was really for Coach Whiteside because he was running the 15k but he gave me the green light to do the full workout. We ran our first mile in 4:40, ten seconds faster than he had planned(and yes, the master took it out too fast, and the learner tried to slow him down to no avail). I did a three mile tempo on our old course at UWF with Eric. The course is probably one of the toughest in the state because of the long hills and ditch that must be crossed. We ran it in 17 minutes, and because I couldn't wait for Whiteside, who was on a five mile tempo run, I went ahead and ran the last mile on the track by myself. I ran it in 4:38. The week got longer as I ran 8 on Friday with some of the guys at Alabama, and the another 10 or so with them the next morning. Other than running I have taken time to go sailing with my family on my grandparents boat when weather permits and I'm able.
MB: Recently you raced in the High School Elite Mile at the University of Florida against some of Florida?s best prep milers. You ran a tremendous race there placing 4th with a personal best 4:24.38. Can you bring us through that race?
CN: I didn't really know what to expect from that race. I figured that I could run abut 4:25 outdoors at the time, but since it was my first time going indoors, I didn't know how I would do. I expected the pace to be fast, and that it was. Coach Whiteside gave me some great advice as to running indoors, and specifically at Florida. I got a lucky break when I was put in the last starting lane. I knew that the worst thing for someone of my size was to get boxed in early. I had a little trouble negotiating Paul Cross's spikes and the giant behind me in Steve Hassen, but by the 3rd lap, I think, I was able to get to the inside and just let the race take me along. I, too, was confused by the lap counter's mistake, but I overcame that by looking at the clock. I saw that the time was 3:30 or so and put two and two together and realized that I had one more lap to go. Most of the race itself is a blur, but the with half a lap to go I noticed that Ryder and Paul were within striking distance. Alex Miletich came from behind me, and the two of us went right past both of them. I was a little upset that Alex beat me, but he is going to be a madman next year. Besides, how many people can say that they kicked down the nations best half miler in the last 75 meters or so? It's a shame that the officials made a mistake, but you've got to use that to your advantage. That just goes to show how important it is to be aware of your surroundings. Of course, now that I've said this I'm sure Paul won't let me beat him again. Oh, well. I guess I'll have to run even faster next time we meet. Motivation was a key player in that race for me. Between the FSU and Alabama guys cheering for me I had more than enough, but some knucklehead on the inside of the track gave me more of a reason to give it my all. I think the guy was offended that I was disrespecting Steve Prefontaine by wearing a replica Oregon jersey with matching green shorts. I've always felt that the most important part of anything a person does, whether it's running, baseball, or soccer that they should know at least some history of their sport. The guy kept yelling at me to take off my jersey, and then on the fifth lap or so he yelled at me "Where's your move!?" That gave me a little extra incentive to run well. After the race David Kimani and Peter Etoot came up to me and acted like I was Alan Webb. It was really cool to have guys like that who will probably be competing at the Olympics some day treat me as if they were the young kid looking for an autograph.
MB: When and where will you be kicking off your outdoor track season?
CN: Right now I'll be running a low key meet at our school, but that will be more of a training day than a race. We are scheduled to compete at the Max Bruner Relays at Choctaw on March 1st. I don't think that I can call myself a clear favorite for that because Pine Forest's Michael Padilla is really determined to do well in track this year, and he will be there. Also, Fort Walton Beach has some really great guys whom I keep in touch with. Blake Hutchinson, a sophomore, is going to be really good next year as long as he keeps his head in the game. That is toughest part of running because it is so mental. Anyways, Max Bruner won't be super fast anyways because we have a shortage of good high school tracks up here in the forgotten Florida. I'll have had a good day if I run 4:30 and 9:45. I don't know though, I may have to triple for the team. It's going to be fun though. I'm going to run about half my meets with the team and the other half at big meets. It's good to keep that balance for the sake of my teammates because they enjoy watching me.
MB: You had an excellent track season last spring. I?m sure you?re excited for the season to get underway. Do you have any major goals in mind?
3 Miles: 15:17
MB: How is your training going right now?
CN: My training has been going really well. With the exception of feeling last that mile for most of last week, it has been really nice. I raced a tough 5k Saturday, and ran a time of 16:37. Coach Whiteside ditched me after the first mile and took off to run a course record of 15:30 so I coasted the last 2.1 miles in 11:37. Yesterday, while on a ten miler out in Pace I stepped on a nail, and got really lucky. It went right through sole only stopping inside the insole. I was really lucky that it didn't go through a thinner part of the shoe, because not only would I have had to run five miles with a hole in my foot, but I probably would have had to spend a while not running. Running with a hole in a foot is not fun. The morning of our district meet last November I hit my heal on a thumbtack and had to run the race with my heal hurting. I'm no Prefontaine so it slowed me down a little bit.
MB: How about the rest of your team? I?ve noticed that you have some young guns including two Sophomores, Eric Mayes and Mitchell Mason. How are they doing and is everyone healthy and ready to hit the track?
CN: Mitchell is doing extremely well. He ran 16:56 Saturday. His work ethic is amazing. He'll do almost anything Coach Whiteside tells him to do. Eric is going to be a force to reckon with this spring once he gets several good weeks of training. The week I was at FSU he ran 17:00 in 5k and he had only run about 7 out of the last 15 days or so. He got really sick after that and is on the rebound. His 9:56 that he ran at regionals last year, along with the constant 4:36ish 1600s he ran, weren't a fluke. He's got some state champion potential in him if we can get him away from his girlfriend. The good thing about his girlfriend though is that she runs, and that helps him stay motivated
MB: Will you be attending any post season track meets this summer? Adidas Outdoor? Golden South?
CN: Right now I plan on running both as long as I can stay healthy and run fast enough, but I can't do much about staying injury free except spending some quality time in the cold whirlpool. As for the times, they will come.
MB: How is the college search going for you, Chris?
CN: The college search went well. I visited FSU and Alabama back in January. Both schools have programs with the potential. The Alabama guys were great. I'd heard stuff about how Kenyan and other African runners are difficult to deal with, but I didn't have that experience with Kimani and his boys. They were great. I was really awestruck at how normal David is. One night at dinner, I talked with him, Ty Stanfield, and their trainer about whether or not David should get a SUV or sports car this spring when he goes pro. As for FSU, I'm not letting the explosive situation(no pun intended) sway my decision. I really liked how well the FSU guys got along. I'm not sure if the fact that AJ had a big screen tv in his apartment had a role in that or not, but they have that family atmosphere that is hard to build. I'll make my final decision sometime next month, and then I'll let you know.
MB: Any idea what you would like to major in?
CN: Not real sure right now, but I am thinking of something in communications. I don't know, but I'll have to decide it rather quickly because of the new NCAA rules that require something like 35% of your major to be completed by the time you are a junior.
MB: Do you have any interests outside of running?
CN: I like to go sailing when I can. Last summer I spent a week sailing in the Keys. It was great. I got a tan and did nothing but sleep and go snorkeling on coral reefs infested with sharks. I really like to spend time outdoors. I've backpacking in New Mexico and North Carolina, and I've been canoeing in Canada. When I went to New Mexico two summers ago I climbed a 12000 ft mountain. That was really cool. This summer I took a week off at the peak of my training while on vacation in Maine for a family reunion. It was really relaxing. All day I hung out in a cabin on the Atlantic and ate fresh, wild blueberries or went kyaking to an island about 2 miles away. I did make the mistake of trying to run 12 miles with Eric, Whiteside, and AJ the day I got back. I felt that for several weeks.
MB: If you could run with anyone, past or present, who would it be and why?
CN: I don't really know an answer to that question. There have been so many great runners. I've gotten a chance to run with some of the current big boys: Kimani, Scott Strand(ran 2:16 marathon at Birmingham two weeks ago),and some others. I'm going to have to say that it is a toss up between Craig Virgin, the only American to win the World Cross Championships, and Bob Kennedy. I consider the two of them America 's greatest distance runners because Virgin actually won something over 400m an Kennedy was afraid to work for something that was thought undoable.
MB: Okay, Chris! Thank you very much for the interview and good luck to you this spring!