Want to Run in College? This is What it Takes: Nicole Blood of Columbia University
By: Cait Chock
Nicole Blood needs no introduction. She applied for the position of Assistant Coach for the cross country and track teams at Columbia University in the summer of 2012 and if she hadn't gotten the job I'd state for the record the hiring staff must be crazy! Blood joined the program in 2012, running being a lifelong passion for herself, she was excited to share that with her athletes and experience things from the opposite end of the starting line than she was previously used to.
The view she was more than accustomed to was racing and winning like a champion. Blood was on top of the high school level of competition when she herself was still only in 7th and 8th grade. By the time she graduated high school she'd captured three Foot Locker Cross Country Northeast Regional wins, won the 2005 USA Junior Championships in the 5000 meter event, and really too many collective titles to count. Representing the University of Oregon, Blood was a pinnacle person in bringing the Lady Ducks up to supremacy, graduated a 9-time All-American, and went on to run professionally for Nike. In reading her answers her natural leadership and motivational abilities shine through.
Blood brings more than just fast times and wins to her coaching position, but more importantly, the invaluable asset of understanding how to finesse the fine line between training hard yet propelled by passion. Running can be a lifelong sport, she herself is still training amidst coaching duties. Now able to experience racing from another perspective, she's thoroughly enjoying motivating her team to really rawr at the starting line.
1) What catches your eye when it comes to recruiting high schoolers? And what year do you really start keeping a particular runner on your radar? (ie: soph, jr. sr.)
Normally, we'd think the obvious: wins and fast times. But thanks to FloTrack, Runnerspace and Dyestat, coaches across the country can watch race videos. I love this. I look for the kids who run to win, or at least the ones who run to be in the excitement of the race. These videos show us who is running tough and giving it their all, and who is just...running.
I'll start keeping an eye on runners as early as freshman year if they show talent.
2) What are some of the key traits you look for in an athlete outside of strictly fast times? Are there certain things about a particular runner that, even with great PRs, will stop you from recruiting them?
I like to recruit kids who seem competitive and also excited about what they are doing. If a kid is way too obsessed with mileage, food, etc., I am less interested. This sport absolutely requires dedication, but there needs to be a balance in life or you just won't make it. Too many runners show up to college burnt out.
3) How do you factor performance times of a runner against their training volume? Do certain times carry more weight in your opinion if they're run off of lower miles or less intensity?
Obviously, if a kid is running incredible times running less than 40 miles per week, I am impressed. I am also happy to recruit kids with higher mileage because it is likely they will have an easier time adjusting to college. There are pros and cons to both. The reality is that high school runners in general are working harder and running more than they were 10 years ago. Programs are getting competitive and coaches are learning more...I think it's great for the sport. As long as everyone is enjoying what they are doing, let's get faster!
4) Throughout the recruiting process, what are some important tips you make sure to give the runner as they prepare for the upcoming transition to college?
Look for a school you could see yourself at without running. You just never know what can happen. Also- the team is going to be your family for the next four years, so make sure they are the people you can see yourself growing with. Obviously, having a good connection with the coach is important, but the team is number one.
5) How do you, if at all, individualize an incoming freshman's training?
We ask the kids and sometimes reach out to the high school coaches about their past: average mileage, highest mileage, past injuries, etc. Here at Columbia, we have multiple mileage groups. Every person needs their own agenda in order to reach their own potential.
6) In your experience, what's separated the runners who have successfully managed the transition to college and continued to improve from those who didn't?
I think it is important to realize this sport is a roller coaster ride. You can't just keep improving without some bad races and, or, plateau months. I've seen a lot of athletes just get frustrated and call it quits because they weren't getting faster.
It's also difficult for high school studs to deal with a whole new level. Competing for the 5th spot on your team can be frustrating after winning HS state meet by a minute. Again, though, patience is important. Don't give up too soon.
7) After freshman year, what is your formula for successfully progressing the athlete through to the end of their collegiate career?
I wish there was a formula...that would make my job a lot easier, ha! It's just all about keeping kids motivated with bigger goals. Not everyone needs higher mileage every year. Some need to work on their race thoughts, some need to get a stronger core... every runner is different. We just try to figure out what each kid needs to get a little bit better.
8) Having had a successful college career that led to a professional career with Nike, can you give some insight from the opposite perspective. What do you feel were some of the key factors that helped you succeed to such a level?
I had an amazing coach and some extremely supportive teammates. I was always excited about what I was doing at Oregon...my class built something really special there. Freshman year, our women were 6th in the pac-10 I believe. Not one person made Nationals in Cross Country.
As a team, we vowed to get better, so we held each other accountable the next few years. We worked our asses off together, and it worked.
You need short term and long term goals to keep you motivated. And the more people there to work with you and support you, the better.
9) Finally, there's been a dramatic rise in high school performances over the last decade. Running Times recently did a feature on the girls' side (http://www.runnersworld.com/high-school-racing/why-are-these-teens-so-fast?cm_mmc=Twitter-_-RunningTimes-_-Content-HighSchool-_-FastTeens). Do you tend to agree with the major points made, do you have any personal opinions/theories about high schoolers (boys and girls) training more and getting faster? Do you see this trend as continuing?
I read that article, and it could not be more spot on. With the Internet today, coaches and athletes have unlimited resources to learn how to get faster and stronger. I think it is a great thing for our sport. There is no room for laziness. You know what everyone else is doing, so you have to keep up.
Ten years ago at Saratoga, we got so much criticism for working hard. I'll never forget the things people said about us girls being doomed in college for working too hard too young. Today, I never hear about "burn out." People are finally accepting that it's ok to work your ass off in high school. It's ok to eat healthy. It's ok to cross train. It's ok to run more than 50 miles per week. Ten years ago, I honestly think people were just lazy. But now, the competition is so great that you either have to put in the work or get left behind. Simply having talent isn't good enough anymore.
I am really excited for the future of our sport, and I think this trend is a fantastic thing that will continue.
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004. A freelance writer, artist, and designer she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.