Back on familiar Ground: Nicole Blood's road to reliving her dream, By Cait Chock

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nicle blood, by paul merca.jpgNicole Blood, photo courtesy of Paul Merca

Cait Chock wrote this piece on Nicole Blood, a long time athletics warrior. Nicole still wants to achieve something in our sport, and that drive is both commendable and fascinating. Here is Cait's fine piece on an athlete returning to familiar grounds...

Back on Familiar Ground: Nicole Blood's road to reliving her dream

By: Cait Chock

Nicole Blood is back. Not that she ever actually went anywhere, but having just qualified for the USATF Indoor Championships in the 3k event, she can look back at some of her past training, "and laugh a little bit." No one's laughing now.

Now a bona-fide Oregonian, Blood moved out west for a position with Nike last June, "Oh man. Prior to moving back west, I was in quite possibly the worst shape of my life. I ran an all-out 5k road race in June and somehow managed to break 18 minutes, 17:41 to be exact. I hurt the whole race, haha!"

The move came more as a business opportunity than as a means to reignite her running career. Who wouldn't be keen on getting their foot in the door with Nike? This was the same brand that she had run for professionally after she graduated from the University of Oregon. Contracted to work as a 'running expert' she, "learned a lot about the running products and the consumer, which was really cool for me." Now a full-time Nike employee and just promoted to team leader of the 'Listen and Serve' team, it's not surprising that same drive that saw her setting records puts her at the top of the game in any endeavor.

But living in Portland has a funny affect on most anyone, it makes them hungry. "Being surrounded by fit professionals, I started running more and enjoying the miles again," explains Blood. "I decided I wanted to sign up for a half-marathon (Las Vegas Rock n' Roll) to hold myself accountable to getting into shape." She's honest, some of those early workouts were ugly. Enter her laughing, "I couldn't break 6min pace for 2x2mile, and all of my comments [in my training log] look something like, "out of shape," "still out of shape," "skipped the run and drank wine instead," etc. I've come a long way!"

Eventually the workouts written by her boyfriend did get easier, and blitzing around the Nike World Headquarters track, she started catching the eyes of others. Encouraged by her friends Jen Bergman and Brenna Symoniak, Blood reached out to Jon Marcus who, along with Chad Colwell, had recently formed the High Performance West team. Among them: Bergman, Symoniak, Tara Welling, Julia Webb, Kristen Rohde (Jon's wife), Ariel Beccia, Anna Connor, Julia Fonk, McKayla Fricker, Carissa Galloway, Camelia Mayfield, Smanatha Rivard, and Jessie Rubin. The men of the group include: Daniel Harrera, Gilbert Grundy, Nathan Fleck, and T-Roy Brown.

"Jon and I met over coffee to talk about the group and what I was trying to accomplish. Long story short, I left the coffee shop with a pep in my step and a vision of toeing the starting line at the Olympic Trials this year with every intention of making the team," an excited Blood shares. For those that haven't been to the Nike World Headquarters, at any given time you'll see a bevy of fleet-feeted harriers cutting along the trail or doing repeats on the track. There are the professionals of course, but the majority are the Nike employees.

There aren't time standards to accept a position at Nike, but just as moving to Portland has a strange affect on people, often enough one will find themselves hungry. It's a unique work environment where sweat and a mid-day track session is status quo and most of the 'just usual' employees could win any number of races should they not be living in the PDX area.

Blood is quick to point out that one of the most impressive aspects of this elite training group is, "The thing with this group... the majority of us have jobs. Some of us have children. Few of us have contracts. But we all have aggressive goals, and Jon holds us to the standards of what it takes to meet those goals." They aren't short on diversity, some are fresh out of college and others toting 'Mommy' on their resume, "Everyone brings something different to the table which never allows for a dull moment." Blood's high school training partner and one of her best friends, Caitlin Lane, actually made the move out west too, which brings the whole feeling of familiarity of being back on top to an almost eerie level.

With workouts dictated by Coach Marcus, High Performance West athletes also lift twice a week and collectively meet for 'skills and drills', 75 minutes of agility and reactivity training, twice a week. Both are new components to Blood's training and she's seeing the benefits.

The same excitement that brought the pep back into her step and got her to join has continued, "Jon is at just about every practice, and brings the same energy every time. It's awesome, and it keeps us excited about being there for every session."

The High Performance West team has already distinguished themselves as a force, seeing the women place second at the USATF Club Cross Country Championships. Blood's resurgence and reinvigorated approach to her competitive career is hardly the only one in the group, as the exact same sentiments have been openly expressed by Tara Welling, who once thought she'd hung up her racers for good, and Julia Webb.

There is no 'secret bullet' and Blood, while she considers herself blessed with the coaches she has had, is frank, "Honestly, it's not about the training. I've never had a problem 'adjusting' to any specific program. I think there are many different ways to get fit and fast... HPW is all about putting in the consistent work. We're not doing any magical workouts."

Excitement to spike back up didn't come without the tinges of awkwardness at first, "I feel like I'm back in middle school, learning how to race again. There's a very big difference between being fit and being race fit," laughs Blood. She busted the rust off in the UW Opener at the end of January, the 4:52 mile put her in 4th but, "JMar had me run a full workout afterwards because he knew I ran the race like a workout. I didn't mean to...you just forget how hard you can push your body."

But she began to remember quickly, racing each of the three proceeding weekends and eventually hitting the A-Standard for the USA Indoors, "Practicing the routine of a championship meet will be really good for me."

In practicing she'll be prepping for the upcoming USA Olympic Track Trials this summer in Eugene, Oregon. More familiar territory there couldn't be, and Blood's just as much invigorated by the taste of the opportunity to race as she is by an even more fulfilling sentiment, "I just want another shot to live my dream."

For Blood, and the other women of HPW, that's what this team is. "I got cut short my first few years out of college. I was spending all of my savings on rent, food and medical bills while trying to get healthy enough to go for a run. It was depressing, and I finally decided to move on and start a career. I couldn't afford to keep hanging on, financially or mentally."

Then, she came back to Oregon. When one moves to Portland, something funny happens. It makes them hungry. Blood is back, hitting the best workouts of her life, and we're not even at the first course.

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Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004 and previously ran for Nike. A freelance writer and artist, you can see more of her work on her website and Instagram @caitchock.

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