Interview with Nicole Blood
By Ricky Quintana

Nicole Blood on her way to a two-mile PR at the 2004 Hartford Public High School T&F Invitational.
(Both photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)
Blood enjoys herself after winning the 2003 Foot Locker Northeast Regional title.

In June, Nicole Blood of Saratoga Springs, New York, used a late surge to nip Caitlin Chock of Roseville, California, to win the mile at the adidas Outdoor Championships in Raleigh, North Carolina. In Blood's wake was the deepest mile field in girls' high school history. Her winning time of 4:42.40 erased the 1978 sophomore record of 4:42.40 set by Deanna Coleman of Issaquah, Washington. Blood also holds the indoor sophomore mile record of 4:46.13, which she set in finishing second to Foot Locker Cross Country Champion Katelyn Kaltenbach in March at the Nike Indoor Championships.

Blood, who is entering her junior year, is regarded as one of the top talents ever in the history of girls' high school distance running. With two years left in her high school career, she holds all-time high school rankings of ninth in the mile, 15th in the 3,000m, and 10th in the 3,200m. In cross country, she has qualified twice for the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships, where she finished seventh in 2002 and ninth in 2003. With two more qualifications, she could join the likes of Jorge Torres and Deena Kastor as a rare four-time Foot Locker national qualifier.

In September, she will begin what one hopes will be her best season yet. One of her biggest challenges will come in early October, as she and her team travel to Raleigh, North Carolina, for the Great American Cross Country Festival. Her team, ranked #1 last year, will face last year's #2 ranked team, Smoky Hill (Aurora, Colorado). Smoky Hill will field a tough five-member team led by Kaltenbach and Morgan Schulz (11th at Foot Locker in 2003). With the inaugural Nike Team Championships looming at the end of the season, this could well be a preview of two of the top teams likely to race on December 4 in Portland, Oregon.

We spoke with Blood by phone on August 14th.

Ricky Quintana: How has your summer been going?
Nicole Blood:
Our whole team just got back from the Boston University summer camp, actually. That was a lot of fun. We usually try to find a camp to go to. This is our second year there. We like it there.

RQ: Was it in the city?
Yeah, it's right by Fenway Park actually. It's about 10 minutes away. I'm not a big fan of Boston so it kind of stinks. I just bring my Yankee uniform. It's kind of nice. I got booed a few times [laughing].

RQ: After your win at the Adidas Outdoor Championships, what did you do?
That was really cool. The team took some rest and then we went back into summer training to try to get ready for cross country. That's why we go to the summer camp. That's what gets us ready.

RQ: Can you talk about the AOC mile?
It was really cool. I kind of went in there not really knowing what to expect. I had heard of Chock and I knew she was putting up some really fast times. Of course, I knew Kaltenbach because she beat me indoors. Everyone came in with good seed times, so it was really hard to tell where [I] should be. I went with how I felt. In the beginning, I didn't get a really good start. I was in last place the first 200. That isn't exactly how I run. I think everyone went out [fast] because of Jenny Barringer; she took it out pretty quick.

I got the lead. I'm not sure when, but I think it was on the second lap. Chock passed me with two laps to go and she was just cruising. She pushed it really hard. I did the best I could to stay near her. On the last lap, I noticed her form was breaking down a little bit, and I knew I was feeling strong, so I just went for it. Once I caught up to her, she fought for it, so it was really hard. It was a great race.

RQ: Were you happy with the time?
Oh yeah, definitely. [It was an outdoor] PR by eight seconds.

RQ: You are so good at so many different distances. Do you try to concentrate on one distance?
I don't know. It kind of varies. I love both the mile and two mile, and the 4 x 800m relay too. My coach trains me. I tell him what I want to do in a certain meet and we'll train for that week towards that. I really don't know how. If it's a mile, we'll maybe do more speed or something.

I kind of just prepare my mind for it. I don't really need to train for a month or something like that, because our training prepares us for distance and mid-distance.

RQ: Can you talk about your training this summer?
We started out at lower mileage because we were just getting back into it. We started working on the hills a lot for cross country. We basically try to get our base in. We start bringing up our mileage a little bit. We start running on trails. We don't start intense stuff until late August and early September.

RQ: What kind of mileage are we talking about?
About 40 to 45 is what I usually do.

RQ: How long how you been running?
Probably since about age 12, [when I was going] into seventh grade.

RQ: Before that, what were your sports?
I did everything: gymnastics, soccer, lacrosse, and even horseback riding. I had a lot of fun with everything, but with running you can run for yourself and for a team. It's not like baseball. Running you can shine as an individual and [with your] team.

RQ: Why did you decide to start running?
I'm really competitive. I got into this one race. I may have told you about it; I've told the story a lot of times. I came in second at my school field day. I tried to beat the girl [who beat me] the next year, and I did. The feeling of success was what I really enjoyed. That kind of made me look forward to [being on] the track team.

Once I got involved with [Coaches Art and Linda] Kranick and their training, I kept improving and stayed with it.

RQ: Did you have a lot of talent right away?
I ran on the freshman team. Ruby Solomon — who is still on the team — and I competed a lot. Sometimes she won and sometimes I won. We both [competed] on the JV team a few times and I [finished in the] top three a few times. When I got into it, I was hitting good times. I really started improving in eighth grade, when I made varsity.

RQ: I guess you were aware of the Saratoga Springs program.
I heard that they were a good team, but I didn't realize they were the best in the nation. Even hearing that, it sounds awesome, but you don't really realize that until you're actually in the competition, and [you think] wow. You get that huge trophy and finally realize what it means.

RQ: You are entering your junior year. You've already accomplished more than one could expect. Is this year any different?
Yeah, I'm starting to look towards college now. Now, that I'm a junior, it's so weird. I remember last year, people were asking me about colleges, and I was like, 'No way, I've got two more years.' Now, I'm looking at going to college and going to meets that are more popular. And you can start stepping the training a little bit more, too. Before I kind of backed off, but now we'll start to up it a little more, and by [my] senior year, [I can] end with a bang.

RQ: Do you feel that you can continue to improve?
I have a lot of things to work on still. Of course, experience keeps coming with different types of races. I think there's a lot of room to improve.

RQ: Any particular goals for this season?
I don't know. Whatever comes my way. The competition keeps coming. There are new people and they keep running faster. You can never tell what you want to do place wise, but I'd like to hit some PRs. As long as I do that and my training keeps getting better, I'm happy.

RQ: You beat Chock and then she went on to run so well later in the summer. Did hearing of her success boost your confidence?
She had amazing times. I don't think I'm close to her now. I beat her in the mile, but she went on to do 5Ks in amazing times [Note: Chock set a National High School record of 15:52.88.] I don't know if I'm ready for that, but maybe by my senior year I can work for those times. It does boost my confidence. If she can do it, I can work towards that my senior year. That's a good feeling.

RQ: What will be your best event?
I'm not sure. I run one event and I hit a really good time and I want to work toward that. Then, I'll run the next event and I'll hit another good time. It's kind of on and off. I wasn't very confident in the two-mile until [the Hartford Public High School T&F Invitational] where I ran 10:10. Then, I thought, maybe I should work towards this. Then at states, I ran a 9:24 (for 3,000m). At nationals, I got a PR. Both [the mile and two-mile] are my favorite events. I can't really choose one. I'm going to just have to keep alternating like I have been.

RQ: Do you and your coach talk about records?
Yes, they bring up records for me to shoot for, in case there is not a lot of competition. I have some grade records that I have my eye on. It's hard. You have a goal in your mind, but you don't want to be let down. You don't know if you are going to have the greatest race until you start racing. Even in warm-ups, you don't know. In the race, I decide if I'm going to push it and try to go for time or if I'm just going to run as fast as I can. I always have the goals in my head, but there are just days where sometimes [I] just can't get it.

RQ: How many Saratoga Springs records do you have?
A lot in track, but not as many in cross country, because we only have that one course. It's hard in cross country because the ground changes over the years. The course has gotten a little bit slower, so it's hard to hit the times that Erin Davis and Cheri Goddard [now Kenah] did. For track, I broke a few records. I broke Cheri Goddard's record in the 3,000m and then the 1,500m.

RQ: Have you had a chance to meet Cheri?
Yeah, she comes and visits the team a lot. She just had twins so the Kranicks always want to visit her. She came here just recently, probably at the end of spring track. Also, we went to her house when we went to Great American because she lives right around there. She inspires us a lot and motivates us to do better. It's kind of cool looking up to someone like that. She tells us to keep working hard and to never give up. She knows what it's like to be at the top of distance running, so she knows how to deal with the pressure. She said to ignore it and try to have fun.

RQ: Pressure doesn't seem to affect you at all. Do you ever feel it?
It's always there. It's something you never can really avoid. I think it helps that my coaches, my teammates, and my family don't put pressure on me at all. You have a bad race and you know you'll live. It happens. There's always pressure [from] the newspapers and stuff. After Foot Locker, I kind of got bashed a little bit. I'm kind of used to it now. I'm experienced. I have fun anyway. Like I said before, you can't help it if you have a bad race. If you have a good one, that's great, that's awesome. If you don't, there's nothing you can tell the newspaper [reporter]. You just kind of say you didn't have it that day. I kind of get on the track and pretend that everything is good. Of course, everything is, but if you act scared, it makes it twice as bad and gives everyone else confidence. You just try to keep your mind off it and focus on the race.

RQ: Saratoga Springs has been dominant the last few years. This year, Smoky Hill is bringing their team to Great American. What does that mean to you?
We've all been working hard. They look like an awesome team. I guess they have a new girl or two. I'm sure they are going to put up a really good race. We've been working really hard and we have some girls that are stepping up. You never know how the results are going to end up. If they beat us, they must have worked harder than us. Then, we'll harder to get them back or something.

RQ: How have the kids who transferred from Argyle [a nearby high school whose track program was shut down] to Saratoga adjusted?
They fit right in. Their personalities go right with our team. That was good because it made the transition much easier. Their training wasn't too different. It took them a little while to get into it, but now everything is fine now. They're really working hard, like everyone else, so it's definitely helped out the team.

RQ: During the season, you said you start doing harder workouts. What type of workouts do you do?
In cross country, we do more 1,000m repeats. How fast [we do them] depends on the rest we are going to get. Sometimes we'll get three minutes rest and sometimes one. It all varies. It depends on when we race. We do some speed stuff after the 1,000s. Sometimes its striders or 200s to help us with our kick.

RQ: Are you fast? Do you have 400m speed?
I ran the 400. We have a 4 x 400m in track. I ran 58 and that's the last leg, which is a little longer, so it might be 57.

RQ: That's pretty quick.
Yeah, we try to work on speed. Especially for the mile, because you want to have that last kick.

RQ: Have you ever considered running the 800m?
I'm not that big of a fan of the [open] 800m. I like the 4 x 800 relay because I like any relay. An open 800m, I don't know. After Sarah Bowman hit that 2:04, that was crazy. That's really fast. I ran a 2:10 at Penn and I thought I was cruising. Then I went to nationals and saw all those girls under 2:10 and was like, 'Wow.' I don't think that's the event for me, but I do like the 4 x 800m relay.

RQ: The Nike Team Nationals will allow you to compete for the national championships. Do you know much about NTN?
Our coaches told us a little about it. They told us that there were going to be results [being tabulated] as the race is run. Everything looks really exciting about it, so our whole team is working extra hard to get there. That would be awesome. It's kind of nice because it gives our whole team a chance to do something like that too. I got the chance to experience Foot Locker and that was awesome. To give our whole team a chance to do that would be great.

RQ: Is that important to you that you get to share that experience with your team?
Yeah, definitely. It's not even that I work harder than anyone else. There are girls on our team on our team, and other teams too, that don't get recognized. I think it's really cool that they have a chance to show themselves too.

RQ: Foot Locker and NTN are going to be separated by a week. Are you going to compete in both?
Yeah, if I can. Knock on wood. If my season goes as planned and I keep working hard and improving, hopefully I'll make it to both. If I do, that would be cool. I probably will stay right out there because I have family out there.

RQ: So you can afford to miss all that school?
It's tough every year. We travel a lot. I try to bring my school work on the road. Sometimes the teachers get mad, but oh well, they'll deal with it. There's not much more you can say. They get really mad.

RQ: At the Nike Team Nationals, you'll get a chance to face the best teams in the country. It will be the first time ever. What do you think about that?
I think that's great. It will be nice to actually have the chance to race the top teams in the nation. If other teams think they're better than us, they can prove it too.

RQ: Who's up there nationally who could win the Foot Locker national title?
Probably the same group as last year except the girls who graduated. Kaltenbach and Marie Lawrence will be back. Who else? [2002 Foot Locker champion] Zoe Nelson. I think a lot of the girls who went last year will have a lot of determination to make it again. I'm sure there are girls who I've never heard of who have been working hard. You never really know. You just have to go with the flow and keep working hard. Hopefully, you'll race them before so you will recognize them. That's the hard part about Foot Locker. You race girls you've never met before and you don't know their race strategy so you have to go with the flow and how you feel.

RQ: At last year's Foot Locker, you had some issues with hydration. You barely made it across the finish line. What are things you plan to do differently for that race this year?
Just prepare better. I was really nervous. They didn't have the food there that I like; they had a lot of fancy stuff. I probably didn't eat as great as I usually do. If worse comes to worse, the Kranicks will make me pasta. They offered it last time, but I didn't want it. I wanted to eat with everyone else. Whatever it takes. I'm just going to try to do the same things I do before my other races. That's another thing — [at Nationals, I] just did different things. I ate different food, I went to bed at a different time. I think going out there earlier for team nationals (probably), I'll get used to the time change. It's a lot to adjust to just a few days before a race. Hopefully, this year, I can prepare myself better for that.

RQ: You started off with Saratoga Springs four years ago. Since then, so many records have been taken down and challenged by high school girls across the nation. Can you pinpoint what the difference has been?
There are a lot of fast times [being run] right now. I really think it's the competition. The more and more competition there is, the more girls there are who want to work hard. It's kind of a repeating pattern. Girls are getting faster and faster, because everyone is working harder, because there is more competition. It just keeps going on and on. In the next few years, I really believe that there are going to be more and more girls up there and records being broken..

RQ: What type of college will you be looking to run at?
I visited UNC when we were out there for Adidas Outdoor Championships. That's a beautiful campus; I'm really interested in that one. Notre Dame looks good. Michigan looks good. I'm looking for a really good team, because that's who's working hard. I want a coach who knows what they are doing. Obviously, they all do. I'm just looking at the top teams. It would be hard to go from the Kranicks to a low-profile team, because I'm used to that high-profile stuff. UNC's probably at the top of my list right now. Stanford is up there too.

RQ: Have you ever exceeded 45-50 miles in training?
We never go over 50 miles. Once in a while, we may go over 45 miles in a week, but never over 50.

RQ: What kind of pace do you run on your runs?
It's improved a lot in the past year. I used to run 7:30-7:45 pace. Now, I run 7:00 to 7:20. I used to take my runs easy and gaze around, but now I take them a lot more seriously. I keep good pace, but feel comfortable at the same time too.

RQ: There's a lot of mystique about the Saratoga Springs team and what you do for training. What do you think about that? Do you think you train harder than other teams?
We definitely work really hard. A lot of people believe that we're overworked. They think we are going to burn out and stuff. That kind of stinks that people [have] that attitude towards us, because it's just really a group of kids working hard. Nobody is working so hard that they aren't doing anything else. All of us have our lives and we do other things.

I've seen other girls' workouts online. I think, 'Whoa, I never have a workout like that!' I don't see why people judge us as being too intense. You do what you have to do... It's kind of like a family. If someone is down one day, everyone will try and cheer them up and make sure that they have a good run and everything.

Another thing is that, we're out every day. It doesn't matter if it's pouring rain or hail. Even during the winter, we shovel a quarter mile path. We just run back and forth and do workouts. Our teachers think we're crazy [laughs], because our eyes are frozen shut. We never want to give up and we won't stop working hard. It doesn't matter if it's 90 degrees or hailing. I think it's all that put together, and the determined personalities on the team. Everything is just really great.

RQ: How many girls do you have?
If you look at Great American, you see we have a lot of JV [runners who] took a lot of the top places. It's good for our team because a lot the time they don't get recognized, because we usually only get to run our top seven. It kind of stinks because we have some awesome girls on JV.

We have probably about 20 girls that are really high up there. We probably have about 30 total. Some girls will quit halfway through because they don't want to run in the rain and stuff like that. We bring them all to meets, but it's nice that they get to run separately at meets like Great American, so that they can be recognized too.

RQ: Is there anything you have to do to be on the Saratoga Springs team?
Not really. You have to pass a physical fitness test and you are in. Our coaches don't care if you run a 5:00 mile or a 10:00 mile. They put a uniform on you and let you run. They encourage you to work hard or [not go out for the team]. There are a lot of kids who do it for a social type thing. The Kranicks will let them do it, but they don't really [encourage] it if [the runners] don't want to work hard. We get a lot of kids at the beginning of the season who don't want to do this, so the Kranicks tell them that it is not really worth it.

It's tough for the Kranicks. They deal with 60-80 kids during track with all the sprinters. You get some kids who join and all they do is complain. It kind of stinks for the Kranicks... All they can do is tell them to do their best. In cross country, it's cool because it's just distance kids, so the Kranicks can just focus on [us].

RQ: Have you grown any?
Yeah. I've grown an inch and quarter in the last two months. I'm still going. Going strong [laughs]. I think I'm at 5-3. I think I have one or two to go, then I'm done probably.

RQ: Has that been strange for you?
It's been a little hard on the shins and knees when I'm growing a lot. Otherwise, it's been fine. I haven't noticed it much. It's kind of cool, I like it.

RQ: Are you expecting more changes in your body structure?
Not a lot. I've grown a lot in the past two years, so I really don't think there is much more to go. Now, I just need to work on more muscle strength. Hopefully, the growing will be in my muscles.

RQ: Great American is going to have some really good girls: Erin Bedell, Katelyn Kaltenbach, Jenny Barringer, and Aislinn Ryan. Can you talk about your strategy for that race?
That's a lot of good girls! I [haven't thought] too much about it. I know there are people who go out quick, like Aislinn Ryan and Jenny Barringer. Basically, I'll be trying to stay in the front pack in the beginning because I'm sure they will be taking it out fast. I'm just going to have to go with how I feel because every race is different. Like, in the AOC mile, I started out last. Most other races, I start in first. I'm going to try and see how I feel and know when it's go time and know when to push the pace harder. Whoever stays with me, just hang with them, and then try to push harder. You kind of have to see what happens during the race and [figure out] when to try to pull away.

RQ: Do you think the course favors you? Is the course difficult for you?
It doesn't have as many hills. I prefer a lot more hills, because that's where I try to push it really hard. A lot of people lose confidence there. [The Great American course] has that one gradual hill, so I try to work really hard up that. There are a lot of turns, so you have to run the tangents well. I like it because it goes through the woods and stuff. It's not on a golf course, but I prefer more hills.

RQ: You seem to do well in cross country. Have you given any thought to World Juniors?
Yeah. I was looking at that last year when I saw a lot of girls like Barringer go there. That's always been in my head. But I didn't want to go as a sophomore; that's kind of young. Maybe this year or my senior year. I'll have to talk to my coaches, because we start traveling early indoors. It depends on when that would fall.

RQ: Seeing what Caitlin Chock did internationally, does that give you something to aspire too? [Note: Chock finished fifth at the World Junior Championships in the 5,000.]
Maybe. Last year, I wasn't into traveling that much, but maybe this year it will change. I don't know how my coaches feel. Maybe they will want to wait until my senior year. You never know, I'll have to talk it over with my coaches and my parents.

(Interview conducted August 14, 2004, and posted August 18, 2004.)

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