Interview with Nicole Teter
By Alison Wade

Nicole Teter wins the 800m at the 2002 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
(Both Photos by Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)
Teter on her way to an American indoor record in the 800m and the 2002 national title.

Though she's been a top runner for more than a decade, Nicole Teter really hit her stride in 2002. She started out the year by not only winning her first U.S. title at 800m indoors, she also set an American Record of 1:58.71 in the process. Teter carried that momentum into an outdoor season which saw her win her first US senior outdoor title in the 800 before moving on to Europe for a summer of racing. She earned two wins on the European circuit -- a 1,500 in Paris (4:05.52) and an 800 in Stockholm (1:58.13) -- and set personal bests of 4:04.19 in the 1,500 and 1:57.97 in the 800. Teter cut her season short after being diagnosed with a navicular stress fracture but ended the season ranked #3 in the world in the 800 by Track & Field News. Teter attributes much of her improvement in 2002 to a move to Palo Alto, California to train with Coach Frank Gagliano and the Nike Farm Team. We've gotten the sense that you're not running the indoor season this year, is that correct?
Nicole Teter: Yeah, I'm not racing indoors this year.

FW: What's the logic behind that decision?
NT: Well, I'm coming off a navicular stress fracture, but I'm also having some post-injury types of things, some muscle weakness here and there and I don't want to do too much too soon. I would rather run nationals outdoors and make the [World Championship] team outdoors than do the indoor season.

FW: So how is your health right now, are you able to train?
NT: Yeah, I'm training probably about 70 percent of what I was last season. My mileage is pretty low and I'm doing cross training quite a bit -- biking, running in the pool, and elliptical -- just to simulate the mileage that I was doing last season.

FW: If you had been healthy, would you have done the indoor season?
Oh, yeah, definitely. I love indoors.

FW: It does seem like there could be some advantage to skipping the indoor season, since it's a long season and the World Championships aren't until the end of August.
Definitely. Ideally I would have loved to have been able to at least run nationals (indoors), but I don't think that's going to be an option for me.

FW: What are the specific problems you're having right now, is it more than one thing?
Yeah (laughs). Well, it all kind of stems from the fact that I had the stress fracture in my left foot, from compensating from the [plantar fasciitis] in my right foot, and I was put in a boot for almost three months. I was also on crutches, so I wasn't using that leg for support. So what they think is that my left side kind of weakened... and I didn't do enough core strengthening before I started training fully. Now I'm having some glute problems and some rotator problems in my hip, which makes my hamstring tight, which makes my IT bands tight, my calves, and around my ankles and feet... So it's more of an annoying, achy injury, not anything that I can't train on. I can still do speed, I can still do everything, but it just tightens up quite a bit afterwards.

FW: What are you doing to treat these injuries? Do you have a whole team of doctors working on you?
(Laughs) I have two clinics that I work with here in Palo Alto. One is Stanford Myofascial, they do a lot of massage therapy. The other one is Agile, [I work with] Mark Guillet, he does physical therapy and such on it. Using physical therapy and massage therapy together, they're hoping to come up with something... they know the symptoms but they don't know the exact cause quite yet. They're teaming up -- they're going to consult this week, actually, to try and come up with something.

FW: Obviously it will depend on your health, but do you have a plan as to where you'll open your outdoor season?
I know there are some pre-season races here at Stanford, so we're just going to use those [to help] build for the season. I don't know if we would have a specific 'opening' race or not, but I can do some off distances, just to start racing, at the meets here at Stanford. And then [I'll do] whatever my coach comes up with after that. I know he wants to go to Mt. SAC for sure, but I don't know what event I would run there.

FW: What event do you think you're going to focus on this season, and long-term?
Well, my first instinct is to say the 800; that's the event that I want to run. That's always been my favorite event. But I would also like to just be able to run both of them at any time, just have the option of running the 8 or the 15. But I think that the 800 is the event that I'm the most prepared for.

FW: Do you train solely like an 800 runner or do you ever do any 1,500-specific work?
You know, I don't train like an 800 runner, I train like a 1,500 runner. Last season I was training like a 1,500/3,000 runner. We've pulled some speed in every now and again, but my mileage and most of the workouts are more strength-based, for 1,500. And then I do time trials and whatnot, like 200s for the 8 for speed, but I would say [Coach Frank Gagliano] is training me more for strength and the 15.

FW: What's the logic behind that?
[Coach Gagliano] has seen me race in the past -- last season, before he trained me -- and I think he could tell that what I lacked was strength. I kind of have a natural speed, I mean, everyone has to work on their speed... I can't put words in his mouth but he would probably say that I lacked strength. Obviously it worked for us last season, so we'll probably stick with that.

FW: Can you tell us what your training is like when you're at 100 percent -- how many times a week you go on the track and how much mileage you do?
At the end of last season, I was up to about 55 to 60 miles a week with regular mileage. We were on the track, in a non-race week, probably three times a week. One workout would be a long strength workout, one workout would be like a mid strength workout and then one would be a speed workout. We'd do a long run and then the rest of the days were just maintenance runs, and strides, drills and hurdle work.

FW: Hurdle work? What's that for?
That's for strengthening your hip flexors and I guess just overall strength. It's kind of a plyometric-type thing but you're not jumping up and down, you just walk over the hurdles and then you do these drills over the hurdles, you do leg lifts over the hurdles, it really strengthens your core.

FW: Do you spend a lot of time in the weight room as well?
No, I don't. Probably four days a week I go in and do light circuit work, mostly working on dips and pullups and just a few upper body and a few lower body [exercises]. In-season I go in the weight room maybe twice a week.

FW: Who do you do your workouts with, is there someone who can keep up with you?
Oh yeah, definitely (laughs). Actually, we had the biggest group yesterday, I think we had like 15 girls in our group. There is a specific group that I do work with, including Mari Chandler, Mary Cobb, Sarna Becker, Heather Tanner's a 10,000 runner but we do a lot of our long distance and maybe some tempo runs together, and then Marie Davis, Elissa Riedy, Sally Hauser...

FW: So they're mostly 1,500 runners.
Yeah, they're all 1,500 runners. We have a great group of 800 runners here, but they're more based on the speed aspect of the 800, whereas I'm trying to base it on 8/15 strength. In-season, when I'm able to do more speedwork, I'll probably do some workouts with Chantee Earl. We also have a girl -- I'm pretty sure she's coming back to train here -- Brigita Langerholc. She came for a couple weeks to visit, to decide if she wanted to train with us. She's doing the indoor circuit right now but she's supposed to come back right after World Indoors to train here. That will be really good for the 800 group, [and I can] do one or two days a week of training with them.

FW: How much of a team would you say the Nike Farm Team is? Are you all out on the track at the same time, is it like college all over again, or do people do their own thing?
We're all out on the track at the same time, for the most part. What has happened this season is that there are nearly 80 athletes on our team and that's quite a bit for one coach. He had to come up with a different kind of a workout plan for us. We have a couple different times that we all work out. People who can work out in the morning have a group that works out at 10:00. Then there's a group that works out at 4:15 and a group that works out at 5:15.

So we all do work out together and on easy days we all meet together -- all but two days a week we meet as a team for at least 10 or 15 minutes and [Coach Gagliano] talks with us.

FW: Do you work with Vin Lananna or Jack Daniels at all?
Well actually we're just consulting with Jack over the phone, he actually went back to Cortland. Vin comes out on the track sometimes, I don't work directly with him, he works with some of the [longer] distance runners, like the Hausers and Chris Graff and others. But for the most part, Gags does train the majority of the team.

FW: It sounds like you attribute a lot of your improvement to Coach Gagliano, why do you think that's been such a great match?
Well, I can't say that my last coach didn't help me a lot, because he did. The previous season I had actually come off of running pretty consistent 2:01s. So I was pretty strong in the speed category but I didn't have a lot of strength. Gags works with a lot of 1,500 runners -- men, mostly -- but he and I, as soon as I met him, we clicked. As long as you're honest with each other, I think that you can learn a lot from each other. I've learned a lot from him, I can't actually say he's learned anything from me, I don't know (laughs) but he listens to me when I talk. If I feel like I can't do something, I tell him. If I feel like I can't handle something, he works around that. I think he just has a knack for knowing people automatically. If he's seen [someone] run, he probably knows what type of runner they are... I feel like he just knows me and knows what I need to do.

FW: Looking over your bio, what strikes us is that you've been a good runner for a long time, but there are a lot of gaps in there. What caused those gaps, for the most part?
A lot of it was just consistency. I really had a hard time finding where I wanted to train and where I needed to be to train... I went to Arkansas and had a good coach and a good team, but for some reason I just wasn't content there. So I moved home and kind of just faltered between coaches here and there. I never consistently trained; I either worked full time and put running second to work, or I had work, a boyfriend and put running third place. When I moved here, I put running first... Having a coach that knows what he's doing -- not that my other coaches didn't know what they were doing, because they did -- and having a group of about 30 girls that I can train with on any given day, has helped me to be a lot more consistent.

FW: Your bio mentions that you worked for Copeland Sports -- are you still working?
Well since my injury, I actually stopped working -- for now. I'm still employed by Copeland Sports, I've worked for them for seven years, but they have been nice enough to let me take a leave of absence so that I can heal my injuries and such... It's probably not good to stand so much after having a stress fracture.

FW: Was there ever a point that you gave up on being a top runner, that you decided to keep running but make it less of a priority?
I never, ever gave up the hope that that was what my future entailed, that I wanted to be a very high class runner. My goal has always been to make it to the Olympic Games. I never gave that up, I just had to prioritize because I didn't have a lot of money and I needed to support myself and support my running because I didn't have a sponsor either. I continued running in hopes that something would open up for me. I guess I was patient enough that finally things are falling into place. Now it's finally easy to be able to train full time and do all those little things that I wasn't able to do before.

FW: It's kind of ironic that when you need the most help -- when you're trying to break through -- you can't get it.
I know, it's been tough and I feel very, very lucky that I've found what I have now, because there's still time for me. I'm not too old that I can't still have my dream come true, which is to make an Olympic team. If I can just keep on this path and keep my body healthy, hopefully I can obtain that dream.

FW: What was it like competing in Europe last summer? Was that your first time on the circuit?
On the complete circuit, yes. The year before I had gone for two meets, chasing the World [800m 'A'] standard. Last year, being in Grand Prix meets, that was my first experience with that.

FW: Was it exciting to realize that you could actually win races in Europe? What did you learn from the experience?
When I first went over there, even after coming off a good season here in the US, I didn't expect that I would win anything. I went over there in hopes that I could compete with those girls, and hopes that I could prove to myself that I belonged racing on that circuit. The first race was a 1,500, which I still was not that comfortable running. I hadn't run it very often, I was more comfortable running the 8, but I just decided, 'You know what? I can run with anybody and I'm going to try to run with anybody.' I made a huge move in Norway, in that first race. It kind of backfired on me (laughs), I went too soon, but to me, I wanted to just make an effort. I didn't [want to think], 'I'm going to be in this race and I can't win,' and not try. So I made the effort and it didn't work out that time, but a time or two again, it did work out.

I guess the biggest thing that I've learned about going to Europe is that nobody at any given time is unbeatable. Anybody -- if you work your butt off and get there, you obviously belong there... If they let you in those races, you belong there and anybody can be beaten.

FW: Is there one race that stands out in your mind as a turning point?
I don't know. I kind of just throw them all together and it's all a turning point for me. Just being there and being allowed in that first race, I thought that was the biggest thing ever, knowing that I had races and races and races that I could just get into. In the past, nobody would let me in races. I may be fit and I may be ready to run, but nobody ever gave me the opportunity to get in the race and run. Now I feel like I have opportunities to get in races and I want to prove to myself and, I guess, to the world that I belong racing there. It's kind of a newfound passion after last season (laughs). I just hope that I can get back to that feeling again, shortly.

FW: Your success in Europe kind of coincided with David Krummenacker's. Did you two ever talk about your races and did his success inspire you?
Well I think his success would inspire any runner. Just seeing how well he has done this past season and the seasons before, his success would inspire anybody. I did meet David and talk a bit with him, just because we ran the same races, we're both from the US and in the same events and stuff, but we didn't get to know each other or talk [much]. I have some teammates that really, really like David and talk about him all the time, [they say] that he's such a great guy, that it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

FW: We would imagine that you've had to rewrite your goals several times in the past couple years.
Ultimately, everyone's goal, I think, is Nationals, making a World team, making an Olympic team. So I think my goals are the same, it's just that [they seem] much more obtainable. Those were such high goals, but now they're a little bit lower and I actually can foresee it happening. Whereas before, I put it up there, but I didn't know if I would actually ever be able to get that close to it. Now, I'm inching closer and closer to that. Nothing's set in stone, I may very well not reach my goals in these next two years, but if I don't, I'm going to continue trying.

FW: Do you have time goals in mind?
Well, since I set the American Record indoors, that's something I'd like to do outdoors as well. So I guess that would be my goal, the American Record outdoors... (Editor's Note: Jearl Miles-Clark currently holds the record of 1:56.40.)

FW: It sounds like you're the kind of runner who doesn't need to have running be everything in your life, would you say that's true?
Everyone tries to balance... Even though I'm not working right now, I try to do things [each day] that don't necessarily revolve 100 percent around running. If I did that, I would probably go crazy. There are a lot of things that I like to do that don't even involve running. As much as running is my passion and a real joy in my life, there are a lot of other things that I like to do. Running is number one right now for me, but I can't make it be everything in my life.

FW: So what are some of your non-running interests?
Well, I like to read, I like to watch movies... Right now I'm attempting to learn German and I take guitar lessons, I'm trying to find some musical talent in myself (laughs). I like to shop, I like to take long drives...

FW: You were one of Nike's invited athletes at the Foot Locker High School Cross Country Nationals in December. What was that experience like for you?
I think it was great, to be able to be around young kids and hopefully inspire them to see what kind of goals they could achieve. The talent that they possess is just so incredible. By being there, being available to talk to, I hope [the elite athletes' presence] would inspire them to continue doing what they're doing, and make it as fun as possible...

(Interview conducted January 29, 2003)

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