© 2008 Silver Lumsdaine and Pacific Association. All rights reserved.
2008 Pacific Association/USATF Olympic Hopeful
Interview with Nicole Teter
By Silver Lumsdaine
PA/USATF Communications Intern
Nicole Teter’s middle name should be “Perseverance.”
The 2004 U.S. Olympian (800 meters) has reached some impressive heights in a career that has been interrupted, but never halted, by injuries. Teter, 34, has competed as an elite athlete since 1991 when she won the 800m at the U.S. Junior National Championships and a silver medal at the 1991 Junior Pan American Games. The West Valley High School (Cottonwood, Calif.) graduate’s biggest breakthroughs, however, came more than a decade later.
In 2002, she captured the USA 800m indoor national title in a lightning fast 1 minute, 58.71 secondsthe current American Record indoors. She followed with the 2002 USA outdoor 800m championship crown (1:58.83). Also, in 2002 she ran her current PR of 1:57.97 in Lausanne, Switzerland (a mark that ranks Teter #9 on the U.S.800m all-time list). That same year, Teter recorded career bests of 4:32.71 in the mile and 4:04.19 in the 1,500 meters. The latter mark ranks Teter #12 on the U.S. 1,500m all-time list.
Although Teter has certainly had successes since thenincluding a second consecutive U.S. indoor 800m crown in 2003 (2:00.09) and fourth in the semi-finals (1:59.50) at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greeceshe has battled back each time from injuries. The setbacks included plantar fasciitis, a navicular stress fracture, anemia, and a sports hernia (athletic pubalgia). The sports hernia, in January 2006, necessitated surgery, which kept Teter away from running for nearly ten months.
Still hungry to resume where she had left off, Teter relocated to Eugene, Ore. in January 2007 to rejoin veteran coach Frank Gagliano. Gagliano, commonly known as “Coach Gags,” has coached Teter since 2002 when she was a member of the Nike Farm Team in Palo Alto, Calif. In 2007, Gagliano accepted a position heading up the newly established, Nike-sponsored Oregon Track Club (OTC) Elite. Now a member of OTC Elite, Teter recovered quickly enough to win a third U.S. indoor 800m championship title in February of this yearwhich qualified her for the U.S, team that competed at the IAAF World Indoor Track and Field Championships in Valencia, Spain. Teter made it to the semi-final round in Spain.
Teter is scheduled to run against a star-studded 800m field this Sunday, June 8, at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore. The Pre Classic is on Teter’s competitive road to the 2008 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials (June 27-July 6, Eugene, Ore.).
Pacific Association/USATF’s Silver Lumsdaine caught up with Teter and posed a few questions about her campaign in an important Olympic year.
Pacific Association/USATF: You’re entered in the 800 meters at the Prefontaine Classic this weekend. Can you tell me a little about your goals for this race?
Nicole Teter: I’ve had a bit of an injury since World Indoors (the 2008 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Valencia, Spain) in March, so this is my first opener for outdoors. My goal is basically to be competitive and run fast!
PA/USATF: You ran in an exhibition race set up for OTC Elite on May 29th (where Teter ran 2:04.46 for 800m). That was at the track on the Nike campus in Beaverton, Ore.?
PA/USATF: And it was at the annual Nike employee picnic? What was that like?
Oh it was fun! (laughs) For my race, it was early, so there weren’t a lot of people out there. By the time the actual mile (races) went off, which is what the whole event is about, there were a lot of people out there. They were drinking beer, eating food, and it was a lot of fun to watch that. The (Nike) campus is pretty cool.
Most of the people in the race were my teammates, and then there were a couple of local Eugene athletes running. We were going through the first lap at two (minutes) flat pace, and then seeing what we could do coming home from that.
PA/USATF: How did that last 400 meters feel?
N.T.: It felt fine. I came through in exactly what my coach wanted me to. I wanted to run a little faster than 2:04, but that was fine for where I feel I’m at now.
PA/USATF: So the race was just a rust buster?
N.T.: That’s basically what it was, which is why I don’t necessarily consider it an opener. The Prefontaine will be my first competitive open race (since World Indoors).
PA/USATF: Tell me about the decision not to run Reebok and to do the exhibition race instead? (Teter was listed as an entrant in the 800m at the Reebok Grand Prix, a USA Track & Field 2008 Outdoor Visa Championship Series event, on May 31 in New York.)
N.T.: It was never in the works to run that (the Reebok Grand Prix). For some reason my name was on the list, but we never actually talked about running that race. It was just too far to travel a week before Prefontaine.
PA/USATF: You won the 800 meters at the 2008 AT&T USA Indoor Track & Field Championships in February (Teter clocked a 2:02.65 for the win). In an interview, you mentioned you were back to 85 percent of where you were five years ago. Can you comment on that?
N.T.: I was, at that point, back to where I was five years ago. Then, I bruised my heel and from that acquired Achilles tendinitis. That was about a five to six week setback.
PA/USATF: Was that injury right after the U.S. Indoor Championships?
N.T.: Indoors (the race) felt great, but, on the plane ride home, I wore some shoes that were inappropriate for my foot, and I bruised my heel. Traveling to World Indoors and then racing on it just escalated the injury.
PA/USATF: You have to stay out of those four-inch heels, right?
N.T.: (laughs) I don’t wear heels at all, ever. (still laughing)
PA/USATF: At World Indoors you advanced to semi-finals with a 2:01.73 in the first round. In the semi-finals, you ran 2:04.72 and didn’t advance to finals. Was that a fitness issue? Was it your Achilles?
N.T.: It was my Achilles. I thought about not racing because it was really painful, and this is an Olympic year, but I’m a competitor and I love to race. I really thought that I could work through it. It turned out that I couldn’t. My decision to race was really mixed. I was at Worlds, I wanted to compete, but I was in pain and my heel hurt, so I probably shouldn’t have competed.
PA/USATF: How’s the heel feeling now?
N.T.: My heel’s feeling pretty good. It’s holding up really solid. I’m doing workouts and running again really consistently. I did have a minor accident yesterday morning, though. I wiped out on my road bike, so now I have a bruised hip and scarred arm. (sheepishly, laughing out loud at herself) But that just adds a little character!
PA/USATF: And a little color?
N.T.: A lot more color! (still laughing) And a minor bit of stiffness.
PA/USATF: You’ve overcome a multitude of injuries since 2002 when you broke the American record in the indoor 800 meters. To what do you attribute your resilience?
N.T.: I can attribute a lot of that to my coach. He’s really smart about helping me get through the injuries and getting me back to racing again. Other than that, it’s probably my love of competition. I love competing, and that’s why I run.
PA/USATF: Has there ever been a time when you’ve said ‘That’s it, I’m done?’
N.T.: I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve thought that. Way too many to count! But the good definitely outweighs the bad for me. I love what I do. Since I’ve been with Coach Gags, I’ve always had a lot of good people around me to help me get healthy: doctors, massage therapists, physical therapists. A lot of my being able to run now is because of those people.
PA/USATF: How long have you been in Eugene?
N.T.: I moved here in January of 2007.
PA/USATF: What convinced you to move to Eugene? Did Coach Gags contact you? Did you contact him?
N.T.: Well, Gags and I were never out of contact with one another. From Palo Alto, I moved to Atlanta. I was recovering from a sports hernia surgery. Once I got healthy, the plan was to train with Gags again. That’s why I moved here (to Oregon).
PA/USATF: How long were you in Atlanta?
N.T.: I was there from 2006 to 2007, so I was there for a little over a year.
PA/USATF: It’s a little warm there.
N.T.: Yes, everyone calls it “Hotlanta.” It wasn’t necessarily for me. (laughs)
PA/USATF: Since Gags has been your coach for so long, he obviously knows how your body reacts to different workouts. How has he changed your workouts to adapt to your body’s specific needs?
N.T.: I do less mileage and more intensity in my workouts. I supplement my workouts with a lot of training on the bike or in the pool, water running or on the treadmill. We’re constantly working on building strength: mile repeats, 1,000s, 800s. All those long things that 800 meter runners don’t like to hear. (laughs)
PA/USATF: Can you describe a typical workout week as you build towards the Trials?
N.T.: We’re sticking with one or two strength days and one speed day. In between is low mileage supplemented with cross training. Yesterday I did quarter (400 meter) repeats and 300 (meters). Tomorrow will probably be 600s or 800s followed by some fast stuff. If I’m not racing in a particular week, then I’ll do a time trial or something really fast for the next workout. Four or five days a week I’m doing strides, weights, strength work. Nothing really tapers down until the week before the Olympic Trials.
PA/USATF: What are you hitting mileage-wise?
N.T.: Probably about 35 (miles per week). But if there were a way to add up what I’m doing in the pool, on the treadmill, and on the bike, it would add up to what a high/mid-distance runner would be doing. We stick me around 50 miles a week with two cross training days in there. That’s what we’re trying to simulate.
Right now, with where I’m at with my Achilles, the really low mileage keeps my legs fresh for the workouts. We’ll see how the races come, but the workouts feel great. Being able to bike takes the pressure off my injuries. It really helps a lot.
PA/USATF: As long as you avoid the biking injuries.
N.T.: (laughs) Yes, as long as it’s not raining, and you don’t slip and fall on cobblestones.
PA/USATF: You’re originally from California. Has it been difficult adjusting to Eugene’s wet weather?
N.T.: I find that I’ve acclimated to the weather very well here. It’s not too hot or too cold. The rain is not bad. The sun, when it comes outyou’re just so appreciative of it. It’s so green and lush here. I like the greens and the plant life.
PA/USATF: You’ve already run the Olympic “A” standard of 2:00.00 for 800 meters (Teter ran 1:59.91 at the 2007 Prefontaine Classic). Do you feel that’s an advantage heading into the Olympic Trials?
N.T.: Yes and no. I’m glad I already have the standard and I don’t have to chase it, but I think whoever places in the top three at the Trials will have to run under two minutes (there) anyway.
PA/USATF: You also ran 4:08.73 for 1,500 meters at the adidas Track Classic in May, 2007. Did you consider moving up to the 1,500?
N.T.: I had high hopes of doubling this year, but the five to six weeks of decreased mileage (due to the Achilles injury) [eliminated my chances as] one of the top contenders. I am entered in the 1,500 meters at the Trials, though. If something went wrong with the 800, I would definitely attempt the 1,500. I do like the 1500, I just feel like I have more of an 800-meter mentality. Those extra laps…. (laughs). I do really appreciate the 1,500. It’s a tough, competitive race.
PA/USATF: What do you feel is your biggest strength as a runner?
N.T.: I love to compete, and I’m not afraid to compete with whomever is in the race. It doesn’t matter who is in it. I would put myself in there.
PA/USATF: Have you always felt that way, or has that competitiveness come about as you’ve gained confidence in your performances?
N.T.: I’ve always felt like that. When I was young, I’d take the lead in ridiculous instances at very competitive meets. I’d go out and lead the race for 400 or 500 meters, and then completely die and get last place. (laughs) But, it didn’t matter because I had fun leading. I just love to compete. I don’t like to sit back and let everyone else do the work.
PA/USATF: Do you have any specific people in your life right now who keep you balanced?
N.T.: My boyfriend of about a year now, (2001 USA Outdoor 1,500m Champion) Andy Downin. He’s been such a blessing in my life. He’s been very supportive of my running and just life in general. Also, my best friend, Rachel, who I’ve known since 1993. Although she lives in San Diego, we talk every other day. She keeps me grounded, along with Andy.
PA/USATF: Any final thoughts as you head into the Trials and into the Prefontaine Classic?
N.T.: For me, it’s all about having fun and loving the sport of track and field). For as long as I’m involved in the sport, that’s what I want to continually remind myself and others. Believe in yourself, and believe in competing for the right reasons, and for just having fun.
Story published in early June, 2008