Though troubled by injuries, Kristen Nicolini has accomplished quite a bit in her time with USA MN. She captured more than PRs and individual honors, she also met and married her husband, fellow Team USA MN marathoner, Jason Lehmkuhle. Here she tells us about the journey.
Down the Backstretch: Ten years ago the Team USA concept was just an idea waiting to happen. What were your thoughts when it started? Why did you get involved? What did you hope to get from the experiment?
Kristen Nicolini: I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I applied to the group. I had never even stepped foot in Minnesota. However, I was struggling back in Villanova trying to train as a post collegiate runner. I decided that making the move to Minnesota and joining Team USA was the best option for me.
I got involved with the group for several reasons. Team USA provides coaching, medical support, and great training facilities. When I first joined the group the ultimate goal was to make an Olympic team and set a lot of PR's along the way. Obviously, I have not reached every goal but I still think my best running is yet to come.
DtB: Did you have any idea then that ten years later you would still be involved? Was there a plan or commitment you had in mind when you first signed up?
KN: I can't believe I have been involved with the group for ten years. It has gone really fast! I feel lucky to have been one of the original members. I did not set a time limit on my running career when I first
accepted a spot on the team.
After making the final in the 5K of the 2004 Olympic trials and setting a PR, I definitely wanted more. In 2008 I felt like I was in the best shape of my life but wound up injured and unable to compete in the trials. This injury was even more motivating and left me eager to give the 2012 marathon and track trials a shot. Fortunately, despite some of my injuries the group has remained supportive of me in one way or another and I hope to be at my best come 2012.
DtB: What has been the highlight or highlights of those ten years?
KN: I feel like my earlier years with Team USA were plagued with injury. Therefore, most of my better races have been in the last three years. Two of my biggest accomplishments have been, running my first half marathon in under 1:13, earning a spot on the World Championship team, and running my first marathon in 2:35. When I first moved here I had never raced further than a 3K except for cross country in college.
Needless to say, I have come a long way aerobically under Dennis's coaching.
DtB: What have been the greatest challenges?
KN: My greatest challenges have been overcoming injury. There were some injuries that knocked me out for over a year and I worried that they might sideline me forever. Fortunately, I have always been able to come back stronger and faster.
Another one of my greatest challenges is holding myself back. As distance runners it is in our nature to be work horses. However, I do think it is possible to work too hard leaving yourself over trained and unable to race at your best.
I also strive to keep some sort of balance in my life and I get this balance by working as well as training. I have worked pretty close to full-time at Marathon Sports for a little over three years. I wouldn't be able to hold these hours and train if it weren't for the flexibility that I am given. I am very grateful to have this opportunity.
DtB: What were the primary objectives you hoped to achieve?
KN: There are still a lot things I have not accomplished with my running career. However, my primary objectives were to set as many PR's as possible and compete to the best of my ability every time I stepped on the line. Who doesn't want to make Olympic teams and win as many national championships as possible? I have done neither, but I continue to put my best foot forward in everything I do. In these next couple of years I want to get the most out of myself as an athlete and see what I can accomplish.
DtB: What would you still like to accomplish, see happen with the program?
KN: I would still like to take a stab at making an Olympic team in 2012. It might be a long shot, but you never know what the future holds. I hope to make the most out of my racing in the next couple of years. I know if I compete as best I can, faster times will come.
Hopefully, the program will continue to attract some of the best post collegiate runners in the country and ultimately be the top distance training camp. Those of us who have been around for ten years have really seen this program grow. There is a lot more support on both the medical and financial side than there was when I first joined the team. The group now has access to facilities such as ACCUA and their underwater treadmill. This has been huge for someone like myself with an injury history. I feel very blessed to have resources like this available to me. It would be great if the group could continue to add
the latest and greatest training devices to help the next generation compete to the best of their ability.
DtB: What has surprised you or was unexpected about the project?
KN: The support of the local running community has always amazed me. I have met some of the greatest people in Minnesota through running and I can't thank them enough. I have also been pleasantly surprised with all of the great running trails throughout the city. When I first packed my car and made the 20 hour drive from Philadelphia I had no idea what to expect. Ten years later I can honestly say that Minneapolis is my favorite place to train. The winters are challenging but manageable.
On a side note, I also did not expect to meet my future husband through Team USA Minnesota. I never thought I would end up married and settled in the land of ten thousand lakes.
DtB: What are your plans for the future?
KN: Everything from here on out is in preparation for the 2012 marathon and track trials. I will do a fall marathon this year and then hit the track for both and indoor and outdoor season. I feel like I have a lot of unfinished business on the track.