Nicole Stevenson: Lifetime runner, professional career woman, successful coach, great friend, mentor and role model to many. I wanted to know a little more about how one of our greatest home grown talents got to where she is. For more information check her out at www.nicolestevenson.ca
Half Marathon 1:12:51
Marathon 2:32:56 – fastest female Canadian marathon 2002, 2004
Ironman 10hr 38min – 3:05 marathon at Ironman Brazil, run course record
RW: When and how did you first get into running?
NS: I started running in middle school. My brother Avery who is one year older, was already a successful and popular runner, so I thought I’d give it a try. I wasn’t very good at first, and even quit the cross country team in grade six! Things changed quickly. I showed talent when I went out for track and the rest is history. I was absolutely hooked on running and racing.
RW: Tell me about your experience training and racing in the US college system. Was there a lot of pressure to log big miles and produce top results?
NS: I heard about all the pressure put on athletes going to US schools but I didn’t encounter what’s mentioned above. I went to Wake Forest knowing it had a strong team, but the best runners were all 800-1500m runners. I quickly established myself as the top distance runner in cross country. On the track I knew I needed to further develop my speed but I was moved up to longer distances because that’s where the team was weak. So I have a little regret that I never got my top speed developed, but at the same time I can’t complain about free schooling, fantastic race opportunities and a very good education. I am still in touch with my best friends from Wake.
RW: When you graduated and came back to Canada, what role did running/racing play in your life as you developed your professional career?
NS: When I came home I really noticed the difference between Canadian and US opportunities. In the US I was offered a full academic scholarship to obtain Master’s degree in Biology and was offered a spot to train full time with a couple of American running clubs. Foolishly, I turned down both of these since I was homesick and figured the same opportunities would come my way in Ontario. I was very wrong and became very disheartened at the lack of support compared to the US, both academically and athletically. So I took a full time job and started coaching myself. My job became more and more important, and only in my late 20’s did I start to realize that my prime running years were slipping by. At that time I started working with Dave Reid and Hugh Cameron as my coaches and found success very quickly. I had a strong running background and aerobic base, I just needed support to put the physical and mental aspects all together to hit fast times.
RW: When and why did you decide to take it to the next step and train seriously for the Olympics?
NS: After training with coaches for only a year, I was soon convinced that I should move up in distance. So I ran my first marathon in 2002 and was pleasantly surprised at my time: 2:36! Not bad for a rookie (well, kind of rookie, I had run Chicago self-coached in 1999 in 3:12 and ran Boston in 2000 while injured but just for the experience). That time was the fastest in Canada and then I decided to make training a priority and see how far I could go.
I wouldn’t say I ever trained “for” the Olympics. I really trained for myself and those supporting me. The Olympics became a target when I hit the international standard in 2004.
RW: Tell me a bit about that experience. What did the training entail mileage-wise? What was a sample week? What were some of your toughest workouts? How did you fit it into “the rest of your life” with balancing work and social life?
NS: My training was not “epic” compared to some of the programs I’ve seen (and have even provided to athletes!) I suffered injuries as a teenager and into my early 20’s and therefore trained a little cautiously, trying to avoid any injuries or setbacks.
Each year I added to my average weekly mileage. Back in 2003 I was running about 100-110km per week and scored 2:36. I moved up to 120-125km per week the following year but didn’t see many gains. In 2004 I advanced to 130-135km per week and managed to get a PB 2:33. I tried to bump up mileage again after that but I’d often build fatigue and have to move back to the 130-135k. I think I have run one week at 100 miles (160km) but couldn’t repeat it – if I wanted to be able to get out of bed each day and keep my job!
For workouts, I would do 1 shorter interval workout per week, 800-1200m repeats, and one longer interval workout that had mile, 2k repeats and sometimes longer. I ran a long run most weekends, minimum 2hr and max 3hr, reducing these just before key races and during recovery phases.
My goal is training was to push myself hard but rarely red-line it. I think this was a safe way to train but it says a lot about how cautious I can be.
RW: Now you’re quite a successful coach with the Angels group. Tell me a bit about them.
NS: University of Toronto coach Ross Ristuccia approached me late 2008 when I was finished with my international career. I had hit a bump in the road after 2006 and decided to pursue other avenues, including coaching. At UTTC I worked with the senior female athletes, those who had graduated from UofT but were still training with the club. I was instantly hooked! Working with people to help them achieve their goals quickly became my new fix in life.
In 2011 I started to work independently of UTTC so I could recruit athletes outside of the university. Since then in our group of about 20 women, we have had great success with many 1-2-3 Angels podium finishes at Toronto races. With the Angels group my goal is to help young (23+) athletes reach their potential and to develop elite and international level runners. It has been very rewarding so far for all of us, with support for training and racing and also in careers, families and other life happenings.
RW: How does running fit into your own life now?
NS: I have been living in Montreal for two years while all my running friends and athletes are in Toronto. I definitely have noticed how much motivation comes from hanging out with runners! Some days I find it tough to get out the door because I don’t have the same circle of fitness buffs here, but I have been doing enough to stay fit for my comeback. I’ll return to Toronto this summer and promise to push myself again for the start of my master’s (40+) career.
RW: What is your favourite workout?
NS: I have two favourite workouts. One is the execution run (sounds intimidating, eh?) which is a long run that includes some tempo, some marathon pace and then some all-out running at the very end.
My favourite interval workout is never-ending 1k repeats. You do as many as you but once your pace starts slowing then you allow yourself just one more…
RW: What is your favourite race?
NS: I love any race that has good crowds and warm weather! I enjoy the Canada Running Series events for their elite lists and fast courses, but I also enjoy competing in places where I am anonymous and just race my heart out.
RW: What is your favourite food?
NS: Chocolate almonds and peanut butter sandwiches.
RW: Any advice for those trying to fit their running into a busy life?
NS: Do what you can and make it fun. Run with friends as much as you can.
Sometimes when you have a busy day you can break up your runs into two short runs, 1 in the morning and 1 after work. Heading out the door for 20-30min is easier for your mind than packing in an hour every day.
Be very aware of how you’re feeling. If you don’t feel like heading out the door, it might be because you don’t have much in the tank that day. Run hard days when you are rested, nourished and hydrated and not when you are feeling tired and stressed out from long days.
RW: Thanks so much – see you on the roads!!!