Nicole Studer, 2014 Rocky Raccoon 100 Champion, Interview
Nicole Studer of Dallas, Texas won the 2013 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile. In 2014, she returned to the race looking to improve upon that previous performance. In her first interview with iRunFar, Nicole talks about her history with running, how her race played out mile-by-mile, and whether she will accept the Western States 100 entry that was allotted to her through winning this Montrail Ultra Cup race.
[Editor’s Note: Due to logistics, we interviewed Nicole over the phone rather than by video. We apologize that the format of her interview is different from the rest of our RR100 post-race interviews.]
iRunFar: First of all, congratulations, Nicole. How are you feeling?
Nicole Studer: I feel okay. I feel better than expected. I think every 100 miler than I’ve run I’m now starting to feel better afterwards, so that’s good news. I’m still sore, of course.
iRunFar: Is this the kind of sore where you need to lower yourself down into the chair and use a rail to go down the stairs, or is this a little more mild than that?
Studer: Yesterday it was more at that level. Today I’m walking okay. I think my feet are just a little rough still, so I think that that’s my biggest problem at this point. I think by the end of the week hopefully I’ll be able to get jogging again. I have a Border Collie at home and she was very angry this morning that she didn’t get to go run. It’s hard to explain to her.
iRunFar: Let’s start with some background on you. The race registry tells us you’re 31 years old and from Dallas, Texas. I lived in Texas for five years, so I know that when you meet a Texan, the first question they ask you is if you were born in Texas or if you’ve moved there.
Studer: I’m a transplant. I can’t claim to be legitimately from Texas. My husband is a true, born-and-bred Texan, so he’s very proud of that. I’m actually from Chicago, Illinois. I grew up in the suburbs above Chicago.
iRunFar: How did you find your way down to Dallas?
Studer: I actually went to law school at Baylor in Waco, Texas. After school, I graduated and my husband and I decided to stay in Texas. I love it down here. I actually love the warm weather. That’s such a draw for me. I really enjoy living in Texas.
iRunFar: You mentioned a moment ago before we started the interview that you are a compliance attorney?
Studer: Yes, I work for a company called Powers Watson and we specialize in employee benefits. So we do a lot with health-care reform and federal laws and just making sure large companies are in compliance. So in conjunction with that, I travel a lot, so it’s pretty fun to get to run in different cities. I always enjoy that.
iRunFar: You must be getting your training in around the country then.
Studer: Yes, pretty much, just trying to do the best I can in terms of running in conjunction with work which is always tricky, but I usually make it work. I try to train really hard on the weekends, so that helps.
iRunFar: When I look at your UltraSignup profile, the first ultra race was from 2012. Basically in 2012 you started ultras and have pretty much won every one of them since. That sort of informs me that maybe you did some sort of running or sports before taking up ultras?
Studer: Yes, well I have gotten beat for sure, but I ran in high school and college and even junior high; so I’ve really run since I was probably about 10 years old. I’ve been doing it forever. I ran in college at Northwestern; we ran cross country. So yes, I’ve really been running for the majority of my life.
iRunFar: What made you take up ultrarunning?
Studer: I always enjoyed running far as opposed to fast. So I thought ultrarunning would probably be more up my alley. I don’t really enjoy focusing on my time, so I figured ultrarunning was just the best type of sport for me. So I started and did my first race and it just kind of clicked and now I love it. But again, I just kind of fell into it watching other people sign up. I wasn’t sure what to expect for my first race.
iRunFar: Was that through the Dallas running community or did you get into it by watching people online? I know there’s a pretty rowdy group of ultrarunners in Dallas.
Studer: Ironically, I don’t know why we have that because we probably have the worst area for trails in the country. We have a couple, but they’re certainly not close to downtown Dallas. Yeah, we do have really great ultrarunners in Dallas. I think just by hearing their stories I kind of decided I’d give it a shot, too. I’m part of a running group that’s great—it’s the White Rock Running Co-op. We actually meet very close to my house, so I just fell into that. I met some of the greatest people. So I train with the White Rock Running Co-op most of the week, mostly on the roads. That’s why I get in most of my miles with in addition to my dog, Bella, who is also a running partner.
iRunFar: Let’s talk about Rocky Raccoon 100. You ran Rocky last year. Was that your first 100?
Studer: Yes, Rocky was my first 100, so I had no expectations going into that race. It ends up being great. I felt pretty strong until my last loop, and then my legs kind of fell apart and I just kind of made it to the finish. Yeah, that was certainly my first 100.
iRunFar: Despite you saying your legs fell apart on the last loop, you still ran under 17 hours. That’s a fast 100.
Studer: Yeah, I was very proud. I couldn’t believe it. Same with the race on Saturday; it was a great race but very unbelievable to me—surprised.
iRunFar: Given your experience at Rocky last year, did you run this year with different goals? Was it, “I’m going to put myself in a position to feel good on the last loop?” Was it, “Run faster?” Was it time goals? What was in your head pre-race?
Studer: Well, going into the race, I just wanted to run the best race I could. I knew there were so many great runners coming out. I really had no expectations that I would beat them. Again, my goal was to run a faster time than last year. I was hoping to run at least 45 minutes faster. I thought my training was stronger this year. I just felt like I could do a faster last loop if I could hold it together and just be mentally strong. So that’s how I went into Rocky. As I said, I really didn’t expect to beat a lot of the top runners—they have such great credentials. I was just hoping to run the best race I could.
iRunFar: This year, Rocky served as the USATF Trail 100-Mile Championships and as a Montrail Ultra Cup Race. So that really changed the look of the starting line-up. It brought some runners in from around the country who are pretty fast.
Studer: Oh absolutely. I’ve never run… most of the races that I’ve run I’ve just never run against such strong runners on the trail.
iRunFar: So knowing that there were some girls coming who were Ultrarunner of the Year [Michele Yates], a world-record holder [Pam Smith], were you in your mind trying to temper yourself? Just do your own thing and see how it pans out. Or were you thinking, I’m going to try to race these women?
Studer: I really learned long ago with running that the best thing you can do is just stick to your own plan and run your own race and use others to help you. I can’t try and keep up with other people that are much faster than me. I knew going into the race that I was just going to try and be tough and just do the best that I could. Yes, looking at some of those names I didn’t really expect to in any way to finish above them. Yeah, going into the race my plan was just to try and run as strong as I could and if I could get in the top three, that would be amazing. The place wasn’t really as important to me as improving on last year.
iRunFar: Walk us through your race. For the folks who are unfamiliar with Rocky, it’s a 20-mile course that is repeated five times. There are some out-and-backs, and there is a little bit of repeated terrain. Walk us through, loop-by-loop. When you came through at mile 20, you were tied for secondplace with Pam Smith. Michele Yates was a couple minutes in front of you. Where were you at mentally and physically there? Was it all pretty good early on?
Studer: I felt good in the first loop. I felt excited. It was fun to run behind Pam and speak with her. I thought that was great. She’s a very smart person, and I knew she probably had a very good race plan. I figured I was putting myself in a good position and as long as I felt strong, my plan was kind of to follow her at that point. So after the first loop I felt pretty good. Going on through loop two I felt pretty strong as well.
iRunFar: During the second loop is where you moved into second-place position, not tied with Pam any more as she dropped back. There was a growing deficit between you and Michele. She had put a couple more minutes on you in that loop. Was that you maintaining and her speeding up? Was that you sort of thinking, Okay, we’re still really early, I need to ease off? What was happening there?
Studer: I don’t run with a watch, so honestly I wasn’t really looking at pace; I was kind of running by feel. I think that I slowed a little at that point just because I was just shifting into the pace, just feeling relaxed. I felt like I had a good position. I felt like it was a smart idea to run with Pam and a group of people rather than running by myself. I always prefer to have friends around to talk with. I wasn’t really trying to keep up with Michele. She’s such a strong runner. I was just, again, trying to run my pace and feel strong.
iRunFar: So I hate to skip so many miles because each mile is pretty meaningful when you’re actually running, but let’s skip to the fourth loop. And this is the loop where you took over first place at the aid station at mile 72. Did you know that that was about to happen? Did you see Michele from the back?
Studer: No, I had no idea. Actually, when we finished passing that aid station, we were running and a guy who was running near said, “Congratulations you’re in first.” I kind of looked at him with an odd look, “No, I’m in second; I think Michele is way ahead.” He said, “No, she’s in a chair over there.” I kind of looked and, “What?” He explained to me that she was sitting down. That was really surprising. I had thought she looked strong the whole time. I thought she was making up distance on me. The fact that that happened was very surprising. Again, I just kind of shook my head and just said, “Okay, I’m just going to keep running my race.” Just keep trucking at that point. But again, that was very surprising to be told you’re in first place at that point in the race. I was surprised. I was with one of my friends who in the context of US Track and Field rules was my safety runner, and he and I just looked at each other and said, “Okay, we’ll just keep running.”
iRunFar: So from there on out, you were the leader but you had some pressure from behind the entire time by Kaci Lickteig. She was just there. She was relentless in being there. Were you thinking about her and trying to maintain your place? Were you just trying to live inside yourself?
Studer: By the fifth loop I kind of figured, You know, I’ve run this far. I don’t want to lose at this point. I’m going to keep trying to keep my pace up. But she looked strong the whole time. She seemed like a great runner. She was always smiling along the course, so she always looked strong. She seems like she’s an awesome runner. I guess at the end we were so close it turned into a really strong race. Luckily I had a lot of great support from my safety runners. We just kept trucking along and moving. They kept encouraging me. “Keep running.” “Keep putting one foot in front of the other.” We run together all the time, so it’s great to have friends helping you—just to run with, just to have somebody else to be there with you on the trails especially when it gets dark.
iRunFar: Were you aware… because something happened between you and Kaci between mile 86 and mile 92. You left mile 86 with an 11-minute lead, and you came back to mile 92 with a five-minute lead. Were you in a low spot there, or do you think Kaci was just really trying to turn it on in that moment?
Studer: I think I was probably slowing down a little. I did start walking up some of the hills. For the most part on the course I pretty much ran the whole time. But a little bit in that section I did walk up a couple hills. I was getting tired. Yeah, I think she was just picking it up. I think she’s a competitor and she was just feeling strong. So I think she made up some time on me.
iRunFar: You managed to stop purging seconds to her in the last eight miles. You only gave up another 90 seconds.
Studer: Oh, that’s good.
iRunFar: In your head, were you like, Okay, this is it. Really push!
Studer: At that point I knew I just needed to push. Again, my safety runners were just telling me, “You’ve got to go! You’ve got to go! Keep it up!” I kept trying to just move ahead. That’s when in my mind I just kind of figured, “Ah, I just have to make it to the finish line.” The faster you run, the sooner you’re done. That’s my motto.
iRunFar: 15:42:04 was your final time. I mean, that’s one of the fastest finishes in Rocky history. The only women who have run faster are Jenn Shelton and Liza Howard. Did you have any idea you were running that fast?
Studer: No, not at all. Again, I don’t even wear a watch, so I felt like I was running a lot stronger than last year. I knew it was going to come down the last loop to figure out how much I could beat my time. No, that was very surprising to me. I was very happy about that.
iRunFar: I haven’t done the research, but [your performance] has to be a top-five American trail 100-mile time. Going into the race, you kind of put Michele Yates and Pam Smith in a different category, but you put yourself basically in the same category with them in this race. It’s an outstanding performance. Looking back, I know it’s Monday morning and it’s only 36 hours in hindsight, but is there any hindsight of the fact that it was a significant day out for you?
Studer: Yeah, it was like a dream day. Everything just fell together, and that’s what you hope for. I think actually the approach to running for me at least is, I always just go into the race just being as positive as I can thinking I’m going to try my best and give it my all because I never want to go out and leave a race feeling like I had more to leave on the course. So that’s just what I tried to do at Rocky. And it really helped to have Kaci behind me at the end really pushing because it just made me run faster. I had so much support. My husband is so supportive of running. He doesn’t run at all, but he’s always out at every aid station trying his best to figure out what to help me with. Again, I had three guys who came out to be my safety runners, two named Brent and James. They are just the best. They’re the best running partners. It helped to have them. It felt like everything came full circle and I just really lucked out with a great race. I don’t know what to say. I’m as shocked as you are.
iRunFar: Last question for you, most of the racing you’ve done has been on the regional level in Texas. What’s next? Do you think you’ll put yourself in a position to race on a more national level against some of the fast girls from around the country?
Studer: Probably a little more so. I am going to do Western States this year.
iRunFar: So you’re going to take your ticket?
Studer: Yeah, I am. And I started running with Team Red White and Blue, so that’s been fun to be part of that group. It seems like they do a lot of more broad races than just regional, so that will be exciting. I don’t really know. I haven’t really planned out what I’m going to do for the rest of the year. My work schedule is pretty brutal on travel, so that’s kind of sometimes what leads me to staying in Texas more. I do think I am going to start running some bigger races at least a couple times per year.
iRunFar: I will look forward to seeing you compete at Western States this summer.
Studer: Thank you. Thank you so much for your time.
iRunFar: You’ll be well adapted to the heat doing your training in Dallas.
Studer: I love the heat. I always look forward to races where I can use that to my advantage. I think Rocky, too, the humidity really was advantageous for us from Texas.
iRunFar: Thank you so much, Nicole.