Nicole Studer set a new American 100-mile trail best of 14:22:18 at this past weekend’s 2015 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile. This betters Traci Falbo’s 14:45:25 which she set last fall at the 2014 Tunnel Hill 100 Mile (post-race interview). Nicole’s mark is now the third-best 100-mile time by a North American woman, and it betters Jenn Shelton’s Rocky Raccoon previous course record, which she set at 14:57:18 in 2007. This was Nicole’s third-straight Rocky win (post-2014 race interview). In this interview, read how Nicole was surprised by her own performance, how she raced to an American trail best without a watch, and how each lap of the five-loop course went for her.
iRunFar: You sound spry. Are you feeling well?
Nicole Studer: I feel pretty good. I’m a little tired after yesterday, but I’m just kind of trying to recover today.
iRunFar: Are you headed back home or are you still in Huntsville?
Studer: No, we took off this morning. We’re home. I actually have to go to Chicago for work tomorrow. There’s that big blizzard there, so I’m not sure if that’s going to transpire or not. We’ll see. I might get lucky and stay home.
iRunFar: Hopefully you’ve put your feet up in the air today and tried to get as much recovery in as you can.
Studer: Absolutely. I think my husband is tired, too, so my dogs and my husband and I are all just sitting here relaxing.
iRunFar: Wow, well, congratulations. What a day!
Studer: Thank you. I’m very surprised, actually. I didn’t expect that at all.
iRunFar: You said the same thing after your very solid performance last year when we chatted.
Studer: I think I’m actually more surprised this time. I didn’t expect that I could beat my time by so much over last year. It was shocking when I crossed the line and saw the time. I hadn’t really been focused on the times during the race. I knew I was kind of close to that record in the last loop, but I didn’t really realize that I was quite as far ahead of my time last year.
iRunFar: When I interviewed you after your win at Rocky last year, you said you didn’t wear a watch so you had no concept of your speed. Were you wearing your watch yesterday? Were people giving you updates?
Studer: No, I took the same approach and didn’t wear a watch. I just ran by how I felt. It seems to work out for me pretty well. I kept that same strategy going, or maybe the lack of strategy is a better term.
iRunFar: You were way up on record pace at 40 miles in, 50 miles in, 60 miles in. Were people telling you that or were you just, “I don’t want to hear it; I just want to run?”
Studer: I wasn’t really hearing too much about it. Occasionally I was hearing that I was on it or doing close to the record pace, but I don’t know, so much can turn sour during a hundred. I don’t always focus on where I’m at until the last loop because I really just keep trying to push really hard. I’ve run a hundred before where the last 10 miles I couldn’t run, so I just had to hobble in. I don’t want to jinx myself. I just wanted to make it until I had about eight miles left, then I figured I could pull it in from there.
iRunFar: “I could cartwheel to the finish from here if I need to.”
Studer: Yeah, or hobble and crawl is more what I was picturing.
iRunFar: You’re becoming a true master of Rocky Raccoon. This is your third-straight win. Your first win in 2013 was a 16:55 which is just fast anyway you put it. Last year you ran 15:42 and you said, “Wow, I really surprised myself. I thought I could run a little bit faster than 2013,” but you said you surprised yourself. Then this year you chopped another one hour and 20 minutes off your time. You set a huge course record. The previous course record was 14:57, so nearly 40 minutes off that course record, and you just annihilated the American 100-mile trail record. When you got to the finish and got your final time and it all started sinking in, what was going through your head?
Studer: I was in shock when I saw the time because I really had no idea that I was on that pace. I thought I was much closer to maybe the course-record time. I didn’t realize I was close to that 14:22. I was pretty aghast when I finished. It was just so nice because I had so many friends there supporting me, coming out to pace me and crew, and my husband was there as he always is supporting me. I was just excited to be with them and stop running. At that point I was eager to just sit down.
iRunFar: “I would like a chair, please.”
Studer: Yes, I’m always looking for a chair.
iRunFar: Give us the play-by-play of your race. In the first loop, I think you ran with Liza Howard?
Studer: Yeah, actually Liza was ahead of me most of the first loop. I don’t think I came up to her until the very end of that loop at the last aid station. We actually didn’t run together for most of that loop. We ran part of the second loop together which was great. She’s such a great person, so it was great to run some miles with her and hear about what she’s up to. Then I know she wasn’t having her best day, because she’s such a strong runner. She wasn’t feeling very well. At some point in that second loop, I just tried to stay with some of the guys who were running close but just at a higher pace. I felt pretty strong, so I wanted to keep pushing.
iRunFar: Right off the bat, your split from this year was way faster than last year. I think your split this year was 2:32 and last year was 2:45. Did it feel faster? What transpired in your training in the last year that allowed you to run so much faster this year?
Studer: It didn’t feel that much faster. I think part of it was the weather. Last year was a lot more humid and hot. I think it just took a toll. I felt good, but yesterday was just perfect weather conditions for running. It was just cool and in the high 50’s to low 60’s. That’s my ideal weather. Other than that, I haven’t really done anything different with regards to my training. I’ve pretty much kept the same approach.
iRunFar: Your first couple laps splits were basically not far off the splits of the lead dudes. I think Ian Sharman ran 2:28 or something right there. You ran just a couple minutes behind him. You were just on and nailing it from the get-go. Did you feel straightaway that it was going to be a good day?
Studer: I did. I just felt really strong out there. Quite honestly, I really wanted to run with Liza and try and keep up with her if I could. So when she took it out hard that first loop, I kind of decided I felt good and so I wanted to try and keep up with her if I was able. That kind of was what started my day out pretty strong. Yeah, it was a little nerve-wracking to realize I was that close to the lead men. Obviously I did drop off the pace at some point there. They held strong and I kind of faltered. I think I like to kind of go out strong and then just see what I have at the end. I’m still kind of learning how to run that last 20-mile loop strong. I think I keep getting better, but that’s still a challenge to me. I haven’t run that many hundreds. I think this is my fourth, so I’m still kind of learning.
iRunFar: And this is the kind of performance you pop out! It shows your proclivity toward this distance and your potential.
Studer: Oh, well, thanks. Honestly, I was just very surprised. Ignorance is bliss sometimes. I’m very regimented in most of the rest of my life, but with running I try not to have such a regimented plan just because I think so many things can change through the course of a run. So I’ve learned to run by how I feel, and for some reason that just works for me.
iRunFar: You’ve told us before that you’re an attorney and you do a lot of travel for work. You’re heading to Chicago for work tomorrow. Is that still your main part of your life and then you fit in your running around that?
Studer: Yeah, first and foremost, I am concerned with my day job. I do love to run, but I always feel like I do better when I keep running as a fun hobby as opposed to my full-time job. I use running as my outlet, so it’s always… I do love having a full-time job to go to every week. It creates a good balance for me, so I see myself doing that moving forward.
iRunFar: You say that your day-to-day life is pretty regimented, so you let your running be your personality’s opposition to that, maybe.
Studer: Yes, my husband makes fun of me because he always says that I’m so regimented in most of the things in my life. When it comes to running, I don’t wear a watch and I train by feel. Maybe I should adopt that principle for other aspects of my life, but I don’t know, I guess that remains to be seen.
iRunFar: It really works for you.
Studer: Thanks. I think at the end of the day, I just want to keep it fun. For me, if running is feeling fun then I just tend to do pretty well. I know in the past, when running became an extra stressor, I didn’t perform as strong. I try and keep that mentality as I move forward.
iRunFar: Take us, for a minute, into that last loop. It got dark during that point. It sounds like you had some awareness that you were pretty close to or maybe under the course record. I think you must have known that Liza’s intention was to go after the American trail record, and you were well in front of her at that point. I know you said you were just trying to get most of the way through that loop so you’d know you’d survive it. Was there any jubilation or celebration going on in that loop or did you wait until it was all over to celebrate and let yourself mentally relax?
Studer: I waited until it was all over. I’m always so paranoid to celebrate early during those races because it always seems that when you’re on the verge of celebration, something goes wrong and your body shuts down. I was really fortunate that I had great pacers—I always do—at Rocky. Some are my friends that I run with every week. They were there encouraging me. They just kept me going strong. They wouldn’t let me walk. They just kept pushing me to move forward. Every time I’d try and walk a bit, they’d kind of pull me and say, “Move along; you’ve got to get the record.” I don’t actually think they knew exactly how close I was to the record. I don’t think any of us had such a conception. It made it more fun. We just were out there trying to finish. I think, in the end, it relieves a lot of pressure maybe.
iRunFar: Last year, in the last loop, Kaci Lickteig was right on your heels—just a couple minutes back at times. This year, you knew at that point that Liza was quite a distance back and the next woman was quite a distance behind her. Whatever pressure was there must have been internally driven rather than the external pressures of other women?
Studer: Yeah, you know I think it was more internal. I just kind of kept chugging along. I kept thinking about last year’s Rocky and how Kaci was so close. I kept thinking, I’ve got to keep moving forward. She’s behind me. I was kind of always using that as kind of a… she’s such a strong runner. I can’t believe that last year she didn’t catch me. She was so close. She came so close. This year, I kind of used it just thinking that Liza was coming. I just kept trying to keep myself focused on running strong. More of it was less about the other women involved; it was more just for myself. I had given it my all at that point. I just wanted to perform the best I could. I didn’t care as much about other people. I try not to focus on what other people are doing as much because I think, at the end of the day, I can only run as strong as I can. I focus on what I need to do to give it my best.
iRunFar: Walk us through what you did for fueling and hydration. For those who aren’t totally familiar, Rocky Raccoon is, what would you say, 99% runnable?
Studer: Oh yeah, it’s totally, I would say, almost 100% runnable. Yeah. I think most of the loops I ran the entire time. I think it was just in the last loop that I was kind of walking up some hills. Yeah, it’s very runnable. In terms of fueling, I was just taking gels and drinking mostly water. My husband gave me a peanut butter sandwich at one point, I remember. I tend not to have much of a plan in terms of nutrition. I’ve just kind of figured out what I need to do to stay strong in the race and just kind of take gels accordingly. Nutrition is probably something I could improve on.
iRunFar: Do you think you were probably taking in gels every half hour or less than that?
Studer: Probably a little less than that. The first loop I didn’t really take any, but then moving forward, I was taking about four per loop or so… maybe more? It’s hard for me to gauge that because I tend to kind of zone out. Maybe I was taking more than I thought. I didn’t keep a strong watch on that. I was drinking a lot of Coke just to have extra caffeine, but again, I’m probably a failure in keeping a strict plan.
iRunFar: Whatever you’re doing, it works.
Studer: I know, thank you. I guess it’s a fun experiment.
iRunFar: Last year, Rocky was a Montrail Ultra Cup race, and so you gained a spot in Western States. But you ended up injured and weren’t able to start. What happened between Rocky and Western States last year?
Studer: I had a bizarre injury. I actually developed an abscess on my calf which is fairly unusual. Somehow my leg became infected, and my whole leg on my left side was swelling. I went to the ER and they had to clean out the abscess. That was about three weeks before Western States. My leg was not healed in time to give Western States an appropriate go, so I was very disappointed, but I had to pull out.
iRunFar: You’re back on the Western States entrants list via your second-place finish at Bandera, one of this year’s Montrail Ultra Cup races this year. You’re going to give it another go?
Studer: Yes, yes, I’m super excited. I was glad to come out of Bandera in such a place. I’m thrilled to get the chance to go back to Western States.
iRunFar: Yeah, it will be really fun to see your 100-mile leg speed on a course like Western States. And I think probably you’ll thrive in the heat.
Studer: I love the heat, yes.
iRunFar: What other parts of the course suit your strengths as a runner, do you think?
Studer: If it’s a warm day, that’s the strongest advantage I would have on that course. I think I have a lot of work to do. I think I definitely need to get some good solid hill training which is kind of hard to come by around Dallas. I would like to get some good hill work in. I was just talking to Shaheen Sattar this weekend about getting organized to do some good hill workouts. She was in the top 10 last year, so it would be fun to kind of work out with her to get ready.
iRunFar: Cool. Well, congratulations on a new Rocky Raccoon course record, three Rocky wins in a row, the third-fastest 100-mile time by a North American woman, and the new American 100-mile trail record. Holy smokes, that’s a mouth full.
Studer: Yeah, I’m in shock. It has not registered.
iRunFar: I hope at some point it becomes a reality and you can just soak in all the goodness of that. Congratulations.
Studer: Thank you. I’m beyond honored. I love the Rocky race, so it was great to run strong at that course. It’s always fun. There are so many friends out on the course every year at Rocky, so it’s a fun environment for me to just cheer people on. I love the race directors, Joe and Joyce [Prusaitis], as they put on a great race. It was a great experience.
iRunFar: Awesome. Thanks!
Studer: Thank you. I’m honored.