Halfway through 2007, Nicole Cueno, 27 of Minneapolis gets my award for Most Improved runner. To give you a sense of her improvement, last year Nicole ran a solid 1:29:18 at the New Prague Half Marathon. This year she improved that by nearly 8 minutes with her 1:21:25, which was good enough for 2nd place. Combine that with a 2nd place finish at Human Race and a 5th place finish at Get in Gear and Nicole currently finds herself at the top of the Runner of the Year standings. Those results don’t include her Grandma’s Marathon results where she PRd by over 3 minutes to finish 13th overall. Find out the former D3 1500 meter Champion’s secrets below. (Photo courtesy of Wayne Kryduba)
Given how you were running in 2006, compared to 2007, I think the most obvious question is what’s your secret? What the heck have you been doing differently to account for you dramatic improvement?
It’s not exactly a secret that poor training leads to poor racing. Luckily the reverse is also true. I have gone from a very low point in post-collegiate training to a pretty high point in the span of a little over a year. From spring 2005 to summer 2006, my life was structured in a way that was conducive neither to motivation nor to training well. It was the changes in the structure of my life in the last year that came first. After that, a surprisingly successful Chicago marathon motivated my winter training and has resulted in a fun spring racing season.
Are you working with a coach? Do you tend to follow any certain program? If not, can you give us an outline of your training for Grandma’s Marathon (MPW, key phases and workouts, taper, etc.)?
I don’t have a coach but I think about it sometimes. I have taken bits and pieces of previous training programs as well as those I have read online or in Running Times in devising each of my own marathon training programs. More specifically, in training for Grandma’s I did more long runs and more workouts but did fewer MPW than I ever have. I think it resulted in getting the most out of the key components while still having true rest days and strength training.
That training lead to a 2:52:42 on tough day. What was your goal heading into the race? Did it change once you saw the race day weather?
I’d be lying if I said the qualifying standard hadn’t passed through my mind as a goal for Grandma’s. Ultimately, I felt that I was as fit as I had ever been for a marathon but that the qualifying time was still a bit beyond me even on a good day and I knew it was probably going to be hot.
How do you feel about your race and the results?
I’m not unhappy with the result—it was a PR—but I’m disappointed with my racing. I knew that I probably wasn’t in shape for faster than 6:30s and it was hot but instead of sticking to my plan, I ran impatiently at the beginning and paid for it in the end. Not a surprise that my average pace ended up being 6:36 and that the final ten miles were rather hellish. The only redeeming part was that my pace started to falter a bit after most others so I got to do quite a bit of passing instead of the opposite. That made it a lot easier to keep my head on (somewhat) straight and keep my legs moving.
What’s next? Does a 2:52 give you the confidence to take a shot at the Olympic Trials qualifier, which is 2:47?
Five minutes (let’s be honest – it was pretty close to 2:53) is a lot of time. That Grandma’s was such a hot day and that I raced so poorly does make me excited to run another marathon this year. Who knows though, my school/work schedule is pretty nutty right now.
It looks like you were a 1500 meter runner at Grinnell College. Was that your specialty or did you run other events as well?
The 1500 was my favorite and most successful race through my junior year. I lost that speed when I took off too much weight my senior year. It worked well for the 5k and 10k but wasn’t very healthy. I’d do it differently if I had to do it over again.
How would you describe your college career?
Fortunate. I’m thankful for the wonderful teammates and general philosophy I gleaned from Grinnell. We had more fun than anything else and it’s what I try to go back to when my running needs it. Those are still my greatest friends and we are inevitably combining some outrageous physical activity with any of our trips to see each other.
A lot of college runners have a hard time making the transition to road racing. What has your experience been?
Road racing combines what I love about cross country with what I love about track. I also really enjoy competing. So, my post-collegiate running struggles centered more around the role of running in my life rather than exactly what type of running I would be doing.
What do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
Strength: I love to make training plans and I think they keep getting better (I’m obviously biased) and I love how I feel when I’m training hard and smart.
Weakness: I let aspects of my life affect my training more than they sometimes should.
What are your PRs?
½ marathon: 1:20:16
What is your fondest running memory?
It feels a bit silly to say but it’s also silly not to say: winning the 1500 at D3 nationals. It was the closest finish I have ever been a part of: there were four of us and I wasn’t sure who had won at the end. It was surreal: I feel very fortunate to have experienced that one.
If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
I may be limiting myself, but I really believe I have the greatest group of running friends right now for whatever type of workout I might need…and they’re all sweethearts – lovely to talk to and fabulous to run with.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
It’s okay that running partially defines who I am. I spent a lot of time fighting that. That may end at some point but for right now I’m really enjoying it.