Christy Nielsen-Crotts LIFE and THE MARATHON
Christy Nielsen-Crotts is the “girl who runs on Highway 92 in Iowa.”
Posted Saturday, 22 May, 2004
Highway 92 was always part of her regular training route. She put in so many miles along this stretch of road that a UPS driver stopped to ask, “What are you doing? You are out here when it is 20 below and when it is 100 degrees out. What is up?” The same UPS driver now faithfully delivers her Clif Bars and running shoes and always offers words of praise and support. She explained, “I started this whole thing just running, not trying to beat anyone or make any times…whenever I get caught up in the pressure, I have to remember why I do this!”
At only 28 years-old, Christy has accomplished more than most people do in a lifetime. She became a personal trainer in 1998, qualified for the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials, and earned a Doctoral Degree in Physical Therapy from Creighton University in 2001. While training for the 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials this April, she continues to work in these fields and maintain a balanced, positive perspective on life. Christy’s clear-minded approach to the difficult task of balancing running and life will motivate you. Her philosophy of running will remind you to be grateful for the gift of being able to run. Christy’s short history in running is unique for the sport of marathoning and, as you will read, it could easily get better with age. We will all be pulling for you in April, Christy!
Tell us about your latest running highs and lows:
Really, the time since October 2002 has been a high for me. The time since Olympic Trials 2000 until October 2002 had been a really low time for me. I continued to go through the motions of running every day - yet my passion was missing - it never seemed that I had a run that felt “ right” during those 2 1/2 years. I pretty much thought that I was done marathoning. In July of 2002, I met Paul Courtaway who helped rekindle my passion for running and gave me confidence in my talent again. He began coaching me in October 2002. After working with him for 4 months, I was able to run a new PR in the half-marathon by over 1 1/2 minutes, a PR in 5 miles and I qualified for the 2004 Olympic Trials Marathon. Some may think that me not making my goal of 2:40 at Phoenix would be considered a low point - but I can’t think that way - it simply wasn’t my day. Every run, every race is an experience that makes us stronger and more prepared for our “perfect day.”
How did you come to race at the marathon distance?
Kind of strange! In the summer of 1996 I started walking/jogging 7 miles a day. When school started back up, I was bored so I began working out 2-3 times a day. A girl at the gym told me I should run a marathon - I didn’t even know the distance at that time! The Lincoln, NE marathon is only about an hour from where I went to college, so I thought, “what the heck?” The week before, I decided to go for it even though I had only one run at two hours and nothing more. People had told me my goal should be 4 hours. I started off really laid back and half way through I just took off - I ran a 3:14 and was hooked. I couldn’t believe how easy the race seemed. (Little did I know how much harder it would be to RACE a marathon!)
I have read about female marathoners peaking in their 30s. Do you think this is true? Why? What does this mean for your future?
I used to get mad when I heard this because I was 22 when I ran a 2:43. I felt I wasn’t given credit for my mental toughness and maturity. Now, I want to believe it! I can’t wait to be 30. How many females do you hear that from? But yes, I do think it is true that cardiovascularly and body developmentally, the female body peaks in its 30s. This gives me a lot of confidence for my future!
How does your training change when you are preparing for the Olympic trials?
In reality, this past year and a half has been pretty hard core for me since I have been working so hard to make a come-back. I’m sure after the trials I will take some “down time,” or maybe do some smaller races for fun.
What do you most look forward to when you think about the trials?
I love being with the most talented runners in the U.S. It is such a great opportunity to learn from them. I love knowing that I am one of only a very small number of women who get the opportunity to be there. I love knowing that all of the hard work has paid off!
What inspires you? How does this inspiration translate into running?
I am inspired most by people who set out to do things that they are unsure they can even do…People who go out on a limb to accomplishsomething with the odds against them. As a physical therapist, I see people who are told they may not walk again, kids who were born disabled - and NOTHING stops them. They seem to have NO limits.
I feel that I was given a gift. No, I am not the best in the world, but I was given the ability to run and I was given two strong legs. So why would I NOT take advantage of it and do what I can do? So many people in this world would give anything to be able to stand, to walk, and definitely to run. I need to be extremely happy for what I have been given. Many times following a bad race, I have to remind myself of this and it always helps me put things back into perspective. Women busted through some amazing records last year.
What do you think are some important factors that have contributed to these super-fast race times?
I believe that people are beginning to take women more seriously and because of this they are given opportunities that they were not given in the past. I feel that women are educating themselves more on supplementation and training methods. I feel that women are becoming much more independent and therefore they are stepping out of their normal roles to challenge their bodies to be the best that they can at sport.
How is it different when you are an elite runner who also has a career? How do you juggle it all? Are there positive aspects to having a more “balanced” life than if you were strictly a runner?
Being an elite runner with a career can make things pretty difficult. I feel that I am unable to have the opportunities that some other runners have that don’t have to work. If I didn’t have the student loans I racked up from getting my doctoral degree in PT, I would be able to train more and work less on trying to pay bills! I am able to juggle it all because I have a great husband, family, coach and friends that are supportive of what I am doing. Most husbands wouldn’t let their wives work part time to run while they are paying off student loans! My coach and family will always be here for me if I need help with bills, food or other necessities. I believe that there are positive aspects to being more balanced and that is just it - balance. I have to remind myself of that whenever I get down about having to work and not just train. In fact, I think that no matter what I will always want to work a small amount when training to keep my head in the right place. Focusing too much on running can become detrimental to training. You must have balance.
What makes the difference between a successful recreational runner and an elite runner? How much of this do you think is nature and how much is training?
I think a big difference between a successful recreational runner and an elite runner is passion to be great. It is not purely passion or dedication. Starting back in 1996 I was very passionate, dedicated and obsessed with the sport of running. Yet, I don’t feel that I was an elite until I stood back and realized that it wasn’t about how much I ran on a daily basis, or how I NEVER took a day off. It was more about finding a passion to be great.
Finding a passion about eating correctly, resting correctly, drinking correctly. A friend once told me “you don’t need to work on running, you need to work on all the other aspects that make someone a great runner.” He was right. That passion to become great and the best that I can be is what separated me from the runner I used to be. I do believe, however that a lot of this is genetics.
I feel bad for the people out there who train and train and never become great. Some of them have more passion than other great runners. Like I mentioned before, you need to be the best that YOU can possibly be. Like Prefontaine said, “To give anything less than the best is to sacrifice the gift.”
As women, we sometimes tend to compare ourselves with other women in negative ways. Do you find this to be true as an elite female runner? If so, how do you manage to stay focused on what is best for your body and your training without being distracted by what other women are doing?
This question is very interesting to me. I have always beat myself up about my size. As a marathoner, I feel pretty large at 5’3 and between 108-112. So many runners my height weigh in the 90s. I really did fight it for a long time and every time I stepped on a starting line I compared myself to the other runners. I would beat myself up before the race even started. My coach has helped me a lot to focus on my own body and not worry about others. He always tells me that my body will put itself where it is happy if I train hard and eat right. I have since become much more accepting of myself. I try to look the other way when I go to the starting line and focus on my goal at hand.
What do you think women bring to the sport of running?
I think that women bring a sense of strength and determination to the sport of running, but even more so to women in general. I feel that women are becoming more independent and powerful through sport.
What would be the ultimate dream for you as a female runner?
I guess I would say making it to the Olympics in the marathon. It is very hard to think about one day every four years that can make that possible! I would also love to make a world team. To put on a USA uniform and warm up would be a dream come true.
What would you do if you weren’t an elite runner? Any other specialties or dreams?
If I weren’t an elite runner, I would probably train Quarter Horses, and work with animals because that is my other passion. I guess I would continue working as Physical Therapist and personal trainer also - but the horses would come first!
Any closing comments?
I get really discouraged with runners who are always out to get others, and who like to see fellow runners “fail.” First of all, no run, or race should be considered a failure because as I stated before: they are all experiences that make us stronger. Second of all, true runners work together and are passionate about the sport of running and they want to help better the sport, in general. This includes supporting fellow runners to help them become their very best. No one can make you great but yourself. You may need someone to push you in the right direction and give you support, but then you must run with it. You must want in your heart to be your best.
“Look - if you had one shot, one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip? “ NEVER NEVER NEVER give up!!!
Christy would like to add special thanks to ClifBar for supporting her from the beginning.
You can check out more about Christy at: www.runnergirls.com
Christy ran a solid race at the Marathon Olympic Trials. She was bib 112 going in and placed 56th in 2:48:44. Her perspective on the race belies her overall outlook on life. She wrote, “I did not have a perfect race. I hit pretty hard at the end, yet I feel I did everything I could. I didn’t go out too fast or too slow. It is just the marathon!” While just making the Olympic Trials demonstrates an impressive and elite level of determination, endurance and strength, remember, Christy is only 28 and the best may be yet to come!
Follow up by Jennifer Bostwick - SheRuns publisher
I have created SheRuns because I believe women runners need a voice and a space for expressing themselves. Although more women run than ever, there are limited magazines for running, in general, and insufficient magazines and articles aimed at women, in particular. Running is individual, for certain, but as a group, I believe women make up an amazingly connected presence with unique perspectives, goals and lives. With SheRuns, I hope to address issues that directly relate to running and how it fits into our lives as women. Excerpted articles for the current issue of SheRuns will be posted here monthly. This is the third article to be published. Be sure to come back and check out next month's article! Send me a note, let me know what you think.