August 2010 Reader Athlete – Nicole Wilkerson

Sky Barsch Gleiner
Posted August 6th, 2010

Age: 38
Residence: Middlebury
Family: Husband, Keith; sons, Nick, 11, and Zach, 5; Dog, Maddy
Occupation: Associate head cross-country coach and assistant track and field coach at Middlebury College
Primary sport: Running

VS: This past May you ran the Vermont City Marathon in 2:58. How did you feel about your time?
NW: I was definitely pleased. I was hoping to run between 2:58 and 3:02. I got where I wanted to be, and I was happy.

VS: Was this your first time running the VCM?
NW: I’ve run it before. I did it on a relay team a couple years ago. And I did the marathon in 2006 and got sixth place, same as this year. I’ve done a few other marathons, maybe seven or eight, and this year’s VCM was my fastest time.

VS: How did you celebrate your success?
NW: We went to the lake with some friends on Memorial Day and just kind of laid low.

VS: What was your favorite aspect of the race?
NW: I think it was having my husband Keith and other friends on the course watching. I didn’t stop to chit-chat, but it was really cool knowing they were there to support and cheer for me. Keith came to a lot of places on the course that he knew would not be very crowded, so it was great to hear him.

VS: You’re quite busy, with a full-time coaching job at Middlebury College and a family. How do you find time to train?
NW: For this marathon I did most of my training early in the morning, like 5:30 a.m. or so. But my husband’s a runner too, so he understands and helps coach me. At any given time he’s training for something or I’m training for something. So, since January first, it was my time to get to train. It was a ridiculous amount of time that I had to put in. He was pretty accommodating with the kids, especially because Saturday is my busiest day with the college team.

VS: Next year, you’ll be the head cross-country coach at Middlebury for men and women. How does it feel to be stepping up to head coach?
NW: It’s a little nerve-wracking. I’ve been assistant for nine years. Middlebury has such a great tradition. On the women’s side, we have four national championships, and they got one the year before I cane. So it’s quite a strong tradition. I’m not intimidated as much as I am excited. It’s a great program.

VS: What do you get out of coaching college-age students?
NW: Really good songs for my playlists! The quality of student athletes is just amazing at Middlebury. Since I work with cross-country and indoor/outdoor track, I spend a lot of time with the athletes. I love watching the athletes grow and being able to push them physically and mentally over the course of the year and their time at Middlebury. It’s full circle as well—there’s no doubt that I’m thinking of them when I’m training or running, because when I’m asking them to push harder or make commitments, I need to be able to display that myself. They’re a great group though, and I get a lot out of it.

VS: How did you land in Vermont?
NW: Keith found some post-doctoral work at the University of Vermont in physiology. The stars kind of aligned. The woman who was the assistant coach at Middlebury at the time was taking a year off to ski. My resume was on the other coach’s desk. It was a one-year term that grew from there. Moving to Vermont was a great move. We love it here, especially the feeling of community.

VS: Have you been running for most of your life?
NW: I ran in college, and then I ran for Nike for a year, maybe two years, after college. But I’ve always had Achilles tendon problems. After the Olympic trials in 1996, where I competed in the 10K, I had surgery on both of them. I was never able to train to the level I wanted to. I did some cycling and some triathlons for a while. This spring was the first time I was able to train and compete at the level I wanted to, without my body breaking down. I went to physical therapy, and I’ve become great friends with my physical therapist. And my husband helped coach me, too.

VS: What advice would you give to others dealing with Achilles problems?
NW: I went to Wells Physical Therapy in Middlebury and am certain that I would not have been able to put in the miles (upper 60s to upper 70s) that I did had I not gone there. I started going in January, and my training really began in mid-January, early February. I had a hamstring issue as well, that actually got resolved by the physical therapist as I was training. In the past, I had always just trained through the aches, pains, and injuries, but I think going to Wells resulted in relieving a lot of the pain and ended up with much better and consistent training.

VS: What was it like to try out for the Olympics in 1996?
NW: You get a time standard, and if you meet that, then you’re invited to the trials meet. I was intimidated out of my mind. It’s a cool experience, it was just tough because I was hurt, but it’s a whole different level where people are professional runners. They train, sleep and eat; train, sleep and eat. It’s a pretty regimented, strict lifestyle.

VS: What do you enjoy doing with your family?
NW: It’s changed to be mostly involved just around sporting things. My kids will go to the lake or both sons like to go biking or play soccer. We go up to the college and play soccer or Frisbee. We’ll do some camping trips this summer. The time I have with them is mostly in the summer, because September to May I’m gone most Saturdays with the team.

VS: What do you enjoy about your community?
NW: We don’t have family here. My family’s in Colorado, and Keith’s is in Texas. The network of friends we have is really welcoming. We always get invited to people’s houses for holidays. Most of our friends bike, run, or swim. At 6 a.m. there’s always a group doing something with one of these common interests. We live really close to the center of the town, too, so a lot of people stop by.

VS: What’s your favorite Middlebury-area restaurant?
NW: The Storm Cafe.

VS: What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?
NW: I liked “Oracle Bones,” by Peter Hessler. One of my runners suggested it to me. I love to read. My next job, if I don’t like being a coach some day, is to be the town librarian.

VS: Any other fun things planned for the summer?
NW: I’m having fun with the World Cup. It’s a blast. Soccer’s an amazing sport. A lot of the athletes are such great runners. I think my son is going to go into withdrawal when it ends.
And then, in July, the Tour de France starts.

—Sky Barsch Gleiner

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