Nicole Mericle, Prepping for Tahoe
Interview by Kurt McIntire
08 29 19
Today let’s meet Nicole Mericle, professional OCR athlete and Spartan Pro Team member. This 2-time OCR World Champion (3k) claimed 2nd in the 2019 Spartan U.S. National Series and earned 1st at the 2019 North American OCR Championships 15k distance. With amazing seasons in 2017, 2018, and 2019, Nicole truly represents the pinnacle of obstacle course racing. It’s amazing to think that after breaking her tibia and fibula at the age of 13 her doctor said, “She’ll never be a professional runner.”
In middle school soccer, she was slide tackled by an opponent, breaking several bones in her left leg. She underwent surgery to keep her fibula from healing in a manner that would keep her ankle from growing. Unfortunately, the injury ended her soccer career and left her left leg permanently shorter than her right. Her doctor was trying to encourage with the words, “She’ll recover from this, but never be a professional runner”, but they struck a chord with Nicole.
As she healed, she returned to track and field on a mission. For the rest of middle & high school, she dominated regional events, earning an athletic scholarship to Rice University in Houston, Texas. At college, she ran steeplechase and most pure running distances shorter than the mile. She competed all four years, falling in love with steeplechase’s dynamic running style, and breaking her university’s all-time record. For fun, she took up rock climbing, much to the dismay of her coaches.
Nicole (left), races the steeplechase at Rice University
After college, she moved to Boulder and began running with a pro team and worked for Hoka. During the next few years, she buried herself in rock climbing and road running, but struggled to keep herself injury free. First, she tore her left labrum while performing a dynamic rock climbing movement. Then, she tore her right labrum from running overuse.
This pair of injuries made running extremely painful. She saw specialists, surgeons, and physical therapists -- trying to heal and rebab. But nothing seemed to work. Frustrated, Nicole sat down, and wrote out a list of activities that did and did not hurt her hip. Conditions like cement and pavement hurt. High speeds hurt. But, trails didn’t. Steep mountain uphills and downhills didn’t. That’s when Nicole decided to dedicate her next competition season to trail running.
After a few trail races, a friend recommended Spartan Race to Nicole. She gave it a try and fell in love. Like trail running, it didn’t flare her injuries, and like Steeplechase, OCR was more more dynamic than road running. She promptly dedicated the rest of her season to obstacle course racing events. Nicole says, “It was clear that this was the perfect sport for me. I felt like I belonged here. As a runner, I have big biceps from rock climbing. And as a climber, I have these big runner leges. Before, I kind of felt like a mutant athlete.” But in obstacle course racing, her cross-discipline skill set was the perfect blend of strength and speed.
Now, Nicole is at the top of OCR. She’s injury free and fully dedicated to her craft. This summer, she earned 1st place at Monterey's Super and Sprint events. Let’s break down the gear she wore on race day:
Nicole Mericle's #gearlist:
“I’ve been running in this shoe since the end of 2017, buying the same pair as the previous one wears out. I pretty much race everything in this shoe. The lugs aren’t too large to affect my speed, but large enough for the crazy conditions that OCR throws at you.” On sticking with the same make/model of shoe for several years, she says, “I think there’s something beneficial about racing in the same 1-2 pairs of shoes, so your body learns and adapts to its form.” When choosing the right shoe, Nicole says, “I’m looking for a snug, comfortable fit. I don’t want a shoe that’s sloppy in the upper.”
For race day, Nicole chooses Darn Tough Vermont’s sock varieties. “I’m particular about my socks. These are really great for keeping your feet dry & warm because of the merino wool material. Merino wool is also fire retardant, so they’re great for a fire jump gone wrong [laughs]. For a warm weather race, I prefer a quarter length sock, and for colder weather, the crew length.”
Nutrition: Sur AltRed Betalain Supplement
“AltRed is a beet supplement. It’s different from the other beet powders. It’s a pill. It doesn’t contain the same ingredients either. It’s just the betalains. Betalains are a phytonutrient in beets, it’s what gives them their pigment. There’s research that betalains improve performance and recovery by improving oxygen delivery. I take one pill an hour before workout or race, which lasts for two hours. For workouts longer run two hours, I take another. Then I take one on rest day. It’s subtle, and not something that makes you jittery.”
Goals for World Championships at Tahoe:
“I think of it as another race. Every race I show up to, I prepare the same way, with the same pre-running routine. Sometimes people build races up too much in their mind in a way that hinders their performance. It's quite typical for people to expect more than their training predicts on race day. If I show up [to Tahoe] healthy and execute just as I always do, then I'll maximize my potential without any added anxiety."
What athletes can do to prep for Tahoe?:
“Know that cold affects dexterity. If you’re susceptible to cold temps, neoprene mittens and a thin windbreaker or raincoat work well for staying warm. I went through the dunk wall in Big Bear with a thin Salomon raincoat on, and it was especially cold that day. Usually, a windbreaker will do, but if conditions are 30-40 degrees then I go with a full-on raincoat.