Nicole Vanasse Is On The Comeback Trail After Injury

Nicole Vanasse of Pingry, one of the top distance runners in the country, is on the comeback trail following a stress fracture that ended her outdoor track and field season last April. 

Vanasse, who has built a remarkable resume during her high school career, is eager to return to the form that has made her a multiple state champion in XC and on the track, and a FL National XC finalist.  

To refresh your memory, Vanasse won the State Non-Public A XC championship and placed third at the NJ XC Meet of Champions as a sophomore in 2018.

She followed that up by capturing the 3,200 at the 2018 Indoor Meet of Champions, ran a PR of 4:53.30 in the 1,600 in the spring of 2018, won the 1,600 at the 2018 State Outdoor Non-Public A Championships, and was third in the 1,600 at the Meet of Champions. 

Then last fall, Vanasse repeated as the State Non-Public A XC champ, and placed 10th at the Foot Locker Northeast Regional Championships to qualify for FL Nationals, where she placed 32nd. Last March, she ran a PR of 10:32.77 when she placed 13th in the two-mile at the New Balance Indoor Nationals.  

It looked like Vanasse was headed for another great season last spring before being derailed by the stress fracture.

NJ MileSplit recently caught up with Vanasse for an in depth Q and A. 

In the interview below, Vanasse explained the mental and physical aspects of dealing with her injury, the recovery process, her current training and race plans, her extra motivation for a huge XC season, and the inspiration her family has provided. She also mentioned some of her college visits. 

Q&A with Nicole Vanasse of Pingry

First of all, how are you doing? I know you missed most of the track season with an injury, so can you explain what the injury was, how much time you had to take off before you resumed training, and what kind of rehab/treatment you underwent?

I was diagnosed with a stress reaction in my femur early in the track season. This was a huge disappointment, as I was looking forward to competing and dropping my times. I was in good shape leading into the injury, running a PR in my 800 split at Penn Relays. I ran 2:13, a one second PR, and was super excited to see how the rest of the season would progress in my favorite events-the 1600 and 3200.

Unfortunately, that was my last race of the season. Under the guidance of my doctor, I took four weeks off of all physical activity and then did an additional five weeks of pool workouts before my first run. Nine weeks without any running was a strange experience, as that was the longest rest I've had since I started running. Fortunately, despite the setback, this rest period allowed my mind and body to do a full reset, and now that I am healthy once again, I look forward to a great senior season.

What has your training been like since returning from the injury? How long have you been running and what has your mileage been like?

I began training very gradually in July and recently have been running around 30-35 miles a week. This is about 10 miles less per week compared to last year. I am focusing on doing quality mileage over quantity mileage and will continue to build up my fitness and distance as the season progresses.

One change from past summers is that I have added pool workouts nearly every day for an extra hour of cardio. I am discovering that these workouts are boosting my cardiovascular fitness and my confidence. Since my mileage has not been where it was in the past, the knowledge of extra work (without the fear of impact) has helped me return to harder runs. Additionally, swimming is a great way to switch things up and train new parts of my body.

So many runners deal with injuries. How difficult was this setback for you to go through, and what advice can you give other high school runners who are dealing with injuries?

As I mentioned earlier, the 2019 track season was something I was really focusing on, and I was already experiencing some excitement with my early season races. When I got the news of a stress reaction, I was devastated. I had never had an injury of that magnitude in my running career, and it was certainly a shock. I believe two things in particular helped me stay positive.

First, taking a complete break from all physical activity was great for refreshing my entire body. While it can feel like you are giving up a part of yourself during that rest time, I was able to rediscover other joys that life had to offer in the meantime.

Second, supporting my Pingry teammates at meets and attending practices kept me in the running loop and still allowed me to enjoy the sport, even if it was just on the sidelines. Watching teammates put in hard efforts during track workouts and then witnessing their successes at meets is a gift. When you're training so hard, you can get focused on your own performances and not be able to celebrate with those around you. Since my injury required a long rest time, the greatest thing for me was to let my body completely recover and stay mentally healthy while still involving myself in the running community.

How much more motivated and hungry has the injury made you? I can only imagine how badly you want to get back out there and return to your form, which has made you a multiple state champion in XC and on the track?

The setback has made me very hungry for this cross country season. One thing I can say for sure is that this injury has allowed me to re-experience the joy of running and working hard. Every practice is a gift, and I will not take it for granted again for a very long time. Now that I've been out for a season, I know this is a time when I can prove myself again. I understand that getting back into full form will not come easily, but that is what is going to motivate me to work harder than ever before.

What are your race plans for this upcoming season? Have you targeted a race for your season opener?

This upcoming season, I am going to focus more on the later meets, since my training will be a bit delayed. Therefore, races such as MOCs and Footlocker Regionals will be a priority. My first race will be at the Ocean State Invitational in Rhode Island on September 28th.

You have accomplished so much in your great career so far, highlighted by winning a Meet of Champions title in the 3,200 indoors and capturing two straight Non-Public A state titles. So what type of goals have you made for yourself for this season?

This season, my goals are to set PRs and continue to build a foundation for track. It is a bit hard to define exact goals for early season races since I will not be in peak shape, but a more long-term goal would be to break 18 minutes at Holmdel. This was a goal for me last year, but it would be amazing to achieve it this year and great way to cap off my senior season. With all of the great competition this year, I believe we will be able to push each other to fast times. For my Pingry team, we have set the goal to make MOCs. In my time on the team, we have only qualified altogether one time, so it would be an exciting achievement and honor for all of us.

Not many runners in state history have won three straight State XC titles. What would it mean to you to win another Non-Public A State title and join that short list of 3-time state XC champs?

Winning the Non-Public A XC title for the third year in a row would be a great accomplishment. Non Public A has talented runners and being at the top of the list for three consecutive years would be a great achievement in my senior year. I feel very lucky and grateful to have the opportunity to compete and hopefully continue my streak.

After placing third at the XC Meet of Champions as a sophomore and not being able to finish the race last year due to illness, how big of a goal is it for you to win that race this year? What would being a XC Meet of Champions winner mean to you?

The XC Meet of Champions is a meet I look forward to and focus on every year. Placing third in my sophomore year and being the top returner going into last year was something I was very proud of and excited about. It was very disappointing that I was not able to finish the race last year, but it was also a humbling experience. I know that not every race can be my best, and I have to prioritize some races over others. With a new mindset going into this season, I am really excited to see what I can accomplish. Winning the Meet of Champions would mean so much to me. With so many talented returning runners, it will surely be an exciting race to be a part of.

After qualifying for the Foot Locker XC Nationals last year, are you planning to run the FL Northeast Regional again this season? If so, what are your goals for the regional and national races this year?

do plan on returning to Footlocker Regionals this year. I had an amazing experience in San Diego and would love to be able to compete there again with the experience I gained from last year. Therefore, my goals would be to qualify again with improved placements at both the regional and national meets.

How, when and why did you get involved in running? I know you come from a family that has lots of background and experience at running at a high level, so I'm sure that has a lot to with it?

My family certainly played a big part in getting me into the sport of running. It has been something I've grown up around. My parents were both competitive runners, and I remember going to races like the Meet of Champions to support my older sister, Camille, and the Pingry team when I was younger. I believe the turning point in my running career, though, came when I joined the Hunterdon Lions Cross Country Team in 8th grade.

This was an amazing experience with wonderful teammates, coaches, and support system, and it definitely shifted the sport for me from a pastime to a true passion. I also credit a lot of my love for the sport to my teammates and coaches Tim Grant and Sarah Christensen, who have been with me every step of the way during all seasons. I always look forward to seeing them every day, and they have made the Pingry track a second home to me.

How much has your family helped you and inspired you in your running career?

My family inspires me every day to do my best in this sport. They always love to give me advice and help me along my journey. I am so blessed to have supportive and knowledgeable parents that can help me to achieve my goals. My grandfather is also a big inspiration in my life. He is always there to support me at races, and a lot of my inspiration comes from wanting to make him proud.

What do you love most about running? And what do you love the most about running in NJ?

I love running because you can challenge yourself and watch your progression. Not only do you compete against others, but you are also always competing against yourself. There are no barriers to running, and there are always ways to improve. Running also allows me to have time with just myself and allows for a sense of freedom and self- awareness.

Running in general, but specifically in New Jersey, is also so amazing because of the community. The people you meet through running are always the most determined and driven people but also are the nicest and most supportive. I have met my best friends through this sport and have had the greatest memories and experiences because of this sport. I would not trade the experiences I have had with competing in New Jersey for anything.

Have you lined up any official college visits yet? If so, where and when? What are your looking for in a college?

I have scheduled visits to Georgetown, Columbia, Princeton and UPenn in September. I am looking for a good balance between academics and athletics and look forward to that next chapter.