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Pre-Sawtooth Q&A with Christi Nowak

Photo courtesy of Chippewa Trail Races

2011 was quite the debut year for Christi Nowak on the ultra scene. The former Nordic skier for the College of St. Benedict – and med student at the University of Minnesota-Duluth – won all four races she entered, included a near-overall win at the Superior 50 Mile last September. She has had a strong showing in 2012 as well, putting up runner-up performances at Voyageur in July and the Superior 50k in May.

But she’s never undertaken the 100-mile distance (her longest race to date was the Wild Duluth 100k last October). That will change Friday. We caught up with Nowak to talk about her decision to move up to the 100-mile distance, her preparation for it, and how she manages to fit training in her schedule alongside med classes, boards, and rotations.

First off, what prompted you to try a 100-miler?

I want to do a 100 miler because I thought it would be a real challenge for me and because 100 miles seems like the quintessential ultramarathon distance. I feel like I’ve spent last year and this year working toward being able to run that far.

Why did you pick Sawtooth – a particularly brutal course – for your first 100?

I decided to do Superior because I love running on the SHT and the terrain is suited to my running style. I also like that Sawtooth is point-to-point. On a more practical level I wasn’t able to fit a trip to a non-local 100 into my schedule, and of all the 100 milers in the Midwest, Sawtooth appealed to me most.

Do you have any expectations – or goals – for your first go-around?

This is my first 100 miler, and although I’m optimistic I’m not quite sure what to expect. My training has not been optimal–I did a lot of miles and several races this spring, ended up with a stress fracture in my foot, and had to take the month of June off. I also started rotations for medical school, and the one I was doing for all of July and the first week of August required me to work 12 to 14 hour days, so I had to squeeze in whatever training I could. That being said the last 6 to 8 weeks have been pretty solid for me. I ran Voyageur and did another long training run on the SHT three weeks ago, which was good preparation. I feel like if I can stay motivated the whole time I should be able to have a pretty good race, but I really don’t know how my body will react to the distance.

With all the demands of med school on your schedule, how are you able to fit in enough training to compete at these distances? What is your schedule like?

My medical school schedule has varied quite a bit. In May I was studying to take a board exam, and although it was stressful I did get to budget my time, which meant plenty of time for training. The family medicine rotation I did in June wasn’t too demanding timewise–I worked about 10 hour days Monday through Friday and got weekends off. The surgery rotation I mentioned earlier has been the hardest. In addition to long days I had to work overnight once every 5 days, so I was fairly sleep-deprived for a lot of July and August. I’m in my last week of a month-long emergency medicine rotation now, and it has been a nice break. I’ve worked a total of 15 eight to nine hour shifts. Most them have been during the day, although I did a few evening and overnight shifts as well. After Sawtooth I’ll be doing 4 more weeks of surgery rotations, which might a good thing–an enforced break from training…

As far as fitting in training goes, I try to make the most of my days off and just do whatever I can on days when I’m working long hours. Often that’s just biking to the hospital and taking a longer route home, but it’s better than nothing.

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