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Posted: October 5, 2004

Athletics: Twenty Questions for Nicole Stevenson, Canada's Top Female Marathoner

 Nicole at the ING Ottawa Marathon - Photo from ASI
Nicole at the 2004 ING Ottawa Marathon
Photo courtesy of Action Sports International,

Runner's Web 20 Questions - Athlete's profile. This month we profile: Marathoner Nicole Stevenson

Full Name: Nicole Stevenson
Sport: Athletics
Born (City): Hamilton, ON
Current Hometown: Toronto, ON
Age: 31
Coach: Hugh Cameron
Club(s): Newmarket Huskies
Occupation/University: Pharmaceutical Sales Rep
Sponsor(s): adidas
Personal Web Site: not up yet
Favourite Web Site:

PB Times: 1500M - 4:30(~), 3000M -9:30(~), 5K - 15:54, 10K - 32:55, Half-Marathon - 1:12:51, Marathon - 2:33:37

Marathon History: First marathon in 1999 - 3:12 @ Chicago (self-coached)

Introduction: Before we get into the twenty questions, you wrote an article for the Runner's Web dealing with the fact that Canada chose to not send any marathoners to the Athens Games. Could you comment on the reaction you received on this topic.

Nicole Stevenson (NS): The response I received was impressive! Well over 100 emails from runners, non-runners - some whom I knew, others who knew of me and many who just thought I was ripped off and so they sent along their support. Canada AM and CBC (especially Brian Williams during Olympics coverage) highlighted my story and they too were very supportive of my stance. I have a HUGE problem with people suggesting that not winning a medal at the Olympics is considered a failure. These people haven't done their research as to how difficult it is to qualify for (never mind win a medal at!) the world's ultimate competition -- especially in the marathon! How will Canada breed winners if we stunt the development of our current best? I could go on and on about this...

[Editor's Note: Read Nicole's article on the: Runner's Web.]

1. Runner's Web (RW): When and where did you start competing and in what sports?

Nicole Stevenson (NS): At Ryerson middle school in Hamilton, thanks to the encouragement of the coach, Ted Cambridge. Sports were the 'thing to do' and I quickly discovered that I had athletic talent at various sports, but running was my forte even then.

2. RW: At what age do you consider you became a "serious" athlete and in what sport?

NS: At 17, when I dropped all other sports and focused solely on running the 800 and 1,500m.

3. RW: You are currently not a full-time athlete. Could you comment on how you fit in your training and competitions into your job and if you feel that not training full-time is a disadvantage compared to full-time athletes.

NS: I have a great job with a fantastic company. Solvay Pharma is very supportive of my running ambitions. I am able to fit in a training/work balance, but at times it is a struggle. It's not just the running, it's the mental energy required, all the athletic therapy and rest too! Full-time athletes don't need to worry about hitting their sales numbers, handing in monthly reports and making sure they get their daily work tasks accomplished. The extra stress is felt particularly around race time, when I'm so pent-up; I find it difficult to focus on anything but the race. Full-time racers can concentrate 100% on running. On a positive note, I do not have to worry about where my next cheque is coming from! One thing I wish I had more time for is promoting the sport of running. I guess I do that by racing, but I'd like to be more involved in getting the public more active, particularly teens, but I just can't fit that in the schedule much yet.

4. RW: Who has had the greatest influence on your athletic career to date?

NS: Dave Reid. Thanks to his guidance and friendship, he has helped me to believe in myself - as a good person and as a top marathoner.

5. RW: Could you discuss your training in terms of an average week's workouts prior to racing season? Also could you review, at a high level, your macro program for a year? Do you do most of your training alone or as part of a group or does it vary by discipline? What is the longest training run you have ever done? And could you describe your taper for Chicago which is coming up this weekend?

NS: That question's loaded! First of all, I don't do much besides run - the odd bike ride and the occasional sit-up/push-up. My mileage continues to increase each year. In 2002, when I debuted with a 2:36 marathon, I was running only around 65 miles/wk. For the last few months, I've tried to consistently hit 85-90 miles, with a record of 95 miles in one week. Hugh suggests a 12-week build-up to each marathon. In between marathons, I still work out and keep up the volume while thinking about my next goal. I train alone primarily, which has its +'s and -'s: I don't have to work around anyone's schedule, however, on days when I need a push, I have to find it on my own. My longest training run is a full distance marathon. I just did one in Montreal on Sept 12th - 2:47. My taper is rest, rest, rest. The toughest part this week is trying to control my head. I'm all keyed up, yet not allowed to run much (at all!) which makes it tough because my usual emotional outlet is running. I've raced enough now so I'm learning to deal with the taper better, but then again, my friends & family probably don't agree with that! They help me a lot the week before the race. I need a lot of positive words and reassurance from those who mean the most to me.

6. RW: What are your short-term (rest of the year) and long-term goals?

NS: I'll tell you after Sunday!

7. RW: What do you consider your best race to-date and why?

 Nicole at the ING Ottawa Marathon - Photo from ASI
Nicole at the 2004 ING OttawaMarathon
Photo courtesy of Action Sports International,

NS: Ottawa Marathon, 2004. I had a terrible build-up to the race, having been injured for 5 of the 12 week program with a strained soleus. I was dealing with some personal issues and I was struggling to deal with the Athens Olympic politics. On race morning, CBC came to my hotel room at 6:00 for an interview, which was cool, but I'm EXTREMELY nervous before races! Despite all the distractions and obstacles, I pulled off my 2nd fastest marathon of 2:34 and won the national title.

8. RW: What do you consider your strongest attribute for the marathon?

NS: I'm a very do-it/go-getter/impatient person, yet when it comes to the marathon, I'm able to pace myself properly. I guess the marathon unleashed this unknown part of myself, which has come in handy for racing and for other areas of life.

9. RW: Do you have any interest in coaching or other involvement in sport after you stop competing?

NS: Definitely. I'd like to be involved with the sport, particularly in helping get kids back & interested in track and field. I'm not sure what my plan is yet, but I certainly want the current adult running boom to transcend to the teen level.

10. RW: Have you been tested in a lab for max VO2, body fat, etc? If so what were the results? If not, do you plan on getting tested?

NS: Nope. I would like to know the results, but I see Dr's every day in my job, so I get enough of them already! Just kidding. I would like to see the numbers, but at the same time, I don't need to know them because the only thing that really matters is how fast I can run 42.195k!

11. RW: What is your favourite race and why?

NS: I miss track and field. I love the intensity of it. Unfortunately my Achilles and soleus have an "allergy" to the oval! The track doesn't lie, the course is never different. I'd like to see how fast I could pop a true 5k and 10k.

12. RW: What do you consider your greatest achievement in the sport?

NS: I don't think I've come close to seeing it yet, but I suppose being Canada's top marathoner is a good start. Hopefully I'll have a better answer in a few years! Maybe the fact that I am still running at a high level is good. Most athletes lose interest in their 20's because of the lack of funding and external support.

13. RW: Do you consider the marathon to be the toughest athletics event?

NS: I can't compare events, seeing as I've only run track and never thrown or jumped or anything. The intense training for the 800/1500m is tough - I know that from university days - but then again, so is running 20-25 miles every Saturday morning. I think anything a person does is challenging if they try their best at it and really apply themselves.

14. RW: Were you surprised by Paula Radcliffe's performance in Athens?

NS: Yes. I'd like to know the real result why she dropped from the marathon. Was it emotional or physical? I feel for her because the running world was watching her that day. But just like Perdita Felicien, she'll bounce back and impress us in the future! Everyone has a bad day, but continuing to believe in yourself after an upset shows your strength & determination.

15. RW: If you could design your own "perfect" marathon course what features would it have - terrain, weather, etc.?

NS: I think my favourite marathon courses have been in the Ironman triathlons I've done. The weather was dry and hot, from 20 to 25 Celsius. Some hills, beautiful scenery and lots of people cheering me on. Other elite runners would chastise me and tell me to focus on the pace and not the environment, but it makes a difference if the area is fresh and scenic and if you have people shouting for you like you're their daughter.

16. RW: Do you feel that Canada provides sufficient support for athletes and for potential Olympic team members in general?

NS: The Summer Olympics do not appear to be a priority for Canada. If we want medals, we have to invest in people and take the chance that it will pay off. Australia is a perfect example. China is showing us how to win medals. Without taking the chance, we show we don't really care about Olympic performance, we just complain about our disappointments. Athletes have to get to the podium on their own in Canada. How many of our Olympic track athletes went to university in the US? How many live full-time in Canada and if they do live here, how poor are they? Either turn around the public view -- getting to the Olympics IS an amazing accomplishment and NOT a free trip with a uniform! Ease off the performance pressure and let people do what's in their control--compete to the best of their ability. The other option? Put as much money into the Summer Games as China and THEN you can put expectations on people!

17. RW: What activities do you do away from sport to relax?

NS: I love watching NFL on Sunday afternoons! I also love hanging out with my girlfriends and gabbing.

18. RW: What is your racing schedule for the next year?

 Nicole at the Montreal Marathon
Nicole at the 2004 Montreal Marathon

NS: I'll decide after Chicago, but I probably won't run a marathon for a little while, as this is my 3rd big one this year. Then again, you never know with me!

19. RW: Who would you consider the top female marathoners in the world right now?

NS: Paula Radcliffe and Catherine Ndereba. They've been at the top for a while and have been pretty consistent. They race the big money races as well as the championship races.

20. RW: How long do you intend to compete at the top level?

NS: Until my body slows down. Hopefully that won't be for about 8 years.

RW: Any additional comments, and good luck in Chicago on Sunday!

NS: Thanks Ken and for caring and for your support!
Wish me luck at

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