By Rich Sands, @sands
NEW YORK (06-Jun) -- Runners love to boast about the mileage they log, but Diane Nukuri surely wins bragging rights for the distance she's recently covered - in the air. The three-time Olympian heads into this Saturday's NYRR New York Mini 10K in Central Park on a transatlantic tear that includes four road races in just 21 days. By the time she returns to her home in Flagstaff, Arizona, on Sunday, she will have logged more than 14,000 flight-miles (nearly 23,000 kilometers) since May 15.
PHOTO: Diane Nukuri in front of the Jeep which took her from Albany, N.Y., to New York City on her four-race trip in May and June, 2018 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
Nukuri began this epic undertaking with the Great Manchester Run 10K in England on May 20, finishing sixth in 33:01. Seven days later she was in Vienna, where she placed second in the Asics Austrian Women's Run 5K in 16:03. She then arrived back in the U.S. and headed for Albany, N.Y. (via London and Charlotte, N.C.), where she finished a close third (after leading most of the way) in the Freihofer's Run for Women 5K (15:56) on June 2. On June 9 she completes the quartet of races with her ninth straight appearance at the "The Mini," the oldest all-women's road race in the world, founded in 1972 (A free livestream of the event begins at 7:40 a.m./ET at usatf.tv.).
The plan to cluster so many races together sprang from a desire to make up for lost time following a prolonged sciatic nerve injury that sidelined the 33-year-old Burundi-born runner after the TCS New York City Marathon last November. "I had two months with no running and even when I started running I was miserable," Nukuri told Race Results Weekly in an interview at a midtown hotel. "Finally I went to see a few chiropractors and physios and they were able to help me start running, like four miles, then I would do a lot of elliptical and hot yoga."
She tested the waters --and her fitness-- at the Gasparilla Half-Marathon in Tampa, Fla., on February 24, finishing third in an encouraging 1:13:05 on a warm and very humid morning. "Before I did the race I was running about 40 to 50 miles [64 to 80 kilometers] a week," she says. "I'm not one of those people who can push in practice. And after being out for so long, I really needed something that was going to hurt, [to] get me to the next level of training."
Following that promising effort, Nukuri and her manager, Brendan Reilly, started looking at shorter races to help build fitness and confidence, and came up with the ambitious spring schedule, essentially a way to race herself back into shape. (The New York Mini will actually be her fifth race in 35 days, going back to the Lilac Bloomsday 12K in Spokane, Washington, on May 6.) "It was nice to have something on the schedule, where it was fun and I wasn't chasing time or money, just trying something different at this time in my career," she says. "I love running, but sometimes when you're always in the same routine it can get boring."
There was nothing boring about Nukuri's travels, including weather-related plane delays on her connections leaving and returning to the United States in Philadelphia and Charlotte, respectively. The first grueling leg spanned more than 24 hours of travel time between Arizona and the U.K. And even under the best conditions, Nukuri says her height (6 feet/1.83 meters) makes it difficult to get comfortable and sleep on flights.
Exhausted and fighting a cold, she struggled in the Manchester race, coming in more than a minute behind the road personal best (31:49) she'd set in the same race in 2016. (Nukuri ran her fastest 10,000 on the track a few months later at the Olympics in Rio, placing 13th in 31:28.69.) She's steadily gained sharpness and is excited to take on the challenging Central Park course this weekend. "It's not a straight shot, which I tend to get a little bored running," she says. "I've always enjoyed racing the Mini because the course is pretty rolling. Running here, you always have to show up."
The field includes defending champion Mary Keitany of Kenya, a three-time winner of the TCS New York City Marathon; Des Linden of Washington, Mich., who is coming off a historic Boston Marathon victory in April; and Molly Huddle of Providence, R.I., a 26-time U.S. national champion who won the Mini the last time she raced it in 2014.
Nukuri, will be proudly representing the United States (and her sponsor Asics) on Saturday. She gained USA citizenship in July, 2017 (having lived here since 2004) and is currently waiting for the IAAF to update its transfer of allegiance procedures so she can potentially wear the red, white and blue in international competition in the future. "I hope they are fair," she says of the international governing body, which has frozen the process while addressing abuses of the system by some federations. "They cannot punish all of us because some people are getting citizenship in a month."
In the near term, this trip has helped motivate Nukuri to consider a fall marathon. "I've just been racing as hard as I can, then trying to recover, traveling again, and then racing again," she says. "I'm feeling more hungry to go home and put in work. It's been a long trip, but it makes me want to be home and train."
And she isn't planning to race again until much later in the summer. In fact, she's going to enjoy being a homebody for the time being. She's looking forward to seeing her boyfriend, USA Olympian Abdi Abdirahman, when she gets back to Arizona and enjoying the comforts of home.
"I am so excited to sleep in my bed and hopefully sleep until 10am on Monday," she says with a laugh. "And I don't want to go anywhere for the next week. If anyone wants to see me they should come to my house. I'm not traveling!"
Stats: Diane Nukuriís Record At the NYRR New York Mini 10K:
2010 (18) 34:14
2011 (12) 33:28
2012 (4) 32:38
2013 (7) 33:36
2014 (8) 32:38
2015 (4) 32:47
2016 (3) 32:18
2017 (5) 32:15