Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Return to running feels right for ex-UT athlete

Brom Hoban: Central Texas Running

Matthew Odam
modam@statesman.com

Niccole Crank knew she had decent running potential as a cross country runner for Westlake High School in the early 1990s. Not too many high school girls can run a 5:08 mile, as she did. But Crank, who also played volleyball and basketball, suffered a fractured vertebra that sidelined her for five months, effectively ending her high school running.

And though she ran for the University of Texas from 1995-96, posting times in the low 10-minute range for 3,000 meters, she never hit a winning stride. She transferred to Baylor and stopped competing.

"I got burned out on running. I felt like I was stuck," she recalls. "After college, you either try for the Olympics, or quit. There has to be a point in training that hard."

A lot has happened since then. After three semesters at Baylor, Crank took a break, then returned to UT to finish a degree in psychology, graduating in 2001. She married, had three sons — ages 3, 5 and 8 — and has rediscovered her competitive fire.

In 2008, she started running again, giving the Portland Marathon a shot. She ended up walking part of it but still finished in 3:29, good enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon, an event she skipped because of a hamstring injury.

The Portland event was a turning point, erasing personal reservations about a return to running.

"After not running for nearly 10 years, you have a lot of doubts about whether you can still compete at a high level," she says.

In 2009, Crank started training with Team Rogue, and Steve Sisson, who owns Rogue Training Systems and is the assistant women's track and cross country coach for UT, changed her outlook on running.

"I'm serious about my running, but now it's balanced too," says Crank, now 33. "Everything has kind of come full-circle."'

Team Rogue chose to go back to Portland in October 2009, where Crank lowered her marathon time to 3:08. She followed that with a 1:27 half marathon in San Antonio and a 1:24 in the 3M Half in Austin in January.

Though she was training up to 70 miles a week, including hill and speed workouts, Crank says she wasn't planning on running another marathon until Boston in April but couldn't resist a chance opportunity to get into the sold-out Austin Marathon.

"My dad had gotten some bib numbers through his business, and everything just kind of lined up," she says. "I told Steve (Sisson) the morning of the race I was going to run it, and I thought I could maybe place in the top three."

Sisson told Crank to start behind the three-hour pace group and hold back until mile 13, and then start picking it up. And that's exactly what she did, finishing second among women in 2:55:25.

"Everything went exactly as planned," she says. "I felt like it cancelled out a lot of disappointments from my collegiate career. It was kind of a redemption race for me.

"I had some unfinished business to take care of to give me a clean slate for racing in the future. I used to run out of anger or fear. Now I run thankfully, believing in my goals. I don't feel like I have anything to lose."

Crank now has her sights set on an Olympic marathon qualifying time (2:46).

"I hope to run under 2:50 at Boston (on April 19)," she says. "I'll have to see how my training goes. Maybe the marathon is my race."