Interview with Trish Nervo
by Kevin Beck

Trish Nervo competes at the 2005 USA Cross Country Championships
(Photo by Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)

Relative unknown Trish Nervo of Salem, Virginia, made a splash at the USA Cross Country Championships in Vancouver, Washington, in February, placing 14th in the 8K event and 10th in the following day's 4K race. Nervo had served notice of her fitness by placing third — and first among Americans — at the prestigious Mayor's Cup race in Boston's Franklin Park on October 24 and by taking sixth at the 2004 USATF Club Cross Country Nationals in Portland, Oregon, on December 6.

As a prep at Glenvar High School in Salem, Nervo was a four-time state cross country champion. She twice qualified for the Footlocker National Cross Country Championships, placing fourth as a senior in 1995. A 2001 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Nervo enjoyed success at the collegiate level as well, garnering All-America honors with a 15th-place finish in the 1999 NCAA Cross Country Championships and running 16:06 for 5,000 meters in the spring of 2000, missing the Olympic Trials qualifying standard by one second.

Nervo, like many college standouts, didn't train consistently in her first few years after college. When she moved back to the Roanoke Valley in 2003, however, she was reinvigorated, and after beginning her resurgence with a modest 18:55 win over 5K 16 months ago, Nervo has steadily climbed back toward her previous performance levels. In late January, she ran 9:32 to
win the 3,000-meter run at the UNC Invitational by half a lap; one week later, competing on the same track, she dropped down in distance unleashed a 4:51 mile to top the field by 13 seconds. On March 6th, she placed fourth at the NACAC Cross Country Championships in Clermont, Florida. Three weeks later, she won the 5,000 meters at the Raleigh Relays, notching a 16:25.08. tracked down Nervo shortly after she returned from China, where she was a member of Team USA at the April 9 Beijing International Women's Ekiden (a relay consisting of 5K, 10K, 5K, 10K, 5K, and 7.2K legs). The American delegation took fourth place behind Ethiopia, China, and Japan, with Nervo running her 5K leg in 16:42. Congratulations on being a part of the U.S. Ekiden contingent in Beijing. Were you happy with your run in China and with the experience overall?
Trish Nervo:
I don't think there could have been a less threatening way to experience international competition for the first time than with the other women on the USA team. We had already gotten a chance to know one another a few weeks earlier at the NACAC cross country race, so we felt like a team from day one. I believe we all had the same goal in China: to experience as much as possible during the short time we were there, without sacrificing the race. We had a quality group of runners. I would have been disappointed and surprised if we had come home with something less than fourth.

FW: How was the Ekiden team selected?
I believe most of us were selected because we're gorgeous. Sorry, 11:00 p.m. is actually late for me to be answering questions. Actually, I'm pretty sure we were selected based on our performance at [the USA Cross Country Championships].

FW: You had some down time after college, during which you had a son [Lucas, now 2]. Did your giving birth coincide with your rejuvenated focus on competitive running or had you already decided you were going to get serious again?
I always wanted to be serious, even immediately after college when I wasn't even training. However, before Lucas, I was content to just wait and see what life had in store for me. Having Lucas was a wake-up call in more ways than one, and now I try to take a much more proactive approach to life. I need to make the best choices I can for both of us, so if I choose to spend a significant amount of time away from him (training and racing) each day, I want to make it worthwhile. I don't have the luxury of waiting to see if something comes of it — nor would I want to. I'm setting specific goals and following through with them.

FW: Physically, in terms of your training, do you feel that you bounced back from the effects of pregnancy relatively quickly and painlessly?
I don't have anything to compare it to, but I think, 'relatively,' yes. I remember the first day my doctor allowed me to go on a 'fitness walk' I tried to run a tiny bit. I was curious — how hard it could really be? It was terrible. Now I know why so many people don't like to run, and why my doctor said he'd be pushing it if he let me run after only four weeks. I think I waited the full four weeks after that, and my first run was 12 minutes long. I loved every minute of it. It was still terrible, but I was running. I wasn't able to run past the fourth or fifth month of my pregnancy, so I really missed it.

FW: You had a pair of eye-opening runs at [the USA Cross Country Championships], narrowly missing the World team in the 4K. You had said months beforehand that you were aiming to peak for Winter Nationals. Obviously, whatever you did worked. How did you specifically prepare for the rigors of cross country?
Cross country is where most of my confidence has always been in running, so it made sense to me to have my first big goal races there. Also, leading up to Club Nationals [in December], I had been working out with Division III Roanoke College, and they were also gearing up for cross country.

I've really been taking racing one step at a time. When I finished Club Nationals, I decided if I focused on [the USA Cross Country Championships] for the next two months, I could place well. Since Roanoke College had wrapped up their cross country season by then, I turned to Joan Nesbit Mabe, my first coach at UNC, for help. She knows me well, and she knew what it would take to do what I wanted to do, so she mapped out eight weeks of training leading up to Vancouver.

FW: You didn't quite qualify for Worlds, but your performance in Vancouver earned you a slot at the NACAC Cross Country Championships in Florida last month. How did that race treat you?
I didn't have a great performance there, nor did I have a poor performance. That sums up how I felt mentally and physically during the race — just okay. I think I was probably feeling the effects of building up emotionally for [the USA Cross Country Championships]. I needed a short mental break.

FW: If you could diagram a 'typical' week or two in the heart of training for something a couple of months away, what would it look like in terms of mileage, intensity, frequency, all the usual stuff?
Typically, I run four out of seven days 'hard': a long run, a tempo run, a day on the track, and a race. If I don't race, then I get back on the track for that fourth day. I like to race often — I get a great workout and try to learn something new to help me at my goal races. I aim to run my hard days very hard, and my easy days very easy. I'm currently running 60 miles a week, one run a day. It's not much, but it is what I can do consistently right now. This summer I'll bump up a bit more and add a few morning runs after I can consistently run 70 a week on one run a day.

FW: The Roanoke Valley is a beautiful place to run, but may leave faster runners wanting for training partners and high-caliber competition. How have you dealt with this during your comeback?
I train with men. Luckily, Roanoke College's coach, Finn Pincus, gave me permission to train with his team, and it had been a great fit for me. I love to run, and it becomes a joy when you have fun people to run with. I look forward to workouts, and the hard days are a lot less hard when you have training partners to help. I run with Roanoke for half my runs, and with one of their alumni, Jacob Pack, for the rest. I started running with Jacob to get ready for [the USA Cross Country Championships] because Roanoke's runners were getting ready for indoor track and were out of town for winter break. Jacob's great. He's always up for anything, even the crazy-hard workouts Joan had us doing to get ready for USA Cross Country. I couldn't have made it through those eight weeks without him.

FW: You've mentioned wanting to run as many local races as possible as a means of helping you get sharp. But it's not easy to be prolific in your part of the Blue Ridge. Other than the Mayor's Cup and Club Nationals, what races did you run during your buildup for Winter Nationals?
Between Club Nationals and Winter Nationals, I ran a few indoor races — a mile at Virginia Tech, a 3,000m at UNC, and another mile at UNC. One of the main things Joan was focusing on was helping me with the fast start that was guaranteed to unfold at [the USA Cross Country Championships]. Something I had noticed at Club Nationals was that I was tired after 400 meters, so we did some short stuff to get me used to a faster pace.

FW: Looking ahead, are you hoping to run at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships [to be held June 23 — 26 in Carson, California]? If so, what event will you be aiming for?
I'm going to try to qualify in either the 10K or 5K at the Cardinal Invitational on May 1st. Whether I qualify or not, I need the experience that race will give me. If nothing else, I should be able to get a seasonal best.

FW: What do you see as your best event, now and in the future?
Most of my experience is in the 5K, but I'm not ruling out the 1,500 or the 10K. I know that's not very specific, but I think I still have a lot to learn about track racing and I don't want to rule out any events yet. Steeplechase is hot.

FW: Are you getting any sponsorship help?
I've had a small contract with Fleet Feet Sports for the past year that is finished at the end of April. I was able to run in a lot of races — including Club and [USA] Nationals — which, without Fleet Feet's help, would have been impossible.

FW: You ran Footlocker Nationals twice [1994 and 1995]. The list of finishers from the 1994 race reads like a who's who of recent and contemporary women's distance running: Julia Stamps, Amy Yoder (Begley), Amy Skieresz, Carrie Tollefson, Kara Wheeler (now Goucher). Do you find yourself measuring your progress against that of some of these high-profile athletes?
I do a little bit, but honestly it can be discouraging to compare myself to the best right now. I have a lot of work to do before I can expect to be in that mix. On the other hand, it's good to see how well they are doing and to believe I can eventually do the same.

FW: You've mentioned allowing yourself to dedicate four years to being a full-time runner. Does that mean you're thinking Beijing Olympics?
No. It's just easy to think about a four-year chunk of training because it seems like a manageable amount of time. Actually, now that I've completed a year, I might allow myself something more like 20 years! Not that I wouldn't want to make an Olympic team, it's just not my ultimate goal. I want to see how fast I can get. I'm not sure how I'll know. When I start getting slower instead of faster, that'll be a clue.

(Interview posted April 20, 2005.)

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