Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Brief Chat With Nick Arciniaga

By Jon Gugala

Photo by Victah Sailer

Nick Arciniaga, 27, of Fountain Valley, California, now lives and trains inFlagstaff, Arizona, under Greg McMillan, head coach of McMillan Elite. With teammates Fasil Bizuneh and James Carney, Arciniaga will race the 2010 Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 10.

Arciniaga, formerly of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, has been on the periphery of standout American marathoners since the U.S. Olympic Men’s Marathon Trials in November of 2007.. His breakout race came at the 2009 ING New York City Marathon, where was eighth overall and the fourth American in a PR 2:13:46 as part of a strong U.S. contingent that put a remarkable six men in the top ten.

The Arciniaga Express continued in 2010, and after strong finishes in the U.S. Cross Country, 15k, Half Marathon, and 25k Championships (15th, 8th, 7th, and 3rd, respectively), Arciniaga ran from the gun with the leaders at the 2010 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon in June. Though losing contact at ten miles, Arciniaga regrouped to finish third with a PR 2:11:46. It was the first time an American had cracked the top ten in that race since Josh Cox’s 9th in 1999. We caught up with Arciniaga on his car ride to the airport en route to Chicago.

Your last few races each seem to be a breakout performance. Why do you think you’ve been breaking new ground at such a rapid rate?
Nick Arciniaga: I’ve been working hard for the past 14 years, putting in the miles, and the mileage is finally catching up with my legs. And I’m learning how to attack the marathon a lot better mentally. It’s a 26 mile race, and I’m becoming more confident, knowing what I’m capable of. I’m learning that I can go faster than what I believe I’m capable of (during a marathon). A lot of it is having my goals set properly.

How does Chicago’s race strategy differ from San Diego’s strategy?
NA: In Chicago, we’re going to be more conservative. In San Diego, the plan was to go with leaders. In Chicago, Fasil (Bizuneh) and James (Carney) and I will work together in the early miles. But I want to run faster than I did in San Diego.

For Chicago, it’s mostly time goal and a top five or three finish. It’s a goal that’s attainable. I have the attitude that when it comes down to it, I’m out there for myself. I’m there to compete against the best international athletes and to hit the next breakthrough.

What lessons did you learn in San Diego, good and bad, that you will apply to Sunday’s race?
NA: The biggest thing was that I can run fast and finish a marathon off a faster pace. I can put myself out there and compete with the best international athletes.

And like any race, you can hit a wall and start to fade. I let go of the group (in San Diego) a lot faster than I wanted to. I learned a lot about race tactics from that race. My goal was to end with the leaders, but ten miles in, I was letting them go instead of staying competitive.

How has your Chicago training cycle been similar and different from previous marathon buildups?
NA: It’s been similar in mileage and the longer tempo runs. I’ve taken a lot more recovery days though. When I’ve been feeling tired, I’ve taken a couple days easy so I don’t break myself down.

If I’m feeling completely worn down and I’ve got a workout coming up, sometimes I’ll scratch the workout and just go for an hour run. It’s mostly listening to my body. Now, when I have aches and pains, some I know I can run through and some I know I need to rest up and recover. It’s stuff I’ve learned over time. But it’s the same type of quality and quantity in terms of the mileage.

How do you see Chicago fitting into your long-term goals?
NA: It’s the next huge step. I’ve trained to run a sub-2:10—if I have a good day, a sub-2:09—and it’s an opportunity to get my name out there and show that when I show up to a marathon, I can compete for the win. It’s an opportunity to make huge step in my career and to make myself stand out.