Runner Alex Nichols is reaping the rewards of years of training thanks to some patience and relaxation this summer.
The Colorado College assistant cross country and track coach enters the Pikes Peak Marathon on Sunday on a hot streak after winning the Barr Trail Mountain Race and making the U.S. national mountain running team for the first time.
Instead of wearing down, Nichols is flourishing with a busier race calendar. He decided a week before Barr Trail to enter, further adding to a calendar balancing his jobs with CC and Colorado Running Co. and training.
In the past, he focused on one or two major races a summer but chose to compete more this year, taking some of the self-imposed pressure off.
"I just jumped into it (the Barr Trail race) without bringing in any expectations," he said. "That approach has been working out well for me this summer. I am more relaxed before the races."
The recent floods in Manitou Springs are not expected to postpone the races.
"No city officials have suggested we won't be ready to go," race director Ron Ilgen said before the rain hit Sunday. "Manitou will be open for business."
Nichols, 28, was surprised by his success after failing to finish a Sky Runners World Series-opening race in Spain this May when a nagging leg injury flared up.
He went four weeks without training, but the 2008 CC graduate (English with a filmmaking emphasis) and 2007 Division III All-American cross country runner placed in the top 10 in a series race in France on June 30.
At 13th in the series standings, he is the top American, but well behind leader Kilian Jornet of Spain, who will not race the marathon - a race he won last year - this weekend. The top three times out of the five races, which includes Pikes Peak, are used to determine a series champion.
"I cannot mess up," said Nichols, who only plans to run in four races. "I am really looking forward to it (Pikes Peak) because training is a lot easier when you don't have to travel. It's right here."
The humble Minneapolis native has good reason to be confident.
On July 14, he won his first Barr Trail race and then placed sixth at the national championships a week later, earning the final spot on the U.S. team at the 29th World Mountain Running Championships in Poland on Sept. 8.
Nichols went into nationals expecting a top-30 finish, but was soon in the top 20. He was passing runners on the steeper inclines until he reached sixth,
Nichols pressed the pace and pulled away late in the 12K race, which consists of three loops up and down a mountainside. He finished in 58 minutes and 17 seconds, 27 seconds ahead of the seventh-place runner.
"In the last few years I had come up short of making the team but this year I stayed patient and worked my way through the field to grab the last team spot in the final 200 meters of the race," he said. "When I saw the course 1? days before the race I knew I could do well. It (the course) was really steep."
His success this summer gives him confidence going into the marathon, He placed second last year in his debut.
"He's having the time of his life," Tigers coach Ted Castaneda said. "If you train hard enough and long enough sometimes you can leapfrog following an injury and really improve. We are all so proud of him here. It's well deserved."