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No Holding Back In Nichols’ Final Year

Nov 11, 2021
Abby Nichols has won back-to-back races as the Buffaloes head to the NCAA Mountain Region Championship

BOULDER – When Abby Nichols was in her final semester at The Ohio State University during the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down everything, including NCAA sports.
Nichols had a year of eligibility left in cross country and outdoor track, but when the NCAA announced there would be an additional year added on, she knew she wanted to keep running and made the decision to start looking at other programs outside of Ohio. The school the highest on her list? Colorado.
"I knew about the history here," Nichols said. "I always wanted to live by the mountains. But I knew it would be a program where I could trust that the coaches knew what they were doing and it wouldn't be like, 'Oh, I don't know if I can get better.' I knew I could come here and get better just because they've had numerous athletes here get better, not just one or two."
By the fall of 2020, the Kettering, Ohio native, was in Boulder training, although there was not much to train for at the time. But when the time came, her decision paid off in the first season, which was the 2020 cross country season that took place during the early part of 2021.
Nichols had a great inaugural season with the Buffs. She was second for CU at the Pac-12 Championships, finishing eighth to earn All-Pac-12 second team honors, on March 5, 2021. Then 10 days later, Nichols led the Buffs at the NCAA Championships in Stillwater, Okla., placing 18th overall to record her first-ever All-America honor in cross country.
"I reached a big goal that I wanted for cross country last year, it was a little bit of a surprise, but not a total surprise, because that was my goal," Nichols said. "Every other time I've gotten to nationals, I've been one spot from All-American like three times. So actually, being an All-American, it was kind of redeeming."
She went on to have a great outdoor track season, at least until nationals. Nichols placed second at the Pac-12 Championships in the 5,000 (15:44.47) and the 10,000 (32:49.87). Both times qualified her for the NCAA Preliminary Round, which she also made it through. But at NCAAs, she was unable to make it through the 10K and although she finished her 5K, her finish, "wasn't amazing," she said.
During the season, she had gotten a little banged up and tried to race through it.
"I just tried to keep the season going even though I was going through this IT (iliotibial) band problem," she explained. "And I think I was kind of in denial that it was like holding me back. So, I just kept pushing and pushing but it definitely stopped me towards the end."
As most runners know, or any athlete in general, taking time off is a tough thing to do. But it is necessary to get better. Sometimes the road to recovery is longer than one would like, which is what happened to Nichols this last summer.
"I took a good two weeks off after the (track) season and then I started running again and I realized that it wasn't better," she said. "I was still having the same problem and it felt the same. And so, the rest of the summer it was kind of like trying to fix my IT band. And I got a PRP injection, and it didn't really help at first, it took a lot of time. So, I didn't start running until the very end of July early August."
Knowing this was her final season, Nichols was not going to hold anything back. Despite getting a later start on her training, she focused on what she could control; doing her workouts. She also saw Colorado's athletic trainer, Koki Ozawa.
"Koki, I think was the biggest turning point because I saw him and the next day I was better because he needles really well," she said. "And he won't say that he helped me. He was like, it was just time and like your PRP shot but it was definitely him, so I'm so thankful."
No matter what it was, it has worked. Nichols missed the first race of the season, the Wyoming Invitational, on September 3, but she finished fifth overall as Colorado's second runner at the Cowboy Jamboree in Stillwater, Okla., on September 18 two weeks later.
Four weeks after her season debut at the Cowboy Jamboree, Nichols won the NCAA Pre-National Invitational on October 15 in Tallahassee, Fla. She finished the 6-kilometer race in 19 minutes, 46.4 seconds, a little more than a second ahead of Arkansas' Lauren Gregory (19:47.7).
Finishing right up with her in both of those races was teammate Emily Covert, who Nichols said helped to reassure her that she would bounce back while she was dealing with her injury during the summer. Covert was third at the Cowboy Jamboree and fifth at pre-nationals.
The biggest race to date was on October 29, the 2021 Pac-12 Championships in Salt Lake City. After winning pre-nationals, Nichols was in the conversation as one of the favorites for the women's title, along with Covert and the win gave her an extra boost of confidence.
"Winning pre-nats helped me going into Pac-12s because it was like a smaller field at Pac-12s and I knew that I should be up there," Nichols said. "Something always happens at Pac-12s. You have to be ready for anything, but I had a lot of confidence compared to last year going into that."
Nichols and Covert ended up going 1-2, which was the best-case scenario the duo had dreamed about happening – and they did not even care what the order was they finished. In addition, the CU women won the team championship, the fifth since 2011, leading to a pretty special day for the Buffs. (The men also won the Pac-12 Championships; their eighth title since 2011).
"Last year, I was like, I hope next year I have a shot (to win)," said Nichols. "I've been in the (mix). I hoped I would be there and thankfully; I had the fitness that I needed to go for it this year."
Running with Covert, as well as the rest of the women on the team, has been a great experience for Nichols. Perhaps it has to do with the extra motivation Covert gave Nichols in the summer, the duo has great energy they feed off of, which helps them in workouts and races.
"I get energy from her and she gets energy from me and we always feel like it's easier when we're running by each other," Nichols explained. "We just feed off each other's energy and especially in races we're always so happy to be near each other and just look over and see each other."
Nichols was named the Pac-12 Women's Athlete of the Year and took home first team all-conference honors for her Pac-12 winning performance. She was also named the USTFCCCA co-Female National Athlete of the Week.
Looking back at her decision to come to Colorado, Nichols wanted to become a better runner. Even though there are two races left in this cross country season, it's safe to say no matter the outcome of those races, that goal has already been accomplished.