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A Dialog With Nicole Bitter – iRunFar

In opposition to the backdrop of an more and more professionalized sport, there are nonetheless some ultra-trail athletes who’re managing to compete on the highest stage whereas additionally managing the calls for of a busy day job. One such athlete is coach, lawyer, and lifelong runner Nicole Bitter.

At age 41, Bitter is presently getting ready for her eighth Western States 100 begin, having certified with a Golden Ticket from Bandera 100k earlier this yr, which is a part of the Hoka Golden Ticket Races that doles out entries to high finishers of the sequence’s races. I caught up together with her to unearth the secrets and techniques to longevity in working, and the way to stability an elite stage working profession alongside a busy skilled profession and residential life.

Nicole and Zach Bitter with dogs

Nicole and Zach Bitter with canines Stella and Minnie. All photographs courtesy of Nicole Bitter until in any other case famous.

Nicole Bitter grew up within the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, and first discovered her manner into sport on the age of 5, within the type of determine skating. This was simply one in all many lively pursuits in her childhood and she or he stated, “My mother labored, so I feel simply as a technique to be out of the home and doing issues we have been signed up for all kinds of sports activities camps. We did just about every little thing beneath the solar — tennis classes, diving, swimming, soccer.”

Sport rapidly grew to become a lifestyle for Bitter. In seventh grade, whereas wishing to hone in on a sport for center faculty, she tried out for the basketball staff. However alongside the way in which a fitness center trainer noticed her aptitude for working and inspired her within the path of cross nation as a substitute.

She stated, “I did fairly nicely in seventh and eighth grade and the coach of the high-school varsity staff was really my math trainer in eighth grade, so he had me begin coaching with the high-school staff in eighth grade. At that time, I used to be beginning to do exercises and issues. I competed all all through highschool in cross nation and ran the 1,600 meters and the three,200 meters in observe. Then I went to Northwestern College [in Illinois] and ran cross county there.”

With years of aggressive working and coaching already beneath her belt, Bitter first found path working upon shifting to Texas after graduating, the place she attended legislation faculty at Baylor College.

She stated, “There was a bunch of good path programs throughout the college … I’d seen one thing referred to as path working so I made a decision to test it out. I went out and did some path runs earlier than or after lessons and I used to be hooked.”

Nicole Bitter - racing in the mountains

Nicole Bitter racing within the mountains. Though she says her strengths lie in additional runnable ultras, Bitter relishes the chance to take to the hills.

Though working on trails grew to become a part of Bitter’s common coaching and leisure working, it wasn’t till she moved to Dallas, Texas, 5 years later and located a bunch to run with that her aggressive path working profession started. She stated, “There was a bunch referred to as the White Rock Co-op and there have been just a few members of the staff who have been doing ultramarathons, and I believed, I might do this! So I signed up and did some native Texas races. That was again in 2012. I began out with an evening race, a 60-kilometer occasion. After that I began ramping up the gap and doing extra of the native Texas races.”

On the time Bitter didn’t have a coach — however already skilled in different disciplines of coaching and racing, she found out the nuances of path working as she went alongside.

She rapidly climbed as much as the 100-mile distance, taking up the Rocky Racoon 100 Mile in 2013, the place she took first place and located a consolation zone in lengthy, runnable ultramarathons. She stated, “I didn’t actually have loads of challenges. Perhaps it was newbie’s luck, however I simply naturally was in a position to do the 100 miles. Particularly on that form of runnable terrain.”

Following on from her 100-mile debut, Bitter had a knee problem, which took a while to resolve, however stated: “After that race I discovered that I used to be in a position to get better fairly rapidly. I feel being youthful positively made it simpler. Nowadays I don’t race as ceaselessly as I used to. I most likely was working at the least 100 miles per week religiously, and in addition I feel it was simply increase after so a few years.”

Later the identical yr, Bitter headed to the Leadville 100 Mile, the place she positioned ninth, and stated: “I actually struggled at that race. I had come off one other harm sooner or later and I used to be doing nicely till the final 10 miles after which it was simply actually difficult. I feel it confirmed the excellence between doing a mountain race versus a flat race.”

With expertise, she has discovered the place her best strengths lie and stated: “I like working extra mountainous races, however when it comes to the place I’m going to carry out higher, I positively have a better time on the flatter, sooner stuff.”

The next yr, in February 2014, Bitter returned to Rocky Raccoon — profitable once more and taking greater than an hour off her earlier time. On her third try on the race in 2015, she once more gained — this time setting what was then the American path 100-mile report in a time of 14:22.

Nicole Bitter American 100-mile trail record 2015 Rocky Raccoon Champion

Nicole Bitter on her technique to setting a then American 100-mile path report and profitable the 2015 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile. Picture: USA Ultrarunning

Whereas persevering with to rack up wins, a second-place end on the 2015 Bandera 100k earned Bitter her place at her first Western States 100, the place she completed sixth — starting a terrific love affair with this iconic race.

Taking a daring step exterior of her consolation zone, in 2015 Bitter additionally headed to Chamonix, France, to finish UTMB — the head of mountain ultrarunning. She had a robust run, ending thirteenth, and stated: “It was lovely, I felt like I used to be in ‘The Sound of Music!’ Simply working by means of the mountains and having that entire expertise, it was really superior. That’s a kind of races I’ll always remember … Truthfully, I used to be proud to simply full that race.”

This yr Bitter will return to the Western States 100, a race she has an extended historical past and affinity with, having raced it seven occasions — together with three top-10 finishes. When requested what it’s about this occasion that retains drawing her again, she stated: “I feel it’s the competitors, the problem, and the expertise. But in addition, persevering with to push myself and see what I can do. At 41 it will get just a little extra like, I can’t consider I’m nonetheless doing this!

Residing in Austin, Texas, and having at all times lived in sizzling locations, Bitter finds that she copes with the warmth on the Western States 100 higher than many. In regards to the distinction between working now as a grasp, versus in her youth, she says: “I do discover that I usually don’t run as a lot quantity, and I simply take heed to my physique.”

2017 Western States 100 - Nicole Bitter - finish

Nicole Bitter incomes her second sixth-place Western States 100 end. Picture: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Her quest to face on the beginning line at this yr’s Western States 100 started in October 2022, when she positioned third within the Javelina 100 Mile, narrowly lacking out on a Golden Ticket. Regardless of the close to miss, she stated, “I felt nice to do in addition to I did and have a superb efficiency. With that stacked of a subject, that was a win in my ebook.”

Then in a weird coincidence, Bitter ended up having a second probability at a Golden Ticket within the winter of 2022/2023. She recounted, “I used to be purported to do a race in South Africa, Extremely-Path Cape City, proper round Thanksgiving. And the day I acquired off the aircraft, I sprained my ankle and so I couldn’t do the race! It nearly felt like destiny. I used to be in a position to heal in a short time, I used to be match, and the Bandera 100k was in my yard. It appeared like a superb one to leap into.”

Bitter positioned second behind Courtney Dauwalter within the January 2023 Bandera 100k in a time of 10:03 — beating her earlier greatest on the acquainted course, and incomes her ticket into the 2023 Western States 100.

Nicole Bitter - with Zach at 2023 Bandera 100k

Nicole being supported by husband, Zach, on the 2023 Bandera 100k.

As the game continues to professionalize, Bitter is now maybe within the minority of athletes competing at her stage to nonetheless have a busy day job — working full time as a lawyer. When requested about how she manages this difficult balancing act, she stated, “I feel the idea of stability is so arduous. I’d say that I do my greatest and concentrate on the duty at hand. I attempt to give my all after I’m working, and after I’m being a lawyer, and I attempt to do my greatest after I’m teaching … There are positively occasions when I’m spending all of my power on my profession and that’s the highest precedence. However I do love having working in my life as a result of it offers me an opportunity to be off my work chair and to see the world.”

Bitter admits that there are tipping factors, saying: “I do discover that there are factors the place the work stress will get to be an excessive amount of. I do know in 2021 there was rather a lot occurring in my day job and it resulted in me being overwhelmed attending to the Western States 100. I didn’t even notice it till I began racing. It’s this wonderful line that it’s important to stroll on. However on the finish of the day, I wouldn’t change it as a result of I’d moderately have each elements to my life than simply attempt to do one at the next stage.”

Bitter is now coached by her husband — fellow elite runner, Zach Bitter — who is a superb help and helps her with balancing work and coaching. Nowadays the 2 function on completely different schedules and don’t at all times run collectively. Nicole does her runs early within the morning with the group she coaches, Workforce Rogue, whereas Zach heads out just a little later. So as to add to their busy family, the Bitters have just lately adopted a brand new four-legged coaching accomplice, Minnie, and together with their older canine, Stella, they usually head out for household runs and adventures.

Nicole says: “Minnie calls for getting out day by day and might be my number-one coaching accomplice within the household on the minute!” Just lately, the couple headed to the 2023 Hell Hills 50k, simply an hour from their residence, the place they every took first place.

Subsequent up Bitter will head to the annual Western States 100 Memorial Weekend Coaching Runs, for a refresher on the course she is already so acquainted with. She stated “I’m going to exit early with Altra and do a coaching camp, after which keep for the broader Western States 100 coaching camp. It’s at all times enjoyable to run with all the opposite athletes.”

Bitter has discovered rather a lot from the highs and lows of earlier Western States 100 runs and stated: “I feel simply ensuring to remain iced off is crucial. It’s a wonderful stability to ensure you get sufficient fluids and salt.”

As she has demonstrated in her stellar performances this yr and final, Bitter’s years of gathered coaching — and a pure potential to run far — can greater than compensate for the opposite calls for life locations on her. We will’t wait to see her lace up on June 24.

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