In this ongoing series, elite marathoner Nick Klastava takes us on his journey towards a 2019 Olympic Trials Qualifier (OTQ) goal. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6 on his beginning. Nick is sponsored by rabbit running apparel, Maurten Gels, and Megaton Coffee. Nick trains in the HOKA Arahi 3, provided courtesy of Running Warehouse, featuring 90-day no-question returns and free 2-day shipping.
Growing up in New Jersey, I was never a runner. As a 5’11” kid entering his freshman year of high school, I figured I was destined to play basketball.
That dream closed when I was abruptly cut during tryouts for being “the wrong height.”
I was the second tallest kid out there (it didn’t help that my glasses ended up on the court for almost half of the plays we ran). Point taken, coach.
Over the winter my friends and I were playing some touch football. Usually I was one of the better players because I had some speed, height, and good hands. However, on this particular day another friend was flat-out owning me all over the field and showed no signs of stopping. After one long touchdown, he told me that I had no chance of keeping up– he had just run cross country and had tons of endurance.
Challenge accepted. That spring I figured I’d take a whirl at track to get some endurance under my belt. You never knew if a flag football game would pop up. Truthfully, I had no intentions for a running career beyond that.
Before the first day of track practice I did my research on Olympic events and deemed myself a pole vaulter and javelin thrower. As I walked up to the head coach to let him know, he gave me one look-over, and before I could say a word, he said “Distance runner, report to Coach Koegel.”
Hold up. Running? I was just here to get in shape and have fun. Throwing spears and springing off a pole onto some foam pads was more my scene. Needless to say, I didn’t embrace running my first year.
I was a slacker runner, through and through. Missing practices, cutting easy runs short, sometimes walking. My workouts were trash and I had no clue what I was doing. A couple of my fellow freshmen friends walked on and had immediate success. I knew I’d have to work for it to get to that level, but the phrase “hard work ethic” wasn’t exactly in my training vocabulary. Up to this point in my life I never could focus long enough on sometime to be good at it. I’d dabble in and out with my ADHD, but when it got hard, I’d just move on.
At the end of my freshmen year my coach pulled me aside.
“Give me one year of training and I will get you to places you never imagined.”
That stuck with me. Someone wanted to invest in me and believe in me.
And so that summer I began to become a runner.
We trained all through the June, through the dog days of July and the oven of August. Workout after workout, I was building both my fitness and confidence in myself.
As a sophomore that following school year, I ended up fifth scorer on the team in cross country and was running out of my mind on the track. I placed second in the 3200 in the county and ended up racing at sectionals against future-professional-runner Steve Slattery. I mean, he beat all of us by about 60 seconds over 3200 meters, but I ran 9:59.
Things were looking up, until they weren’t.
The cracks in my foundation– there all along– began to widen.
With each race, internal pressure began to build, a pressure to get faster and be faster.
No training was adequate, no race times were low enough to prove my worth to others.
As a result, the internal weight manifested as an external weight that I carried around the track. My junior year, I did not PR once and ran some of the worst races of my life. Every run felt like I was racing other runners and the version of myself I wanted to be. It was an upside-down negative image of the fun and carefree running I experienced my sophomore year when I had no expectations.
The rest of my high school career devolved into a battle against myself.
Late in my senior year, things somewhat improved because I was running so terribly that I gave up on the idea of myself running in college. Once I let that go, I actually ran some of the best 1600 and 3200 times in the state of New Jersey. Those early season times rekindled my passion for running and I ended up talking to the coach at Monmouth University. That conversation ended up with me as a walk-on into a D1 program.
Of course, I was now surrounded by super talented runners. It was the ultimate breeding ground for my negative thoughts to grow.
I quickly became a “workout champion,” a.k.a the runner who crushes every workout well above expectations but struggles in races. I recently found a running log from my college days, and it was shocking to say the least.
In one single week I did three hard workouts with two recovery days. Those “recovery days” were both 6-mile runs at a 5:55 average pace. Needless to say, my race that week was an absolute train wreck.
My thoughts for that race read: “I don’t know what happened.”
Rod Stewart was right: I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was f***ing stupid.
I spent most of my freshman year trying to convince my coach I was a miler, at the same time I was placing DFL (dead f***ing last) in every mile race.
Sophomore year I moved up to the 5K/10K distance and fell in love with the steeplechase. I ran my 5K/10K PR’s in back-to-back weeks (which I finally broke this year, 17 years later). However, a lot of personal issues took hold my junior year, forcing me to take a step back from running. Nevertheless, it was a magical year altogether, as it was the year I met my wife.
At the end of my junior year, I closed the book on running altogether.
My coach told me I’d miss running one day and want this fitness back, but I laughed it off.
For 8 years, until the age of 29, I didn’t run. I didn’t participate in any physical activities. What was once an active lifestyle was now replaced by hours of video games and pounds of weight gain.
After moving to Baltimore in 2011, I began running again.
I wouldn’t call it a comeback. It merely began as a few short runs a week to lose some weight.
Shortly thereafter I was running four times a week, buying a GPS watch, and training for a marathon, with the goal of finishing before I turned 30.
I thought old Nick was back— that I could peak my long run at 14 miles, take a few zero weeks during training, and still bang out a Boston Qualifying time.
Spoiler: I did not run a BQ. On race day, I ended up crashing hard the last 10K, and contemplated quitting many times, but I finished. More importantly, my running fire was stoked again, with no signs of dying out.
I began to participate in more local group runs, from Track Tuesdays to weekend long runs. I was meeting new friends and becoming more involved in the Baltimore running community. This was my new home, these were my new friends, and this was my new future.
While there have been ups and downs along the way over the last 8 years, my story continues to evolve. Along the way I became a rabbitElite, met my coach David, and been on podcasts. I’ve even become a part-time running coach. All of it has led to here, in 2019, the most fun year of my life so far. The ride continues, and who I’ve been—all my strengths, weaknesses, successes, and failures— defines the runner, and more importantly— the person— I am today.
In many ways, my origin story isn’t just a story, it’s the story.