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Long going the distance with running
North Hall graduate Nick Long runs cross country and track for the University of Georgia. - photo by For The Times

It’s his foresight for running that keeps Nick Long focused. He’s not content with his list of achievements from a high school career at North Hall that included a team state title in cross country as a junior, and three individual state titles in track.

Nor is he content relishing in having two personal best times in track during his recently completed freshman season at the University of Georgia.

Participating in both cross country and track for the Bulldogs, Long has one future goal in mind: qualifying for the Olympics in 2016.

"I’m not just running to be in shape," Long said. "By the time I’m 23 or 24 I want to be physically ready to qualify for the Olympics."

"I think Nick has national potential in running, and if he plays his cards right, he could make Olympic qualifying," Long’s running mentor, Wes Wessely said. "And if he can do that, then who knows what he’ll be able to do?"

Even though Long is already competing against the elite college runners in the country, he’s still got a way to go to reach his goal. Long — who specializes in the 800 and 1,500 meter for track — set a PR this season in the 800 with a one-minute, 53-second time at the Georgia Tech relay, but realistically needs to shave an extra six or seven seconds off that time to reach Olympic standards.

Long’s other personal best this season was a 3:59 in the 1,500 during a Georgia home meet at the Spec Towns track.

"He’s an extremely motivated person, which you have to be as a runner," his father, Mike Long said. "If you don’t have a goal, then why run?

"Nick is not at Georgia just to be on the team, he’s way too competitive for that to be his only goal," he added.

Now home for the summer, Long has managed to ramp up his workouts, focusing on incrementally increasing his miles while also gaining speed.

Long is currently running approximately 70 miles each week, and plans to plateau out at around 80 miles each week. To reach that goal, he’s sometimes doubling up his runs with eight miles early in the morning, then another four miles late in the day.

All that, while keeping in mind things like tempo, some runs at around 90-percent full race speed, and farlek training, which varies the intensity of a run and time for a desired distance.

And as a college student-athlete, Long also has to factor in time for classes, studying and getting to enjoy any time away from the pressures of being a Division-I college runner.

Wessely says that Long’s perfectionist-like personality works in his favor as a runner.

"Nick has the heart of a lion and the talent of a national-class runner," Wessely added.

Another one of the staples for Long’s training is a strict diet. He abstains from fast food and doesn’t drink carbonated beverages, added his father. Georgia’s runners as a team also utilize a staff dietician to make sure they are getting the right foods to eat to stay prepared for their grinding running schedule.

Of course, no one ever said being a distance-runner was easy, especially with the streak of bad luck Long endured his freshman season of cross country.

During what was supposed to be a time to get his feet wet, he spent two months recovering from a traffic accident and a stress reaction in his left tibia before being able to get back on his feet.

The traffic accident on Sept. 19 took place while Long was driving his scooter to join the team for the bus ride to Western Carolina for the year’s first road cross country meet. Long says that he was hit by a car which pulled out in front of him, along Lumpkin Street adjacent to the track, throwing him over the car’s hood and onto the side of the road.

Luckily, he avoided any serious injury, except for scraps and bruises, but missed the meet and did not run for two weeks afterward.

Then when he was ready to return, it was discovered he had a stress reaction which kept him from training until the end of cross country season. Long already knows what it’s like to deal with disappointment with running, after having a collapsed lung the week before region his junior season at North Hall.

"Hopefully, in the long run this will only make me stronger," Long said. "But at the time, I looked at it kind of like, ‘why me.’"

So now, Long is in the process of preparing for a sophomore season in cross country, which he realistically thinks of as his first year, after all the adversity he faced in 2008.

Every day Long registers miles looking to gain a competitive edge. Then he’ll be ready to test his merit against the cream of the crop once he returns to campus.

"Running middle distance certainly isn’t easy, but I like a challenge," Long said.

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