Freihofer’s 5k: Illness sidelines Blood, shelves Olympic training

Former Saratoga Springs and Oregon running standout Nicole Blood can't wait to start running again a

Before she became an elite runner in high school, Nicole Blood tried a variety of other sports, including horseback riding.

Well, until she fell off “this huge, huge horse,” she said, “and that was it.

“I thought I was going to be the next Julie Krone for awhile,” Blood said with a laugh on Thursday afternoon.

Blood didn’t get back on that horse, but she can’t wait to get back on a much bigger one after being thrown by celiac disease, which will prevent her from running in the Freihofer’s 5k Run for Women in Albany on Saturday.

She’s still involved in the race and spoke to a gymful of kids at Altamont Elementary School as a Freihofer’s representative. Their hands all shot up when Blood asked, “Anybody really like to run?”

She could’ve been one of them. Despite the illness that will keep her from participating in the U.S. Olympic Trials this spring, Blood, a multiple state champion for Saratoga Springs High School, is only 24 and said the setback shouldn’t have any bearing on her goal to make the 2016 Olympics, now that she’s identified the problem.

“You hit a plateau . . . I was fortunate to run really well for a really long time throughout high school and college,” Blood said. “I know everyone hits that time when you’re body’s just had enough for awhile, and maybe that was my time. Which is terrible, but at the same time, I’m still ready to get out there and run.”

Blood finished her high school career in California and was a standout at the running powerhouse University of Oregon before returning to the East last year when she got homesick just prior to the Freihofer’s Run.

Having decided to skip the U.S. track and field nationals, she jumped into the Freihofer’s race on the suggestion of her mother, Jill Buff, and finished 16th.

Moving back east gave Blood, who is sponsored by Nike, the opportunity to join the New York-New Jersey Track Club, coached by Frank Gagliano, in August.

A combination of intense crash course work on the track to get ready for the U.S. Trials and the

continuing symptoms of celiac disease, such as nausea, headaches and fatigue, forced Blood to make a late decision to forego the Trials.

“I tried to take the shortcut, training-wise, and didn’t get a solid base in,” she said. “I went straight to hard sprinting training, which is great, I got fit really fast, and I was getting fit for a 1,500.

“I was still learning about the

celiac, so I’m not sure how much of it was the diet. But all of a sudden, I was feeling drained, and I don’t know if it was from the kickstart of the training or the diet change. It was just a lot of changes to take in.”

There’s no way to tell now, but Blood believes that celiac disease, which affects a person’s ability to absorb nutrients in the lower intestines and for which a diagnosis can be elusive, has been hampering her perhaps since she was in college.

Besides nausea and headaches, Blood experienced inflammations, some of which had a direct impact on her ability to run, like plantar fasciitis.

Now that she knows what the problem is, her lifestyle includes a gluten-free diet.

“It was very frustrating,” she said. “I was seeing three or four different doctors for different things, and now that I have the answer, hopefully I can find a simple solution and feel better and not have it be a hypochondriac thing.

“Cooking for myself is fine. I just eat rice, pasta, a lot of pot­atoes. That’s been easy. But going out with friends or a simple Mem­orial Day barbecue, you have to be a pain in the butt and call ahead of time. That really stinks, but I’ll get used to it.”

Blood plans to watch her mom run Freihofer’s today.

She’s going to take it slow this summer, make sure she’s fully

recovered from celiac and grad­ually build up her mileage.

The urge to compete has not taken a hit at all through all this.

No matter what kind of shape she’s in, Blood would like to run in the USATF 5k national championship in Providence, R.I., in September.

Joining Gagliano’s crew has only bolstered her already fervent desire to stay at an elite level.

“College, you race, race, race, and high school you do the same, and I graduated college, and I feel like I’ve hit some injuries and sickness, and I just want to get out there and race,” Blood said.

“It’s not like it’s taken away my passion for it at all. When I’m ready, I know I’ll get back into it and compete well.”


Two of Kenya’s top distance runners, Emily Chebet, who holds the Freihofer’s course record (15:12 set in 2010) and Joyce Chepkirui, have bowed out of the Freihofer’s Run in order to prepare for their nation’s upcoming Olympic trials.

Chepkirui, 23, won the African Cross-Country Championships this year.

Kenya’s Olympic trials have been rescheduled for June 14-16.

“Naturally we’re disappointed not to have these outstanding athletes in our field,” race director George Regan said. “However, the chance to represent one’s country in the Olympic games is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We wish them well.”

Despite losing the two Kenyans, the Freihofer’s field still remains highly competitive, including

defending champion Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia and countrywomen Alemitu Abera and Ashu Kasim.

Daska won the Bolder Boulder 10k on Monday.

The Freihofer’s Kenyan contingent features recently added Jelliah Tinega, winner of this year’s Cherry Blossom 10 Mile; Risper Gesabwa, who recently won the L.A. Half Marathon; and, Genoveva Kigen, winner of the 2012 Crescent City Classic 10k.

Two highly competitive Aust­ralians will be in the field, Benita Willis, a four-time Olympian for her country and three-time Freihofer’s champion, and Lara Tamsett, who has notched a 15:28 for 5,000 meters.

The top American may be Lindsey Scherf, winner of this weekend’s Ottawa 10k and a first-time Freihofer’s competitor. Other Amer­icans likely to push the African and Australian contingent include Reb­ecca Donaghue, who was ninth at Freihofer’s in 2010, Esther Erb and Michelle Frey. . . .

Although on-line registration is closed, runners can still sign up for the race from noon to 7 p.m. today at the CapitalCare/CDHPH Health & Fitness Expo at the Empire State Plaza. . . .

Race organizers are expecting a field of about 4,500.

The field will have runners from 17 countries and 31 states.

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