Most accounting graduates move on from the classroom to the land of cubicles and corporate offices to count the beans, but after Nick Arciniaga graduated from Cal-State Fullerton in 2006, he quickly realized that was not the life he was called to lead. Today, Arciniaga works in a professional field where shorts are part of the uniform, naps are encouraged and running twice a day is the norm.
|© Mike Scott
Arciniaga is a professional runner for the McMillan Elite team based in Flagstaff, Ariz. However, when Arciniaga first graduated from college, he knew he wanted to continue running, but did not have the times on his resume to go pro. While he considered himself a miler and middle-distance runner through high school and college, he decided to try his hand at the marathon, and made his debut at the ING Chicago Marathon in 2006. Not only did he surprise everyone else, but also himself with a time of 2:16:58.
“It was a surprise and a shock to have done so well,” Arciniaga said. “I was thrilled to find an avenue that allowed me to continue my career.”
With his Chicago performance good enough to earn him the Olympic Trials ‘A’ Standard, Arciniaga trained for the trials for the 2008 Olympics, and entered the race blissfully unaware of the talent he was facing. “I was ignorant to the rest of the field, I thought if I had my best day I could make the team, and I really went in to it over my head.” Arciniaga admits. While his 17th place finish didn’t qualify him for the Olympics, it whetted his appetite for more.
Since 2007, Arciniaga has lowered his marathon PR by more than five and a half minutes, or 13 seconds a mile over the 26.2 mile distance. His best race came earlier this year at the Chevron Houston Marathon, where he was tasked to run as a pacer for his teammate Brett Gotcher. Arciniaga was tasked with running 4:53 splits through 25 km (approximately 15.5 miles). Coach Greg McMillan had agreed that Arciniaga could continue to run if he felt good at that point, but stipulated that he could only finish if he was going to run a PR.
After completing his 25 km pacing task and with the pressure to hit the exact splits lifted off his shoulders, Arciniaga began to drop back from Gotcher. But after a few miles, he began to pick up the pace, and not only caught Gotcher, but passed him. Running the splits through his head, and calculating the pace, Arciniaga began to realize he was in position to run a PR. As he moved up to a surprising third place, he caught a cheering section off-guard as they began to chant, “Brett! Brett! Brett!” While Arciniaga admits that the cheers caused him to laugh, he reveled in surprising the crowds and continued to pick up the pace. He crossed the line in second place knocking 18 seconds off his previous best setting a new PR (2:11:30).
This time around, Arciniaga is looking forward to the 2012 Olympic Team Trials for the Marathon with a better understanding and appreciation for the event and the athletes he will be competing against.
“This time I know the competition, and I know myself. If things pan out right, I can make the team if I have my day, but I know where I belong, and that is in the top five or six guys. ”
Arciniaga knows that he doesn’t have the same clout as the Ryan Hall’s and Dathan Ritzenhein’s of American marathoning, but it is a role that he thrives in. Arciniaga admits, “I prefer to be the underdog. I know that I am not less talented than the top guys, I’m just taking longer to develop.”
This weekend, Arciniaga will look to add a USA Championship title to his resume at the USA 25 km Championships hosted by the Fifth Third River Bank Run. At last year’s edition of the race, he finished third in 1:15:18, and this year he will battle defending champion Andrew Carlson for the win.
“I want to repeat my performance in the top three, but obviously I want to go for the win,” Arciniaga said. “I know it will be a competitive field, but I want to be able to control the entire race.”
To watch Arciniaga, and the rest of the USA 25 km Championship field, tune in to the live webcast at www.USARunningCircuit.com
at 7:00 a.m. CT.