We are reviving a feature from the early days of the NEO Trail Web Site, short interviews with members of the NEO Trail. We are still waiting on The Professor to fill out his homework, so we are starting with Nick Billock.
Nick is pretty well known in the running community for being the man with the camera. Nick had an impressive 2009 ultra season, with finishing 3 100 miles in the year. Nick is responsible for the famous Waterfall runs (this was the 4th year) in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Why do you run trails? Trails, unlike the open road, allow me to fully immerse myself in nature and everything great about it. No cars, no interruptions (except for the occasional running deer), and no beating on my body are just a few of the benefits of being on the trails. In a society that is moving extremely fast with very little down-time, simply stepping foot on the trails strips it all away and the only thing left is you, the dirt, the roots, the stream-crossings, the sky-reaching trees, and scurrying wildlife all around you. Mentally, it's the best way to relax (and burn some calories) that I know of.
How did you first hear/get involved with NEO Trail? The 2008 YUT-C 50K was my introduction to NEO Trail. I had grown up rolling down the grassy hill at the Fellows Riverside Gardens up above the starting line but never knew of trails within Mill Creek Park. After that race and how it was put on, I was sold on NEO Trail and what they were doing in the community.
Do you have a trail name? Can you share it with us and tell us where it came from? The crew from NEO Trail refer to me as "Admiral." I think it's simply a name fitting for someone who is currently serving in the Navy. While the rank of "Admiral" is the highest rank and an extremely far cry from my current rank, I really do love the nickname and appreciate the crew bestowing it on me. Pretty cool to connect the trails with another very significant part of my life.
What do you do to pay for the trail shoes? My full time job is as a Social Insurance Specialist with the Social Security Administration. I take disability claims from the public and also care for those already on disability out of the Canton, OH field office. My other job which is involved a little bit every day is that of a Navy Supply Corps Officer. After serving on active duty from 1991-2001, I returned in 2007 but this time as a Reservist. It's much more than a "weekend warrior" time commitment but I love it more than any other "job" that I do.
What's your favorite trail to run? Tough question. I think I'll give you a few. Mill Creek Park is easily in my top 3 trails. Mill Creek offers everything: waterside running, rocks, roots, sky-high evergreens, lots of waterfalls, and of course, the Monkey Hills and the Love Log. I also love the trails of West Branch State Park, located in southern Portage County. While only 12min from my house in Rootstown, it is a highly ignored park from the bulk of the local trail running community. The mountain bike trails contain more rocky running than any other trail system in northeast Ohio, hands down. Also, most trails are near West Branch Reservoir which never disappoints with the views year-round. Lastly, I know the trails of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park like the back of my hand. Anyone could easily spends hours upon hours out there and never cross the same piece of trail twice. Fantastic resource right on our doorstep that many non-runners don't even realize is here. We should be very thankful for our very many trail systems in Ohio!
What is your most memorable race? That's an easy one...but I'll have to answer it in two parts. The first one is my first 100-mile finish at the 2009 Kettle Moraine 100 Miler in Wisconsin. I traveled solo to the race with no friends, family or crew and seeing that red finish line banner in 25hrs, 39min is an image and memory that will never fade. The other one was my 3rd 100-mile finish 18 weeks later at the Inaugural Oil Creek 100-Mile Trail Run in Titusville, PA. Around mile 20, I ran into some serious issues physically and for the final 80 miles, I ate ibuprofen like candy and only my mental fortitude got me to the finish line. The icing on the cake was my wife surprising me at mile 92 and me crumbling emotionally like a baby. 30hrs, 49min after the start on Saturday, I got my 3rd 100-mile finish and the "mack-daddy" of 100-mile buckles.
What are your goal races for the 2011 season? In 2011, I have no goal races due to a lot of time to be spent with the Navy. The bulk of my time with them happens right in the heart of trail racing season, including all of my favorite races. I hope to return in time for NEO Trail's URINEO in December.
What is your dream race? I am a big believer in running local races that I can wake up in my own bed and drive to. We have a countless supply of them in NE Ohio, many of which didn't exist 5 years ago. However, I'd say that a few races do stand out as must-do's some day: Bear 100, Wasatch 100, and the Leadville Trail 100 are all on my to-do list...lifetime to-do list. I really don't have any big "dream" races and focus more on the very short term and just getting out on the trails. Any advice you could give someone just starting out to the dirt side of running? Take it slow and let the trail come to you. It's a completely different kind of running and in time, it'll get easier and more enjoyable to you. Forget about the pace and what your Garmin is telling you and just have fun out there. When you run, lift up your feet over the roots and rocks and when walking those steep hills, walk with a purpose!