By Sean Collins
Being a distance runner is not something that a lot of people who aren’t distance runners really understand. They hear all of the questions, “Don’t you hate running over 20 laps around the track? Doesn’t it get boring doing the same every day? For practice you just…run?”
But at the University of Arizona, the distance runners themselves love it; it’s what they do. They wake up early nearly every morning and run for miles at different locations in Tucson. One particular Wildcat, Nicci Corbin, who is in her third year at Arizona, loves running miles and miles. Under the tutelage of head coach James Li and assistant coach Maureen Huber, Corbin has improved dramatically over the course of her career at Arizona. She is a junior on the No. 2 women’s cross country team (she is a junior for indoor track and a sophomore for outdoor track).
The long runs are not something she dreads like the average person does. She embraces them and tries to give her very best each and every day.
“I think that I have improved because I have always been very hard working,” Corbin said. “It sounds cliché but with everything I do, I make sure it’s my best effort. I think that effort has a lot to do with success.”
Corbin is a sponge for success, always listening to successful people and seeing what they did in order to become successful.
“I just watched a video about John Wooden,” Corbin said. “He was really successful and he said that success is all about your effort. I think that’s really the main reason behind my improvement, just putting 100 percent mentally and physically every day.”
Corbin’s freshman year on the cross country team in the fall of 2011 was a learning experience. She learned from her teammates and coaches and knew what she was going to do differently next time around in order to improve.
“Jen Bergman helped me out,” Corbin said. “Without all of my teammates to push me, I wouldn’t be able to achieve so much as well. I always have to have my teammates there."
Corbin’s freshman year ended at the NCAA West Regional as she was not selected as one of the ladies to travel to the NCAA Championships. Rather than get upset by it and let it negatively affect her, Corbin turned it into motivation to make sure it didn’t happen again.
“That made me want to dig down deeper and dig even more,” Corbin said. “I didn’t travel to the last meet and that got me down but I put a lot more focus, time and dedication into the next season. I had a really good indoor season and set a personal-best mark in the mile by a lot. I changed my attitude after the cross country season, so what that I didn’t go, I did the best I could.”
Corbin’s last indoor race was not how she wanted to end the season; she was running with a stress fracture. The x-rays showed she had a stress fracture and she had to redshirt the outdoor season.
“I had to do a lot of cross training,” Corbin said. “It was a lot of work, to equivocate how much mileage and how much effort we exert in a day when we run, without actually running, is very difficult. I would wake up really early morning and swim laps, I would just freestyle for a while and then I would do the elliptical for about 60 minutes or even longer. I would work out like three hours a day and just wear myself out in order to get myself stronger. “
Director of Cross Country and Track and Field Fred Harvey has an email signature and in all caps at the end of it, it says, “When the sun comes up, you better be running.” Unfortunately, Corbin couldn’t run, so she found other ways to improve herself as a competitor.
“What else is there to do? I wasn’t running so I figured I might as well do something,” Corbin said. “I think that also propelled me to improve, I used different muscles and the time and effort I put into all of that, it made the actual running so much easier and I was able to improve different areas. I think the injury was a blessing in disguise. It seemed to be a good thing."
As a sophomore, Corbin was a member of the cross country team that took second place at the 2012 Pac-12 Championships and earned a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships. As a redshirt freshman on the track in the spring of 2013, Corbin earned all-conference honors in the 1,500-meter race and the 5,000-meter race. She competed in the 5K at the NCAA Championships and earned second-team NCAA All-America honors.
“As I see myself improve, I surprise myself.” Corbin said. “I never thought I could be at this level right now. It gives me more confidence in myself and in what I’m capable of, what anybody is capable of. Coach Harvey always says, ‘Once you get to this level, it’s 90% mental.’ You just have to be positive, focused, passionate and dedicated. My first outdoor season was so exciting and every season is a propeller for the next. I always picture it as there’s another step I can climb to.”
Corbin has a very confident outlook heading into the final race of the 2013 cross country season. She has goals clearly set for herself and she is also striving to complete the team’s ultimate goal of winning the NCAA Championship.
“The team has been amazing this year,” Corbin said. “Everybody is 100 percent focused and all-in and that’s the kind of team you need to win an NCAA Championship. We’re not going to do anything extraordinary, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. I want to make sure that I give it my all; I want to collapse at the finish line. My main goal is to finish in the top 25 and be a first-team All-American.”
Corbin has improved and grown as a runner. This cross country season she earned all-conference honors, taking sixth place at the Pac-12 Championships. She followed up that performance with a 12th-place finish at the NCAA West Regional Championships, earning all-region honors. All-America accolades seem like a very attainable goal for Corbin on Saturday.