Nell Rojas is on fire right now. This month, she signed a shoe deal with Adidas and recently finished the Houston Half Marathon in 9th place (with a PR of 1:09:42).
She was born into a Boulder, Colorado running family—I think it’s fair to say her dad, Ric Rojas, is a living legend in the running world. He was one of the first athletes to run for Nike, he won the very first BolderBoulder, and held the world record for the 15K. Now, he’s Nell’s coach—and she is following in his footsteps.
Nell walked onto the running program at Northern Arizona University as a freshman, and by her senior year, she’d earned a running scholarship. After college, she became a pro triathlete and dabbled in obstacle course racing before jumping into her first marathon. She signed up to race the California International Marathon, thinking she ought to have a marathon under her belt if she was going to eventually do an Ironman triathlon, which was her plan. But after finishing 7th with a time of 2:31, she realized she had a ton of potential as a runner—and she still hasn’t gotten around to that Ironman.
Since then, Nell’s running highlights include winning the BolderBoulder Citizen’s Race (a lifelong dream of hers); winning Grandma’s Marathon (in 2:28, a blistering 5:40 pace), and finishing 9th at the 2020 Olympic marathon trials on a hilly course in Atlanta.
After a bit of a break due to an injury and the pandemic, she was the first American to cross the line at the 2021 Boston Marathon this fall, where she finished in 6th place overall. And this was immediately after lying in bed for days with a fever, wondering if she’d even be well enough to get to the start line.
Trigger warning: bulimia
In this episode, we talked about…
- How it felt to sign a contract with Adidas
- What interfered with her performance in Houston
- Why becoming a fat adapted runner isn’t right for everyone
- How her period influences her training, and why she doesn’t modify her workouts to accommodate her cycle
- Why girls’ early success in running can have a negative effect on their mental health during puberty
- Developing an eating disorder (bulimia) in middle school and healing her relationship with food through a triathlon
- Having a different body type than most of her competitors
- What intuitive, low-tech running looks like for Nell and why it works for her
- Why Nell has earned a reputation as a strong runner
- How Nell’s weight training has evolved over the years to support her running
- Nell’s breath training, including box breathing and how to do it
- Nell’s goals for the upcoming Boston Marathon
- Nell’s love-hate relationship with Instagram
My dad knows everything. He’s always right, as much as I hate to admit it at the time.
I walked on to NAU. And the coach even told me he didn’t really expect anything from me. He was like, “We’ll take hard workers, you can be on the team.”
From that first year, I was 100% the most successful. I traveled, I was on the national team that went to nationals and cross country. … And then my sophomore year, I was one of the top three runners there. And then I got a scholarship my junior year, and then got a full ride my senior year. I just kept on improving and I was always one of the top runners there.
I think a lot of it is because I just didn’t have any pressure. I was just like, “Okay, I’ll just run.”
It’s weird. Cause I’m the same person. I don’t like, think about my accomplishments all the time.
I’m someone who has to work every day at being like, “My life is awesome. This is amazing. I get these opportunities. I’m healthy. I get to do what I love. I get to do my passion, and that’s what really matters.”
I don’t know who’s making those decisions or I don’t know what they’re looking for. And if they’re not looking for me, then that’s too bad.
I’m a very strong Latina that doesn’t have to fit the mold.
I was long overdue for a bad race. Last season, I didn’t have a bad race. I felt good during all my races. My training went perfectly before all my races. And that’s not a thing that happens all the time. It’s like the stars have to align.
I want to go to the Olympics. It’s not glamorous and it’s not fun.
Eat the carbs.
I’ve grown into my body as an adult and I’ve always had a little bit more baby fat on me than the girls around me.
I call myself a strong runner and I really had to change my verbiage from being a big runner to a strong runner. When I’m nervous, it can get to me. I’m getting better at getting a handle on it, but growing up being that stronger girl did have a role in an eating disorder.
I can’t tell you when, but I’ve felt for a long time that I am fully recovered and I have a very good relationship with food now.
I love food.
It’s so hard when you’re in it, because you have to want to be healthy and you have to want to stop and you have to want to get better. But my college coach always told me, “You have one body. You have to treat it well.”
The best athletes, they know how to push themselves and they know that fine line to ride just by how they feel.
No one’s going to tell you what you should do, because how would they know?
The times where I can put away my ego are the times where the best things happen, the most growth, the most everything.
I think success would mean continually bettering myself physically, mentally, and being able to step back, keep in mind what’s important, and make those hard decisions and keep going where my heart’s telling me to go.
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