A Busy Meet Week Is No Problem For This Indiana Athlete

* Nicki Southerland will take to the line in the 800m and 1,600m as the top returner to the 2023 RunningLane Track Championships.

Photo Credit: Owen Fink/MileSplit Indiana

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By Ashley Tysiac - MileSplit 

For Delta (IN) junior Nicki Southerland, she's used to always being on the go.

When she decided to put two meets on the schedule this week -- the IHSAA Pike Region 5 Championships and the RunningLane Track Championships -- she knew exactly what she was signing up for.

"I'm used to the busy schedule and I do a lot of meets," Southerland said. "It's just a normal week for me."

But what Southerland has accomplished on the track this spring is anything but ordinary. Competing in two-to-three meets nearly every week and typically contesting four events at each of those events, Southerland has dominated Indiana at distances from the 400m up to the 3,200m.

At last night's regional championships, she clocked an all-time PR of 2:06.12 for second in the 800m and grabbed a title in the 1,600m at 4:50.97. She even has 58-second quarter-mile speed and 10:14.61 3,200m endurance in her arsenal, too.

That range and workload is mind-boggling, especially as trends continue to see elite-level athletes specializing and prioritizing certain competitions each season.

Southerland plans to go slightly off script with her RunningLane campaign this weekend -- but heavy emphasis on slightly.

She'll focus on just two events this time, the 800m and mile, where she hopes to grab two wins in PR-setting fashion on the national stage.

It will also serve as an important tune-up leading into the IHSAA State Championships set for the following week where she'll square off against other state all-timers like Park Tudor's Gretchen Farley. 

For a workhorse like Southerland, she said this week ultimately represents just another challenge and a chance to show both the nation and herself that she belongs.

"I'll have confidence and know I can be faster and continue to push myself and I can remember these experiences," she said.

* Southerland talks with MileSplit following her performance at RunningLane Track Championships in 2022.

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    This weekend isn't the first time that Southerland has made the trip down to Huntsville.

    In fact, it was the 2022 installment of RunningLane that served as her big breakout. She finished as the runner-up in both the 800m in 2:08.64 and the mile in 4:45.03.

    Southerland admitted that she didn't even know she had that kind of top-end performance in her. She tried to play it conservative in the opening laps of each race, and even sat in last place going into the bell lap of her 800m effort.

    "I was really surprised because I hadn't done anything like that before," she said. "I didn't really have a place goal in mind because I knew that there were going to be a lot of really fast people around the same time as me, so it was kind of anybody's race."

    Little did she know that it would serve as the kickstart for the success that would later come during her junior campaign, both on the track and across the cross country course.

    Nearly a year since that stunning RunningLane breakthrough, Southerland has added a cross country state championship silver medal to her belt, along with two top 10 finishes at New Balance Nationals Indoor in the 800m and mile.

    That trust in herself has guided Southerland to times and places she never truly imagined she could reach.

    * Southlerland takes second in the championship 800m at last year's RunningLane Track Championships

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    Come outdoor, the priority changes for Southerland as the main goal becomes earning as many team points for the Delta program as possible. That means running crucial legs on 4x400m and 4x800m relays and even dropping down to the 400m or moving up to the 3,200m on any given day.

    It becomes a game of balancing the efforts, typically picking two races to truly push herself in every competition, and completing the remaining for the point opportunities.

    But just how does Southerland juggle that workload, while also still logging marks that rank among the best in the country at the distance discipline?

    Sparkling cherry juice, regular rolling and once-a-week swimming certainly play a role in her recovery process, but so does mindset.

    "I always try to push myself and I want to motivate myself and I want to be the best at everything I do," she said. "I take that mentality to the track."

    Honing in on the 1,600m-3,200m double at RunningLane could potentially be the perfect fit for Southerland, who will still have a chance to challenge herself while also backing off the event load.

    It won't be a walk in the park for one of RunningLane's top returners. She'll be joined by other national elites like home-state talent Cady McPhail -- also attempting the 800m-mile double -- as well as Virginia talents and sub-4:50 milers in Allie Zealand and Gillian Bushee.

    But this time around, don't expect to see Southerland play it safe.

    The confident, experienced junior will surely find herself right at home at the front of the pack in 2023.

    To some, RunningLane may just seem as if it's another meet on her jam-packed spring schedule. But for Southerland, it's another chance to break through yet again and take her career to a whole new level.

    "Doing a big RunningLane national meet will give me more confidence and more experience against good competition," she said. "I hope it gives me more confidence for state after that."