Karisa Nelson grew up in Brewton, Alabama, a small town of only 5,200. She ran her first race when she was eight years old, winning her age division with a time of 26:00. This success hooked her onto running. As soon as she was old enough she joined the cross country and track team in the fifth grade. Despite that she was from a very small school and her coach was a football coach, she went on to win over 20 state titles. This success gave her the opportunity to run at a small Division 1 college of Samford University. The first couple years at Samford she improved slowly, then her junior year she made a big jump. At the 2017 indoor national championship, Karisa wasn’t even predicted to make the final, but then she came out of nowhere and won the championship with a four second personal record of 4:31. The 2017 outdoor season she finished 3rd, with the top three being within 0.1 seconds of each other. In January 2018, the year she was to defend her title, she fell down the stairs and broke her foot. This put her out for six months, and she was not able to race at all in 2018 after the fall. At the NCAA D1 indoor championship in 2019 she managed to come back and just barley miss out on winning the title finishing 2nd. Although the 2019 NCAA outdoor season did not go well, she raced a 1500 at USA’s finishing 8th and running a time of 4:06.1, making her the 9th fastest on the NCAA all-time list. She signed a contract with the Brooks Beast and trains in Seattle with her team.
After all that you accomplished, what drives you to continue running?
What keeps me going is the fact that there are so many more goals to achieve beyond winning a national title and that I don’t think that I’m even close to my ceiling. There are a lot of things I could do better and I haven’t had a lot of consistency to build on since I broke my foot in 2018. If one day I wake up and think “I’ve done everything I can to reach my full potential” maybe then I would have an issue with motivation, but I’m not even close to thinking that. I also really believe in myself, so to not to try and achieve what I believe I can would be a disservice to myself.
How do you motivate yourself on days you don’t feel like running?
I love running, but everyone has those days where they just don’t want to run. I think of it like, okay, today we're just putting money in the bank. We got to build those stacks if we want to live our best life, can’t have zero income that day towards meeting the goal just because I was feeling lazy. I mean, WWMJD? What would Michael Jordan do? I just watched the last dance, haha!
What are your goals once things go back to normal?
Plans are to start getting some good races in with some big crowd energy! Luckily we’ve been able to do most of the training we need to without being in high risky situations. So being to show off all that training with a decent sized crowd to cheer us on would be great.
What do you miss the most about competing?
What I miss the most is that either after a great race, or a bad race, having my family and friends there to hug and congratulate me. Then having a nice dinner with the team and friends or family where we can all laugh and have a good time.
What’s been the biggest lesson since turning pro?
I think there are two types of athletes: some that probably need to do a little more, and some that need to do a little less. If you’re an athlete like me who fits in the category of probably needs to do a little more, do not listen to people who tell you that you don’t need to work that hard! There are lots of very good, talented athletes who would tell me I don’t need to take my nutrition that seriously, or I don’t really need to do core. I listened and I got sloppy. So be very careful about who you are taking advice from. Just because they are a great athlete doesn’t mean they have great advice.
What has been your most memorable race to date?
I would definitely say when I won the NCAA D1 mile championship in 2017. I wasn’t expected to make the final, nobody knew who I was, nobody had ever heard of Samford, and in fact I was nervous my time wouldn’t even qualify for the meet. But there I was. A little voice in my head was like “I believe in myself. I know I’m talented and I can achieve great things. I’m going to put myself in a position so I have a chance to win this. I just have to give myself that chance” even though my time was 7 seconds slower than the top woman. Then somehow I made it happen and I couldn’t believe it. It was a feeling of immense joy that I never thought was possible to feel. I don’t think I’ll ever be in that state of pure bliss again, but even now just typing this I can feel the remnants of it. In fact, I’m beaming at my computer screen as I type this, haha!
What does your weight training consist of and which exercises do you feel helps your running the most?
I will say that we work on a lot of muscles besides the legs, core, good back strength, and some arm strength is still important. As far as what I think helps the most, for me 3x3 of weighted squats and calf raises. The squats make me feel powerful when I run and the calf raises help strengthen my achilles because they are the root of most my injuries.
What’s the weirdest thing that happened to you running?
I was running around Magnuson park and this older lady waved me down calling out “excuse me!!” I stop and ask “is everything okay?” and she just says “you know running on the concrete is bad for you?” to which I reply “umm, thank you?” I don’t understand why she thought it was so pressing to tell me this.
What’s your pet peeve?
People who are always negative and always shutting people down. It really frustrates me because why wouldn’t you want to be kind and lift others up?
What’s your biggest fear?
My biggest fear with my running career isn’t that my ceiling is lower than I think, but that I never get to find out where that ceiling is. In 2018 I broke my foot falling down the stairs, 2019 tore my hamstring dancing, and 2020 broke my toe walking around the house. I’m terrified these random instances keep occurring and I never get to reach my full potential.
What’s your preferred racing weather?
Mid 70’s and partly cloudy. I don’t like it to be any chillier because I get a little chilly on the line in my uniform, and no hotter because I don’t like to feel hot on my warmup.
What’s it like to run for Brooks?
It’s a lot of fun! When we’re not having a global pandemic, we get to see all the employees at Brooks headquarters because that’s where we usually head after practice for lunch. We also have meetings with all the different departments in October to talk about product. It’s great to feel integrated in the company. Also, all of my teammates are a blast! Yes, we’re here to run fast, but if you’re not having a good time doing it is it worth it?
Who would you say is the funniest teammate?
That’s a tough one because I think we all have our different days when we shine. Usually Henry, Allie, Josh, and David are consistently funny but Drew and Izaic slip in comments here and there that are absolutely hilarious. Garrett has some good moments too.
What's your favorite Brooks shoe?
The Hyperion Elite two because they literally make me faster. It makes me not hate tempo runs as much.
In your free time when you’re not running, what hobbies do you enjoy?
Being outside, cooking and baking, playing trumpet, reading, drawing, writing, and is shopping one? I could go on and on.
When it comes to running, what is your greatest strength and weakness?
My strength is that I don’t ever give up. I may get knocked down for a day, but I’m always dusting myself off and back at it the next day. My weakness is nutrition right now. Yes it’s okay to treat yourself but I literally had half a pint of ice cream for breakfast recently and that’s not okay, haha!
Who is someone you look up to in the sport?
I have a lot of respect for Stephanie Bruce. She has two kids, a husband, and is still crushing marathon training!? It’s incredible. All I must do is run, eat, sleep and still feel like there’s not enough time in the day.
Who is your favorite athlete to train with?
Marta Freitas. She’s the only one in the group that is 1500 meter specialized. I can usually keep some sort of contact until the end and she pushes me.
What’s next for Karisa Nelson?
We don’t have any races scheduled because of all the uncertainty with the pandemic. Overall the goal is the Olympic trials and making the team!
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