Students at River Ridge Academy in Bluffton meet Olympic long-distance runner Nicolas Cuestas, of Uruguay, on Monday. Cuestas, who ran the marathon at last summer’s Games in Rio de Janeiro, and who plans on running at the Tokyo Games in 2020, was a guest of Enrique Baez, the track and field coach at River Ridge. Josh Mitelman firstname.lastname@example.org
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Olympian feet: River Ridge runners set to train with Rio marathoner
VIDEO - At River Ridge Academy, running, life tips from an Olympian 0:49
It was not a standard Monday morning at River Ridge Academy in Bluffton. At least not for a group of about 20 runners at the school, who were visited bright and early by Nicolas Cuestas. Who's that? One of the top long-distance runners in the world. Cuestas ran the marathon at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro last summer, and plans on doing the same for his native Uruguay in Tokyo in 2020. On Feb. 13, 2017, Cuestas was a guest of River Ridge track and field coach, Enrique Baez. Josh Mitelman Staff video
BY JEFF SHAIN
Interval training is a standard part of any competitive runner’s plan, though meshing an Olympic marathoner’s workout with a group of middle school runners is bound to present a few challenges.
Nicolás Cuestas has a bit of a twist to offer River Ridge Academy’s runners this week.
Say Cuestas’ workout plan calls for a 1,200-meter interval. He’ll ask the kids to join him on the first of three laps around May River High’s track, then go it alone for the second lap. Anyone compelled to run the third lap can join back in.
“I’m trying to change my training a little bit so I can accommodate everything for the kids,” the Uruguayan runner said Monday, with River Ridge coach Enrique Baez handling translation.
“It’s something I like to do, help other people pace themselves. If they can follow, they’re able to run (a good) pace.”
Indeed. When Cuestas placed 40th at last summer’s Rio Olympics, he averaged 5:14 per mile. He finished less than 10 minutes behind gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya.
Three months before the Games, Cuestas took a bronze medal in the 5,000 meters at the Ibero-American Championships, breaking 14 minutes in Rio’s Olympic Stadium. These days, he’s pointing toward next summer’s world championships in London.
“This is a unique opportunity for everybody, including myself,” Baez told his runners at the outset of a Monday morning Q&A in the River Ridge gym. “You have the opportunity to train with him, learn from him. Every day we spend with him, pay attention.”
The Olympian is visiting the Lowcountry at the invitation of Baez, a fellow Uruguayan who looks to Cuestas as a coaching mentor. He sought out Cuestas on Facebook about three years ago, and the two have become friends.
“Nico, he’s such an amazing guy,” Baez said. “He’s a professional runner, and I know how they (can be). I know other guys where if you ask them a question about running, they’re not going to help you. They’re not going to tell you how they train. This guy is an open book with me.”
For Cuestas, this week is a combination of vacation, training and competition. Accompanied by fiancée Sylvina Hipogrosso-Praderio, they arrived Saturday afternoon – too late for the Hilton Head Island Marathon – but will compete next weekend in a 5K run over the Sydney Lanier Bridge in Brunswick, Ga.
The Southeast Georgia Health System Bridge Run bills itself as the “toughest 5K in Georgia.” Baez already has told race organizers his friend will break the race record of 15:20.
He amended that a bit later, telling them Cuestas will break 15 minutes. “I put a little pressure on,” Baez admitted.
More than two dozen River Ridge students gathered before Monday’s first bell to hear Cuestas, asking about his Olympic experience, his training regimen and nutrition suggestions.
Cuestas prepared for Rio with three weeks of training in the mountains of Ecuador, logging 130 miles a week with no rest days. His usual routine is six days of training at varying distances, with weight training mixed in twice a week.
The Ecuador training paid off in Rio, as Cuestas finished 59 places higher than his world ranking. “That was amazing,” he said. “I beat a lot of guys whose numbers were way faster.”
It won’t be anything quite so intense this week, especially with a group of middle school runners following his every move.
“That’s something we don’t do in Uruguay,” Cuestas said. “Usually on the track, it’s only the (elite) athletes that train. Middle school, high school, they train with the school athletes. So it’s something new for me, too.”
FEBRUARY 13, 2017 1:38 PM