The promise she keptJan 05, 2024 10:44AM ● By Julie Slama
At the Freber Invitational in August 2022, Hillcrest High’s Edith Neslen (in green and white stripes) strides out at the start amongst the other racers. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
Hillcrest High senior Edith Neslen has goals to run a sub-5:30 minutes in the 1600 meters and under 11:45 in the 3200.
The captain of her school cross country team, Neslen led her teammates in every race, most recently snatching fourth place overall in the Footlocker national western regional cross country senior girls race, held this past December in California.
Colleges are tracking her times, talking to her, dangling scholarship offers, wanting her to commit to run for them.
But there was a time when none of them looked her way.
As a freshman, Neslen ran 30:19 for 5000 meters.
“I joined cross country late in the season,” she said. “Because of COVID, I never got the information, so I ran two weeks before regionals my freshman year. My first was at Jordan (High School) was terrible. I was trying not to be last in the race, and I wasn’t, so that’s my one positive.”
It was her first cross country race.
As a Midvale Middle School student, she enjoyed running, but Neslen didn’t join the intramural cross country team.
“Everybody hated running the mile pacer in middle school PE, but I liked it,” she remembered.
In high school, as a student in Scott Stucki’s social studies’ classroom, Neslen saw a bunch of cross country trophies and pictures.
“I asked him, could I join, just to be athletic. When I came to practice, I didn’t realize that cross (country) was long, long distance. It was a shock that people were running more than 3 miles,” she said.
Two weeks after her first meet, Neslen ran as a JV squad member in the region meet, finishing 37th, breaking 30 minutes in the 3-mile race with a time of 29:03.
The following spring, Neslen ran in only two track meets.
“I got bad shin splints. Stucki put me in the 3200 at region even though I had never run it, just because there was a spot,” she said, clocking a time of 15:45. “That summer, I ran for two weeks and got injured again. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know I could go to the trainer; I had bad knee pain to the point where I couldn’t run. So, I biked and disappeared from practice.”
Later, Neslen learned it was a tight IT band.
“I came to the first day of practice my sophomore year even though my knees were still hurting. I put pre-wrap around them and that helped. When I knew that, I realized I could have run during the summer, and I felt guilty, so I promised myself from that day on I’ll run every single day. That’s when consistency began for me,” she said.
Neslen has kept that promise to run daily—unless she’s hurt and then, she turns to a different method of training.
“There were people who were better than me and it pushed me to run faster. But I learned that if you overdo it, that slows you down. It’s a balance of pushing, but also regulating how you feel at the same time. I think that’s how I was able to improve because I saw some teammates push too hard and not work differently through their injuries. I had to learn if I push harder while I’m hurt, then it’s not going to be good,” she said.
With her consistent training, Stucki said Neslen continued to get better, running her fastest time yet that season, 23:41, at the hilly, difficult 5K Footlocker course.
Neslen used the winter indoor season to train.
“I noticed a lot of people don’t show up, but because I promised myself I’d run every day, I thought I could use the indoor season to get ahead. It was just normal distance training, but in the freezing cold,” she said, pointing out the meets were indoors, not Hillcrest’s training.
Neslen also realized that she needed to set goals, not just show up for a race.
“In the beginning, I didn’t have goals. I just ran. I was a placeholder in the varsity spot running in the seventh spot, but I knew two or three girls in front of me weren’t as consistent. I used that as my motivation, trying to beat them. When I realized that I could go fast, I thought, ‘It’s time to set goals,’” she said.
That realization came during her junior year. After shaving off five, six and seven minutes from her cross country times, Neslen didn’t settle.
“Last year, I made more progress. My goal was to break into the 19s. I was able to do that state and regionals, so I was happy about that,” she said.
As a junior, Neslen ran 19:52 at regionals to finish fourth, followed by 19:59.5 at the state meet.
Stuck noted she was “running consistently in the 20s before she broke 19 at region. It’s a shorter course (2.95 miles), but it’s a challenging course. She put in the work and had a good season.”
In track, Neslen placed fourth at region in the 3200, and ran her best time of 11:56.4 at state to finish 25th. She ran her fastest 1600 at region with a 5:45.4 for a sixth-place finish.
That fueled her passion to become faster.
“This past summer, she put in more miles in summer than anybody we’ve ever had—600 miles. She broke the previous record of 584 that Anthony Davies set,” said Stucki, recalling his all-time top male distance runner who graduated in 2021. “Edith was in Japan for several weeks and ran there. She went on a long weekend trip around the southwest and she ran every day there on her own. She just put in the miles.”
He also noted Neslen, and the team, lifted weights twice per week last summer. She has continued her training while enrolled in a weightlifting class, which helped the 5-foot-tall runner gain more strength.
This year, after finishing the 5000 meters in 19:38 for 22nd place at state, her best time ever, she was a bit disappointed.
“I wanted at least around a 19:20 or somewhere in the 19:10s,” she said, recalling her second-place finish at region in 18:52.7 in a 2.95-mile course—an improvement of more than 10 minutes during her four-year cross country career.
Neslen is using that feeling as motivation to fuel faster times for indoor track this winter.
Meanwhile, the 3.95 GPA National Honor Society member, who takes college concurrent classes, will continue to train alongside her teammates under Stucki.
“While we’re doing workouts, intervals, repeats, I put her with the boys. She’s running the same pace. It took her a long time to gain the confidence of how fast she was; she wasn’t sure how good she was, but she has that now,” he said.
Neslen is driven to improve.
“I never thought I’d run for a college, never get a scholarship. I didn’t think it was possible. It started with making the promise, that commitment to run every day. Now, I just want to run faster,” she said. “One day, I want to run a 100k or the ultra-distances. It sounds a little brutal, but I’d like to try.”
Her coach is enthusiastic as well for her future.
“When she gets into college, she’ll get a little stronger and have teammates she can train with all the time,” Stucki said. “I’m excited to see what she does.” λ