For the average runner, the opportunity to represent your country in an international race is about as far-removed as jogging in cowboy boots.
But Nick Accardo is not an average runner — far from it.
Consider his daily schedule, which includes 10-mile runs before work, and then running at least half that amount in the afternoons with the cross country team at Holy Rosary High School (where he is athletic director.) On Sundays, Accardo really increases the load by running 3-5 hours (not miles) in the early morning before meeting up with friends for another couple hours of running later in the day.
“I run probably 30 or 40 miles on Sundays,” Accardo said.
But even that daunting total pales in comparison to what Accardo will face on Friday in Doha, Qatar. There, he’ll be one of six men and six women representing Team USA in the International Association of Ultrarunners 2014 World 100 Kilometer Championships.
The race will begin at 6 p.m. in Qatar and run throughout the night, to escape the stifiling desert heat. Still, it’s expected to be in the 80s at that time in the Aspire Zone — a gigantic sports “city” Qatar built in advance of the World Cup soccer championships to be held there in 2022.
And there’s always that distance — 100 kilometers, or 62 miles if you’re trying to do the Metric conversion.
“It’s the same mental toughness it takes in, say, the third minute of a mile (race),” Accardo said. “You have to have similar resolve in the final 10 miles or so of a 100K race. It’s prolonged. It’s painful. You have to dig and trust you can do it.”
That’s one reason the 32-year old New Orleans native endures those almost-daily, grueling workouts. But it’s nothing new to Accardo.
He was born in New Orleans and moved to Franklin where he ran track, cross country, and also wrestled at Hanson Memorial High. He walked onto the track and cross country teams at LSU where he specialized in the mile during track season, as well as the 8K and 10K distances in cross country. After graduating from LSU in 2005, he began running ultra-distances with friends in 2009.
It was then that Accardo got the bug for longer distances.
“I looked at the times some of the guys were running in these national races and I thought I had a realistic chance to do well,” he said. “It wasn’t until a few years later that I had the nerve to sign up.”
He found his resolve after a very successful 2012 season on the local road-racing scene. That fall, he ran sixth in a 100K race in State College, Pennsylvania, with a pace of approximately 7 minutes, 20 seconds per mile. By April 2013, he had dropped significant time; and when he raced in the U.S. Track and Field Nationals in Madison, Wisconsin, he won with a 100K time of 7 hours, 34 minutes.
That qualified Accardo to run in the world championships that fall. But the race (scheduled to be held in South Africa,) was canceled, so Accardo had to requalify for Team USA in 2014.
In April of this year, he found himself back in Wisconsin at nationals, and he finished third overall in 7:11. But that time only placed him as an alternate on the 2014 squad. A runner who did qualify had to decline his invitation to race in Qatar. So Accardo found his way back onto the team
He’s eagerly awaiting the experience.
“When I was at LSU, there were a lot of big names that competed in the Olympics,” Accardo said. “You had Lolo Jones, Muna Lee. You don’t especially think of yourself in that league, because they are that good. But to be able to put on the USA uniform and compete, it’s super exciting. Last year, making the team and then not being able to go, that was anticipation. It was tough. But I’m ready now. I’m just ready to run.”
Accardo (who is married and the father of two young boys) departed for the Louisiana High School cross country championships in Natchitoches on Sunday. When his team has finished competing, he’ll catch a ride to Shreveport, fly to Houston, and then overseas; eventually to Qatar. He’ll return in time for Thanksgiving.
“There’s a lot to be thankful for,” he said. “I’m just blown away.”
He also said Team USA has a chance to do well in the world championships. Other top contenders, he said, include Italy, England, South Africa, Japan, China, Russia, and Eritrea.
And his goals?
“I know I’m better now than when I qualified,” Accardo said. “My goal is to be 10 to 15 minutes faster than that. I want to finish in the top half of Team USA. If I can help our team bring home a medal, I’d be really happy.
“I think we have a shot to do it.”