Abdihamid Nur — Once He Walked, Now He Wins

Nur broke from the field in LA for a 5000 win, his first race at the distance since he captured the USATF road crown last November. (KEVIN MORRIS)

THE CURRENT U.S. OUTDOOR leader in the 5000 after scoring a 13:05.17 win at the USATF Distance Classic (Westwood, California, May 26), Abdihamid Nur bears little resemblance to the prep junior version of himself who walked the middle portion of his first cross country race.

This year’s Nur, now a 25-year-old Northern Arizona alum with a Nike contract, kicked to a runaway win in LA over ’19 NCAA XC champ Edwin Kurgat (13:08.46), Morgan Beadlescomb (13:08.82) and a field in which the first 8 all set personal bests. Nur’s mark was also a PR, by 1.15, and impressively achieved.

Taking the lead with a kilo to run, Nur finished with a series of effortless-looking gear changes as he had in winning his 3000/5000 NCAA Indoor double for the Lumberjacks in March of last year.

Covering the last 800 in 1:56 and change, Nur glided to victory with a last lap of about 58.2. What’s more, he had been tripped from behind in the first lap, falling hard enough to incur a raspberry on his back and lose nearly 40m to the leaders. As the result shows, he reeled ’em all back in.

Nur told usatf.tv, “This just gives me confidence that we’re doing the right things in training, you know? I have a great support system and a great team that I train with, and if I’m running 13:05 this easy, I can’t wait to see what my other teammates do in the next couple coming weeks in Europe. So it just shows, our biggest aim this year is to medal, like always, to bring American distances back to the top.

“To be honest. I thought it was gonna be harder, but it was great in California, [UCLA’s Drake Stadium]. It just made for a great night and yeah, I felt really smooth doing that.”

When Nur — who placed 3rd in the USATF 5000 last year and 11th at the World Championships — talks about his team, he means coach Mike Smith (also his mentor at NAU) and a group that includes Olympians Woody Kincaid and Luis Grijalva. They labor, of course, at altitude in Flagstaff.

But Nur’s first race in the distance training haven perched at some 7000ft (c2100m) gave the then 17-year-old a very different impression. He might not have ever toed the line but for a near-fatal vehicular accident the previous school year.

“I had a torn ligament in my knee and I broke my collarbone and had to get surgery on that,” says Nur, who had arrived in the United States from Somalia via Cairo when he was 11. “So I was in bed and trying to recover and trying to get back into sports as quickly as possible. At that time I had tried out for the soccer team at my high school and had made the varsity team, but then I was involved in that car accident during the winter break and then didn’t end up competing that season.

“Junior year I was just like, ‘Let’s see if I can even make the team, let’s see if I can get back on the pitch.’ And my cross country coach, who was also my soccer coach, had told me to come out for cross country for conditioning — and the original plan was just to come out to practice.”

There came a day, however, when Nur’s coach needed an extra body for his JV squad at a meet, the 4 Corners Invitational in Flagstaff.

“I’ve always been the team guy,” he says. “Whenever Coach needed someone or needed help, I just did it. And it was kind of a fun trip cuz I’d never been outside of Phoenix, I didn’t get to explore Arizona. So I was like, ‘OK, we’re going up north? Yeah, I want to come, it’s a free trip.’

“Coach was like, ‘We get a buffet afterwards,’ he got me excited for it. So I was like, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ I went out and tried to help the team out and tried to see if I can run.

“I remember it was one of the hardest races I ever competed in. I remember going out so fast and dying so hard. And then I walked in the middle of the race [laughs], not knowing you cannot walk in a race. I remember my coach was shouting at me like, ‘What are you doing? You’re walking!’

“And I was like, ‘I’m tired.’ He was like, ‘There’s no breaks in cross country running.’ But I came back and started running again and finished 3rd in that race. But it was a JV race so it wasn’t that big of a competition level. I think I ran 18:00, something like that, for 5K.

“But it was up at 7000ft and I was dying. I remember having the burns, my throat was burning, and telling myself, ‘I’m never doing this again.’ And then walking up to my coach and seeing his excitement and his cheerfulness for me and him saying, ‘Dude, you killed it. That was so awesome. I’ve never had an athlete finish that high.’

“In the back of my mind, I’m like, ‘I’m going back down this mountain and never coming back to run again cuz it would hurt so bad.’”

Yet a seed was planted. As a prep senior, Nur recalls, “I just put my all into it. I was like, ‘Let’s see if this can get me anywhere.’ I really wanted to go to college and get a scholarship to earn a college degree.”

“That was a pretty cool moment for me,” says Nur of his ’22 NCAA Indoor 5K/3K double. ”I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.” (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

Fortuitously, had Nur attended a running camp in Flagstaff the summer before that 12th-grade year. Its director was Smith, then the coach at Georgetown, and a connection was made. Nur ran just 4:27 and 9:26 for 1600/3200 as a senior in ’17. Nonetheless, Smith eventually took a flier on him.

“My senior year I really PRed so much just cuz I started learning about the sport a little bit more,” Nur says. “Me and my coach were going to the canals in Phoenix and running from pole to pole. If you know the Phoenix canals, they have these giant poles that are separated by probably 200–400m. So that’s what we did. We fartleked and ran from one pole to another and rested; that was our workout and we kept doing that.

“My coach was also YouTubing. I think it was like his third year coaching cross country and track & field so he wasn’t much aware of it either. But we were having fun with it. That’s what I love the most.

“That’s why I think I’ll always keep the joy as I do even now as a professional cuz my coach, we had so much fun in the beginning. We were just being loose with it and then we’d go to these races and we were performing really well so we thought we had the blueprint and we had the success in running.

“But then little did I know, coming to NAU I’d start understanding even more. So that’s how my running journey started before NAU.”

Nur needed some time to become academically eligible. Once he did in fall ’19, he raced as second man (33rd) on the 2nd-place NAU team at NCAA Cross. In the meet’s ’20 and ’21 editions (both held in ’21 due to the pandemic) he placed 7th each time (as NAU’s first man in the latter) and the Lumberjacks won team titles.

For this season, his first as a pro, Nur says, “I think we’re gonna focus on the 15 and 5K and then next year for Paris we’re gonna try to focus on the 5 and 10. So this year just building speed, cuz I think I’m aerobically strong. I think I can come and compete for that team in the 10K come the Olympics.

“But this year I think I want to focus on Budapest, the 5K, but also build that speed in the 15.”

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