Nacouzi headed to World Cross Country Championships

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Her bright pink jersey standing out back in the pack, Julie Nacouzi had ground to make up in the USA Cross Country Junior Women’s Championships.

Julie Nacouzi participates in Santa Rosa's Resolution Run on New Year's Day. Photo by Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat

The Montgomery High senior narrowly made the race’s start after sprinting to retrieve timing tags from her gear. Now she faced working through the elite field over a longer distance than the typical high school cross country race. Over the final stretch of the Mission Bay Park course in San Diego, she powered into sixth and then fifth place at the finish.

“My strategy was to scoot up,” she said. “Because it’s a grassy area, you can see far ahead and far behind. You have to plan carefully because the runners can see you and pace nicely. I didn’t expect to do that well. It’s exciting.”

The excitement isn’t over, either. Finishing in the top six Saturday put Nacouzi on Team USA for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships set for March 20 in Punta Umbria, Spain.
Nacouzi has solidified her status among the nation’s top young runners following a third-place finish at the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships and an earlier win in the West Regional, both in December.

“This is no fluke. She’s strong,” said Joel Hartman, a coach for Buffalo Chips Running Club, the Sacramento area team that sponsored Nacouzi at Saturday’s race. “What she has is an incredible engine and is more competitive than a lot of people know.”
Racing is fun for Nacouzi as she continues to tap a threshold of talent clearly evident when she finished second in the California state finals after winning the North Coast Section meet as a junior.
While she hasn’t run for Montgomery her senior year, Nacouzi continues training, running 20 or so miles a week, mountain biking, and more recently swimming.

Nacouzi’s mileage is about half of what a typical high school distance runner puts in during cross country season. But cross training keeps staying in shape fun and the formula seems to be working, she said.

“It’s nice to be at high level. It’s nice to realize what my strengths are,” Nacouzi said.
The USA Cross Country Championships once again revealed how good Nacouzi can be when the gun goes off.

Thankfully for Nacouzi, race organizers held up the start long enough so she could get timing tags racers attach to their shoes. Nacouzi left them in her bag more than 100 yards from the start.
“It was a little scary,” she said. “I guess that was a little bit of a warm-up. It got the adrenaline running.”

Still, she ran at a steady pace that left her back in the pack at the outset but carried Nacouzi past most of the field over the 6-kilometer distance, a little over 3.7 miles.
“In a way, the start worked to her advantage,” Hartman said. “She didn’t try to get it all back on one lap. You want to save something for the last lap.”

Plenty of fuel was in her tank to finish strong.
“I thought maybe I could do well,” Nacouzi said. “But I was flabbergasted that in the last lap I made it to a qualifying position.”
Finishing high enough to Make Team USA didn’t surprise the Buffalo Chips coaches. They recruited Nacouzi to join the club’s team for the race.

“We just didn’t want her to pass on this opportunity in her home state. We knew she was capable of qualifying for the world meet,” Hartman said.
Back running and biking the hills and roads of Santa Rosa’s east side, Nacouzi is excited about her coming trip to Spain.

Nacouzi has been to France and Germany with family as a child and spent half of seventh grade in her father’s native Lebanon. Now 17, she gets to spend a week on the southwest coast of Spain sight-seeing and preparing for the latest run of her life.
“There has to be a top level for runners, and I guess I’m not there yet,” she said.