The Vanderbilt Hustler | Swarming with passion: How senior runner Nick Laning consistently delivers success

Nick Laning is generally a light person. He maintains a positive attitude and doesn’t hesitate to make fun of himself. But there is a principle that the senior long-distance runner refuses to deviate.

“Commitment,” Laning identified as his defining trait. “It’s a huge thing that all the guys on the team know is a sticking point for me. I really believe if you say you’re going to do something you better do whatever is in your power to make it happen.

This adherence to commitment – to Vanderbilt’s cross-country team, to his civil engineering studies, and to himself – marked Laning’s path to and through Vanderbilt. As he and the Vanderbilt cross-country teams prepare to kick off their season’s championship stretch on Friday morning at the SEC Championships In Columbia, Missouri, Laning’s remarkably robust mentality prepared him to end his Vanderbilt career on a strong footing.

Although he is now a well established runner, consistently leading the team alongside his senior colleague Matthew Estopinal, it was not always in the cards for Laning to run at Vanderbilt. In fact, for a while, his ability to compete in any college was questioned.

“Until the end of my junior year, I had absolutely no intention of racing in college,” Laning said. “And then I ran faster times at the end of my junior year and I just had a few coaches contact me, and I was like, ‘Man, I guess that’s something that I can do. “”

Despite some initial uncertainty, Laning couldn’t ignore his passion. His desire to continue running cross country, a sport he started in eighth grade on the recommendation of his older brother, prompted him to continue competing at the college level.

“The deeper I sank, the more excited I was about it,” Laning said. “How could I pass up the opportunity to have four more years of playing the sport I love? “

After flying mostly under the radar in high school, Laning immediately came under the spotlight at Vanderbilt. As a freshman, he led the Commodores in all but one fixture and received SEC Freshman of the Week honors after his participation in the Commodore Classic 2018.

His success continued until his sophomore year, when he had an extraordinary season as Vanderbilt’s top runner. Laning has led the team in every game, including the SEC Championships, where he clocked 23: 21.8 to place 12th and claim second-team All-SEC honors. He concluded his second season running 30: 58.6 and finishing 20th in the NCAA South Regional, a 10-kilometer race.

The commitment to his team and the talent that Laning exhibits on the course are matched in the classroom. With a degree in civil engineering, Laning believes his choice of studies combined some of his long-standing interests and opened doors for a future career path.

“I love the outdoors, and from there I’m really passionate about sustainability and environmental stewardship,” Laning said. “Engineering has always attracted me, so civil engineering was kind of the way for me to connect these two different interests in my life. “

In addition to classes at Vanderbilt, Laning found opportunities to explore his major in the greater Nashville area. His experiences include an internship with sub-contractors on a local construction site and work in an engineering consulting company.

But perhaps his most memorable project was his first, in which he examined the dikes along the Mississippi River. Using primarily ArcGIS, mapping and analysis software, Laning identified locations where dikes could be partially broken to release water into fields for farming. Safe flooding of these areas has helped limit flooding in cities with high infrastructure density.

“It was super cool to go out there, get all the maps and analyze these different areas with all the tools,” Laning said. “It was a great and great project, great fun and a huge learning experience.”

Laning’s impressive record as a runner and student has earned him major accolades in each of the past two seasons. In 2020, Laning became the first Vanderbilt student to be named SEC Men’s Cross Country Scholar of the Year. On October 27, 2021, he was announced as the winner of the award for the second year in a row, joining Jacob Thompson (2016, 2017) of Kentucky as the only men to win the honor on multiple occasions.

Although Laning receives these accolades, he remains humble and focused on the tasks ahead. Although he recognizes the importance of these honors, the elder prefers to bow his head and continue to work rather than bask in his rewards.

“I’m not a very reward-oriented or reward-oriented guy. I just believe in going out there and grinding and then doing what needs to be done, ”Laning said. “Even if you are not recognized, as long as you do what you believe in, that is good enough.”

Another testament to his humility is the credit he gives to his teammates. The senior colleagues on the team became his best friends at Vanderbilt and as a result made his experience much more enjoyable. Additionally, Laning believes that the friendships formed between all of the Commodore’s riders have contributed to the team’s success.

“We’re all good friends with each other, but that doesn’t stop us from pushing each other to be our absolute best,” Laning said. “If anyone needs to be told, ‘Hey, you need to step it up,’ that’s a conversation we can have.”

Assistant coach and distance specialist Michael Porter discovered the camaraderie of the men’s team during his first season at Vanderbilt. Considering the roster is relatively small, with just 11 runners, he thinks they’ve naturally formed a close bond.

“The guys team as a whole is a cohesive unit that enjoys spending time together. And so it’s not just it’s not just a two hour a day thing over there, ”Porter said. ” [It’s a] 24 hour thing, you know, outside of sleep.

The team became all the more important for Laning in his junior year. Cross country presents a frustrating challenge, especially for the elite of the sport. As runners’ times get faster, they get harder and harder to lower. Because of this, long-distance runners often don’t see the same gross improvement from year to year.

Laning encountered this conundrum last fall, when he maintained his second performance rather than relying on it. A disappointing season by his 2019 standards included a 27th place finish at the SEC Championships.

However, Laning was able to take it in stride, thanks to the emergence of his teammate. Estopinal rocketed to the top of Vanderbilt’s ranks alongside Laning during the 2020 season, headlining by finishing two games as the first commodore to cross the line. Since they started running at more similar rates, Laning has been able to benefit from Estopinal as a reliable training partner.

“It was great having him up there with me,” Laning said of Estopinal. “I think it made us both a lot better because we were able to work together to push each other to be the best we can be. “

The duo have performed well this season, with the two making the top 10 in the Classic Commodore and Classic Blazer. Vanderbilt will rely on Laning and Estopinal to work together to produce highlights on Friday and beyond, and their performances so far indicate they will be up to the task. Porter said Laning will be well prepared for the big stage.

“He’s very confident in his abilities, very sure of himself,” Porter said.

Now well into his senior season, Laning recognizes the important role cross-country skiing and civil engineering have played in preparing him for the next stages of his life. Skills such as time management and a strong work ethic were instilled in him through countless hours of running and studying. Additionally, the ability to prioritize the task at hand and avoid procrastination emerged from his time on the cross country team.

“No matter what you have on your plate, being able to just focus on that, work hard and eliminate that is, I think, a huge skill that I learned in cross country,” Laning said. . “Whatever you’re doing right now, you just need to focus on it and do it to the best of your ability. And then after that, move on. “

Right now that job is to supply the team to the SEC Championships and NCAA South Regional, while hopefully achieving some personal goals along the way. Laning is looking to finish in the SEC top 10 and qualify for the NCAA Championship in regional competition.

However, team success always comes first for Laning, and he believes these two playoff races give Vanderbilt the chance to end the season on a high note. Laning admitted that the team struggled to get each of their runners to have their best run on the same day. But heading into their final races, he’s confident that the Commodores’ Bonds will help them sync up and ensure they perform to the best of their ability.

“This tight-knit community that we’ve made really makes all the difference because at the end of the day it’s the guys you run for,” Laning said. “It’s nothing but you guys going out there and doing it for each other and trying to do something more than your individual run.”

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