Spotlight On: Nate Ennist
By: Kevin Brandon
Nate, thanks for joining us. You’ve been a key member of PRTC for a number of years. Could you introduce yourself to some of our newer runners and the overall group? What brought you here to us in Philadelphia?
No problem, thanks for remembering that I still exist even though I haven’t been running since March! I’ve been with PRTC since 2010. I came to Philly for grad school, and joined the club after meeting James Erickson after a race. James was fast and a great guy who worked at the Philly Runner store until he moved away in 2011.
When did you start running? Did a specific event compel you to become a runner?
If there’s one pivotal event that compelled me to become a runner, it would have to be getting cut from my high school soccer team. I was really skinny, and I just got knocked around too much. Cross-country didn’t make cuts, so I reluctantly joined the team so I’d have something to do instead of soccer. Surprisingly, I managed to win a JV race that fall, and it was exciting to see my times dropping so quickly. I eventually made varsity and my team got 2nd at the Maryland state championship. I was hooked after that.
Prior to PRTC you ran for Emory University. How was your experience there? Can you talk a bit about your college career?
I have fond memories of running at Emory. We had a great coach and a congenial yet competitive atmosphere. I was nothing special, but I improved consistently from 29:29 in my first 8K freshman year to 26:30 as a senior at nationals.
Speaking of Emory, I have to ask about a certain underclassman of yours, Geraint. How helpful has it been to continue training post-collegiately with a fellow Emory alumni? Care to share a story about Geraint the rest of us may not be familiar with?
Geraint and I actually didn’t know each other in college. He didn’t join the team until his sophomore year, and we only overlapped during his freshman year, my senior year. He says he met me once when I was drunk at a party, so it must have been one of the two times that I was drunk in college. I’m sure I made a great first impression. But it’s been great getting to know him, and we’ve gone on a few road trips together to see Emory compete at conference championships and stuff like that.
In addition to PRTC, you’ve been a top performing member of the University of Penn’s Club track and cross country teams. What has it meant to you to participate in the NIRCA circuit with the Penn club?
Competing with the Penn Running Club has been a lot of fun. It’s great that our two clubs are intertwined and that PRC lets PRTC join them for track workouts at Franklin Field, and that some of the PRC runners join us for long runs sometimes. Running with PRC in NIRCA races is always a good time, and Geraint does a great job of keeping those unruly undergrads in line.
Can you recall a race that you were particularly proud of or considered a break-through?
Sorry this is kind of long. I got 2nd at NIRCA cross-country nationals in 2014. It was an 8K at Michigan State, like 30 degrees, and a little windy. When the gun went off, Geraint, who was coming back from injury, muscled people out of the way so I would have a clear path to get through the bottleneck. I didn’t realize he was doing that for me, so I was pleasantly surprised at how easily I tucked in behind the leaders. I stayed in the middle of the pack letting the others fight through the wind. At about 6.5K, it was just me and two Indiana guys remaining in the lead pack. The two of them surged up a hill and dropped me. I thought that was it, I wasn’t going to catch them. But they let up as they crested the hill, and I passed them on the downhill at 7K more or less by accident and got a bit of an adrenaline rush from having suddenly taken the lead. Realizing that they were now drafting off of me in the wind, I let the adrenaline sustain what had to be the biggest surge I’ve ever made in a race, and I succeeded in separating myself from them a little bit. But after another half mile, I was really dying. I rounded the final turn with 150 meters to go, miraculously still in the lead, falling apart and probably flailing around with the ugliest running form you’ve ever seen in your life, and yet starting to believe that I might actually hold them off. I knew one of them was close because of how excited the crowd was getting. Grinding with everything I had left, he passed me with probably 30 meters left in the race. I finished 0.6 seconds back. My time was 25:37, but the course was supposedly long by as much as .2 miles, so I don’t know, low 25’s for 8K?
In recent months we’ve missed you at groups runs due to a nagging injury you’ve been dealing with. What updates do you have for us on that end?
I’ve been going to physical therapy since March for insertional Achilles tendinitis. I stopped running because it hurts a lot, and running keeps sending it into a downward spiral that leaves me barely able to walk. I’m doing the exercises, sleeping in a night splint, and I tried dry needling with electrical stimulation a few times, but nothing seems to be helping. I’ll probably be stuck with this for a while.
You’re currently a Ph.D candidate at Penn. Can you tell us about your current pursuits in the field of chemistry? What do you hope to find yourself doing upon completion of your program?
With no running to pull me out of the lab, I’ve been sciencing like a madman. My lab does research on protein design, and I’ve designed a protein that can use light energy to move electrons from one side of the protein to the other. The idea is to use the electrons to produce clean-burning fuel from solar energy in living cells on a large scale. It’s an alternative energy project. I’m also trying to design a protein that could act as a blood substitute. It’s exciting stuff and it keeps me busy. I’m scheduled to defend in December, so I need to find a postdoc position soon. I’m not sure where I’ll end up at this point, but it’d be great to stay in the area and get back to running with you guys!