Nick Wolk stepped off of the track at Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida this May having raced for the last time in his storied University of Pittsburgh tenure.
Wolk arrived at college in the fall of 2016 after a standout high school career at Peters Township in western Pennsylvania. Now, five years later, Wolk is the owner of two of the University of Pittsburgh track records [3,000 meter, 5,000 meter].
He joked of retiring from running immediately. Some of his teammates and friends took him seriously, while others scoffed at a man who had just run four personal bests in the last three months considering calling it the end of his career.
The Monday after his last collegiate race, he titled his 35-minute long run on the running platform Strava “Unretired.” This came as no real surprise, but the actual interesting piece of news came from Wolk’s Strava that ensuing Friday — he had joined the burgeoning Pittsburgh Track Club.
Formed in 2021 by Syracuse-alum and also Western PA native Juris Silenkis, a post-collegiate running option seemed to appear in front of Wolk right as he was wrapping up his undergraduate education at Pitt. The transition seemed all-too-natural, and Wolk was excited to run with new people.
Wolk eyed up a chance to return to the University of Pittsburgh as a volunteer assistant coach, and after that was a viable option, he decided to unretire from school as well — choosing to pursue a Master’s in Public Administration at the University of Pittsburgh.
You can take the eligibility out of Nick Wolk, but you sure as hell can’t take the University of Pittsburgh and his yearning for running from him. Well, at least not yet.
Wolk, with many good running friends on both the varsity and club teams at Pitt, found himself on the other side of things as both a runner and a coach. He joined the Pitt Club Cross Country team, and began competing in the National Intercollegiate Running Club Association.
“The transition from the NCAA to NIRCA was honestly somewhat of a shock to me,” Wolk explained.
“For so long I was concerned with the culture of uniformity and the single-minded pursuit of progress that was required to foster success in the NCAA… Going to a team filled with more diverse perspectives, goals, and interests really made me rethink some things.”
Wolk encountered a newfound atmosphere filled with dedicated people that had other interests, hobbies, and commitments in the meantime. They weren’t at Pitt on athletic scholarships, and sometimes life got in the way of a workout or a practice. Instead of the rigidity of the NCAA, Wolk was placed into the fluidity of post-collegiate running with Pitt Club XC and Pittsburgh Track Club alike.
When asked about the switch away from the team Wolk had mixed feelings.
“There are some things that I will certainly miss… However, being on the team as an assistant coach has [been] a nice transition step… I do feel like my time as an NCAA athlete was fulfilling and I had more time than I expected… when it was over, it did feel like the time to move on and try something new.”
Going from the Pitt varsity team to two different clubs, Wolk had a lot of freedom in his training — from workouts, to races, to even doing outlandish easy runs with friends that would have been frowned upon by his coaches back on the team.
When it came to the Pittsburgh Track Club, Wolk felt refreshed to be a part of a new team.
“The training is new and exciting and I feel like the rookie again,” Wolk said.
“The team has experienced veterans that make the transition so much easier. I am looking forward to making the transition from miles and 5ks to half and full marathons in the future.”
While his tenure with PTC is just beginning, Wolk’s time with Pitt Club XC is rather finite — he can run as long as he is a student at Pitt. However, that did not stop Wolk from quickly making claims to NIRCA fame.
On November 6, Wolk ran his way to the individual NIRCA National Title at the Blue River Cross Country Course in Shelbyville, Indiana. Wolk’s 24:41 over the 8 kilometer course was good for a four-second margin of victory. Wolk helped lead the Panthers to a 4th place finish, the highest-ever finish for the Pitt team at NIRCA Nationals.
The following day back in Pittsburgh, Wolk donned his Pittsburgh Track Club singlet for the EQT Pittsburgh 10-Miler. Wolk rallied to a 3rd place finish with a time of 49:13, good enough to earn him some good prize money — money that used to be unattainable for him as an NCAA athlete.
That weekend summed up Wolk’s new normal — having fun and racing hard with his friends and classmates on the Pitt Club Team, and then turning around and racing with his post-collegiate track club.
So, is it time to ask the unavoidable question of ‘What’s next for Nick Wolk?’”
According to Wolk himself, there’s quite a lot to be done next.
“I have so many goals at this point,” Wolk said.
“I am becoming more aware of what I still have left to do in this sport. Long-term I think coaching could be something that provides meaning and fulfillment… For now, I still have the drive to go faster.”
This summer, Wolk ran to a 9th place finish and a 4:04 mile in the professional heat of the 2021 Fleet Feet Liberty Mile in Pittsburgh. With only four seconds standing between him and the iconic achievement, he would be remiss to say it was not on his mind.
“I’ve never seen myself as a miler but I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to run sub-4.”
However, Wolk is eyeing up completely different distances altogether.
“Simultaneously, the marathon looms and I’ll probably try an ultra at some point just to experience everything this sport has to offer.”
While Wolk’s aspirations for running in the future sit high, he is not done soaking in the present day. He is appreciative of the new community who has welcomed him in the club circuit, and feels that it is equal to the NCAA if people are willing to put in the work.
“...Running for a club can be just as fulfilling. It doesn’t have to be a step down, and the lower pressure can be liberating, healthy, and allow you to explore opportunities that you might not have had otherwise.”
Wolk is excited for his remaining time at Pitt in all of his capacities, and readily awaits the days that follow the conclusion of his time with the university.
In the meantime, he will continue to train, learn and coach in Pittsburgh and take in as much as he can from the different worlds he has entered.
Rapid Fire Questions:
1. Where is your favorite place to run in Pittsburgh?
Whatever place I haven’t run yet is the best place to run. I prefer exploring
2. Who was the coolest person you got to interact with when you ran in the Pro section of the 2021 Liberty Mile?
Craig Engels. I think he is the people’s champion and for good reason. He’s a fun, kind and genuine person and an incredible character. I think the sport is lucky to have him.
3. Who is your ideal running partner?
It depends on the run. It can be empathy, good storytelling, a keen sense of direction or a spirit of adventure. Other times, you want to be running beside someone you don’t want to lose to.
4. Is there anything that you’d like to be known for?
As a runner, I would like to be known for pushing my limits, being down for any challenge, and trying to impose my will on whatever competition I am confronted with. As a human, I would like to make things better than I found them.
5. What makes you happy?
Meaningful conversations, good friends, working towards a goal, and sitting on the porch with a warm drink, good book, and someone I love.
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