For fifth-year senior Nicole Edwards, the first race of the season was supposed to be a chance to get back into the grind of the cross-country season after a summer without much competition.

Any signs of a sluggish first race were quickly put to rest by the end of the race.

At the Detroit Titan Invitational on Sept. 6, Edwards finished first and set a new course record.

“The first race of the season is about getting the cobwebs out and can be really rough mentally,” she said. “It’s always eye-opening running that first race of the season.”

For Edwards, college cross country has been an “eye-opening” experience ever since she came to Michigan. As a high school runner in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Edwards ran mostly three and four-kilometer races. She was faced with a new challenge when she arrived in Ann Arbor.

Despite her limited running background, Edwards made an immediate impact on the course. Edwards was redshirted her freshman year, but used that time to adjust to the traditional five-kilometer collegiate women’s cross-country race.

Although high school practices usually consisted of simple workouts, there was much more training and volume running when it came to college cross country. But, according to Michigan women’s cross country coach Mike McGuire, it didn’t take long for Edwards to adapt to the longer course.

“She is very competitive and has great natural leg speed,” McGuire said. “Her mile time improved each year, until last year (when) she set the school record.”

In addition to setting the school record in the mile as a redshirt junior, Edwards also finished seventh at the Big Ten Championships last season and won the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Invitational individual title. But Edwards’ teammates know that she is capable of accomplishing even more, despite it being her final year.

“She can do whatever she puts her mind to,” redshirt junior Geena Gall said. “The sky’s the limit for her.”

Edwards has high aspirations, too. With the Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor next month, she wants to make her final race at Michigan one to remember. After finishing in the top 10 overall last year, she hopes to improve even more.

“It may be a big jump to go from seventh place to first, but this is my last chance to win it,” Edwards said.

No. 8 Michigan State and No. 13 Wisconsin were the only Great Lakes Region teams ranked above No. 17 Michigan going into this weekend, so Edwards and the rest of the Wolverines will have a lot of competition in November.

But McGuire believes Edwards’ running career doesn’t have to end with her senior season. McGuire has coached several post-collegiate runners, and he thinks Edwards is on pace with all of them.

Edwards isn’t sure if she will be running in four years, but if she is, she will be working toward one final goal.

“It’s sort of my dream goal right now, but I want to go to the 2012 Olympics,” Edwards said.

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