Finding GRIT in the NYC Marathon and Beyond

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The marathon is a cruel event. Maybe the cruelest. But that’s why I keep coming back. For the chance. The chance to feel alive. There is nothing more alive than feeling every part of your body working and then struggle to work as the race goes on. The last 400m of the NYC Marathon I was yelling at my body to kick. My mind wanted to go. But the body had no response. It’s like living outside your body where you are watching what’s happening and you can’t do anything about it. As another athlete passed me to what would push me from 10th to 11th place I was in slow motion. I had run to my limit. I barely got to the line, and went down after I crossed. Peter Ciaccia was there to grab me. If I was in a more humorous mood I would have whispered to Peter I just wanted to give you a little drama as your last time as race director. I didn’t have much to say or much energy to take another step.

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What did I do wrong?, That was my initial stream of consciousness. Note to future self and to others who have just finished a marathon. Disregard anything that comes out of your mouth within the 1-8 hours following your race. Emotions are high and doing all the illogical thinking. Regret. Defeat. Embarrassment. Those were my initial reactions. I wanted more, I trained for more. The results stood. 2:30:59, 11th place and 5th American. Reflecting now, there is far more hidden within results if we are willing to look.

Coach Ben and I discussed race plans earlier in the week before we left for NY. He thought I could run 5:35s all day, or at least that effort on the course. We went over scenarios that could happen and how I should handle them. I’ll be honest in saying I was 99% sure the race would not go out tactical and conservative like it did last year. Well, cue me leading on the Verrazano bridge at mile 1. Over the next 5k, I exchanged a laugh with Des about how slow we were running (for us) and then she busted a move. The rest of the race was a mixture of checking in with how I was feeling and wondering when the big move would be made. We’d surge into a fluid station and then the pack of 20 or so women would string out and pack up like an accordion. Through Brooklyn and Queens I heard the crowds on every corner, but pushed their energy into a quiet place until it was time to use it, later in the race. The pack splits around mile 12 and I know this is the move. I cover it, but only half. It is not my race to go with mile splits under 5:20. That’s not my forte. Our pack has 4-5 women in it and we charge up the 59th St. Bridge, in eery silence. I know what’s coming. Thousands of people waiting on 1st Ave. to inject adrenaline into our bodies. We fly off the bridge and one of the women in our pack Allie, starts charging. I forget the watch and commit. 5:28. 5:27. 5:24. 5:31. 5:34. These are my splits from miles 17-21. They are the fastest I’ve ever run in a marathon. I went for it, hard. As I’m now alone battling up 5th Ave. towards mile 23, I’m in a lot of pain. I anticipated this pain, but it’s coming sooner and faster than I envisioned. The fast splits I ran are catching up to me and I’m hanging on. Pushing gravity forward with every stride and looking ahead. People are yelling and willing you to dig deeper, and I’m at the bottom of the well.

My mind wandered back to Flagstaff. Back to Lake Mary Rd, to Camp Verde, to coach Ben’s voice, to Kellyn pushing alongside me, to Wes adding more weight to my squats, to painfully productive massages, to delicious dinners cooked by Ben, to 5:45 am wake ups and to my boys hugs. These are the reasons, the people that I want to make proud. Then I ask myself. You know what proud is? Proud is knowing you gave everything you had, made all the right decisions you believed in the moment, and finished with no regrets. If I do that, and come out the other side, I can live with that result.

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This fall transcended much higher than the actual 26.2 miles that I ran in NYC. I found a change in myself as runner, as a mom, as a human. I had some days I questioned my sanity a little, some days I felt I couldn’t fulfill my role as a decent mom because I was so fatigued from training, but most days I felt alive. Waking up with such purpose to knock out 12 x a mile with 1 minute rest, begging the question of how tough would I be today. What would I tell myself when the little voice started creeping in to slow down or stop. I found inspiration everywhere I looked. I rode on the pain train that Kellyn was the conductor of. I travelled to the UK with the Scotts and learned from their humor and their simplicity. I watched their different style of how they approach training this fall and how success can show up differently on paper. I had friends give birth to their first babies. I had friends desperately trying to have babies. My brother Jamie is alive and voluntarily in a drug rehab facility. I met strangers who had such an impact on me. I witnessed coach Ben and my Ben’s belief in me grow. We made hard decisions together that got me to the starting line healthy. I found GRIT. When I crossed the finish line and made it to the post race tent, Ben brought Riley and Hudson in. Riley’s first question was “did you winned mom?” No Riley I came in 11th, but I ran the hardest I absolutely could and that’s what counts.” As I heard myself explaining this to my 4 year old, my chest clamped up a little because I realized that is what I need to live by. Goals are goals and I’ll keep setting them high, not out of my mind high, but high enough to resist complacency. I’ll remind myself that even if I don’t achieve what I envision I probably loved the shit out of the process. And so I’ll keep lining up, keep doing hard things, and writing my story. For you are the only one that can define what it means to you and that is powerful stuff.

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Dream Big

Steph

G-R-I-T

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“Each was chasing something of unparalleled interest and importance, and it was the chase- as much as the capture- that was gratifying. Even if some of the things they had to do were boring, or frustrating, or even painful, they wouldn’t dream of giving up. Their passion was enduring. In a word, they had grit.”

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I’m racing the NYC Marathon on Sunday November 4th. My teammates Scott and Scott are also lining up, and so we have all been training together this fall. I’ve run 8 marathons and each buildup has it’s own story, it’s own path. Heading into this NYC I wanted to capture what we do, day in and day out. The hard days. The workouts that written on paper are scary as hell. The days that challenge us for the sake of challenging. So GRIT was born. Born from a need to define what it is that keeps pushing me through mile repeats at 7000ft, through a 20 mile progression run up and down Lake Mary, and through taking risks. “Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it. It’s doing what you love, but not just falling in love- staying in love.” -Angela Duckworth

building the fire

5 weeks out from NYC is when the heat gets turned up. The miles are starting to pile up, and you’re starting every workout on fatigue laden legs. Freshness is no longer an option. Building the fire is essentially putting in the uncomfortable work early in a training segment that allows you to handle what’s to come. The session we filmed in Episode 1 was 12 x a mile with 1 min rest, with every 4th mile a surge, at 7000 ft. (6600 to be exact). The pace prescribed was 5:35, and 5:25, 5:15, and 5:05 for the surge miles, and 2 mins rest after those. Here are the my splits: 5:33, 5:34, 5:33, 5:22, 5:32, 5:33, 5:33, 5:16, 5:34, 5:33, 5:15. Here’s the story.

Having trained at altitude for 8 years I am all too familiar with discomfort. Almost the entire NAZ Elite team was out at Doney Park this morning. I was getting over a head cold, and I felt flat. I had to somehow make 5:35s feel smooth on a day I already knew they would not. But don’t run the workout in your head before you run the workout. We took off running a square mile, back and forth. Kellyn and I were in sync, matching each other’s stride, and breath. 1st rep, 5:33. I felt in control but knew that would be short lived. 5:35 isn’t a particularly scary and fast pace, but at 6500 ft and with 1 min rest, the effect of fatigue begins to snowball. The next few reps clicked off and the surge mile was very manageable. Then the hurt began to set in. My stomach was churning, my quads were heavy, and my breathing became more pronounced. Each 1 minute recovery I chugged a few gulps of water and gatorade. The temp was creeping up. We passed the Scotts and Futsum, gave an unspoken nod that acknowledged the work we’re all putting in. On our 8th mile, the surge mile, my stomach rebelled….I stopped 800 in, dry heaved for 10 seconds and kept pushing on for a 5:16. Kellyn looked back when I stopped and muttered “you all right?” Yeah just dry heaving I thought jokingly.” Although not ideal that I had to stop in that interval it wasn’t a sign I needed to stop and call the workout. Workouts have hiccups, interruptions, and challenges. They are never perfect. But you don’t need perfection in marathon training, you need consistency. We head into our last set with 4 miles to go. I’m hot, and my body is feeling out of sorts. This is hard. But the marathon is hard so you gotta get ready. I run 5:34 and 5:33 for #9 and #10, but I’m drained. I asked Coach Ben if I should continue based on how I’m feeling. He says “10 mile repeats is solid, take this next one off and try to help Kellyn through 800 of the last one.” I welcome the rest and freshen up quite easily. We’re trying to hit 5:05 and Coach Ben knows it’s a reach but he puts it out there for us. That’s how you get better, set almost unattainable times and see where you end up. I take a deep breath, click my watch and pull Kellyn through 800 at 2:38, and feel I can grind on. She pulls up alongside me and we push one another every step that last 800. She surges, I surge. We hit 5:15 and although not 5:05, it was a successful day. We got better. I began building the fire for NYC today and found my own version of GRIT on that last mile rep.

“To be gritty is to resist complaceny.” -Angela Duckworth



Episode 1: building the fire

So in this series, captured by Rabbitwolf, taking me through the training cycle building towards NYC, you’ll see my workouts, my splits, my hands on my knees. I wanted to captured what we train for, train through, and how we handle the adversity that is presented. It’s about being willing to go to places in workouts that are very dark and daunting. It’s about trying to get the most out of yourself for the sake of of getting the most from yourself. That’s what GRIT is about. Staying on course even when it’s gets tough, challenging, and threatens comfort. So I hope you enjoy this other side of me as a professional runner that I haven’t shed as much light on. We all have that other side, that’s just waiting to come out. The badass mom that brings it. The guy chasing the dream that’s seems unattainable but revels in the chase. The woman that never gives up and pursues relentlessly. That’s GRIT. Get Ready It’s Time.

-STEPH BRUCE

Today's a good day to Grind

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I wrote a blog 2.5 years ago called Finding Yourself in a Failed Workout yet it's one of those experiences that I think cycles through most training segments. It was April of 2016. I was 7 months post partum with Hudson.  I had one of the worst workouts I’ve experienced in probably the last 4 years of my career. By worst I mean, how I felt, how I failed the paces, and how I was so far off of what I expected to be able to accomplish on the day. Coach Ben had written the workout as 3 x 3 mile with 1 mile jog rest at 5:35 pace. Coach Ben is never wrong.  I mean he nails our prescribed paces to the T. I was stretched from the first mile to hit the pace. Hands on my knees I told him the effort felt like I was reaching and not comfortable or relaxed. He said, “today’s a day to grind”. I dug down the next 3 mile and just got in an effort and forgot about the pace. I thought I was done, gassed, nothing left in me.

“Well you’ll find something out about yourself on this last one.”

“Well you’ll find something out about yourself on this last one.” Try to run 5:45s. Clearly my target pace of 5:35s was out, I was nowhere near this. Then I pictured myself out on the race course, in the middle of a bad patch in the marathon and remembered one bad mile can’t define your race, but fighting through to find one good mile can make it. Everything hurt. I was tired and thirsty. I closed the workout with a 5:45 mile and a revelation about bad days. 

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Bad days will happen in training cycles. They are inevitable. Bad days also become less of a measure of success vs. failure, and rather what did you find out about yourself. You test yourself on the days that feel like a grind. Last week I had an NAZ Elite staple session. 20 x 400m with 1 min rest or 200m jog. The backdrop was a road loop at 7300ft called Mt. Shadows. I was solo, with Coach Ben alongside on the bike. 

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It was the first morning the temperature had dropped, and I felt the early whisperings of fall. 42 degrees and I needed more layers. I warmed up, thinking my legs were so heavy but it's been a fantastic week of training behind me. I was on track to hit around 105 miles this week. My body is slow to get going. 8:50 1st mile, "what am I going to have post workout? 7:58 2nd mile, "I'll text the ladies, Local Juicery would hit the spot". 7:35, "it's getting quite warm already."  I see Ben and Jen putting down the cones along the loop and I get the gulp in my stomach. The pace isn't terribly intimidating, 76s, but 20 of them is. 

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I feel springy doing my drills and strides, and coach Ben mutters "what a perfect morning." His usual chipper attitude tries with all it's might to evade any negative thoughts you might have creeping in before the workout. Every morning to him is perfect when this is your job. I feel that way too, but I also know the pain of the workout is coming and so I work on ways to break it apart mentally. The loop is marked so as to go out 400m, jog easy 200m, go out another 400m, jog 100m and flip and repeat the other direction. One direction is slightly uphill, the other down. It's subtle but when you're amidst a tough session at 7000ft you'll welcome any ounce of downhill. 

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I set off, trying to forget the volume of the workout and check in on things like my breathe, my form. I run the first one in 76, and think "oh man this is going to be a long day." The rest is long enough to gather my thoughts, and short enough to not allow me to fully recovery. I wonder if Ben hears me gasping for air, on every jog rest. I try to hide and stay composed but I'm laboring. I start comparing my last 20 x 400 in June where I averaged 75s on the track and they just came to me. Why can't I feel like that now? Because that's running Steph, and that's foolish to think you will feel the same at every workout. It's also stubborn to try to mimic a previous workout. Today it's about effort, and it's about grinding.  

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"Now you're breathing heavy" he says. "Now?" I say on my 16th 400. "I've been breathing heavy since about 6 in, so I guess I had him fooled. I've come to know the 60-70 % of a workout and race are always the most challenging for me. I doubt myself, the hurt starts to creep in, and I wonder if I can make it with anything left. Every time I get through that patch and choose to forge ahead, I come out stronger and braver on the other end. So yes there will be a moment of "this is too great for me to handle" but if I choose yes, that moment fades. 

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Somehow, 19 400s have been run and I have 1 more. It's a friendly stretch the last 400 and he says "nothing crazy." It's always tempting to let it rip when you know you can smell home. But there are times and places for that and today was not one. My breathing is controlled, my legs are heavy, and I finish the last one in 74. The workout never flowed necessarily and I had to talk myself through almost everyone one after about 6. The paces were right for me, I simply was fatigued going in, and would have to keep the pressure on each interval. I've had days where it felt I could go on forever. And days where I wished I was done after the first one. But you get to decide what day today is. For me, today was a good day to grind. 

Dream Big

Steph

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