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Stephanie Bruce remembers the early days of her professional running career, when the hours were dedicated to hard workouts and long miles, often followed by Netflix and napping. It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy that kind of recovery time anymore, but she often doesn’t choose it, either—she’s found that being busy, even during the weekend she is racing the Chicago Marathon, is sometimes better.
Now a mother of two boys, ages four and five, Bruce, 35, and her husband, Ben, members of Northern Arizona Elite training group based in Flagstaff, make race weekends like this one in Chicago a family affair. On Sunday she’s racing, Ben is pacing, and their sons, Riley and Hudson, will no doubt be cheering.
“I’m trying to show that if women want to take a break from the sport and have babies, they can come back from it,” Bruce said during an interview with Women’s Running in August. “You just have to reframe what your ideal scenario of recovery and preparation is. So I think that’s the example I try to set.”
While many prefer to hunker down in their hotel rooms before a major race, kicking up their feet, sipping electrolytes, and binging on movies, Bruce buzzes around to photo shoots, media interviews, and appearances. On Friday in Chicago, she ran in the morning with her teammates, participated in the pro athlete press conference, napped, got a massage, signed autographs at the Picky Bars expo booth (she co-founded the energy bar company), then capped it off with a dip in the hot tub with her kids.
That kind of pre-race routine isn’t unusual. Bruce recalls the 10K national road championships in June, which took place in New York, during the Mini 10K. It was another family getaway.
“The night before the race, we walked to Whole Foods, then to Central Park, where we ate dinner sitting on the grass and letting the boys play,” Bruce said. “It was the most imperfect, unideal scenario—we probably walked two-and-a-half miles that night, but I was like, ‘whatever, you’re so fit. It does not matter if you’re not sitting on your hotel bed.’”
The next day she placed second, bested in a final surge by Sara Hall—a friend, competitor, and fellow mom.
“It makes me feel really proud that the next day I was in a battle to win the race and only lose in the last 400 meters,” Bruce said.
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2 days before @chimarathon this is what my day looked like. I was woken up at 6:00 am by USADA for drug testing( thank you #cleansport). I ran an easy 4 miles along the Lake front path with my team. We had our press conference and media roundtable sessions for 2 hours. I took a little nap, got a flush out massage and headed to the @pickybars booth where I met and signed bibs for you amazing fans. Ended the day with Chipotle and a dip in the hotel hot tub with my boys. I have never been a pro who sits in their bed all weekend long, waiting for the race, scared to say or do anything in case the race doesn’t go well. I don’t believe you need to be a hermit in order to run successfully, but that’s me. I very much enjoy my life and job as a professional runner and on these race weekends I am reminded of why I choose to share my journey. Because of the people I meet along the way who somehow think I’m cooler than I am and have told me I’ve made an impact.
In fact the biggest breakthroughs of Bruce’s career have come after having children. She’s made two world cross-country teams and set personal bests in the 5,000 meters (15:17.76), 10,000 meters (31:59.88), half marathon (1:10:44), and marathon (2:29:21). She was the 2018 national champion for 10K and is the reigning U.S. half marathon champion.
On Sunday at the Chicago Marathon her goal is to better that 26.2-mile time and “run the marathon I am fully capable of.”
“I don’t know what that time is because I’m trying to not put limits on it, but I know I also want a big day and a big performance,” she said. “I just need to have a performance that puts myself in the conversation of, ‘Okay, she is one of the contenders to make the [2020 Olympic] team…’ Just because I haven’t done it yet doesn’t mean I’m not ready to.”
Her husband, who also is an assistant coach with the NAZ Elite team, will help the cause, serving as a pacer for a group of women with similar goals, around 2:26 or faster. The women’s field includes Brigid Kosgei of Kenya, who said on Friday she’s targeting the course record of 2:17:18, if weather conditions are good. Other Americans lining up include Emma Bates. (2:28:19), Laura Thweatt (2:25:38), and Lindsay Flanagan (2:29:25).
Also competing is Jordan Hasay, whose personal best is 2:20:57. She’s indicated that she may go for the American record currently held by Deena Kastor (2:19:36). Hasay learned on Thursday that her sponsor Nike has shut down her training group, the Oregon Project, following coach Alberto Salazar’s four-year ban from the sport for doping violations. Per anti-doping rules, she’s allowed no contact with him. (Hasay has never been implicated in the case against her former coach and has never tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.)
“It’s hard…[Salazar] is very, very close to me and usually the last few weeks before the marathon are really fun because he starts getting anxious and starts calling three times a day about, ‘oh, make sure you bring your gray socks instead of white socks,’ or this and that,” she said during an interview on Friday with LetsRun. “I’ve learned so much in my time with the Oregon Project…there was nothing the last couple weeks training-wise where I had a question about it.”
As for Bruce, the day before the race looked much like all the others. Up for a run and down to the hotel lobby for a meet-and-greet to share advice with marathoners who have all sorts of goals on Sunday.
“A few years ago it dawned on me that it’s not just our job as pro runners to run faster,” she said during the press conference on Friday. “To me, it is our duty and our job to take the fans along with us on our journey. It doesn’t feel like pressure. It feels like accountability.”