Stephanie and Ben Bruce had quite a Thursday at the USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
The popular professional running couple and parents of two young kids celebrated landmarks in each of their careers.
For Steph, her third place finish in the 10,000 meter final marked her best ever performance at a U.S. outdoor track championships. Her previous bests were eighth place finishes in the 10k in 2012 and 2017.
Steph reflects on the race, out-kicking her one-time tenant Emily Sisson and what this accomplishment means for her career:
CITIUS MAG: Congrats on the race today. Did you think you’d have a kick like that to beat Emily Sisson?
Stephanie Bruce: I did. Our training group [NAZ Elite based in Flagstaff, Ariz.] isn’t a “track group” and sometimes I get offended when people say that because we still know how to compete. We just compete on the roads a lot. We’ve been doing a lot of strength work at practice and we don’t get on the track a lot. In my lead-up, I did two road races — a 5k and a 10k. I just wanted to get in a track race where I was as fit as I’ve been in some road races and it’s just taken a long time to do that. I just felt confident — I know I’ve never been there for a top spot at the bell lap, but I felt like if I was there, I was confident in my kick. Even though I didn’t win today, I won a lot of things, for sure.
CM: What was it like batting with Emily over the final 100 meters?
SB: Emily actually rented a room at my house in Flagstaff, so I know her very well. That’s what I love about this sport — you can be friends with people off the track, but want to beat their butts on the track. The respect her very much — she’s made teams and is an incredible athlete. But I didn’t let that intimidate me during the race. I told myself, “You can kick. You’ve outkicked people in your last couple races. Forget about the accolades and just close your eyes and dig really deep.
CM: So it wasn’t because Emily forgot to pay rent?
SB: No! [Laughs]
CM: What’s the burn like in the last lap of a 10k versus what it feels like in the final stretches of a marathon?
SB: It’s such a different kind of hurt. In the last couple miles of the marathon, you either have it for you don’t. You know if you body is going to let you go. Even if I’m willing myself, I couldn’t. In a track 10k, you can will yourself to run faster. I thought I was running fast, then all of a sudden I went up on my toes. I felt like I was running out of my body — you can’t do that in a marathon.
CM: How big is this third place finish as a career accomplishment for you?
SB: It’s huge. Going out on the podium for the medal ceremony, I was asking Molly what we do. “Do we wave? Do we shake each other’s hands? Do we sign autographs?” It’s funny because I’ve been in the sport for so long. On the roads, I have a ton of second and third place finishes, but I’ve yet to win a national title. But if I can slowly creep up on people, that win will come one day. I tell people to stay in the sport. I’ve had two kids. I lot of people don’t know who I was before that, and that’s okay because I know who I was. I’m just trying to make the second half of my career even better and show that distance running isn’t something that comes overnight — it takes time. If you stay in it long enough, you can reach where you want to go. That just happened for my teammate Kellyn Taylor who ran 2:24 at Grandma’s Marathon. That was a win for all of us. It was really exciting. This sport is awesome.
Last night was a moment that took many years. You gotta pay your dues, do the work in this sport, and keep believing. Thanks for all the support. pic.twitter.com/mKSbl1ohU7
— Stephanie Bruce (@Steph_Rothstein) June 22, 2018
For Ben, his participation in the men’s 10,000 meter final represented the 16th consecutive year he has raced in the U.S. outdoor championships.
Yes, you heard that right, 16 straight years.
Ben’s first U.S. champs was 2002, when Drew Hunter was a mere four years old.
A lot has changed in those 16 years for both Ben and the U.S. distance running scene, but he still takes pride in his longevity and some of the fast PR’s he’s popped, particularly his 8:19.10 steeplechase personal best that still stands as the 21st fastest an American has ever run.
CITIUS MAG: 16 U.S. Championships in a row. What’s that mean to you?
Ben Bruce: There’s people that have breakthrough races that come out of nowhere. The track world loves that because it’s a great story when someone goes from X to “in there” but I’ve always been about consistency. I didn’t run track in high school. I played golf so I got to college as an unknown. I knew that as a freshman I couldn’t just try to crush it. Each year was ‘If I could PR every year, I can get better.’ I never forced training. Now I do hard workouts, but back then I learned that if something bothered you to take a day off here or there. I think that’s what I’ve shown. I practice what I preach. It’s easy to say ‘Be consistent’ but if someone is hurt all the time and saying it, they’re not really practicing what they preach. It shows that the U.S. standards are not easy so to be able keep a streak of that many years going – when my oldest boy was born (he’s four years old now) on June 14th , I didn’t know if I was going to be able to run USAs that year. A few days after he was born, I told Steph ‘I gotta go.’ I booked a last minute ticket to Sacramento and went out there. I won the steeplechase prelim and did like a baby-rocking motion at the finish line. It was pretty cool and I paid the price. I was running on pure adrenaline from having a baby just two weeks earlier. By the final, I was wrecked but it was still worth it just get out there. Similar to this year, I was coming off a big injury from last fall. It was the first big injury of my life. To come back and just line up, I didn’t crush it but I beat some people. That not what I come to a U.S. Championships to do but this year was about getting back out there and racing hard. So now if i want to make it 17-straight, I’ve got to get a qualifier out there.
CM: LeBron James talks about playing with his kid in the NBA before retiring. Is that something that you think you could possibly see yourself doing with your own kid?
BB: Not with my kid! Maybe if I would’ve had him when I was 18 years old. But it would be cool if I could make so that someone who wasn’t born when I ran my first one. I ran my first one in 2003 – like someone born in the fall of 2013. It’s the same thing that happens with my training group, Northern Arizona Elite. I ask, “How old were you in 2008?” They say they’re like 8 years old and I’m like ‘That’s when I ran my first U.S. Championships!’ It’s cool to look at it from that aspect. It’s even the little things like the fact that we stayed at an AirBnB this year. When I started running, those didn’t exist. You either stayed in a hotel unless you knew someone luckily in the area. It’s just cool to go through the ranks and see people come and go but still be a staple. I don’t know if it’s a record but I would be curious to see the stats of who has run the most U.S. Championships. Maybe not the most but the most consecutive. That’s the hardest part. There’s gotta be some database.
CM: When you’ve run for this long, there’s probably guys that you competed against that are now in these stands coaching.
BB: Oh yeah. A lot of them.
CM: There’s also guys who have retired recently after motivation dries up. For you, what’s kept you in the game?
BB: Basically, running a lot of different races. If I could run the steeple fast still then I would. I love that event. I tried to do it this year. But you can’t do that if you’re not focused on it. The older you get, the tougher it gets. I’m just trying new stuff. In July, I’m running the U.S. Mountain Championships. I haven’t even run any mountain races. Stuff like that mixes up training. When you go into training, you’ll run the same workouts and always compare yourself to yourself. Getting ready for the mountain championships, I’m not full-blown running on trails all the time. Some of my tempo or threshold runs, I’ll do like 45 minutes up a mountain or a service road that just climbs and climbs and climbs. Heart rate-wise it’s about the same in those workouts but it takes awhile for me to figure out like what my milesplit should be if I’m climbing 500 feet. Stuff like that has kept it new and fresh so that I’m always kind of training for something a little different.
Chris Chavez contributed reporting.