Tag: Neely Spence Gracey

Gracey Recovering After Knee Surgery

Neely Spence Gracey had surgery two weeks ago and has been out of commission for pretty much all of 2014 so far. The talented, young Hansons-Brooks runner had been out in New England competing as recently as September of 2014 and seemed to progressing nicely, but then we saw this:


How did people ever get news before Twitter? Anyway, once that was spotted we had to reach out to her to find out what was going on. Between an article by David Monti and piecing together a story from Tweets, we were able to find out quite a bit, but we still had some questions. Here’s an interview that we did with Neely about the surgery and her road back to competitive racing:

Sad to hear the news. Could you tell us a little about the surgery?

neely spence gracey x rayAfter three months of frustration and a bazillion diagnoses, the MRI showed unusual results: Patella Bipartite. Essentially a fractured patella. My knee cap never fused and left a strip of cartilage that compromised the integrity of the patella. My knee cap split along that line and wouldn’t heal. So they removed the part that separated. You can see it in the X-ray!

How long has it been since you last ran?

I have run 10 miles in 2014. But it’s been a month since I did any running and December since I was training. I just had pain every step along the top of my knee cap. I hope to get on the under water treadmill and AlterG in the next week or two!

When we saw you at CVS in the fall, you had run a little slower than the prior year. Was the knee really bothering you then? Did you have any idea of what may be coming?

I was actually dealing with Lyme disease at the time and it was significantly affecting my training and races. I struggled through October but the medicine started helping and my body responded and I had great training through the month of November. I was so ready to go for club cross and had high hopes for a busy winter racing schedule.

How is the recovery from the Lyme disease coming along? Will you be completely clear of that once you ramp things up again?

Recovery has been really significant, and since November I feel like myself again emotionally and physically. For now, Lyme is not an everyday issue. There is no guarantee it’s fully gone but I think time will tell and I am learning the signs and what helps to keep my body healthy and my immune system strong.

What’s the timetable for your recovery? When will you start running again?

I am two weeks post surgery and feeling great! My PT’s seem very pleased, and I have progressed to squats, the elliptical/ElliptiGO, bike, and balancing work, and some weighted leg lifts. Hoping to start running within a few weeks. The trainers at the OTC in Colorado Springs said they think 8 weeks from surgery I should be able to handle full training again. I am in the process of figuring out a trip out there to get any imbalances or weaknesses addressed.

How nerve-wracking is it being an injured professional runner in an environment with so many pros competing for precious few contracts?

That’s a great question. I am very fortunate to have a coach, team, and company who believe in me. Brooks signed me through 2016 and though my last few months haven’t gone according to plan, there is still much to accomplish in the upcoming years. Their support has given me the ability to not stress and focus on fully healing from this surgery.

What’s your preferred cross training method?

DSC02749Well I am currently on the stationary bike at my PT this morning, (doing this interview is helping pass the time), and I am very grateful for bike, elliptical, and pool options to keep me sane but indoor training is just rough as many runners can relate after lots of treadmill runs this past winter. I prefer the ElliptiGO outside because getting out is one of the things I miss the most. But the weather has made that impossible so I have used the ElliptiGO on the trainer inside. Rock climbing was a new addition during my injury and a fun challenge. Because of it I can now do three complete pull ups! I find if I can seek challenges in cross training I can eliminate the monotony of the daily grind and emotionally stay stronger throughout. I will even do a combo workout of 10 min per machine. Right after my surgery, I could only do arm work, so I would do the arm bike, the rower, the air bike and just rotate. It makes the time pass much faster.

What’s your least favorite?

The initial getting in the pool coldness. Once I’m in, I’m fine. The pool is tough for longer workouts unless I have a friend. Then it passes quickly!

Have you been able to work on your karaoke skills in your down time?

I was singing along to the radio on the way to PT this morning! We did have a few days at the Brooks Running headquarters in Seattle and I may or may not have gone up on stage with Phoebe Wright and Katie Mackey…

At the end of Monti’s piece on your surgery, you called out for advice from athletes who had gone through something similar. Did you hear back from anyone? Get some good advice?

I had great responses! It was especially encouraging to hear from runners in the community who have had no long term issues post surgery. Having a network of support is huge for me and really helps me remain positive and motivated.

You tweeted that you got dumped by US Anti-Doping. What exactly does that mean and how can you rekindle that relationship? Love your #proudpee-er hashtag too, haha. Is it as simple as sending them a urine sample, some flowers and a sweet note?


This is my fav question of the interview! Good things are rarely simple, but this is an exception. I need to make USADA want me again by performing at an elite level. Definitely a goal for 2014 is to get back to the status of a USADA athlete.

What can we expect to see from you in 2014?

The top goal is getting healthy! I have thoughts beginning to form regarding late summer and fall road racing. As I begin to run, my coaches and I will discuss more of a set schedule.

CVS 5k: Spence Gracey

We’ve been fortunate enough to publish some interviews and features on Neely Spence Gracey in the past, but had never actually met her face to face before. Since the CVS Downtown 5k is right in our neck of the woods we had an opportunity to finally get a proper interview and didn’t pass up the chance.

Neely placed 5th in the race, which doubled once again as the US 5k championships. Although she ran a little slower than last year, it is much earlier in the season for her and she is quite pleased with her progression. Here’s an interview we did with her that covers just about everything from this race to her future racing plans to…singing and dancing. We cover it all.

I know many of you are clamoring for the Tim Ritchie/Pat Fullerton interview. It’s coming. Soon. We saved the best for last.

Once again, feature image on main page is credited to Scott Mason Photo.

Spence Gracey Earns an ‘A’ at World XC

It was a very exciting day for the USA in Poland on Sunday. Neely Spence Gracey led the US women to a fourth place finish at the World XC championships. Neely ran masterfully over the technical and challenging course and finished thirteenth place, and in the process earned herself an automatic ‘A’ standard for the 10k world championships.

Neely graciously answered a couple of questions that I sent her way after the race:

Was this the most challenging course you’ve ever run? What made it so? Was it the course itself, the conditions, or the combination of the two?

It was true cross country. Europe loves their challenging courses, and this one met every expectation a true XC fan or athlete could imagine. I think they combined a tough mudder, cyclocross, horse jumping, and skiing all in one big test of athleticism (Not to mention the best athletes in the world…).

Courtesy of Michael Scott, Team USA photographer.

Courtesy of Michael Scott, Team USA photographer.

What was your strategy?

My goal going in was to maximize myself. Use my strengths and rely on my intuition to get me through every step. I had a goal for each lap: 1-Get out, 2-Establish, 3-Battle, 4-Finish.

Do you view this as a break-through race?

My coaches had higher expectations for me going into the race than I had for myself. Very few races do we finish knowing that everything was executed perfectly and the results surpass the initial goal. So I am enjoying this rare sense of satisfaction… for a few days, then it is back to the grind to make more dreams reality!

This race certainly gave me greater recognition on the world scene, but that wasn’t the goal. The goal was and is to continue the journey of exploring my capabilities as an athlete and person. This was a good-sized step in the right direction :)

It was an incredible day for Team USA. First the women get fourth, then the men come through with the silver medal. What was the mood like, when the dust (er, mud) settled after the all the races?

It was really special to be a part of the success Team USA had, but even more special to share it with a great group of people. Cross country is unique in that the teams are much more cohesive, and on the pro scene there are few opportunities to experience this. I am very grateful that I could be a part of this group and learn and grow from the knowledge of others.

Congrats on getting the automatic A standard, too. Does attaining that now change your race plans at all? Would you race less now, and sort of save your ammo for the big meets? Or will it allow you to cherry pick your schedule a bit?

Actually, it fuels my fire to WANT to run the 10k. I see my goal of a mid 31 10k as reality for this season, but definitely plan on running and getting the mark… I want to actually earn it through a time that shows. The plan is to race 5k at MT SAC and 10k at Peyton Jordan! It is a nice thing to have earned that elite status though, but the time standard is just as much a goal as ever!

Good luck to Neely as she shifts her focus over to the track. It’s going to be exciting to watch. For more on this race, you can find a recap of it by her teammate Danielle Brenon here. You might also want to consider following Neely on Facebook and Twitter as she’s very good at engaging her audience. She just recently gave away her bib from this race to the follower who correctly guessed how long it took her to get from the hotel back to her home. The correct answer: 22 hrs, 24 mins. I did not win.

Thanks to Michael Scott for the amazing pictures. Find more of his great work here on his Shutterfly page.

World XC

World XC Championships were held this morning in Poland. For those up early enough (and remembered) to catch it, it was a heck of a day for the USA. It also was on ridiculous course, according to Letsrun:

“The course consists of repeated 1,950-meter loops, but think of the overall shape as more of a narrow rectangle that the runners constantly snake through with very few straight portions or wide rounded turns. As the runners come back to the start there is a huge very steep hill off the rectangle, that the runners go up and down each time (there was a rope lift towing skiers to the top of an adjacent hill of the same height). From the bottom of the steep hill, it’s less than a quarter to the finish.”

Exciting, right? That does sound so much better than a road or track race.

The women ran first, and Neely Spence Gracey finished 13th overall and as the top American. As a unit, the American ladies placed an impressive fourth.

Neely at the 2012 CVS Downtown 5k (courtesy of Scott Mason)

Neely at the 2012 CVS Downtown 5k (courtesy of Scott Mason)

They set the bar high, but the men accepted that challenge and came through with a huge performance of their own. The US narrowly edged Kenya by two points to come in second overall. Ben True led the way with an incredible sixth place finish in the sloppy conditions.

Did you watch the race? What did you think?

Side note: the top finishers for the US have both been featured prominently on Level Renner. Coincidence? Not likely. The Level is the media equivalent of high altitude training…we’ll take you to the next level.

Steve Spence: His Take on Neely Leaving School Early

Steve Spence is the head cross country/assistant track & field coach at Shippensburg University. Steve’s been coaching there since ’97, and was even an All-American himself there (class of ’85).

NCAA Div. II Cross Country Championships in 2010. Courtesy of Bill Smith/Shippensburg University.

After graduating, he enjoyed tremendous success on the roads. At the World Championships in 1991 he earned a bronze medal in the marathon. In 1992 he represented the US in Barcelona, placing 12th in that Olympic marathon.

Steve is also the father of Neely Spence Gracey, who was featured in an interview in the latest issue of Level Renner. Neely ran for Shippensburg, under Steve’s guidance, before leaving a semester early to turn pro (in December of 2011).

After coaching his daughter to monumental success, he then helped guide Neely to the situation that best suited her needs. We talked about that experience with Steve to find out a little more about what the process was like. As both coach and father, his perspective is certainly unique.

How difficult of a decision was it, not only as a coach but as a parent, to support Neely’s decision to leave school early?

It was more of a difficult decision for her.  I felt that she was ready after her junior year and Kirsten (my wife) and I encouraged her to consider going pro at that time, but she insisted that she had unfinished business and a lot of goals for her senior collegiate seasons.  After the NCAA cross country meet in 2011, I again brought up the idea of going pro.  She wanted to run the USATF Club XC meet, to compete early January at the BUPA meet and then prepare for the Olympic Trials.  I pointed out that a collegiate track season was not necessarily the best option to help her achieve her goals.

NCAA Div. II Cross Country Championships in 2010. Courtesy of Bill Smith/Shippensburg University.

How soon before Neely turned pro did you realize this was a possibility? Was there a specific race or a workout where you thought ‘She’s ready’?

We realized this was a possibility when she was a high schooler or maybe even before that when she ran a 17:41 road 5k as a 13 year old.  Her decision to stay at Shippensburg after her freshman year had a lot to do with preparing her for a post collegiate career.  When she ran 15:33 at Mt. SAC in 2011, I felt that she was ready.  From that point, she began to think in a larger scope than the collegiate scene.

How involved were you in the search for a suitable program for her?

I made the initial contacts with potential agents and also the initial contacts with the coaches of the various training groups.  Once Neely signed with Ray Flynn, he arranged for her to visit with the training groups which we thought had the potential to be a good fit for her.  I had some very informative and lengthy conversations with many of the coaches.

Looking back, we are happy with her decision to turn pro in December 2011 because of the time it took to secure a shoe contract.  There were many factors to consider.  Some shoe companies required that you join their training group directed by their coaches.  Others allowed their sponsored athletes to seek their own coaching and join groups like Mammoth where you could be affiliated with any shoe company.  She also needed to make visits, which was time consuming.  Some were flexible with travel and time away from the group, while others only gave a five-day Christmas break and then they wanted her back.  It was definitely a much more lengthy process than what we anticipated and it was good that Neely was able to dedicate time while she was injured.

Do you find it hard at all not being hands on with her training now? Or is it easier knowing that she went from your guidance right into an established, renowned program?

Letting go has not been hard for me.  The plan was for me to coach her through the trials and then she would be guided by the Hanson’s after the trials. We did a lot of research and I’m very comfortable with what Keith and Kevin are doing with her training.  They are a little more aggressive than what I was with Neely as I always erred on the side of being conservative with her paces and volume.  They are pushing her closer to the line, which I see as a good thing.  They realize that she has fewer stresses now that she is just an athlete and not a student-athlete.  They are doing a great job at developing her aerobic strength with the longer faster runs and longer intervals.

NCAA Div. II Cross Country Championships in 2010. Courtesy of Bill Smith/Shippensburg University.

I loved the story of the 8k that you and her raced late in the fall. [See this Runner World article for more on that. They both broke 26:00 and Neely got the course record.] How competitive are you two with each other?

Neely used to get very frustrated that I could take long periods off from training and still be able to run with her in workouts and beat her in a race situation.  That all changed when she started running mid 15s for 5k.  We now have fun with the competitive aspect.  I’ve been trying to help her out with workouts when she is at home.  That means that I try to hang on as long as possible.  She had a 6 mile progression run in September in which she started at 6:20 and dropped 10 to 12 sec each mile.  I was able to feel great through 4, hang on through 5 and then I was done as she went on to run the last mile in 5:17.  Another workout she was doing 10 x 800 in 2:34 range on fairly short recovery.  I helped by leading her through 600 meters in each and then got some extra recovery as she ran the last 200 on her own.

My goal at the 8k was to get her through 3 miles and then try to finish.  I knew I wasn’t quite ready to run her pace for the full 8k, but I must admit that it was tough on me mentally to watch her run away from me at 3 and realize that there was nothing I could do about it.  I did have visions of grandeur prior to the race in which I thought that maybe I’d be able to hang on and out-kick her.

What do you think of the business side of the sport for athletes now compared to your days competing?

The sport has definitely been professionalized much more than when I competed.  I was talking with Don Janicki last week and we discussed how we were all on our own back in the 80s and 90s.  There were really no training groups or coaches.  We were pretty much trying to figure things out on our own and would create our own training groups.  When I was in Boulder, Chris Prior was my main training partner in the summer.  He was fantastic and in that he would kill himself to help me through a workout, and he is a great story teller which entertained me on long runs.  Barrios, Steve Jones and DeCastella were jealous that I had Chris to workout with and called him my domestique like they have in cycling.  I also set up training camps with Steve Taylor several times and with Keith Brantly.

I was fortunate enough to be recruited by Dr. Dave Martin who was in charge of the Long Distance Runner Olympic Development program.  Being part of the program in the late 80s to the mid 90s involved going to Atlanta several times per year for testing which included:  VO2 max, pulmonary function, bone density, cybex strength tests, dietary analysis and blood work.  Although Dr. Dave didn’t coach me on a daily basis, I ran all of my training plans by him and made adjustments as he thought necessary.  I also kept in touch and used him as a resource whenever I experienced any problems.

It was explained to me by the agents and coaches that shoe and other sponsor contracts including a hefty bonus structure for specific times and places are much more important than they used to be.  It’s disappointing to see that some of the major road races no longer exist, like the Cascade Runoff, and that many of the major road races offer similar amounts or sometimes even less prize money than was offered in the late 80s.

This is the follow up companion piece to EJN‘s interview with Neely Spence Gracey that appeared in the Mar/Apr issue of Level Renner. It’s free so, go get it now if you haven’t already.

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