Catching Up With Middle Distance Standout Kate Grace
What a season it's been for middle distance standout Kate Grace. The former Yale All-American, and current NJ-NY Track Club athlete, is taking her talent to a new level in 2013, running U.S. top three times in the 1,500m and mile during the indoor season. Under the tutelage of coach Frank Gagliano (aka Gags), Grace seemingly continues to run PRs every time she steps on the track.
This past week in Des Moines, Grace not only finished third in the Drake Relays 1,500m, running a new PR of 4:08.24, she also took home her first national title by outleaning the field at the USA 1 Mile Road Championships. After a big week of racing, we caught up with Grace, discussing her recent performances, how she's evolved as an athlete over the past 18 months, her passion for both her NJ-NY Track Club teammates and Oiselle teammates, and much more.
Scott Bush (SB): Congratulations on a great week of racing in Des Moines. Not only did you win the USA 1 Mile Road Championships over a strong field, but you came back a few days later to place third in the Drake Relays 1,500m, running a new PR. What's going through your head right now, knowing you won your first national title and continue to make big improvements on the track?
Kate Grace (KG): Thank you! The wave of emotions looks something like this: excitement, relief, determination. The Road Mile was the cherry on top of the week. We weren't planning around this as a focal point of the season, and I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of congratulations and support. I know I'm strong, I've been training well and racing solid, but there is always the potential for doubt.
I hadn't raced most of the top mile talent. So I was looking for a benchmark - to compete well in the mile, and PR in the 15. It's the best feeling, to get a result that confirms the reality of gains I see in practice. But while it was a great week, a good "coming out," I am back in New Jersey and back to hard training. There have already been two A standards in the 1500, and I know many of the top contenders don't come into racing form until June. I remain focused on the primary goals: at USAs and beyond.
SB: You are off to a phenomenal start to the 2013 racing season. What are your goals for this year? Will the 1,500m be your primary event or will you focus in on the 800m a bit more?
KG: Good question - I don't have a good answer. The 1500 will be my focus long term, but there are still some 8s left in these legs. I'm running one at Oxy, followed by a 1500. Gags and I will make a decision on nationals sometime after that. As for goals...it's crazy how much these have changed in just one year (or, how they now seem realistic, while last year it was daydreams). Make the World team. More generally, compete like I belong, with the ferocity I had in college. I didn't do the European racing circuit last year, so this will be my first. I want to learn the ropes, make a good showing. Hit A standards in the 8 and 15. Have fun.
SB: You've made a big jump since graduating from Yale. You were fifth in the 800m at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships your senior year, now you are winning national titles and putting yourself right up at the front against the best in the U.S. What do you attribute this current big jump in performance to over the past bunch of months?
KG: Consistent training, plain and simple. At Yale, through a mixture of illness and stubbornness, I never put together summer or fall training. Any results in June were based on six months of work, pure 800 at that (30-35 miles a week, no runs longer than an hour).
I joined Gags in January 2012, just off an injury, and we whipped me in shape enough for two huge PRs in May (2:01.6 from ~2:03, and 4:10 from 4:20). But there was again no base, and that was clear at the trials. My results now are the outcome of 16 months with Gags, and my first season of strength work (higher mileage, long runs, tempos). What's coolest about that is there are so many things I can point to that can still be improved, that I get to address over the next few years.
SB: Making Team USA we can assume is your number one goal this season, but what other racing plans do you have scheduled out at this point?
KG: Tentative adidas GP and vague July racing in Europe, but nothing official to point to. I'm warned that especially in my freshmen season, it will be a lot of last minute flights and travel. Sounds kind of of fun...adventurous.
SB: So you're living in New Jersey and training with the NJ-NY Track Club. What's the training set up like for you with that group? How has being part of the group helped your training and racing?
KG: Gags' holds formal practices twice a week (Monday/Friday) at Rutgers in New Brunswick. Each practice hosts about 20 athletes. We have 12 women on the team, ranging from the 800 to 5k. While that is a bit of a range, with switching around on strength or speed days, there are usually 3-5 training partners to share the load for any given workout. I live in town with my roommate, Renée Tomlin. We have six middle distance athletes in the area, and we coordinate other runs, strength, and auxiliary work.
This system is more flexible than some I've heard. But I have found that it has pushed us to lean on each other, which has created very close bonds of friendship and support. I don't know what it is, maybe the Gag magic touch, but we seem to have hit a sweet spot with group dynamics. We don't compete together, and yet I feel as though I am running on a team. With laughter, shared experiences, competitiveness that is more cooperative than detrimental. It brings a lightness to training that I believe is vital to fuel the drive.
SB: Oiselle has been getting some good press recently, with Lauren Fleshman jumping on board, but more so with your elite-level performances indoor and out. Can you tell us a little about Oiselle and your involvement with them?
KG: Speaking of teams! Oiselle is at once sponsor, support-net, team, family. They are a by women, for women running apparel company, with a focus on performance and design. While many of their runners and customers are not necessarily track-centric, they have been incredibly supportive of me. It's part of this concept of "feminine/fierce" - about combining beautiful product with a competitive edge (pro running, competition, etc.). It allows for a wonderful overlap, among different levels, the track, the roads. I have been able to connect with runners who have never touched a track meet, with marathoners, etc, in a way that has opened my eyes to the many facets of the sport (and I hope vice versa).
I see this an a great model for continuing to expand and combine opportunities for distance running and track and field in the US. Plus, the smaller size of the company allows me a view into some of the back-end work, even to have a say in how I can be involved. I feel respected, included, appreciated. It's a "pinch-me, I'm dreaming" situation (which may be also a bit of a commentary on the state of athlete/sponsor relations in this sport).
SB: Despite being an All-American in college, a lot of fans still don't know a lot about you. How good of a runner were you in high school? Why did you choose Yale? How did you progress there?
KG: I was good, but not on the national scene in high school. I went to a small school in Los Angeles. Played soccer in the winter (CA!) and was off in the summer, so running was really only in season. Made a big jump to a 2:11 800 my sophomore year. I improved on all fronts each year, and kept a wide range - left with PBs of 25/55/2:10/4:59/xc-18:20. It's funny, I was very proud of these at the time, but clearly I was also in the CA bubble. When I won XC state in my division my senior year, I was asked about plans for NXN. I didn't know what they were talking about.
I chose Yale because I loved the team dynamic on my visit. But more so, I chose it because I loved the students and school, it felt in line with what I wanted for a college experience. I continued PR-ing each year. Made jumps to a 2:06 as a freshmen, 2:04 sophomore, 2:03 senior. As I mentioned, this was based on January-June training, July-December devolving. I ran tons of relays, even 4x1s, and loved them. I honed my competitiveness and consistency - mostly within the Ivy League. Even in national appearances, I improved each year on my finish. I finally started branching out my senior year with mile work, got a bit of notice when I ran 4:39 indoors, then the fastest 1200 split in a while (~20 yrs?) at Penn. It seems in general East Coast runners get less airtime on the national scene. Especially for us, as we did not travel to many of the big invitationals. I blame that for why I'm currently so bad at post-race interviews. I haven't done one since HS!
SB: Okay, the heart of the U.S. track season (domestic Diamond League meets and the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships) is right around the corner. What's a typical week of training look like for you right now?
KG: Mileage at 65, it's what I've been averaging all spring. Workouts for us are Monday strength, Wednesday double, Friday speed. Saturday is a long run, usually 14, sometime 15/16. By double, I mean double workout. A morning tempo followed by some afternoon 200s. Strength sessions on Tuesdays and Fridays.
And then, I'm still learning the art of the extras. Physical therapy, plyos, more core, yoga, swimming. How to slot it all in, what's a good amount to support, not overwhelm. The heavy workout load changes when we start to hit big race weeks. I'll let you know what that looks like.
SB: Shorts you run in?
KG: Oiselle distance or stride.
SB: Favorite food?
SB: Favorite band?
KG: Currently loving the Mumford and Sons Pandora station. But have to admit - Pitbull or Nicki Minaj for pre-race pump-up.
SB: Tempo run, hill repeats or track repeats?
KG: Everything! (hill repeats with the slight edge)
SB: Favorite movie?
KG: Just saw Silver Linings Playbook, that was great. Love Actually is one of the only movies I can watch more than once.
SB: College major?
KG: Environmental Studies