Heather Stephens

Steph Bruce is my muse, mentor, and coach. She’s basically super woman. Mom, coach, pro runner. Just an all around inspiration for me and other running fans around the world. We had a chance to catch up this week about some of her big goals for the fall and what’s happening inside #runningwiththebruces.


Heather: Can you talk a little bit about your summer coming off of the Track Olympic Trials?

Steph: I had a fairly disappointing showing at the Trials, but truthfully when I look in retrospect, even getting to the starting line was a big deal for me. I was proud to be there but also needed to take a step back afterwards, so I took a good long break. I don’t necessarily know if I needed a mental break, but I needed a physical break. I was dealing with some injuries that popped up right before the Trials and there were a lot of postpartum issues that hadn’t fully healed. I gave myself 5-6 weeks of no running and then started up again with really light running; 20-30 miles a week. So I got back into the swing of things very gradually and started working on the things that were skipped over in my lead up to the Trials. I was really trying to work on strengthening core and getting my hips and pelvis stable again. I caught up on some sleep and then a hit a mental point where I felt like I was ready to get back on the horse. I think a lot of times you need to take a break to get to that mental space where you’re excited and ready to put in the work again. At the end of August I was ready to talk about goal setting, so I sat down with Coach Ben Rosario and started plotting out the fall. 

H: So what does the fall look like for you? What do you have on the map in terms of racing?

S: My first race is actually coming up pretty quickly! In 2 weeks, I’ll run the USA 10 Mile Champs in Minneapolis, MN. I’m really excited about it because I ran my first ever marathon in Twin Cities and now I’m going back. This race covers the same ground as the last 10 miles of the marathon course, so it’s pretty cool to be returning back there 8 years later. My fitness is a little unknown right now, but it’s still early in the cycle so I’m treating it like a bit of a rust buster. 

Then I am going to New York for the New York Marathon weekend and I’ll be racing The Dash to the Finish 5k. That will be a super blow out race and a chance for me to see what I have in my legs. That race is about 5 weeks before my big marathon. 

And that’s my next news! I’m excited to share that I’ll be running the California International Marathon on December 5th. It’s my long awaited return to the marathon. 


H: CIM! That is very exciting news! How does it feel to be gearing up for CIM and getting back to the marathon?

S: It took time physically and mentally. I was pretty much out of the sport for the past 2.5 years with having my two kids. My last marathon was Boston in 2013. And that was a crazy year in a lot of ways. It was the year of the bombing and there were just so many emotions tied behind it. The day didn’t go super well for me, but it was okay. 

After having the kids, I knew getting ready for the marathon was no joke. I couldn’t just pick it up out of nowhere. I felt like I had to get to a place where I was mentally and physically prepared to start doing the work that was necessary. And I finally felt ready to go there after the Trials. I knew that I wasn’t necessarily the best track runner and the 10k wasn’t my specialty. Really deep down, the marathon is in my blood. It’s in my bones. I didn’t know when I’d be ready, but a switch just kind of flipped for me and I felt like I was ready to start putting in the work this fall. So I was excited to start thinking about actually racing one before 2016 was over. 

H: What are your goals for CIM?

S: Every time I set goals, I always have A, B, and C goals:

A. The dream goal; which I kind of live my life by.

B. The “what are you okay with looking at yourself in the mirror?” goal. 

C. The “what can I accept right now?” goal.

My dream goal is to win the race and basically run under my PR, which is 2:29:35. I mostly just want to show myself that I still can run that time since I ran it a really long time ago (5 years ago in Houston). I also want to make sure that the marathon is still in me and that I have the capability to run it like I believe can. Leading up, it’s really just about getting through the training cycle, handling the training load, staying 100% healthy, and getting to the starting line excited, fit, and injury free. 

H: Can you speak a little bit to the evolution of your training for the marathon? What has changed for you prekids vs. post–kids?

The biggest difference is my recovery time. It’s significantly more challenging. I don’t get to come home and lay on the couch all day. Now I have the kids at home and a few other big things in my life to balance. But the nice part is that I enjoy my full life and wouldn’t trade it for the world. Now we just approach training with a bit more conservative approach. A little less risky. When you’re trying to be one of the best marathoners in the country or in the world, there is some risk taking involved in training. And for me, especially this early (one year post partum), we just can’t take a ton of risks yet. So if I stay at a certain time or ability for a few years, so be it. I’d rather have longevity in the sport rather than rush the process and set myself back. Now, we incorporate planned rest days. Before having kids, rest days were sprinkled into training about every 7-8 weeks and now we schedule one in every 2-3 weeks. My mileage as a whole is a bit lower than I would ideally like it to be, but life and training is all about balance. I devote a lot more time to gym work and strength work than I did before having kids. And that’s just where I’m at and what works best for me.

H: One of your many jobs and life responsibilities is coaching athletes. How have your coaching philosophies transformed over the past two years? 

S: I’m training with a few of the best women in the country. Kellyn Taylor and Rochelle Kanuho bring it every day. I used to run and do all of the things that they were doing. And now I don’t and I have to remind myself that we’re all showing up to practice coming from different places and that it’s okay. There are so many different life demands for so many different people, you can’t compare yourself to anyone else or your previous self. The focus needs to be on the work you’re doing within your own training plan. You can’t be discouraged if your training partner nails a workout and you don’t. You have to take into account your own life situation and life stresses. I just try to do that with my own training and now I have a greater perspective with the athletes I coach. I can have honest conversations about their lives and how much sleep they’re getting and adjust their training to meet their life demands. 


H: The marathon is your event. What would you say is your secret sauce? Your edge?

S: Physically my stride is not super powerful for the track. I have a very compact efficient stride, which I think works really well for the marathon. But also, I think there’s something mental that allows me to run well in the marathon because I welcome that slow pain. I love the idea of something starting out comfortable and then just handling the gradual pain as it comes on. All the Rocky movies are my super inspiration. I love one of the quotes from the movies: “You can’t win. You can’t beat the Russian.” I look at the Russian, not as other competitors, but as the marathon. The marathon is like a machine. It doesn’t give, it doesn’t break. You have to beat the marathon, and in order to do that you have to stand in front of it and say you’re willing to go through a lot of pain to achieve your goals. People forget that part of racing. The training prepares you for the race, but you still have to fight on the day. You have to go through the race. I think my edge is my ability to show up and embrace that type of pain. 

H: You give so much to the Oiselle community — inspiration, coaching, wisdom, and more. How can we show you the love as you prepare for CIM?

S: I love that people ask me questions and want to know more about my training and life. When I post something and read through the comments, it’s so cool to see when something meaningful to me, resonates with someone else. One of my favorite parts of the sport is seeing people reach their goals. And I love when people share what they’re doing with me. We can’t all run and train together but we can feel each other’s spirits out there. We’re connected through the brands we represent. When I see posts of people wearing the same singlets, socks, or shoes, it’s almost like we’re going through the whole process together and that’s a really powerful thing.