Those who know me know that I love to run. Although I am not exceptionally fast or up to running exceptionally long distances, one thing is for sure: I am consistent. That’s probably because I see running as an emotional outlet, an excuse to spend time outside, and a way to challenge myself physically.
While I love running, my pace would seem leisurely compared to Stephanie Bruce, a professional distance runner for HOKA NAZ Elite with Olympic aspirations. I’m sure if I ran next to her I’d feel like I was dragging a piano behind me, as my dad would put it. When I told her this, she responded graciously, “If you run you’re a runner. So just remember that and don’t feel like you have to compare yourself. You’re on your own destiny.” After this recent interview with her I decided that we would get along great, considering all the things we have in common. Stephanie and I are roughly the same age, we are both raising young kids, and we both find running meaningful.
I was so touched that she took the time to answer my questions. Steph strikes me as someone who feels called to encourage others, especially women, so I thought she deserved a feature as an Inspiring Mom. She seems totally onboard with Mommy High Five’s mission of lifting and supporting moms who balance so much. My conversation with her replayed over and over in my mind for a few days so I am confident you will enjoy reading more about it.
How It All Got Started
You could say that Steph’s introduction to the sport which would later define her life started in school. As part of a presidential fitness challenge, children at her grade school were required to do all sorts of physical challenges such as a shuttle run, mile run, sit and reach, and pull ups. She told me, “I found that I gravitated towards the mile run because it was a place I could beat the boys.” However, by high school she wasn’t particularly interested in running because she was “more concerned with being a teenager and partying.” But the cross country coach, who had heard about her sprints in PE, reached out to Stephanie and encouraged her to try out for cross country. Needless to say, she took his advice.
Steph’s running career really took off her senior year of high school after a deeply personal and pivotal experience. Her father had been battling cancer and his health was declining. So in February 2002 she flew out to visit him in New York where he was being treated. Before taking the train into Manhattan to see her father, Steph went for a run in the morning and relates that she “had a really strange feeling, something that’s hard to describe.” When she got back, her stepmother called to say that her father had just passed away. It was then that she understood the strange feeling she’d had on her run; it was her father passing through her since he’d died while she was running. “That just changed the trajectory of my life,” Steph explains. “I didn’t view running as something as I had to do, like a task. It became a gift that I got to do it.” After returning to school with a newfound purpose, Steph started running extremely fast times which allowed her to get a mini scholarship to run in college.
She attended the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) where she was a two time All-American cross country champion and the 2006 Big West Athlete of the Year. In fact, she broke UCSB’s record for 10,000 meters which still stands today.
Stephanie’s Achievements as a Professional Runner
While I really did feel a connection to Steph after our recent conversation, I acknowledge that she is a different caliber of athlete than I am. In fact, there is a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to her accomplishments as one of the nation’s top runners. It outlines how she’s placed at races domestically and internationally over the past decade.
Some of the highlights of her career, which is still going strong, include her first national title doing the 10k at the AJC Peachtree Road Race in 2018, winning the 2012 Big Sur Half Marathon, and taking 3rd place at the USA Cross Country Championships in 2018. She also took 10th at the 2017 NYC Marathon and 10th at the 2018 London Marathon. While a complete list would be lengthy, I think her personal records (PRs) speak for themselves:
- 5,000m – 15:17.76
- 10,000m – 31:24.47
- Half Marathon – 1:10:44
- Marathon – 2:27:47 (that’s a 5:40/mile pace!)
I understand that the racing experience has changed dramatically during the pandemic. Not only are the stands empty, but athletes are receiving regular COVID swabs and temperature checks. As she recently said on her blog, “We are navigating the unknown but are willing to do whatever is asked and needed for us to pave a path safely to compete.” Despite it all, she’s “thankful we have a tangible way to showcase some of the hard work we have been churning out over the past couple of months.”
Apparently she hasn’t let COVID-19 slow her down. During 2020 she tied for first place at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon and got her personal best on the 10,000m which secured the Olympic Standard.
A Successful Entrepreneur
There’s so much to love and admire about Steph on and off the track, as evidenced by her place in Women’s Running Magazine as one of 25 power women of the year. This honor recognizes individuals who are reshaping and improving the running industry through their advocacy, business endeavors, and voices. In addition to her incredible successes as a runner, Stephanie has a knack for business. On her blog, Steph shared, “The truth is I love being an owner, a boss, creating content, products, creating jobs and opportunities. I love people depending on me. I like the pressure, the responsibility.”
Six years ago she started a coaching business with her husband Ben, called Running with the Bruce’s, and has helped countless athletes of all abilities. They offer training schedules, unlimited access to them via email, monthly phone calls, and nutrition tips. As part of their coaching business, they also host summer running camps.
And after a serious injury in her 20s, Steph co-founded a successful energy bar company called Picky Bars. Their products, which also include food like granola and drizzle, satisfy athlete’s nutritional and training needs. Since Steph has Celiac Disease, she made sure there were plenty of tasty gluten free options. Retailers now sell Picky Bars all over the country!
Grit and Growth
With a few of her close friends Stephanie also launched a women’s retreat, called Grit and Growth. At this four day luxurious retreat, women are pampered, nourished, and entrenched in nature. Participants receive therapeutic massage, yoga, meditation, chiropractor services, and a pelvic floor health consult. It sounds amazing; I, for one, would love to check it out some day!
In addition to all of this, Steph also maintains an active online presence. She has a YouTube channel, blog, and Instagram account. On each of these platforms she shares parts of her life, mostly about her training and motherhood. Followers appreciate her no BS approach and can count on her to say it like it is. Personally, I enjoy the tips she shares for runners such as: sleep 8-9 hours a night, lift weights, enlist a chiropractor, eat clean, and don’t make huge jumps in mileage. And as someone who hasn’t had a major injury in years, she seems to be a reliable source of insights.
Raising A Family
Steph lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her husband Ben. Running brought the couple together since Ben spent many years as a professional runner then subsequently transitioned into a coaching role and now serves a major support to the family. Their two young sons Riley and Hudson, five and six years old, are just fifteen months apart. Those of you who have young children yourself understand the slogan on Steph’s website: chasing kids, chasing dreams.
When I asked Stephanie what she’s learned from motherhood, she answered by sharing the story of the births of her sons, which was one I could relate to. She started by explaining that as a professional athlete deciding when to get pregnant was a strategic choice and revolved around a few factors namely Olympic cycles, health, and sponsor support. So when she suffered a femoral stress fracture in 2013, she and Ben decided it was an ideal time to try to start a family. They figured if their baby was born in 2014 it would give Steph plenty of time to recover and resume the pursuit of her 2016 Olympic goals. After talking to her, I learned that athletes make goals and plan backwards. But things didn’t work out quite like she planned.
Six months after giving birth, Stephanie was more than a little surprised to learn she was pregnant again. This was not part of the plan and with her signature honesty, she admitted, “I did not want to be pregnant. I didn’t think I could do it. I was sleep-deprived, breast feeding, and had a lot of vaginal damage from giving birth.” But she dug deep and came to accept the change of plans. The experience provided an important parenting lesson to Steph, even before she had her second son: “You have to be adaptable and realize that what you envision might not be the path your life takes you on.” What a profound and memorable answer to my question about what she’s learned from motherhood.
After her prolonged break from competing, Steph went on to beat her own pre-pregnancy times and continues to perform at elite levels. Her two boys have witnessed her achievements first-hand since they travel to races as a family, or at least they did before COVID-19 hit. They have traveled to New York, Chicago, England, and all over the world. Ben and Stephanie love including their children in these trips because they feel strongly that seeing other cultures provides invaluable lessons.
The family spends as much time together as possible, which they’re fortunate to do because of their flexible jobs. One of their favorite activities is watching movies. In fact, sometimes around the dinner table they try to describe a movie so that the other family members can guess what it is. Stephanie told me she loves watching her boys “pull up adjectives and find a way to describe a movie with just their own vocabulary.”
Why I Find Her Inspiring
I just have to start off by praising Steph’s athletic abilities. She is obviously an incredible athlete who has reached outstanding achievements through rigorous training. As a recreational runner myself, I marvel at her physical speed, stamina, and strength. But what makes her remarkable is that she’s hasn’t just “run the course but [ran] deep into [her] character – down into the cave to return to the light with what [she] found.” (This is from Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, an exceptional novel worth reading)
So in addition to admiring her accomplishments on the track, I also find her willingness to share herself impressive. A few years ago she shared a photo of her post-partum abdomen on Instagram which went viral. She had just returned from having kids and the photo showed sagging belly skin and ab separation. Steph’s candor about her struggles to get back in shape ended up being extremely inspiring to many women. Subsequently she acquired “internet-fame” and today she has 95k followers!
Steph seems to be someone who thrives on honesty, as evident through such posts and stories she shares online. Fans appreciate her transparency and commitment to being real about life with kids. She is known for the jokes she makes about incontinence which I think many moms can relate to as they’re jumping on the tramp with their kids. She is part of a movement to normalize the less than glamorous aspects of motherhood. Her overall message to women is one of self-acceptance; there is no need to be ashamed of your body after having kids.
I know I risk gushing, but I’ve got to add one more reason why I find Stephanie Bruce inspiring. She is leaving a mark in this world in more than one way. Not only has she achieved greatness as a runner, but also as an entrepreneur and a mother. I love that she made time to have a family and also that her life didn’t stop when she became a mother; she hasn’t shied away from goals just because they’re hard. Sure she’s busy, but she’s pursuing her passions and I find that extraordinary.
Steph’s Advice for Other Moms
As I mentioned earlier, Stephanie generously shares her insights, tips, and advice online and as a coach. But my interview with her she offered a specific suggestion for our readers.
She began by saying, “Balance is a myth.” In other words, we don’t have to be everything at once. She’s found greater success by sectioning herself of into her different roles of athlete, mom, wife, friend, daughter, entrepreneur, and coach. Each day she reminds herself, “You know what? One of those roles is probably going to take more precedence today.” She went on to explain that one day she might “suck as a mom” and forget to pack something critical in her son’s backpack (we’ve all been there, right?) but then she performs really well at practice. Viewing herself sectioned-off this way removed a lot of pressure and allowed her to focus on her successes.
Can’t Do Without Items
Steph’s fans know that she’s a major fan of “Rocky” and is prone to quote the popular movie. Hence I think it’s appropriate to start this list with one of her favorite lines from Rocky Balboa is, “It ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”
When it comes to food, Steph has shared a few favorites. Of course she loves all the Picky Bars products which are both satisfying and delicious. Scout and Cellar wine is her favorite because not only is it free from synthetics pesticides, but it doesn’t give her headaches.
Runners out there will appreciate her gear recommendations. She loves her slim Trailyx Rudy Glasses and her HOKA Clifton trainers. Check out the “What I Dig” section of her website to find more of her favorite products!
To Learn More
If you’ve read some of my other Inspiring Moms articles, you’ve heard me say this before, but you really need to check out this woman online! Do yourself a favor and read her blog: she’s such an engaging, eloquent, and thoughtful writer. Also, I guarantee that following her on social media will motivate and encourage you, even if you’re not a runner. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube , and Twitter.
As I mentioned earlier, she’s created a phenomenal website where you can purchase all sorts of gear from sweatpants to hoodies, sports bras to muscle tanks, and socks to gift cards. You can also learn more about the Grit & Growth retreat and her coaching services online as well. You’ll be glad you did!