Interview with Stephanie Bruce: Peachtree Win, Overcoming Disappointment and the Infamous Post-Baby Belly
On a hot and humid fourth of July morning, thousands of runners took the streets of downtown Atlanta for the 49th annual AJC Peachtree Road Race. For Hoka One One NAZ Elite runner Stephanie Rothstein Bruce, the sights were set on the title.
“I’ve been second and third at many U.S. Championships, and I always had it in the back in my mind that ‘you can win this race,” Bruce told RunnerClick. “I didn’t know how I would of it, or how it would play out, but I kept that ounce of hope.”
It wasn’t hope, but rather hard work, pure perseverance, and a whole lot of heart that allowed Bruce to cross that finish line to be the female winner of the 10k with a PR of 32:21. It was a first place victory at a national championship that was 10 years in the making.
Bruce’s story starts back when she was just a young girl. It was here that the foundation of her running roots was planted thanks to her father who shared the passion with her. But it wasn’t until his passing when she was 18 that her perspective of running changed to feel more like a “gift.” And this gift began to turn into true talent by the time she was a senior at UC Santa Barbara.
After some health setbacks, Bruce slowly bumped her mileage up from 40 miles a week as a freshman to 70-80 miles by senior year. Under the guidance of coach Pete Dolan (who she attributes most of her successes at the time to), she worked a lot on 10k pace (5:20 min/mi then). And that’s when the “breakthroughs” started happening.
In 2006, she broke the UCSB school record with her 10km of 33:23— a record that still holds today.
“The 10,000 was a little of a surprise because I haven’t run one, and the first one I ran is when I got the school record,” she said. “That opened my eyes to thinking, ‘hey, maybe this is something I should keep pursuing and maybe this is just the floor level of how far I could go.”
A NACAC Under-23 10,000 meters champion, the two-time All-American Champion of cross country was also the Big West Track Athlete of the Year in both 2006 and 2007.
Rise To Fame: Running
After college, Bruce set her goals on making an Olympic team. But she knew coming into 2008 that she wasn’t just yet in the position to make it. Shelving this as a long-term goal, she focused on training and planning for races that could make her a better runner each week, month and year.
Her professional running career picked up the pace, making a name for herself by finishing third at the Chevron Houston Marathon in 2011 with her PR of 2:29:35, and 15th place at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
And while the marathon is her favorite race distance because of its an “unpredictable event” that is “exciting,” she excels at half marathons, too. She was the winner of the first at the 2012 Big Sur Half Marathon and finished the 2013 New York City Half Marathon in an impressive 1:10:53.
Instagram Famous: That Post-Baby Belly Pic
In 2016 Bruce made headlines. This time it wasn’t a race, but a workout that started the buzz.
After taking time off in 2014 to start a family, Bruce began training again. And coming back to running wasn’t easy. For starters, she suffered from diastasis recti, a condition where the abdominal muscles are separated, which causes pain when running. And besides suffering from mom guilt from being away from her two boys that are 15 months apart, she also had to deal with postpartum body image compared to the chiseled 6-pack competitors. Plus a few postpartum “embarrassing and demoralizing moments” as a runner.
“It was very challenging. There wasn’t a roadmap on how to do it. There are a couple of women who had children and then come back to their careers, but not a ton,” Bruce said. “I was in uncharted territories. I was like, ’wow, I’m trying to run at a high level. Women’s face these issues all the time and no one talks about it. ”
And then after a great track workout one day Bruce recalled being proud that her speed was back after just having her second baby a few weeks back, and feeling as “strong as ever.” Bruce ’s eyes fell to the ground, but instead of seeing her spikes, all she could see was her stomach that included loose skin, dimples, and stretch marks.
But this didn’t get her down. “I was like well who cares you’re really fast and strong right now,” Bruce said. “But it made me wonder how many other women are doing well, competing or exercising but they can’t get past what they look like.”
She shared the image, it went viral and the rest is Internet history.
Bruce said her intention was just to be real. What she turned out to be is an inspiration to many women.
Disappointment In London
Part of what’s so inspiring about Bruce is how she handles disappointment—something all runners experience at one point or another. Even though it is part of being a professional runner, it doesn’t make coming short in races easier.
Finishing 10th during the London Marathon is far from a disappointment for most. But for Bruce it was. She did make her goal of placing in the top 10, but she didn’t take home the title. However, it wasn’t not winning that was the letdown.
“When it’s a disappointment to me, it’s I didn’t feel good and I didn’t feel strong,” she said.”The best way to describe it is I just didn’t feel like myself.”
Bruce makes no excuses, but blood issues and a gene that causes her body not to absorb vitamins and nutrients to absorb the way it should cause her performance to be a bit off that day. Not to mention the heat wave that plagued the morning.
“The first mile felt hard, and when the first mile of a marathon feels hard, that’s not a great indication of how it’s going to go,” she said. “When you know what you’re capable of and you come pretty short of that, that’s when it’s more of a disappointment.”
Bruce recognizes that runners are generally hard on themselves, but only because they are trying to reach the highest level of the sport. This includes goals like making an Olympic team (Bruce is a two-time Olympic trials qualifier) or winning a major city marathon.
“Tenth is very far from winning, but I’ve learned so much in my career that I definitely give myself a pat on the back when I do feel like it was a good race,” Bruce said. “I learned that’s really important to do. I would say I have less disappointing feelings in myself then I have proud feelings. I think that helps keep the joy in the sport.”
A National Championship Winner: The ‘Highlight of Career’
“Give yourself a chance.”
Then just two weeks after coming in 3rd place at the 2018 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships 10,000m in Des Moines, Iowa at Drake University (with a time of 32:05.05), Bruce was on her way to her Peachtree win. But she still has to not let the doubts creep in that she “wasn’t as good as a runner” following her performance at London.
Instead, she took every next race—including the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships—as a bonus race with no high pressure.
“I just said, ‘just race as hard as you can and see where that puts you,’’ Bruce said. “And each race I was a little fitter. And I think by the time Peachtree came around I was feeling really strong.”
Bruce had to dig deep to beat the competition, and in this case, it was her teammate Aliphine Tuliamuk. With nine national titles under her belt, Bruce said that after training with Tuliamuk she didn’t think she was “in a position to beat her.”
“But I also said, ‘give yourself a chance.’”
The race started and Tuliamuk took off hard, Bruce said. This made the runners run faster then Bruce thought she would run. It wasn’t before long that the leaders of the pack were defined and only a handful of women where left competition for the top three spots.
And then with 800m to go, Bruce crept up on Tuliamuk.
She revealed that she’s always been “scared to cover moves in races.” This fear lies in self-doubt that other women are better runners than her. But she learned during Peachtree to change that mentally, be aggressive and commit. “Just go for it,” she said.
“It’s hard to explain, but when I made a move and I looked back I knew I was sprinting so fast,” Bruce said. “I’m like, ‘I don’t think anyone’s going to catch me,’ so I was able to take a few moments to celebrate. I fist pumped, I looked at the crowd. I think I blew them a kiss.”
Bruce won in a personal best with a speedy 32:21.
She had won races before, but taking home that U.S. title meant so much to her. “This is probably the highlight of my career,” Bruce said.
“It’s so hard to say what it means. But it’s been years and years of hard work that’s put into one special moment,” the champion said. “And all the pain fades away. You just wish you could live in that moment.”
Bruce will run at the Wharf to Wharf 6 mile road race in Santa Cruise, CA where she has placed 2nd, 3rd and 4th in previous years. All that’s missing is another winning title. The runner, mom, and inspiration will then take time off before picking up training for a fall marathon to be announced in a few weeks.
- Bruce and Lagat are Peachtree Champions, Running Website, Jul 04, 2018 ,
- Thousands brave Atlanta's heat for 49th annual AJC Peachtree Road Race, News Website, Jul 04, 2018 ,
- Cross Country, School Website, ,
- Stephanie Bruce, Company website, ,
- Runner with Split Abs on Not Making Olympic Team: '20th Place Was Far from What I Had Hoped', News Website, Jul 11, 2016 ,
- My Stomach Is All Over the Internet. Here’s Why, Running Website, Apr 01, 2016 ,