Getting the Scoop From…Neely Spence, 1st Non-African World XC


Huxley: First, a big congrats on your performance at World Cross! You have to be really happy with your results; I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like to be in that lead pack.  Can you give us some insight on what the race plan was going into the event?  Was it more of an individual plan or more of a Team USA plan?

If there is one thing running has taught me, it’s that being adaptable is one of the most critical components of success. With all the uncontrollable factors out there, I had to control everything I could and then not put energy into worrying about what was beyond my control. Going into the race, every member of Team USA analyzed their strengths and we each planned to run the fact that would optimize our potential. For me, I consider myself to be a strong downhill runner; with four loops I had four opportunities to roll that downhill and that is where all my moves were made. The first lap, I nearly ran myself into the lead! That really surprised me but I just stayed relaxed by focusing on my breathing and my rhythm.

Huxley: With the US women finishing in 4th place, I think the World is now realizing that we are for real and ready to make some noise.  What was the attitude of the US women going into the race?

There was certainly excitement. Deena [Kastor] said it perfectly before the race: rarely are we presented with an opportunity to test our training against the best of the world. The added weather elements helped unite us even more and created a special memory that we will hold safe forever.

Huxley: You were the top American and Non- African finisher in the field.  What does this do for your confidence in the future?

I’m still amazed by this! It was one of many goals going in, but to finish a race and have accomplished all the goals as you know is a rare and wonderful occasion. I’m enjoying the moment, but I was still beat by all 6 Kenyans so there is plenty of work left to do.

Huxley: Can you describe the way the race unfolded for you?

I had a goal for each lap: 1 – get out, 2 – establish, 3 – roll, 4 – finish. I can proudly say I executed each of these.

My coaches told me going in that they were going to yell the number of seconds I was off 15th place. That was my race. Of course after I was running in 10th-14th they had to come up with other things to say ;)

Huxley: Going into the race there was a lot of talk about the course conditions.  Do you think that the conditions of the course affected many?  I know I witnessed you race in some harsh conditions before and it didn’t seem to affect you at all.

I always embrace tough weather as an advantage. Unless I’m going for a time goal, it becomes all about adapting and I think that is one of my strengths. Remember when the PSU meet was cancelled due to snow and rescheduled at Lock Haven for later in the day [Editor’s Note: fill this in]? I adapted and beat athletes who went on to the Olympics. For this event though, I saw an Ethiopian walking after the first lap. It gave me an extra surge of energy (not that I wish ill fortune fall on anyone).

Huxley: The US women’s team had a diverse blend of ages.  What type of leadership was provided by Deena who has had so much world and Olympic experience?  What do the younger women like yourself and Emily Infield take away from her?

10 World XC teams!? Wow. She had many words of wisdom to share going into the event and even during the warmup had an incredible sense of calm that sort of surrounded our team in a bubble. We were all relaxed right up to the start. Then we froze in the cold for 10 seconds before they fired the gun!

Huxley: Can you talk a little about the past couple of months and your training leading up to World Cross?  I’m sure things had to be a little hectic with being newly married [to Dillon Gracey, a former teammate at Shippensburg University] and all your travel you have done lately.

Glad you asked this question! Delilah [DiCrescenzo] and I roomed together, and we were chatting one night about how unique each of our preparations were for this event. She and Mattie [Suver] did the 15k Champs and trained at home. Emily ran indoors in the mile and 3k. Kim [Conley] went to Mexico for altitude training. I went to Florida for training and then ran a 10k road race. And Deena ran a marathon last week!

I have not been in one place for more than 11 days since October. Racing in Japan, Australia, back to Michigan for a day then home to Pennsylvania for Christmas and the wedding then honeymoon then Florida training then USA Cross in St. Louis then PA then Michigan then Florida again then South Carolina then Michigan then Poland! I now have three weeks with no travel. I am so ready to stop living out of a suitcase. On a side note, Dillon is finally moving to Michigan since we have been living apart since June. So the next three weeks will have excitement, I just don’t have to go anywhere for once J

Huxley: What were some key workouts that you did over the last month that really provided the confidence that you showed at Worlds?  I mean with the way that you raced, it seemed like you were determined not to take the back seat to anyone.

When I was in Florida we trained on clay roads. The top three inches or so was extremely soft and caused me to alter my form to stay efficient. Strangely, Ben true also trained in Florida on the same roads and we both did very well with the mud and soft footing of this course! As for workouts, I did 8x1k in 3:10-3:15 on two minutes rest. I surprised myself with this workout and how effortless it felt. Also, my long runs have been awesome. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately…), the last two have been in snow storms. But I was still running 6min pace by the end and felt really smooth. Feeling fit is a beautiful thing I do not take for granted.

Huxley: So what’s up next for Mrs. Neely Spence Gracey?

I am taking three days off to recover from the race and travel (as I write this I am sitting in the Copenhagen airport in Denmark after a sleepless night post-race where I had to leave the hotel at 1:40am to catch my first of three flights. It will be 24 hrs of travel!). Then, three weeks of solid training leading into a 5k at Mt. SAC and 10k at Payton Jordan. We are staying in Cali between races and we have a large group of athletes going as well as Dillon joining the squad for support. I’m excited to get on the track and chase some standards and new PR’s (I did get an auto for the 10k with my top 15 finish but I want the time, the experience, and the satisfaction of actually earning the mark).

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