Dispatching from Rio: Kate Grace, US Middle Distance Runner
by Grace Masback
Kate Grace is a classic story of an underdog turned champion. An American middle distance runner who specializes in the 800-meters, Grace had some success in college but never distinguished herself on the national or international stage once she became a professional. Then, at the U.S. Olympic Trials in July, she managed to escape a scuffle that caused three of the race’s favorites to stumble, and run the race of her life to soar from 6th place to victory, qualifying for the Olympic team. Grace ran for Yale in college, balancing a rigorous academic schedule with intensive athletics. She was a four-time NCAA Division 1 Track/Cross Country All-American. She also represented Team USA in 2014, helping to set an American Record in the 4X1500 meter relays at the 2014 IAAF World Relays. School of Doodle recently had the opportunity to catch up with Grace and get her take on setting goals, finding balance, and the impending Olympics.
School of Doodle: How did you get interested in running?
Kate Grace: I played soccer in high school, and we had to run cross country for fitness in the fall. There were some other girls from my year on the team, and we started to bond. I really stayed with running in the beginning because of my friends. And I continue to make lifelong connections with teammates.
SOD: Talk a little bit about your college experience. Why did you decide to go to Yale? How were you able to balance intense academics with intensive athletics? What was the decision like to go pro?
KG: I went to Yale because I wanted a college experience that would stimulate me, that would introduce me to new people, worlds, and ways of thinking. I wasn’t the best at balancing (my friends were though! It’s just something that has taken me longer to get). If I were to give myself advice, it would be to ask for help more and don’t pretend like you know everything. It was scary to go pro. I mean, it was exciting. But it took longer for me to “get it” than I hoped. I wanted to be great immediately. And when I wasn’t, I was self-conscious that people would think I had failed. It took me a while to realize that if I were to have success, I would have to get over what other people thought of me. I would have to be okay with my decision, and happy with my path. It’s too much pressure to be always worrying what someone else thinks.
SOD: How are you going to prepare in these next couple of weeks?
KG: I am trying to keep as normal a routine as possible. Train hard, but stay relaxed. Remember to have fun with it. I go to Houston this week for Olympic Team processing. I’ll stay there for a few days to get used to the humidity. Then on to Rio!
SOD: What advice do you have for your high school self?
KG: You don’t have to try to be good at everything. It is actually a skill to learn how to pick and choose where to spend energy. Foster relationships with adults, mentors are the best way to learn, grow, stay accountable.
SOD: Who is your role model? Why?
KG: My training partner, Kim Conley, is a role model. She is clear on her goals and values and unapologetic about going after them. It is important to train with people who make you better.
I look up to a couple who have become my mentors in this sport. They get a lot done, and they are always giving to people, advice, time, support. I look up to people who lift those around them.
SOD: What is your pre-competition ritual (if you have one)?
KG: I rest. I listen to songs I like and sing along to stay relaxed. Starting 15 minutes before my warmup, I do a visualization where I breathe deeply and imagine a blue light flowing through my body. It goes through my muscles as I inhale, and when I exhale, it leaves and washes them clean. That’s random, but it’s something I’ve done since high school. It started as I tried to recover in time for the 4x400 relay at the end of meets.
SOD: What was your greatest failure? What did you learn from it?
KG: Whoa. A lot of things that come to mind were the result of poor communication. I was in over my head with work, but instead of having an open conversation, I put it off and tried to cover it up. Or, something was off with training, but instead of going to my coach, I complained to other people and let the problem fester. I have learned that the quicker you deal with an issue, the better. And best to do it with the source. I still am not perfect at this, but I am always reminding myself.
SOD: What advice do you have for other young, female athletes?
KG: Cultivate your enjoyment of the training. Figure out what you like about it, and build those aspects. That is the best way to stay involved in a sport. And staying involved is the best way to see progress. That could mean working on team dynamics, finding joy in workouts and the feeling of pushing yourself, having fun on easy days.
SOD: What is your favorite thing to do when you are not running?
KG: If I’m in a social mood, I like spending time with friends, having interesting conversation. I like learning and being near nature.
SOD: What sport are you most excited for in Rio other than track?
KG: Gymnastics and Swimming are always fun. And, I grew up a soccer player, so I’ll look forward to those matches.
SOD: Do you plan to do any sightseeing while in Rio?
KG: I wish! I will only be there a few days before I start racing, and I think I’ll be mostly in the Olympic Village or training facilities. But for me, that will be a form of sightseeing. I’ve never had an experience like this before. I’m excited for everything. My parents and friends there will get to do the normal tourist things.