By Rich Sands, @sands
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

NEW YORK (02-Feb) — Kate Grace estimates that over the five previous years of professional running she probably wasn’t able to finish a workout no more than two or three times.

“And when it happened it was a huge deal,” she told Race Results Weekly at a press conference here today.

But since joining the Nike Bowerman Track Club last fall, the 29-year-old Yale grad, a finalist in the 800 meters at the 2016 Olympics, has had to adjust her expectations.  The Nike-based training group, led by coach Jerry Schumacher, has some of the best American distance runners, including Shalane Flanagan, the 2017 New York City Marathon champion and an Olympic silver medalist, plus world championships medalists Amy Cragg, Courtney Frerichs and Emily Infeld. While the Portland, Oregon, based squad has a reputation as a friendly, jovial group, their regimen is known to be punishing.

“Everyone was really honest,” Grace said of her meetings with the coaches and athletes while considering the move. “It’s not uncommon for new people who come to the group to have that shock at how hard workouts are.”

The fall training segment definitely lived up to that status.

“I feel like every workout is twice as much as I’ve done before,” says Grace, who qualified for the 1500 at last summer’s IAAF World Championships in London. “Which I see as a great thing. You want to be in a place where you feel like there’s still more to go. A lot of the strength-based workouts have been great, and I’m slowly chipping away at them.”

Grace signed with Nike a year ago and left her previous training group, the now disbanded NorCal Distance Project (which included Kim Conley, Leah O’Connor and Lauren Wallace), in August. She pursued the chance to join Bowerman in the hopes of taking her career to the next level. “I just want to see what I can get out of myself, “she says. “I figure I will never realize my potential unless I’m pushing myself to that limit.”

While the adjustment is still ongoing, Grace is ready to make her debut in the Bowerman kit on Saturday at the 111th NYRR Millrose Games here at New Balance Track & Field Center at the Armory.  She’ll run the NYRR Wanamaker Mile, an event in which she finished second last year while setting a personal best 4:22.93. She’s not sure what to expect this time around.

“Joining a new group, there is an adjustment period, so part of me is like, well, I want to get into a race to see how things translate,” she admitted. “And then we’ll take that information for the work going into the next two weeks getting ready for nationals.”

At those USATF Indoor Championships in Albuquerque (February 16-18) she’ll run the 1500 and aim for a spot on the U.S. team for the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, England (March 1-4). It’s a rare opportunity to compete at an international championship in a season without any major outdoor title meets for Americans. Beyond that, Grace hopes to increase her exposure on the European circuit this summer.

“It will be fun to race more Diamond Leagues, get more international experience and continue to work on the 1500,” she said. Her personal best of 4:03.59 was set at the Prefontaine Classic last May. And she isn’t giving up on the 800, where her PR 1:58.28 was set at the end of the 2016 season.

She’s inspired by her teammates, most of whom are national team regulars. Flanagan in particular has been a role model. “She really is a captain figure to the women on the team,” Grace said of the 36-year-old icon, who was Schumacher’s first female recruit. “She was getting ready for the New York Marathon when I first joined [last fall], but she was back, not many months after, literally beating us all in track workouts.”

It’s another example of how Grace hopes the team’s attitude rubs off on her.

“Success is a little bit more normalized,” she explained. “There’s not that much of a fear factor. When you’re in a group like this it’s just a just a natural step. You can never guarantee anything, but I do believe in putting yourself a position that, if any opportunity arises, that you’re there to strike.”

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