Kate Grace: Mentors, Going to Bed, and the Psyche of Competing

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Kate Grace doing her famous Lion Kate pose. First a suggestion by her mom in high school to relax her jaw before races is now something she incorporates into her start line routine. Contributed Photo.

Kate Grace, as her twitter handle (@fastk8) suggests, is a speed demon on the track. Anyone who follows her on twitter also knows she is down to earth, confident, witty and perceptive. People following her on the track know that she is an elite mid distance runner. Having competed for Team USA at the inaugural world relay championships and placed 4th at the 2013 national championships, Kate has certainly expanded the breadth and scope of Yale alumni success. Kate is currently training hard and eyeing a spot on the 2016 Olympic team. Despite her busy schedule, Kate took some time to chat with Arizona Milesplit about her psychological approach to running, the importance of having mentors and going to bed on time.

Arizona Milesplit: This summer you had that race you won where you forgot your kit and ran in a t-shirt, I could see for some that being a pretty big distraction. How do you ignore distractions?

Kate Grace: I think for me there are always things that aren't going to go well. It's pretty near impossible to have everything go just right for you. If you are too exact in a routine you will think falsely that things will go well, that's just not true. You don't have to have things go right all the time to do well. You don't need that spiffy cute kit to compete and do well.

As far as that race goes, there was some weird training and sleep schedule leading up to the race, and I recall trying to make the case that I shouldn't run. I certainly didn't want to race. But once I was told I had to race I just rolled with it. I just had to run with it and put full effort in, there wasn't really another option. I guess it ended up being good because there was more visibility. I certainly didn't do it to be a publicity stunt, but it just helped prove there is no magic to racing.

AZ MS: You recently wrote a blog post about how you prepare for races. How did you develop that approach? How do you think high school athletes should go about developing their own approach to races?

Kate: Wow, first off it's really good if you are doing it now. I have had to do it in the past year. You just need to go into a race confident and with a hierarchy of goals. Some might be as basic as finishing, others based on time, but definitely have some non-time based ones. If the races is slow, the weather is bad or something weird happens you still want to be able to achieve your goals. You have some high “A" goals, but have some realistic ones too so you can walk away pleased in something. Another thing you can do is to have different goals at different points in the race that you don't think about beforehand. Like in a 1500m, go into it relaxed and then you start fighting harder at certain set points like with 800m, 400m or 100m to go. Gather your army and go fight! When I also race I think of family for motivation. When I am out their struggling I do it for them. They help keep me going when the going gets tough.

AZ MS: Not that you have really had to deal with it much, but how do you address failures when they come up?

Kate: Growing up in high school I rarely had a bad race. It was one of those things of being a big fish in a small pond though. When you get to a higher level, whatever that is for you, you have to manage expectations when you aren't the best. There are people out there who are more experienced and who have been training longer than you have. This year things went haywire for me at USA's. The first thing you have to do when something like that happens is laugh at it. You cannot let bad performances define you. Everyone has a bad day. Also, I feel it is important to have people you look up to. You can look at when they have had a bad day and realize you aren't marked as a bad runner or anything. For me that takes the embarrassment out of it. One bad race is not a trend, just keep mental notes.

My coach tells me to reimagine the race, think about what went haywire and how to correct it. That way next time I am back at USA's I can think back about the positives and the corrections, not the negatives. I also have mentors who I email about this type of stuff. I have an email folder about planning for next year. It might be stuff like, don't lift the week before a big race. I have also learned, there is no substitute for good training. You need to put off the need for immediate gratification, and keep on working hard.

At the end of the day you just have to go out there and do it again. Show you aren't afraid and you have conquered it.

AZ MS: Who are some of your mentors and heroes?

Kate: Different people at different times. I didn't realize the career path of running at first, but Morgan Uceny was an inspiration to me. She improved a lot after she graduated from Cornell (Editor's note: Cornell is also an Ivy League school). I really admire Brenda Martinez for her training intensity and working hard. It's just goes to show you can do whatever you set your mind to. Growing up in California I really admired Alysia Montano. She was an 800m runner at Cal at the time. I almost went there because of her. Jenny Simpson is another one. Watching her win her first NCAA title in 2008 was incredible. She won the steeplechase and set the NCAA record that year. That was the first time I realized just how much I enjoyed the struggle and triumph.

AZ MS: How do you feel about being a hero yourself now running for Oiselle?

Kate: It's a cool thing, I don't really believe it most of the time. It almost just doesn't register. Even though I have had some good races I want to accomplish more. I have learned to think that it's OK to say what you are doing is good and at the same time not be satisfied and want to strive for more.

AZ MS: How do/did you handle the demands on your time with leading the Oiselle Flock and school while at Yale?

Especially in high school having track was a great thing for keeping a schedule. It is crazy thinking about doing homework in high school or plugging in with social media now. You have to keep a set schedule though. It's crazy, just this morning my sister had to drag me out of bed to hit the road on time. It's hard to wake up if you have been up to late. It's also important to be honest and communicate the demands on your time. Talk to your teachers or whoever beforehand instead of after the fact. People understand being busy, but a lot better when you talk to them before something is due.

In running you meet a lot of successful people. I try to emulate what they have done. I think about a teammate finishing up law school, and really am amazed how disciplined she is.

AZ MS: What made you want to choose Yale? Why the move back to the west coast now?

Kate: When I went and visited Yale I fell in love with the school. The student body was amazing, crazy history, crazy amazing school. Both the athletes and non-athletes were a lot of fun to be around.

As far as moving back, it was a culture and comfort thing. The east and west coasts have totally different feels to them. There is also a great community around here. I wanted to learn about all aspects of training. I want to learn all there is to learn, but at the same time you have to trust your coach and the program they have for you.

AZ MS: With all that learning, sounds like you want to be coach someday?

Kate: Right now the learning is to help me be the best I can be. I really enjoy helping other people reach their goals. I love to see people achieve, but I don't know about the coaching thing. I am not sure what to yell at someone running around the track.

AZ MS: If you were to coach 18 year old Kate, what would you tell her?

Kate: Go to bed earlier!

Going back to the questions about having roles models and mentors, I feel that is very important. Going into college it is OK to ask for help. I would tell myself to quit thinking I'm the best. Have some good solid people who you can ask for advice and who can bring you back down to earth when you need it. I would just say, “You don't have life figured out, it's OK to ask for help."

Kate after winning in her Oieslle t-shirt, Kate signing a fans t-shirt after the Michigan classic. Kate models at the Oiselle fashion show fall 2014, Kate running for the team USA 4x1500m at the World Relay Championships. All Photos Contributed.
Upcoming Pro-Tips this spring includes 4x1500 teammate Katie Mackey, Olympic high jump medalist Matt Hemingway and more!