Bouncing Back: 5 Questions With Stephanie Rothstein Bruce

The 29-year-old talks injuries, 2014 plans and shares some advice for aspiring professional runners.

The 29-year-old talks injuries, 2014 plans and shares some advice for aspiring professional runners. 

Stephanie Rothstein Bruce was tearing up the U.S. road racing scene for a while this past summer after a disappointing 15th-place finish at the Boston Marathon in April. The 29-year-old Rothstein Bruce finished ninth at the Bolder Boulder 10K in May, helping Team USA to a third-place finish in the International Team Competition. In June, she finished fifth at the highly competitive NYRR Mini 10K in New York City, and followed that up with a fourth-place finish at the U.S. Half Marathon Championships in 1:11:38, just 19 seconds off the win. The month of July was also good to Rothstein Bruce, who took runner-up honors at the U.S. 10K Championship on July 4 in Atlanta and then finished as top American at the Utica Boilermaker 15K a little over a week later. August proved to be a rough month, however, as Rothstein Bruce suffered a quad injury prior to the Falmouth Road Race, where she was the top American female finisher in 2012.

Rothstein Bruce, who lives and trains in Flagstaff, Ariz., along with her husband Ben Bruce, is co-founder and owner of Picky Bars, a gluten- and dairy-free energy bar company. We caught up with her recently to discuss her injury and return to training, her new coach and training group, while also learning some big news to start off the new year.

Steph, it’s been a while since we’ve seen your name in the race results. After you ran Boston last spring, you hit the roads and had some success from 10K to half marathon, but then suffered an injury right before the Falmouth Road Race. What happened exactly and how did it affect the rest of your season?

Thanks. It was quite a late spring and summer season of races that I had a blast running. My highlights were fifth at New York Mini 10K, fourth at half champs (U.S. Half Marathon Championships) and second at U.S. 10K champs. I was planning to end my season at Falmouth and gear up for the U.S. Marathon Champs when alas four days before I had a little “ouch” in my quad. I decided the morning of Falmouth not to race and it was the best decision I could have made. I flew home and had a bone scan, diagnosing me with a healing stress reaction in my femur. Had I raced and toughed it out I might have cracked the entire bone. We scrapped the rest of 2013 and had to cancel my plans, but such is the life of a runner.

There’s a lesson to be learned from every injury. What was the takeaway from this most recent one?

Injuries tell us one of two things: Either fix a problem that has been plaguing you and do the proper prehab to prevent it or that you are dangerously close to the edge and with one false step, you’ll fall off. I believe for an athlete like myself — and most professionals — we need to be training at the top of that mountain ledge if we want to be the best in the country and in the world. It’s the view up top that shows us our dreams are just within reach, but one extra step can also sending you falling off the cliff. I don’t regret getting hurt as I was doing everything I needed to train, race, and recover. It just happened my body wanted a little break.

And now that we’re kicking off the new year, how is your fitness and what are your plans for spring? 

I’m really excited for 2014 for a number of reasons. First off, Ben and I just joined forces with a new coach and group called Northern Arizona Elite. We’re happy to give the reigns to Ben Rosario and have teammates again. My fitness is on the questionable side as I’m just about three-and-a-half months pregnant! Boy does it feel good to finally blurt that out publicly. We are thrilled to be having our first baby due in June. Hopefully it comes before USAs for track, otherwise Ben will be in a little predicament.

That’s huge! Congrats to you and Ben. Have you thought about what races you might want to do following the baby’s birth or will it be a wait-and-see sort of deal? Have any other running mothers given you advice for returning to running and if so, what did they tell you?

Thanks! It’s pretty exciting and scary all at the same time. The first few months I didn’t think of racing or running at all. I was not a professional athlete, I was a pregnant lady, laid up on the couch. Now that I’m feeling human again, the training and racing itch is starting to build up inside me (that, or the baby is kicking). We haven’t come up with a plan as I have no idea what my journey will be like, but tentatively I’ll take the fall of 2014 to get back to pre-baby body and address any weaknesses I have. We’ll gear the next 18 months all toward getting ready to run the Olympic Marathon Trials in hopes of making the 2016 Olympic team.

I have talked to a few running moms — Lauren Fleshman of course — but plan on reaching out as I start training a little more now. I know it’s different for every woman, so I imagine a smattering of advice here and there will be of huge help.

Last question: You and Ben are one of a handful of successful running couples on the professional circuit. You’ve both raced well in recent years, but you’ve also made a big effort to connect with fans outside of competition. What advice can you give to aspiring professional runners who want to make a living in this sport?

Thanks for acknowledging that. Basically you just have to step outside yourselves and care about what others are doing. All runners are connected by a primal love for running that differs from one individual to another. You need to share your journey with others because it makes them feel connected to you — and in turn they support and cheer for you. Cheer back at them! Also find your passion outside of just running and use that to build who you are as a runner on and off the race course. A professional running career can be long and profitable if you get creative, step outside your comfort zone and connect with people.