Fresh off five marathon wins, Bruce will run the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona 1/2 Marathon this weekend.
Wondering how it might tax his body to race a mile with no training, Ben Bruce borrowed a friend’s singlet one Saturday morning his senior year at San Diego’s Mt. Carmel High and made his way to an invitational.
Having scored points on a cross country team that placed fifth at state, it wasn’t a question of Bruce’s body holding up for 5,280 feet. In fact, he wanted to play golf and run track in the same spring season, but coaches told him pick one or the other.
Bruce chose leisurely walks across picturesque fairways over quarter-mile repeats.
By his memory, Bruce ran the invitational mile in 4:41.
The track coach discovered Bruce’s performance, reported it to the golf coach, fingers waggled, lectures administered about potential insurance issues had Bruce collapsed, and this kid who missed one day of attendance in high school was suspended from the golf team for one week.
Bruce is now 32 years old. The innocence of curiosity is mentioned because even in his 30s, Bruce still wonders about life, his body and what-ifs. He created some buzz last year for his shoe company, adidas, and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon brand by running five Rock ‘n’ Roll marathons, crossing the finish line first in each.
Adidas was so impressed by his Drive for Five that it dropped Bruce’s modest sponsorship.
Before last year, Bruce had never run a marathon. His chosen event was the 3,000-meter steeplechase, finishing second in the 2010 national championships.
Come Sunday, the Cal Poly grad who lives in Flagstaff, Ariz., returns to racing for the first time in 2015, lining up for the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon.
Some elite marathoners might scoff at Bruce’s five-marathon feat, given his times ranged from 2:21:56 to 2:27:32. By comparison, the world record is 2:02:57, set by Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto last September in Berlin.
“It’s a serious feat, there’s no doubt about it,” says Ben Rosario, Bruce’s coach for Northern Arizona Elite. “It left him pretty banged up.”
Regarding how his body felt after winning the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon on Nov. 17, Bruce says, “I was pretty shattered. My body kind of reached a point of no return.”
About the last miles on the Las Vegas Strip, Bruce adds, “I was glad no one was chasing me. I didn’t have much left. The last few miles it was a feeling of exhaustion. I think the mind and the body were glad it was over. I was running on fumes.”
Bruce did not plan to run five marathons last year. With many things in life, it just happened.
His debut at the distance came on the relatively flat New Orleans course on Feb. 2. He was thinking he might run 2:18. Wind, rain and humidity contributed to a 2:21:56 finish.
Born and raised in San Diego, he lined up at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon for obvious reasons. His goal strictly on winning, he did so in 2:23:50.
For Montreal on Sept. 28, he was aiming for 2:15. A disastrous travel delay left him with a San Diego-Chicago-Cleveland-Newark-Montreal itinerary, sleeping on an airport food-court bench two nights before the race. He won in 2:22:32.
After that, “The races kind of snowballed after each other,” he says.
With St. Louis in October and Las Vegas in November, Bruce’s five-marathon year was complete. Remarkably, he ran the last three in 50 days.
“It was probably more difficult than elite athletes realize and maybe a little less difficult than some average Joes realize,” says Rosario.
For 2015, Bruce is back to focusing on his specialty, the steeplechase. The hope is that the marathon mileage has built his strength to a point that leads to increased speed.
As if 2014 weren’t crazy enough, Bruce, with no speed training, competed at the U.S. Championships in the steeplechase for the 12th year in a row, qualifying for the finals and finishing 10th in 8:44.31. His steeplechase PR: 8:19.10.
The five marathon wins, nationals in the steeplechase, all paled in comparison to the year’s most memorable event. In June, Bruce and his wife, Stephanie, celebrated the birth of their first child, a son, Riley.
On what he has learned from watching his son grow, Bruce says, “They have nothing to worry about in their life. At six in the morning, they can be the happiest person in the world. You walk into the room, they look up and have the biggest smile in the world.
“So I think I’ve learned, don’t sweat the small things. Be excited. You can learn a lot from a kid.”
Of Bruce’s wondrous year, Rosario adds, “I hope 2015 is just as amazing but maybe a little less crazy.”
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About The Author: Don Norcross is a San Diego-based sports writer, follow him on Twitter @Don_Norcross.