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Steve Spence — September, 2013
Steve Spence finished in third place at the 1991 World Championships Marathon in Tokyo, Japan in sweltering conditions in 2:15:36 and earned a Bronze Medal. He was a member of the 1992 United States Olympic team in the marathon where he finished 12th in Barcelona, Spain in 2:15:21. Steve won the 1992 Olympic Trials Marathon with a time of 2:12:43. He finished first overall at the 1990 U.S. Marathon Championships in Columbus, Ohio in his personal best time of 2:12:17. His major victories include the Jacksonville River Run 15k twice, the Bay to Breakers 12k and the Citrus Bowl Half Marathon. Steve had several big second place finishes including at the Lilac Bloomsday 12k, the Falmouth Road Race, the Cascade Run Off 15k, the Gasparilla 15k and the Philadelphia Half Marathon. He has run a sub-5:00 mile for 38 consecutive years. Steve is a 1985 graduate of Shippensburg University where he was a five-time Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference champion, seven-time NCAA Division II All-American and won NCAA Division II National Championships at 5,000 meters outdoors in 1984 and indoors in 1985. He graduated from Lower Dauphine High School in Hummelstown, PA in 1980 where highlights include a Pennsylvania Class 3A State Mile title in 1980 in 4:12. His personal best times include: 5k road - 13:43, 5k track - 13:56; 8k -22:56; 10k - 28:11; 12k - 34:19; 15k - 42:40; Half Marathon - 1:02:09 and Marathon - 2:12:17. Steve is currently the Head Cross Country Coach and Assistant Track Coach at Shippensburg University where he has been named PSAC Coach of the Year numerous times. He resides in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania with his wife, Kirsten. They have three daughters, Neely, Margeaux and Reynah and a son, Eli.
GCR:As a distance runner and coach you have been immersed in the sport of running for your entire life since your early teenage years. Could you have imagined in your teens a future such as this and how has running contributed to and shaped your life?
SSIt definitely has been a part of my life since I started running in ninth grade to get in shape for basketball. A buddy of mine said a few kids were going out for cross country to get in shape for basketball and wondered what I thought. So I figured I would give it a try, but I didn’t think that here thirty-seven years later that I would still be involved with running. It has kind of come full circle with my being an athlete and a coach and advisor. It is interesting that it has been a large part of my life and I think it will continue to be a large part of my life for a very long time.
GCR:At the highest levels of sport athletes are remembered for World Records and Olympic or World Championship medals. Please reflect on what it means to be the 1991 World Championships bronze Medalist in the marathon and to be the only American man (other than Mark Plaates who became a citizen after already being a world class marathoner) to achieve any color medal in the marathon at the Championships since they started in 1983.
SSIt is quite the honor and I stress to people that Olympic and World Championship medals are great and making Olympic and World teams is fantastic, but it doesn’t necessarily define one’s career. Someone can be the best in the world at their event for three years. But if they get sick at the Olympic Trials or those three years were when they peaked or maximized their fitness, then they may not make an Olympic team. People get caught up in defining careers by making teams and getting medals, but I don’t think that is really fair. I was fortunate enough in 1991 and 1992 to hit that period at the top of my game in the marathon and was able to make those teams. Looking back it kind of highlights my career, but there are other performances in my career that may have exceeded what I did in those meets.
GCR:It must have been bittersweet to race in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics marathon, but to be hampered that week by the flu. How tough was it to race with illness and heat hindering you and do you wish you had your health that week so you could have given it your best shot?
SSIt was difficult to deal with. Leading into the Olympics I wasn’t really ready to start training after the Olympic Trials. But I had three months to go and I knew the training cycle I wanted to be on in preparation for the Games. Even though I wasn’t recovered from the Trials yet, I started pushing myself into the training. In hindsight that wasn’t a good move and I went into the Olympics fit, but my body was on the edge of breaking down. So my health wasn’t that great to begin with and getting the flu on top of that pushed me over the edge. It was frustrating. The night before the marathon I went in and saw the doctors. I still had a fever and they wanted to know when I last ate. I told them I had been trying to eat but was not able to keep food down. I was trying to hydrate and we talked about the situation. The doctors recommended that I not even start the race. I wanted to at least go to the starting line and start to get the experience. They weren’t real agreeable with that. But that night my fever broke and when I awoke the bed was soaked. Fortunately they were serving food in the Olympic Village 24 hours a day so I went down to the cafeteria in the middle of the night because I felt like eating. I loaded up on fluids and foods and met with the doctors in the morning. They immediately noticed I looked better, probably since I was no longer as white as a sheet. We talked and they agreed that if I could load up on some fluids and get some food in me that it would be okay for me to start the marathon, run until it passed the Olympic Village about halfway and then step off of the course, get a shower and watch the last half of the race on television.
GCR:What was it that occurred during the race that caused you to decide to finish the race even though you weren’t up to par and at your normal level?
SSI came through the half marathon point and was hanging out in the back of a big pack. No one had made a move yet and the pace still seemed comfortable. I saw the medical personnel and I said, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to run a few more miles and see how I feel.’ They weren’t real happy with that, but went a few miles up the course. At that point the race did break open, but we entered Barcelona and the roads were very narrow with us making turns every few blocks. In some cases we were running through alleyways that were only one lane wide. I didn’t know where I stood in the race, but from 20 miles on I was running with Ed Eyestone and Bob Kaimpainen and we were passing lots of runners. We would work from one group to another. We saw a group ahead of us and thought maybe it was the medal spot so we were pushing forward. I never felt bad so I just stayed in the race. We got to the bottom of Montjuic with about three kilometers to go and that was the first time I heard what place we held. People were saying stuff before but I didn’t understand them, so this was the first time I heard that we were in 12th place. I passed one person up the mountain and he passed me back on the track. In hindsight it was not smart to finish the race as I ended up in the medical facility under the stadium during the Closing Ceremonies. I required an IV which I had never needed in a marathon before.
GCR:Sometimes when a runner gives a Herculean effort like that they are almost never the same, sort of like when Alberto Salazar won the 1982 Boston Marathon in the heat when he gave a supreme effort to narrowly beat Dick Beardsley and he didn’t drink water along the way. He was never quite the same after that – did you feel like something similar happened to you?
SSI do think that was kind of the beginning of the end for me. I was able to come back in 1992 and 1993 and run some okay races here and there but never at the level I was at beforehand.
GCR:Many runners with great credentials move on to coaching with varying levels of success. What are the primary reasons you were able to take the lessons you learned from your own running and translate them into successfully coaching others at the collegiate level?
SSI had a very good coach in high school, Jay Stanton, who was a proponent of the Lydiard coaching method. He was a high jumper and hurdler in college, but he read a lot and got into distance running after college. He ran some marathons, learned and taught himself. The foundation I got from him for the few years as a high school athlete really helped me during my five years in college as we had a different distance coach every year. It was at a point where I was pretty much relying on myself to figure out what worked for me. By the third year the coach came in and would ask me what I thought we should do some days. Once I heard this I came prepared every day. Throughout my college years I became mostly self-coached and that carried over to my post-collegiate years as well. I felt like with the base I had it helped me to coach myself. I also seemed to have an innate ability to figure out what I needed to do and when I needed to do it in order to meet my goals. I wasn’t just coaching myself in college but other athletes as well.
GCR:One of the outstanding runners you have coached is your own daughter, Neely, who is a sub-15:30 5k runner. How was it separating the father-daughter and coach-athlete relationship when necessary?
SSNeely started running semi-seriously when she was thirteen years old and I coached her all the way up until last year when she joined the Hanson’s group so she never knew anything different. She is extremely coachable and would do any of the training sessions I set without questioning them. She learned a lot and had the ability to know what she needed to do, execute workouts properly and to give me proper feedback. The coach-athlete relationship was easy. That didn’t always carry over into other aspects of her life as she was a normal teenager and went through all of the trials and tribulations that teenagers experience.
GCR:Let’s take a look back at your 1991 World Championships marathon race and Bronze Medal finish. First, how was your level of fitness and confidence coming into the race?
SSI had done a lot of mental imagery before the race. Dave Martin had sent me a video of the race course so I was able to look at that and get a good feel for what the course looked like as far as the buildings, terrain and landmarks we would run past. I also had a pretty good picture of who the top competitors would be. I was able to get a clear picture in my mind of me running on the course against several competitors that I expected to be in the race and vying for medals. I developed a training and race plan with my agent Don Paul, and with Dave Martin, who wasn’t my coach, but my advisor. So we went to Maine that summer and rented a house from a professor at the University of Maine that left for the summer. It was a good place to run and I met up with a running club that had runners who really helped me out. My friend, Giles Norton, was part of that running club. He did a lot of runs with me and rode his bike along with me on many of the runs.
GCR:What was you training plan and race strategy as Tokyo’s conditions included high heat and humidity?
SSThe weather Gods cooperated as Maine had record high temperatures which were more like it is here in Pennsylvania which helped prepare me for the heat in Tokyo. I was able to get in a lot of mileage and to get very fit. I went back to Pennsylvania for the last month. My support system and the high summer heat and humidity helped me to prepare. I really focused on drinking while running. I would set up a table at the track with many water bottles on it so I could practice grabbing my specific bottles. One hard workout I did almost weekly was two times twenty minutes fast on the track and I would try to drink every mile. I would grab a bottle, run with it for 50 or 75 meters until I relaxed and then begin to drink. That helped tremendously. On my longer runs I would have people ride along with me or pick out a 5k loop, put water bottles out and get a bottle every 5k. This forced me to drink every 5k which I think was critical to getting through the marathon in that heat successfully.
GCR:Were you aiming for top ten or for a medal or to run a smart race and evaluate your prospects after twenty miles?
SSMy goal was to be in the top ten. I knew that would be pretty solid and was a very realistic goal. For me as an athlete, and now as a coach, I like to set realistic goals. I’m not someone who sets pie-in-the-sky goals for motivation. What motivates me is to train toward a realistic goal, achieve that goal and the next time try to do a little better. Though I thought the top ten was realistic, at the same time I wanted to be opportunistic.
GCR:Where were you at the halfway point of the race and what did you do that helped you to move closer to the front group?
SSI was about 50 seconds to a minute behind at halfway. There was a turnaround so I could see exactly where the other runners were. At that point I had started chipping away at the leaders and closing the gap. I could see people dropping off of the lead pack and starting to suffer and that gave me a bit of incentive to keep pushing forward. Some of the guys I was going by like Maher from Canada were encouraging me as I passed them.
GCR:How many runners were still in contention when you moved up and caught the lead pack and what happened when you joined them?
SSWhen I caught the lead pack there were about ten runners still in it. This was with about five kilometers to go. I think they had backed off as I closed the gap quickly. Then once they were caught from behind they looked around and there was a moment of panic like they were thinking someone had paced themselves well and now it was time to go. So those who feeling good were able to make a move and those were Tanaguchi and Salah. They broke away.
GCR:Were you just not as strong as them, did you expend so much energy catching up that you couldn’t go with them or were they just more fit than you?
SSAt that point my goal was top ten. When they moved I probably could have responded. But I looked around at who I was running with, we had a hill that was about a half mile long and I decided to follow up the hill. So I tucked in with the pack right behind Gelindo Bordin and ran with him up the hill. At the top when we started to crest the hill I realized that I was stronger than those around me so I started focusing on a medal position.
GCR:How were you feeling when you were getting close to the finish and you knew you were in position for a medal which wasn’t even your goal?
SSIt was definitely thrilling and somewhat of a surprise. But at the same time I had done a lot of mental imagery. In Maine just about every day when I lay down for my nap I liked to do the mental imagery when I woke up. I would get a clear picture of a race situation and see myself in that situation. If something happened in my mind where I was unsuccessful I would rewind and correct it so that it was a positive experience. The truth is that when I was doing that, even though my goal was top ten, I saw myself going through the carnage of runners struggling in the heat and I saw myself going through the field and earning a medal. In some ways it was surprising, but in other ways it worked out just as I practiced.
GCR:In 1992 you were really primed for the Olympic Trials Marathon. What were some of the highlights of that race where Ed Eyestone, Bob Kempainen and you let Keith Brantly and Bill Reifsnyder get off the front before the three of you reeled them in?
SSAfter the race many people thought that what I did was ‘brilliant’ or that I paced it perfectly by working together with Bob and Ed and working through the pack. But at ten miles when the big break was made by Keith and Bill I wasn’t feeling that good when they rolled out a few fast miles. If I had wanted to go with the breakaway I don’t think that I could have. So what ended up looking like a brilliant strategy was just because I couldn’t go with them at that point. Ed and Bob looked around when the break was made and saw that I didn’t go so I think they must have been feeling they should stay with me since I had just medaled at the World Championships. But I didn’t really know what I was doing right then as I was just trying to survive until I started feeling better. Ed, Bob and I moved up and passed Bill and Keith when they slowed. By 23 miles we had separated ourselves and at that point it was a matter of who was going to win amongst the three of us and not who would make the team.
GCR:Were you just that much stronger than Bob and Ed when you pulled away from them and how exciting was it to be U.S. Olympic Trials champion?
SSDuring the last few miles of the race I was feeling pretty good. I relaxed after we passed Brantly and Reifsnyder and established us as the top three. We were gathering ourselves for the finish and went down a dip, up the other side and across a railroad track. I had picked that spot before the race as a place to make a move if I was with anyone. I surged up that hill and it was downhill to the finish. I covered that mile in about 4:41. That was a strong point in the few marathons where I was successful – a strong finish over the final few miles. If anyone was with me near the end I did well and had a good chance of winning. Being the victor was absolutely exciting.
GCR:Despite the sickness that affected you in Barcelona, how was your Olympic experience and was it difficult to take in the whole of the Olympics since the marathon is on the final day?
SSOur race started in the evening and we finished during the Closing ceremonies. It was quite dark when we were in the latter stages of the race as it was evening and there was a lot of tree cover toward the end. I went to track competitions a couple of times. I went to Europe ten days or two weeks ahead of my race, but I went to Narbonne, France where there was a track and field training center set up for the U.S. team. I spent a week there. About five days prior to the marathon Ed Eyestone and I, along with two U.S. javelin throwers drove down to Barcelona in a rental car. That is when we checked into the Olympic Village and then I got sick. One of the problems in the Olympic Village is that it becomes a big party as people complete their events. Also, Barcelona is a party town. There were machines in the Olympic Village with beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages that were all free. Press a button and it was available for 24 hours along with beer and wine in the cafeteria. There was music going all hours of the night which made it very hard to sleep. I remember that we had fans in the room so I put one near my head to allow the white noise to drown everything else out. Unfortunately, I don’t do well with white noise – I like silence.
GCR:Let’s go back to your formative years as a runner. How did you get started running and were you good right off the bat?
SSAs I mentioned I started running in ninth grade which was junior high school back then. We raced a mile and a half distance in cross country. I went out for the sport at the urging of several of my friends to get in shape for basketball. I knew that I was pretty good at running because I was good in gym class running as far back as second or third grade. When we did the running in elementary school I would always win for my grade. I ended up going undefeated in running in ninth grade and success built upon itself. I ended up running the Junior Olympics that year which was the first time I got beat. I came in around fifth place in the regional meet and definitely had a good experience with it. I was good at running, started getting a lot of attention and girls thought it was cool because I would win races. So I got that positive reinforcement which, at that age, was something I thrived upon. It’s not that I necessarily enjoyed running that much, but I enjoyed the competition and I enjoyed winning. I didn’t go out for track in ninth grade, though I could have run varsity track, as I decided to play tennis. My dad was a tennis player, I played it as a youngster and it was a sport I enjoyed. In tenth grade I ran cross country again and decided to commit to running on the track team.
GCR:You noted that Coach Stanton having a great influence on your formative running years. What was your progression in base building mileage through your high school years and what were some of the primary workouts your coach had you do that helped you to race your best?
SSUnder his Lydiard approach we were definitely running good mileage. Looking back, it was maybe more mileage than I should have done. I don’t know what my total mileage was, but I remember running long runs of 12 or 13 miles. The problem was that we would just jump into it as I wasn’t properly prepared over the summer. We would have a little camp before school started and it was pretty much the first time I would run to get ready for cross country. We would go right into eight or ten mile runs. We ran a lot of hill repetitions. On the track we did more of the shorter intervals. We did 220s with short recovery. We did a lot of eight repeat quarters with a 220 jog or 16 220s with a 220 jog. I don’t remember necessarily doing tempo runs. It was in many ways a typical cross country situation as when the season started it was hard to get in longer runs and hard workouts because we were racing twice a week. So we had to find a way to turn races into workouts. I was at a level where often I could do that by turning them into tempo runs or by running a fast first mile followed by an easy mile and a hard mile at the end.
GCR:Championships are forever – how was it winning the Pennsylvania State Championship 1,600 meters?
SSIt was very exciting and what made it very special was that Coach Stanton decided to stay around and teach one more year as one of his goals as a coach was to have a state champion. After that he retired from teaching and went into the business world. I was really happy to be able to win the state title for him and that it worked out for me. He had a good plan of progression for me as I was fifth in the state 3,200 meters as a sophomore, third in the 3,200 as a junior and then we decided to have me drop down to the 1,600 meters my senior year. We did that because Bill Reifsnyder was in our state, he was running in the nine minute range for 3,200 meters and I didn’t think I could go that fast. For some reason I started running faster at 1,600 meters so I went after it. The main reason I improved so much at 1,600 meters from my junior to my senior year was the weight training I was doing. One of my high school buddies I trained with in high school, Pete Costelli, was big into strength training as he was a 400/800 meter runner and he dragged me along to a place where they had a Nautilus Center. A guy there named Mike Feldman instructed me on a Nautilus weight program which made me stronger and fit. He also believed in stretching. We did a lot of stretching both before and after lifting and it was very beneficial for me.
GCR:You mentioned racing Bill Reifsnyder in high school and you also tussled with him in the 1992 Olympic Trials Marathon. Was he a competitor that you liked racing because he pushed you and brought out your best?
SSWe weren’t from the same area of the state as he was from Williamsport, Pennsylvania which is two and a half hours north of here so we didn’t race each other that much. In my first race out of the blocks my senior year I ran a 4:25 in a low-key meet and it felt easy. My coach said that I might be able to run a PR the next time and I told him I thought I could go a lot faster as it felt easy. Then Bill and I raced at the Shippensburg High School Invitational in April and at that point my personal best time for 1,600 meters was 4:23 which I had run as a junior. A couple days before that I had called the coach at Shippensburg and told him I had decided to go to school there. He was excited that I was racing at their invitational meet. We came through 800 meters in 2:09 and then I took over and started pushing the pace on the third lap and Reifsnyder went with me. We battled the entire last lap and exchanged the lead at least three times. I had the lead until about five meters to go and he came back and out leaned me at the end. It was very exciting as Bill and I both ended up running 4:12. Before that he was dominant as he had won the state cross country meet as a junior and senior while I wasn’t in the picture. He had a lot more credentials than I did but now the rivalry was starting to develop.
GCR:How did you decide to go to Shippensburg University and what other colleges were you considering?
SSPenn State was on my radar, but Harry Groves, the Penn State coach, wasn’t interested in me as he never called me. Surprisingly, he also wasn’t interested in Bill Reifsnyder. Ironically, Ed Eyestone’s mom was a Penn State grad and she had taken Ed to Penn State for a visit and made an appointment to meet with Harry, who wasn’t very interested in Ed either. Coach Groves had a couple recruits named Stevens and Siska whom he was recruiting. In cross country Stevens had run sub-14 for 5k in Ohio and Siska had run low 14s in Virginia so rightly he had these guys whom he was committing scholarship money to. They were a lot faster than Ed, Bill and I. I visited several other state schools in Pennsylvania like Indiana, PA and Millersville. I was also considering the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown which at the time had one of the top Division II running programs. At that time a lot of the scholarship money was going to foreign students as there was not an age limit as far as eligibility and many schools were signing older foreign students. I had okay credentials with my 4:23 and 9:17 times from my junior year, but they weren’t eye-opening, full scholarship type of times. In hindsight, for me with the level of maturity and commitment that I had, or didn’t have for running, Shippensburg was perfect for me.
GCR:That is amazing that in retrospect Coach Groves could have had three of the top marathoners in the United States all at Penn State running distance events during their collegiate running careers.
SSIt is kind of ironic, but I can see his point. Unfortunately for Penn State and Coach Groves, I think Siska ended up transferring to Oregon where he was an All-American while I believe Stevens stopped running collegiately after a couple of years.
GCR:What were the primary differences in training in college and did you adjust well?
SSIt took me a year or so. The first cross country season I had some okay races. I ran around 31:30 at the Paul Short meet at Lehigh which is a famous course where they have hosted NCAAs and other big meets. But I ran pretty sporadic hit-or-miss races and the conference, regionals and nationals weren’t good meets for me. I was in over my head. We had a guy, John Dowd, who graduated in 1978 and the way things worked before I got to Shippensburg were thoughts that John had run 29s for 10k and everyone should want to be like John Dowd. So when everyone went out for a run they would run with John as long as they could. When you couldn’t stay with him any longer you dropped off and finished your run and then the next day you would try to stay with John a little longer. That was the training philosophy. When I arrived John had graduated but we did have two All-Americans, Gary Bickey and Greg Sanders, whom I was trying to keep up with. I was supposed to run with these guys as long as I could before I dropped off and I didn’t really drop off. I could train with them, but they were much more mature as runners than I was and I ended up way over trained.
GCR:You were a seven-time NCAA Division II All-American and won two titles at 5,000 meters. When you reflect on your collegiate racing, which races stand out for close finishes, tough competition or a strong kick?
SSMy freshman year I redshirted track season as I got hurt. My redshirt freshman year I won both the 1,500 and 5,000 meters at the conference championship. That helped our team win the conference meet that we had lost by one point the year before when I had redshirted. Of course we had a party and Coach Paul Kaiser said, ‘Steve, I know you were hurt – but even hurt you could have given us two points to win the conference title.’ That didn’t make me feel very good but it gave me motivation for the next year. I really respected him and loved that guy and would do anything for him. So that next year was very satisfying to go there and win two events to score twenty points for our team to help win the conference team title. The fashion I won those races was with a kick. I fancied myself a kicker back in the day and one of the guys I emulated was Don Paige because I liked the way he closed in races. I also liked Seb Coe’s kick. I practiced kicking in practice and thought about how Don Paige would hang on and make a big move on the final turn over the last 150 meters. That was the way I ended up winning both of those races.
GCR:Did you win those national titles also with a kick or did you push the pace and string out the field?
SSThose were both with kicks as well. When I won the outdoor title I went 2:01 for the last 800 meters. But the year before, my sophomore year, I actually ran 1:59 for the last 800 and got beat by Carmelo Rios from Cal Poly San Luis Obisco who was an Olympian in the steeplechase while he was in college. So, he had some credentials. He won the steeplechase at conference and then came back in the 5k to outkick me which was quite humbling. Indoors it was a very, very satisfying race because I went into it as not the most fit athlete. I think I kind of snuck in with a qualifying time to get there as like the tenth seed. But I had a race plan to hang out in the back of the pack through two miles and then work my way up slowly the next 1,000 meters and then with 800 meters to go make my move and really go for it. The race played out perfectly for me as I hung out in almost last place for two miles, slid up over the next 1,000 meters and then made a big move. I ended up running 2:02 for the last 800 meters and won. I enjoyed figuring out how to win a race when I wasn’t necessarily the fittest person out there or the most gifted person. That carried over into my road racing career and the marathon and played a big role in my success in Tokyo at the World Championships when I was up against a lot of 2:07 and 2:08 guys and coming in with a PR of 2:12 I figured out a way to beat most of those guys.
GCR:After graduating from Shippensburg, what was your racing plan? Were you trying to make a living, figure out which event would be your best shot at an Olympic berth or a bit of both?
SSWith our sport the numbers don’t lie and I am very much a realist so I looked at where I was developmentally with two NCAA Division II championships and having qualified for the NCAA Division I Championships in 1984 when they were in Eugene. But when I competed there I didn’t even make the final. So it was unrealistic to think that I would graduate from college and make a living from running. However, I started running local road races and making some money which was helpful. I got a job working full-time for Allstate Insurance Company in Santilly, Virginia which is in the Fairfax area. I continued to train and run in local races and got an opportunity to go out to Oregon for the U.S. 8k Championships which ran up Terwilliger Hill just like in the Cascade Runoff 15k. I ended up third out there in just under 23 minutes and then ran around 47:30 in the Cherry Blossom 10-miler and it got to the point that I was the first finisher who also had a full-time job. I was also making as much money from running as with my regular job. So I thought that if things went well and I dedicated myself to running that I could make a living in the sport at that point. I made a commitment to go back to graduate school as I wanted to do something besides just sitting around and waiting for my next run. I went to Shippensburg and used the support system to help me out while I also helped the team out as an assistant coach.
GCR:Did you get any training help or advice from other top runners and what were some of your racing highlights during the next racing season?
SSPrior to that fall I went out to Fort Collins, Colorado with my buddy, Billy King, whom I had competed against in college when he ran for Millersville University. He was a teacher who went out to Colorado the summer before where he met Jon Sinclair and he arranged for us to rent one of Sinclair’s houses that Jon rented to college students for the summer. We drove out and ran with Sinclair every day. He was my mentor who taught me what you had to do to be a professional runner. He also saw my potential and recommended to Dave Martin that he work with me. So I got on Dave’s radar. I came back to Shippensburg and started grad school and had a pretty good road racing season and continued to make some progress. In the spring of 1988 I went to the Red Lobster 10k in Orlando and had a goal of finishing in the top ten. I ran pretty fast – a 28:40 and finished tenth. I got to meet Craig Virgin who gave me some pointers about professional running which were helpful. A month later I came back to Florida and ran the Jacksonville River Run 15k and had a similar goal of being in the top ten. I thought that another top ten finish would be fantastic. I followed and followed and followed and people kept dropping off of the lead pack. We got to the top of the Hart Bridge with about a mile to go and it was just me and two other guys. One I think was Dirk Lakeman, and there was a Mexican runner with us. I thought, ‘Wow! A mile to go, it’s all downhill and I feel great.’ So I took off and ran the last mile in 4:15 and ended up winning by 12 seconds.
GCR:Since I live in central Florida I actually raced in several of the same races as you like the Red Lobster 10k, Citrus Bowl Half Marathon and Jacksonville River Run 15k as a 30ish runner who was working full-time. I remember that you really seemed to run well at races in that 15k to half marathon distance.
SSThose did seem to be really good distances for me. I don’t think I was quite fast enough though I fancied myself as a miler in high school and college. I wasn’t fast enough for the 10k, but once we got up to 15k, 10 miles and half marathon, those seemed like perfect distances for me.
GCR:You had some big wins at many races including the Jacksonville River Run 15k twice, the Bay to Breakers 12k and the Citrus Bowl Half Marathon and several second place finishes including at the Lilac Bloomsday 12k, the Falmouth Road Race, the Cascade Run Off 15k, the Gasparilla 15k and the Philadelphia Half Marathon. Do any of these races stand out based on how they developed, your competitors and bold racing moves that made the difference?
SSJacksonville was definitely the one that stands out the most as a breakthrough race. I did get to meet up with Dave Martin who was on the press truck. I didn’t have a low-seeded number; in fact, my race number may have had three digits. As I hung in there and hung in there the people on the press truck started to wonder who I was. Dave was able to fill them in and give them some background. When I ended up winning the Jacksonville press and people really embraced me as one of their own because of this underdog runner who came in and won. There was even a rumor that I had driven down the day before the race for twelve hours which wasn’t true as Doug Alred, the Race Director, had flown me in. The feeling in town was that this race had been a springboard for my career, which it was, and from then on when I went back to race in Jacksonville it was neat because I was a celebrity. I would go into restaurants and people would want pictures taken with me or to get my autograph. The man who operated the ferry from the hotels to the restaurants on the other side of the river would remember me every year. People would point at me as I went down the street which was pretty cool as I didn’t get that even in my home town.
GCR:From 1988 to 1992 your racing was a model of consistent high finishes as you finished in the top four in over 30 major races. What were the reasons you were able to always be with the front runners in every race?
SSI think that my training was very consistent and I knew how to prepare for races and a racing season. I figured out how to keep at a high level for an extended period of time and part of that was not over racing. I focused on about one race a month and that let me keep at a high level for five or six months and to hit some pretty big races and perform well at each. After each race I was able to recover properly and get in at least a week of high mileage to reestablish my base. Then I did a transition week of tempos, fartleks and hills followed by another week where I would get to the track to sharpen up. Finally I would taper off for the next race. That formula worked very, very well for me.
GCR:With a training cycle that included all of these elements of training and then tapering for and recovering from races, what mileage level were you averaging per week and how much did you bump it up when you focused on the marathon?
SSIn college I was more in the 80 to 90 mile range with maybe a maximum ever of a 100 mile week and long runs of two hours. After college I was running consistently between 100 and 120 mile weeks. Once I was out of college and working full time this was a period when I really was enjoying running compared to previously just running to be successful and to meet my goals. My job was somewhat stressful as an insurance adjuster for Allstate as I was on the phone and most people weren’t happy with me. So it wasn’t a real fun job and at the end of the day I felt like running just to relieve the stress. During some parts of the year I would run from my office so I didn’t have to battle evening traffic as we had a rails-to-trails pathway on which I could run. Then when I got back from running the traffic had died down for my 13 mile drive home. Then my company moved our office near my home and I only had a one mile commute. So then a lot of times I would go home, eat something, take a nap and head out at eight or nine at night to do my run. There were also some groups of runners who ran on certain days that I could meet up with. Even though I was enjoying running, I wasn’t pushing myself. I liked the long runs as stress relief, but didn’t want to do speed work. It allowed me to get in a lot of miles and built my aerobic capacity. When I started running times I mentioned earlier like sub-23 minutes for 8k and 47:30 for ten miles they were just off of strength work.
GCR:When you moved up to the marathon did you seek advice from veteran marathon racers and how did you find your first attempts at the distance?
SSI ran the Maryland Marathon in December of 1985 which was later in the year after I had graduated from college. One of my friends was running in it so I thought that sounded good though I hadn’t trained for it and had no idea what I was doing. We ran around a reservoir for much of the course. I ran five minute pace through about twenty miles and then the wheels totally came off. I jog/walked the last six miles and ran a 2:26 if I’m not mistaken. But I was on 2:12 pace at twenty miles. After that I ran the Houston Marathon in January, 1987 and finished in 2:18. I held it together until about 23 miles before the wheels came off again and I had to walk/jog it in. My first five marathons I ended up bonking, had to walk some at the end and I had almost given up on the marathon.
GCR:I believe your first real strong marathon was in Columbus where you ended up winning. What finally allowed you to break through and run well for the entire distance?
SSThat fall I was planning to run the Chicago Marathon, but some allergy issues affected my training. About two weeks before Chicago I talked with my agent, Don Paul, and we decided to back out of Chicago. Because I had done so well at shorter distances they committed to an appearance fee which I had to turn down. As soon as I backed out my training really came back together. The Columbus Marathon was a few weeks after Chicago and fit into the schedule. I also had done much more reading on hydrating, carbohydrate depletion and loading and had a plan for that. So we contacted the Columbus race director. He was happy to have me and asked me what race number I would like. I told him my lucky number was eleven so I got that race number. My goal for Columbus wasn’t a time goal. At the press conference before the race I said, ‘If I don’t walk I’m going to run very well.’ My goal was to finish without walking which I hadn’t done before. I did carbohydrate depleting and loading before the race as planned. It was a cold morning of about 26 degrees at the start and warmed up to maybe 36 degrees by the finish. When I got to about 22 miles there were about six of us together and Mark Curp threw in a huge surge. He took off on a downhill section and ran maybe a 4:41 mile. I was cautious as that was when I usually blew up. I stayed comfortable until 23 miles and I could see that Mark was struggling a bit up ahead. That’s when I started to roll a little bit to close that gap. I continued to close it and close it and close it and then Mark’s wheels came off. I passed him with a half mile to go and ended up winning. The last three miles were my fastest three miles of the race as I finished in 2:12:17.
GCR:How exciting was it not just to win, but to run strong after you were thinking that you just didn’t want to walk?
SSIt was a very satisfying day and, ironically, if I had run in Chicago and done well I probably wouldn’t have made the World Championships team because the selections were made from the U.S. Championships which were in Columbus. So it was just dumb luck that I ended up qualifying for the World Championships to begin with. Another great thing for me was that the prize money in Columbus was $50,000 for the winner. I remember calling my wife and when she asked me how the race went I said, ‘I won and I got fifty thousand dollars.’ It’s a lot of money now and back then it was a ton of money. Plus there were bonuses and it helped me to negotiate a contract for the following year and to add some other endorsements. That’s one of the things that is frustrating now as the prize money for races hasn’t changed or has gone down since the mid-1980s.
GCR:How did you incorporate long runs into your marathon training plan as far as number of long runs, length of the runs and pace?
SSFor my first five attempts at the marathon I did the long runs early in the training cycle and as the marathon approached I backed off on the mileage and sharpened. I would go into each marathon ready to run a fast 10k, but my endurance wasn’t where it had been as I wasn’t doing the long runs I had done previously. When I started figuring out the marathon we reversed the cycle in my preparation for Columbus. I did some races and got sharp and about eight weeks out I focused on developing the long run. I was doing two and a half hour to three hour runs in addition to a medium-long tempo run of two hours to two hours and fifteen minutes. I would do one workout weekly for speed where I was under race pace for a substantial amount of time.
GCR:So some of your long runs must have stretched out to thirty miles like those incorporated in 1972 Olympian Kenny Moore’s training plan?
SSYes, I definitely ran some thirty mile runs. We did many of those on the C and O Canal towpath in Maryland that runs along the Potomac River. Buddies would ride along with me on their bikes and some people would run with me for portions of the run. Steve Tower was one of my training buddies as we prepared for Columbus in 1990. Then we were teammates for the World Championships so we trained together for that also. We had a cabin in West Virginia that was across the river from the towpath where we stayed when we trained for those two marathons and the Olympic Trials in 1992. We crossed the railroad bridge, got on the towpath and ran out-and-back. The good thing was that once we got fifteen miles out there we were committed. There was only one way to get back. We would start out nice and easy and we liked to finish the last few miles strong. That is how I developed that confidence I had for the finish where I could run with just about anyone and finish the race well. I remember one occasion where Steve and I had already ran for two hours and forty minutes and we dropped it down and ran three miles at sub-five minute mile pace. Then we cooled down for five minutes afterward.
GCR:It sounds like you were dialed into consistent training. If you look back now is there anything you could have done differently in training and racing focus that may have resulted in better performances?
SSIt is a little more scientific now and there are a couple of things that I could have done in hindsight. But I had a formula that was working for me. One of the frustrating things for me is that I never had the opportunity to run a fast marathon time. I think that I was capable of running 2:07s or 2:08s, but it was over 90 degrees with unbelievable humidity at the World Championships in Tokyo when I ran 2:15 and then in the Olympics I ran 2:15 as well again where it was a hot weather marathon. I wish I had run a fast marathon time when I was fit.
GCR:For several years you have coached others and helped them to strive toward reaching their athletic potential. How rewarding is it to help others succeed compared to your own personal accomplishments?
SSIt is very rewarding. I probably get more nervous before a championship race when my team is out there. When I was running I had some control. It is definitely stressful, but something that I enjoy and that has kept me young. I like everything involved with the job. Even the recruiting is fun, but it is probably the aspect of the job that I enjoy the least.
GCR:How much more difficult is it to instill in others the necessary discipline, focus and mental toughness?
SSThat is something upon which I continue to work. The key is to take each individual and each team and modify my plan to meet the unique personality of that person or team. I’m working on it with my current team this fall season as I figure out the team’s personality and how to best motivate them. I work on modifying my plan to meet our team goals. That is what is good coaching. Anyone can read a book and come up with a solid training plan as there is so much written these days. The trick is to modify a plan for your team and individuals and to manage it on a daily basis.
GCR:You mentioned earlier that when you went to college the plan was routinely to run with the fastest guy on the team as long as you could before falling back which doesn’t really work. Do you find that it is tough to hold back some of your athletes so they don’t get injured or burned out from too many hard training sessions and fast races?
SSMost of the athletes I have here at Shippensburg come here because they want me to coach them and they want me to push them to be the best athlete they can be. I’m typically not getting the blue-chip full scholarship athletes. I stress to my recruits what I am looking for and I want people who are dedicated to seeing how fast they can be and who want me to guide and push them to achieve their goals. I remind them of that once in a while and why they chose to come to Shippensburg and to have me coach them. I enjoy helping people achieve their goals, but most of the athletes I have I don’t have to kick in the butt. I just need to give them some gentle reminders once in a while. More so I find that I am holding them back as they want to be up at a certain level and they don’t want to be patient and to take all of the necessary steps to be there. My job is to define those steps and to take them through while reducing the risk of injury and burnout.
GCR:How important is running on soft surfaces for high school and college track and cross country runners and adults training for road races?
SSRunning on soft surfaces is helpful. We have lots of soft surfaces here. We had our high school cross country camp recently with 160 teenage runners and they didn’t run a step on pavement the entire week. We have a rails-to-trails at the edge of campus that goes twenty miles to Carlisle and back. On other days we ran on out cross country course on our recreational fields which are all grass surfaces. The other days we ran up in the mountains on dirt fire roads. I was fortunate as a collegian and post-collegian to spend a lot of time in this area. I also went out to Colorado to train and loved training there in the summer. Running on trails that one summer in Maine was great. I also went to New Zealand and ran in great places there. But I always looked forward to getting back to central Pennsylvania and running on my familiar routes. They served me well.
GCR:What do you feel is the relative importance of quality versus quantity in training and negative split sessions?
SSI think that developing the base is so important before going through other phases of training. I am very specific with paces that I want my athletes running in different phases of training. If you run too fast in a phase you won’t get the gains out of the next phase so that you can peak down the road This is different from when I was in college and our running pace was not specific and was based more on feel. I definitely ran too fast at times as I was very motivated. I was on the edge of over training a lot. Even as a post-collegian I pushed the limits sometimes and didn’t take the recovery run as easy as I should. I feel that the long run is the most important run of the week so I prepare my runners for it and we rest going into it.
GCR:Are you a proponent of the many types of hill training including uphill, downhill and bounding and how important is running hills under control?
SSSometimes just running a tempo run over a hilly course helps with both uphill running and downhill running. For me I felt that I was a very good downhill runner. In Jacksonville when I got to the top of the Hart Bridge I felt very confident I could win in both years where I ended up finishing first. My daughter, Neely, is very similar as she runs very well downhill. Before the World Championships in Cross Country which were held in Poland earlier this year we talked about her staying controlled on the uphills and not getting anaerobic and then really going and taking off on the downhill. One of my college roommates who is an international teacher had a teaching stint in Poland at the time so I gave him cues to say on the course as reminders for Neely. One was for her to stay controlled on the uphills and to push her hips in toward the hill. Another was at the top to run through the hill and to run like hell on the downhill. He was there and gave her the cues. Neely said that as soon as she heard the yelling to push her hips in on the first hill she thought, ‘Uncle Bruce talked to my dad.’ She said that on the first downhill segment she could have run into the lead but tucked in behind the leaders. She ran strong, finished 13the and was the first non-African woman to finish.
GCR:How important are running drills, strength training, balance and agility exercises and flexibility in keeping fit to withstand the demands of a strong distance training regimen and minimizing injuries?
SSWe only have so much time in the day so it is important to identify an athlete’s strengths and weaknesses. If strength is a weakness then it is helpful to dedicate some of the energy pie to strength training. Every major breakthrough I had with my running came after a period of strength training. Even when I was in Maine training for the World Championships in the marathon I took along a barbell, dumbbells and weights in my pickup truck. I did strength training three times a week. When I got to the end of my marathon training and was tapering off for the race I backed off on the strength training, but it was still important for me to get in the weight room a couple times a week for some range of motion exercises to keep me healthy. I lifted pretty hard in the off-season during the winter when I was doing base mileage and after the spring running season when I get back into the weight room for five or six weeks to reestablish my strength.
GCR:Back to your own running and racing – you raced very strongly as a Masters runner when you first turned forty years old. Did that rekindle a fire?
SSIt did and then I got hurt. I was running pretty well as a 39 year old and posting some good times. I was looking forward to that carrying over into being a Masters runner. Then when I got hurt I wasn’t able to run fast until I was 41. I ran some fast times like 30:18 for 10k
GCR:You have broken five minutes in the mile every year since you first did in 1976. Is this something you will do as long as you can and do you think you could possibly do this for fifty years in a row into your sixties which is still over a decade away?
SS(Laughing) I don’t know if I can do it for that long but it is something that has been fun. I’ve gotten a lot of support from family and friends. I’m ready to do it right now and I will probably wait to do it when we hold my college camp. The date we have set is August 22nd. We set up an event at the track and there are runners who rabbit the race for me. I will do interviews before and after the race. My college cross country team will get around the track, cheer loudly and make fun of me so it is fun. Don Janicki was supposed to be here, along with Pat Butler, and they were going to set goals of breaking five minutes, but Pat fell through and Don wasn’t ready to run that fast. (Interviewer’s note – Steve ran 4:51.7 on August 22nd to keep his streak intact)
GCR:When I interviewed Amby Burfoot he spoke about the significance of doing something for a long period of time such as his local Thanksgiving day 5-miler that he has now run for fifty years in a row including nine overall wins, winning the high school age group back in the day and winning the 60+ age group more recently. What will be interesting will be if your streak extends to about 45 years or so and then you might start thinking more seriously about 50 years of sub-five minute miles. If you are able to do this could it be more significant than anything else you have accomplished in running?
SSAt this point I don’t think it is very impressive. Last year I wasn’t as fit as this year and ran 4:52 so it isn’t an issue yet. But, at some point in the not too distant future it will become more of a challenge. If I do it fifty years in a row you can do a follow up interview (laughing again)
GCR:What do you typically do now for health, fitness, running and limited intense training?
SSWith my work schedule it gets very busy at certain times of the year, especially during track season when we are hosting meets. I never officially announced my retirement from professional running, but when I made the transition from focusing on running to coaching I made the decision to never force myself to do something again. Toward the end of my running career I was forcing myself to run hard, forcing myself to lift and forcing everything as nothing was coming easy to me. I wasn’t performing as well anyway. So since then if I feel like running I run, if I feel like lifting, I lift and if I feel like biking, then I go for a bike ride. That seems to be working for me as it keeps me healthy, both physically and mentally. After a while I accidentally get in pretty good shape.
GCR:What are some of your goals for the future in terms of fitness, the possibility of age group competition and coaching?
SSAs far as my competitive goals I like to try to win a race each year, whether it is a low-key local race or maybe one of the series of six cross country races held in the Cumberland Valley each year. It could also be on the track as this year I finished second to one of my former athletes in a 2-mile track race. I thought he would let me win as we ran together most of the way but that wasn’t the case. It is always fun as a fifty plus runner to outright win a race even if it is local and low-key. That’s all I do – I just test myself in a race situation and have fun. Last year I ended up training with my number one cross country girl, Katie Stratford, because her class schedule conflicted with our Wednesday night hard workout we do under the lights. So I got fit over the summer to help her out. That worked great for both of us as she finished third at the NCAA meet and I ended up running with Neely in Richmond and racing 25:45 for 8k so it was mutually beneficial.
GCR:When you give a minute summary to groups of the major lessons you have learned during your life from working to achieve academically and athletically, the discipline of running, coaching others and coping with adversity that can help them to succeed, what do you say?
SSThe main thing I focus on is that you need to develop a support system and a team that is behind you. That’s something that really helped me. When I looked back after winning the Olympic Trials Marathon, I thought of all of the people who helped me get there and all who were in my support system at that time. It starts at home with my wife, Kirsten, who is a runner. She was very supportive and we were on the same page with everything. We met when I was in grad school and she was a senior in college and I helped her with training tips. She helped me make the transition to being a professional runner when we were dating as she worked with me on improving my diet and cleaning that up. That was one of the key things for me to transition from a national class runner to a world class runner. I also had a strength coach, advice from Dave Martin, a trainer, a physical therapist and a massage therapist. I was volunteering as a coach at Shippensburg so I had the team to train with. I had neighbors who helped out with child care. Our families were supportive and on and on and on. When I had to go away for a while they made sure that Kirsten and the kids were looked after and that all was going well on the home front. So the key was developing a support system that initially wasn’t quite so large, but that grew with time. Running is very much a selfish sport no matter what level you are at, but without that support at home it makes it very difficult.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsI like fishing and don’t get to do it near enough. My son is ten years old so we try to get out as much as we can and we really enjoy it. There are a lot of farm ponds around here where we can catch bass and bluegills. We have seven acres of land with horses. We used to have goats but couldn’t keep them contained. I spend a lot of time when I am not coaching at home taking care of the property. That is quite the job with the horses. We have five acres of pasture so I am always doing fence repair. Maintaining the land and house is what I do. I have learned to become handy with painting, flooring, tearing down walls and all sorts of things that I have taught myself. We have been in the house for fifteen years and have redone almost everything. That keeps me busy. I’m I the middle of redoing a bathroom now
NicknamesMy dad’s name was Steve also so as a kid they called me ‘Stevie’ or ‘Steetz’ which helped differentiate. The girls’ teams I coach give me nicknames once in a while and, as long as it is done with respect, I have fun with that. The most recent one was ‘Spenceroony’
Favorite entertainmentI’m not a real big movie guy. We enjoy movies, but rarely go to the theater. I don’t watch much TV. I like detective shows and watch some of those. We don’t even have a television, but I watch some shows on my computer once in a while. I like that as I can watch at my convenience. Lately, instead of watching TV I am playing ‘Words with Friends’ which is like Scrabble and played on an Android device. That is something that stimulates the mind. I play two games at once with my mom and play with a couple of other friends
Favorite musicI like many different types of music. I like Jimmy Buffet, Pure Prairie League and R.E.M. Brad Hudson reminded me recently that leading up to the 1992 Olympic Trials I was listening to a lot of R.E.M.
Favorite booksI do have a library full of running books. One of my favorites is ‘Unbroken,’ the story of Louis Zamperini, and I am looking forward to the upcoming movie that is scheduled for Christmas Day of 2014. It could really cross over from the running community to the general public. Our President at the University recently was in California, went to one of Louis Zamperini’s talks and got to meet him. He brought back a signed book and gave it to my daughter, Neely. I also like all of the Grisham books and other lawyer-based books
First carA 1971 blue Volkswagen Carmen Ghia
Current vehiclesI have a Bobcat tractor that I bought with some money my great-aunt left me and I named the tractor, Joby, which was the name of my cat when I was a kid. My son drives the tractor a lot and when we are looking around the property at what there is to do we will say, ‘That looks like a job for Joby.’ We are pretty boring with our cars as we put our money into our property. So our cars are paid for and old. We have a 2001 Chevy Venture van and a 1989 Chevy Cavalier that was also left to me by that aunt about five years ago. It was Neely’s initially to use. It was over 25 years old at that time; garage kept and had only about 16,000 miles on it. Even now it only has about 40,000 miles on it as we live so close to school, the grocery store and most of the places where we drive
First JobMy first job lasted exactly one day. I worked at a restaurant as a dish washer and bus person. I had applied to several places but worked one day and that night after I worked I got a call from a pizza restaurant called, ‘Your Place Restaurant,’ that asked me to work as a cook. So I gave notice at my first job. It was not fun so I was happy to get that call. I got paid and ate pizza and it was much more fun
FamilyMy wife is Kirsten. My daughter, Neely, is 24. My 19 year old identical twins are Margeaux and Reynah. Eli, my son, is ten. My dad and mom are both alive. They divorced when I was ten years old. My dad lives in the Harrisburg area and is a semi-retired painter. My mom lives between Gettysburg and Hanover and has been retired from Allstate Insurance Company for a while. We see both of them often and they both are doing well
PetsWhen I was running I had my two dogs. Sueme was named on the lighter side as if ‘Sue me if my dog bites you.’ Kashi was my other dog. They were my training partners and we got them at the Boulder Humane Society in 1989. That’s when I was living with my friend, Pat Butler. He was a lawyer with a big, sprawling five bedroom house that we called ‘Pat’s Home for Wayward Runners. People would come and go and rent rooms by the month. There were puppies at the Humane Society and I decided I wanted Kashi who was a Yellow Labrador – Golden Retriever mix. I told Pat there was another and he came back with it. We had both of them and Pat was busy with work so when we left Boulder I took both. They lived until they were around 14 years old. One passed away just before Eli was born and one shortly after. They had a good long life and ran a lot of miles with me. We would go down to the C and O towpath and go for two hour runs. They would go in and out of the river when they got warm, come back on the path and keep rolling. Sueme would run on my right one stride ahead of me and Kashi ran on my left one stride behind me. Those were there spots – one following and one pulling me along. They were trained and didn’t have to be on a leash
Favorite breakfastI like the standard eggs and toast. We’re fortunate around here as we live in the middle of the horse-and-buggy Mennonite farms and they have good quality eggs from free-range chickens
Favorite mealI’m not real picky. I’m someone who could have ‘beans and rice’ every day and then the next week ‘rice and beans’ and not complain about it which makes my wife happy. I really like sushi if we are going out for something special. There is nothing wrong with a nice steak either
Favorite beveragesI’m not real particular. I don’t drink alcohol often, but every now and then I’ll have a beer or two and I enjoy that
Childhood exerciseI didn’t have any particular training but was in good physical shape as we played sports throughout the day. We would maybe play three hours of baseball in the morning, get some lunch and play basketball all afternoon. Then we would play tennis at night. I would stay as long as I could. I would run to the baseball park about a mile from my home, stay until late morning and then run home for lunch. I got in a lot of cardio and was pretty fit
First running memoryMy first running memory was the Latin Olympics at my school in eighth grade. There was a mile race at the Latin Olympics and the top runner was a girl, Judy Castle, who was a child running prodigy who later ended up running about a 2:05 for 800 meters at Penn State. Everyone was talking about how fast she was. I beat Judy and she wasn’t very happy. I might have made her cry
Running heroesWhen I was younger I mentioned that I would see myself running like Don Paige. I respected him for his speed and kick. I also followed Seb Coe. I never really got the Steve Prefontaine thing until I watched the movie, ‘Fire on the Track.’ That made me say, ‘Wow,’ about his ability to be a leader and to create an emotional spark in others. He is someone I have really grown to appreciate
Greatest running momentsThe World Championships Bronze Medal finish, my college NCAA Division II wins, my high school state mile championship and that first Jacksonville River Run win were all special as was the Cascade Run off when I set the American 15k record of 42:40 in 1989. Those are the moments where I got to shine and all of the hard work paid off, but it is really the journey that gets you there that is special. The marathon, because of all that goes into it and all of the focus on one race, makes that distance and those races very special. So my top marathon moments are the 1991 World Championships Bronze medal finish, the 1992 Olympic Trials victory and winning the U.S. Championships at Columbus in 1990
Worst running momentTowards the end of my career when it wasn’t fun, I was trying to force it to happen and my body just wasn’t cooperating. I got in a depressed state as this was how I was making my living and my body just wasn’t working for me anymore. That was a rough time for me mentally
Childhood dreamsOne of my heroes was ‘Doctor J.’ I fancied myself as a basketball player but at five feet nine inches with a 16 inch vertical jump it wasn’t going to take me far even if I did have very good skills. That was one of my dreams. I thought I could go far in basketball. But what that helped me to do was to realize that in some way I was going to use my body to make a living. Next I saw myself as a miler, but wasn’t fast enough and I kept moving up and moving up until I finally got to the marathon
Funny memoryWhen my twins were six years old and were talking on the phone to a friend I was listening in. One of them said, ‘My dad used to be famous, but now he’s just a track coach’
Funny pet memoryWhen I was in Chambersburg when I walked around town my dogs, Sueme and Kashi, would stay in there spot. If I went into a store I would leave them outside and say, ‘Sit and stay.’ I could come out an hour later and they were still there. One time I forgot them when I got a cup of coffee at a convenience store, started talking to people and went out the other door. I left them sitting there, went downtown and did some errands and went home. The people at the convenience store called me and said, ‘Steve, your dogs are really having fun and getting a lot of attention, but you might want to come and get them’
Embarrassing momentI took Neely amd my twins down to run a St. Patrick’s Day race in Baltimore about six years ago. We were warming up for the race which was pretty big as there are around 4,000 runners. I think Neely won it as she was a high school senior. I was going to run with the twins and help them to break twenty minutes. When we were warming up I hit a crack on the sidewalk and face-planted in front of about a hundred people. I had a daughter on each side of me. After they helped me up, brushed me off and saw that I wasn’t hurt too bad though I was bleeding and scraped up, they thought it was pretty funny
Favorite places to travelColorado and the Boulder area have a special place in my heart. Neely and her husband are out there training right now for another month before they head back to Michigan. Jacksonville is always special to me because of my success there and the way the people have treated me. They took me under their wing as one of their own. So I like those two places