What’s It Like Being The Husband of a Potential American Marathon Star? We Talk to Dillon Gracey Before Neely Spence Gracey’s Debut in Boston

by LetsRun.com
April 12, 2016

It’s officially Marathon Mania on LetsRun.com with the Boston Marathon one week from yesterday and London less than two weeks away.

To kick things off below we have a Q&A with Dillon Gracey. Gracey tied for 3rd in our $20,016 LRC Running Warehouse USA Indoor Prediction Contest (recap of the contest here) and missed out on the cool Running Warehouse prizes on the tiebreaker. However, Dillon is most known in the running world as being the husband and coach of Neely Spence Gracey.

Neely is the top American hopeful in Boston, where she is making her marathon debut. Neely, the daughter of Steve Spence, the bronze medallist at the 1991 World Championships in the marathon, starred at DII Shippensburg University, where her dad was her coach. After college she was part of the Hansons Brooks program and now runs for adidas. This past fall she turned heads by running 1:09:59 for the half marathon, becoming one of 12 Americans under the 1:10 barrier.

We used the excuse of Dillon just missing out on the prizes to ask him a few questions about Neely’s preparations for Boston and being the husband of one of America’s top stars.

Neely and Dillon have a website and coaching service at neelyruns.com

Neely and Dillon from neelyruns.com Neely and Dillon from neelyruns.com

LRC: We’re sure it’s been tough, but now you’ve had a few weeks to recover so we feel it’s ok to ask a few questions. How do you feel so close to making your first Worlds team?

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DG: When I first discovered I lost out on the podium due to a technicality I wasn’t happy. I immediately looked for a way to protest the results, but after a few minutes of searching I knew it was time to accept defeat. I can only blame myself for not putting Oregon down for the W in the DMR. I’ll never underestimate King Ches’ ability again.

LRC: Since you were the alternate, will you now admit you were hoping one of the top three guys got hurt? 

DG: Currently I’m crossing my fingers that the post-competition drug testing results push me into the top three. History has shown that people are willing to cheat at any level of sport, and with LetsRun contests being so cutthroat I wouldn’t put anything past my competitors. If everyone comes back clean I’ll move on and prepare for the next one. (Editor’s note: There was a ‘drug testing scandal’ in our World Indoor contest)

LRC: Let’s turn to the one member of your family who actually has made national teams, Neely. How many teams has she made? She’s making her marathon debut in Boston. How is the preparation going?

DG:  She’s been fortunate enough to make five national teams since 2009 and kind of views Boston as a chance once again to represent the U.S. on the big stage. Preparation started out slow in December, after taking a few weeks off after RnR Philly, with each week ramping up very nicely. The last six weeks of training have been some of the best I’ve ever seen her do. (Note: this Q&A was conducted during the last week of March. We touched back with Dillon this week to ask him how Neely’s training has gone since then and he said, “Nothing has changed. Training has been great and she’s healthy and ready to go.”)

LRC: Neely turned a few heads by running 1:09:59 for the half marathon in Philadelphia last year. She’s now one of 12 US women under 1:10. Yet at the NYC Half she ran 1:13:17 which was slower than all three of her halves last year. Is that just a reflection of marathon training vs half-marathon training?

DG: It has more to do with race tactics than marathon vs. HM training. The point was to start out slow and let the pack get ahead so she had to spend a majority of the race alone. We want her to be prepared for a solo effort if Boston goes out at say 2:20 pace.  Overall it went perfect (5k splits of 17:47, 17:30, 17:06, 16:57) as we planned on a finish time around 1:13:30 and she finished the race feeling like she could have kept going.

Neely and Meb at Falmouth 2015 (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly) Neely and Meb at Falmouth 2015 (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)

LRC: What is the goal for Boston?

DG: We are still working through the details on goals and race strategy. Typically, we start a segment with conservative goals and let the last few workouts dictate the final goal. This prevents her from overtraining early and for her body to come around at its own pace.  Last fall, the main goal was to break 71:00 at Philly, and only after she hit a few key workouts, we ultimately made sub-70:00 the final goal only days before the race. On that note, we started this segment with a finish time around 2:30ish in good conditions and things have been going very well. We went and previewed the course on a weekend where it was in the high 30s, rainy, and had a headwind so we are hoping to be prepared for the worst if that scenario plays out.

LRC: When she first got out of school she was in the Hansons Brooks program, but now she’s with adidas and you help coach her with Steve Magness. How did that come about and how is it going?

DG:  I’m starting to think this interview isn’t actually about me… 🙁

LRC: We thought you figured that out a long time ago!

DG: The coaching process has been interesting over the past five years. When Neely first went pro, the idea was to sit down with her dad and discuss him coaching her vs. going with a group and it never actually happened. He never said it, but it seems like he wanted her to go out and find herself after being under his wing for so many years. So after visiting multiple groups, she was excited to join a team in Portland and accepted an offer from them. However, after not hearing anything back for three weeks, we found out they retracted it and no more information was given. After that shocker, she reevaluated her options and joined Hansons in the spring of 2012. There is no doubt that Neely had success with the Hansons, but she also had her down times. Ultimately, her heart wasn’t in Michigan, and once I took a job in Colorado, she decided to move on. It was certainly scary at first because she lost her shoe contract and the previous few years of lackluster performances ensured she wouldn’t have new sponsors knocking on the door right away.

LRC: So how have things gone for Boston on the coaching front?

DG: This segment has gone similar to the previous two in the way the coaching has worked out. We sit down and lay out the races she wants to participate in, based off what the main goal will be. She discusses how she wants to add in new stress to the system and what went good vs. bad in the last segment. I lay it out all out on a calendar, and put in key workouts through each phase of her training then send it to Magness. He goes through it, and throws in notes and makes changes where needed. Once I get it back, I implement it and take things week by week and Steve and I discuss any changes that may need to be made as issues arise. I’d say the dynamic is more a good cop (Steve) vs. bad cop (me) because I seem to be more conservative and say “no” a lot more so she’ll go to Steve when I don’t give her the answer she wants. Of course, any big decisions that need to be made go through her dad first. He’s been tremendous with helping her work through tough situations because she trust him 100% and he has a lot experience in this field.

LRC: What led you to move to the marathon so quickly?

DG: After the poor performance at USA XC (she dropped out after miscounting laps in 2015) I knew she needed to get a confidence boost, and we had her sign up for the Gasparilla HM. We hadn’t done any HM-specific training and wanted her to hopefully achieve the Trials standard. We weren’t 100% sure she was ready for that even. The main goal was to go out and run an appropriate effort that would allow her to finish strong. Turns out, she handled the longer distances way better than we expected and ran 1:12:38. After that we seriously discussed what she looked forward to the most, and where she could most likely succeed at the highest level. We agreed to move full-time to the road scene.

LRC: Did you consider Neely making her marathon debut at the Olympic Marathon Trials?

DG: We initially planned to debut at the trials until she had a setback during the RnR Philly HM. Instead of taking 2 weeks off after that race it was 4 and we just decided the training would be too rushed. Going after Boston has worked out perfectly and it’s allowed her to ramp up her training slowly. When we were sitting along the course in LA watching the runners pass by there were no regrets to be had.

LRC: How difficult is it to coach your wife and be her husband? How do you keep that balance?

DG: There is no doubt that it’s been great working together, but at moments not so pleasant. There have been times where tears have been shed, but it’s been more of the exception, and I feel it has made our marriage stronger in the end. There isn’t much balance for us because our minds don’t stray far away from running and most of our time spent together either involves running or talking about it. We’re both running nerds and love the sport so we don’t strive to be multi-dimensional and just accept who we are.

Neely Spence Gracey at 2015 New Balance Falmouth Road Race (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly) Neely Spence Gracey at the 2015 New Balance Falmouth Road Race (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)

LRC: Since you play in the LetsRun.com prediction contests, we’ll make the jump and assume you peruse the forums. There are a lot of threads on relationship advice on there. Do you have any advice for the tons of runners out there trying to have better relationships with their spouses?

DG:  PowerPoint.

LRC: Wow. You’ve been a LetsRun regular much longer than we thought. Completely unrelated, tell us a little about your coaching business.

DG: Neely and I do have a coaching business (Get Running on neelyruns.com) and we currently have 25 athletes working hard every day towards their goals. They range from an Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier, 4-hour marathoners trying to break 4 for the first time, to post-collegians still hitting track PRs. Rates vary depending on the ability to pay and amount of time the athlete needs. For example for students (grad school or folks not affiliated with a program) we charge $75 per month, runners looking for a plan and enjoy a hands-off approach, $100 monthly, and for the athletes that want daily contact and more in-depth coaching we charge $150. Probably one of the best parts of coaching has been helping runners achieve their Boston Marathon qualifier. I never knew how significant the Boston Marathon was until we started coaching and since then we’ve helped over 20 athletes get to the Boston start line including one runner that started with a PR of 3:51 and has now run 3:08 after a few tries. BTW, if Mike Rossi reaches out to me I’ll coach him for free 😉 Though he may have to log more miles than pictures posted to get that BQ.

LRC: Good luck in Boston.

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