Editor’s note: This year, for the first time, the IAAF offered the masses a chance to compete against the world’s best at the World Cross Country Championships. We loved the idea so much that we decided to fly two athletes out to Aarhus, Denmark, to run the race, putting out the call on the LetsRun.com messageboard. We heard from several deserving candidates, but on the women’s side, one stood out: Kelsey Bruce, an assistant coach at Division II Dallas Baptist University who had just run a personal best of 2:31 at the Houston Marathon. Kelsey went on to place 83rd out of 118 finishers at World XC.
Flash forward six months, and Kelsey is in the final stages of her preparations for the IAAF World Championships in Doha, having been named to Team USA in the marathon. That’s right. Six months after she was running unattached at World XC, Kelsey will be rocking the red, white, and blue and officially representing the United States at Worlds. We asked Kelsey to tell us what she’s been up to over the past six months and how she’s been preparing for the heat of Doha.
LetsRun.com’s motto is: “Where your dreams become reality.” The opportunity to compete at the World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, was where the motto, for me, came to a palpable truth.
COOLEST OPPORTUNITY EVER.
Hopefully, you read what a huge blessing Weldon, Robert, Jonathan, and the LetsRun community were in the process. Since World Cross, I have been greeted by so many people with, “Hey! Aren’t you the LetsRun girl?” The title itself embodies so much happiness, pride, and delight for me, but that’s not even the coolest part. The coolest part of it is, they usually say it like they are proud — proud of LetsRun, proud to have followed the journey. I may be wrong, but I see that as recognition of what an awesome opportunity Robert and Weldon provided and that there is so much joy and excitement to be shared in opportunity. That’s something to be proud of.
Competing at the World Cross Country Championships was an eye-opening experience. I knew I was there in an unmerited sense. I lined up knowing that the best of every country was on the line, people that trained specifically for the event. It felt unrealistic for me to even be there (and frankly, it was).
I warmed up in awe as I was surrounded by greatness. The concept of being on Team USA, and even much more so, the concept of lining up with the intention to win seemed like something strictly reserved for super-humans. Don’t get me wrong, I still had every intention of competing to the best of my ability. But the best of my ability that day seemed a little humorous if you compare it to the rest of the field.
And after racing potentially the hardest race of my life, it occurred to me that it was possible. I’m not really sure what it was, but something was possible. It suddenly seemed not completely unrealistic for me to strive to make a US team — sure, it was unlikely, but not unrealistic. I left with a deep craving to be better. I’m not really sure why my thoughts changed from before the race to after. I mean, I had just been outclassed. Nonetheless, I had a new dream.
Following World XC, my coach (Jacob Phillips) and I focused on shorter distances this spring, hitting the track and roads. The shorter the distance, the more out of my element I am. This is an area that needs improvement, so we try to dedicate part of each year to that development. This year’s schedule included a few 5ks, 10ks, and half marathons — and I nailed down new PRs in most! The spring is always a fun time of year because my schedule and many of my workouts align with that of our team at Dallas Baptist.
In the midst of training, coaching, and perusing LetsRun, we also monitored the US marathon list. USATF was picking its team for Worlds by selecting the three fastest women based on times run from March 7, 2018 – May 5, 2019. When the window closed on May 5, I was only 13th on the list, but I knew that some of the women ahead of me, such as Emily Sisson, Molly Huddle, and Shalane Flanagan, would surely decline their spots. Once I went through the list of potential scratches, I realized: Doha was a legitimate possibility for me. And so I waited, hoping for some good news.
It came while I was in Kingsville, Tex., for the NCAA Division II championships: an email from USATF informing me that I had earned a spot on TEAM USA in the marathon. I laughed. A laugh of joy, a laugh of irony, a laugh of peace. I had the opportunity to return to an IAAF World Championship, and this time I’d earned a spot. Sure, I wasn’t in the top three, but logistics aside — I earned a spot. And I’ll be going in with World Championship experience, thanks to LetsRun!!!
NOTE: I am humbled to know that there are many excellent distance runners in the US, and I know and understand that there are women above me that are flat-out better than I am. The beautiful and condemning thing about running is that it doesn’t lack much objectivity. But it’s not my job to worry about that.
I jumped on the opportunity. I’m sure the healthy marathoners above me had reason to pass, but for me, the opportunity and honor to represent the United States isn’t one that I’m ready to turn down. Doha fit into the training plan perfectly. Before the selection to Worlds, we were hesitant to run a fall marathon because of the difficulty of marathon training through the Texas summer. The heat is oppressive. But in training for this marathon, it is ideal: the average September high in Doha is 102 degrees Fahrenheit (the women’s marathon, on September 27, will start at midnight in an effort to combat the heat).
Albeit, it’s been tough to find a balance between quality and acclimatization, but I believe that my buildup has gone well. It’s been enjoyable, and that in itself is usually indicative of some success. Due to the elements, it’s hard to say what my goal is, but I’d like to be a strong competitor and have a “good” experience over the 26.2 miles. To use the talent I’ve been given to the best of my abilities (even though I’m not Paul Chelimo or Drew Hunter). My goal is to do my best to represent my country, Team LetsRun, DBU, my family, friends and the good Lord well.
What I’ve come to realize throughout his process is that dreams do come true. I know it sounds cliché, but really. We all accomplish dreams on a day-to-day basis; it’s just that sometimes, by the time they come true, we’ve already moved on to the next one or we don’t slow down long enough to appreciate them. I don’t know about you, but nailing tomorrow’s workout is kind of a mini-dream! Stack all these day-to-day things on top of each other and then it before you know it, it’s real.
Running at a World Championship was a dream of mine. And that’s one thing that this community, LetsRun.com brings together: people united by running, by turning their dreams into actual, tangible experiences.
So I’m not sure if my dreams becoming a reality has too much to do with me at all. I believe that it has everything to do with a good combination of faith in the Lord as well as love and support from those that I’m surrounded by. Dreams really do become reality once you go to work with those things.
Kelsey’s race, the women’s marathon, will begin at 11:59 p.m. on September 27 — or 4:59 p.m. US Eastern Time. You can stream it online via NBC Sports Gold.