Stephanie Bruce Hits Boston on Her Farewell Tour

After learning she had a congenital heart condition, she decided 2022 would be her last year of racing.

stephanie bruce
Meg OliphantGetty Images

It would be a shame, her coach says, if in the midst of Stephanie Bruce’s last year of pro running, people overlooked her athletic achievements.

Ben Rosario, who coaches Bruce on Northern Arizona Elite, a pro team in Flagstaff, knows why people—women runners, especially—admire Bruce: For her honesty. Authenticity. Saying it like it is.

But from his perspective, they’re missing something important: just how strong she is and has been. Her résumé includes four top 10 finishes at World Marathon Majors races and a sixth-place finish at the Olympic Marathon Trials, two national titles, and two world cross-country teams. She owns impressive PRs at a range of distances.

“She’s had a fantastic career, really high level,” Rosario said in an interview with Runner’s World. “She’s run really fast at 5,000, 10,000, the half marathon, and the marathon. She’s been incredibly consistent and so versatile.”

Bruce announced on January 6 in a lengthy blog post that she has a congenital heart condition called bicuspid aortic valve disease, discovered in October 2021. And while the condition is not currently affecting her running, she will need surgery eventually. She and her husband, Ben Bruce, also hope to grow their family, which includes two boys, ages 7 and 6.

Bruce, now 38, said she will retire at the end of 2022.

An open book

Early in her pro career, Bruce developed a robust fan base, at least by running’s standards. She and friends Lauren Fleshman and Jesse Thomas founded Picky Bars in 2010, gluten-free performance bars made with natural ingredients, and the business was a success. (They sold Picky Bars in 2021 in a deal worth $12 million, according to Forbes.)

But Bruce’s fan base exploded in 2016, when she posted on Instagram about her postpartum abs and the loose skin she was left with after delivering two large babies, 15 months apart.

The post went viral, and national media outlets covered her story. She wrote a first-person piece for Runner’s World about what it felt like to have her stomach all over the internet.

She had touched a nerve—and she was giving women a glimpse into what it was like to recover from childbirth and return to running. In her case, she returned at a very high level.

“There was a reason that those things went viral, because women were craving to talk about [them],” said Rosario, who has coached Bruce since 2014. “She sort of opened that door. That gave her this wonderful platform, because people trusted her after that. She was so honest.”

Bruce spoke openly about everything from the struggles of raising young children to views on doping in sport to her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis and recurrence, sometimes in her blog, sometimes in lengthy Instagram captions.

Her mother, Joan Rothstein, died in 2021, and Bruce wrote about grieving her parents. When she was a teenager, she lost her father, also to cancer.

“So I’m standing in line today to order some breakfast and two ladies are in front of me, and one reminds me of my mom,” she wrote in a post on November 17, 2021. “I hear her tell her friend, ‘Look, I found this cute notebook for my daughter.’ Well, that did it. Now my eyes are welling up with tears.”

In the comments, her followers talked about the moments when they, too, are unexpectedly hit by grief.

Through the years of talking openly, Bruce cultivated her following and developed other ventures to reach people: a coaching service, retreats for women, running camps for adults, and a clothing line. She’s been a visible ambassador for Hoka, her primary shoe and gear sponsor.

“I'm excited about the potential of what I can do after [running ends],” she told Runner’s World in January. It’s not, ‘Shoot, what am I going to do?’ It’s, ‘What do I get to do now?’”

She’s in an enviable position, she knows, as many athletes retire without plans for supporting themselves or ideas for the future. Bruce talks to her younger teammates about exploring other options and planning for the years after running, even while they’re still competing at a high level.

“It’s your job to create your own brand,” she said. “It’s up to athletes to figure out what they want to get out of their running, what impact they want to have, what are the other passions they could [follow] along the way.”

The blog post in which she announced her plans for the year ahead was vintage Bruce: full of details about the cardiac tests she went through and the uncertainty and fear she experienced as she was learning about her heart condition. It also touched on the one missing piece from her career: making an Olympic team.

“I had envisioned making it to one more Olympic cycle and trying for 2024,” she wrote, in part. “I think the most difficult part of this announcement as a professional athlete is that I am finally giving up on my dream of making an Olympic team. Do I think I would have a shot in 2024? Absolutely.”

But she listed her upcoming race dates, as a way to invite her fans to follow along as she said good-bye. Next up: the Boston Marathon.

A career year

As busy as she is, Bruce’s training and racing in 2022 is going about as well as it ever has.

She was fifth at the U.S. cross-country championships in January, and she was 10th at the NYC Half last month. In the midst of her peak training for Boston, on a hilly course, she ran 1:10:26—just 31 seconds off her PR.

Her buildup for the Boston, Rosario said, has been “fantastic” after a bout with COVID in January slowed her progress briefly. And the coach has fleeting feelings of nostalgia, as the end nears. He was recently biking alongside Bruce and her husband as they were doing a workout.

“Ben was pacing her,” Rosario said. “They were executing the workout so well, which they always do. I just thought, ‘Gosh, I’m going to miss these two.’ It was just one little moment.”

Their teammates have those moments too, especially Kellyn Taylor, who is currently recovering from an injury, but has trained alongside Bruce for almost her own career.

“She’s such a force, she’s a great leader,” Taylor said. “That’s something I’ll miss. She’s a super positive presence on the team and everywhere she goes. It will be tough. I’ll definitely miss doing workouts with her, racing with her.”

stephanie bruce
Stephanie Bruce and Kellyn Taylor (compete in the women’s Rock ’n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon in 2020.
Christian PetersenGetty Images

Bruce’s career, has been a “testament that if you stick with something long enough, you can be successful,” Taylor said. “It’s not something that happens overnight. If you have faith in what you’re doing and really believe in the process, then you can do some pretty incredible things.”

Bruce’s sole entry in the Boston results is from 2013, nine years ago. She ran 2:35:31 and finished 15th. Despite Boston’s strong field, she should top that this time. And in her many races after Boston, which are sure to include a fall marathon.

“I just want to do what I’ve been doing,” Bruce says of her races in 2022. “Just try to enjoy how hard they are, the competition, going head to head with people, trying not to get beat. Sprint finishes. Making moves in the race. All the things I love about being a runner.”

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
More From Boston Marathon