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Running Legend Steve Spence Shares His Journey

American distance running legend Steve Spence has been using ElliptiGO training since 2012, both for his own personal training and for the athletes he coaches at Shippensburg University. Spence grew up in Elizabethtown, PA where he attended Lower Dauphin HS and then stayed in state to attend Shippensburg University. By the time he graduated SU in 1985, he was a multi-time NCAA DII National Champion and 4 of his school records still stand today. As a professional athlete, he competed in many national championships on the track, road, and XC. In 1990, he won the US Marathon Championships and set his Marathon PR of 2:12:17. He then qualified for his first World Championships in 1991 (Tokyo), where he earned the bronze medal. The following year, he won the US Olympic Marathon Trials to qualify for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. He continued years of success in road championships, while also volunteering as a coach and raising his family in Shippensburg.

He retired from professional running in 1998 around the same time he started as the Head Track & Field Coach of Shippensburg University (Fall of 1997). Spence has since won many Conference Championship team titles, has been named Coach of the Year several times and has coached 74 All-American athletes in Track & Field and 12 All-Americans in Cross Country. Among those, includes his daughter Neely Spence (now Gracey) who was an eight-time NCAA DII National Champion and set two NCAA Records. Neely started integrating ElliptiGO into her training in the summer of 2012 after suffering several injuries, which is how her father Steve was first introduced to the product. The following year, Neely was the top American at the 2013 World Cross Country Championships in Poland, placing 13th overall. She has represented Team USA in 5 international competitions and continues to use ElliptiGO training as a staple in her training.

In addition to Steve’s highly decorated professional career, he started gaining attention when people learned that he had run a sub 5:00 mile every year for 40+ consecutive years. In 2019, he achieved his 43rd year of this at age 57 and continues to set new goals for himself with the help of ElliptiGO training, which he currently logs as many as 180 miles per week on. With all of the knowledge and experience Spence has to offer, we wanted to take some time to both highlight his accomplishments, and hear more about his journey through the following Q & A.

 

ElliptiGO:

You had a long and successful career as a professional athlete. When you retired from the professional side, did you still continue to run races?  Did you still set training goals? How big of a shift was there in your training schedule and routine?

Steve Spence:

I continued to race locally when I had an opportunity, but I didn’t make special efforts to travel to races because I didn’t want to be away from my family. I’d been sacrificing time away from family for many years and was also trying to balance family time with collegiate coaching demands. When I retired, I decided that I would only run when I wanted to run. I did not write training plans or set goals. Each day, I’d ask myself if I felt like running and if the answer was “no”, I would not run. Running became something that I purely did for fun, for social interaction and to help others achieve their goals.

 

ElliptiGO:

When in your life did it become a goal and challenge to achieve sub 5:00 in the mile each year? And did you initially have a specific goal for the number of years you thought you could go?

Steve Spence:

I first ran a sub 5 mile in the Fall of 1976 at the age of 14. With no special effort on my part, that streak continued through high school, college and into my professional career. Upon retirement from professional running in 1998, I continued to race at a sub 5 pace for many years. In the summer of 2008, my daughter Neely, asked me if I’d run a sub 5 mile yet for that year. My answer was “no” and that led to a discussion as to when I first ran sub 5 and had I done it every year since 1976. So, the answer to the question is that it did not become a goal until 2008. At that point, at age 46 it was still pretty easy for me and I didn’t have to do any specific training. I didn’t set any specific goals for the streak, I just wanted to have fun with it and hopefully motivate and inspire other runners.

 

ElliptiGO:

When did you first start incorporating ElliptiGO training? Were you drawn to it more as an athlete, coach, or combination of the two? And what about ElliptiGO most influenced that interest?

Steve Spence:

My daughter Neely joined the ElliptiGO team in 2012 and that was my first exposure to ElliptiGO. She was storing her 8C in an office at the track stadium at Shippensburg University where I coach and where she was serving as a volunteer coach. As an athlete, I was drawn to the GO as a way to supplement my running. I did not back off on my running, but added a few 40 to 60 minute GO rides per week. I quickly saw the benefits offered by GO to those student-athletes who are injured or who I wanted to do additional aerobic work without impact stress. I soon purchased two of the 8Cs for use by my distance squad.

 

ElliptiGO:

Has cross-training always been part of your training. Before ElliptiGO bikes, what other types of cross-training had you done? And how has ElliptiGO bikes compared or differed from those for you?

Steve Spence:

I’ve done quite a bit of cross training during my 40+ years of running. The aerobic forms of cross training that I’ve done are water running, swimming and biking on the stationary as well as my mountain and road biking outdoors. I feel that the ElliptiGO product differs tremendously from the other forms of cross training. Much more than any other form of cross training, the GO mimics the running motion and uses the same muscle groups. I also find it very time efficient since an hour on the GO is equivalent to an hour of running. In addition, I feel that my overall fitness actually increases when I’m doing a majority of my aerobic work on the GO. I find that I can push myself way harder and maintain a higher heart rate for a longer period of time on the GO than I can by running or any other form of cross training. The GO seems to strengthen my legs, especially when riding hilly routes. Also, I find that I do not need recovery days. For the most part, I can ride hard every day on the GO. The most important thing to me is that the GO is much more fun than any other form of cross training and in many ways more fun than running. The upright position allows me to look around and see the beautiful countryside through which I typically ride. The GO, at an average 16+ mph, allows me to explore new routes and to cover a lot of ground. In many ways, it’s opened up a whole new world. When I ride the GO, I want to keep riding because it is so much fun. Since there is not a risk of impact injuries I can ride for many more minutes on a daily basis than I’d typically run.

I often say that the only thing more fun than an ElliptiGO ride is an ElliptiGO ride with a friend. My wife, Kirsten, and I often include a ride on the GOs as part of our weekly date night. We recently purchased two of the 11Rs.

 

ElliptiGO:

Over the last couple of years, what would you say your running mileage “sweet spot” has been? And how does cross-training fit into that formula in terms of percentage of overall volume at different training stages?

Steve Spence:

My training has been all over the place due to the stresses I have in my life, my level of motivation and my health. I typically struggle to get in much work on a consistent basis during the competitive Cross Country and Track seasons. I seem to binge on exercise during the Winter break, Spring break and Summer break, while I just try to stay semi fit by exercising when I can and by living a healthy lifestyle during those competitive seasons. The most weekly mileage that I’ve run in the last few years is about 60, but I’d say that I average around 30/wk. I’ve been nursing a calf injury for 4 weeks which has kept me from running, but I don’t feel it at all on the ElliptiGO. During that 4 week period, I’ve averaged about 150 miles/week on the GO. As of today, I’ve totaled 182 miles in the last 7 days.

 

ElliptiGO:

In the summer of 2019, you underwent knee surgery. At that time, did you still believe you could get under 5:00 before the end of the year? How did you approach that recovery and build back into training?

Steve Spence:

Yes…the surgery was successful and I felt that I had a chance to run sub 5 before January 1. The streak is just a fun thing, so I didn’t want to jeopardize long term health and recovery by rushing back into running too quickly. I was able to walk without a limp about 7 days after surgery and I started to do some easy rides on the ElliptiGO bike 10 days after surgery. I was able to quickly increase my minutes on the GO. I tried jogging mid-August (about 2 months after surgery) and although it felt OK, I could tell that my knee was not quite ready. I continued to try walking/jogging every couple of weeks, but it wasn’t until October 1 that I felt I was ready to resume a progressive running plan. I built a running base while supplementing with the GO and I feel that I was aerobically where I needed to be, but I needed the speed work in order to be comfortable at 74 seconds per 400. During that time 80 to 90 minute rides on the GO were substituted for a weekly long run. I hit some bumps in the road as I progressed into some speed work. The faster stuff would go well during the workout, but my knee complained afterward. After several fits and starts, I was able to have 2 weeks in which I was able to get in some quality work, but it proved to be insufficient preparation to run a sub 5. I knew exactly where I was with my fitness, but decided to give sub 5 an honest effort and hope that muscle memory and adrenaline would allow me to run faster than I thought I was capable. On December 28 I ran 5:07 at an all-comers indoor meet at Hagerstown Community College. I tried again on December 30 on our outdoor track at Shippensburg. I made it through 1200 meters on pace, but the wheels were coming off so I stepped off the track at 1300 meters. I had a lot of support from friends and family during those efforts. They were fun and I’m glad that I gave it a try, but I really needed a couple more weeks of key workouts to get in sub 5 fitness.

 

ElliptiGO:

Have you had any interesting or maybe even surprising results from the application of ElliptiGO integration with yourself or your athletes?

Steve Spence:

I’ve been surprised with my level of motivation to ride the ElliptiGO bike. It’s been an extremely mild Winter here in South Central PA and there have only been a few days that I opted for the stationary trainer instead of bundling up and riding outside. I dress like a runner preparing for temps that are about 15 degrees colder than the actual outside temperature and I’ve had no problem riding in temperatures as low as 25 degrees.

I feel that my fitness has increased substantially because I’m motivated and capable (without risking injury) to ride the ElliptiGO bike hard and long on a daily basis. I simply can’t suffer during a run like I can on the GO. I like to suffer, and by that I mean I like to spend a lot of time at my anaerobic threshold. The work I can do now on the GO reminds me of those long lost days in my prime when I could crank out a 20 mile tempo run at 5:20 pace. Except, on the GO I can come back and do it again the next day.

Something I found interesting is that our injured student-athletes at Shippensburg were able to stay connected to the team when riding the GO. They often ride in the same direction that other team members are running and although maintaining a faster pace, they are able to loop back and check in with their teammates. We’ve also strengthened bonds when student-athletes ride together. As I’ve said, the only thing more fun than riding the GO is to ride with a friend. During the winter we usually keep one of GO’s on the stationary trainer and the other available for easy access to ride on mild days.

 

ElliptiGO:

Unfortunately, you were unable to get under the 5:00 barrier before the end of 2019. Will you continue to try in 2020?  Do you have any new goals that you’re setting?

Steve Spence:

My streak of sub 5:10 miles has been increased to 44 years!  Lol

I do plan to attempt a sub 5 this summer, just to prove that I can still do it.

As far as goals, I have this silly idea that I’d like to run my age for 10 miles. I feel that it is the ultimate test requiring longevity, hard work, god given ability and a commitment to clean living. I wouldn’t be the first by any means to accomplish this feat, but it is a short list probably similar to the list of those who have run sub 13 for 5k or sub 27 for 10k.

I’d also like to participate in the ElliptiGO World Championships, but they are held during our Fall cross country season. Fulfilling that goal may need to wait until I retire from coaching in 4 or 5 years.

 

ElliptiGO:

Running has obviously been a huge part of your life. Are you needing to make changes in your training approaches to help you keep it that way?

Steve Spence:

I want to be able to keep running as long as I can without negatively affecting my long term health. I’ve been committed to not writing a training plan for myself since I retired from professional running many years ago. In some ways that approach has served me well, but I feel that it’s extremely important for me to exercise caution when running faster and longer. I like to push myself and I can often overdo it when my fitness and motivation increases. I feel that I need to primarily satisfy my desire to push the envelope by doing harder sessions and longer aerobic work on the ElliptiGO bike.

 

For more information on ElliptiGO training for elite athletes and teams, visit our Athletics page

 

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Posted April 7, 2020 by Tennille in Athletes, Coaches, Teams, Elites & Teams, Uncategorized, updates
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