The Flight of Kate Grace
By: Cait Chock
Kate Grace graduated from Yale a bona-fide newbie to the sport. Yes she'd been running since high school, was a four time All-American, and set school records, but the facts were she'd barely kissed 30 miles per week and had only a fair grasp on what a tempo run was. Those factors were perhaps what really caught Coach Frank Gagliano's eye. She was raw, on a rise, and, properly trained, this girl could fly.
She did. Incredible what a doubled volume and one of the best coaches in our sport can do for a girl. Though one would be ignorant to disregard THE girl herself. Steely tough, a dedicated work ethic, and the ability to dream. Yes, dream.
Gags wasn't the only one who believed in how far Grace could go, Bob and Sarah Lesko, Yale alumni, carefully constructed an introduction between the runner and another burgeoning, relative newbie on the scene, Oiselle. "They had the vision - big strides, both for the company, and me as an athlete." The result: an initial one-year contract. Incidentally, both were in for the ride of their lives, flying higher than the world would have ever expected in a short two years' time. Another common thread between Grace and Oiselle was the ability to dream big. The catalyst for all great things.
"I had no idea what was in store for me. The relationships I have formed, people I've met, it's been such a special ride," shares Grace.
Both in brand and in athlete Grace has figuratively blown up the past two years. Grace's breakout year came in 2013; cracking 2-minutes, winning some big-name races, and an ever-growing flock of supporters. The original Fast K8 shirt is omnipresent in stands, on the track, and literally on the run regardless of where Kate is physically located. Her accomplishments, her drive, and motivation are all there in spirit as they inspire the women wearing the shirts.
When asked if she had expected to make such major strides forward in such a short amount of time, her answer was the best. "Is it weird to say yes? Or, I think to be an athlete, human?, is to dream big. So, I had foreseen those improvements in various visualizations. But, I fantasize about so many things. Most stay as fantasies. I haven't, yet, ... won a national championship... helped build a nationwide service or arts program in schools ... bought back my childhood home for my mom. The best feeling is being reminded that even the goals that no one expects do turn to reality."
Kate Grace marked the first elite of her level for Oiselle. Certainly we can't give her all the credit for the way the brand has collected a bevy of big name runners, their spread reads like the line-up of American Distance Runner Sweethearts, but she clearly was a key player in building that momentum. Today, Oiselle is a major force in leading the charge in how companies sponsor and market their athletes, "I did know that this was something special. The relationships within the company, the friendships in the office, and with their athletes, the support and encouragement around the country - those are unique. It is a good foundation, and good things tend to grow."
What's it like to be surrounded by such influential and fast women, Grace phrases it best herself, "It's rad, Dude." There. The personality behind the formidable competitor, that may be what really sells those Fast K8 shirts, one can't help but love her. She's real, she has wit, and wants to connect with her fans; they are, after all, runners. She's more than familiar with the tempo run by now too.
She's still learning though, after 2013's success, "I proved to myself that I could be a high-level runner. In 2014, I went about figuring out what it meant to do that. There were tons of reading and learning about different training philosophies, a crash-course in physical therapy and rehabilitation from plantar fasciitis, and starting to explore what I need as an individual to be my best." This year was that of building and looking long term; sill resulting in a 1500 PR but, "the focus is on the future. It's scary, taking a break and betting on bigger gains down the road, when I could continue to race. But I have faith in the process." Looking forward to 2015 sees Grace at the World Championships, but she catches herself, careful to not get too far ahead. She wants to progress her endurance and has plans for a fast road 5k.
The year of 2014 has marked even more changes for Grace, life speeding full force ahead just as much as her training. Relocating from New Jersey to the west coast to be closer to her training partners and develop the program. The elites' summer travel schedule grants no shortage of stress or disruptions, Grace turned to her tumblr accounts to help her stay connected. One coined after her alter-ego, The Adventures of Sexy Ankle, and the more powerfully inspirational, Mantra. She is, after all always setting her sights ever higher. "Having people care about your training, cheer you on, it seems small, but it has such a powerful effect."
Kate Grace is a dreamer. Luckily, she's got the tenacity and motivation to will those dreams into being. We've only just caught a glimpse of how high this bird will soar.
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004 and previously ran for Nike. A freelance writer, artist, and designer she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.