World Championships Marathon Bronze Medalist & 1992 Olympian Marathoner
(Right: in Barcelona-'92)
(and native Pennsylvanian) Steve Spence had a birthday May 9th.
He's now racing with the Masters, and Steve plans to be as competitive
as he can be. The story and a bit of PA running history is this special
feature on one of America's all-time best distance runners.
Steve Spence is like most distance runners. He's different. Quiet
off the track. Introspective. But ultra competitive when the gun goes
off. And now the former PA State 1600 Champ -- Bronze Medallist in the
World Championships Marathon -- Olympic Marathoner -- College Coach
-- and still co-holder of one American Road Record is ready to go after
And he is off to a good start.
On May 9th, Steve Spence turned 40. And the Masters' records he'll be
after are not only American, but World, as well.
His first race was the Capitol 5000 in Harrisburg, PA on June 15th,
which he won in 14:59 (4:56, 4:54, 4:35). "I expected to be around
15:00, but figured I was in 14:40 shape if I had to be." He finished
first by 13 seconds over fellow Master Randy Haas (Blue Mountain HS
AA 800/1600 State Champ). The race was a tune-up for his first big test
in the division of 40+ runners. Spence had planned to compete at the
Peachtree 10K in Atlanta July 4th or the Subaru 4-miler July 20th in
Buffalo, but a heel spur put him on the bike for a short time as he
chose to be cautious. He's training and planning to return when 100%
For Spence, the comeback trail started for real late in 2000. "I
started running a little bit and my body was responding the way that
it used to respond, in a positive way to just a little bit of work.
And I'm like, wow, running is fun again and it's easy again for me.
And that's when I started thinking about some of the Masters' records."
Steve's goals run the gamete of the distances, with the exception this
time, of the Marathon. "I know the work that it takes. And I don't
really feel like I have the time to do it with my family and work obligations.
And I don't really want to do that any more and put my body through
that because I know how much it takes out of me and how much preparation
and recovery it does take."
Winning the 1980 PIAA AAA 1600 in a then-state record 4:12.
In addition to the 3K to Half-Marathon Track and Road records
he'd like to take on, Steve also has his eye on eclipsing times he did
as an elite athlete in high school. He went 4:12 in winning the State
1600 and 9:15 in the 2-mile. He ran the equivalent of a 9-flat 2-mile
indoors over the winter, so those personal goals should be well within
Because Spence is one of the best distance runners to ever come out
of Pennsylvania (he's listed in Marc Bloom's 2001 book 'Run with the
Champions' as one of the Top 100 American distances runners of all time),
PennTrackXC thought our former, current and future distance athletes
could benefit from his perspective on everything from how he trains
-- "This isn't advice for younger athletes," to how not to
tell your future competition you're coming after them -- "I wanted
to make a statement to him and it ended up him making a statement to
me," to why he thinks he's a better track runner than XC, and how
he was persuaded to leave the world of tennis for track in high school.
But first, a little background on the Steve Spence career to date.
Spence is a Central Pennsylvania guy from Hummelstown where he graduated
from Lower Dauphin High School. His 1980 PR's of 4:12 and 9:15 garnered
him one state championship. In college, he was a seven-time Division
II All-American (5K 4 years outdoor, 1 year indoor, XC 2 years) at Shippensburg
University, where he is currently the Head Coach for Men's and Women's
XC and T&F. Two of those All-American certificates were also individual
5000 Meter Track Championships (one outdoor-'84/ one indoor-'85). His
college PR's were 3:48 1500, 8:13 3000, 13:56 5000, 29:02 (road) 10000.
One of Spence's Division II outdoor 5000 championship races for Shippensburg.
1983: Steve would finish 2nd to Carmello Rios (green shorts/white yellow
top) of Cal Poly SLO and an Olympic Steeplechaser for Puerto Rico. Spence
ran the final 800 in 1:59 but was passed 40 meters from the finish,
losing by two strides. Also in the photo is Mark Conover, Humbolt State
(green shorts/white green top), the Olympic Marathon Trials winner in
But it's after college that Spence started to make his mark on
the international scene. Between 1985 and 1993, he finished higher in
the Marathon than anyone since Frank Shorter in 1976, getting Bronze
at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. Earlier that year, he captured
the Olympic Development 10K at the Penn Relays. The next year, he won
the Olympic Trials Marathon and went on to get 12th in the Olympic Marathon
in Barcelona, although he usually doesn't include the fact that he placed
that well with the flu. He had been sick for three days and his fever
broke late in the morning on race day. With the race scheduled for 6pm,
he and his coach decided to give it a shot, planning for Steve to stop
at the halfway point near the Athlete's Village. But when he reached
that point, he thought he was in a position to possibly medal, so he
kept going. "It wasn't one of the smartest things I ever did, because
it took my body a year-and-a-half to recover."
Steve officially retired at the end of 1997, but never regained world
class form after 1993. It was in December of 1993 that he and his wife
Kirsten celebrated the birth of twin girls. They also have an older
daughter who looks to be charting her own course as a distance competitor.
Between college and 1993, Steve was a member of four international teams,
including the 1991 World Championships, 1992 Olympic, 1989 NYC Ekiden
Relay, and 1991 Berlin, Germany Ekiden Relay. He was named Outstanding
Long Distance Runner in the US three consecutive years, 1989-1991 by
the USATF (Robert DeCelle Award). He received the USATF Glenn Cunningham
Award in 1991 as the Outstanding Runner in the US, 800 Meters and Up.
And he was the Road Racing Club of America's Road Runner of the year
About 23-mile mark during the 1992 Olympic Marathon Trials. Left to
right, Kempanien, Spence, Eyestone, Brantley, Reifsnyder (grabbing his
Winning the Trials.
Just prior to turning 40, Steve had been sticking close to home, with
the exception of a trip to Jacksonville, FL in March where he finished
the Elite 15K 23rd in 46:52. In February over back-to-back weeks, he
went 8:25 in the 3000 (only 12 seconds off his college time), and 14:29
in the 5000,a race in which he paced Millersville All-American Mark
Stallings (Great Valley HS).
His PRs include:
5K Road - 13:435K Track - 13:56
8K - 22:56
10K Road - 27:51 (5th US All-Time)
10K Track - 28:11
12K - 34:19 (AR tied with John Sinclair) (Bay to Breakers, 1991)
15K - 42:40 (2nd best all-time. Was AR) (Cascade Run Off - 1989)
10 Miles - 47:11
Half-Marathon - 1:02.09
Marathon - 2:12.17 (Columbus - 1990)
Spence is ready to race. And even better, he says "it's fun again."
The PennTrackXC interview: followed by American and World Masters'
Steve and others will be chasing; plus a list
of his other major pre- and post-Masters races.
ON HIS HIGH SCHOOL CAREER:
Right: District III 1600 Final. Spence won in what
is still a district record of 4:15. Curt Long, then a junior at Cedar
Crest, was 2nd. Long and his twin Doug, later followed Spence to Shippensburg.
PENNTRACKXC: How did you first find running?
like a lot of high school runners, it was an influential teacher that
was our cross country and track coach. He was a ninth grade teacher;
he was the varsity cross country and track coach. He kind of identified
me. I think we did something in like 7th, 8th grade, where they had
some field day type of events. I just go out and without any training,
be way out there, ahead. He recognized some talent, potential there
and was always on me. Come out for cross country. I want you running.
He talked me into in 9th grade finally. I went out for cross country
but I ran junior high and went undefeated that season. And then he wanted
me to run varsity track that year. But I decided I wanted to play tennis.
So I played tennis. And then he got me out for cross country the next
year and then track. It just kind of took off from there.
PENNTRACKXC: In high school where did
you get your aspirations, who was around in Pennsylvania at that point
that you could point to, or nationally, and say, okay I want to be like
them, I want to run that fast, I want to break 4:15 in the mile, I want
to run a 9:15 in the 2 mile?
who the runners were out there, who the top guys were. I wasn't, I never
really idolized anyone. You know, I didn't want to be like Pre. I never
got into that as a source of motivation. I did watch those guys run
and I would learn from it. I was very competitive in whatever I did.
Bill Ryfsnyder was my main competition probably in high school. And
most of the time Bill got the best of me. In fact, I don't think I beat
him in high school. At the state meet our senior year, well, at the
Shippensburg invitational, the high school meet my PR going into that
was a 4:23. And Bill and I both went 4:12 and he outleaned me at the
line. I had led the last half mile of it and he got me down the home
stretch. Then going into the state meet he wanted to break 9 minutes
in the 3200 and he decided that he wasn't going to run the 1600. So
I ended up winning the 1600 and he won the 3200. I actually tried to
help him out in the 32 because I was entered in it and I had already
won the 16. So I told him, I saw him, and I said, what do you want to
go out in? He's like I want to go out in like 4:28. All right, so I
took him out in 4:28 and I faded to 7th then and back then I think only
the top six got medals. So I missed a medal but I didn't care. I already
had the one that I wanted at that point. He ended up running 9:02, so
he just missed it.
PENNTRACKXC: When did you decide you
didn't like cross? Did you ever medal at States?
I was 35th as a sophomore, 8th as a junior. Then I got hurt my senior
year and ended up 12th. I kind of liked it in high school initially
because I got bored running around the track; my focus wasn't there.
I hear that a lot from high school runners. You know, the 3200 is just
so long and so many laps.
PENNTRACKXC: Wait till they do the
wait till you do the 5K indoor and the 10K outdoor. I liked the training
for it and some of the racing on the flat courses, the ones that were
like tracks. Then when I got on the uneven footing, then that's when
it was difficult. Then in college, when it started to become more obvious
that I was a better track runner than cross country, I would get frustrated
because I would get beat by guys that I shouldn't be getting beat by.
ON HIS PROFESSIONAL CAREER / TRAINING PHILOSOPHY:
Winning the 1990 Columbus Marathon in his PR 2:12.17, which qualified
him for the World Championships in 1991 in Tokyo, Japan.
PENNTRACKXC: Is there anything that you really regret from
your first career?
I think that I did what I wanted in high school. I was a state champ
and NCAA champ in college. I got to about the highest level that you
can as an Olympian. Bronze medals at the World Champs as a post collegiate.
I accomplished a lot and looking back I would definitely do a lot of
things different. But at the time, I was doing what I thought was best.
And probably the most difficult thing that I went through was the birth
of our twins. What I found was that with two parents and one child life
doesn't change a whole lot. But when you add a second and then a third
child right on top of that, it is a major change, a lot of stress. It
was hard to be home and rest. And if I went away, then there was a feeling
of guilt. And that wasn't good.
PENNTRACKXC: When were your twins born?
of '93. It was a difficult time for me and I never really recovered
from that. And the stress leads to some addictions and things of that
sort. And I wasn't reading my body very well because I was stressed
and worried about other things. And I was just kind of on autopilot.
But now what I think is working for me and the reason that it's working
is that I'm just reading my body and doing what my body is telling me
it's capable of doing. If I need some time off, I take time off. I don't
like writing down workouts. Because when I write them down, that's kind
of like putting them in stone for me. If I have them in my head and
have an idea what I want to do, it's easy for me to change it up. This
isn't advice for younger athletes. This is what works for me. But I
have 25 years' experience or 26 years' experience running to draw on.
So what I've been doing is I might go to the track and think I'm going
to do 16 400s, is an idea. Some days I might get to 12 and say jeez
I ran them faster than what I wanted and 12 seems about right now. Or
I might get to 16 and say geez, another 4 more seems doable. And maybe
I should do some more. If I go out for a run, I might plan on doing
a long run you know maybe 2 hours one day. If I go out and I'm struggling,
I might stop at 1 hour and go out and do my long run the next day. That's
a lot of the way I trained as a post collegiate. I'd have a plan in
my head and kind of a rough plan written out but I wouldn't do anything
specific on paper because that didn't work for me.
Olympic Trials, 1992 - 10-mile mark. Cooling down along with
training partner Steve Taylor (background), former coach at Virginia
Tech, now at Richmond. The temps were in the low70s and humid.
ON COLLEGE COACHING:
PENNTRACKXC: Coaching college, that was a conscious choice
to stay. And I understand you were a volunteer coach for 10 years before
you got your chance, while you were still running professionally?
I volunteered at Shippensburg for about 10 or 11 years while I was running
competitively. And I didn't want to make any more of a commitment than
a volunteer commitment at that point. And it was great. Some of the
years, depending on where I was in my training, I would say I'll take
all of the long distance runners and I'll coach them, be their coach.
Other years I'd say look, I have a major event I'm getting ready for
and I can't make any commitment whatsoever except to come and maybe
run with the team and help out some individuals because maybe some problems
and difficulties they're having with their training, give them some
advice. But I wouldn't make any commitment to be there. It worked out
good. I always had people to run with and push me in workouts and I'd
kind of integrate their training into what I was doing. And then a lot
of times, if they're doing a workout, I might run an hour in the morning,
do the workout with them in the afternoon and add on and do more intervals
or something if I was getting ready for a marathon. It gave me a group
to run with every day. It was a lot of help.
PENNTRACKXC: Do you find anything different
about the kids today than the kids you competed with 20 years ago?
STEVE: I don't
think so. Runners are runners. They're out there working hard. At Shippensburg
I have a great group of kids and I really enjoy working with them. I
think in some ways they're more, well, more responsible than we were
back then. I'm sometimes amazed at the maturity compared to where I
was and the group of guys I was with in college.
ON JOINING THE MASTERS & HIS GOALS:
Working out during an early 2002 college meet outside Franklin
Field, University of Pennsylvania.
PENNTRACKXC: It seems the competitive fire has been reignited
a little bit.
when running is easy and fun, it's easy to be competitive. When running
is difficult and it's a chore, then it's hard to be competitive. And
it got to a point late in my career, the last few years, where running
was definitely a chore and it wasn't fun and competition wasn't fun
for me. Now I just look forward to it and I can't wait for the next
race. It's a blast.
PENNTRACKXC: Any particular distances
you're going to be concentrating on or are you just going to see how
of the things I have in the back of my mind is I'd like to run faster
in the mile or 1600 than I did in high school when I went 4:12. I'd
like to run faster there as far as a shorter race. And I'm already running
significantly faster than I did in high school in the 3000, 2 mile range.
I'm equivalent of about 9 flat there indoors. That's one of my goals.
I don't really have any aspirations of a marathon at this point. Because
I know the work that it takes. And I don't really feel like I have the
time to do it with my family and work obligations.
PENNTRACKXC: It's a 6 month lead in
or 4 month lead in and a 6 month recovery?
And I don't really want to do that any more and put my body through
that because I know how much it takes out of me and how much preparation
and recovery it does take.
PENNTRACKXC: So you're thinking 5K,
maybe up to half marathon. Anything under 20 miles is totally different
from a marathon. The damage in a marathon is done over the last several
miles. So if you're running 20 milers even if it still ends up being
where you can still run anerobically slightly for that distance. But
then once you get over the marathon distance it becomes an aerobic event.
And I've just struggled the last few miles enough times that I don't
want to go through that again.
PENNTRACKXC: Do you think you're going
to concentrate on the road or track or just see what happens?
just going to see what happens. I enjoy running on both. I don't really
enjoy cross country. I enjoy coaching cross country and training for
cross country but racing cross country is something I've always struggled
with. When I ran a 6K, our alumni race, last year, I realized why I
always hated cross country again. It was a reminder. I'm not sure why
that is, I think, maybe because I'm a rhythm runner and my stride doesn't
do very well on uneven surfaces. I get on the track and the road and
I can get in that rhythm and just roll with it. In cross country I used
to get beat by guys who couldn't touch me on the track or on the road.
It was always frustrating for me. So, I'm going to stay away from that
at this point.
Racing at the Spirit of Gettysburg 5K in 1994.
PENNTRACKXC: Any aspirations for any Masters' records?
a lot of the records are definitely in reach, as far as American records.
The World Records are pretty quick with a 13:45 for 5K and 28:30 or
31 for 10K. But the 10K may be reachable. I think that the American
5K and 10K records have recently been broken by Danny Gonzales of California.
I heard that he went 14:11 and low-to-mid 29's, but have not seen them
published (Published are: 14:45.70 by William Krohn (US) 7-31-99, and
30:37.94 by Craig Young (CO), 8- 1-98). Also, Marcus O'Sullivan lowered
the World Indoor 3000 to 8:09 and change at a Penn State meet back on
January 26th. (O'Sullivan went 8:09.13 for 3rd. Former PA AA State XC
champ Tom Parlapiano (Villanova/Pius X) won the race in 8:07.49, Chris
Estwanik, Wake Forest, was 2nd in 8:07.57.) And Fast Eddie Hellebuyck
recently went 29:23 on the roads at a race in South Carolina. Again,
I haven't seen it published.
PENNTRACKXC: So you think the World
Record in the 10K is reachable?
The American record for 5000 is 14:11 and I think I can definitely get
PENNTRACKXC: Do you still have two
road American records?
well no, one. The 12k I'm tied with Jon Sinclair at 34:19. And for the
15k I still have the second fastest time ever run at 42:40. Todd Williams
has gone, I think 42:22. So he broke that by quite a bit. And I'm 5th
on the roads at 10: with a 27:51 in Pittsburgh in 1988.
loves coaching college athletes, but
"I can't wait for the next race. It's a blast."
ON HIS MASTERS COMPETITION:
PENNTRACKXC: Who is the competition
out there? Has anybody contacted you? Have you raced anybody getting
ready for this?
STEVE: It's very competitive among
the Masters' guys. Right now there are a couple of Soviets who are running
very well. And then Eddie Hellebuyck, who is a naturalized American
citizen from Belgium and he's the top guy on the road right now. And
John Tuttle from Georgia is running well and there are quite a few other
guys that are ready to turn forty and we'll see what happens with them,
like Keith Brantley and Ed Eyestone has just turned 40 but I'm not sure
what his aspirations are.
PENNTRACKXC: But you would recognize
him if he toed up to the line?
STEVE:Oh, yeah. We've seen each
other enough times.
PENNTRACKXC: You mentioned that you'd
run into one of your new competitors, Eddie Hellebuyck, at a race earlier
STEVE: I ran
against him at the half marathon, U.S. Half Marathon Championships in
Parkersburg back in August (2001) and I beat him by a minute there.
But he was coming off the World Championship marathon a couple weeks
before that. So he was struggling a little bit. Then I ran against him
in Jacksonville at a 15K March 9.
PENNTRACKXC: Did it go to plan?
STEVE: I wanted
to make a statement. And I went into the hospitality suite the night
before and I walk in and he's like, "What are you doing here Spence?
You don't turn until May 9." And I said, "I'm just down here
to get ready for you." I wanted to make a statement to Eddie, but
it ended up with him making a statement to me, saying you have a lot
of work to do yet if you're going to run against me.
PENNTRACKXC: And how old is he now?
41. He's running great. He ran 45:20. The year before he broke the American
record, he went 45:08, I think. But conditions this year were tough.
It was really warm. It was like 80. And he's a good runner. (Steve was
23rd in 46:52 5:02 pace, and just ahead of 44-year-old Andrey Kuznetsov,
of Rockville, MD.)
PENNTRACKXC: He's got two Masters'
records now. So those would be two that you'll be taking aim for?
I just want to be competitive with him and go after him. Its going
to be fun. He's a good guy. We were joking around with each other but
when it became race time, he had his race face on and he took it to
me. He actually went by me at about 3/4 into the race, 3/4 of a mile.
And he just 'boom' right up to the lead pack and started running with
Meb (Keflezighi - 1st in 42:48) Abdi (Abdirahman, 2nd in 43:29) Alan
(Culpepper, 3rd in 43:33) and those guys. He's not afraid of anybody.
Major Races, 1988-1994:
88' and 91' Jacksonville River Run 15k - 1st
88' Falmouth Road Race 7.1 - 2nd
88' Great Race 10k - 2nd
89' Lilac Bloomsday 12k - 2nd
89' Citrus Bowl Half Marathon - 1st
89' Ice Breaker Five 5 mi - 1st
89' Cascade Run off 15k - 2nd
89' Bix 7mi - 3rd
89' Crim 10mi - 3rd
90' Columbus Marathon - 1st
90' Arvada, CA 5k - 1st
90' Philadelphia Half Marathon - 2nd
90' Great Scottish Run 25k - 2nd
90' Bix 7mi - 3rd
90' Cascade Run off 5k - 3rd
90' Peachtree 10k - 4th
90' Jax River Run 15k - 4th
91' Bay to Breakers 12K - 1st
91' Jax River Run 15k - 1st
91' Penn Relays 10k - 1st
91' Gasparilla 15k - 2nd
91' Ice Breaker 5mi - 2nd
91' World Championship Marathon, Tokyo - 3rd
91' Cherry Blossom 10mi - 3rd
91' Utica Boilermaker 15k - 3rd
92' Olympic Trials Marathon - 1st
92' Fairfield Half Marathon - 1st
92' Toronto 10mi - 1st
92' Senior Bowl 10k - 2nd
92' Bellin Run 10k - 2nd
92' Manchester Road Race 4.77 mi - 3rd
92' Olympic Games Marathon, Barcelona - 12th
94' Columbus Marathon - 2nd
94' Parkersburg US Half Marathon - 1st
3-17-01 Chambersburg half marathon 1:08:12 1st
7-21-01 Bast Berlin, PA 5k road race 14:30 1st
7-29 York, Bon Ton 5mi. road race 23:41 7th
8-18-01 Parkersburg half marathon 1:06:15 9th
12-1-01 Bucknell Univ Indoor 3k 8:39 1st
12-29-01 Duncannon, PA 5mi road race 25:17 1st
2-02-02 Delaware Univ Indoor 3k 8:25 1st
2-09-02 Bucknell Univ Indoor 5k 14:29 1st
3-09-02 Jacksonville Ruver Run 15k 46:52 23rd
5-15-02 Capitol 5000 14:59 1st
7-4-02 Peachtree 10k (may skip because of Plantar Fasciitis)
7-20-02 Subara Buffalo (NY) 4-Miler
The Records that Steve Spence and the other Masters are pursuing:
By National Masters News & T&F News
- Masters' Records
US Outdoor Records as of November 30, 2001
Mile: M40 4:12.24 Larry Almberg(WA) 43
3K: M40 8:43.7 Web Loudat(NM) 40 6-13-87
5K: M40 14:45.70 William Krohn(US) 40 7-31-99
10K: M40 30:37.94 Craig Young(CO) 40 8-
US Masters' Road Records
8K: Bill Rodgers, 23:51 | Broken by
Spence 8/9/03 with 23:47 @ 16th Tom Ausherman 5-Miler, Chambersburg,
10K: Eddie Hellebuyck, 29:23 (3/4/02 @
Cooper River 10K)
12K: John Tuttle, 36:12
15K: Eddie Hellebuyck, 45:10
10-Mile: Paul Pinkerton, 49:34
Half Marathon: Craig Young, 1:04.39
Marathon: Barry Brown, 2:15.15
World Outdoor Records as of March 1, 2002
1500: M40 3:47.64 Steve Scott(USA) 40 6-
by T&F News: 3:44.89 Luiz Jose Goncalves (Brazil) Rio de Janeiro,
Mile: M40 4:02.53 (3:46.7 1500 split) David
Moorcroft(GBR) 40 6-19-93 in Belfast
3000: M40 8:05.08 Martti Vainio(FIN) 40
6-12-91 in Mikkeli
5000: M40 13:45.6 Lucien Rault(FRA) 40
5-21-76 13:43.15* Mohamed Ezzher(FRA) 40 7- 3-00 in Sotteville
10000: M40 28:30.88 Martti Vainio(FIN)
40 6-25-91 in Hengelo
Marathon: M40 2:11.04 John Campbell NZL
US Indoor Records as of November 30, 2001
Mile: M40 4:11.00 Bill Stewart(MI) 40 1-22-83
3000: M40 8:32.52 Craig Fram(NH) 42 3-23-01
World Indoor Records as of March 1, 2002
1500: M40 3:45.3 Eamonn Coghlan(IRL) 40
Mile: M40 3:58.15 Eamonn Coghlan(IRL) 41
2-20-94 in Boston
3000: M40 8:09.13 Marcus O'Sullivan (IRL)
1-26-02 Penn State University
Welcome back Steve!