BOSTON (07-Oct) -- Neely Spence continues her fall racing season here tomorrow with her first-ever 10-kilometer race on either the road or the track at the 36th Tufts Health Plan 10-K for women, the USA 10-K women's championship. The 22 year-old Hansons-Brooks athlete is full of confidence after her runner-up finish at the USA 5-K road running championships in Providence on September 16, backed-up by several 70 to 80-mile weeks of training.
"My number one goal is experience, to get out there and test myself at this distance," Spence told Race Results Weekly in an exclusive interview today. "My Dad was always better the longer the race, and that's how it's been for me."
Spence's father Steve, the 1991 World Marathon Championships bronze medalist, had been Spence's only coach since she started running in the 8th grade. Steve coached her through high school, then in college where Spence starred for the Shippensburg University team in NCAA's Division II, winning both the 5000m and cross country national titles three times. She said that she is still adapting to the training of Kevin and Keith Hanson who pilot the Hansons-Brooks group in Rochester Hills, Mich., but she is now beginning to see the benefits.
"Training's gone really well," she said. "I've been doing some longer workouts, more mileage. So, I think I'm pretty 10-K fit, so I'm excited to see what can happen."
Spence, who has been spending her spare time planning for a New Year's Eve wedding to fiancé Dillon Gracey, said that although she doesn't have any experience racing at this distance, she still plans to contend for a top finish position.
"A lot of people have experience on the course and with the distance that I don't have," she explained. "But, I'm also probably in the best shape of my life now. So, you know, I'm excited to see what I can do."
Spence missed last summer's Olympic Trials because she suffered a stress fracture in her left foot last January. Her first race back was a low-key 5-K last July in her hometown of Shippensburg where she was the overall winner in 16:28. She ran the 7-mile Falmouth Road Race in Massachusetts as a hard training run, but finished an unexpected 11th after she felt good enough in the second half to push the pace a little. Another month of solid training helped her run a 15:34 road PB in Providence.
"My season didn't really start until August when I ran at Falmouth," she said. "That was sort of my first race back, but that was, like, just go out there and get in a hard effort because it was an extremely long race."
She knew she was getting fit when she ran her last mile at Falmouth in 5:10.
"Of course I finished 11th and I was really bummed out," she quipped.
Under the Hansons, Spence said her body was adapting to taking on a bigger workload. Working with more experienced runners, like Desiree Davila, has shown her how young she is as an athlete. Her future is long and bright.
"I feel like I'm just taking those baby steps to my ultimate potential," she said.
PHOTO: Neely Spence in Boston on Oct. 7, 2012, in advance of the Tufts Health Plan 10-K for Women (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)