Two weekends ago, steeplechaser Ben Bruce, 30, of Flagstaff, Ariz., hit the trails of Oahu, Hawaii for the XTERRA Trail Running World Championships, a challenging 21K off-road adventure. After coming in second in both 2009 and 2011, Bruce was ready to make 2012 his year. Coming into the final stretch toward the finish line, Joseph Gray, who finished in third place at last year’s XTERRA Championships, had the same idea. The result? The two crossed the finish line shoulder to shoulder in an unprecedented first-place tie.
We sat down with the track-minded Bruce after the race to get his thoughts on trail racing and what’s in store for him in the coming years.
After running on the track for years what made you want to try out the trails?
It [The XTERRA Trail Running World Championships] really is the only one [trail race] I ever do. I think it’s mainly just timing of the year. Usually my racing revolves around the track season. Usually this time of year I’m doing a lot of training and doing a race like this gives me a chance to do something a little different. But it’s still training-based but gives me a break and a chance to go to Hawaii.
How has your track and road-racing career translated to the trails?
Out on a trail is a completely different scenario in comparison to the track or a road race. Last year Max King and I came around a turn and there was a cow just right on the road. You never know what to expect. But being in shape is going to be the ultimate factor in the race. I might not be the best trail runner, but I also believe I’m in really good shape. So I try to make up for any lack I might have in some technical sections by running the open sections as hard as I can.
What was going through your mind as you [and Joe] came through the finish shoot neck in neck?
I know Joe runs a lot of trail races so I was glad I was that close with a little left to go. I was trying to rely on my track speed, but Joe has some good track speed himself so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy — it wasn’t going to be like running down Grandma. He was holding off a good fight and it ended up being a fantastic finish. I think I broke the cameraman’s microphone and I think we both ended up on the ground.
What is the future of trail running for you?
I might go to nationals in South Lake because I have some family that lives there, so that’d be nice to go there. But for me I’m a track and road racer. Trail running beats me up pretty bad so I have to limit the amount of it I do.
You recently turned 30. Some people might say you have hit your peak and you’re too old to run [fast] now. What do you say to them?
I think that anyone can have a number that they say is the peak for athletes but I think it depends on the distance you’re racing. To say one age for a peak is kind of ridiculous. If you’re talking about a sprinter maybe 30 is up there, but for a long distance runner like myself who didn’t do a lot of running in high school, because I didn’t run track in high school, so I have a lot more left in my legs than the average 30-year-old as far as miles accumulated in my career. I don’t see [turning 30] as hitting my peak. If anything I’m coming into my peak and the hopefully the next three or four years of my career will be the best I’ve ever had.