Olympic Trials Spotlight: Grace Gonzales

The Olympic Trials Marathon isn’t the only race on 30 year old Grace Gonzales‘s mind. The Chino, California native ran a PR of 2:41:56 at the 2018 California International Marathon (CIM) to achieve the “B” standard for the Trials. Yet just eight days after the race in Atlanta, Gonzales will be on the start line of the L.A. Marathon.

The elementary teacher and yoga instructor ran her first marathon at L.A. back when she was in just the fourth grade. It’s a family tradition; her father is an L.A. Marathon legacy runner, having completed it every year since 1986. Gonzales and her siblings joined him many times over the years. She’s lost track of how many times she’s run it – this year will be either her 12th or 13th. With L.A. coming so soon after the Trials, Gonzales says her plan will be “lots of focused rest and recovery, but I am interested to take on the challenge and continue making memories.”

Your dad is an L.A. Marathon legacy runner, having run in every race since 1986. Did growing up with a parent who was a runner motivate or inspire you, particularly as a distance runner of color?

Yes, growing up seeing my dad, then older siblings, continuously commit and show up each year to prepare and participate in L.A. was motivating and inspiring. Observing the hard work going into it was one thing, but also seeing them do it with a passion and tie to our identity and culture was something that has also been powerful.

I read that you ran your first marathon in fourth grade. What was that like? When did you come back to the marathon distance?

It was an exciting time to train and participate with my dad and brothers. To be on the other end of observing all the training to actually doing it with them, especially the long runs to my grandma’s house and running through various mountain ranges and cities was for sure exciting. One of my brothers and I stood together for my first marathon, so I have a memory of sharing the moments with him and us pushing/supporting one another throughout the race. I continued to participate in the L.A. Marathon throughout the years of high school, but also mindful of being in “track season”. In 2007, my senior year in HS, I got 1st in the 17 and under age division. Then I didn’t participate until 2013, which was when I finished my collegiate running time. Following 2013, I continued to participate in the L.A. Marathon just for fun with family and friends but not actually “competing”. In 2016 I was planning to see how close I could get to my PR from 2007, which I surpassed more than I realized I could.

In December 2017, I competed in the California International Marathon. It was the year I officially participated in a marathon with a “competitive” approach and under training with a coach, also the first marathon I had done other than L.A. I returned to CIM in 2018 to chase the OTQ opportunity.

You took a relatively long break after your collegiate career at Cal State Fullerton was over. What was your process like in coming back to running competitively?

The process naturally unfolded. I was simply rekindling the reminder of how much running was medicine for me, for enjoyment and the like of being active. This was also with the help of close friends and family who also enjoy running, so we mutually kept each other accountable and inspired, As I continued to see myself grow in improvement with times I began to set various “small” goals. This leading into the 2016 L.A. Marathon and chasing my PR from 2007, which was a playful but serious goal. After that I began to question how much more do I want to go in, with a few half marathons in between and continued goal setting, I decided to get a coach to see what more can unfold. Which, that has led me to where I am today: running elite, OTQ, all in, and ready for more!

What inspired you to go for the Olympic Trials qualifying time?

Realizing how close I was led to questioning of making it reality…maybe not 2020, but 2024 was my initial thought. That obviously changed as I continued to dive into committed training with support of a coach and proper plans/preparation. The idea of making it 2020 and not 2024 became more realistic, so I changed my mental thought and went after it. That training cycle of deciding to go for it was about showing up for myself, not just in running but in every way since so much was changing for me at the time.

You qualified for the Trials back in December 2018 at CIM. How does it feel to have such a long time between qualifying and toeing the line in Atlanta?

The time between qualifying and toeing the line in Atlanta has felt long, but also nice to put more training and racing under the belt. I feel like during the time, I was (and still am) learning about running, distance and elite together. I have been able to learn more about myself in regards to training and get various training experiences in that I feel have allowed me to grow into what will unfold in Atlanta. It’s surreal, since so much time was in between, to think something I had been working towards every day the past few years is finally here. It’s odd to think of what’s next since Atlanta has been it for quite some time.

Have you done anything different in your training during this buildup?

I trained with others more often than prior years during this buildup, especially towards the end of the training cycle. I feel like that has for sure helped me get a solid idea of what is capable and confidence in my training. I am very appreciative of my close running colleagues, who are also training for Atlanta, and the mutual support in our training. Also other folks who randomly reach out to help in the training.

What is the best training advice youโ€™ve ever been given?

To find the balance between not getting caught up in time/splits/expectations and simply run with heart and gratitude of the moment in spirit.

What role does yoga play in your training, and are there any lessons from your yoga practice that you apply to racing?

Yoga plays various roles in my running. It helps my prior injuries stay maintained, it is a form of strength training, it can be stretch and recovery, and helps me sharpen my mental state/body control when things begin to feel rough. The mental state/body control is most key of awareness in race moments for me. It can appear in controlling my breath and mind chatter, which correlates to any tension in the body that can be using energy. It brings me back to the moment and what I have control over, which can become a lot of positive self talk.

What have you learned that was unexpected or surprising throughout your running journey?

I think this whole experience was unexpected and I have learned that there are no real limits other than the self. If had you told me this moment and opportunity would be something I can/would experience, then I would have laughed. I have surprised myself during this journey and I am thankful for the bravery along with support of so many others who have been here with me for it

Do you mind sharing what your expectations are for Atlanta?

Considering the course is rolling and the goal to finish at my best and strong that day, I am going to be really mindful the first half and go in trusting myself.

Thank you so much to Grace for taking the time to share her story with us. We will be cheering her on as she tackles the Trials – and then again the next week as she takes on the challenge of the L.A. Marathon!

Southern transplant who loves 90s boy bands, outdoor adventures and college basketball, although not necessarily in that order. Recovering running perfectionist.

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