From Steeplechases to 100-mile races
Addie Bracy doesn’t remember a time when she wasn’t a runner.
“My dad was really into running,” says Bracy, who finished second in this year’s Leadville Trail 100, her first race at the century distance. “He wasn’t an elite or at a high level, but he ran in high school and college, and did triathlons and stuff.”
Her first memories include jumping in with her dad, Dennis, to run with him when he did track workouts. That progressed to Bracy running around their North Carolina neighborhood with her father.
Around age 8, Bracy would do a kids fun run at races her dad competed in. “it just progressed and progressed. I’ve always run for as long as I can remember.”
In middle school, her father took note of Bracy’s natural ability when she ran a 6-minute mile.
Since then, Bracy has excelled in a variety of distances and events, including the Steeplechase. More recently she has transitioned to the trail and ultra world, where she continues to run at a competitive level.
Mixing things up to avoid burnout
Some runners who start at an early age, then compete at high level at high school and/or college, find themselves struggling for meaning as they reach their 20s. Maybe the competitive flame has burned out. Perhaps work commitments, relationship priorities and other real-life situations have set running on a back burner.
Bracy knows some runners who grew to despise the process and the training, but stuck with it for the races. But that only led to their burnout.
Meanwhile, Bracy still embraced the simple pleasure of moving herself forward. “There was never a time when I didn’t feel like not running. I still liked to run and I still liked to train.”
Whenever Bracy felt an onset of burnout, she mixed things up.
“There are definitely times when I have felt burned out,” she admits. “I think one thing is being willing to try something new in the sport. I’ve pretty much done every event there is. I’ve never felt like I’ve been burned out from running or competing but there are have been times when I’ve felt focusing too much on one event and I wasn’t getting better. So I would try something new.”
In college Bracy qualified for the NCAA Championships in the Steeplechase. Post-college she tried out the marathon, where she found success. Later, she jumped back into the 10K before returning to the Steeplechase.
“The Steeple was always fun and I decided to go back to that a couple of years ago,” Bracy says. She ran around a 9:52, qualifying for the USA championships but missing the Olympic Trials in 2016 by a couple of seconds. “That was a bummer but it’s a tough event.”
It was at that point when Bracy hit burnout. “It hadn’t been fun for awhile,” she says. “Sometimes when you run the same event 100, or 200 times, at some point you stop improving and it can be a little frustrating. Just getting too caught up in the pressure I was putting on myself. Distance running just seemed to feel right. It’s just the simple-ness of it.”
A trail runner is born
In 2016, she needed another change and gave trail running a shot at the 10K U.S. Trail Mountain National Championships.
In her trail race debut, she won and advanced to the world championships. “I just kept having success and more importantly was having fun with it,” she says. “It felt new. The training was different. I reinvented myself as runner.”
In fact, she hasn’t returned to road or track racing since then.
“The freedom of the trails drew me in,” she says. “Track is pretty black and white. You’re either getting faster or not getting faster. Every track is 400 meters. It’s pretty easy to get stuck comparing your results. Trails are not like that. Every trail is different, and every day is different, with the weather. And I never looked back. Since then I haven’t run on the roads or the track.”
Bracy did not know it at the time but the demands of Steeplechase prepared her for her eventual trail and ultra running.
“The physical side of it, you need good footwork and need to not be afraid,” she explains. “It’s the same with these trail races, especially ones that I have done in Europe. They can be borderline dangerous. Not being totally foreign to that type pf racing, flinging my body over things, made that transition a bit easier.”
Unfinished business at Leadville
About six years ago, Bracy moved from North Carolina to Longmont, Colo.
“Trails weren’t foreign to me,” she says, noting she moved here to be closer to her coach, Brad Hudson, at the time. “I grew up running trails in North Carolina. My parents’ house backs up to 30 or 40 miles of mountain biking trails. They are different trails than here in Colorado. Here, the terrain is different. I had never really run on the mountains like I do now. I fell in love with this kind of running when I moved here.”
In roughly two years, she went from an elite Steeplechase competitor to finishing in second place in her first 100-miler, a very competitive mountain race.
“I consulted with a lot of people,” says Bracy, who is self-coached. “I do feel like I train the right way to run the right distance on the right terrain. But when you are talking about 100 miles, the fitness is important but it’s not as important as preparing all the uncontrollables that pop up — and that’s something I did not do”
In her previous races, Bracy never had an issue with nutrition. Or blisters, Or cramping.
“I didn’t trouble shoot what I would do those things happened,” she says. “Unfortunately, all of them happened. I didn’t how to handle them. I didn’t know what to do. I overlooked those things and they ended up being really crucial.”
'I just never felt that good'
Bracy and eventual champion Kate Arnold were close for the first 50 or so miles, even though Bracy was not feeling right early on.
“I feel like I know myself well enough that I can tell pretty early on how it is going to go and I just never felt that good,” she recalls. “I did a 100K three weeks ago (Never Summer 100K, where she won the women’s race and finished fifth overall) before and I knew the recovery was going to be crucial. I don’t think I recovered enough. I was a little too beat up and tired going in.”
Even at Mile 10 she wasn’t feeling great. And doubt crept in.
“I was still on the pace that I thought I should be on," says Bracy, who blogged about her experience. I thought I could do it even though I wasn’t feeling that great. At Mile 50, the stomach issues happened and I never had that happen before. It scared me because that is something that could be a really big problem in a 100-miler. I held them off for awhile but around Mile 80 or 85, I started throwing up and couldn’t keep anything down. That’s when the wheels fell off. At that point, I was just trying to get to the finish.”
In second place at the May Queen aid station, Bracy could not stop throwing up. Her mom encouraged her to quit but she was able to get herself out of the chair and do whatever necessary to move from the dark place to the finish line.
“I never really got out of the dark place, I just got comfortable with it,” she says. “It was a dark 12 miles home but I wanted to finish.”
There was nothing threatening my long-term health but I was in a lot of pain. I didn’t see continuing as something that was going to impact my long-term health down the road. It kind of felt like I needed to continue to finish what I set out to achieve. I just decided I was going to walk it in and get the finish. And just see what that felt like. I feel stronger from doing that and I learned a lot about myself.”
Bracy walked nearly the final 12 miles, mixing in slow jogging when she was able.
After an initial disappointment, Bracy was pleased with the overall accomplishment of second overall in a time of 21:17:12. “About five minutes after finishing and feeling horrible, I vowed to come back next year and finish what I started,” she says of her goal to win Leadville. “It was a lot harder than I thought it would be.”
For now, she is headed back to the world Mountain Running Championships after qualifying three weeks before Leadville. 10K race in Andorra “I probably won’t be super fresh for it but it’s always exciting to represent the United States.”
The supportive and accepting trail running community
While Bracy has not succumbed to burnout from physical or mental stressors, she has had to deal with emotional stress as her running career evolved.
Bracy was unsure her family members and friends would understand her sexual orientation, given traditional norms in the conservative south. “That was really taking a toll on my running. I felt that I wasn’t being myself. My confidence was lacking. It was tough. I felt like every day was a struggle.”
Her race results showed that something was wrong.
“When I found trails, I feel like I found my place. I needed to be honest about everything. It gave me the courage to have those tough conversations with family and friends. It all went really well. You can also see the transition in my results. I started running better. It had a positive impact on running but on my whole life, too.”
And it wasn’t just friends and family who were accepting.
“The track and road world are accepting, too,” she says. “But the trail running community has fully embraced us. For those running 100-milers, we’re all crazy and wacky anyways. And no one cares what your sexuality is. Everyone is super welcoming and super friendly. It’s just a tight-knit community that supports each other.”
Name: Addie Bracy
Hometown: I grew up in Summerfield, North Carolina, but I've been living in Longmont, Colorado, for six years.
Number of years running: Forever! I guess seriously running since middle school ... so, probably about 20 years.
How many miles a week do you typically run: Depends on what I'm training for. My highest week leading up to Leadville was 137. But, I probably average around 80 to 95 the majority of the year.
Point of pride: Finishing my first 100-miler when things really weren't going well and it would have been easy to quit.
Favorite race distance: Trail marathons or 50 milers
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: I always have a Red Bull right before I race.
Favorite piece of gear: Sunglasses
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Lately it's been The Mountain by Dierks Bentley
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Just keep swimming
Where can other runners connect or follow you: