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Stephani Bruce NAZ Elite profile

NAZ Elite's Stephanie Bruce.

Before taking second place at Saturday's USATF 25K Championships, Scott Smith hadn't seen too much action coming off a recent injury.

“He can go to the line and get the best out of himself even if the buildup hasn’t been perfect. That’s something that typically comes with time, it’s something that young athletes seem not to be very good at," NAZ Elite head coach Ben Rosario said of Smith, who had his first hard workout in early March and was in two April races after working back from a stint of Achilles tendinitis.

Smith had more than racing experience to rely on when he went on to run a 1:15:05 at the championships in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also had training experience to rely on. And Smith used his impressive training history to run one of “the best races he’s run in a while," Rosario said.

Now Rosario wants to test the range of the training the team employs.

NAZ Elite's Stephanie Bruce, not far removed from winning the half-marathon national title on May 4, is setting out to keep up her winning ways at a much shorter distance. Next up on the slate, on a quick decision by the team, is today's USATF Distance Classic in Eagle Rock, California, an outdoor race set for the evening.

Rosario said he's often felt that when an athlete is fit, they're fit and can compete in different races, noting that the marathon is the exception to the rule because of the specific demands it calls for from a runner.

“For us, I feel like the way we train, we can pretty much race anywhere from the 5K to the half marathon just about at any time of the year,” Rosario said.

Bruce will put that theory to the test as she uses today's race as a buildup for repeat shot at a 10K national title that's now just a few weeks out.

Many runners will be out to use the USATF Distance Classic as an opportunity to hit the world champ A standard time of 15:21. Bruce won't necessarily be one of them as she doesn't plan to run that race in the future.  So without having to worry over the time, Bruce can go out and simply show off her fitness.

“Sometimes in this sport, you just want to see how good you can be, and that’s what Thursday is about," Rosario said. "Let’s see how many people she can beat, and as a byproduct of that, let’s see what her time is.”

The last time Bruce was in a 5K, she hit a PR, despite the race not going the way she and Rosario had hoped. In late January, she took on the New Balance Boston Indoor Games and clocked a 15:44.77 for fifth place in race that went out slower than anticipated.

Bruce hit a PR of 1:10:44 on the way to winning the half-marathon title. Rosario said she could've registered a personal best at a different distance that day, she just happened to be running the half.

When it comes to range, the team's had success stories of what the training can allow its runners to do. Although the gap in distance wasn't quite as great as what Bruce is facing, Aliphine Tuliamuk won last year's national title in the half marathon and in less than a week's time claimed the 25K title.

Runners often take on a 5K before going for a longer race such as a 10K when seeking to improve and build. For instance, NAZ Elite rookie Alice Wright did just that when she recently set PRs at the Mt. SAC Relays 5,000-meter in mid-April and the Payton Jordan Invitational 10,000 earlier this month.

“You can make the argument that it’s the best kind of workout, because she’s going to race hard," Rosario said of Bruce. "So let’s see what that means. If it means a time in the 15:20s, that’s going to be a huge boost to her fitness and mentality when she goes to run a 10K.”

Rosario would also like to see if another training theory of his takes shape today, saying he feels his team has suffered setbacks in the past when putting too much preparation into track racing.

“I think, honestly, we’ve gotten in trouble on the track when we’ve tried to get ready too much for the track and did too many track workouts. It’s left us flat in the past, and I think our best track races have been part of the normal rhythm of how we train," Rosario said. "Most of the year, we do a variety of training, and that’s what we really race well off of for any distance.”

With Bruce having so much success lately, however, today could end up being a variable, but NAZ Elite would be just fine with the win anyway. 

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Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at mhartman@azdailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @AZDS_Hartman.

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