When Amy Bross crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon amidst the frigid rain and high winds in personal-record time (3:29) April 20, she was not alone.
She had an angel drafting her.
The 37-year-old triathlete who trains with Athletic Mentors and represents Team Stellafly decided to run the Boston Marathon to keep a promise she made to honor her mentor and friend, Jim Kelley, who was killed while running in November of 2013.
“The reason I was in Boston was because of Jim. I crossed the finish line and I was walking back to Athlete’s Village, freezing cold, and I was all choked up because I would not have been there had it not been for him. The frozen hands, beat up legs, purple lips, and soaking wet feet didn’t matter at that point. He believed so much in me and in my potential. All he wanted was to see me run Boston. And I had just run Boston,” Bross said.
It was a beautiful finish to a running legacy that started with Bross’s father, burgeoned with Kelley’s inspiration as a running partner, and flourished under the high-science HRT training and nutrition plan of Mark Olson at Athletic Mentors.
“Boston was definitely tough! It’s a very difficult course and while you have to be physically strong, it can mentally break you too…the hills hit hard and you’re tired…but the fans and the spectators were just incredible – even in the pouring rain,” Bross said.
Bross’s father, Ron, turned her on to running when she was a freshman at Grand Valley State University in 1996. The father-daughter duo ran together through 5ks, 10ks, half-marathons, and finally their first marathon together – Chicago Marathon in 2000.
After knee surgery six years ago, Bross thought her distance running days were over. During recovery, she got hooked on triathlons while cross training and in ensuing years made several trips to the podium. Not to be outdone, her father joins her in local triathlon events despite breaking his back last year in an accident.
It’s fair to say there’s an unstoppable gene in the family. Bross Sr., in his late 60s, recently competed in Florida’s St. Anthony triathlon.
“They say I’m clearly my father’s daughter,” Bross says. “We both work very hard with training and put our entire hearts into everything we do, and it’s so inspirational to see my dad pushing through it…he just won’t quit! I’m always so proud of him just as much as I know he is so proud of me.”
Amy spent a year training speed and tempo work with Kelley, and he paced her through a 10k PR as well as a half-marathon PR. Just before Kelley died, he’d texted her after a race he had just finished, telling her she needed to run Boston with him. She had said no, she was finished with marathons, and only wanted to race triathlons.
After Kelley’s tragic death that rocked the local athletic community, Bross changed her mind. She would run Boston after all, to memorialize all he’d given her. After she ran a tough Boston qualifier race, she knew that as a “Type A” personality, she’d need some training in order to avoid over-training while she continued to focus on triathlons.
Enter Mark Olson, wielder of a data-based coaching regime that included slowing down in order to very precisely meter her energy use, reserves, and capacity for recovery.
“I’ve improved significantly as an athlete and the difference has been heart rate training with Mark. It’s made a huge difference for me. He keeps me locked in my ‘zones’ and ‘benches me’ — as I like to refer to it — when he knows that I need a break,” Bross said.
A fully admitted “pace junkie,” Olson’s challenge was to slow Bross down to stay in her ‘zones’ so that she was able to improve her aerobic capacity, by throwing ‘pace’ out the window. The result, says Bross, was a vastly increased capacity to sustain a pace for a longer period of time. The pair are still working together to capitalize on this kind of improved endurance for triathlons.
A second training phenom Bross credits with making all the difference in distance is nutrition.
“What I learned from Mark is that nutrition planning is a huge factor that will make or break my performance. The scientific data we have on me is down the exact point at which my body stops burning off fat for fuel and switches over to carbs, which is when I need to take the nutrition — even if I don’t want it or feel like I need it. I have struggled with nutrition issues for a long time and it’s really affected me, but Mark has made it a priority to fix it,” Bross said.
The result of her rigorous adherence to his race nutrition planning was not only endurance during the marathon, but fast recovery thereafter even in her hard training sessions that he gives her.
“I couldn’t have done this without him. He had a plan laid out for me and told me to go execute it ‘as is,’ because he knew that I could. He reminds me when I struggle to believe in myself, to just trust him…and so I do, and that trust has never failed me,” Bross said.
The real joy for her isn’t the competition, despite her tendency to be a competitive athlete. It’s the sense of community shared among runners and triathletes.
“I have never met a more selfless group of people than runners and triathletes,” Bross said, recalling a time when she blew a tire in a Ludington triathlon and several people were willing to throw their race to help her, or the numerous times Kelley and others gave up their own races to pace her through tough runs and races.
“The sense of community, support and camaraderie found in both running and triathlons is incredible. It’s said in Boston “We Run Together” — and that is exactly how it felt and how it should feel.””
Now that Boston’s behind her, Bross will be training for the local summer triathlon circuit, with her focus on the Ironman 70.3 Miami — which will be her “A” race, among other endurance feats including an Olympic distance race in Iowa. Bross represents Team Stellafly, a multi-sport team focusing on health, community and inclusivity. The team consists of a diverse range of athletic abilities including professional and elite athletes, ultra runners, cyclists, swimmers, as well as media professionals. Athletic Mentors is a sponsor of Team Stellafly.