In the past two months, Stephanie Rothstein has set personal bests at 5K on the road and both 5000 meters and 10,000 meters on the track, and finished as the top American woman in the NYRR New York Mini 10K.
On Friday night, she’ll be hoping that the trend continues as she tries—again—to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team, this time at 10,000 meters.
“I’m excited,” she said in a telephone interview this week, “but also a little nervous because I feel like I have to relearn how to run on the track.”
Before this spring, it had been three years since the 28-year-old, who lives and trains in Flagstaff, competed on the track. In 2009, after several years of battling injuries, Rothstein was diagnosed with celiac disease, an intolerance to gluten that inhibits absorption of nutrients. After adjusting her diet, she has focused on the roads, finishing second in the U.S. 20K Championships in 2010 and third in the 2011 Chevron Houston Marathon, a 2:29:35 debut at the distance that seeded her as the sixth-fastest woman coming into the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in January.
She arrived in Houston full of optimism, but inexplicably failed to finish the race. “I had no signs that things weren’t going to go well, and then the wheels fell off around 21, 22 miles,” she said. Rothstein still isn’t sure what went wrong, and walking away with a DNF after four years of intense buildup left her feeling hollow.
“For a long time I agonized over it,” she said. “Then I was like, ‘Get over it.’ It feels like the end of the world because it’s all we do, but it’s not the end of the world.”
So Rothstein shifted her gaze to Eugene and the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. Along the way, she improved her 5000-meter personal best to 15:49.40 and her 10,000-meter time to 32:40.67 before an impressive performance in Central Park on June 9, where midway through the race she caught up to a lead pack that included 2011 ING New York City Marathon champion Firehiwot Dado and 2011 IAAF World Championships Marathon gold medalist Edna Kiplagat.
“The whole season, my coach and I talked about being in the mix,” said Rothstein in a post-race interview. “So I went through 5K just behind the front pack and I was feeling pretty good, so I thought I’d make a little surge and I caught up.”
About a mile later, Kiplagat, the 2010 ING New York City Marathon champion who would go on to win, put the hammer down. Rothstein held steady to finish as first American and sixth overall in 33:04, which gave her a strong dose of confidence leading into the Trials.
“Stephanie’s season has been getting better and better as it goes along,” said her coach, Greg McMillan, in an e-mail. “Not only has she set new PRs at 5K and 10K on the track but her race at the Mini showed that her fitness is still improving.”
Rothstein relished the Mini for more personal reasons, as well: She was born at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, and while growing up, she spent many summers and holidays with her father, James, who lived in North Merrick and Wantagh on Long Island. Her father died of prostate cancer during Rothstein’s senior year of college, so he never got to see her race professionally. She dedicated her New York performance to him.
“New York is a very special place for me,” she said.
The Trials, too, have more at stake for Rothstein than her own results. Her fiancé, Ben Bruce, is among the favorites to make the team in the 3000-meter steeplechase.
“I’ll be more nervous for him, for sure,” she said. “I’ve always believed that he’s ready to make the Olympic team. I truly believe with my heart that he is capable of it.”
The couple spent last weekend visiting Bruce’s parents in San Diego and shopping for groom’s attire in preparation for their October wedding. She tweeted brightly: “Calming the nerves with some wedding attire shopping. I think it’s working because @bbjamin would so rather be running his guts out than this.”
But before his qualifying round on Monday comes Rothstein’s final on Friday night.
“Probably 10 people have the same goal and the same ability to be up there,” she said. “I’ll have to have the race of my life because I’ll need to get the [Olympic] “A” standard. I could run an incredible race and still not make the team, but be like ‘Wow, I PR’d again.’ I’m very off the radar. I’m not someone who is supposed to be up there at all, and I think that’s a good way for me to go into the race.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg