With a new sponsor and reawakened love for road racing, Neely Spence-Gracey has come full circle.

No one said going from State Champion, to Foot Locker All American, to eight-time NCAA DII National Champion, to Professional runner would be easy.

But when the first eight years as a competitive runner are virtually injury-free, no one expected this journey to success as a Pro to be this rough.

For Neely Spence-Gracey… it has been one hurdle after another.

Stress fracture.

Stress reaction.

Bigger stress fracture.

Lyme disease.

Bipartite patella.


And that was just the first two years.

So the past year-plus of consistent, smooth (injury-free) training has been a relief, and the persistence is paying off.

Fresh off a runner-up finish in the Philadelphia Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon on Halloween, Gracey inked a new contract with a new sponsor.

But the road to her recent successes has also been helped by not only incredible support from family, coaches and husband Dillon Gracey, but by two sponsors - one large and one small - who stood by her during all the trials and tribulations and stress fractures.

With the new sponsor… and her reawakened love for road racing, Neely has come full circle.

Somewhat ironically, her new sponsor was the same one that she sported on her first pair of Spikes… and in her first Northeast Foot Locker race. They also were the team sponsor for her dad's college team, Shippensburg, when Neely was just starting to run.

(Neely sported adidas at an early running age).

Always known more for her cross country prowess than track, Neely now favors the roads. That is just like her father Steve - who was the bronze medalist in the 1991 IAAF World Championships marathon and an Olympian in 1992.

"I was better at cross country, but now I have come to love the roads… and that means I have big plans for my 2016 racing season."

The road from Shippensburg to adidas went through Michigan, Texas, and now Colorado.

Along with many other states for races, surgery, and ultimately, recovery.

An eight-time NCAA Division II Champion while competing for her father at Shippensburg, Neely turned Pro on December 27th 2011, forgoing her senior year of competition.

The next month, she had her first race as a Pro… taking the top spot for Team USA at the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country International Challenge - finishing the 6K in 4th against World class competition.

Good news, right?

Well, 200 meters from the finish, Neely's Pro career took its first detour.

"I felt my foot break as I headed for the finish."

A stress fracture in her foot put her in the runner's least favorite gear - a boot.

Twelve weeks later, she was ready to begin her Pro career again. But her dream of racing in the US Olympic Trials in the 5000 that June was dashed when she rushed her return and pushed cross-training, causing a stress reaction.

The good news during this first injury was in April she signed with one of the top training groups in the US - Hansons-Brooks, located in Michigan.

She took her time with her return, and by August was ready to give it another try. She took 2nd behind American Record holder Molly Huddle in the USA Road 5k Champs in 15:34 and 3rd in the USA Road 10K Champs in 32:51… and came right back to win a track 10K in Australia, dropping her PR to 32:16.

2013 started on a decent note when she again was the top American runner in an international event - taking 13th overall in the IAAF World XC Championships in Poland in late March. She was also the top non-African, a big feat in the international competitions.

In mid-April, she hit the track at Mt. Sac and posted a then-PR of 15:26. She had some issues with her calf and peroneal tendons… which was ultimately diagnosed as a stress fracture in the fibula. The only injury that she knows can be traced directly to overtraining.

"I pushed too hard trying to get back to race shape after my break. I rushed into speed work and my body couldn't keep up."

Back to recovery mode. In the fall, another set-back. This time, Lyme disease.

Training interrupted once again.

By December, she was finally back to workouts. But on a long downhill run, she felt her kneecap go.

"What I didn't do was to trust my gut. I felt like something broke in my knee and they couldn't find what it was."

As it turned out, a simple X-ray would have diagnosed the problem… Bipartite Patella, a genetic issue she was born with. It is a condition that is much more prevalent in men. Go figure.

It cost her three months just to have an accurate diagnosis.

In March of 2014 she went home and got the official word. With surgery at Geisinger Institute in Danville, PA, and PT at home in Shippensburg, Neely was finally able to put the run of injuries behind her.

"Now that I am a coach, I am more cautious myself. I always go with the worst-case scenario and if there is pain, we find out what it is. Never push through anything. It doesn't mean you're weak, it means you're smart."

Through all the ups and downs, Neely says that Hansons-Brooks stuck by her.

By April of 2014, she was able to get in the water, utilize the Anti Gravity Treadmill, and try some short runs. By the fall, Neely had refocused on shorter distances, running two road miles over August and September, dropping from a 4:48 to a PR of 4:38. Over Thanksgiving she gave the oldest Turkey Trot in the US a go, finishing as the 7th woman in the Manchester Road Race beating some Olympians in the process.

(Neely with her husband Dillon and Strider).

When she wasn't racing, or in Michigan with Hansons-Brooks, she was traveling back and forth once a month to see Dillon, who was living, working and coaching in Houston. The two were married on New Years Eve of 2012 and spent most of their first two years as married, apart. Dillon and Neely would help out with the University of Houston team, whose distance and middle distance athletes were being coached by Steve Magness. (Magness is the head XC and distance track coach). Dillon was also working for a financial investment firm.

2015 is where everything continued to change for the better, with one exception that at least was not an injury.

January 2015 started off with a PR in a 6K XC race in Italy.

With training going well, Neely lined up for the USATF XC Championships in Boulder, CO on February 7th. The 8K course was a loop, and that proved to be her demise in what was going well that day. She miscounted laps, and sprinted to what she thought was the finish. The only problem was, it was 6K. She couldn't regroup, and was a DNF.

"I was confused when they rang the bell a lap early, I didn't process that they were wrong… it was a very humbling experience."

Neely was upset, but she had no choice but to be a Pro and 'take ownership of my training and not worry about the past and figure out what I needed to change for the future.'

Cross country was not her future though… and she had just over two weeks before she had a chance at some redemption. Her future was the marathon, and in order to realize that dream, she had to race her first half marathon.

She did exactly that. Running the February 22nd Gasparilla Half Marathon in Tampa in 1:12:38, a mere three seconds behind race champ multi-time Olympian Jen Rhines. If she would decide to use it, she had her Olympic Trials qualifier. Better yet, she crushed her pace goal of 5:40 miles, averaging just over 5:30 pace.

"Gasparilla was big, because I needed something mentally to prove that I could do this… and my efforts were paying off. I needed that confidence boost - that checkmark."

She was especially happy to be back on the roads. "I love standing at a starting line with thousands of people. The energy of the road race environment is so inspiring."

February was a big month in other ways as well.

She moved from Michigan, to Superior, CO - just 15 minutes from Boulder. Dillon's finance job transferred him to Denver, and the two could start a life together.

Her contract with Hansons-Brooks stipulated that she had to be with their group to be a part of the team.

But she wanted to be closer to Dillon, and she wanted to get refocused on her career.

"There were absolutely no issues… no drama with Brooks. It was an amicable split."

April saw Neely signing with a new agent - Mark Wetmore and Global Athletics. Jorge Torres is on the staff. The group has a strong presence on the roads. And they had close ties with adidas.

Dillon and Neely bought a home in May, just eight miles outside of Boulder.

Things were coming together.

While between major sponsors, Neely received some help from Lacelocker. http://lacelocker.com/about.html. "It was perfect timing. Lacelocker supported my running by helping pay for travel expenses this spring. I am very grateful for their generosity."

She received her verbal commitment from adidas in July for a contract effective August 1st. (She formally signed on October 31st after the Philly Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon (Photo by Dillon Gracey).

Neely had products to test by June. "I had not been in anything except Brooks since high school, so making sure the brand worked for me was important. I am very happy to report that I have found the adidas shoes and gear to be fantastic."

But probably the biggest change that had happened when she moved from Michigan in February, occurred with her coaching.

Combining the talents of Steve Magness, with the marathon experience and personal knowledge of her dad Steve Spence, with the on location support and running knowledge of Dillon - Neely has an all-star lineup that is keeping her healthy and improving.

And with adidas' Rocky Mountain Elite teammates Alisha Williams and Brianne Nelson - along with occasional runs with Kara Goucher, Brad Hudson's group, and Laura Thweatt - Neely is in one of the best environments she has ever experienced.

(Spence-Gracey, Williams and Nelson prior to the Philly Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon - photo by Clay Shaw.)

The result has been a surge of great races and of course, many PR's.

In March, she was 3rd in the Jacksonville Gate River USA Road 15K Champs in 50:50.

In April, she hit the track for the some fast times, setting a PR of 15:25 in the 5K at Stanford.

In May, it was one of the top road races in the US, Boulder-Boulder 10k, where she was 7th (2nd American) with a well paced race where she moved up the whole way.

June saw her go 1:11:25 winning the Gary Bjorklund Half Marathon in Duluth, MN - a then-PR.

August, 4th overall and 2nd American in the famed Falmouth, MA 7 miler.

On September 7th at the USA Road 20K champs, she got another PR, taking 4th overall. "It was the only race I didn't get my goal of top 3… but I'll take a PR and a solid effort."

(Spence-Gracey, at the 20K champs - photo courtesy of adidas.)

Less than a month later, she was 2nd in 53:03 the USA Road Champs 10 miler, finishing behind only Molly Huddle (51:44). "But I did beat Kara's course record… and the men's equalizer. This is the race I am most proud of this fall."

But the big prize on the way to a successful resurgence in 2015 had to be the October 31st Philly Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon.

The adidas Rocky Mountain Elite crew of Neely, Alisha (Williams) and Brianne (Nelson) would finish 2-3 and 5.

Not only did she get her goal of another top three finish, she also broke 70 minutes for the first time, by just two seconds. "I did cut it a bit close."

The 1:09:58 puts her 4th at the distance in the US this year and the 11thAmerican to ever break the 70:00 barrier.

(Spence-Gracey, Krifchin and Williams following their 2-1-3 finish at the
October 31 Philly Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon - photo by Clay Shaw.)

Neely gave props to race champ Maegan Krifchin, who finished just eight seconds ahead. "She had an amazing day, attacking from the gun."

The only glitch was a late arrival for the elites to the starting line… so Neely had to use the first three or so miles as a warmup in 5:25's. "My goal was 5:20's, but I was able to close in 5:10's. so it worked out with the average. I wish I was a bit more aggressive earlier on, but who knows if it would have backfired or not." "

And being close to home there were a lot of family and friends from PA cheering for me. Great to see a lot of qualifiers for the Olympic Trials as well. Lots of my friends and training partners ran well."

From a training standpoint, Neely has been experimenting with longer tempo runs. "It's all effort based, fartlek style. Nothing really at race pace because of the altitude."

As an example, before Philly she did a tempo at 5:45 pace but averaged 5:21 for the race itself. The weekly distance has been topping out at 100 miles.

"I am doing a much better job of listening to my body than I had been in my 12 years of running. Just trying to get better every day, cherishing each run and each day."

For Neely, adidas and the marathon are a return to her early days in the sport and family history. 2016 will include at least one major marathon.

If all goes well, a second Spence will be in contention for world medals on the roads throughout the years to come.

Like father. Like daughter.