Grace Padilla at the U.S. Olympic Trials 1500m exhibition race - photo by Image of Sport
Grace Padilla: Model Runner
Grace has a unique perspective on running as an open and masters runner. She’s run competitively for 33 years – since she was 12. While she’s had stellar running performances, she’s also been a running model. She’s the runner on the cover of Your Running Body, and the model in t.v. Target and Nike commercials shown during a Super Bowl half-times and during the Olympics.
Grace finishing in the top 10 at the 2015 USATF National Club Cross Country Championships. Photo by Michael Scott.
Cross country is one of Grace's favorite events.
She has competed at a high level all along. As an open runner at the USA Track and Field Nationals in 1995, she won a bronze medal in the 3,000 meter steeplechase. In 1996 she set an American Record in that event – at that time the barriers being 33 inches, running it in 10:30.2. She competed in the Olympic Trials in the 3000 meters that year.
As a master at the 2011 World Masters Athletics Championships (WMAC) she won a silver medal in the 1500 and 2000 meter steeplechase and in the 2013 WMAC she was a member of the world masters relay 4 X 800 meter world record-setting team. She has also won seven national masters titles in distances from the mile to the 5K. And she just won her age division at the National Masters Cross Country Championships in Bend, OR where the photo below was taken.
Training is different now for Grace, 45, than it was for her in her teens, 20s, and even 30s. (At 5’, 9” and 120 pounds she hasn’t gained a pound over the years.) For one thing, Grace has a family. She is married to runner, Michael Leong, former marathoner and coach of the SoCal Roadrunners. She’s also the mother of Katherine, 15 and Christopher, 13. And she is a reading intervention elementary school teacher for children in kindergarten through third grades as well as assistant girls distance track coach at her daughter’s high school.
Her favorite races are unchanged since she was young. They are the 800m, 1,500m, mile, 3,000m, 5,000m, and cross country.
In many ways, her training today is not so different from what it was when she was in her mid-twenties. “I actually don't do any cross training and never have,” she said. “I do take one day off from running. I really listen to my body and take as many days off as I need when ever I feel any pain or an injury starting.”
The main difference between running today and several decades ago is in speed workouts and in how often she races. Today in speed workouts she focuses on running pace. “Before, I would just try to run my repeats as fast as I could,” she said. She also races less frequently. “At my peak, I would race about 3 times per month. Now I get in shape to race mostly my favorite races.”
Clearly her priorities are different today than they were in her twenties before a career and family. “I'm a mother first. I get up early to make breakfast for my children, drop them off at school. Then I head out to my part-time teaching job. I rush home after work and eat lunch.” Then she heads out to coach the high school track teams, running with them on long and easy runs. “Then I drive over to pick up my son from basketball practice, come home and start working on dinner.” She runs speed workouts on Tuesday evenings with her husband’s youth track team.
Coaching the high school teams means coaching her daughter, Katherine, a member of the team. “I really enjoy watching her train and helping her reach her goals,” said Grace. “I'm excited to see her develop as a runner. We did our first Turkey Trot 5k race together this past year. It was a dream come true for me!” Grace has always wanted to run with Katherine. “I hope one day we get to compete with each other in a track race! I can't wait for her to beat me!”
Grace and Katherine
Running strengthens an already close mother-daughter relationship. Even though Katherine has met a number of Olympians, she says that Grace is still her role model. “I am flattered that she said that even though I am not an Olympian,” said Grace. “It is an honor to be loved this much.”
Racing in the mid-forties as compared with the mid-twenties is not without challenges, Grace acknowledged. “My mind wants to run faster and hates losing, but my body doesn't always cooperate. I need to stop being so hard on myself and just enjoy the fact that I'm still running and one of the top masters runners…..Training and running is a precious gift. I have been blessed to be running competitively for over 33 years.”
Any advice to women just starting to run as adults for the first time? “I highly recommend that new runners get several training partners for company to keep each other motivated,” she said. “Schedule it into their daily routine. Making time for fitness is just as important as making time for a meal and sleep. Running is ‘The Fountain of Youth!’ It will keep you looking and feeling young. I'm turning 46 this year, but I feel half my age and love it!”
Silver medalist at the Masters World Championships in 2011. Photo by Michael Scott.