Grace Under Pressure

Gracie Griffith's unorthodox training plan resulted in her second XTERRA Georgia Trail Run Regional Championship.

Dec. 11, 2018

When Gracie Griffith, XTERRA Georgia Trail Run Series Regional Champ, discovered running in high school, she also discovered her passion.

“I only joined the cross-country team because my best friend was doing it,” said Griffith, 20. “I thought we were growing apart and I joined cross-country so we could spend time together.”

Before cross-country, Griffith played basketball and soccer.

“I was successful at team sports but I didn’t love them. With running, I had a passion for it right away. I immediately enjoyed the competitive aspect and loved that I could push myself and not rely on a team.” 

Griffith also credits her coach and physics teacher with teaching her a true love of the sport that remained separate of how well she did in races. 

“For me, running is about the joy,” said Griffith, who is now a student at Clemson with a double major in economics and criminal justice and a double minor in Spanish studies and legal studies. “I have enough stress with everything else in my life. And at the end of the day, let’s be clear. You’re just running through the woods or you’re running down the street. Yeah, it’s a huge part of my life, but I don’t want to ruin it by making it too important.”  

Griffith could make it important because she is both fast enough and dedicated enough. Despite her full course load, Griffith runs 11 to 12 miles a day and totals about 85 miles a week. In the two marathons she has run – Martha’s Vineyard and Atlanta – she qualified for Boston in both. In the 2019 XTERRA Georgia Trail Run Series, she was the overall top female champ at XTERRA Little Mulberry Park and Battle at Big Creek. In the 2018 XTERRA Georgia Trail Run Series, Griffith was the top woman at the XTERRA Thrill in the Hills 21K, coming in ahead of Deanna McCurdy, who is one of the most talented runners on the XTERRA off-road triathlon circuit. She was also the top female at XTERRA Battle at Big Creek in 2018 and finished fifth overall in a talented field of men and women.   

Griffith’s secret? 

“I don’t ever run fast unless it’s a race,” she said. “I run like nine-minute pace in all my runs. For me, it’s about building aerobic capacity. I run every day without having to breathe hard. I guess if I want to pick up the pace at the end of the run, I can. Only I never pick up the pace.” 

Griffith attributes her speed to racing every weekend. She runs her marathons at 7:30 pace or below (in the Atlanta Marathon she ran 7:15 pace) and often has negative splits, which means she runs the second half of her marathon faster than the first. 

Griffith’s philosophy of running easy and racing hard was espoused by physician, athlete, and philosopher George Sheehan, who wrote twelve books on running in addition to a regular column in Runner’s World before his death in 1993.  Sheehan praised the virtues of racing and often said that while his weekly runs were for his heart, mind, and soul, his weekend races made him fit. He wrote, “In a race, the ordinary runner is no longer ordinary.”

“I’m not going to lie,” said Griffith. “I’m a really competitive person. I can understand that racing can be a competition against yourself. But I’m not that person. I’m competitive with other people. If I’m entering a race, I want to win.” 

But while Griffith is a warrior on the trails and always combat-ready, she has a very unorthodox approach to her training. 

“I’ve never done an interval in my life,” she said. “I have never run on a track and I’ve never done a tempo run. I’m on Strava so I know what all these things are, and I know what I should be doing. But I’m not doing it and I don’t mind being unorthodox. I’m not going to tell my body, ‘You have to do this and you have to do that.’ Unless you are Shalane freaking Flanagan, why are you doing that to yourself? The reason I can run so much is because I don’t dread my runs. I don’t do workouts to impress Strava people. I run for me and on race day, I wake up excited to run fast and have fun.” 

Again, Griffith keeps running in perspective. 

“When I’m studying for the LSAT, I think, does running really matter? I just want to show up, try to run fast, and have a good time.”

Trail Run