Strava Track Club members are engaged in a wide variety of vocational and other pursuits in addition to their running. Find out more about our team in our new weekly feature, Meet the Team. This week's female athlete is Stephanie Pancoast, a Cornell grad and electrical engineer for whom running hasn't been a temporary pursuit, but something she's enjoyed with family her entire life. Follow her adventures in running and triathlon on Strava!
I have been attending road races for my entire life. I grew up in a running family and although I did not identify as a runner until high school, my family and the community they are part of is a main reason it is such a core part of who I am today.
As a baby I was only a spectator. Sometimes my parents would recruit a friend to watch me (and eventually my sister). Sometimes we’d be passed between parents so both mom and dad could get their race in. Shortly after I was able to walk I started participating the kid’s tot trots. Thanks to my parent’s advice, I developed some valuable racing strategies in those 400 meter races. “Don’t start out too fast”, “Don’t look back”, and of course, “Kick it in!”
The problem with the kid’s races is they do not overlap with the main event, so I would still have to watch the road race. To me at the time it was so boring! So around age 10 I started participating in the “adult” 5Ks. There were a few other things I needed to learn, like how to take water from a water stop without choking (still working on that) or pre-race diet watching (a full chicken nuggets meal 1 hour before a race does not work for me). While my initial goal was to finish without walking, I was still competitive during the race, even if it meant sprinting past a 80 year old woman at the finish. I’m sorry but there was no way I was going to lose to her. Although I liked the races, I still did not enjoy running. So every Sunday when my mom would leave to go for her long run and ask if I wanted to join for a mile or two, I would laugh and say “yeah right”.
By the time I entered high school, however, my long-term love of gymnastics was fading and I wanted a change. I was told gymnasts made good pole vaulters, so I joined the track and field team to pole vault. At my high school, fielding athletes also were required to train with a running group. Almost all fielders joined the sprinting group. Not me- I joined the distance crew.
After being around older runners my entire life, there were definitely some surprising culture differences between my parent’s running community and my new one. The most memorable difference involved spandex. At the first cold practice of the season, many of my teammates wore long spandex pants with shorts over them. My parents and all their friends would only wear the spandex so I was confused and asked someone why the shorts. The response: “eek seriously? how could you not?”. Good thing I chose the loose pants that morning!
During that first track season, pole vaulting was so much fun. When I got to the point I could run 5 miles and talk the entire time, running got better, but still, it was just ok. I was not a runner. I was a pole vaulter who happened to run the 2 mile because her coach made her (if it was up to me I would have done the 800).
I think it was cross-country my sophomore year that finally converted me. I really liked being part of a school team and was ok at the longer distances so cross-country made sense. Maybe it was the improved fitness; maybe it was the awesome teammates; maybe it was the trail running under the New England foliage. Whatever the reason, by the end of the season I was hooked.
I quit gymnastics, and although I continued to pole vault throughout my 4 years, I was focused on distance running. To the best of my knowledge, I was the only pole vaulter/ distance runner in the state. This is probably because it was not an ideal setup. Warming up the vault, running a 2-mile, vaulting again to try to clear some height, running a 4x800, and then trying to clear whatever height the bar was at when I returned was challenging. Still, the skills I gained during my time as a pole vaulter most definitely came in handy when I became a steeplechaser in college!
Since that sophomore year cross-country season, running has been so many things to me- a social medium through which I have met some of my best friends, a meditative activity I rely on to de-stress, a way to explore new places (especially when traveling!) and a means and reason to live healthy. Words cannot possibly capture how amazing it was to run for Cornell, or how much a role Strava Track Club has played in helping me love California. Some day I hope to be one of those inspiring 80-year old athletes that maintain a competitive spirit even when life-time PRs are no longer relevant. If a 10-year old tries to sprint by me I am holding him or her off. But even if my body decides it just cannot handle the running any more, I know I will always be a runner.