Inter-Counties cross country champion Grace Brock is a driven young athlete with a lot on her mind. Between being self-coached, winning cross country titles and grabbing a world under-18 10K lead “for fun”, the 17-year-old has also been visiting multiple American universities this year as she pursues her next path in education.
The challenges never seem to slow down for Grace. But fortunately, neither does she. Her first steps in the under-20 age group this year have already seen her take a strong victory at the Cardiff Cross Challenge in mid-October, giving her more than enough encouragement to keep ploughing on with her busy routine.
“I’m definitely a very motivated person,” says Grace, “I’ll quite happily set myself a tough session and not think ‘Oh, I’ll make it easier’ just because I can. But at the same time, I can also give myself the right recovery if I’m feeling really tired, so (being self-coached) does have benefits even though it can be a bit more time consuming!
“There’s definitely been a lot going these past few months and I know there’s a lot more to come in the next few months, so it’s very exciting times, although it can get a little bit full on sometimes. I do often find though that my running distracts me from school work and then school work distracts me from running so it can be quite well balanced.”
When it comes to cross country however, the drive to carry on competing has always been there for Grace, back from when she first started as a mere seven year old. Despite being in the sport from such as early age, it was not until 2016 when she truly began to discover her talent, after previously ending some national races with a finishing position of three figures.
During that time however cross country was done purely for the fun of it, with the feeling of running round a muddy field bringing Grace more joy than anything else. “I was always weirdly excited for the annual primary cross country,” says Grace, “I remember when I was in year four it got cancelled that year so we couldn’t go and everyone said I just looked so sad! So nobody ever had to push me to do it or anything, I just really enjoyed it.
“But as I got older, I started getting inspired by the people who finished higher up and also wanted to do more training because I enjoyed it, so gradually I started taking it more seriously and getting into the top ten at national races which then made me want to go further. I’ve just kept progressing since then and my aim each time is to always make a jump in terms of the performance and I’ve pretty much managed to do that so far.”
Last season was certainly a big jump for the Cornwall athlete, which saw her grab the greatest achievement in her short career with a first ever victory at the Inter-Counties. “That was a pretty big deal for me,” says Grace, “I had a good season overall, but that was definitely the highlight. I’ve always been dreaming about breaking the tape at a big race where you’ve just got everyone cheering you on the home straight, it’s probably the happiest I’ve ever been to be honest.”
Now with the new season underway, new possibilities to make another jump also lie ahead. On the horizon are two huge international cross country events with December’s European Championships and the World Championships in March, which the England Junior international now has her eyes firmly fixed on. “After my race at Cardiff, it’s definitely become a target,” says Grace, “I’m still young so I know that there are plenty of other opportunities to come but I definitely want to target that this year.
“Competing for England is really tough and a great achievement but I think getting the GB vest is the ultimate goal because it’s the highest level you can get to in this country and obviously the level of competition at the Europeans and Worlds will be so high. The main thing for me as well is enjoying the races and going in with a relaxed approach because that’s when I think I’m at my best.”
Indeed this factor was very apparent in September when Grace took to the roads to run her first 10K in Worcester.
Despite the roads being new territory for her, the cross country and track specialist still grabbed a 34.24 PB and world lead, showcasing the running ability in her locker.
“I kind of did that race as more of a fun thing,” says Grace, “I still tried really hard in the race but I just went in with the mindset of ‘Oh yeah I’ll see how it goes’ which I think again probably helped me more. At the moment the focus is still the cross country and then 1500m and 3000m on the track, but hopefully one day I’ll compete in 10K at a high level, that’s definitely a big goal of mine.”
While her performance on the roads certainly raised a few eyebrows, this tumultuous period in Grace’s life has meant that right now the focus is very much on short term aims. Balancing school work with athletics is certainly no easy task, yet Grace knows she still has others to turn to for support. One of these figures is her mother Caroline, who along with driving her to races, holds a coaches license meaning she can talk to Grace a lot about the sport.
Despite this, it is the mother who is learning from the daughter most of the time, Grace initially being the one who inspired her mother to get more involved in athletics. “We often joke about that,” says Grace, “quite a lot of the time I’m the pushy child with my mum and when she comes home I’ll say ‘right, got to go for your run now!’, but she definitely enjoys it too and it’s nice that I’ve helped her to find running.
“It’s also great that I can talk to her about stuff as well because if I tell her that I didn’t feel good on my run then she knows what that feels like so I can have a good conversation with her about it.”
With all the elements in place at her home in Cornwall, this season sees one final push for Grace before a possible move to the USA. National titles, international vests also add to the huge possibilities lying in wait for the young athlete. But with her own self-coaching still working wonders and her sporting and educational commitments safely balanced, Grace’s exciting future sits firmly in her own hands.