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Elite Athletes: They Are Actually Just Like Us—Here’s How

A few years ago, I visited Mammoth Lakes, Calif., for the first time. In advance of the trip, I was excited to experience the beautiful trails and sweeping vistas—but what I was most looking forward to was the opportunity to get a glimpse into Olympic life. Thanks to its high elevation, Mammoth has become a mountain mecca for some of the best runners in the world. Heroes such as Deena Kastor, Meb Keflezighi, Morgan Uceny, Josh Cox and Jen Rhines have all called the town home. I couldn’t wait to learn about their training tactics and take a peek behind the curtain to see what life looks like for the fastest of the fast.

RELATED: A Runner’s Guide To Training In Mammoth

My only previous Olympic contact had been watching the games from my living room. I had imagined the top athletes in the world used tools, workout tricks and regimens at the cutting edge of performance technology. On the plane to Mammoth, images of state-of-the-art facilities filled with cryogenic chambers, altitude huts, video analysis and spaceship-esque treadmills danced in my head. What crazy secrets behind professional runners’ success would I find?

My first visit was to Snowcreek Athletic Club, the gym where all of the runners achieved their perfectly sculpted physiques…and it looked as if it hadn’t been renovated in decades. Steel machines painted ’80s white stood crowded in a room lined with grungy wall-to-wall carpet. Sure, the facility was fine for me—but didn’t Deena Kastor need NASA-grade equipment?

Next, I headed to the grocery store. I anticipated aisles filled with the freshest produce and jars of expensive supplements—instead I found picked-over shelves at a generic chain that offered less variety than an average store where I’d shop.

RELATED: The Olympic Year Is Upon Us—And Mammoth Lakes Is The Place To Train

Lastly, I saw where the athletes ran. Gorgeous trails to be sure—but that was it. At the time, the area that played host to some of the speediest legs in the world didn’t even have a track. (Now it does have a new oval made from recycled tires.)

My plot to uncover the secret lives of Olympians was foiled. Their “tricks” were not the cool tech-forward tactics I’d imagined—they were the boring old adages that hold true for any runner.

Hard work, dedication, teamwork (and incredible talent, of course) were all these athletes needed to prepare for competition on the world stage—a realization that was a little disappointing but incredibly heartening. The tools a runner requires to be her best aren’t sold for millions to a select few—they are accessible for free at any time if we call on the power of our hearts, heads, lungs and limbs.

FURTHER PROOF PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES ARE JUST LIKE US:

steph and ben

Our team had the pleasure of following around speedster duo Stephanie and Ben Bruce during a training day in San Diego. The couple, who both run for Hoka One One (and Steph for Oiselle), balance the demands of raising two boys under 2 with training for the Olympic Trials. The gold medal for world’s cutest warm-up routine went to Steph doing band exercises as her son Hudson looked on.

steph and ben 2

Jessica Sebor

Jessica Sebor

Jessie Sebor is the Vice President of Women's Running at Competitor Group. After finishing her first marathon at age 18, Jessie has run everywhere from Singapore to Prague and competed in hundreds of races including the Boston Marathon and the Bare Dare, for which she won the title of National Nude Running Champion. Jessie’s work appears at ESPN.com, Ultrarunning Magazine and has been selected for Houghton Mifflin’s Best American Essays. A former romance novel editor, it’s at Women’s Running where her true passions lie. You can reach her at jsebor@competitorgroup.com.