I realize that this update is considerably late, and for that I apologize. I wish I had an excuse, but truthfully, I can’t say that I do.
I don’t have a whole lot of experience racing on the roads yet, but I can definitively say that the Gate River Run has been and continues to be one of my favorite races. I knew the minute I finished the race last year that I’d be back, and felt the same once again this year. Richard Fannin, the elite athlete coordinator, does a fantastic job putting together a quality field and takes care of every single detail you could possibly imagine leading up to and throughout race weekend. This race would not be the same without him. In addition to Richard doing a phenomenal job, 15k is a great distance – it’s an opportunity to step up a bit from the 10k I focused on in college and to start to make the transition to the longer distances at which I think I will be most successful and find my niche.
Quick side note: I can’t wait to run a marathon. I want to be smart about it, though, so I will most likely wait a few years before making my debut at that distance. For now I’ll focus on the shorter races until I feel the timing is right and it makes sense for me to move up.
Back to the race. Besides my own excitement about improving on last year’s performance, when I finished 23rd, I was even more amped up to be running with two of my Team USA Minnesota teammates. Together, the three of us were set to compete in the TenBroeck Cup, the weekend’s team competition. It’s very rare that you have the opportunity to race as part of a team once you graduate from college, so this was certainly something I’d been looking forward to for a while. Unfortunately, shortly before the race, one of the members of our team slipped on some black ice in Minnesota and was unable to compete. It left us one person short as teams are required to have at least three people. Hopefully we’ll be able to go for the team title next year.
The course itself can be roughly divided into three portions of 5k each. It starts at the stadium of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the first 5k runs through the heart of downtown Jacksonville until it crosses the St. Johns River by way of the Main Street Bridge (one of two main bridges on the course – this one is considerably easier than the second). The middle 5k takes runners through historic San Marco and scenic St. Nicolas and features large, beautiful homes on streets lined with both trees and supporters, some in the form of music bands. That music is surprisingly motivating! Finally, the race crosses the river once again via the Hart Bridge, affectionately known as “the Green Monster” by those who have run this course before, and finishes with almost a mile downhill (this is great while you’re racing, but NO FUN for your quads for at least the next few days).
Before I get to the race (sorry, it’s coming soon, I promise!), several of us had a great opportunity the day before the race to visit a place called Sanctuary on 8th Street and interact with some of Jacksonville’s inner city children and youth to encourage them to strive to achieve great things. These kids were some of the most outgoing I’ve ever met. When we arrived at the school, they immediately ran over and asked question after question about us and our running, before declaring “I’m faster than you” and ultimately challenging us to race. Then, after an organized 400 meter “race,” we all went inside for a Q&A session. This is another one of those things that I love about road races – you don’t really have chances like this to volunteer and interact with the community at track meets. For anyone out there who ever deals directly with race directors, elite athlete coordinators, etc, I encourage you to ask them about volunteering opportunities the weekend of your race. It’s an easy and fun way to pass time before your race, allows you to spread your love of running, and is a great avenue through which to thank and/or re-pay the race for any accommodations they may have provided you for the weekend.
Now, THE RACE! The morning of March 10th finally arrived. I naturally woke up around 5:00 before my alarm was to go off at 5:07 – I swear I could never set another alarm and I probably still would never be late. I’m not sure what it is, but I always wake up minutes before. I was glad I was able to cancel the alarm before it went sounded because I don’t like to disrupt the morning routine of whoever my roommate may be. In this particular instance, it was two-time defending champ Mo Trafeh, so I really wanted to make sure I didn’t mess things up for him.
I went out for my typical morning shakeout run to loosen up my legs and get my digestive system churning. The weather was a cool, misty, and windy 40-something degrees and was projected to be in mid- to upper-50s by the time the gun went off. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. I tend to race well in heat and humidity and was looking forward to those conditions because I figured I’d have a slight advantage over my competitors. As fate would have it, this morning was different from the majority of the mornings in the previous weeks.
The women’s race went off precisely at 8:23, with the men to follow at 8:30. This 7-minute separation is an attempt to “equalize” the men’s and women’s races, and the race offers an additional $5,000 of prize money to the first person to cross the finish line overall.
When the men’s race started, it was clear that Mo Trafeh wanted to catch the women and win the equalizer. He went out significantly harder than he did last year and immediately gapped the rest of the field. As the miles started to pass by, I found myself feeling unexpectedly refreshed. I can’t remember exactly where it was, but somewhere around 5k (14:45) after turning a corner, I found myself in 2nd place and still feeling great (the pace was fairly slow due to the wind). “Is this real life?” I wondered. I just decided to roll with it and was in the front of the chase pack for a few miles until tucking back in somewhere around 10k (29:47). It was shortly after that point that a move was made that I wasn’t quite prepared for. Reflecting on it now, my own inexperience was to blame there. By talking to people who have raced in Jacksonville several times, it came to my attention that a surge around that point should be expected. Shame on me! I was, however, able to pass a few people in the final miles and grabbed a spot in the top-10 (my basic goal going into the weekend). The time was not fast and I was not thrilled with the finish, but I was at least satisfied with the improvement over last year.
Alright, if you’ve gotten this far, kudos to you, and thanks for reading!
Forgive me for not posting an update on this past weekend’s events sooner. I was hoping to find some good pictures from the race to include in this post, but I haven’t come across any yet, so I figured I’d go ahead and post. If I find any, I’ll insert them later.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been a part of this weekend in Houston, not only because I had the opportunity to watch the Olympic Trials in person for the first time, but also because I was racing in my debut half marathon the following day (I’ll talk more about this in a minute). As far as the Oly Trials are concerned, I plan on competing in the marathon in the next Olympic cycle, so it was an incredible experience to basically have a run-through this time around of what to expect.
When I first arrived in my hotel room on the 9th floor a few days before the race, I looked out the window and realized I had an amazing sky-box view of the start/finish line. “What a perfect place to watch the race from!” I thought to myself. I would be really hard-pressed to find a better place to see the 111 men and 186 women who started the race empty their hearts and souls onto the streets of Houston. But then it hit me – that’s hardly any better than watching it on TV! Actually, watching it on TV might even trump that because at least then you could see what goes on in the back miles of the course. So down to the st art/finish line I went where I could see my six teammates and numerous other runners I know 4 times throughout the race without moving a step. The atmosphere at the street level was electric. You better believe I was satisfied with my decision.
As the marathoners began crossing the finish line (see results and mile splits here), I was astounded by the overwhelming display of emotions I witnessed. For some, I saw tears of disappointment as they failed to achieve their Olympic aspirations this time around. For others who made the Olympic team, ran a personal best, or were somehow otherwise relieved or satisfied with their accomplishment, they were tears of joy. Either way, I realized something that morning. I realized that runners are a special breed of human beings. We’re all connected by this inner understanding of what it means to be a runner and why we all love running so much.
Before I talk about my half marathon race, allow me to go off on this tangent for a moment. I recently read Running the Edge by Adam Goucher and Tim Catalano, which I highly recommend for runners of all experience and capabilities. In it, Catalano (a high school teacher and coach) relates the story of a young girl who came to him “looking for answers for why her friends loved running so much” (p. 27). His response really stuck with me and made me think. He said, “Pretend I am a person who can only see the world in black-and-white. Now imagine you need to explain to me what the color blue looks like. How would you do it?” (p. 28). Some people may be able to put words to their love of running, but for others, the next time somebody asks you why or how you love running so much, I encourage you to give them this response and see how they react.
Anyway, to get back to the point of this post, the main reason for my travel to Houston was for the Aramco Houston Half Marathon on Sunday. It was an early morning that started at 3:45 AM when, as usual, I woke up ten minutes before my alarm went off. I swear I could never set another alarm for the rest of my life and probably still always be on time. After taking a quick shower to wake my body up, I ate a light breakfast of oatmeal and a banana – just enough to fuel my body for the race but not so much that it would upset my stomach or leave me feeling heavy and bloated. My teammate, Jon Grey, and I went down to the elite athlete area around 5:45 to start our warmup for the 7:00 start time.
At 7:00 AM on the dot, we were off. My plan was to run approximately 4:50 pace throughout the race, and what do you know, our first mile was exactly 4:50 and there was a pack of four of us. “Perfect,” I thought, “smooth, controlled, and easy – this is right where I need to be.” Right then, the pace quickened into the high 4:40s for the next mile, low 4:40s for the subsequent mile, and within another couple of miles, we hit one in the high 4:30s. Unfortunately, it was here that I had to make a tough decision. Based on my current fitness level, I knew I had to back off a bit; otherwise, I’d risk completely blowing up. It was a particularly difficult call to make because I knew that leaving that group would put me running solo for much of the race, but I had to accept it. That was around mile 5. I then ran on my own until somewhere between miles 9 and 10, when I sensed another runner coming up on me. I knew that no matter what, I needed to latch onto whoever this was when they came up next to me. It turned out to be Scott Smith of McMillan Elite and the two of us traded leads back and forth and pushed one another in the final few miles before he was able to get to the finish line 8 seconds ahead of me to place 6th, while I finished in 7th. I ran 63:26, a decent debut time and an average pace of 4:51 per mile.
Though I was at least satisfied with my result, I know there are a lot of areas I can improve upon, and I am excited to get back to training and shift my focus to my next race, which will be the Gate River Run/US Championship 15k in Jacksonville on March 10. Of course, I will update you sooner than that! Until next time…