If you don’t know about the Gate River Run 15k, it’s a wonderful event in Jacksonville, Florida that is also the USATF 15k National Championship. In March I was given the opportunity to race Gate as part of the elite women’s field. Having never raced as an “elite”—and believe me, I am using that term very loosely—I was both excited and a little apprehensive about the whole experience.
When race week rolled around, I was SO. EXCITED. I really felt like a kid not-so-patiently awaiting the arrival of Christmas morning. I knew I was in good shape and I was very interested to get an actual gauge of my current fitness level.
I ran a marathon in early December, started training for Boston in early January and didn’t run a single race until Gate in mid-March. For a former serial-racer, this is very out of character. By contrast last year I ran four 10ks and a 5k during the month of March alone. Hello, overkill! Looking back, I can see that I wasn’t doing myself any favors by racing that often. I was never truly on top of my game and I don’t think I was ever truly recovered either. It was definitely fun, but this season of minimal racing has been a nice change of pace, so to speak, and feels more appropriate.
Jacksonville is about a five and a half hour drive from where I live in Alabama, so I opted to drive to the race instead of fly. At the time the drive didn’t seem too bad and would surely be cheaper than flying. Some of the “elite” runners had their travel and hotel stay comped, but my travel wasn’t covered. My hotel room was, though, which was really sweet and definitely unexpected! I was even able to take a day off work (during tax season, no less!) to travel.
There was a mandatory USATF athlete meeting Friday evening at 5 p.m., and I tried to pretend I knew what I was doing, but I most definitely did not. Sitting in that big room with all of the other elite athletes was truly surreal and I could barely pay attention. My two takeaways are that drugs and pacers are not allowed, but GPS watches are allowed, which was a relief as I had definitely planned to use the latter, but not the former. Ha!
A 7:00 a.m. race start on Saturday means an early wakeup, but when you’re “elite” it’s not nearly as bad. We were bussed over to the elite athlete staging area near the start, which sounds very fancy, but was basically a room where we could have coffee, stretch and just chill pre-race. I had a cup of coffee in the hotel before getting on the bus and had another once we got to the staging area. I also drank 20 oz. of water with two packs of Generation UCAN pre-race. Since the race was relatively short (less than an hour), I didn’t plan to take any fuel during the race.
The elite women started six minutes ahead of the elite men, who start with the entire rest of the field. I was really hoping that I would be able to settle in with a group and work with some of the other women, but since my elite status came with quotation marks I also knew there was a very distinct possibility that I would get dropped like a hot potato in the first few minutes of the race. Even so, I was determined to not start out too fast, at a pace that I wasn’t comfortable with, as I didn’t want to completely fall apart later in the race.
As it turned out, the hot potato scenario was pretty darn accurate and I found myself close to dead last for about half to three-quarters of a mile. It was unsettling. If the entire race had all started at the same time it wouldn’t have felt so strange, but it was definitely not a position I am used to being in.
But as I learned, starting that far back in the pack means I had reserves when others didn’t. I’m happy to report that I passed a few women along the way and finished 32nd!
Splits: 6:11, 6:03, 5:56, 6:02, 5:51, 5:59, 5:58, 6:17 (up the “green monster” bridge), 6:12 and 5:32 pace for the last few tenths.
My official time was 56:39, which was a 15k PR for me by about five minutes actually, but I’ve only raced one other 15k and it was years ago. There were 15 bands along the way, which was awesome!
Somewhere around mile 5 I got engulfed by the elite men, who had started 6 minutes after us. They surrounded me and flew past me in a perfect V formation, just like a pack of birds. “Oh wow!” I thought, “I’ve seen this happen on TV and now it’s happening to me!”
Overall, I must say that I am happy with the way I ran and quite pleased that I didn’t get caught up in trying to start out at a pace I had no business running. This is one of the strongest races I have ever run and I am so glad that I had a good race during my Boston buildup, especially given that the marathon didn’t go exactly as I hoped. The Gate River Run was a wonderful event and I am SO thankful to have been included in the elite field. It is an experience that I will never forget!