Gate River Race Re-cap

Fasil Bizuneh and Rebecca Donaghue post-race in Jacksonville

Fasil Bizuneh and Rebecca Donaghue post-race in Jacksonville

On Saturday I ran my first race in 8 and a half months at the Gate River 15k in Jacksonville, FL, which also served as the men’s and women’s US 15k Championships. I was the 7th US woman in 51:52.

Going into this race my goals were much different from any of my previous races over the past few years. The main goal was to finish the race without any pain in my heel or Achilles. Another was to get a good, hard effort in. And then slipping into the top 10 if those two goals happened.  All three were successfully accomplished.

I felt pretty much how I thought I’d feel, rusty from not racing in such a long time, and very excited to be out there again. Just in the past week or two things really started to come around with my injury. I logged descent weekly mileage within the past month but did only a handful of workouts without pain in my heel. Things have gotten better so gradually over the months but it was a pretty consistent progression that indicated that running at Gate would be a good fit. I have to credit the New Balance Minimus for being a factor in that progress. I started wearing them walking around our apartment only about a week ago and pretty much within the next day I started to feel a lot less pain in my heel, they’re my new favorite shoe. However, there might be a tie for my favorite right now. I wore the new RC1400s the day before Gate to test them out and was absolutely blown away. Best racing flats I’ve ever worn and they felt awesome during the race. Thanks New Balance!

Speaking of New Balance, I was also lucky enough to meet and have a great conversation with Dick Beardsley at the pre-race dinner. He was the guest speaker and gave a truly inspiring speech after we watched coverage of the epic “Duel in the Sun”, from the 1982 Boston Marathon. There couldn’t have been a better way to go into the next day’s race.

At the start of the race we had a moment of silence for Sally Meyerhoff, who was tragically killed in a biking accident on Tuesday. We may not have been close friends but she was certainly a close competitor of mine over the past few years. She pushed me to some fast times, specifically at Gate in 2009 where she was only a couple seconds in back of me. An incredibly sad feeling knowing that she will no longer be there to push me. I wore a pink ribbon in my hair to honor her as did many of the other women in the race. Others wore running skirts and pink compression socks just as Sally did.

The first 3 miles of the race felt relatively comfortable, definitely not as sharp as I normally would feel, but not bad. I hung with the lead pack of about 9 as we went 5:28, 5:16, 5:17, and 16:43 through 5k. Just as I said to myself, “this is ok, I can do this”, Jen Rhines broke the pack apart and everything changed. I hate to make any excuses, but just a few steps after that I was hit with a stabbing side stitch in my stomach. It is what it is and it most definitely slowed me up big time. I don’t think I’ve had a side stitch during a race since high school. Anyway, I dropped to about 6 minute mile pace for mile 3 to about 4 and a half. I kept telling myself that it had to eventually go away and to just tough it out. The power of positive thinking never fails, it went away at about 4 and a half or so and then I started to get back on pace. I finished feeling strong and best of all, there was no sign of heel or Achilles pain, even on the cool-down. I only ran 39 seconds slower than last year, which looks to have all come from that side stitch mile. So, I’m pleased with how things turned out considering what I’ve been through over the past 8 months.

To top the weekend off, we saw a school of dolphin on our 3 mile shake-out later after the race. It was my first time seeing a dolphin, let alone about 10 of them, up close in person. I couldn’t believe how big they were and how smooth they looked. Very inspiring stuff, until about a mile later we got heckled from some people on a party boat yelling “The River Run is over!”

Later on all of the elite athletes took a bus to the race director’s beautiful home for a post race dinner, complete with live music and fried alligator. Trying the alligator was another first for this trip. It was pretty good, similar to a chicken tender. Then, to top it off, the race put together a post, post race party for the elite athletes. The whole weekend was so well put together thanks to Richard Clark Fannin, the elite athlete coordinator. He knows how to do it right and I can’t thank him enough for all of the work he does putting together such an incredible field of runners year after year not to mention pampering us throughout the weekend. Once again, I’m sad that the weekend is over and am already looking forward to next year’s Gate River Run.

Up next, outdoor track at the Mt. Sac Relays.