Tales From the Big D
Tales From the Big D
Read about elite runner Evan Gaynor’s first Rock ‘n’ Roll experience at the 5th Annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas Half Marathon.
Rock ‘n’ Rolling in the Big D
Evan Gaynor, Dave’s Racing Team
At the risk of putting you all to sleep with yet another tale of my racing escapades, allow me to share my experience this weekend at the Rock n Roll Dallas Half Marathon. Sorry, no Murphy’s Law, marooned in Memphis, or crazy man on a plane stories this time… And in fact, this time around even my performance was not the best.
Rather, this race will stand out in my mind as-for complete lack of a more appropriate word-one of the coolest racing experiences I’ve ever had.
The trip presented a couple firsts for me: it was my first time racing in Texas, and, more importantly, my first experience with the popular and long running “Rock ‘n’ Roll” race series.
Going into the race, I had one goal in mind: hitting the sub 1:05 standard to qualify for the 2016 US Olympic Marathon Trials. The day dawned windy-much windier than expected-but I put that aside as I warmed up, confident in my two month training block in Santa Fe and fresh from a day of relaxing after the the ten hour drive. (No getting in at 1:00 a.m. this time!)
The gun went off, and I bolted to an early lead. I wasn’t about to allow the pace to dawdle, fixated on my sub 1:05 goal. Starting near downtown, we made a right hand turn onto Houston street, passed Dealey Plaza, and turned left onto Elm Street.
Allow me to add that at that moment, we strode directly below the sixth floor window of the Dallas County Administration Building, formerly a little establishment known as the Texas School Book Depository. To my right was an open hillside that could only be described as a grassy knoll, and there, yes, there beneath my footsteps, shown two simple but eerily pronounced X’s on the pavement.
That’s right. We were passing directly over the site of president John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
It was only later that I was able to fully ponder just how surreal that moment really was. Here I was, little old me, heading down Elm street in downtown Dallas, towards the triple overpass, flanked by police motorcycles and trucks in an impressively official motorcade. Oh, if those buildings could talk! They’d cry out at the stark and alarming familiarity of the scene.
And yet I, along with 10,000 others behind me, strode routinely past those iconic windows and trees, under the overpass, and on our way. Tomorrow our presence there would be forgotten. The streets of Dallas would be back to business as usual. And yet for that brief moment, that insignificant and inconsequential moment, a faint echo of those frozen in time seconds on a November afternoon in 1963.
As enthralling as the moment was to a history buff like me, it passed in the blink of an eye. Time to focus on the task at hand. A strong headwind was already hampering progress, and despite my efforts we crossed the mile in a relatively pedestrian 5:04.
That’s when our old pal Julius Kiptoo came roaring past. Julius had just returned from Kenya, and in a typically complex labyrinth of travel he had met up with me in Dallas after a race in New Orleans the previous week.
In lieu of a time bonus, Julius was bent on sub 1:05 as well. Yet the prognosis continued to deteriorate as we tore through the second mile at a 4:40 clip. Hills loomed, the wind worsened, and breathing was already labored with 11 miles to go.
I inched back just slightly, intending to tuck in the back of the pack that was on our heels. I hit the 5k only a couple ticks off goal pace and still just a second off the lead, but the wheels were coming off.
As we climbed through hills that wound through residential streets, I lost contact with the leaders and my pace continued to wane. In an admittedly rookie move, I kept glancing down at my Garmin. 5:15, 5:21, 5:28…
What is going on!?! Oh please don’t let Deena roll up on me…
Deena Kastor, Bronze medalist in the 2004 Athens Olympic Marathon, was in the race. Having recently turned 40, she was using the race as an attempt at multiple American records, with a goal pace of just over 5:20 a mile.
Yikes. For as much respect as I have for Deena, I simply could not allow any 40 year old woman to beat me. Time to get moving!
As I’ve learned in my racing experience, the longer the race, the more you are able to work yourself out of a troubled spot. Let the pack get a stride on you in a 5k, and you’re out of it. Go out too hard in a 10k, and its a long march of shame to the finish. Yet in the half marathon and longer you can hit a patch of trouble-even multiple patches of trouble- and work your way out of it.
I reminded myself of this, kept repeating my mantra Psalm 62 “I will never be shaken” in my head, and focused on the pack in the distance. Downhills and FINALLY a tailwind the last three or four miles helped me salvage the pace, I closed up what had been turning into a disaster in a not-half-bad 1:07:38.
Though I was pretty dejected immediately after, as I pondered the effort it looked better and better in hindsight. I had still placed fifth, and the competition was much stiffer than I had realized. There were multiple 1:03 half marathoners in the field, including the veteran Julius. (He won by just two seconds in 1:06:02). There was also a former NCAA Division I champion to boot. All of these runners were 2-3 minutes slow, so the wind had definitely been a huge factor.
Plus, I’d managed to finish clear of good ol’ Deena by a comfortable four minutes
Thus, like I said, just keep the nose to the grindstone in these longer events. Even if you’re having an off day, nine times out of ten you can pull out at least a satisfactory result if you just keep at it.
Having secured the run as satisfactory in hindsight, I also reveled at what a neat racing experience it had really been. There was the Kennedy feature-something near impossibly unique and dynamic in the context of a race-and the event in itself had been superb.
For starters, the expo was out of the park. And that’s coming from a guy that’s run so many races that expos are a dime a dozen.
Heck, there were even rides there!
I’m not making this up. Thanks to the indefatigable Brooks Running, and in salute to local culture, among other attractions was a mechanical bull in the form of a giant Brooks shoe.
Yes, I rode, and yes I got thrown off flat on my back!!
Couple this with smooth organization, the signature live bands playing us on out on the course, and possibly the largest finish line party I’ve ever seen, and lets just say the Rock ‘n’ Roll events live up to their name!
Oh, and, some of you may have gotten wind of a bit of controversy recently in which the Rock ‘n’ Roll events were cutting their elite athlete benefits. I’m here to say that, from start to finish, the race organizers were among the most cordial and helpful to elites that I have encountered.
It’s settled. I’m a Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon fan.
The neat thing is, you don’t have to go all the way to Dallas to join in the fun. There are Rock ‘n’ Roll events all over, including right next door in Cleveland, the home of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Check out the list of Rock ‘n’ Roll events HERE, and think about including one into your next training cycle. You’ll be in for a good time!