February 28, 2016
New Orleans, LA – Neely Spence Gracey’s goal at Sunday’s Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Half Marathon was to replicate a marathon-pace effort and shake out some racing cobwebs.
Mission more than accomplished.
On a chamber of commerce, sun-splashed morning, Spence Gracey won the half marathon in 1 hour, 14 minutes, 20 seconds. After dealing with the heartache of a foot injury that prevented her from competing at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, Spence Gracey is healthy again and on schedule to make her 26.2-mile debut at the Boston Marathon.
Sprawled out on a massage table after her victory, Spence Gracey said, “I’m pleased with my effort. It’s exactly what I wanted to get out of it. I stayed controlled and pushed the last three miles, getting out of my comfort zone, something you can’t simulate in training.”
Spence Gracey turned heads at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon last October, finishing second in 1:09:59, becoming only the 10th American woman to run a sub-1:10 half. But the performance came with a price. She suffered a foot injury that knocked her out of the Trials.
Sunday morning, she pulled away from Canadian Dayna Pidhoresky a little after 4½ miles at the turnaround on St. Charles Avenue and was never pushed again. Pidhoresky finished second in1:18:42.
“I wasn’t trying to make a move (when she took the lead). That’s just how things played out,” she said.
More than 23,000 runners, walkers and wheelchair athletes entered the half marathon, marathon and 10K. No one drew more attention than Spence Gracey, her long blonde hair braided and held in place by a baby-blue ribbon.
When she made the U-turn on St. Charles and began running against the grain of the thousands of age groupers, the men and women filled her ears with encouragement.
“You go get ’em … You go, girl … Yeah, first lady.”
“It’s always nice to have that encouragement,” said Spence Gracey. “That’s what makes road racing so much fun. The overall environment, and it didn’t disappoint today.”
Spence Gracey admits she’s not the best hand-eye-coordination athlete, saying she flunked second grade physical education because she couldn’t hit a baseball.
“But I could beat all the fifth-grade girls (running),” she said.
She made like Steph Curry on Sunday morning, tossing her first empty water bottle about four feet, perfectly sinking it into a trash can. Impressed, the men and women in the press truck cheered. Smiling at the feedback, Spence Gracey slam dunked her empty water cup in trash can the rest of the race.
“Pretty much a miracle,” she later joked about that first four-footer. “You’ll never see that again.”
Poland’s Emil Dobrowolski won the men’s half marathon in 1:04:17.
Michigan’s Geoff Burns broke the tape in the men’s marathon in 2:24:58. Canada’s Meggan Franks won the women’s marathon in 2:51:50.
The runners, walkers and wheelchair athletes were treated to a foot tour of the Big Easy. Along Charles Avenue they ran beneath sprawling oak trees in front of southern mansions. Beads hung from trees and trolley car wires.
Jazz bands filled the course. There was a man in a giraffe costume handing out Jello shots.
“This was so perfect,” said Burns. “I wanted to come to New Orleans, sample the food, catch some music. When I was hurting late in the race, there was a band to pick me up. I love this race. I love this city.”
The 2017 Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon & ½ Marathon will take place on Sunday, February 5 and runners can take advantage of a presale registration special through March 6. For complete results, photos and more, visit RunRocknRoll.com.
Results – Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans
Place, Name, Age, Country, Time, Prize
Men’s Half Marathon
1. Emil Dobrowoiski, 30, Poland, 1:04:17, $500
2. Derlis Ayala, 26, Paraguay, 1:05:10, $400
3. Jakub Nowak, 26, Poland, 1:06:53, $300
4. David Flynn, 26, Ireland, 1:09:45, $200
5. Andris Goncarovs, 23, USA, 1:13:18, $100
Women’s Half Marathon
1. Neely Spence Gracey, 25, USA, 1:14:20, $500
2. Dayna Pidhoresky, 29, Canada, $1:18:42, $400
3. Allie Moore, 29, USA, 1:19:37, $300
4. Morgan Van Gorder, 26, USA, $200
5. Gabriela Trana Trigueros, 35, USA, $100
1. Geoffrey Burns, 25, Michigan, 2:24:58, $500
1. Meggan Franks, 32, Canada, 2:51:50, $500