February 25, 2016 – Neely Spence Gracey boasts the fastest half marathon time of the professional women entered in Sunday’s Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon & Half Marathon. Spence Gracey, 25, set her personal record of 1 hour, 9 minutes, 59 seconds while winning the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon on Oct. 31.At the time she was focused on making her marathon debut at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials on Feb. 14, but she suffered a foot injury and on Jan. 1 made the difficult decision to pass on the Trials.
“It was definitely frustrating for me when things didn’t work out as planned,” said Spence Gracey, one of just 10 American women who have broken 1:10 for the half-marathon. “I like to be in control of everything. But that’s part of the sport. Running injuries are part of the career I chose.”
Now she has decided to make her 26.2-mile debut at the Boston Marathon on April 18. The Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Half Marathon will be a bit of a test ride for Spence Gracey.
“This is my first opportunity to get in a hard, marathon-pace effort,” she said.
Spence Gracey, you could say, was born to be a distance runner. The day she was born, April 16, 1990, her father, Steve Spence, ran the Boston Marathon. Steve won the 1992 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, then finished 12th at the Barcelona Games in 2:15:21.
Raised in Shippensburg, Pa., Spence Gracey watched the high school Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships on TV in the eighth grade and decided to follow in her father’s footsteps. She later finished eighth and fourth at Foot Locker, and headed to Shippensburg University, where she was coached by her father and became an eight-time NCAA Division II National Champion.
New Orleans’ history for record road performances combined with its flat course makes it an ideal spring running destination. In addition to Spence Gracey, the women’s field includes Canada’s Dayna Pidhoresky, who owns a 1:11:45 personal best, and Sanna Mustonen of Sweden, a track runner who will be making her half-marathon debut on the roads. The men’s half-marathon field will be led by Emil Dobrowolski and Jakub Nowak of Poland, who finished 1-2 at the Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas Half Marathon last year.
The men’s event record is 1:00:59, set by Britain’s double Olympic champion Mo Farah in 2013, while the women’s mark is 1:07:36 set by New Zealand’s Kim Smith in 2011. The races begin at 7:30 am in downtown New Orleans on Poydras Street. With a fast course that starts below sea level, the route traverses beautiful St. Charles Avenue, running out and back before touring the historic French Quarter, Esplanade Avenue and iconic City Park.
The races will once again finish on Roosevelt Mall behind the New Orleans Museum of Art, where local favorite Preservation Hall Jazz Band will be rocking the Toyota Rock ‘n’ Roll Concert Series followed by Virginia-based group, J. Roddy Walston & the Business. In addition to the two headliners, local bands and live musicians will be stationed along the course to entertain runners as they make their way to the finish line.
“This year’s headliners are going to give us a great mix of authentic New Orleans jazz and soulful rock ‘n’ roll,” said Keli Kadota, entertainment manager, Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series. “Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been established in New Orleans for a long time and has a rich history here, and we also have J. Roddy Walston & The Business who are sure to amplify the celebration with their performance.”