PRR First Half - Women's Preview
While the men's race at the PRR First Half is sure to be competitive, the female race is just as good. Factoring in the current rankings of the BC Super Series, as well as the World Half-Marathon Champs rankings, we may have some interesting stories to tell after Sunday’s event.
Before I preview the field lets review a few of the “knowns”. As of writing, the AC World Half Champs rankings for women are as follows:
On paper is looks like Rachel Hannah’s 1:12.25 from Toronto is the time to beat to earn a spot on the team, but it may take less than that. Natasha is currently sitting on the sidelines with a foot injury, and is unlikely to be in great shape for the race in Cardiff. I’m not sure if AC considers fitness in it's final selection criteria, but it is probable that Natasha will forgo her spot and aim at races later in the season. Lanni is always solid so I consider her a sure thing to make the trip. Rachel is quite similar... if the race fits into her program there is no reason, outside of fluke injury, that she wouldn’t go. However, like Natasha, Sasha Gollish has been working through injuries recently so her spot on the team seems a bit uncertain. At this point in time (barring any better performances) it is not inconceivable that the 1:13.13 posted by Laura Batterink makes the World Half team. Counting out a rapid recovery and return to form of Natasha or Sasha, it appears that anything under 1:13.13 has a good chance of earning that third spot.
With regards to the BC Super Series rankings we have the current top 2 females (Natasha and Rachel Cliff) sitting out. Athletes ranked 3 and 4 (Lucy Smith, Marilyn Arsenault) will be in the race, but not expected to contend for a top placing. Given that none of the favourites have raced in the series thus far I would expect Lucy and Marilyn to be ranked first and second after Sunday’s event. The series will sum an athlete’s top 4 performances based on time and rank them accordingly. As such, until most of the athletes have at least 4 events completed, the rankings should shift quite often. It may also allow for “rank sniping” over the last few events of the series. If an athlete's 4th best performance is relatively weak they may enter one of the final events to secure a few more points to leap over the athlete ahead of them. This may prove interesting if the overall top 4 athletes are close and they want to duke it out for the series pay cheques ($1000, $500, $300, $200).
Seeded first in the women’s race, wearing bib number 20, we have Dayna Pidhoresky. Given that Dayna is my wife, and I also serve as her coach, I’d say I have a fairly deep understanding of her program at the moment. Dayna is coming off of a fairly long period of no racing while leading up to the Houston Marathon. After a strong start to the race she had to pull the plug a little after 25km due to GI issues. Although she stopped at 15k, 20k, and 25k to use the washroom she was still able to split through half in 1:14.50 and remain on 2:30 marathon pace past 25km. Having stopped early meant that she did not have the usual protracted recovery that occurs after racing the full 42km.
As with any of the top 3 women, Dayna will be looking for the win first and foremost on Sunday ($800). Secondary, but also fairly important, is a time that would qualify her for the World Half Champs in Cardiff, Wales. I figure this would be 1:13.12 at the very least (to slot in ahead of Batterink), but 1:12.34 would be a safer bet (ahead of Gollish). Further, with Krista Duchene racing there is always a chance that Krista qualifies as well. An ideal situation for Dayna would be running 1:12.34 and beating Krista. Not easy, but not a stretch either... Krista was racing the half-marathon event in Houston and was behind Dayna before their races split off at around the 13km marker. Added incentive to run fast comes from the race record of 1:12.47 by Olympian Tina Connelly. Finishing first under that time earns an added $1500 bonus.
The second seed in the female race goes to Erin Burrett. Erin finished second at this race last year (1:16.17) and, owing to a strong final segment, finished only 17 seconds behind Dayna (1:16.10). Erin is coming off of a very strong marathon debut (2:39.17) in Victoria last fall. She was able to recover and follow this up with a recent 1:14.49 half-marathon PB in the Houston race in January. Knowing that Erin is targeting a strong performance in Rotterdam on April 10th (8 weeks after this race) it will be interesting to see where her performance falls. On one hand there is heavy training to be done to ensure preparedness for Rotterdam, but on the other she has been racing well recently and could be looking for another strong showing.
Her freshly minted half-marathon PB of 1:14.49 in Houston puts her on the AC World Half Champs ranking list, but leaves her sitting in 7th place of declared athletes. It is highly unlikely this would earn her a spot on the team so she could be looking to better that time this Sunday. She would need to notch a fairly large PB, knocking it down to at least 1:13.12, if she wants to put herself in a strong position for the Cardiff team. There is also the matter of earning overall prize money (the race pays 5-deep) and securing BC Super Series points in the hunt for the prizing once the series is complete.
Rounding out our favourites we have likely 2016 Olympian Krista Duchene. Although she has raced in Vancouver regularly, this will be Krista’s first time racing the PRR First Half. Krista is coming off what I would call a solid “Krista” showing at the Houston half-marathon (1:14.26). I call it a “Krista” showing because, although it doesn’t seem fast relative to other athlete’s half-marathon performances, Krista is one of the few athletes I know who will run <2:30 in the marathon soon after a 1:14 half. I’ve always said that if you see Krista run 1:14 in her final prep half-marathon before a big marathon she is ready. Krista and her coach obviously have a very strong formula figured out to get her under that 2:30 barrier.
Given her Rio Olympic standard in the marathon (2:29.38), Krista likely has a different design to her season than most other athletes. She will assuredly need to “prove fitness” to AC sometime in the early summer, but with standard in hand she does not need to frantically search for fitness and race hard early in the year. That said, nothing is certain until May 29th for the marathon team. It is possible that she may need to race a spring marathon to preserve her spot in Rio... time will tell. Krista will be certainly looking for a win on Sunday, but more importantly she is probably looking for strong competition and another fractional increase in her level of fitness leading into the spring. She currently has a World Half Champs standard at 1:14.01 from last year, but sitting in 6th position it will likely not be enough to make the team. Given the bigger picture this is probably not something she is too concerned about as the big race will be in August.
Finally, looking at the BC Super Series rankings to date, this race should put a few more new names into the rankings (Dayna, Erin) while rewarding those who have done both races thus far (Lucy, Marilyn). The rankings on the women’s side are likely to change quite regularly throughout the season and it will make for some interesting racing as the series continues. Once most of the athletes have logged 4 results we will see stability in the rankings and look for athletes to pick up small amounts of points here-and-there to jostle for those top 4 paying positions.