More than six months went by between Janet Bawcom’s last two road races.
“I had not even thought about [the gap between races] until it was getting closer,” said Bawcom in a telephone interview earlier this week. “Then I panicked. I guess I had quite a bit of rest, for sure.”
Bawcom needn’t have worried. The 34-year-old who trains in Flagstaff, AZ, won both of those bookend races—the U.S. 10-Mile Championships on October 7, 2012, and the U.S. 15K Championships last Saturday.
This time, the wait between races will be just eight days, but one thing hasn’t changed: When Bawcom lines up for the NYC Half on Sunday morning, she will be among the favorites to win. The U.S. road title at 15K that she defended last Saturday by winning the Gate River Run in Jacksonville, FL, is her seventh national championship since the fall of 2011.
In last weekend's 15K, Bawcom led the pack from the gun, pulling away just before 5K with only Alisha Williams and Stephanie Rothstein-Bruce, who will also run the NYC Half, in tow. Bawcom and Williams soon broke away by themselves, running together for much of the race until Bawcom broke away on the approach to the final bridge, with about 2 miles to go, to win in 49:44. In the process, she held off men’s winner Ben True, who started 6:35 behind her, to win the $5,000 equalizer bonus on top of $12,000 for the victory.
“I kept looking back and I’m trying to figure out, ‘Where are the guys?’” she said in an interview after the race, adding that although she had been checking her watch, she was having trouble calculating her pace. “The splits I got, I didn’t know what I was seeing,” she told Runnerspace.com. “I would have three-something for a mile and I was like, ‘That shouldn’t be right.’”
Williams finished second, in 50:01, with Rothstein-Bruce third in 50:09. “I felt pretty good,” said Rothstein-Bruce. “It bodes well for New York.” She is also training for the Boston Marathon.
Since coming to the United States from her native Kenya 12 years ago to study nursing, Bawcom—then Janet Cherobon—married American Jay Bawcom and became a U.S. citizen in November 2010. An eight-time All-American, three-time NCAA Division II national champion at Harding University in Searcy, AR, Bawcom hadn’t planned to run competitively after college, but she occasionally ran with the cross-country team her husband coached and one thing led to another. “Another,” in addition to those seven road championships, included a fifth-place finish in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and a spot on the U.S. team for London in the 10,000 meters, where she finished 12th in a personal-best 31:12.58.
After the Olympics, she and Jay spent about a month visiting Bawcom’s family in Kenya. While there, she tweeted about the birth of a newborn bull, running in the mud and rain, and the “strength training” of hauling 30 pounds of water on her head.
“I have a big family, and the best way to spend time with them is just to do the chores together,” she explained in an interview before what was to be her ING New York City Marathon debut last fall. “We would go to the river to get water like every single day with a group of them and just eat like we were growing up.”
This will be Bawcom’s third NYC Half, after finishing 10th in 2010 and fifth last year in a personal best of1:09:55.
“There’s some real competition there, for sure,” she said. The field includes Kim Smith, whose personal best of 1:07:11 is the fastest half-marathon ever run on U.S. soil. “But it’s an exciting distance for me.”
Before the race on Sunday, however, Bawcom is looking forward to switching roles and being a spectator at the St. Patrick’s Day parade.
“I think we spent maybe four or five hours out there last year,” she said. “We walked all over the place. I’ve never seen so many people.”
Photo Credit: Kristine Smith
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg