Gracey and Buchanan Test Conditions & Claim Victory in Orlando


Gracey and Buchanan Test Conditions & Claim Victory in Orlando

By Jay Holder

ORLANDO – December 2, 2023 – Neely Gracey traveled from Boulder, Colorado to Orlando, Florida looking for an authentic experience with the city’s notorious heat and humidity. She got just that and then some as she cruised to victory in Saturday’s OUC Orlando Half Marathon presented by Land Rover Orlando and organized by Track Shack Events.

“I was hoping to not come here and have it be perfect conditions because that doesn’t give me as much data,” said Gracey, who’s winning time of 1:13:55 was nearly three minutes ahead of second place. “I wanted a chance to test how I handle heat and humidity. That gives me some cues into what I need to adjust considering that this would probably be the worst case it would be on marathon day."

She’s not wrong. At 73 degrees with 96% humidity at the start, temperatures were more than eight degrees higher than the historical average for December 2 in Orlando, and nearly 10 degrees higher than the historical average for February 3, the day the U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Marathon will be held here.


Gracey, who will be one of more than 175 women attempting to make the team for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, led the race from the start. She worked with fellow Trials qualifier Roberta Groner through 5K before beginning to pull away at the 10K mark. By 15K, Gracey was 40 seconds ahead.

“I did push a little bit more the second half,” said Gracey. “I would say that the effort in the second half was about finding that red line but not crossing it.”

Gracey’s victory comes almost a year after she qualified for the trials, running a personal best of 2:30:29 at last December’s California International Marathon. It marked a return to competitive racing for the eight-time NCAA Division II Champion following the birth of her two children. Coached by her husband Dillon, Gracey said she would run 110 miles and two hard workouts a week prior to having children, but now she tops out around 80 miles with one workout.

“It’s been more about consistency, staying healthy and the ability to recover between hard efforts,” said Gracey, who was the overall winner of the Disney Princess Half Marathon at Disney World here this past February. “I found that balance of how to recover with the training load I am doing.”

Second-place finisher Groner, 45, had a different goal coming into the race. She was in Orlando for the USATF Annual Meeting and needed to do a 20-mile run with a 10-mile tempo when someone suggested she hop in the half marathon. She signed up the night before and today she finished in 1:16:47, running the first 10 miles at her marathon pace and easing off for the final 5K.

“I’ve been running in 20 degree weather, so I am not really used to the temperature yet,” said Groner, who works as a full-time nurse and coach in New Jersey. “I was happy to just get out here and see what it felt like.”

Groner plans to stay in Florida and will compete in a half marathon in Jacksonville next weekend.

Reid Buchanan was also in Orlando for the annual meeting and looking to get in a marathon effort. Instead of a hard solo run, he got to stand on start line with more than four-thousand other runners and take in the loud cheers of people lining the finish chute as he broke the tape in 1:06:54.

“I feel like Shaq and Penny,” said Buchanan referencing Orlando Magic legends Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. “What better way to and get this session in?”

Buchanan, who qualified for the Trials at last year’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon, was all alone for the entire race. He came through the 5K more than 40 seconds ahead of second place and his margin of victory was exactly two minutes ahead of fellow trials qualifier Ben Payne.

A member of the U.S. team at this year’s World Cross Country Championships in Australia, Buchanan now lives and trains in his hometown of Kansas City where he works as a software engineer. For the past five months, he’s been coached remotely by Ben True, a professional distance runner based in New Hampshire who has also qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials. Buchanan said he is hoping for another warm day when he returns to race here in February.

“I think it really evens things out. It’s not going to be perfect,” said Buchanan. “You have to really run within yourself which brings the sport back to the chess match that it was before shoes got in the way.”

Qualifiers - including Gracey, Groner, Buchanan and Payne - will have an opportunity to see the trials course on Sunday morning. Track Shack is hosting a test event on the eight-mile loop for more than 30 athletes who will be racing here in February.

More News