Runner Spotlight: Rhia Kilpatrick
Maybe it’s her SoCal background, but Rhia Kilpatrick uniquely combines high-energy enthusiasm for workouts and racing with borderline indifference to gear, technology, and the latest training insights. She even claims to not have known about age grading until this February, when Dave Lee pointed out that her 18:52.8 at Spartan 5K was an 82.2 percent age-graded mark, solidly national caliber. “When Dave explained that,” she says, “and knowing I’d run 18:30 for 5K last fall, I was like, holy cow, I guess I’m better at this than I thought!”
A California native, Rhia ran her first “Kiddie-K” at age 5 and enjoyed cross country and track in high school. “I really loved the team environment and contributing to the whole,” she says, “but I wasn’t as competitive as I am even now in terms of race times. I never ran in the 18:00s (for 5K) until I was in my 40s! I had fun with running but didn’t really push myself with it, and my coach didn’t really help me see my potential.”
After more than a decade away from the sport, Rhia got back into running in her 30s here in Athens. “And it was the same thing – I didn’t really train,” she laughs. “I would go run a 5K and sometimes manage to win, but it wasn’t until the Road Runners got started that I began to take training seriously.”
Many of us have recognized Rhia’s standout running abilities since that time. In 2013, the year ARR formed, she scored the first of her eight Spartan 5K wins in 19:09. That fine mark age grades at 77.28% for a 34-year-old woman, a high regional level score. Her best time at Spartan (to date) is an 18:49 from 2017, which registers at 79.63%, just under the 80% national caliber threshold. But the 18:52 Rhia ran this February at age 44 is actually her finest effort at Spartan, and she went into the race feeling ready for a sub-18:30 personal best. Clearly, she’s getting faster with age and reaching higher performance levels.
But there have been some significant bumps in the road, including the stress fracture Rhia suffered in 2015. Worse yet was the nearly two years of suffering with plantar fasciitis that coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully switching physical therapists enabled her to get past the most recent ailment, and it’s been smooth sailing for about a year and a half now.
Last October, in a virtual dead heat with son Noah, Rhia established a new all-time 5K personal best of 18:30.1 at the Fast Pace 5K in Cumming. Her effort was good enough for 3rd overall female and gave her an easy masters win. Plus, her time at age 44 translates to a national caliber 84.05 age graded percentage.
This past winter Rhia focused her training on preparing for the USATF Masters 5K Championships in Atlanta. That meant regular track sessions, which she loves, under the watchful eye of Coach Al and alongside teammates. The prospect ARR Racing Team’s USATF debut added to the anticipation and Rhia was confident of significantly improving the 19:37 she had run in event a year earlier.
What she wasn’t planning on was developing a nasty cold several days prior to the race. She tried everything to get it out of her system but to no avail. “I was totally sick for the 5K,” she explains, “so it wasn’t my best race. But I had mental energy and went for it.” Despite running a full minute slower than her goal, Rhia crossed the line first for ARR’s bronze medal-winning women’s 40-49 team. “In terms of my own time and performance it wasn’t great,” she concludes. “But I had so much fun regardless because of the team camaraderie that we had.”
In a few months Rhia will move into the 45-49 age group, and with that comes the very real possibility of podium finishes in USATF events, the 5K and road mile for sure, and perhaps some track events. She has yet to set goals for that transition, but the prospects are intriguing.
“Previously, I just considered myself of pretty average ability,” she says, “but now I know that 18:30 at age 44 is a national class 5K time. So, as I’m approaching the 45-49 age group it’s something that’s more on my radar.”
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