Doug, Glenn and I show off our medals after Run the Bluegrass
When I signed up for the Run the Bluegrass half marathon in Lexington, Kentucky, I had many lofty expectations that probably seem silly. I pictured rolling green pastures, enormous old estates, chickens in the yard, babbling streams, horses running the fields, and miles and miles of white fence framing it all in the perfect picture of the South.
As it turns out- I was spot on.
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I came to this race by way of another race selling out really fast. I had originally intended to run the Quivering Quads half marathon through Cuivre River State Park, but when it was full in a day, I did what any red-blooded American would do: whined about it on Facebook. A high school friend who once lived in Lexington posted a link to what was billed as “One of the prettiest half marathons in America,” and I was sold. I quickly talked my training partner Doug into the race, and not long after that- primarily by reminding him that Kentucky was the heart of bourbon country- I had convinced our friend Glenn from the running club to join us too.
Training for this race didn’t always go smoothly. The first few months of this year, our hometown was blanketed by over a foot of snow not once, but three separate times. It seemed like our choices for times to run revolved around which was worse: freezing temperatures or freezing rain. But we slogged through long runs and hoped for spring to relieve the need to run bundled up like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.
Night before the race drinks in the hotel lobby. My first ever bourbon. When in Kentucky…
Due to a death in the family and an unexpected trip to Chicago, I arrived in Lexington late Friday night, after 10 hours in my car, having missed the expo. My friends Doug and Glenn were already there, and I was barely in the door before Glenn had his expo prize out to show me: a bottle of Knob Creek Bourbon that was specially-selected for this race which he had gotten signed by Runner’s World’s Hal Higdon. The guys had also each purchased an etched Run the Bluegrass rocks glass, and Doug had kindly picked one up for me too. Happy to finally be out of my car, we all went to the lobby to have a nightcap and then were off to bed at a pretty decent hour.
We woke up at 6 am for the 9 am race. We stayed at the race hotel, the Hyatt Downtown, so we were pretty close to the race start. We grabbed breakfast at the hotel lobby. I had hot cereal and some fruit, which is evidently my pre-race ritual now. Then we were off to the race.
Beautiful drive to the race.
The drive there is worth mentioning actually. There was a low fog hanging over the low spots of the farms along the way, and temperatures just around freezing had frozen the fog in spots and added a gorgeous sparkle to the landscape. The sun was working hard to burn the fog away and the scene was another perfect picture of the South.
We arrived at Keenland Thoroughbred Race Track over an hour before the race. Walking up to the spired main building I could see the finish line off to my right. Perhaps the little detail of pre-race that made me the happiest is that the racetrack had plenty of inside bathrooms. There is nothing in this world better than knowing you don’t have to go to the port-a-potty before a race. I popped a lemon-lime Nuun Hydration tablet in my water bottle (what, you didn’t think I was going to mention my sponsor!? CLICK HERE to see my brand new Ambassador Page!!) and then it was time to go.
I’m betting on the right horse to win! These ladies did the whole race in costume. Awesome.
We made our way down to race start about quarter to nine, and maybe it’s just the speed of the South, but no one seemed in much hurry to get to the start. We found our spot in our corral among the other 4000+ runners and chatted with the people around us. Mainly, I talked to a guy named Andy, who was funny and kind and kept my mind off of the 13.1 hilly miles in front of us. The race started just a little late and by the time we hit the start line, the temperature outside was absolutely perfect.
Go ahead. Count the hills. But it will only make you cry. (chart from Taz Running.com)
Now, dear readers, I’ve been thinking for 5 days what to tell you about the race. You see, I don’t want to scare you off because you should definitely do this race. I’m not going to lie to you though, it’s hilly. Real hilly. And if I do this race again next year, I shall never, ever skip one of Brian Pahlmann’s hill repeat training sessions down at the river. Ever.
I noticed the first long hill we climbed had a name: Songbird Hill. It was a good name, since I could hear some meadowlarks off in the field. The next hill was also graced with a sign at the top dubbing it Rose Hill. And at the top of the next hill there was another sign and another name and I remembered what someone in the bike club once told me, “It’s only a real hill if it’s got a name.” Well looking from the crest of the hill we were on across the rolling landscape in front of us, I thought, “Gosh, there are going to be a lot of names.”
Kim and Laura and myself at around mile 8…we stopped for a picture!!
In spite of the fact that we were woefully underprepared for a course like this, both Doug and I were surprised to see the first several miles melting away. The course was very well-marked and large flags called out each mile. Intermittently along the course there were bands playing a wide variety of music (Seriously: there was some screamo at one corner and a bluegrass band at the next. WIDE variety…) but mostly the course was a quiet country road with little to hear aside from footfalls.
Another post race pic!
Near the bluegrass band was one of those scenes I’d clearly imagined before the race- a yard full of chickens and one proud Tom turkey out strutting his stuff, wearing his feathers tall like royal regalia. Not far up the road was the first close-to-the-fence horse, a big black and white draft horse who stood by the fence waiting for the next runner who would come over and give him a scratch on the cheek. He was very sweet and made me smile. That sort of thing really helps me get my mind off the primary problem: the hills. My god, the hills.
We were struggling mightily up one hill that Doug named, “The Widow Maker,” when (now don’t miss the irony here) a little old man came by us and said, “You know what a little old man once told me about hills? It’s just ground!”
Somewhere just past the halfway point, I called out, “Well there’s no turning back now; it’s further to turn around!” which drew a laugh from a couple of girls in the vicinity. The girls were named Kim and Laura and we ran with them on and off for the rest of the race. Kim is also a blogger and writes one called This Healthy Endeavor. It’s got recipes and race reports and more. You should go check it out. Half way is also the point I chose to eat a second V-Fuel Endurance Gel. The VFuel really helped me get through this tough race and didn’t give me any tummy problems at all. That’s why I love it. (Click here to see my contest to win Nuun and VFuel!!!!!)
My race goodies! Yeah, I splurged for the bottle of bourbon.
Probably the most beautiful moment of the race for me was at mile 8. We crested *another* hill and at the top there were 3 sets of mares and foals running wide arcs around their fenced pasture. It was breathtaking to watch, and even though I was getting pretty exhausted, their enthusiasm for running returned the spring to my step and the smile to my face.
I’m not going to get too much into the end of the race… it was hilly, I was undertrained, and I did a lot of walking. That’s okay though. Doug stuck right by my side and we did the thing together. Then, just past a little marching band stationed at the last corner (WIDE variety of music…) the finish line came into sight. We ran out the last “point-one” as quick as we could and were presented with what is probably my favorite half-marathon medal to date.
Sorry this blog got so long folks! Thanks for sticking with me! Run the Bluegrass was a terrific race. I posted a personal worst time- but I also feel like I worked really hard for it and was super proud anyway. I couldn’t have done it without my training partner Doug, who helped me through the long, bleak winter training and shared in the fun in Lexington. Glenn finished in front of us, but he was great to have around and was fun the entire trip.
Doug, Glenn, Race Director Eric and I after the race (and after a Kentucky Ale!)
Special thanks go to the race director Eric Marr and his team for making every part of the race beautiful. From the specially chosen barrels of Knob Creek Bourbon, to the ribbons based on the silks of the famous thoroughbred filly Genuine Risk, this was a race with an eye for the details that make an experience special.
Also, a big shout-out to Andy, Kim, Laura, Amanda Jones and her friends, and Lisa- new friends from the race. I absolutely loved the size of this race. It made it easy to meet people, share a Kentucky Ale, and lament the hills like we’d been running together forever. Lisa if you’re reading this: I’ll see you this weekend in Allerton. I can’t believe we were both silly enough to sign up for the same two half marathons on back-to-back weekends.
Doug at the Town Branch distillery tour.
If you make it down for this race next year (and you totally should) make sure you take a little time to explore Lexington. It’s an awesome town with lots to do. We toured the Town Branch Bourbon Distillery after the race and also got a taste of downtown at a really great creole joint called Bourbon and Toulouse for dinner. Then we treated ourselves to pie by the famous Missy’s Pies at Ramsey’s Restaurant for desert. I had coconut cream. Wow.
Just remember: If you sign up for this race next year… don’t skimp on the hill training. :)