Posts Tagged ‘first half marathon’

Doug, Glenn and I show off our medals after Run the Bluegrass

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.

Pre-race Sponsor Pics! It's Nuun Hydration and VFuel! Love it! Click here to enter my contest to win both!

Pre-race Sponsor Pics! It’s Nuun Hydration and VFuel! Love it! Click here to enter my contest to win both!

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...

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.

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.

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)

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!!

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!

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.

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!)

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.

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.  🙂

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Heartland Road Runners and Walkers Club lined up pre-race at the 2012 Little Rock Marathon.

Interesting fact: The 25 members of the Heartland Road Runners and Walkers club who traveled to the Little Rock Marathon last weekend completed 11 half marathons (13.1 miles each) and 14 full marathons (26.2 miles each) for a total of 510.9 miles run.  510 miles is also about the distance between the cities of Quincy and Little Rock!  We could have lined up as a relay and made it from convention center to convention center with the miles we put in.  There’s something very poetic about that coincidence.

My race report starts with a big thank you to the group that traveled to Little Rock for this outstanding event.  If it weren’t for the HRRWC, I wouldn’t have even started the journey that put my Adventure Foot on asphalt in Arkansas for my first half marathon.


We’d arrived in Little Rock Saturday afternoon and, after spending some time and money at the Expo, my husband and I headed over to the Clinton

Presidential Library to see what there was to see and then went out to dinner with a few of the other club members.  At times, I just felt like a tourist on vacation.  At other times, I was pumped and ready to race.  And then at other times, I’d be overcome with nervousness and my knees felt like they would buckle.  As it turns out, a decent enough way to get over pre-race jitters is having a local brew at a local bar with some good friends.  I highly recommend Diamond Bear IPA from the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium if you’re ever in Little Rock… but just one.  It is race day after all!


I started my day at the hotel with a breakfast of oatmeal with loads of pecans, a couple of glasses of OJ, and a banana.  Several of us walked to the

At the Little Rock Marathon Expo

start about an hour before the race and met up with the rest of the club to snap a group photo and take our places in our starting corals.  I was placed in the open coral, and club members Jeremy Grootens and Dave Poland were nice enough to start there with me.  I ditched my $2 thrift-store jacket near a tree, had my VI Fuel (a gel), and stood among the 10,000 other runners to wait for the countdown. 3…2…1… *pow!*   The starting gun didn’t signal the start for us exactly, as we were many thousands of people behind the elite corral, but the excitement buzzed through the crowd.  We ambled forward for 6 minutes before we crossed over the starting pad and got underway.


2012 Little Rock Start

Jeremy and Dave stuck by me during the chaotic first mile.  The three of us weaved around other runners to find our own space.  The beginning of the route had us winding around downtown, and if I had any complaint about the course at all, it was that the roads had trolley tracks in them and I couldn’t seem to stay away from them.  It would be a damn shame to twist an ankle in the first half mile, so I was extra careful.  Right around the mile mark, the guys and I got separated a bit and Jeremy clearly was feeling good, so I waved him on and was on my own from there on out.

The river of runners turned right from the downtown district and passed under two fire truck ladders that were extended over an intersection and served as hangers for an enormous American flag. There was a band playing and the atmosphere was electric.  Even though it was more than a mile in, crossing under this arch felt like the real start of the race to me.

After the fire truck arch, the route went over the Arkansas River.  The lead male full-marathon runner was already headed back across the bridge towards me while I was crossing.  He was escorted by four cyclists and I had 2 thoughts:  1. Wow that runner looks graceful.  2. I would really like to borrow that pretty Cannondale for the rest of this.

Oh! I can’t leave the description of the beginning without telling you about one of my favorite spectator signs of the race: “Run Faster… The Zombies are Closing In!”


Crossing the Arkansas river.

Once I settled into a groove, the miles started to tick away.  The route meandered through residential and business districts in North Little Rock and was occasionally punctuated by a band playing blues or rock or gospel or country.  I enjoyed watching other runners and occasionally someone would notice my cap and yell, “Go Hawkeyes!”  I have always loved Iowa fans away from home!

The weather was absolutely lovely.  I think race temps were in the 50s at the start, and the clothes I picked out were just right.  Every time I’d feel a little hot, a light breeze would kick up enough to cool me down.   I carried my own water bottle, but sometimes I still grabbed a Gatorade at the water stops.

This is a good time to mention that it’s easy to tell that this race is set up by a couple of women.  They clearly understand that there’s nothing worse than needing a potty break while you’re running, so they put bathrooms every 2 or 3 miles.  I never availed myself of the facilities during the race, but it’s nice that they were there.

Somewhere in that middle section we passed a truck that had a sign that said, “Free Beer for Bill and You” and had a bunch of Dixie Cups of beer set out for runners.  I thought, “Heck, why not?” and gulped down a lovely swig of amber as I ran by.

Around mile 6 of the course, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe was standing outside his mansion shaking hands and posing for pictures.  Though I didn’t stop, I thought it really added to the hometown feel of the race to have him out there with the athletes.


Everything was going pretty well and I zoned out for a lot of the middle of the race until things went sour around mile ten.  I was trucking along a few blocks ahead of the 5:10 marathon pace group when a little sore spot I’d been noticing in my hip suddenly turned into a really bad cramp that radiated down my leg.  The pace group passed me and I grimaced with each step.   I walked/waddled for a half a block and decided I better just stop a second and try to stretch this thing

Occupy Little Rock was supporting the runners!

out a bit.  This wasn’t the first time I’d had pain in my hip flexors, so I went to the side of the road and did a few of the stretches I’d been taught to deal with it. I downed my entire water bottle and then got back on course.

I’m not going to lie, that mile wasn’t pretty.  I walked more of it than I would have liked to, but I kept on going hoping I’d just work the cramp out.  I was jogging again after a while, but I finally said a couple of expletives out loud  when it seemed like mile ten was never, ever, ever, ever going to end.  But then…


But then I saw the sign for mile 12!  What!??!  I never saw mile 11 I guess.  Maybe I was zoned out when my GPS had announced that mile.  Maybe I was looking at the other side of the road when I passed the sign.  Heck, I don’t know what happened!  All I know is that I only had 1.1 miles left and I wouldn’t have cared if my damn leg was falling off;  1.1 miles was not that far and I had bling to get.

First Half Finish!!

Little Rock 2012 Half Marathon Medal

My hip was still hurting pretty bad, but I managed to make a little surge and ran it on in.  There was quite a crowd when I turned down the last stretch, and lots of them yelled out my name (which was on my bib) and that was really encouraging.  There were photographers and announcers at the line and even though I was one of thousands of runners that went by, they made me feel like a rock star all by myself.  I dashed past, grinning and throwing my hands in the air, and it felt great.  I retrieved my medal from a volunteer, posed for a finisher photo and grabbed a few snacks including a heavenly chocolate snack cake, and wandered out of the chute.

Another runner and I were walking down toward the perks pavilion and we both made a painful little noise as we took our first step down the stairs.  It was a funny moment that really sticks in my head.  We didn’t know each other but the shiny medal around our necks and our common enemy- the stairs- made us friends.  We actually hugged at the bottom of the small flight.

I texted a friend back home with a smiling photo of my finish and then set off to find the rest of my group.  Justin, Jeremy and Dave were all there waiting.  All had run great times.  Justin finished in 1:59, Jeremy at 2:06 and Dave at 2:16.  I was 2:44.  Maybe it’s not a quick time, but it is my very first finish and I’m okay with it.


It’s Tuesday as I’m writing this, and I’m still a little unsure about my reaction to the whole experience.  My hip is still sore, but not terribly, so I might go for a walk or short jog tonight with the club.  I’ve got my second half on the calendar in

Justin Sievert, Laura Sievert, Jeremy Grootens and Dave Poland at the finish.

late April, and I’m pretty confident that I can trim some time off of my Little Rock finish.  I’m looking forward to the Illinois half, but I’m not sure what I’ll do after that.

Some of the people that were with me in Little Rock love to run and it shows.  I’m okay with not being that person.  I don’t feel passionate about running the way I do about cycling, but I’m happy to be able to do a little of both.

My main feeling is probably satisfaction.  I set a decently tough goal, worked hard and got there.  I made some great friends along the way, and we’ll have more adventures as the years go on.  I wouldn’t expect to see my name on a full-marathon list any time soon, but I could probably be talked into doing a few 10K races or another half after Illinois.  We’ll just have to see.  The point is, if I want to run, I know I can do it, and there is something to be said for having that confidence in myself.

Jason Asman, Roger Mckenzie, Clifton Anders, Doug Seebers and Jon Owen with their full marathon medals!

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My feelings11 days out from my first half marathon can best be described in a quote from one of my favorite blockbusters: Armageddon.

“Great, I got that “excited/scared” feeling. Like 98% excited, 2% scared. Or maybe it’s more – It could be two – it could be 98% scared, 2% excited but that’s what makes it so intense, it’s so – confused. I can’t really figure it out.”

How do you deal with butterflies before a big event? 


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