I am frequently asked if being on the road, traveling the country in the Wienermobile, has allowed me to check off a lot of states on my Race for 50 States. Sadly, the answer is no. While I get to run in quite a few cool places, because I typically work the weekends I am unable to actually make it to races.
It worked out perfectly that I was able to make the race. I am actually on spring break right now in Louisville, KY. (That’s right, spring break – we get vacation time from our year long vacation!) Since I had a free place to stay I figured I should probably run Kentucky while I had the opportunity to do it on the cheap. Apparently Easter weekend isn’t a big weekend for races (which is strange considering the need to burn off all those Cadbury eggs) and Run the Bluegrass was the only race going on in the area. It touts being one of “America’s Prettiest Races” and I was sold on all the horse imagery and bourbon references. This is a true “Kentucky” race if there ever was one!
Naturally I tried to corral some friends along. Running pals Tim and Kathy both politely declined after informing me they both got their PWs (personal worsts) at the race the year before. “It’s gorgeous, but you will have just gotten to the top of one hill and not be able to see over the next one,” was all Tim had to say about it when I talked to him at the Mississippi Blues Marathon in January. I also tried to talk my friend David into doing it for his first half marathon. He was smart enough to read the reviews and passed on the opportunity to tackle one of the hardest half marathons in the country as his first.
You would think that at this point I would have realized it was going to be hilly. Somehow it still didn’t really register with me. “Oh all races have hills. It’ll be fiiiiinnnneee.” So I registered in January.
And then, I pretty much forgot about it. Well, I pretty much forgot about running altogether. I put on some treadmill miles here or there, got in a few long runs when I was feeling dedicated, but really only used the word marathon when referring to the massive quantities of time I spent watching The West Wing on Netflix Instant instead.
There was no shortage in youthful arrogance in my approach to this race, and “I’ll just wing it” was definitely my attitude.
I spent the two weeks leading up to the race sick at first and then using beer therapy to cure it the second week. It’s spring break – who needs sleep or exercise? By the time I made it to packet pickup on Friday I was already exhausted just thinking about having to run 13.1 miles on Saturday.
The expo was certainly energizing though. The drive to Keeneland was spectacular – sprawling horse fields with gorgeous barns and fences. It was like driving through a postcard. The claim of being one of America’s prettiest half marathons was definitely accurate.
The best part of the expo though was meeting Hal Higdon. I used his plans to train for both my half marathons and my full marathons, so I owed the guy a thank you. Not just on behalf of me, but all my running friends and family who also used him as a resource. I know he gets that all the time, but who doesn’t love hearing thank you? I wanted to show him an even bigger gesture of gratitude with a ride in the Wienermobile, but we never did get to “ketchup” for that!
The next day, after less than quality Zzzzs, I headed back to Lexington. There was heavy fog and absolutely no traffic – it was eerie. I started to actually freak out when a mile away from the race there were still no cars in sight. Was the race actually at Keenland, where packet pickup was? Did it start at 8 a.m., not 9 a.m.? What’s the deal!? Turns out all the traffic was coming from the other direction. Apparently traffic (and the fog) was so bad they had to delay the start by 15 minutes. There was some sighs about that at the start line, but we got some motivational words from Hal Higdon that kept the enthusiasm up.
Weather for the race was spectacular! I was afraid I would be too cold and had actually switched from shorts to capris. That was a great idea while at the start, while I was shivering, but it was so sunny and bright out that during the race I almost could have gone back to the shorts! It was probably 50 degrees without a cloud in the sky.
The weather is a lot more fun to talk about than the race though. Holy Hills! Why didn’t anyone tell me?!?! … Oh wait, they did! It wasn’t one or two big hills, it was hill, after hill, after hill, after hill, after hill. Get the point? The hills just kept coming!
This was the quietest race I have ever done. For 13.1 miles there was almost no talking or cheering. Everyone was so focused on tackling each hill that no one could spare any extra energy for pleasantries! At the end of the race I talked to one woman who said she counted 42 hills. I couldn’t believe she counted, but she said she literally had nothing else to focus on!
I got exactly what I was looking for out of this race though – a true Kentucky experience. The scenery was beautiful. I had forgotten to start my watch and so I spent more time enjoying the scenery than looking at my Garmin, like I am occasionally criminal of. Horses were out frolicking in fields the entire race, clearly enjoying their flat pastures more than our hilly half marathon. Farmers had their tractors out hard at work. We inhaled the smell of horse manure as we climbed to the top of the hills. This was exactly what I wanted for the race, an experience I couldn’t get in another state … horse poop in the road and all!
(I wish I had pictures from the course, but I was worried if I stopped moving to take pictures I wouldn’t be able to get moving again!)
At mile 11 I did make one friend, a dentist from Nashville. I told him I had been pacing myself off of him the whole race. “If I can just keep up with the red shirt guy” I thought to myself over and over again. (You know that strategy.) Apparently the pacing was mutual. We pushed through the last two miles together. Of course, I had to ask if he had ever worked on any famous teeth, being a Nashville dentist and all. He said that yes, he had had several noteworthy mouths over the years! (Apparently he is not the kind of dentist who sells cavity stories to the tabloids and I didn’t get any juicy details of which country singers forget to floss!)
The race ended and I felt a swell of pride having earned my membership to the Run The Bluegrass PW club. I didn’t bomb too badly and finished with a 2:07:37, a time remarkably close to my first half marathon. With all those hills and all that training I didn’t do, I walked away with my medal pretty darn pleased.
In addition to being a gorgeous race, the finishers food was equally eye-pleasing. Shot glasses filled with M&Ms (I’ll take three please!), cookies, and chocolate milk!
The middle schooler in me was delighted with lunch that day!
I had planned to stick around Lexington and see the city a bit, but was too wiped out from the day that I elected to head back to Louisville for a nice long shower. That turned into three hours just laying in bed. I wasn’t really doing anything – just laying there. Yeah, it turned out to be one of those days. Could have gone for a post-race massage, that’s for sure!
With a proud Personal Worst and a great ass from all the hills, I have officially checked Kentucky off the Race for 50 States!