Derby Festival MiniMarathon
What a day for a race! 50 and sunny at the start with a slight breeze made it the complete opposite of Run the Bluegrass, the other half of the Kentucky Half Classic three weeks ago. The Derby Festival MiniMarathon was my first half marathon in 2008 and I’ve done it every year since making yesterdays race my 7th consecutive Mini. I love participating in my hometown race and being home around Derby time is nothing short of magical. This race has grown drastically and this year, its 41st, attracted 12,000 MiniMarathoners and 2,000 Marathoners (the full was introduced in 2002). The course takes you on a tour of Louisville that is surprisingly flat after taking out the hills of Iroquois Park a few years back.
Runners start in downtown Louisville on Main Street, right by the waterfront, and are actually entertained by local radio DJs who keep up the energy while you wait for the gun. There’s a wheel chair division that goes off at 7:25, signaling to runners 5 minutes until start time. 50 degrees may feel good after the first mile but standing in a tank top gets a bit chilly so I grabbed an old towel to wrap myself in and tossed it aside when they announced 1 minute until gun time. The finish line is packed with excitement but there’s an intoxicating mix of excitement, nerves and energy at a start line that I love being in the middle of!
We headed East, passing the new Yum! Center, Louisville Science Center, Frazier History Museum, and the Louisville Slugger Museum all in the first mile. My parents made it just in time to high five me within the first half mile as I started to warm up and settle in to a comfortable pace. This was to be a long run training run of a cutback week which would normally be done around a 9:30 pace but with the weather being perfect and the excitement of my favorite race I decided as long as I wasn’t pushing my limits I could enjoy a faster pace.
The driving drum beats of the Central High School band (one of the spots I greatly look forward to), 2 water stops and one Rocky theme song later, we passed mile marker 4 and I stayed to the left knowing my parents would be before the turn taking us South on 4th Street. We’ve done this enough times to have our spectator plan down pat. Depending on the weather I know I can hand off any gear I no longer need, but my fingers still wanted gloves so all we exchanged were high fives. I was feeling great!
As we ran South on 4th Street and into Old Louisville as the sun came fully out and just enough to feel its warmth. Heading around Central Park and back to 4th Street I resisted embarrassing myself and dancing to Roller Coaster which the DJ at mile marker 6 was pumping. Sadly, it took a lot of energy to restrain myself! Another course staple is the string band playing on the sidewalk who set up every year entertaining runners and spectators alike. I was with the 3:30 pace team for the marathon therefore holding an 8 min/mile pace which normally seems fast but I knew I wasn’t pushing it too much when my immediate thought after seeing the 6 mile marker was that the race was going by too fast! I was thoroughly enjoying everything and didn’t want it to end.
We had 2 miles to go until probably the pinnacle experience – aside from the finish line – of the race; Churchill Downs. This year marked the first year runners were taken through the front entrance of the famous Race Track as opposed to a side gate in years’ past. I was excited when they announced that a few weeks ago but underestimated the difference it would make. My favorite thing about this part of the race is how they set up speakers blasting past Derby race announcer calls so you hear things like, “…and down the stretch they come!” or, “…it’s neck and neck as they approach the finish!” which brings the Derby atmosphere to a head as you’re running around the infield path. This year the speakers were on the front concourse, pumping you up as you run through the entrance. Very cool!
via Blue Mile
To get in and out of the infield you run under the track so there are a few moments of being in a tunnel where the only sounds are feet pounding and the obligatory, “Wooo!!!”, I can’t get enough! Coming out of the track all runners head West on Central Ave briefly before the MiniMarathon and Marathon course splits, taking Marathoners right towards the hills of Iroquois Park and MiniMarathoners North on Third Street and mile marker 9. A spectator asked a runner on my right if they could run with them for a bit which confused me until I realized it was a news reporter who ended up doing a brief interview with said runner as we continued onward. I taped all newscasts and couldn’t find the encounter 🙁
Heading to mile 10 the course passes through the University of Louisville campus and if you’re a runner who can tolerate beer during a race this is your spot. While I didn’t take a beer I did high five a row of those offering it up as I headed into the last 5K. I had no idea what my time was – I wasn’t wearing a Garmin – but my legs still felt fresh so I picked up the pace figuring the 10 mile marker was an OK spot to do so. I had roughly 2 miles until I’d see my favorite spectators and I remembered my mom promised to have a peeled Clementine at the ready. Although she had to blatantly ignore the cop telling her to clear the course, we successfully completed Operation: Clementine!
I ate half and kicked into high gear with under a mile to the finish, turning onto Main Street I knew I had less than half a mile and could keep up the pace. “They’re racing at the end!” I heard the finish line announcer exclaim as I made the final turn and took full advantage of the slight decline, hearing the announcer say my name just before I crossed the finish line in 1:43:11! I enjoyed the sweetness of the rest of my clementine, collected my medal and snagged everything I could possibly carry.
By running the Run the Bluegrass 3 weeks ago and successfully completing the Derby MiniMarathon I collected yet another medal at the Kentucky Half Classic tent!
I felt great and enjoyed the walk back to the car while recapping the run to my adoring fans (ahem, parents) and, of course, stopping for a post race photo op by some dogwoods that screamed SPRING!