The 2015 Derby MiniMarathon marked my 16th half marathon and my 8th time running this particular race, which was my first half marathon in 2008. I love coming home to Louisville each April to the height of Derby season and doing my favorite half! This year I was not nearly as relaxed as I’ve been in the past because, you see, this year I was shooting for a PR (anything under 1:37:06) and – if the stars aligned – a sub 1:35. This wasn’t a willy-nilly goal. I trained hard (and smart!) the last 3 months using Hal Higdon’s Advanced Half Marathon training plan and learned a lot about myself along the way. I dreaded long tempo runs and the 4 and 5 mile pace runs had me anxious a full day before I ran them, but I learned how to push through discomfort, strengthen my mental muscles and at the end of each daunting challenge I left the treadmill with a sense of pride.
But back to the race! I arrived in Louisville by 9:30 Friday morning for the Saturday race and shortly after, mom and I headed to the Convention Center for the expo. I qualified base on past races for the A corral and upon picking up my bib had my ego boosted by the volunteer, “oh you’re a fast one! You have to be to get into this corral”, I smiled and thanked her, “I just hope I am tomorrow!” I checked out the shirt, deemed it worth running 13.1 miles for, and headed on to find the pacers and the Run The Bluegrass tables. There aren’t pacers for the half – only the full – but the course doesn’t split until nearly 9 miles so I planned to stay with them until that point, but wanted a pacer to assure me that was a smart move. He did! I signed up for the pace group which is completely unnecessary but mentally made what I was shooting for all the more real. Onto the Run The Bluegrass table for my Half Classic sticker that I earned by running Run the Bluegrass last month, and also running the Derby Mini. After that, mom and I headed for the door but not before a quick photo op.
The weather for race day was the topic of discussion for everyone involved in the race. While Friday was picture perfect, Saturday’s forecast was 100% chance of rain with storms coming later in the afternoon. Rain had been obvious since early in the week so at that point I had my head wrapped around the fact I was going to get wet and had read everything I could about the most optimal things to wear. The main saving grace was that it was to be in the low-mid 50s and a little breezy but no real threat from wind gusts. It’s amazing what you find yourself bargaining for, “ok, it can rain but let it be warm!” or, “ok, drizzle is fine but please no downpours!”. Alas, it was out of my hands. No amount of training will control the weather on race day so you just have to roll with it. That night I laid out all my gear and set my alarm for 5:50am.
I woke up and immediately checked the weather on my phone. The birds were chirping so that’s a good sign…right? It was 53 and cloudy. Perfect! Ideally the rain wouldn’t come until after we started running, but I had a trash bag as part of my gear just in case. I also slathered myself in Vaseline to prevent even the idea of chaffing. I drank some water while eating a Clif Mojo bar and mentally prepared for what I was about to attempt. One pre-race pic and we were out the door.
I put my trash-bag on in the car and my nerves started to gear up. I reminded myself how I trained for this with my all so whatever time I got, it wouldn’t diminish my months of hard work. It wouldn’t take away those long runs I enjoyed around Humblot Park or the ones where I ventured out for 11 miles mid-February in the snow and came back smiling. I felt ready to work for it and took a deep breath as dad pulled over to let me out a short walk to the start. But not before mom captured my trashionista self.
I wanted to warm up my muscles a little more and jogged to the start corrals, feeling nice and warm in my bag. Sure, I look silly alone but I fit right in after stepping into corral A! I found the pacers and felt crazy lining up behind a sign that said “3:10”, but there were a good amount of pacees doing the mini with the same plan as myself. The wheelchairs, who start 5 minutes before the runners at 7:25, were sent on their way and we all moved up, ready to get going before the rain began. I tossed my trash-bag, the gun went off and I was on my way. The countdown had begun!
Before the race even began, I repeated in my head, “5-5-5K, 5-5-5K, 5-5-5K”. Breaking up the race into bits is a tried and true approach for any endurance athlete and I was doing just that by focusing on the first 5 miles and keeping them feeling comfortable (relatively!). Race day magic is a real thing and no matter how many times I experience it, it still surprises me. My worry was that the first 5 miles would feel fast and that isn’t how you want to feel at the start of an endurance race. Amazingly, the first mile and those that followed actually felt comfortable. I kept glancing at my Garmin that first mile thinking maybe we were easing into race pace (7:14), but after being assured by the pacers at the first 2 mile splits that we were doing a bit faster than 7:14s, I allowed myself to relax and enjoy my new found – but hard earned – fitness.
We made a few turns in the first 3 miles before getting to the first course staple I look forward to, the Central High School marching band. It was slightly drizzling which felt great to us runners and it was warm enough out that the band was in full force. I brought my hands over my head, clapping for them and thankful I was still feeling fresh as we passed the 3 mile marker. We headed east towards 4th street where my parents would be spectating and our pacer was nice enough to offer himself as a shield from the breeze (not bad but more noticeable in this direction) saying, “feel free to draft off me if you want!” Keep in mind, he is pacing the full to a 3:10. Wow.
I still felt good but there’s always that voice in the back of your mind saying, “it’ll get hard later on”. I pushed that thought out and reminded myself to “run the mile I’m in”, happy that I would see my parents soon. They had a huge red and white umbrella standing on the sidewalk with a good amount – especially for the weather – of spectators just before the right turn onto 4th. Mom had her camera up to her face as I waved, blew a kiss, and gave two thumbs up before returning my focus to keeping my pacers close. Sidenote: after the race I found out neither mom OR dad saw me at mile 4! Mom was testing out where she wanted the camera zoomed while trying to see which pacer was going by! They stayed until they saw someone doing cartwheels down the street and knew the group they were watching was too slow for what I was aiming for. Oh well, they unknowingly helped pump me up since I completely thought they saw me! 1 more mile and my first section was done. We headed south on 4th and I focused on staying steady and relaxed and soon enough we were passing mile 5, right on pace.
Mile 5 -7:13
Running through Old Louisville is beautiful rain or shine and this day was no different. We rounded Central Park and I knew a boost lay ahead from the radio station always positioned at the turn back on 4th and I waved both arms overhead when prompted, “wave your hands if you’re feeling good!” 6 miles in and while my legs were starting to notice their speed, it came in very short realizations that didn’t concern me. Plus, it wasn’t raining harder. With each mile I thought, “if it starts coming down now, I only have X miles left. That’s not too bad”. My other dominating thought at this point in the race was that soon it would start to feel tough. This pace felt doable, but at 6 miles it should still feel that way. I didn’t want it to feel like hard work, or the need to brush off my motivational quotes, until I left the pacers. “Don’t even think about pushing anything until 10, maybe 11”, I had decided this before the race and kept it in mind.
At 7 miles we were nearing the pinnacle of the race, Churchill Downs, and there was still a good amount of race to be run. It started to feel like more of an effort to keep the pacers close by as we approached the front gate. Not hard, but it didn’t feel like we were going too slow like earlier. “It’s OK, just focus on staying with them through the track”. Heading into Churchill Downs lifted my spirits and I couldn’t help but smile as we made our way to the tunnel and enjoyed a “WhOoOoOOo!” as we ran under the track, leading us onto the infield path.
I looked around and distracted myself with thought of Derby parties and how strong the horses who run this track are. I briefly worried about pacing myself after the next mile, would I be able to push it? Would the mental energy of it all become too cumbersome? I reminded myself how all of my training was done for that exact purpose and that I was strong enough and tough enough. No need to worry about it feeling too tough until it actually felt really tough. And with that, we exited the track and soon enough I was making a left on 3rd as the marathoners and my pacers made a right towards the park.
This was the part I saved my mental energy and resolves for. It was allowed to get tough now. I passed mile 9 and smiled when my Garmin flashed 7:12. Another few precious seconds in the bank, and the assurance that I could do this whole pacing thing. I was nearing the end of the second section (“5-5-5K”) and I focused on staying with the runners just ahead of me. No need to push it now, just stay steady and get to the next mile marker. I saw the 10th mile marker and mentally checked off another section. 5K to go!
Mile 9 made itself known and after passing the 10 mile marker I started pulling out those motivational quotes and thoughts that got me through tough training runs. “Stay strong, stay steady”, I whispered to myself, not caring if others around me heard. I’ve been motivated by others’ words of wisdom so who knows, I may be helping someone else. Either way, these thoughts helped keep me from doubting myself on my way to mile 11 and through the toughest part of the race. I had the elapsed running time and pace on my Garmin display and noted I had under 25 minutes until I’d be done. Soon enough I had under 20 minutes and my confidence grew. I had banked a few seconds in the past couple miles and knowing that if my next few miles were a bit over 7:14 I could still beat my ultimate goal made me relax. “Focus on this mile”, I thought, and soon enough I saw mile 11 up ahead. My parents are always after the last water stop just past 11.5 and knowing I’d see them in a few minutes and from there have under 1.5 miles made me so happy. I was working hard but this goal was doable. Passing mile 11 I realized that as long as I didn’t do anything stupid like try to sprint from there, this crazy goal was attainable!
Photo Credit: Louisville Pure Tap Facebook Page
We neared the last water stop just outside Louisville Pure Tap and I mustered the energy to pump my arms at the mascot and received a welcomed high five for my efforts. I was so close to my spectators I heard my mom’s whistle before quickly spotting them and went crazy, I was so happy to be at that point of the race! I waved and gave a thumbs up yelling, “I’ll see you in 7 minutes!”. Mom captured my excitement perfectly.
I sped up a just a bit once mile marker 12 came and went and as we passed through the Convention Center I thought of how nervous about this race I had been the last time I was there for the expo not 24 hours ago. A girl I had been near the entire race was to my left and we stayed at the exact same pace but both pushing each other ever so slightly for at least a quarter mile through the turn onto Main Street. I was happy she was there and although we never acknowledged each other, it was apparent we were helping one another keep fighting. I edged just ahead of her for the final few blocks of Main Street and hoped with everything I had the final left turn would be in the next block. This part always seems longer than I expect and I repeated to myself, “don’t slow down because you don’t want to work hard today”. I pushed ahead seeing a steady 6:45 as I made that final turn and the finish line came into sight!
The slight downhill grade was heaven for my legs and I pushed with all I had, raising my hands up as I heard my name called over the loudspeakers. I took in the moment, smiling widely as I crossed the finish line in just under 1:34:00 (officially 1:33:49)! I received my medal from a young – probably 8-year old – volunteer and turned to see my fellow pace pusher getting hers. I told her I was glad she was there that last mile and how it helped push me to keep with her. She smiled and said she was doing the same with me and PRd by 9 minutes! We high fived and congratulated each other before heading for the post-race refreshments. I smiled the entire way to the Half Classic tent where I was to meet mom, exuding pride as I looked at my Garmin. I got my Half Classic medal and mom was there to capture my post-race euphoria.
I saw a sign that said “Swing for a PR” and told her I wanted my picture in front of it and as we approached it I realized it was a gong you could hit! It’s truly the little things that make a race awesome.
Dad had already gotten the car and at that point the rain started to become rather steady, I had JUST beaten it! We walked a few blocks to meet him and I recounted my adventure. I felt the work of the last few months leave my mind and relished my accomplishment. Every training run was worth this feeling!