The Derby Festival MiniMarathon of 2008 was my very first half marathon and I have done it every year since. It’s a great race that has grown so much since I used to cheer on the runners with my parents way before I became a runner myself (we’re talking wind breakers as outfits era). In the last 6 years they’ve changed the course featuring a new start location in the heart of downtown which removed the rolling hills in the first 5 miles and have grown to be a sell out race with 18,000 runners in the half and full combined (roughly 75-80% run the half marathon). The highlight of the course, a loop through the infield of Churchill Downs, continues to put this race on the map as unique and draws runners from all over. My favorite is how they have huge speakers blasting Derby announcers calling out races of Derby past; hearing historical horses names’ being called is a big motivator! If you look beyond the track you’ll see horses being worked out and walked on the track so keep your eyes peeled if you do this one!
I signed up for the 2014 Mini back in the summer (during the first price tier of $55!) and that was my only half marathon I had planned for the spring. Then I received an email announcing the Kentucky Half Classic! Hold the phone; a new race challenge?! I looked up the other featured race, the Run the Bluegrass half marathon in Lexington, KY. I had heard of this race a few years ago but was unable to take off work and it fell off my radar. The course features – you guessed it – another horse race course! Keeneland is a beautiful race track in Lexington, KY (about 45 minutes East of Louisville) where the race will start and finish, but it’s the views throughout the whole course that dub this race America’s Prettiest Half Marathon. Runners will pass a number of horse farms and can feast their tired eyes on fence-lined rolling Bluegrass hills!
I’m really excited to do this new (to me) race and see Lexington in a new way (the old way being a Backstreet Boys concert in 8th grade). Plus, after I complete both (fingers crossed, don’t jinx myself!), after the Derby Festival MiniMarathon I’ll be one of the select group receiving a medal for the very first Kentucky Half Classic! I mean, really, who can resist an inaugural event AND an additional medal?!
Here’s some photos of Derby MiniMarathons past
The last time I was in Louisville for Thanksgiving was 2010 when I discovered Iroquois Hill Runners’ 5 Mile Thanksgiving Day Run. It was raining but warm that year and this year’s race day weather was the exact opposite. When racing in KY I usually come out on top of my running buddies in Chicago in the colder months but not this year. Although it was sunny, which helped immensely, it was 24* at the start for moi and 27* for my Chicago friends.
The other difference of running in Louisville is the hills. Oh the hills. This 5 mile race hits you with that difference immediately after the gun goes off. The first 2 miles are up a winding hill and the thing about winding hills is they seem to NEVER end. It was cold and I could feel it in my lungs as I gasped getting my legs used to the incline. There was a band just before the first mile and I still wonder how they were playing their guitars with frozen fingers.
After you get to the top mile 3 is more rolling and nothing drastic. The views are so refreshing compared to the pancake flat Chicago scenery and since there are no leaves on the trees, but plenty to shuffle through on the road, you can see so much from the top of the park. There weren’t many costumes but one girl was running in a cooking apron which was cute. Once you get to the 3 mile mark you know you’re golden with the 2 remaining miles being downhill. I let my legs fly and felt like I was somehow cheating since gravity was doing the dirty work. Then I reminded myself the work I put in going up and my conscience was at ease.
I was happy to see the band was still there at mile 4.2 and not frozen to death, although they were playing a slow song so maybe they were subliminally screaming for help? The road somewhat flattened out and I tried to pick up my pace and catch the girl, seemingly 26-29, just ahead of me. I nearly had her but remembered we don’t turn into the lot where we started but had roughly .4 to go and that my pace was not going to be maintainable without puking. I held on as much I could, glanced when I heard my mom cheering and went through the chute on the heels of unknown F26-29. I thanked her for pushing me at the end and we “good race”‘d each other and went our separate ways. There’s no chip timing and results aren’t posted yet, but I finished around 37:15 and the card I was handed going through the female’s chute was 19 so I believe I finished 19th female. Don’t worry, there will be updates.
The sun felt great now and it was inching closer to 30*! Mom and I headed towards the car but stopped for a quick photo op with my other love.
Fleet Feet’s Pumpkin’s in the Park is one of my favorite races and I’ve been involved nearly every year I’ve been in Chicago. I’ve volunteered as a course marshal twice (sweet pumpkin hat and neon vest are included in this gig!) and this was my third year running it. It’s in Lincoln Park so the course is gorgeous and the start time is 4pm which means no 5:30am wake up call. Win-win. I’ve never dressed in costume for a race and hadn’t planned on it this year but upon waking I had an epiphany. Brett had ordered a Where’s Waldo costume for Saturday night but then got tickets to the World Series in St. Louis (where he originates) so wasn’t going to be using it. A friend with season tickets offered him one which is why I wasn’t able to go. This isn’t really important but I assume you were wondering why on earth I wasn’t invited. But it’s cool, and for the record, I’m over it.
Point is, there was a Waldo’s hat and glasses just begging to be used and I just so happened to buy a new red and white Lululemon top that week. Some refer to this as fate. The temp was perfect, 52, but the 15-18 mph wind made it feel pretty nippy so my arm warmers came in handy (or, army?) I had to get my packet so I arrived almost an hour before the start and took advantage of the FREE Stewart’s Coffee. They always say try nothing new on race day but my being cold trumped the fact I don’t normally drink coffee before a race. Don’t worry, no foreshadowing here. I watched the kids costume show and considered taking a few pics to add here but since I was alone and have no kids I thought better of it. I saw a few girls I knew from Fleet Feet’s Tuesday night Chick’s Night fun runs and chatted until the last minute before surrendering my warm jacket over to gear check. I huddled in the corral and although I love hearing the National Anthem before a race my shivering body wished the song were shorter. I found a few other Waldo’s in the crowd but I was the only one who worked in actual running gear. Winning.
With over 1,800 runners and a few turns in the first 1/4 mile it’s amazing how smooth this race is organized. Although I probably could have shaved a few precious seconds off, I never had to walk and never tripped over anyone. That first half mile I kissed goodbye the tried-and-true advice “don’t start out too fast” as I dashed ahead of people purely to get warm. Before the 1st mile marker I had settled into a fast (for me) 7min/mi pace. My legs felt great. I was pushing myself for sure but I felt I could keep at it. I saw the lead runners heading south on the west path of the course and hoped that meant the turn was close ahead. It was! I don’t stop for water stops in the 5k distance so I positioned myself in the middle of the path and as I went through I heard a volunteer yell, “Where’s Waldo?!”. I pumped my fist without looking back and heard them all laugh. Hey, this costume thing is fun!
After passing the 2 mile marker I was actually warm and internally pumping myself up; “you got this!”, “hold on!”, “one more mile!”, as we headed towards the pond for a last hill (an incline for those not living in Chicago) and loop around towards the finish. I heard another spectator yell “It’s Waldo!” and while my heart wanted to pump my arm I could not muster the energy to make it happen. That was how I knew I was going all out. The finish line came in to view and I tried my hardest to move my legs faster. I crossed the finish, grabbed a water and leaned on the fence with a guy who also looked like he may puke. After collecting myself and getting back to even breathing I grabbed some Nutter Butters from a young volunteer who quietly told me I could take two. I asked for a recommendation and he pointed to the ‘Nilla Waffers. This kid’s going places.
Official time was 21:53. I placed 12th in my division of 228 and 99th out of an overall 1825. I love when I impress myself! I may never see a sub 20 but I do think that with some more attention paid to speed work and the dreaded tempo run I could get closer.