Urban Bourbon Half Marathon Race Recap
The Louisville Sports Commission produced their first fall half marathon in 2011, and last year added a 5K and 10K to the mix, creating the Fall Runathon. While I run the Derby Festival MiniMarathon every spring (since ’08, at least), I had yet to run a half in Kentucky in the fall. This year the LSC Half Marathon was rebranded as the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon, and when I was offered a $55 registration fee after completing the Mini back in April, I couldn’t refuse! I’m glad I did because this race made the Top 10 Best Half Marathons in the US.
With my marathon out of the way I figured I could incorporate speed work and tempo runs and “see what I could do” at this race. For the last 2-1/2 months I did 1/4 mile or 1/2 mile speed intervals, a 5 mile tempo run and two 3-4 mile easy runs each week, adding in 8-10 mile runs on the weekend the last month. This closely replicated my training leading to my PR in 2013 of 1:37:06, but I relied on my running experience to set an ambitious yet realistic goal of breaking 1:40. My PR was run on a nearly pancake flat course and the Urban Bourbon Half included 4 miles through Cherokee Park and 3 mean hills.
I flew in to Louisville Friday morning and got in a 3.25 mile run through Audubon Park, averaging 8 minute miles and reminding my legs what hills felt like. My mom, aunt, grandma and I were hosting my cousin Allison’s bridal shower after the race at 2pm, so the remainder of the afternoon was spent prepping for the party which was a wonderful distraction and shifted the focus of the weekend from the race to the party.
Of course, nothing could distract me from thinking about the race as I sat on the couch watching Dateline with dad that night. I was anxious but excited and tried to focus on the training I had done. I saw that Fleet Feet Louisville provided pacers starting at 1:40 and although I haven’t run with a pace group before, I seriously considered utilizing them for this race. I decided I would line up with them but if I truly felt comfortable going faster at the start I’d do so but always have them to fall back on should I need them through or after the hills.
Pacers looked ready the morning of! Photo credit
The 8:30am start was a luxury and I slept until 7, leaving a full 55 minutes until we needed to leave the house. This, of course, was ample time to get a pre-race jitters photo.
Dad drove me downtown, parking at the YMCA mom goes to, and I jogged the remaining half mile to the start. The weather was a perfect 50 degrees and overcast and my throwaway sweatshirt was all I needed. The energy of a start line never gets old and I absolutely love the feeling of all that nervous energy in the air! I lined up outside the Yum Center with nearly 3,000 others (2776 to be exact) and tried not to tear up as they played My Old Kentucky Home. The MC announced we had 5 minutes to post and shortly we were listening to the bugler play the call to the post. You gotta love a Louisville race!
I made my way to the 1:40 pacers, nearly at the front of the corral since they were the first pace group, and as the gun went off we seamlessly made our way over the mat and immediately turned up Second street where I spotted my dad as we made a left onto Muhammad Ali Blvd..
He later remarked that I was right with the elites, proving I can keep up with them for the first 1/4 mile! I stuck with the pacers for the first mile but felt comfortable enough to quicken my pace slightly until we got to the hills around mile 5. There were slight inclines as we made our way around the backside of Cave Hill Cemetery and approached the park.
I focused on keeping it steady and saving energy for the hills, but running hard enough to be able to sacrifice some pace through the park. We passed spectators just before mile 4 and I heard one say, “well, this is a quiet group”, sorry lady but we’re not here for chit-chat! We entered the park just before mile 3 and were treated to beautiful fall colors and music blasting. I couldn’t help but let a smile spread across my face!
Mile 1 – 7:35
Mile 2 – 7:24
Mile 3 – 7:31
Mile 4 – 7:26
After enjoying some beautiful scenery and a relatively smooth course, it was time to get to work. The upcoming 3 hills had been on my mind since I dared look at the elevation chart and were the reason I wasn’t gunning for a PR. After a sharp turnaround at mile 5 we made our way off Beargrass Road and turned left into the hills on Barret Hill Road (how appropriate). I had been worried most about the second hill, but it turns out the first one warranted my mental stamina tricks. “Attack the hill”, “dig in”, “don’t let off”, went through my head for what seemed like an eternity but in reality was just over 1/3 of a mile. I tried to only mutter my choice words for this particular hill under my breath, but I doubt any runner around me would be offended. One down, two to go. I let loose on the downhill, knowing my quads would not be happy in the morning, but not willing to sacrifice pace. Under a 1/4 mile later we began our ascent of hill 2, turning onto the Scenic Loop up to Hogan’s Fountain. Mile 6 came just before the top and I was surprised how well I was able to handle this one. It’s probably because how much I was dreading it and how much harder that first hill seemed, but either way I was 2 down with one to go. Still ahead of the 1:40 pacers, I had a long recovery down a winding hill.
I thought of crushing the next hill which led me to getting “Still Not a Player” in my head and I actually LOLed as I started making up my own lyrics. Halfway through racing a half I am very easily entertained.
I don’t want to be a sprinter no more
I’m not a Kenyan I just run a lot
the 5K just don’t have what I’m lookin for…
Unfortunately I couldn’t finish the lyrics because it was time for the last major hill. I had completely recovered from the last hill and knowing that not only was this the last one but that my mom and friend, Jimmy, would be on the other side, was enough to power me through it. There was also a band playing near the top and the jolt of energy surrounding them was incredibly helpful. After charging down the backside of the hill and passing mile 7 I was happy to see my spectators as we came out of the park!
I waved and threw them my gloves before turning right on Cherokee Parkway towards Cave Hill. I was relieved to be done with the physically toughest part of the course, but the mental challenge was just beginning.
Mile 5 – 7:24
Mile 6 – 7:50
Mile 7 – 7:39
Mile 8 -7:34
Miles 9-Finish line
With an incline (I hesitate to call anything else a hill post-park) between 8 and 9, my feet started to feel heavy and my right hip flexor/groin muscle was demanding my attention. I noted that I wasn’t in pain but was uncomfortable which was completely appropriate given that point of the race. The 1:40 pacers were right behind me and I went with my plan of latching onto them for the remainder of the race. To take the mental pressure off myself to keep an eye on my pace and any pace related decisions was wonderful! I was no longer on my own and although we (still) weren’t a talkative group, knowing that if I just focused on keeping pace with the 2 pacers and roughly 4 pacees, I’d make my goal, was reassuring. I oscillated between starting conversation and fully focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. I had eaten one Gu Chomp before the race, one at mile 5 and my last around mile 8 so while I was confidant I wouldn’t hit a wall, I knew it would still take focus and effort to keep pace the last 5K.
We turned onto Muhammad Ali Blvd. just before mile 10 and I knew the next 2 solid miles of flat straightaway would prove the most challenging. My pacers were great and occasionally gave affirmations of staying strong and being perfectly on pace. Spectators cheered, “great pace 1:40!”, and “looking strong!”, to which I mustered the energy to “woot!”, at times, but others got a smile and a slight nod. Either way, it was greatly appreciated! Mile 11 is always tough in the half. You’re nearing the end but only in that last mile can you wrap your head around being done. I kept glancing at my Garmin, not to check pace, but to see how many more minutes I needed to work. We turned North at mile 12 onto 13th Street and shortly after, made another right onto Main where the finish line awaited between 6th and 5th. I was able to get chatty knowing we had under a mile. The pace leader asked if it was my first half to which I said it was my 13th and he told me I should be holding the sign. I laughed and said it would be only my second time under 1:40 and they all urged me to see what push I could give. At first I ensured them I was good to hang on here (I was only recently able to relax, after all!), but once he said we had a half mile to go I couldn’t resist. I picked it up as much as I could and crossed the finish line at 1:39:38! I had a huge smile when I saw my dad after getting my medal and silver blanket and am still proud at what I did yesterday!
Mile 9 – 7:40
Mile 10 – 7:39
Mile 11 – 7:40
Mile 12 – 7:40
Mile 13 – 7:23
Division place: 5th of 300
Overall place: 133rd of 2776
Female Place: 19th of 1554
I had a great race and would definitely do the Urban Bourbon Half again. I recommend it as a fall half, and with the way it’s growing, the beautiful but challenging course, and the organization of the race itself I can see this one becoming a notable half marathon across the country.