As I sat at the Bluegrass Brewing Company in Louisville with my old friend Dan and my new friend Glenn, drinking my 2nd strong beer less than 12 hours before the start of the following morning’s half-marathon, Glenn casually mentioned something about this blog that was brilliant in its simplicity. Allow me to paraphrase:
“Wait, you’re talking about updating every day? For a blog that nobody’s paying you to write? That’s not a good idea– you’re going to want to kill yourself.”
Good looks, Glenn, and I couldn’t agree more. While I love to write, I’m kind of awful (read: lazy!) at blocking out the time in my schedule to actually do so. Being that I’m now fully immersed in my busiest time of the year at the office, I find that I already have precious little time to go to the gym, chase skirts, hit up happy hour, or do any other of a number of things that a single, semi-well-adjusted 28 year-old should be doing with his free time while it’s springtime in Chicago. I’d previously had a goal of daily running/drinking updates, but that never stood a chance; it just took a quick trip down south to realize that. I don’t want to be writing about my slow 1-1/4 mile loops around Wrigley Field followed by a shitty Busch Light, and I’d hate to meet the poor bastard that is dying to read about that. So, to save myself an additional 21 entries, let me summarize: in the 21 days between the Oak Barrel half-marathon and the Derby Festival miniMarathon, I ran a lot and I drank a lot, and I enjoyed the drinking exponentially more than I enjoyed the running. For the most part, the running just wasn’t all that interesting, save for a complete burnout of a 5K on April 14th where I ran mile splits of 06:32, 06:51, and 07:30 before I mustered a mini-kick at the finish. After the Oak Barrel half in early April, I suffered through a steady stream of shin splints, twisted knees, rolled ankles, and sore arches related to overtraining, but I never missed a day. In light of these injuries, however, I was rather nervous about how I would run in Louisville on April 28th.
Now, let’s take a trip down to Louisville.
BACKGROUND — HOW DID I GET HERE?
What would possess a Chicagoan to drive 600 miles round-trip in a little over 24 hours, just for the chance to run 13.1 miles? Well, 3 main factors came into play (skip ahead to the next section if you don’t care — I won’t be offended):
- MY TRUSTY RUNNING HETERO-LIFEMATE DAN — my unwaveringly good influence of a friend, Dan Solera, was the core reason we came down to Kentucky. See, Dan is trying to run a half- or full-marathon in all 50 states, and I’ve been dumb/awesome enough to agree to travel the country and run a lot of them with him. Dan runs, I drink…or at least that’s how it used to be, before I got kind of competitive about it. Dan needed to knock out Kentucky, but I’m not sure if he would have made the trip alone– lucky for him, it didn’t take much convincing to get me on board. Here’s your main takeaway– without Dan suggesting we run this race, I would not have been running.
- THE RACE WAS VERY CHEAP — factoring in early-bird pricing and a 10%-off coupon that I’d received in my gift bag from running the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon, my race registration cost me $47.93 after admin fees. To put this in perspective, that’s not much more than what it costs to run a big 5K in Chicago. And with Louisville close enough to be accessible by car (rather than flying in), it wouldn’t be expensive to travel
- DERBY BLING — oddly enough, the potential for Derby Bling is what sealed the deal for me. See, I try to attend the actual Kentucky Derby every year, and it’s usually with a motley crew of 20+ drunk yuppies roaming around the infield (I will watch a Derby from the grandstands one day, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon). Derby weekend is something that I look forward to every year, and I always try to throw together some elaborate Derby outfit to rock out in the infield each year. Dan convinced me that a sweet Derby-related half-marathon medal would be a badass cherry on top of the sundae, and I agreed. It was decided.
So I booked us a cheap rental car through Priceline and a cheap hotel through Hotwire, and we paid less than $100 out-of-pocket for 2 days of rental car and 1 night of hotel combined. Dan and I planned on each only working a half-day the Friday before the race, so that we could drive from Chicago to Louisville and make it in time to pick up our race packets at the expo before it closed at 9pm. Yessir, everything was all mapped out and planned out to a T…and then a few days before the race, things got a little weird.
Dan wanted to meet up with his Internet friends at a bar the night before the race.
You know…strangers from the Internet.
Now, as I don’t really consider myself a true running blogger, I suppose I never considered that there may be an online community for this sort of thing. In reality, it shouldn’t have surprised me; if my 59-year-old father can have a registered screen name that he uses to go into online chat rooms to discuss power tools (100% true, by the way), then I guess there’s an online community for anything. Still, without having personally read/digested the online stylings of any of these people that Dan had read, I was leery about meeting them in person…after a 6-hour “half day” followed by a 5-hour drive, I figured that all I would want to do is go to the hotel and collapse into my bed. And that was my plan. But when blogger Jeff couldn’t make it, and blogger Aurora couldn’t attend either, then it was going to be just Dan and blogger Glenn meeting at this bar, with no other common acquaintances there to observe (read: no witnesses!). I couldn’t let Dan meet a new Internet friend in a new city all by himself — if he went missing, then his blood would be on my hands. I couldn’t let him go alone. So after arriving in Louisville, once Dan assured me that HE would drive the car to/from the bar (so that I could drink as much as I wanted), I bravely rallied a second wind and agreed to go to the bar with him to meet this shifty “Glenn” character…
…and within 5 minutes of meeting Glenn at the bar, I realized just how ridiculous I’d been. Believe it or not, there ARE normal people out on the Internet, and Glenn was as chill as they come. A thirty-something Louisville native that has only recently gotten into running, Glenn gave us some valuable pointers on the course (“It’s flat,” Glenn informed us, as we nodded our heads in unison to indicate understanding), and we all shared war stories regarding our respective training and the races that we’d run. This would be Glenn’s first ever half-marathon, and there was something genuinely endearing about the manner in which he spoke about his apprehension. All of us sitting at that table knew that, barring injury, Glenn would finish the race just fine, but it still brought a smile to my face to know that there are other people that still get the pre-race butterflies as well. Dan and I are a little ways ahead of Glenn in the total number of races run, but I think he has The Itch. I’ll be following his blog in the coming months, for sure.
After Glenn paid for the drinks (the quickest way to my heart), Dan and I headed back to the hotel to grab some shut-eye before our 5am wake-up call the next day.
If you’ve made it to this point after slogging through the first 1,250 words of this entry, then God bless you — this is probably what you came to read about. After what was indisputably the most peaceful pre-race slumber that I’ve ever experienced (thanks to the Jameson Inn’s advertised “Dreamium mattresses”, no doubt), we awoke shortly after 5am to begin our preparations for the race. Dan wanted to park the car early so as to ensure a choice spot halfway between the starting line and the finish line of the race, and I agreed with him that this was a good idea; it just meant that we had to wake up at Five O’ Fucking Clock in the morning. We drove from East Louisville into downtown, found a perfectly-situated parking lot halfway between the start/finish lines that only cost $5, and then settled in to wait until it was time to head to the starting line. Dan and I were both assigned to the ‘B’ corral, but since Dan’s half-marathon PR was 15+ minutes faster than I’d ever run, there was little chance of me seeing him much once we crossed the first timing mats.
QUICK NOTE ABOUT GOALS ‘N SHIT: my previous half-marathon PR was 1:48:00 on the dot, achieved 3 weeks earlier on a rather hilly course in rural Tennessee. My goal for this Derby Festival miniMarathon was to run 1:45:59 or faster, which would qualify me for the ‘C’ corral of the upcoming Chicago Marathon in October. Simply put, that was my one and only goal for this race– it was 1:45:59 or bust. Remember that number. The race conditions were picture-perfect: temps in the low-50s, and the pocket of thunderstorms that had been predicted to throttle the field had somehow completely missed downtown Louisville. Clear skies, no breeze, cool temps, acceptable humidity — I had no excuses not to run the race that I wanted to run (DUN DUN DUNNNN).
I decided pre-race that I would run with the 3:30:00/marathon pace group (there was both a full- and a half-marathon component to this race), which would pace me for a 1:45:00 half. I figured that if I could just hang with those guys until the point where the marathon split off from the half, then I’d be in good shape for sub-1:45:59 ‘C’ corral glory, and all the fame/loose women/endorsements that would come with it. After a somewhat pitchy national anthem (seriously, I’ll criticize anything. I think the shirt that you’re wearing right now is stupid, by the way), the gun sounded, and we were off.
- Miles 1-4: For the first 4 miles, I stayed lock-step with the 3:30-marathon/08:00-mile pace group, not wanting to go too fast or start too far behind my goal pace. It took me all of about half a mile to realize that I was the only asshole in the group that was running a half-marathon instead of the full, which made me feel guilty and so I made sure to keep my mouth shut about that particular point. The pacers were friendly enough, but not terribly talkative, so I got to know the rest of the group a little better on my own. Three of the women in the group were using the race as an attempted Boston qualifier, and one University of Louisville student was using the full as a “training run” for a marathon in San Francisco that he signed up for while drunk, which he didn’t remember doing until he checked his email the next day — I liked him immediately. Midway through the 4th mile, I was feeling great…exactly where I wanted to be. As we passed the Mile 4 marker, I increased my pace a little bit so that I would have a cushion where I could take a walk break at the next water stop in front of the rest of the group…
- Mile 5: …and then I never ran with them again. After having run the first 4 miles at around a 07:55/mile average, I took advantage of the downhill 5th mile to log a 07:44 split, and was still feeling good. Walking through the water station at Mile 5, I took a look back as I started running again, and noticed the 08:00/mile pace group was further behind me than I expected…so, I just kind of went off on my own.
- Hands-down, my favorite part about Mile 5 was passing a nursing/retirement home on the right (named “Friendly Homes”, or something like that), which featured elderly residents sitting out in the front lawn on folding chairs, offering orange slices and high fives. You’re damn right I dodged my way through a pack of runners to get over to that side of the street for some granny high-fives and orange slices. Sorry I’m not sorry.
- Mile 6: With my legs feeling springy and the weather conditions being ideal, I told myself that I would just go for it — no holding back. I mean, why not? As long as I was feeling fresh, I decided I’d try to run faster than 07:50/mile splits if possible, to build up enough of a cushion for as many miles as possible before the impending bonk, so that hopefully I could still break 1:45:59. I ran Mile 6 in 07:46.
- Miles 7-8: I’ll be honest…I kind of blacked out for these miles. My Garmin tells me logged a 07:40 split for Mile 7 and a 07:48 split for Mile 8, but I don’t remember them. I think there were some Louisville cardinal logos painted on the street at some point, I really couldn’t tell you. You know how sometimes when you’re driving on the highway, you can cover 50 miles without even realizing it, but the only thing that anyone in the car cares about is that you didn’t get a ticket or run over any pedestrians? That’s what these miles were like to me. Until…
- Mile 9: JESUS TAPDANCING CHRIST RIDING ON A DINOSAUR, WE’RE RUNNING THROUGH CHURCHILL DOWNS. Looking at the course map earlier, I thought we were going to be running around Churchill Downs, but our course took us straight through the infield where I would be spending a debaucherous several hours just one short week later. As we descended through the tunnel that led from the concourse to the infield, I made a joke along the lines of, “Well, this is definitely the most sober I’ve ever been while going through one of these tunnels”, which brought laughter all around. As we came up through the tunnel and into the infield, I noticed a headwind for the first time during the entire race, which lasted just until… HOLY SHIT, ARE THOSE HORSES GALLOPING NEXT TO ME?!? On the other side of the fence separating the infield from the track, two thoroughbreds were being put through their paces, and I geeked out hard. I pointed and excitedly shouted to the runners surrounding me, “Hey guys, look, horses!!”, like I was a pre-teen seeing boobs for the first time. On a normal day, I’m pretty ambivalent toward horses, but this was just so cool. Dan would later tell me that he didn’t even notice the horses, because apparently Dan has lost all of his childlike wonder. Anyway, I ran Mile 9 in 07:40
Mile 10: I do not remember Mile 10, but I ran a 07:47 split.
- Mile 11: Hey, guess what? Don’t remember this one either. Hooray for highway/running hypnosis. I ran a 07:44
- Mile 12: Having not yet run a mile in the 8s, the thought had been creeping up in the back of my mind that only something really bad would prevent me from breaking 1:45:59. It was only during Mile 12, though, that I realized that I might go even faster than 1:44 or 1:45. Clocking a 07:46 mile, all I had to do was reel it in to avoid injury, and…
- Mile 13: …Ah, the hell with it, let’s finish this race on a high. Garmin tells me that I ran my last full mile in 07:09.4, and i passed what felt like a lot of people. I started my finishing kick with a full 1/4-mile left to go in the race, and as I turned the last corner to approach the finish line, a big smile broke across my face when I saw the official clock– it was still in the 1:42s! I had no desire other than to continue my current finishing pace, until I caught glimpse Dan off to the left screaming my name, practically demanding me to sprint faster. High on adrenaline, I was in the mood to oblige– I set my sights on a guy in a blue shirt that seemed impossibly far ahead of me, and…well, I’ll just let the pictures tell the rest of the story:
If the finish line were even another 50 yards further ahead, I’m not sure that I would have made it — I just about collapsed as I crossed the line. I stopped my Garmin about 15-20 yards past the timing mats, and could hardly believe the number staring up at me — 1:42:15! I had PR’d by almost six minutes, easily qualifying for my ‘C’ Corral in the Chicago Marathon in October. Elated, I even took the time to pose for one of those cheesy photos with the medal in front of the background– I came, I ran, I conquered.
It turns out I wasn’t the only one that had a surprisingly good race, either. Dan had ridden the superb race conditions and flat course to a beastly PR of 1:30:47, shattering his previous (non-downhill) half-marathon PR by damn near four minutes. In fact, this was Dan’s first ever half-marathon where he averaged a sub-07:00/mile pace (seriously, fuck that guy). And remember Glenn, our friend from the bar the night before? You’ll be happy to know that Glenn successfully completed his first half marathon, and he has his sights set on running the Marine Corps Marathon in October. All in all, a damn successful race for all parties concerned.
After another stop at the Bluegrass Brewing Company for some post-race burgers and beer, the 5-hour drive from Louisville back to Chicago was largely consumed by Dan and I talking about A.) How in the hell did we run that much faster than our previous PRs?; and B.) How well the race was put on by the organizers. Other than a mutual gripe about how not all aid stations had sports drink in addition to standard water (which was just strange; it would have bothered me more if I’d been running the full marathon instead of the half), we both really liked the course, and had few other complaints. The start corrals appeared to be well-marshaled (we saw some people with the wrong bibs refused entry into the B corral, which was nice to see), the aid stops were well-spaced, there was ample shade to be had on the course, and running through Churchill Downs (NEXT TO RACEHORSES!!@#!#) was great. The post-race food spread was pretty expansive, and each 21+ runner was afforded the option of a tall post-race beer at the end, which Dan and I gratefully accepted
Maybe it’s just that I’m just starting to fall in love with Southern races, but much like the Oak Barrel Half that I’d run 3 weeks earlier, it’s hard to imagine getting more bang for your buck than what I got out of the Derby miniMarathon. For less than $50, I would never have expected to get a regional-class half-marathon experience, but that’s exactly what Louisville delivered. And as an added bonus, this weekend exposed me to a whole new gauntlet of blogs that I now enjoy reading…like this one. Or this one (I sympathize greatly with fellow back-sufferers — I see you, T-Rex. I see you). If you’re on the fence about running the Derby Festival miniMarathon in 2013, please allow me to Danza-slap you off of said fence — go ahead and sign up for this race. You’ll probably even see horses.