A few weeks ago, I suckered convinced my friends, Dawn, Eileen and Matt, to register for the Great Buffalo Chase 5K at the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort. Registration was only $15, so it was hard to say no.
I love touring bourbon distilleries. They’re unique to Kentucky, and there’s a rich history behind bourbon and what it means to our Commonwealth. So I figured – what better way to celebrate civic pride than to run a race on the Fourth of July through a distillery?
So far, my post-hiatus runs have left little to be desired. A four-mile run over the weekend didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. And a short three-miler earlier in the week was, well, just awful. I was planning on using the month of May to adjust from cold-weather running to the heat and humidity of summer. In Kentucky, we have four distinct seasons. And sometimes those seasons tend to go to the extreme. Case in point, at the end of June, we set record high temperatures for the city of Louisville three days in a row. June.
Even though I haven’t adapted to the new conditions at all, I was holding out slight hope that I could improve on my 5K PR time of 29:30. I know that’s not a sparkling PR, and one day I’d like to hit at least 25:00, but it’s just fine for now.
With that in mind, on the morning of our country’s 236th birthday, I awoke and dressed for my first race back since the mini.
I picked up the gang and drove the 45 minutes to our state’s capital city. When we arrived, the temperature had already started to climb into the lower 80s.
We picked up our race packets, and the process was rather efficient. On our way back to drop our bags in the car, Dawn dug through the goodies and announced that we’d received a race-branded technical shirt. Boom! Fifteen bucks well spent.
We made our way to the starting area, which was on a paved road in the middle of the distillery grounds. Matt moved to the front of the pack, while Dawn, Eileen and I hung a little further back. I began to question our placement when an older woman in jean shorts slipped just in front of us. Dawn and I exchanged looks as if to ask, “What kind of race is this?” We waited for the Star Spangled Banner, which never came (tsk, tsk), and before long, a blaring horn signaled the start of the race.
This wasn’t a chipped race, so I had to rely on my phone to keep track of my time. When we crossed the starting line, I started my RunKeeper app and tried not to think about it.
The course wound through the distillery campus, and our trio settled into what felt like a good, solid pace. Buffalo Trace is a gorgeous place. There are manicured lawns, fountained ponds, buildings from the 1800s and the smell of corn grain mash wafting through the air.
Crossing a bridge, we turned onto a small, shaded country road with a gradual rise that continued for quite awhile. The climb started to take its toll on my pace, and I began to wonder when this little hill would end. No matter. This was an out-and-back. We’d have this nice downhill to bomb at the end. A volunteer called out “9:40!” to us as we passed, and all was well.
Then the road turned out of the trees, and with this, our canopied protection from the glaring sun overhead disappeared. It was hot. Really hot. Heading south, the first leaders started to pass us on their way back. We clapped and cheered for them, believing that the turnaround point was just ahead.
We were wrong.
The course turned back into the main distillery grounds, and we set about weaving around buildings and people, when I finally asked Eileen what was going on. How on Earth were those people THIS far ahead of us?
The turnaround point was near the center of the grounds, and we had to pass the finish line just as the first people were completing the race. I began to doubt the possibility of a PR and instead just concentrated on finishing.
But I was burning up. I gulped down water when possible, but this was the kind of heat that just completely envelops you. Eileen moved ahead of me, and Dawn dropped back a few paces. I had no idea at what pace I was running, and I felt like people were beginning to pass me. On a side note, I usually try to find someone running at the same pace as me in the race and make it my goal to beat him. In this event, that happened to be some kid wearing a Theta Phi (cotton!) t-shirt. He dropped off so far behind me that I never saw him again after a mile and a half.
On our way back, I put my head down to keep the blinding sun out of my eyes. I caught up with Eileen, but she was soon ahead of me once again.
At the 2.5-mile marker, a man called out our times – “24:20!” Alright. I can do this. There’s that big downhill stretch right around the corner, so the worst is over.
I have no idea if it was the whiskey fumes or some other reason for my delusion, but that downhill stretch never materialized. In its place was a just-as-long uphill climb. This was the SAME route we ran UP earlier. How were we running UP it again? Even as I write this, I still can’t figure it out. Eileen and Matt were also perplexed as we discussed it after the race.
After slowly, finally reaching the top of the hill, we turned left back into the homestretch. We crossed the bridge from before, and I pulled out my phone to check my time.
The app had stopped working. I guess, at some point, I’d hit the pause button. Oh well, I’d just have to go off the clock time.
That last hill took a lot out of me, so I wasn’t expecting to do all that well. When I crossed the line (with Eileen three or four runners ahead of me), I was satisfied with just finishing the race in this heat.
OFFICIAL CLOCK TIME: 32:10.
Dawn finished right behind us, and we all agreed that, while the course was beautiful and the race organizers did a great job, the heat was just too much to overcome.
We stuck around to wander the grounds a bit and to hear the awards. Matt – with a time somewhere in the neighborhood of 21:30 – had a chance to win his age group. This year’s Great Buffalo Chase featured more than 600 entrants – 200 more than last year’s record number – from 22 states. This was also the fastest group they’d ever had. The overall winner ran it in 14:10, with second and third at 14:14 and 14:15.
None of us placed, so we told ourselves we all got fourth in our individual age groups.
Overall, it was a fun, well-organized race. Everything went off without a hitch, and the race volunteers were friendly and welcoming. My only suggestions to improve the event for next year would be to consider moving the start time up to 7:00 am to beat the heat and to invest in chip timing.
Until next time, keep running, friends.