Well, the day finally arrived.
Months and months of training culminated in a gathering of me and 17,999 of my running friends on a perfect April morning in downtown Louisville for the 39th annual Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon.
I gave myself three goals (in order of importance) for this race:
2. Don’t walk
3. Try to complete it in 2:15:00 (based on my previous races and this calculator)
The night before the race, I met up with a couple of runners from Chicago – Dan and Otter – who learned of my running endeavors through this blog. (Yep – people actually read this thing. Who knew?). Dan is chronicling his effort to run a half- or full marathon in every state before he turns 40. He’s 29 now and has a good number of states already under his race belt. Otter used to write about his goal of trying to run 28 races in the year before he turned 28. (He ran 32.) Now, he’s writing about a different goal. Both guys were really cool, and it was fun to hear about their exploits in running – especially since all I had to talk about were the three races I’ve finished so far. If you’re not already reading their blogs, you should start.
It’s pretty inspiring when you meet people who accomplish these crazy goals. It really makes you realize that – as long as you’re healthy – the only person holding you back from achieving them is you.
Cut to 5:30 this morning. I’d already woken up about five times, but as my alarm went off, I knew I had to get up for real. I showered (if only out of routine), put on my race-day clothes, and munched on some cheese and peanut butter. My running group was already blowing up my phone with tweets and texts, so at 6:00, I hopped in my car and drove downtown.
We met up at the corner of Main and Hancock – about three blocks from the start of the race. Dawn and our friend, Matt, arrived at the same time I did, and we chatted a bit before walking toward the starting line to snap some pics. They went back to our meeting spot, and I walked up to the statue of Pee Wee Reese in front of Slugger Field to wish Dan and Otter good luck before the race.
All week long, local and national weather forecasters have been warning us about thunderstorms (with hail) during the race. I kept peeled eyes on the meteorologists’ predictions with nervous attention. They were all the same – expect storms. Suffice it to say that it was a pleasant surprise to see clearish skies and temps in the low 50s on the morning of the race – PERFECT running weather.
After our group wished each other good luck, we started to make our way toward our respective pace corrals. I was assigned to Group G – the slowest running group. I think this was based on a self-diagnosed finishing time when I registered in November and had no idea how long it took to run anything. Needless to say, Eileen, Brad and I wiggled our way through the crowd to the 10:15 pace group.
The race started, but we didn’t move for a really long time. By the time we crossed the first tracking line, a good 10 or so minutes had already passed.
The three of us struck out at a good pace. There was plenty of room to run, and I felt awesome. There were supporters all over Main Street, and we were headed toward a part of town I’ve rarely, if ever, visited.
One of the first people who stood out to me was an older man wearing a shirt that read, “This is my 38th mini.” When I passed him, I patted him on the back and told him how awesome that was.
The pacers in this race weren’t as good as I hoped. I couldn’t spot the signs they held, and then I’m pretty sure they disappeared altogether shortly into the race. We were cruising, and I let my mind begin to think about finishing the race even faster than I had hoped. Brad dropped back a bit, so Eileen and I pressed on. Miles 1, 2, 3 and 4 were cake. I couldn’t believe how quickly this was all going. We passed our friend, Bill, around mile 5, and Eileen joked that she was my pacer rabbit who was there to keep me from going off too fast. Turning off Broadway and onto Fourth Street, I was still feeling good, and we were entering a part of the race I’ve run a ton of times already.
Eileen skidded off to get water and told me to go on. I was on my own. Suddenly, my pace slowed. My turnover was erratic. There were some nerves at work when I began to realize that I would have to finish this thing on my own. But those thoughts were replaced by the realization that I wasn’t running with or against anyone. The only person I was competing with was myself. My pace quickly evened, and I got back on track in no time.
We looped around Central Park and spilled back onto Third Street, heading toward the University of Louisville. At mile 7, I had planned to take some gel. I fished around in my belt, pulled out a Gu and ripped open the top. I wanted to wait for a water station so I could wash down the sticky stuff without choking.
I kept the Gu package in my hand, warming it up so that it would be easier to get down (a tip from my friend, Lindsay). Passing by UofL and continuing down Fourth, I could see a water station coming up on the right. I took the gel and started to make my way over.
But there was no water.
The station was nearly empty, and volunteers were frantically trying to fill cups as runners waited. I could tell it was a Charlie Foxtrot, so I just passed it up. At this point, I was approaching five miles of running without water, and I didn’t know where the next station was.
My pace was still pretty steady, and I came upon some running Elvises as we neared Churchill Downs. They were playing music and dancing – definite crowd pleasers. I ran with them all the way to the entrance to the racecourse, and then passed them when we entered the tunnels to the outfield.
That’s when the cramp hit.
I’m not a nutritionist or anything, but I’m pretty sure that my body was screaming for water. To be honest, I was so preoccupied with this cramp that I didn’t pay much attention to the run inside Churchill. It was quiet, and I saw a rider in a morning workout. I like to think he/she was on a Derby contender.
Exiting Churchill, there were throngs of people cheering us on. I rounded around Central Avenue and headed back toward downtown. We passed mile 8, and I voraciously gulped down two cups of water. The cramp subsided, and I hunkered down for the long finish.
When we neared UofL again, I peered ahead to see if my friends, the Weisenbargers, had made it out. This was the spot where they said they would be (if they could pull off the logistics of getting a two-year old out at this time of the morning). Cresting one of the few hills in the race, I could see her little curls bouncing up and down on her dad’s shoulders. At this point in the race, the mini and full marathon routes were split down the middle of the road. We were on the left – full marathoners on the right. Half expecting to be plowed over by someone running twice as fast as me, I jetted over into the marathon lane and made a beeline for them. I was starting to tire at this point in the race, and seeing a familiar face gave me the umph to keep going. I ran over, gave their sweet little girl a quick peck on the cheek and took off back with the pack.
I had planned to run with the 10-minute pacers through mile 10 and then just give everything I had for the last 5K. When I hit the marker that signaled this point of the race, my legs felt like lead. My pace had slowed way down, and I could tell I wasn’t running as smooth as before.
Mile 10 wasn’t a good stretch.
Mile 11 was worse.
It felt like the miles that were coming so quickly before were now toying with me, stretching out and refusing to appear any faster than I could run them. And people started to pass me. I started to think about my goals.
Just FINISH. I’m going to do that.
Don’t walk. I can do that.
Hit my time goal. I want to do that.
I slogged through miles 11 and 12, and when we turned back onto Main and the supporters were in full force, I wanted to sprint. I just wanted to run so easily and fast as I did at the beginning of the race. But I couldn’t. I felt like I was pushing with all I had just to keep up.
At the last turn to the downhill stretch to the finish line, I could see the clock ahead. It read 2:25 and change. We had waited about 10 minutes to officially start the race, so I was, once again, facing a clock versus chip challenge.
Somehow, from somewhere, I found the legs to sprint. I don’t know where it came from, but for the last .2 miles of this race, I ran an Olympic-pace mile. I crossed the line without looking at the clock. I was just so elated to be finished.
Immediately after I crossed the line, one runner near me dropped to his knees and proposed to his girlfriend, who had also just finished. She said yes.
I pulled out my phone and texted my running buddies to let them know I had finished, and then wearily made my way to the medals. When it was placed over my head, I got caught up in the moment. Even as I write this, I still have a hard time believing I ran a half-marathon. This is a big deal for someone who never ran and was always a little pudgy. I dedicate my medal to fat kids everywhere.
I drank some water and felt my phone vibrate. My friends, Eileen and Brad, finished right on my heels. We met up with Matt and chatted for a minute until I got a text from Dawn saying that she and Amie had finished.
Eileen looked up our times and read them aloud.
Official chip time: 2:15:18.
I’ll take it! I wanted to finish in under 2:15:00, but I was just so happy to finish that the time didn’t matter to me. Besides, it gives me a reason to sign up for another one of these things.
After the race, we made our way (verrrrrry slowly) over to Toast on Market for breakfast. When we got there, Amie pulled two packages from her bag and handed them to Brad and me. More gifts! This week was like Christmas. Before I tore into it, I noticed the wrapping paper – it was customized with quotes and pictures that looked familiar. Maybe it was the fact that my whole body was exhausted, but it took me a few minutes to realize the words and images were from my blog! How very cool. Inside was a copy of Born to Run, a book I’d ask to borrow just this week. It was, once again, a touching gesture from some folks I’ve grown really close to for the past four months.
When I look back on this whole experience, I can’t thank everyone enough for all the support you’ve shown. Along the way, I learned a ton about my own limits and what it takes to overcome them. And, all of you helped me raise more than $1,500 for some very special people. Thank you. Sincerely.
Keep running, friends.