The Bourbon Chase is a 200-mile, overnight ultra relay that meanders throughout Kentucky, hitting the historic distilleries that make up the Kentucky Bourbon Trail – Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve and Town Branch. Last year, I followed participants on Twitter well into the wee hours of the morning and kept thinking about how much fun it would be to do it.
So way back at the beginning of this year, the organizers of the Bourbon Chase announced that, due to increased interest, registration would move to a lottery system (like every other major running event lately). I approached the President of my agency and inquired as to whether he would be willing to sponsor a team from our company. He agreed, so when I received a confirmation email from the organizer saying we’d been selected, I registered a team right away. Each year, the organizers choose a theme for the race. This year it was some kind of psychedelic theme, so naming our team proved to be somewhat difficult. We needed to combine Bourbon, running and hippies. That’s how we came up with Wild Jive Turkeys.
When I registered us, I hadn’t noticed that the date for the 2013 Bourbon Chase was less than a week after the Chicago Marathon. Oof. I wasn’t sure if my legs were going to work at all, let alone well enough to get me through the 16.5 miles that made up my portion of the relay.
I was the last runner in Van 2 (of 2) and we didn’t start until Leg 7 at Maker’s Mark in Loretto, Kentucky. Van 1 kicked us off earlier that morning at Jim Beam in Clermont.
Leg 1: Somewhere outside Lebanon to Perryville
I was pumped for my first leg, even after sitting in the van for most of the day. My exchange zone was near a church on the two-lane State Highway 150 that crosses central Kentucky. The sun was sinking fast, so I was hoping our quicker-than-anticipated pace would bring me a well-lit, safe run. Runner 11, Scott, appeared over a hill and came speeding down to the transition zone, where I snagged the little tie-dyed bracelet that functioned as our baton and headed east.
The first half-mile of the leg was uphill, and I still wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen with my legs. I ran comfortably, moving along and enjoying the rolling hills that stretched toward the horizon in every direction. There wasn’t really another runner near me, and traffic wasn’t too busy (save for a few tractor trailers who were driving way too fast and too close for comfort). I could see a water tower off in the distance, and I suspected that it would serve as this leg’s destination. It was just me and the cows for two miles, when I came upon an older gentleman and said hello. He was from Florida and was enjoying the scenery as well. I was just happy to pass someone. Thanks for working, legs! What was incorrectly described as a “mostly downhill” leg had a couple of hills thrown in for good measure. The sun had set rapidly and was replaced with a ginormous moon rising majestically behind some clouds. As it turns out, organizers plan the race around the Hunter’s Moon so runners can have as much natural light at night as possible.
I finally made it past the water tower and into the community of Perryville. By this time, it was dark, but the little town square was jumpin’ with runners and locals celebrating the race. I coasted into the exchange zone and passed the wristband back to Van 1 and my friend, Eileen, who set off to parts unknown.
Break 1: Defense wins championships, Admirals.
Since we were close to Danville and Van 1 had to make a loop down to Stamford before returning to once again hand off to us, my van decided to take advantage of a campsite set up by one of our team members, Kyle. Kyle’s husband was also running the race, so they had traveled the night before and set up everything for us. There was just one issue – the site was across the street from Danville High School, which was hosting a football game that night. Every time there was ANOTHER ADMIRALS FIRST DOWN, I woke up from whatever slumber I was in. Estimated sleep time: ~ 45 minutes. And then we were back on the road.
Leg 2: On an overpass of the Bluegrass Parkway to Four Roses Distillery
Well, this was it. This was the leg I was dreading for months and months. A 4.2 mile stretch in the middle of the woods in Deliveranceburg, Kentucky, at 5:45 in the morning. Only we were so far ahead of schedule it was more like 4:30 in the morning. Somehow, in my head, that made it worse. I had
begged asked Scott to find a pacing partner on his leg so that I would have someone to run with when we made the exchange. When he came in with nobody near him and the last team to come through was five minutes prior, I was not a happy camper. I grabbed the band and took off. The country road before me was barely paved and stretched maybe 10 feet across. There were trees on both sides of the road that obscured the moon’s light and cast shadows everywhere. Not to mention, the bouncing headlamp I was wearing created its own scary scenes along the way. All that was going through my head were images from The Walking Dead. I just kept my eyes straight ahead and ran like the wind. In fact, I clocked my first mile (mostly uphill) in the 7s. And I don’t run that fast on a good day. When I got to the top of the first big hill, I spotted a tiny, blinking red light in the distance and decided I was going to run that person down like a cheetah. I had no idea how fast he/she was going, but it was the first sight of another runner since I’d left the exchange zone. I lasered in on that dot, pulling it ever closer as my VO2 rate soared to unprecedented levels. When I finally caught up, I tried to regain some composure between huffs of air and globs of sweat pouring off my forehead.
“Hey runner. Want a pacing partner?”
Lisa was running her first Bourbon Chase as well, and I like to think she was just as relieved as I was to see another
living person on the course. I settled into her pace, which at about 9:30, felt AMAZINGAWESOMELUXURIOUS after the sprint I’d just completed. Lisa is from Mount Sterling, which is on the eastern side of the state. She’s a social worker with a degree from UK, and works mostly through a program in Morehead. You’ll remember Morehead as the #13 seed that knocked out the #4-seeded University of Louisville in the first round of the 2011 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Here’s a video if you don’t remember.
Due to the night terror, I had run this leg way ahead of schedule. When Lisa and I arrived at the distillery, I didn’t see a single person on my team – from either van. I asked the exchange official what I should do, and she told me to hang out and wait. About 7 minutes later, I spotted Lindsay, a teammate, and her sister, Shannon, our van’s driver, in the crowd. They joined me just as we received a text from the other van: “Went to wrong exchange point. Be there in a minute.”
About 20 minutes passed before Eileen showed up. No worries. We were well ahead of our predicted finish.
Break #2: Waffles and Weariness
My van had decided to grab breakfast at a Waffle House in Versailles since we had to be at nearby Woodford Reserve for the last major van exchange. Okay. It was my idea. I mean, what sounds better on a cold, damp morning than hot waffles and horrible service? We gobbled up all manner of chunked and smothered things and set out for the distillery as the skies became overcast and the wind picked up. This is when I passed out. I don’t even remember laying my head down on the seat. I just blacked out from exhaustion. I woke up in our silent van in the rainy parking of a closed elementary school that now functions as a community center somewhere in Woodford County. I don’t know how we got there or how long I’d been asleep, but I was thankful for the rest.
After everyone else awoke, we made our way to Woodford Reserve, all slightly slap-happy from exhaustion and weary of our upcoming runs in the cold rain. We sat in the van for awhile, making jokes about port-o-potties and breakfast syrups before our first runner hopped out to begin our final relay to the finish.
Leg 3: Masterson Station Park to downtown Lexington
Since we were more than an hour ahead of our projected finish time, I made up my mind to take the last leg of this race at a deliberate pace. In fact, I’d already imagined stopping and walking part of it if I felt like it. Up to this point, my legs had held out, but I was tired and tight after sitting in a van for days. The rain had mercifully stopped, but it was replaced with a cold, blustery wind, which confirmed my decision to just have fun and take it easy.
I took the handoff in a park in northeastern Lexington and made my way through a neighborhood on the way to the finish line. I heard a runner coming up behind me and assumed he was going to pass me just like I anticipated so many runners to do on this leg. Instead, he slowed down and said hello. He was wearing a Kentucky Wildcats shirt, so I knew immediately he was good people. We kept a 9:30 pace as we talked about the race, the Cats and what we did when weren’t running. Turns out, Stew lives in the same neighborhood as two of our runners and he works for one of my agency’s biggest clients. Having both lived in Lexington for college, we knew the course well, so it was easy to tell how far we were from the finish line. I’m glad he was there to keep me going. It made the miles fly by and my last leg much more fun than it would have been had I run alone.
About a half-mile away, we could hear the celebrations of the crowd and picked up the pace just slightly. Stew let me go ahead of him, and I saw all my Wild Jive Turkey teammates ahead cheering us on. I joined them, and together, we crossed the finish line in 31:34:00.
After our obligatory team photo, we enjoyed the festivities before climbing back into the van one last time.
I have to say, this was the most fun I’ve ever had in a race. It was exhausting (especially five days removed from a marathon), but I had the opportunity to see a good portion of my home state on foot. I love Kentucky. We have unrivaled beauty in our land and unbridled hospitality in our people, and the Bourbon Chase does a great job of putting both qualities front and center. I consider myself very blessed to be able to experience it with good friends by my side.
Even if I had to run from zombies in the middle of the night.
Until next time, keep running, friends.
*Thanks to Stew’s mom and Tammy Brown for some of the pics.