Recap: 2013 Lights Under Louisville 5k

I’m not the biggest fan of the zombie/mud/color runs. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m an advocate of anything that gets people off the couch and introduces them to running, but they’re just not the kinds of races I seek out. Until now.

A few weeks ago, a link was shared on the NQRFPTR Facebook page about a 5k  in Louisville that was semi-gimmicky, but really intriguing.

It was in a cave.

Well, not a cave, but a cavern. THE LOUISVILLE MEGA CAVERN. This repurposed subterranean quarry runs below the Louisville Zoo. Like that giant ball of twine in Kansas and the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, the Mega Cavern has become somewhat of a kitschy attraction in Louisville. Its website bills the cavern as having the world’s only underground zip line, and during the Christmas season, a mile of the attraction’s tunnels is decked out in Christmas lights.

So that’s how the Lights Under Louisville 5k came into our lives. I signed up, thinking it would be good material for a blog post. Several other NQRFTPRers also expressed interest in running it, but didn’t sign up in time because the race sold out. A 5k!

Race day morning, I drove over to the Zoo to meet up with the NQRFPTRers who got in and my friend, Andy, who’s succumbing to the running bug one race at a time.

Andy and me, pre-race

Andy and me, pre-race

The weather was 49 degrees – really warm for November. I dressed in a short-sleeved shirt and shorts. Glancing around, the novelty of this race worked in attracting a diverse crowd of participants. Children abounded. And there were a ton of people either dressed in the official race shirt or as though it was 22 degrees outside. The group decided we’d need to get toward the front of the race pack, lest we dodge babies and walkers for the first mile of the race.

Lights Under Louisville 1

This was a definitely a family-friendly event.

That woman with the pony tail is really fast.

That woman with the pony tail is really fast.

Big crowd for a 5k

Big crowd for a 5k

The race began and the swell of runners ran down a suburban road to a quick out and back. The frontrunners, those guys who run 16- and 17-minute 5ks, came bounding back toward us pretty quickly. The guy in third place (at this point) was wearing a big, red Christmas sweater. I rounded a traffic cone and headed back toward the mass of runners before taking a right down a steep incline toward the mouth of the cavern, careful to avoid slipping on rain-slick concrete.

Entering the mouth of the cavern, I was instantly engulfed by darkness – and warmth. The temperature inside is 58 degrees all year long. I came around a corner and got hit with a barrage of blinking, colorful lights.

What. Is. Going. On?

It was insanely happy inside that cavern. Christmas lights were everywhere. Loud music was being pumped in at deafening levels. It was so much fun.

One drawback – it was so dark inside the cavern that you couldn’t see where you were going. And they ground wasn’t level – with holes and drops and bumps just waiting to take you down. I had no choice but to let off the gas and slow down. My friend, Nikki, and I ran together, joking about what we were experiencing and helping each other watch the path as much as we could.

Here’s a really, really bad video I took to try to show what the race was like. It’s terrible because I was running when I took it. And it’s only like 3 seconds long. You’ve been warned.

At one point, the lights formed a wormhole kind of effect, rotating around us as we ran. It was fun, but disorienting. Nikki and I decided that no PRs were to be had that day, so we stopped to take a pic  to document the experience.

Lights Under Louisville 9

It wasn’t until I just posted this pic that I thought there might be bats in this thing.

We exited the cavern and came back onto above-ground running. Even at this point, there were walkers making their way down the hill. Oh right. The hill we came down earlier was now staring back at us. Nikki turned on the afterburners and left me to slog my way to the top. Halfway up, I noticed a group of four adults, all wearing the race shirt, walking down the hill. Two of them were smoking. SMOKING DURING A RACE.

I made it all the way up the hill and began the short trek back to the start/finish. On a decline, I passed two little girls who couldn’t have been older than 6 and 10. Despite their ages, they were still two more people who I could beat in this race. Sorry, kids. This ain’t the playground.

When I came up over the last hill, I did a double-take at the clock. I was about 150 yards from the finish line and the clock was still in the 23s. I would have a chance to PR if I busted it. So I laid down the hammer and ran as hard as I could.

When I crossed the finish line, I checked my watch to see that it read 24:18 – five seconds shy of a PR.

Lights Under Louisville 12

Andy bearing down to beat that guy in blue.

When results were posted online, I couldn’t find my name. I emailed the race organizers (Headfirst Performance), and they emailed me back less than an hour later to say my chip hadn’t registered at the finish, but that they had a backup and would repost the results with my correct time.

Official chip time: 24:14.

I missed a PR by one second. But I managed to finish 7/58 in my age group, so I’m pretty happy about that.

There will be other races to PR. Maybe not quite as interesting as this one, but there will be more.

Those of us who were able to register.

Those of us who were able to register.

Lights Under Louisville 5k shirt

Until then, keep running, friends.

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6 responses to “Recap: 2013 Lights Under Louisville 5k

  1. I keep reading about all sorts of races, 5K’s, 10K’s, Half marathons, Marathons…in America…and when I think ‘surely they can’t top that…’ – That looks awesome! I really wish we had races like that over in England!

    • Hi Kerrie. Thanks for stopping by. There are tons of zombie runs, mud runs and color runs (and more by the day). This race just sounded too fun to pass up. If you’re ever in Kentucky, we’ve got lots of caves to run through!

  2. Nothing like near pitch-darkness to cause a potentially season-ending ankle roll. I live in perpetual fear of stuff like that, which is why I’m always super cautious when I step onto a sidewalk and ALWAYS look where I run. Good thing you didn’t suffer any false steps in that cave.

    I vacillate on the topic of novelty races, mostly because it depends on the definition, on the meaning of “novelty.” Recent themed races (Color Run, Electric Run, every mud run out there) aren’t my thing, but a race that goes through redwood trees? Through theme parks? Through the desert? Some might not call these novelty races, but many of them are one-of-a-kind, so in my book that translates to a resounding “Yes please.”

    Also, you realize that you have to run a 5K soon to crush your PR, right? If you stopped and took pictures, slowed down to avoid tripping and STILL came dastardly close, then you have a date with glory soon, Glenway Park.

    • I later learned that the “cave” was extremely deep and had to be filled with all kinds of rubbish to bring the floor up to a reasonable height. Weird, right? I think we were technically running on compacted trash. I also read that because the site has been converted to “commercial usage,” it’s technically the largest building in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

      Good point re: the “novelty” races. One-of-a-kind is a better description for the kinds of races I would seek out. Through the redwoods? Does that exist and how do I sign up for that?

      The 5k is my nemesis, man. Every time I think I’m going to crush one, I don’t. And then when I just go out for the fun of it, I do well. There’s probably a lesson there. As always, I appreciate your comments and insight, Dan Francisco.

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