Race: Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon
Place: Louisville, Kentucky
Date: April 19, 2014
Ahhh…where to start? Where do I even begin to start?! There was so much excitement coming into this race because there were people I knew who were flying or driving in to run either the full or the half marathon. And if that wasn’t enough excitement…I was asked by one of them to pace her to a sub-4 marathon finish. I didn’t have to think about this at all. I was more than happy to assist my friend, Colleen, in attempting to meet her goal. And that…my friends…is the reason for the asterisk on this post. I wasn’t running this race to race it for me. I was running it to help a friend…and come what may, I was staying by her side the entire time. I take my “job” as a pacer very seriously…and I trained to run at an easier pace than I normally would for a marathon.
But…I might be getting ahead of myself a little.
First of all, there was the expo. As I am local to the area, I figured it would be much better for me to hit up the expo on Thursday, before the mad crush on Friday set in. So, after work, I headed over the river to the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown, Louisville, Kentucky. There weren’t a lot of signs that directed people to where the expo was, so Cathy and I simply followed the crowds, figuring someone had to have an idea of where they were going. This did pay off, and soon we were on an escalator heading up to where the expo was being held.
Most expos in Louisville are small matters. And while this one was not huge…it wasn’t just a couple of tables and Fleet Feet either. In fact, walking in, I ended up going to the table for the mini marathon (actually a half marathon…as there are different definitions of what a mini marathon is)…and then had to slide over to the full marathon where I picked up my race packet (which included a woman’s tech shirt, a hat, and other goodies). I was complimented on already having my wallet out and ready…the volunteer going, “Well, you’ve done this before, I see.” Oh yeah…a few times. *WINK*
After receiving my packet, Cathy and I turned to see about walking through the actual expo part. But first, we both stopped to sign the “I run because…” wall. Cathy put up something about not being a runner, but being great at ringing a cowbell (AWESOME!), and I wrote a tribute to my grandpa. It was fitting. We hit up the official merchandise first, where my phone rang. I answered it, and unfortunately, it was a friend of mine giving me some horrible news about her sister. Her sister was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and she asked that I do something for her sister during my race. I wasn’t going to say no to that. At all. I was more than happy to help. After I hung up, I ran into Harry and Tammy, two people I often run with, and we stood around and talked for a little while. Cathy spotted the official Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon BondiBand…and I knew I was making that purchase. But then I spotted these bright lime green arm warmers. Upon trying on the smallest size, I found that they actually fit my little noodle-y arms. That doesn’t happen often. So…I ended up with those as well. I immediately said I was not allowed to buy anything else. So, I spent the rest of the time winding my way through the expo and trying not to get too caught up in it where I end up buying more stuff. I managed.
I knew my friend Kat and her boyfriend, Adam, were at the expo as well, so I gave a quick text to find out where she was. She was in from Buffalo, New York and I was really looking forward to seeing her. She had already made her way through the expo and they were sitting outside the entrance. I exited…and my bib was activated as I did so…and spotted her immediately. We ran up and gave each other a hug. Kat was going to run the half marathon with our friend Andrea. Andrea’s husband and our friend Silvia was doing the full with Colleen and I. And our entire group was getting together Friday night at Martini’s in Louisville for pre-race food. But, I got some time to chat with Kat and discuss where she was eating Thursday night (she wanted local breweries…and found one!). We said good-bye for the time being as it was getting late and I still needed my customary night before the night before a marathon meal – Indian food. It was off to Shalimar where I got a the vegan Yellow Dahl…spicy of course…and everything seemed right with the world. Got home around 8:30 p.m. where I got things ready for work in the morning and went to bed.
Friday morning came and I got up to do my shakeout run per my training program. Three miles. Race pace. Or 25 minutes of running. Whichever came first. I did an easy run for three miles and then went inside to get ready for work. Normally I would go to spin class on Friday…but not this time. I needed fresh legs for Saturday’s race. That threw me off, by the way…having a marathon on a Saturday. I’m so used to Sunday races. All I needed to do was get through the workday and then it was fun times at Martini’s with my racing friends.
The workday did go by relatively fast. There was some discussion about the upcoming race as the receptionist wanted to know where Cathy was going to be as one of her son’s and her husband were running. Her son was doing the full; her husband was taking on the half marathon. In fact, her husband came in to take her to lunch and we talked a little bit about the course and how the events were going to unfold that following morning. But when 4:30 p.m. hit, I was out the door with Cathy and we were winging our way to Martini’s in Louisville.
We arrived just as Kat and Adam were arriving. Imagine that. The rest of the crew, Andrea, Aaron, and Silvia were there. We were simply waiting on Colleen…who flew in from Chicago and was taking a taxi to the restaurant. If I had thought about it beforehand, I would have offered to pick her up on the way from her hotel. Anyway…it was taking awhile to get there…traffic was insane. So, we all just made small chat and browsed the menu on occasion. We had plenty to talk about and most of it had to do with racing. Well…that and acquaintances and life and everything else. In fact…there wasn’t too much discussion about the race going on at all. Rather, we discussed previous races we had done…and how we were feeling…and what we might like to eat that night. Some ordered wine. I stuck with water. Bread was brought to the table. I’m gluten-free and didn’t touch it. Kat, who has a dairy allergy, was brought a dairy-free ciabatta bread to enjoy. That was very nice of the chef and the restaurant to do.
And…then Colleen appeared. And we all greeted her happily and let her get settled in. I wanted to sit next to her so we could discuss her race strategy if needed. The waitress who was tending to us was kind enough to take a picture of our group. And with that, we were ready to get to the business of pre-race fueling the night before. And I actually had to do something different this time. Every race prior to this, gluten-free pizza is a must for me. I always have gluten-free pizza. It works. Martini’s has gluten-free pasta…but not pizza. So…I changed it up. I altered my usual plan. I had…the Gluten-Free Pomodoro, which was gluten-free fusilli pasta (brown rice) that was topped light garlic tomato sauce, a basil chiffonade, and I asked them to leave the mozzarella off…due to my lactose intolerance. I don’t play around before a marathon. Nope. Everyone else put in their orders and we were left to return to our various conversations. I was jumping back and forth on topics with a variety of people…which is how I roll. And after a little bit of a wait, our food began arriving. My order was perfect…no cheese…gluten-free…and it looked amazing. It smelled good too. Everyone else received their plates…but the kitchen forgot to do Kat’s dairy-free pasta with the brown rice pasta as requested. Hers was sent back but she told us to go ahead and start while she waited on her replacement dish. After a small wait…her food was served and we all were digging in.
Another thing I did differently…I didn’t have dessert. I have always treated myself to a dessert the night before a marathon. And while Martini’s did have some gluten-free options…they weren’t dairy free. So, alas…I went without. It was strange…not having that little sweet treat at the end of the celebratory meal. A few of my peeps enjoyed either a drink or dessert…but then…we all agreed it was time to head back to our respective hotels or homes…because it was going to be an early morning. Cathy and I volunteered to take Colleen back down to her hotel near the convention center…and we ended up doing a scenic tour because I-71 was backed up. Taking the long way around gave us some more time to chat with her though…and we soon got her to her hotel and we headed home ourselves.
I made some tea…did my physical therapy stretches…and foam rolled. I had every intention of getting to bed early, but by the time we got home and by the time I was done doing my necessary stretching…it was a normal bedtime. Ah well. I never get to bed early on race nights, even when I make every attempt to do just that. Nothing new here. The only part that concerned me was that the downstairs neighbors were having a rowdy party. Seriously. I turned on the fan in my room and turned up the sound machine. Thankfully…this drowned out all the noise. I was not, however, afraid to be that neighbor who called the cops.
My first alarm of two (my usual race morning routine) went off at 3 a.m. I got out of bed and did the first part of my race morning routine…then went back to bed for about an hour. The second alarm went off and I was so tempted to stay curled up in bed. But I knew Cathy would be getting up in another hour and I had to get on my race gear, get some coffee, get some breakfast, and do my physical therapy stretches as well. So…I reluctantly got out of my cozy bed and went to pour myself some coffee (which I set to automatically brew, giving me time to drink it and pee before I left the apartment…no such thing as TMI, folks!). I had my outfit laid out the night before, so I put on a coat of Body Glide, eased into my race day clothes, put on my Newton’s (the first time I was running a marathon in this particular pair…the new pair…which I bought in Atlanta). I did my stretches for my ankle and legs and then heard Cathy come out of her room. So…I got up to pour her coffee and get our cereal bowls down and filled. We tried to have a relaxing morning, but I was just…everywhere. I put my water and Nuun into their bottles then attached them to my fuel belt. I stashed my GU packets in my pockets where I could easily get to them…and stocked a few extra in my fuel belt…just in case. I slipped into my hoodie. I brushed my teeth and put my hair in pigtails with my colors of choice…rainbow…and pink. I don’t know why…it just seemed right. And then…Cathy grabbed her bag, stashed with more Nuun, more water, and my protein shake, a towel, med kit…and other items…grabbed how cow bell…and grabbed my sign. And we were out the door.
Our first stop was the Sheraton in Jeffersonville to pick up Andrea, Aaron and Silvia. They were providing me with a (big) race day banana so I wouldn’t have to swing by the grocery store the night before. We made plenty of big banana jokes because we are totally awesome like that. It was just a short drive over the bridge and into parking at the KFC YUM! Center. No problems at all. We stashed what we didn’t need in the car and began to hike down the sidewalk toward the start line.
We were quite a few blocks away, but it did allow us to see the start line and walk past the corral system. Originally I was placed in Corral B…but everyone else was in Corral C…so I decided to hop back to where all the cool kids were. But…first…I had a 7 a.m. photo to be present for. The Marathon Maniacs were meeting near bag check…in front of Slugger Field…to have our group photo taken. That wasn’t happening yet…so I figured I’d not be a princess for a moment and go use one of the port-o-potties. I was the first person in mine…and had to figure out how to get the paper wrapper of the toilet paper. Thankfully this one had the antibacterial lotion to put on your hands afterwards. Afterwards, Silvia (also a Marathon Maniac) and I went over to Slugger Field and got with the gathered Maniacs and Half Fanatics. This was where I found Harry. YAY! I gave him a hug and we chatted for a little bit before the photo op. And then…photo madness. I was asked if I could squat down some because “you’re really tall.” I thanked the girl for saying that…as I’ve never been called “very tall” before in my life. I’ll take it! Cathy ended up on photo duty for a lot of people and she did it with style. And then…we all dispersed. Silvia and I went back to where we left Aaron and Andrea…who were waiting on Kat and Colleen. Kat showed up across the street and we went to go meet up with her. Except as Andrea forged ahead, I met up with my running buddy, Patrick. He was also in Corral C…so we hugged and I told him I’d see him in the corral. I never saw him again…
I made it through the stream of people and got up to where Kat and Andrea were waiting. Adam came to take a picture of the three of us. And Aaron made his way over as well. Kat and Andrea were doing the mini…so they were in Corral A. WOOHOO!! The rest of us fell into Corral C…where I was in search of my race buddy for the next 26.2 miles. And, thankfully…we did find Colleen…whew. I wasn’t sure what I would do if I didn’t find the person I promised to pace. We moved up a little…I searched for Patrick…but with no luck. And we eagerly awaited the start.
It was actually a cool morning with a wind. I was shivering a little in my short sleeves and skirt, but I know I warm up fast…so this was actually not a bad idea. As the race progressed, I was kind of wishing I had on a tank. If my number had been attached to my fuel belt (which I normally do, but changed that up too, pinning it to my shirt) and not my Wonder Woman tech shirt…than I probably would have shed the shirt and just gone in the sports bra…about the time we got through Churchill Downs. Just saying. When it warmed up…it warmed up quickly.
Again…I’m getting ahead of myself…
The wheelchair racers were sent off and the elites and first corral eagerly anticipated their start. We heard the countdown…and the start. And we stood as our corral wasn’t going anywhere yet. In fact…even as the different corrals were brought up to the start, this was the first time I was pretty much on top of the start line before I even started to jog. Everyone was just meandering. I’m used to a warm-up jog over the start mat at least 20 feet away. Not here. I even commented to Aaron and Colleen that it felt weird to still be walking.
But we were soon over the start mat and we were off…hitting the streets of Louisville, Kentucky for 26.2 miles. I was super excited and feeling really good.
So was Colleen. The brisk morning was perfect for running. She had an old running jacket on, which she did shed around Mile 2…but we decided to start conservatively. In fact, we lined up just behind the 4 hour pace group. And we stayed there…for about the first three miles. It was as they went through a turn that Colleen and I passed them and stayed ahead of them. That was a good feeling. In fact, we put some distance between us and the pacers…and all the while I would talk to my runner…and ask how the pace felt…how she felt…and told her that we would do what she needed…just to let me know.
It was nice to run with someone. The miles just ticked by. We talked about our jobs, our families, what we liked, what we disliked, how she and I are in the minority…as in we love to eat after running and always get the “runchies” and “runger.” Ah…it’s nice to not be the only one ready to eat after a run. Our miles were coming along great. We both were feeling good. We were actually surprised there was no 5K mat down as we ran past that point. No matter. On with the run. And the morning was absolutely stunning too. We kept on going, loving the people who came out to cheer, taking advantage of their motivation and their funny signs. We passed a runner wearing a birthday balloon. Moments later, the group behind her started to sing happy birthday to her. It was awesome! Before we knew it, we were hitting the 10K mark. As I was acting as a pacer, I actually looked at my watch during this race…and we were making perfect time. In fact, as we came into Mile 8…just before heading into Churchill Downs, we had time to spare. Just in case. As we made the turn to head into Churchill Downs, I turned to Colleen and said, “Now we get to run like pretty ponies.”
For those of you wondering…no…we don’t run on the track. They did have horses out though, so that was cool. We entered the infield and made our way around the paved portion of it. As we came into a turn, I spotted Andrea (I couldn’t miss her in her pink socks). I told Colleen we should try to catch up to her…and we did. I didn’t see Kat…but it turns out Andrea’s IT Band was acting up…and she told Kat to go on without her. Instead, Colleen and I fell into step with her and we ran with her the rest of the way through Churchill Downs…and only parted ways when the split for the mini and the full came up. Colleen and I were to stay to the right…Andrea had to go left. We said goodbye and wished her well…telling her to be careful. And we were now on our way to the challenging part of the run – Iroquois Park.
But there were still a few miles to chase down before we entered the park. I was talking to her, letting her know that while this was a hilly park and there would be some climbs…it wasn’t going to be too bad. And, with the removal of the hill at Mile 23…these would be our only hills this race. YAY! She did make a mention that she was getting a side stitch, so we eased the pace back just slightly to allow her to breathe deeper and see about ridding herself of the cramp. She said she ate way too much for breakfast before the race. But, soon she said it was easing and we kept on and kept easy conversation. We were so busy talking that somehow I missed seeing Mile 10. We were reaching Mile 11…and the park was just head. We came into it…and immediately were sent up our first hill. Colleen wanted to attack the hills and ease up on the downhills…so that was the strategy we were going with. And she really did so well on those hills. Honestly. But the day was heating up…and it was about to take it’s toll on my runner.
She made it through the park in good shape. I pulled ahead of her for a few moments, but would find myself glancing back and seeing her behind me. I’d pull off to the side and wait for her. And we’d continue on. I leapfrogged like this all the way up our final hill in the park and through the downhill that carried us then past the amphitheater and then…back out. A glance over my shoulder and Colleen wasn’t with me again. I got past the crowd and pulled over to the side, keeping my legs moving to prevent cramping. And a moment later, I saw her making her way toward me. I rejoined her again, and we pressed on. I asked how she was feeling…and she said she was definitely feeling it. To make matters worse, she said she had this hard lump (probably her breakfast) in her stomach…and it was just sitting there. It was definitely not making her feel better. And now that we were out of the park, we were out of the shade as well. The sun was high in the sky and the heat was getting to my friend from Chicago…who was not prepared nor acclimated to this sort of weather yet. She was sweating out salt, so I encouraged her to take in some of her electrolyte drink. While her stomach wasn’t feeling well…she did this and…then we had our first walk break.
She was definitely not doing well at all. My job, however, as her pacer, was to get her to that finish line. And I was going to make sure I did just that. She glanced over at me. “I hate that I’m walking right now.” I told her not to worry about it. We would just readjust our goals. She said she still wanted her sub-4…and I said I would do my best to see her there. She started to jog…and then we were off again. Between the heat from the sun and her stomach, she really wasn’t doing well and every mile from here on out was a struggle. But…I was doing my best to keep her mind off of her pain…and into the race. Anything and everything I could think of to keep her moving forward. Even if that forward movement was a walk. And…it was that for some of it. That’s okay. Walk breaks are necessary. At one point, I pulled ahead of her again…and as I glanced back, I slowed down and let her catch up. She was definitely not feeling good at all. I asked how she was doing, and she said she got dizzy back there. So…I told her we’d ease off the pace and at the next water station, she was to take in the Powerade (for the sodium!) and some water. She agreed…and we walked and jogged our way to that next water stop. And she did just as I asked her to!
Colleen was pushing through it…taking breaks where she needed. I told her I wasn’t going to leave her behind, so we stuck together and I helped her tough it out. And when it really got rough, I did everything I could to get her head back into the race. I think the biggest mental break for her, however, was when the 4 hour pace team passed us up. She pushed to stay ahead of them, but when she needed another walk break, they went on ahead. This wasn’t easy for her…as she really, really wanted that sub-4…and was well on her way to that until the race turned ugly for her. I could almost see the defeat in her eyes. So…I told her to set a secondary goal. About six miles out, she said…4:10. I told her it was doable…but we’d take it mile-for-mile.
I talked to a bunch of other runners along the way as we made our way through the streets of Louisville. Things were starting to look familiar again, and I kept pointing ahead and saying, “See that? That’s the skyline…that’s downtown…we’re almost there.” Anything just to get her through this wall and on her way to that finish line. The morning sun was getting warmer and she was really fighting for each stride. We walked more when she needed it, and then I’d get her moving again, telling her to at least jog to the next water stop. Which was a great idea…until there wasn’t a water stop anywhere near us. We did eventually find one…and we walked through it, giving her some time to recover and assess how she felt.
I gotta hand it to Colleen…she is a fighter. And when we came into those last three miles, I said, “It’s just a 5K race now. That’s all. You got this.” And with each mile…I would tell her it was just like being out on an easy training run. She still had a few more walk breaks, but at Mile 25…right at Mile 25…her watched showed 4 hours exactly. It was now my job to see her into her final 1.2 (or in our case 1.42) miles. Every chance I would get I would say something encouraging and really try to drive her home. She felt a little better…and I said we were going to sprint to that finish. We had to go down a stretch of road first before making that turn to the finishing chute. But…I talked her through it, telling her that the finish was right ahead…all that noise…that was her goal.
And we made the turn and we turned on those afterburners. I had a lot of extra energy left, as I wasn’t running this race at pace. In fact…I felt awesome. I found myself flying past people at the finish line. I know the runners I passed were probably wondering what the hell got into me that I could have such a strong finishing kick. But, honestly, my legs felt strong and I was just unstoppable at that point. I crossed the line and moved out of the way. Colleen was just behind me…and when she crossed that finish line, she burst into tears. Not tears of sadness for not hitting that sub-4 goal. You see…she accomplished something far better. She finished her second marathon. She finished strong. She fought through moments of wanting to stop and quit. She proved she was stronger than the course. And…she now had a 17 minute PR for the marathon distance. I pulled her into a hug and we both celebrated our finish.
Afterwards, we made our way through the path, getting handed the Mylar blanket to wrap around us. Kat spotted us from the fence and said that Aaron and Andrea and Silvia were waiting in the recovery area. Colleen and I walked that way, getting our finisher’s medals, some chocolate milk, and desperately seeking out some kind of food. Near where our group had assembled was a table full of bananas. We grabbed one and went to join everyone.
Natalie was there. My sole sister…Natalie. We hugged and just talked and talked and talked. I put my feet up and just joined into the race talk with my friends. I drank down the rest of my Nuun and then started in on my Smart Water. We knew that people had planes to catch and cars to climb back into to head back home…so we didn’t linger for too long. We gave Kat, Adam, and Colleen hugs and wished them safe journeys. They had hotels to return to downtown. The rest of us hiked back to where Cathy parked the car and all climbed in. The drive didn’t take long and soon Andrea, Aaron and Silvia were being dropped off at the hotel. We gave each other hugs and wished safe travels.
And then…that was it. I returned to my apartment to shower. I went out for good gluten-free pizza at Annie May’s Sweet Café. I did some grocery shopping. I kept moving and felt really good all day. But I really missed having everyone around.
I loved acting as Colleen’s pacer. And while she didn’t meet her initial goal, she fought through every bit of pain, self-doubt, and sickness to get herself across that finish line. I am so damn proud of her. And I hope I get the chance to pace her again another time. She’s one tough lady for sure.
Very proud of everyone and how they did in their races. PRs were set. Deeper friendships were forged. And this…was an event I’ll never forget.
So…my official results for the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon are that I finished in a time of 4:13:01 (for 26.42 miles). While Colleen didn’t get her sub-4…she did cut 17 minutes off her last marathon, setting a new PR. I am so happy for her. I was 859/2029 finishers overall. I was the 226/807 women to cross the finish line. And I was 49/160 in my age division. I felt so good after this and I enjoyed helping my friend through this distance and getting her to the finish line. This wasn’t the race she hoped for, but she battled it out and conquered it in the end. I learned a lot from her…and I know she’ll meet her sub-4 goal very soon.