Race: Urban Bourbon Half Marathon
Place: Louisville, Kentucky
Date: October 25, 2014
It was the weekend before the New York City Marathon…and I had not run over 2 miles. At all. Nope. Coming back after Twin Cities was a struggle. When you run a marathon you don’t train for…you hurt. When your foot already hurts…you hurt longer and more than you thought was humanly possible. I took a full two weeks off after Twin Cities…no nothing. Just recovery. And then, because of inflammation and a bit of lingering soreness in the foot…I picked up some light cardio on the machines, but still hesitated to get out there and pound the pavement. After one more week of cautionary workouts…I decided to try 1 mile. I did this every morning…and I felt like some progress was being made.
The problem with the foot meant that I was out of the Black Cat Chase 5K in Frankfort, Kentucky. I was bummed, because that is a great 5K to run. It’s at night. It’s usually cold. It’s fun. And I always duck into the coffee shop afterwards for apple cider to warm up. It wasn’t happening this year…not with this foot. The people in Frankfort were gracious enough to allow me to use the free entry I won towards next year. So…there it is.
I knew that New York City was looming. It was just…there. And I knew I needed to go for an easy double-digit run…working in some walking because you just don’t go from 1 mile to double digits right away. You just…don’t.
Awhile back, a friend of mine said she was training for the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon…and as I was out all summer, my intention was to show up…with signs…and cheer for her. I wasn’t going to tell her I was doing it. Just show up and surprise her. But…things sort of unraveled the week or so before the race. Needless to say…I ended up scrapping the plans this time.
But then, my friend Natalie, who swore off the Urban Bourbon (because this half marathon meant the end of the Big Hit Quarter and Half Marathons) was suddenly running it because our friend, and fellow runner, Terry, gave her a free entry. She, like me, has been dealing with injuries this year, and she decided since she hadn’t trained for it, she’d just go out there and run what she feels and it would all be grand. She told me, after I teased her about signing up for a race she said she’d never run, that she was going to do a run/walk method.
Which got me thinking about how necessary running over 1 mile a day was for me in order to prepare for New York City. After I texted her to make sure she wasn’t running for time (let’s face it…speed is not something I have right now)…and she confirmed…and that she would do a run/walk method…I said I’d like to run it with her, as a good gauge for how New York City would go. And…she even had a free entry code for me…so…free race. How could I say no?
Answer: I would have been stupid to turn it down.
Unexpected half marathon…registered.
So, after attending the Halloween Party at Annie May’s Sweet Café in Louisville, Kentucky (I went dressed as a “jogger”), where I got my gluten-free pizza (required!!), I went home and had to decide on something to wear. Natalie, in protest, was wearing one of her Big Hit shirts. Long sleeve. I wanted to dress the same as her…but the weather was saying 50 degrees that morning, and I didn’t think, from the picture, that I had that shirt (I do…I pulled it out even, but in my mind, as she had arm warmers with it, I thought it was a short sleeve shirt and the Big Hit short sleeve shirts were tents on me!), so I opted to be Natalie’s Tinkerbell. In other words…GREEN! I pulled out my new running skirt I got on sale at Nike and my bright green BlueMile t-shirt. That would work. I planned on testing out the Adidas Adizero Boston 5 shoes that my friend, and shoe guru, Jackson, put me in the weekend before when I limped into Fleet Feet. I had worn them on a couple of my little 1 mile jaunts…and loved them. They weren’t Newtons…but they do give me a comfortable ride. Adidas seems to be the other shoe I love. Go figure. Anyway, Jackson swore by them and I tested them out with a jog around the building. Foot felt good and comfortable in them. SOLD. They came home with me and that week I spent breaking them in properly…by wearing them everywhere. When the free entry to the Urban Bourbon came around…great way to test them in a race environment, even if I wasn’t racing this half marathon.
So, morning came around and I got dressed up and ate my breakfast – my usual bowl of cereal. Whatever gluten-free kind I have open. I did that…had a spot of coffee…drank some water…and got ready to go. The only thing I needed now was my BondiBand. It’s part of my race uniform. So I ended up going with a green one that said “Marathon Maniacs” on it. It worked. After a quick brush of my teeth, my extra clothes were grabbed and my banana for the start was picked up…I filled up my fuel belt with water and a new flavor of Gu (Vanilla Bean) to take halfway through…to practice some fueling. And then, Cathy and I headed for the car.
Surprisingly, parking was not an issue for this race. We picked the parking garage we parked in when I ran the Sports Commission Half Marathon two years ago, as it is right near the finish line for the race…and also very close to the start. So, it’s ideal, really. We got parked, gathered up everything and headed down to the staging area, in front of the KFC Yum Center. As we were crossing the street to go near the fountain, Natalie and Harry spotted us and yelled at us. We finished crossing and waited for them on the other side. They joined in and hugs were given. It feels like I lifetime since I had seen these two.
We all stood around for a little while…just talking and catching up. We spotted a woman dressed as a flapper (running gear style) and I thought it was fantastic. Then, to avoid port-a-potties…Harry, Natalie and I ducked over to the nearby Marriott to use their bathroom. I told you…I.AM.A.PRINCESS. Anyway…flushing toilets win every time. We met back where Cathy was holding down the fort and I snagged my banana to fuel…as we were 30 minutes out from the start of the race. Natalie had forgotten hers, but Cathy offered hers as she had other snacks for the day. We ate…we stretched…and eventually Harry and Natalie got out of their layers and just in their running gear. I was not wearing layers, LOL. So…I just had to hand over my hoodie.
Gear check was up next for them, so I wandered that way and while Natalie was in line, Harry and I stood to the side to chat a little. I was having a good time. The foot was a little…eh…but not bad. Taking it easy and just having a good run was all I wanted to do. It was all I needed to do. As Harry and I were turning to move onto the sidewalk, my friend who had been training for it was there. Just…there. She said a quick, quiet, “Hi” and turned away before I could utter anything other than “Hi” back. I wanted to at least wish her luck…didn’t have the chance.
From there….it was time to hit that starting corral. I stretched a little more, got a hug from Cathy as she was going to go get positioned at the start line to see us off, and then we stepped inside. The corral system has no system other than everyone gets inside. No pace groups. Nothing. Just find a spot and keep moving. I did a couple more stretches, was found by running friend Dennis (who I knew I couldn’t hang with because he all-out runs everything!), but we talked, waved to other people we knew, and then the National Anthem was played, beautifully, on a horn. I mean…beautiful. And with that…the starting gun went off…and so did we.
We made our way toward the start line before the initial jog started…then after we crossed…it was on. Cathy was on the sideline making noise and we waved as we passed…and immediately went around a turn. I wasn’t expecting that. HA! Usually these races that start in front of the Yum Center go straight down Main Street. Nope…the immediate turn onto 2nd Street sort of threw me for a loop. But…you just move with the crowd and go. We also dodged a police car and ended up hopping up on the sidewalk for some of that first mile. This is typical. The course is always crowded at the start and we just wanted to get into the groove. I let Natalie set the pace and off we went. The foot twinged only a couple of times. But I was laughing and having some fun. That was the point.
We made another turn onto E Mohammad Ali Blvd and the course opened up…a little. This was going to take us over to Lexington Road, sort of on the back side of Cave Hill Cemetery. I never really ran over there that much, so as we are going, I can’t help but comment about how I had no idea where we were, except that we were near Cave Hill. Once the wall disappeared from the scenery, I was totally lost. But, I subscribe to the “just run where everyone else is going” method of racing (I am NEVER the person in the lead!), and that’s always worked out well for me. I knew that at some point we hit Cherokee Park, so I figured things would start to look familiar soon enough.
I was right. We were coming up the Beargrass Creek Greenway…and ahead was the entrance to Cherokee Park, which I have actually run a couple times. Hitting the park was like finally getting back in familiar territory, despite the fact that we run the Scenic Loop backwards. I hate doing the Scenic Loop backwards…but…eh…whatever. So, together we made our way through Mile 4, and then diverge off the Scenic Loop briefly to run to a turn-around spot. Natalie wasn’t carrying a fuel belt, so we were doing water stops for her. She grabbed water at Mile 5 and we continued on. What I didn’t realize was that after we got back onto the normal course, we were sent up Barret Hill Road. I have never run this road. It has the word hill in it…so…heh…you know…
I did not know what I was getting myself into. I hadn’t run hills since Twin Cities (and I walked most of those to save my foot). I told Natalie she was going to have to get me through it. And she was behind me the entire time, telling me to keep going, that I was almost there. This climb was crazy. I didn’t think it was going to end. But when I reached the top, I put my hands up in victory, and she came up a moment later and we were back on track. I was surprised how well I handled the hill, honestly. We eventually were led back to the Scenic Loop and as we followed it around, up the hill toward Hogan’s Fountain…things started to get a little rough for Natalie. She began to have some problems with her hips. Not sure if was a cramping issue or just the whole…battle she has waged this past year…we eased the pace. She was hoping for some Gatorade at the water stop ahead, but they had only water. Because it sounded like she needed electrolytes and stat…I gave her the bottle on my fuel belt with my Nuun in it. We kept on moving, trolling the hills of the park…partying at the top of Dog Hill and curving off, hitting Alexander Road and Mile 7. I hadn’t fueled yet and Natalie needed to fuel…so, I grabbed my Gu pack and my water. I downed my gel as if it were going out of style. Vanilla Bean. Yuck. Too sweet. Glad I discovered that then. Natalie has to take hers in slowly, so we jogged while she took it in doses so as not to upset her stomach. We polished off the fuel and headed out onto Cherokee Parkway.
She was really starting to hurt now. I could tell. We eased the pace some more and kept on pushing. Near the area where Cherokee Parkway meets Grinstead, I spotted Laura. I ran up to her and could see she wasn’t feeling all that well. I asked how she was and she said she was a little lightheaded, so she slowed her pace and took some of her chews to see if that would help. She was hoping to see Michael soon…(he was in 3 different places on the course!)…and would figure things out from there. After making sure she didn’t need anything, Natalie and I turned onto Grinstead and started down the other side of Cave Hill Cemetery.
Then…came her knee pain. It was enough to bring her to a walk. So…we walked a little bit, giving her some time to ease up on the impact, pressure, and allowing a bit of recovery. She chose a sign to pick up the pace again, and we did for as long as she could. She told me to go on without her, but I never leave a runner behind and I was going to see her to that finish line. I wasn’t running this for time…I was running this for distance. So, whatever the clock said was not important to me. Seeing my friend finish…that was important.
We kept this run walk method going throughout much of the last five miles. I would find myself getting ahead of her and I would double back and pick her up…keep moving with her…let her know she was doing well. Focus on anything else but what was bothering her. She had put her headphones in. I think her music was on. I didn’t care. I was going to get her to that finish line. As we rounded onto Baxter Avenue, you would think a party was going on. Mony Mony was blaring, runners were having a blast dancing to it…and we joined in. It was a great pump-you-up song and perfect timing as we were heading toward Mile 10…and the last 5K of the race. Natalie had said if she could get to Mile 10, she knew she could finish. I knew she would finish even if she walked there. But we hit Mile 10 (she was behaving and not looking at timing clocks or her watch the entire time!) and I told her…we were almost home.
We were now running toward downtown now. I knew this course well. I’d done this part a dozen times on training runs. I was bursting with the energy of the race and I found myself up ahead. I would turn my head and locate Natalie. If she had fallen behind…I would loop around…if she was just a bit behind me…I’d jog in place or slow down until she got back to where I was. And this was how it worked for the last 3 miles. She was a trooper. We wanted to cross that finish line together, so it was my duty to make that happen. Run…walk…run…walk…all the way through the turns for Mile 12. One mile to go. I held up 1 finger as encouragement…and we went…down Main Street. I ran…I stopped to wait for her…I got her going. We were close. The crowd was getting louder. The finish line was ahead. I could see it. I could see it. She was struggling, so I reached back and took her hand. And together…we headed to that finish line, one step at a time…and crossed at the same time.
It was the perfect ending to the race. Natalie and I hugged. She stopped her watch and I stopped mine. And she said she PR’d by 5 minutes. Holy freakin’ cow!! I told her, “See what happens when you stop worrying about time and just go out and enjoy the run?” She nodded. She was hurting, but we moved through the finish area, collecting our medals and our foils. More hugs. I dropped her off at the First Aid tent…as she needed some ice for her knee. I continued on to meet up with Cathy, collecting some grapes, water, and chocolate milk along the way.
I was so damn proud of Natalie. She really just pushed through and managed to achieve a new personal best without even trying. This is why I run every race for fun. Anything can happen on race day…so going in without high expectations means that I enjoy it and often do better than anticipated. I met up with Cathy and did a bit of stretching. I had the opportunity to talk with my friend Brant (who was pacing a friend of his through his first half marathon!) for a bit…and then we went to find Natalie and Harry for pictures. They were going for pizza afterwards for their recovery lunch. Cathy and I hit up Whole Foods for soup…keeping it light because that evening we were meeting up with her sister, Amanda, to eat Indian food at Shalimar and then go on the Pumpkin Walk at Iroquois Park (which was AMAZING and I want to do it again next year!).
So, as it stands, I finished the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon in 2:00:21, crossing that finish line hand-in-hand with Natalie. Honestly…I still smile. I was 837/2777 finishers. I was 283/1553 women to cross the finish line. And I was 59/298 in my division. I’ll take it. Because this was not a run for time. This was a run to just enjoy…train…see how the foot would hold up. And I ended up helping my friend to an amazing finish. I wouldn’t have traded that for the world.