Race: Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon
Place: Louisville, Kentucky
Date: April 29, 2017
This was it. This was the terminus of my job as a 2016-2017 #KDFMarathon/miniMarathon Race Ambassador. And it was race day. RACE DAY!! I love race day!
And, trust me, it took me a lot of sweat and tears to be able to get to that start line. Because if you had asked me in January, when my hip flexor froze up, if I would have been able to run it…I wouldn’t have been too sure. As it was, I had to drop from the full to the half…so there was that.
I wanted to be stubborn and just do it. I’m not a newbie to marathons. I have run 11 of them total, but I also haven’t really been able to train for one since I ran the Charleston Marathon in January 2015. Boston was a bust. And Kauai…well…it didn’t exactly boost my self-esteem and “can-do” marathon mentality.
I wasn’t ready for a full. Two months of training lost to a paralyzed hip flexor…and a very cautious and slow build-up in mileage put me at my first double digit run (10 miles) exactly one month before race day. To press on and do the full would have been a fool’s errand.
I’ve learned to be a little more patient with myself and allow myself to heal and train right. So, the miniMarathon it was. You win some…you lose some. I did manage to run most of the Disney World Star Wars Dark Side Marathon on Sunday. It was steamy and humid…and for the last 5 miles, I was run/walking. It was okay. These days I worry more about running smart than that finish time. When it’s hot and the race is flagged (and…for the record, both the Dark Side Half & KDF were yellow flagged due to humidity)…you just run it the best you can without putting yourself at risk for heatstroke or worse.
My second half marathon in the same week was starting off well. I only ran one time in between to two races. I didn’t need more. Wednesday morning, I hit up 4 very easy miles and called it a week. And on Thursday, I left work early to meet up with Jack, Paul and Amy (3 others in my Ambassador family) to volunteer at the expo as a greeter. I convinced quite a lot of my friends to come to the expo that day…both local and from out of town. And it was hopping! It was great seeing everyone and helping people out when they had questions. I was feeling good and confident. And being able to hang with other ambassadors and just be relaxed and help others relax…and drink free wine samples…it was actually what I needed. I was feeling good.
Friday I spent most of the day sitting at work…which is not something I normally do, but my coach had decided to have me aim for a 1:40 half on Saturday, so I really wanted to do right by my legs and my body. And, that evening, I went to the Galt House and picked up fellow Marathon Maniac, and good friend, Michael, to have a pre-race dinner. Normally, I would just cook an Annie May’s Sweet Café gluten-free/vegan pizza at home and call it a day, but I had wanted to meet up with Michael. We ended up at North End Cafe. He had the Lemonade Blueberry Pancakes, and I got the Curry Sauté with Tofu for dinner. As I have been to races where safe gluten-free pizza isn’t always readily available, I have played around some with my night before meal ritual. But nothing works like gluten-free pizza.
After we dropped Michael back off at the hotel and went home, I finished making up the “Finish Line Lemon Blossoms” for my friends. After my PT exercises and some foam rolling…I called it a night. I set my traditional 2 alarms for the race, but didn’t bother to get up in enough time to squeeze in my PT stuff…because it was going to be storming or raining in the morning. I figured I skipped them at Disney…I could supplement my walk to the start line for the warmups and I’d be ready to go.
And at 5 am…the 7:30 am start was delayed. For half an hour.
This definitely made the morning slightly easier. I was already dressed and had my hair up and everything, so I got to sit and relax a little longer…savor my breakfast…that sort of thing. Dread the humidity. Because…it was humid. And the sun wasn’t even up yet. In fact, the rain only served to make it steamier. I was having anxiety over the humidity the night before, texting my coach about my push for a 1:40 and how the humidity might slaughter that attempt…especially since I was in my “uniform” of the Ambassador shirt (which had sleeves). I’m not a fan of racing in sleeves unless it’s cold. When it’s hot…it’s a simple bra top or a tank. So this was going to be a new experience too. I figured if it got too unbearable, I could shed the shirt and then attempt to wriggle back into it before the finish line.
So…delay #1 was in the works.
The official KDFMarathon Ambassador photo was going to now be taken at 7:30…so we headed that way and actually got down to Slugger Field (and the parking lot) at around 7 a.m. This gave me time for one of my efficient and essential power naps!! I got my nap on good!! With about 10 minutes to go, I got a text from my running partner, Matthew, saying that he was at the statue in front of Slugger Field, so I got up and headed that way.
A few more ambassadors were gathered, but the whole team wasn’t there yet. This has been a thing in all these months. Races and such, we never quite managed to get everyone in a photo together. #goals
Anyway…no sooner had the photos been taken, I snagged my pre-race fuel (a simple banana!) and downed it while talking to Matthew, Natalie, and my fellow Ambassadors, who were hanging for a moment.
And then…another delay.
Race start was now set for 8:30. And I had now eaten my banana a whole hour before the start, rather than half an hour. Roll with it. I wasn’t planning on exerting myself before the race so I figured I’d be fine. We all started to make our way toward the corrals regardless (it wasn’t even raining!), when we were told to take cover. My group ducked under the cover of the Old National Bank near the race start with a crowd of other runners and passed the time just chatting away. Even my running coach and her crew joined us under there. It was sort of a nervous energy, but a positive energy at that point.
Cathy left shortly after we got up there, because she likes getting a good spot at the start line and the finish line. So, she gathered up my rain jacket (which had been keeping Natalie warm) and went to go find her spot, telling me she’d be on the right at the start and on the left at the finish.
With the 8:30 a.m. start time coming up, we opted to head out of the shelter to get to the corrals. And no sooner had we stepped out from under the bank building and down the steps…
Delay #3. Race start was now 9:00 a.m.
My group and I decided we would duck into the bank building and rest our legs by sitting on the floor there instead of standing around outside. It was more comfortable out of the humidity, regardless. With race start happening soon, we decided to make a last ditch move for the port-a-potties for those who needed them. I didn’t. I drank a ton of water the day before, but on race morning, I keep it light so I don’t have to pee. I did tell my friends that I would hold their stuff for them though. As we were heading out, the doors to the bank building seemed to be giving people some trouble. We stepped out though for our mission.
On the way to the toilets, my amazing friend, Kelsie, spotted me. Matthew and I gave her a hug and we stood around and talked for a brief moment. Then we went on so I could hold gear. I should mention that my fellow Ambassador and friend, Tonya, had gone on ahead of us too. I had her plastic bag for race start should rain happen. But we still had NO rain. Just delays. After everyone cycled through, we started back toward the bank for a few more moments of sitting down and resting before…hopefully, a real start.
And this is where we discover that the people (Tonya was now included) that were inside the bank building were now TRAPPED inside the bank building. Apparently, the Old National Bank’s doors were timed to lock at a certain time. And…guess what…they were locked. Runners were trapped inside with 15 or so minutes to go before the race start. I walked up to the window and Tonya was front-and-center.
Tonya had texted my phone, which Cathy had at this point, so Cathy sprang into action when the S.O.S. came through, alerting some officers, who wrangled up fire department and security to, hopefully, get the runners out. With like…only 10 minutes to spare…this happened. Thank goodness.
So…with no further delays and an announcement being made that 9:00 a.m. was go-time for real…everyone started to get to their corrals. Matthew and I ducked into Corral C to start making our way forward to A. We ducked under rope flags and everything to move forward in our corral. I spotted Greg, from Frankfort, Kentucky, who was pacing the 1:50 half marathon group. I said hi and he asked if I was running with him because he thought I was up in Tim’s group (that would be the 1:40 group). I said that Linda (our coach) had said that all plans were out the window with the delays and to just go have fun, but I was moving up.
And we did. Almost to the front. Like…we were behind the elite line. We saw elite bibs. Elite bibs have no corral letter on them.
Matthew and I decided we were out of our league up there and he spotted Tim’s pacing group…so we decided to move back. A bit.
And we found Kelsie again. So…this was perfect. I was starting the race off with friends…it was going to be a good time. Despite the fact that I was now starving. And it was humid.
Did I mention that I was starving?
I had fueled for an 8 a.m. start. I think my corral (Corral A) went off at 9:15 a.m. That banana was LONG gone. And I didn’t want to hit up my mid-race nutrition, because I needed that after Mile 6. I looked at Matthew and Kelsie and I said…”AND…now I’m starving.” They were too.
My coach was right…everything was a mess now…it was best just to go and have some fun.
Matthew and I decided we would attempt to at least keep Tim (remember…that’s the 1:40 pacer) in our sites. The starting gun went off…and the three of us took off. I don’t know where we dropped Kelsie, but she was doing this race right. No watch. No goals save to finish. I want to do that more. Just run how I feel and for fun. What a freeing feeling that has to be!
Matthew and I pounded out the first four miles pretty much together. The rain poured down on us shortly after the start and I looked at him and said, “We SO would have been done by now!” Soaked from humidity, rain, and exertion, we pressed on. Matthew commented that he felt like he couldn’t catch his breath. The air was heavy with humidity, so I totally knew how he felt.
I lost him after a turn. I thought he might have gone on ahead.
As we hit Mile 5…I did 2 things. I slowed for a moment to pull the KDF Marathon Race Ambassador shirt off so I could cool down. This happened just as I heard, “There’s Karen.” So I waived, tucked my Ambassador shirt into my fuel belt…and then I fueled. A whole mile early. Because my legs were starting to resist my determination to keep going. Everything was a cluster now.
Tim and the rest of the 1:40 group were still in site…but not really within distance to catch now. And my body was not feeling the pace. I told myself to hang on through Churchill Downs. So…for at least 3 more miles. I could suffer for that long, right?
I managed. My pace dropped little-by-little until I rounded the corner at the split…hit Mile 9…and took a walk at the water station. I carry my own water with me on half marathons and marathons. Usually if it’s a double-digit run, I have water and fuel with me. I didn’t care. I hit that water stop, I slowed. I took a cup from a lovely volunteer. I took a sip. The rest went on over my head. It cooled me down…and I made myself start running again.
From here on out…it was down to running smart…not running fast. Since any attempts to hit a certain time goal went away with the 90 minute delays…now it was just about crossing that finish line. I didn’t care how long it took me…I was down to the last 5 miles regardless. I managed to make water stops the rest of the way toward the finish…even when I said I would keep running and no more walking…if I needed to throw water over my head…I did it. And, as I found out in Disney, that really works.
It did, however, work better at Disney…when I wasn’t under-fueled and also dying from the humidity. At about Mile 11, I had caught up to Pete, a guy who ran with Matthew and I a couple of times before the Norton Sports Health Training Program kicked in and before I was injured. I had to slow again for one last shower of water, so he got too far ahead of me again. I had to slow to walk and water myself for about 3 more times before I knew that finish line was close. This was my Dark Side Half Marathon all over again. But worse. My splits were hitting in the 8’s…which I never touched (despite walk breaks) at Disney.
But I am nothing if not persistent.
I could taste that finish line. And it wasn’t far. I could hear the announcer. I could see Slugger Field. That meant…it was just around the corner.
And there it was…the turn!!
I never put the Ambassador shirt back on. I had it tucked in my belt…but to stop to wriggle back into it might mean I wouldn’t start again.
I took the turn. And while I didn’t feel like moving any faster, I attempted to pick up my pace. That finish line was in site…all I had to do was run over it. I focused on that line alone. I heard Cathy screaming on the sideline…and I ran down the stretch and passed under the arch.
I was…done. I also felt like crap.
But Dan spotted me at the finish line and called out my name over the bullhorn. HA!
I continued down the line, slowly, trying to catch my breath and cool down. The medals were right ahead, so as I strolled that way, Cathy caught up to me at the fence. She told me my official finish time, which I couldn’t believe, given how slow my pace had gotten as the morning went on and the miles progressed. We attempted to formulate a meeting place after I would go through the official finish photo area and the place where they store food and chocolate milk and Powerade. And as we were discussing…Paul from the Ambassadors came in. Then another running partner of mine, Ron, was in. And then…Matthew. I hadn’t moved except to go and congratulate Paul. I found Ron. And Matthew somehow slipped by me, but Cathy found him and he was at the fence when I returned.
We all managed to make our way to the runner reunion area, grabbing snacks along the way. As I emerged…with banana and chips (I have never seen Cathy so happy to see a bag of chips in my hand), I actually reconnected with Kelsie…who gave that finish line her famous kick and brought it in strong. I really need her to teach me where she finds that late energy because I’m usually dying at the finish line. She needed to head out, so after a photo, she left and Ron went to claim his free beer. Cathy told me to take my phone and see if I could catch more of the 30 people I was tracking while she went to get the bags out of the car that had my clothes to change into and a cooler with food and a big bottle of water. Tonya came in but texted to say she was in medical. And Amy came in. I never found her in the crowd. I did find former co-workers from IU Southeast, Dana & Graham, after they finished. So that was cool!
Cathy and I were camped out under the overpass for the rest of the day. When my phone told me one of my people were in…I’d attempt to go find them. I mostly succeeded. I only missed a few. I caught Natalie, who I really wanted to find above all, as it was her first marathon, and she was having Siri hit me up for motivation as she made her way to that finish line. She did great! I also did distribute Lemon Blossoms. They were very well received. My friend Jack even picked me up when I handed him a whole container. And he had just run a marathon.
I thought everyone was in at that point…but I was wrong. But that is a long, complicated, and amazing story all its own.
So, the official results of the Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon are that I finished in 1:43:12. That, mind you, is almost exactly 2 minutes slower than my time last year. MEH! That being said, I wasn’t expecting to hit 1:43 at all after the walking began, so I’ll gladly take this. Given the conditions, I’m beyond happy with this result. I was 403/8737 finishers overall. I was 85/5010 female finishers. And I was 15/794 finishers in my division. Given that I had just raced a humid half marathon on Sunday…walked Disney World the rest of Sunday and all of Monday…traveled home…worked overtime…worked the expo…and then ran again in the humidity…I exceeded all expectations I had. Honestly. There were fewer runners this year (by about 2000) in the mini…but my stats improved on every single category…despite running slower. I count that as a win too!
Here’s my takeaway…
I came into this event at first meeting with a group of strangers at the KDF Marathon Headquarters. I found a great group of supportive, amazing, inspiring people who are like family to me now. So many friendships were formed in this year’s KDF Ambassador group. I was so fortunate to have been able to be a part of it. I may not have signed up the most people for the race, but I went to events…I promoted the race…I even went to the training runs (even on the coldest mornings) when I couldn’t run and encouraged others…cheered…high fived…and walked. The marathon slipped away when my training had to wait almost 3 months to even start.
Dropping to the mini was hard…but it was the smartest decision I could have made. I would never have survived the full after a humid Florida race series and the 90 minute delays. With nutrition and scheduling off…this was a blessing in disguise.
The delays have taught me a lot about being a bit more prepared for whatever race morning might throw my way.
I saw so many people finish. I helped a few out when they needed help. I hugged so many of my sweaty friends. I saw people set goals…and whether they crushed them or fell short…they completed what the started. And that, friends, is what the spirit of race day is all about.
My time as a KDF Marathon Ambassador is coming to a close, but the memories, friends, emotions, and moments that I now carry with me…those will last a lifetime.