Derby Festival Half Marathon Recap


As good as it feels to have another 13.1 under my belt, I realize tonight that I’m even more grateful that I get to have the experience of training for races year-round, a constant goal to chase, and a (moderately) healthy body to do it with.


Saturday April 28 was the Kentucky Derby Festival mini half marathon (thoughts on the ridiculous “mini” part can be found here).  I really enjoyed this one, for a variety of reasons:


1.)  I ran it alone – running with friends and family is lots of fun, but it’s nice to have the pressure taken off every now and then.

2.)  Not too many runners on the course. There were just over 12,000 finishers and it felt like a mid-sized city race should feel.

3.)  PERFECT weather. Perfect! mid-50’s and overcast nearly all the way, with about thirty seconds of light rain around mile 6.

4.)  Pretty sights – I’d never run in Louisville and I’ve only ever been there a handful of times in my life, so running through it was interesting, fun, and made me feel like more of a Kentuckian.

5.)  A PR! 2:16:46. I know it’s nothing to write home about and at age 25 I should probably be down to two hours by now, but I’m just going to take it.


Since Ryan was going to be in Chicago for a conference all week and I’d already run one half marathon in Nashville, I decided to combine a running weekend with a visit to my parent’s house in Kentucky instead of running the Country Music Half Marathon. I went to Kentucky on Friday afternoon after work and my parents and brother took me out to carb-load with a pizza dinner in the cutest little town imaginable: Midway, Kentucky. 


After getting home and hanging out with my brother, I went to bed early-ish to rest up for an early morning. It came entirely too fast: 5 a.m. seemed to come as soon as I closed my eyes. I woke up, got dressed, and walked into the kitchen, where my dad had toasted a bagel for me and my mom was staring at a poster board with a sharpie in her hand.


“What should I write?” she asked, still half-asleep.


I suggested, “You’re our favorite child,” but she just shot me a look and started writing “We love you M…”


“Most!” I tried to finish for her, but she just wrote my name. Oh well.


On the way to Louisville, I began to get excited for the race for the first time. Negativity normally isn’t my style, but with work and volunteer commitments getting intense lately, my training has suffered and I’d been looking forward to a chance to get out of Nashville more than running the race. It’s my own fault – I just didn’t handle this bout of stress very well. But the car ride to Louisville did me good. I began to imagine how good it would feel to be alone with my thoughts for 13.1 miles.


If my father has taught me anything, it's that when you're excited for something, you find a friend and high-five.

We arrived in downtown Louisville and walked to the starting line. We waited in a long line for the port-a-johns behind about twelve men in their forties, who each took an average of 7.1 minutes to pee. Finally we got through, and I rushed into a corral – not my corral, due to my lateness and the crowds, but a corral – and waited to start running.


We walked, we ran. Over the mat, down the street, with a very respectable amount of spectators on the sidelines. I couldn’t find my parents, but it was comforting to know that they were there somewhere. In no time, the crowd had thinned enough to pass people with relative ease and run at my own pace. Much of what we ran through seemed to be a low-income portion of town, where confused-looking residents came out in their pajamas holding dirty dogs and staring at us with a general bewilderment in their eyes. I respected the race organizers for not avoiding it at all costs – especially for city residents, who tend to live life along their own well-trodden path, it’s good to see. It also made me realize how lucky I was to be able to have the time and money to devote to fitness, which made me feel both humble and strong.


A word about my less-than-stellar training: since the Cherry Blossom 10-mile in DC, I’ve admittedly not stuck to a training schedule. I’ve done more speed work than I normally do, due to my lack of time to work out. My normal week in April was three thirty-minute runs at a faster pace, then one longer run (6 – 7 miles) at an easier pace. That being said, the first 10k was amazing! It was only an hour until I was running over another mat. I glanced at my ipod and saw that I’d only been running for an hour and was thrilled. I’m right on track. I could even slow down slightly and be fine. I’m just moving right along!


I’m sure you catch the dramatic irony here – obviously I’d spoken too soon. I was so looking forward to getting to Churchill Downs, the backdrop for the Kentucky Derby. I’d never seen it in real life and I told myself I’d slow down when I got there to take it all in.


It turned out that slowing down was nothing I could control – it was actually the most challenging stretch, with steep ramps on an otherwise flat course, patches of sand, and tunnels that made my ears ring (even with my headphones in) because other runners who thought it’d be fun to scream while they ran through them.  I slowed down, and tried to look over the wall at the green steeples I’d only ever seen pictures of as I hobbled through miles 8 and 9.


The last part of the race took us through the University of Louisville, where I’d vaguely remembered coming to a tennis tournament when I was in high school. It was a nice memory, and I began to think of my high-school self and how much of a wimp she was about running. It did my psyche good to know that I’ve changed to much in one decade.


Suddenly we were in downtown Louisville again, where I was sure that the finish line was just ahead…wasn’t it? Wait, is that it? No, it’s probably just ahead, after this little hill…no…where IS it?! I saw the starting line had been pushed to the side of the road and was a little confused, but I just kept going. We rounded a corner and ran into a wall of noise – THERE it was! There was a huge crowd there cheering, which made it fun to sprint to the finish line.


It was great to finish and still be able to walk at a faster pace right after crossing it. The organization impressed me – medals, water, space blankets, plenty of volunteers. More signage might have kept me from wandering around the temporary chain-link fencing and feeling like a mouse in a lab, but overall I was able to get back to the street and meet my mom in our meeting place.


My right calf has always been annoyingly inflexible. In ballet classes, my teachers would always comment how in a grand plie, my right heel comes off the floor before the left. Needless to say, I’ve tried for the better part of fifteen years to get this calf up to par, and it’s stayed just that way. Why is anyone’s guess.  Anyway, to the point: it was tighter than it had ever been after this race. I stretched it as best I could before I got in the car, but after the hour-long car ride home, it was difficult to get back out. On the bright side, at least my knees, back, and other common runner hotspots are as healthy as a horses’.

mah caf iz hurtz.

I told my dad that given my tight schedule and disappointing times, I was torn between giving running a nice long break and signing up for another one next month so I could prove something to myself. But I think what I really need to do is drop some things in my calendar and really just fall in love with it all over again. I liked it when it was a reward, not a chore, and it will never be that way again if I just squeeze it into my packed schedule the way I have been doing. My body deserves all the respect my mind and soul can give it, and I’m glad I came away with that realization this weekend.


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