Sunday, March 31, 2013

Feeling blue(grass): A race recap

Fitness level. Fueling. Heat.

For whatever reason, the post-baby sub-2:00 half marathon has remained elusive. I've missed it by a matter of seconds to a good stretch of minutes, and the barrier has been one that I've been antsy to break. I was quietly anticipating that Saturday, on the Run the Bluegrass course, would be my chance.

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Run the Bluegrass is a half-marathon and rookie race of 7 miles that starts and finishes in Keeneland Race Park in Lexington, Ky. It bills itself as one of the country's most beautiful half marathons but doesn't shy away from the fact that it is a challenging, hilly course.

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The race was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. - perfect for the family and me - as it gave us ample time to wake up, eat breakfast, clean the hotel room and head to the race. Traffic was a bear but, as luck would have it, the race was delayed 15 minutes for low-lying fog along the course. I had just the right amount of time to visit the bathroom, say my farewells to Mark and Miles and line up in my corral.

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I chatted with a few people in my corral as I listened to the beep-beep-beep of the surrounding Garmins, wondering just what I had gotten myself into. Not only had I not prepared for the hills but I was doing things for the race I had never done before: I wore the race shirt, tried a new flavor of Shot Bloks and I was going naked. As in the numbers queen had decided not to wear her MOTOACTV. I was not going to know my splits nor my time for the entire race.

I know, I know. I am so rogue.

The gun went off promptly at 9:15 and my corral was called to the start line a minute later with me crossing the start line about 9:17.

As we made our way out of Keeneland and up a small hill, I tried to stay conservative. My plan for this race was to stay stay steady on the inclines, pull in my core and not fight the declines and keep my feet under me on the straightaways.

Most importantly, though, my plan was to soak it all in. The first three miles were nearly a blur of white fences and rolling hills. The sun was rising over the green horse pastures, slightly muted by the remaining fog. Every once in a while, a house would rise from the grass or a horse would come toward the course, curiously tipping his head at the spectacle along the rural path.

I felt strong those first three miles. Invincible, even. I passed the 2:00 pacer just before mile 2 and I was shocked to see the 3-mile marker. If this was what the race was going to be like, I thought, it was going to be a good day.

But just as I was letting things brew in my head, the course took a challenging uphill turn.

Though there had been some hills in those early miles, it was a net downhill and the next mile or so was a significant climb with rollers in the mix. My legs though strong from cross training and BODYPUMP were not ready as my hill training suffered significantly the second half of the cycle. I remained stubborn, head down, and took short steps to get to the top.

My pace slowed significantly - or what I can only assume as significant as I was without a watch - and I was passed by the 2:00 pacer and he was out of sight by mile 5. It didn't really bother me, though, as I knew if it was to be that I would catch up. Or not.

While my unofficial time goal might have slipped through, I was determined to stay true to my original hopes for the race - run strong, enjoy the race and not puke at the finish. When the hills felt insurmountable, I buckled down and thought of how lucky I was to run one. When my quads burned on the downhills, I opened my eyes and took in all that was surrounding me. When I wanted to walk, I told myself that I wanted to be a fighter and if I was going to accomplish anything during this race, it was going to be not walking.

The course seemed to offer runners a much welcome reprieve around mile 8, which was relatively flat (thought if you look at the elevation chart you can see that it was never truly flat). I let my stride open up, I pushed my shoulders down and enjoyed the run. The farms dotting the peaks and valleys were gorgeous and the grass - green grass - glowed in the daylight.

But I knew there was still trouble up ahead. A runner mentioned that the fun would start again at mile 9 - and it did for a good two miles. There was a slow and steady climb toward the finish and though I felt strong fitness-wise, my legs were tired. I later told Mark that at the end of most races I feel general fatigue or like it was my cardio that was taxed. The Bluegrass experience was completely different, with the course annihilating my legs.

There was a straightaway of sorts between miles 11 and 12, and I forced myself to shock the legs with a few strides. The muscles burned as I pushed the effort but I felt like I locked down into a stronger pace the last couple miles.

We turned into the main part of Keeneland and a sign marked that we were in the last furlong. I really wished I watched racing at that point because I had no idea how far a furlong was. I was hoping it was a quarter-mile. My legs were praying it was a quarter-mile.

Spectators lined the stretch and the cheers and bells were a deafening contrast to the quiet of the previous 13 miles. Amid the calls of friends and families, I heard a fellow runner announce that we had just a tenth to go and it was time to kick it. I pride myself on my finishing kick and though it may be a faux pas, I dug in and pushed my body faster than it had moved since those early miles.

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I crossed the finish line strong and smiling. I was happy to be finished but just as happy to have experienced something so spectacular in beauty.

With no watch to stop and a glitch in the chips, I didn't know my time until almost nine hours after finishing. It was 2:02:42. So close and yet so far. But at least I didn't throw up.


  1. Hey, sounds like you did great to me! I'm going to have to look into that race next year- I love Keeneland! My brother lives near there, so maybe I can con him into lodging and runner drop-off/pick up... or maybe I can get my SIL to run her first half! I've got a year to cajole.
    Congrats on a strong race, even if you barely missed that stupid sub-2 time. And hooray for not puking!

    1. You should definitely do it! It's such a great race, very well-organized and full of charm. I am going to do a race review as there's so much I didn't talk about.

  2. Great job!! 2:02 is an awesome time! You rocked it despite he hills!!

  3. Awesome job and on an uphill course!!! YOWZERS that course looks tough. I think sub 2 is right around the corner. Back in 2009 we I had my sub 2, I remember being so annoyed that I kept getting 2:02 or something. When I finally beat the sub 2 goal I did it by 5 minutes. Go figure! I'm feeling it is in your very near future and you are going to crush it!

  4. Nice job! Whoa. Whoa x 19898. That is a killer time on a killer course. That elevation map says it ALL.

    Here is the good news - WI is almost flat. Just a few very small rollers that will feel NOTHING like this race!!!

  5. That is a great time!! Congrats!

  6. Congratulations on a great race! Hills are so rough, I know, but you did amazing. I've often thought about going naked at a race, I just haven't done it yet. I think my first post baby race, I'm going to do it!

  7. I think that is a GREAT time! You are totally going to rock Wisconsin!!

  8. You did an amazing job on a difficult course - like Kim said, WI is going to feel SO EASY after that :)

    (are you blogging for Veterans?)

  9. Great job Kim! If you can run a 2:02 on a hilly course just think what you can achieve on a much flatter one. I foresee a new PR in WI. All your hard work and dedication is definitely paying off!

  10. Way to push through on a tough course! Conditions willing, I suspect Wisc. Will be your return to sub-2.

  11. congrats on the half marathon, keeping at it and finishing strong. you'll get the sub 2!