When we signed up for this destination race with several friends we had no idea it would be such a magical experience. Many wonderful stories came out of both our training journey and race weekend. We’ll be introducing you to these special individuals in multiple articles ahead.
I signed up for the April 30th Derby Festival Marathon prior to committing to the Last Chance BQ2 in September as my “A” race and attempt to qualify for Boston 2017. As part of the plan to achieve my ultimate goal, my coach Eric Wallor suggested I step back and run the half marathon at Derby Festival. The sole focus early this year would be on improving my speed. The Derby Festival Mini Marathon would be used as a good test of my progress so I changed my registration to the half.
Training was much different this time because Jimmy and I were not following the same plan. However there was rarely a shortage of people to train with as we get together with our friends frequently for group runs. The last 20 weeks were filled with core strengthening exercises, tempo runs, track workouts, and plenty of hill sprints.
In 2015 I finally broke 1:50 in a half marathon by posting a 1:48:08 at the Alpine Races Half and then a 1:47:28 2 months later at the Schaumburg Turkey Trot Half. Based on my performance at the Shamrock Shuffle 8k I knew there was a definite speed increase. This gave me confidence that my training with Eric is truly paying off. Heading in to Louisville I realistically aimed for 1:45 as my target which would be about a 10 second per mile improvement.
As race week approached all eyes were on the weather forecast. Ten days out showed hot & humid with high’s in the 80’s making everyone nervous. Then possible rain showed and expected temperatures began to drop. Just days out, it looked like race time would be rainy and humid in the low 60’s which isn’t awful.
We arrived on Thursday night for a Saturday race as did many of our friends. The idea of traveling to a destination race the day before made several of us nervous. Too much can go wrong. Our running mates Ann & Missy (who you’ll be reading much more about) brought their husbands along. They and our other mate Joe enjoyed a couple of cocktails with us at the beautiful Galt House Hotel bar. Galt House was the official race hotel and it did not disappoint. Several others would be arriving on Friday. In all, there would be 10 of us participating. Only our mate Richard and I would be running the mini marathon while the others signed up for the full.
Friday morning we did a 20 minute shakeout run along the river which allowed us to see where the start & finish lines were located. That was followed up by a group trip to Wild Eggs for some delicious food and Mimosas prior to heading over to the expo for race packet pick up. I usually enjoy the expos because I get to buy running stuff. However this expo was fair at best. We moved slowly through a congested maze. I ended up purchasing a nice running shirt. For dinner 17 of us gathered at Buca Di Beppo for a delicious Italian cuisine then it was off to bed.
Storms were moving in on race day but were not expected to affect the mini marathon. The biggest concern was lightning. That would be cause to stop the race. It was definitely a possibility leading to a discussion about backup races so our training wouldn’t go to waste. I was a bit nervous and tense heading to the start. I began to put a lot of pressure on myself to run sub 1:45 and now questioned whether it was realistic. After all it would be a PR by over 2 minutes which is quite a drop.
There were a mixture of full and half runners in the start corrals. I never ran with a pace group in a race before but decided this would be the first. I joined the 1:45 group in Corral B while Jimmy and the others found a marathon pace group. We were off and running through the streets of Louisville. Like many races, our group was slowed by congestion during the first mile. My watch showed 8:33 at the mile 1 marker. To hit 1:45 we needed to average an 8:01 pace so we had some time to make up.
I trusted our pacer would get us back on track. After making time up the next couple of miles I felt very comfortable and settled in to a nice steady pace just under 8:00/mile. The pace group experience was nice because I was able to talk to new people. After a while I didn’t pay so much attention to my watch. In fact a girl and I were chit chatting and totally missed the water stop at mile 5. I began to regret that a short time later as it wasn’t until mile 7 that I was able to hydrate. That’s when I swallowed a Gu and drank two cups of water.
There was a good amount of spectators cheering us on throughout most of the course. I really can’t recall a bare stretch. Plenty of motivating signs and children offering up high fives. Running on the pavement through the infield of Churchill Downs was an exciting experience for no other reason than it being something unique. Once we passed through Churchill at mile 8.5 it was time to turn back down a flat, 4 mile straight away through residential neighborhoods along 3rd St. At this point most in the pace group either took off or fell off except for me and the pacer.
After a humid start to the race a slow rain began falling back around mile 6. By mile 10 it had picked up substantially. I felt a nice burst of energy after fueling. Small talk with my pacer took me to mile 11 which is when I glanced down at my watch for the first time in several miles. I was still on pace and felt strong so decided to pick it up a little bit. By mile 12 it was pouring rain and I ran ahead of my pacer. The legs felt a little heavier but I knew I was on target. If I could keep it sub 8:00/mile I would achieve my goal.
As I made my way through the heart of downtown Louisville the crowd grew dramatically. The loud cheers were quite motivating. I made the final turn and began a sprint toward the finish giving it my all. Upon crossing I glared down at my watch. It read 1:44:35, a PR by almost 3 minutes. OMG I crushed it and screamed YES!!! I immediately received a text from my coach Eric congratulating me on an awesome run. I then thought to thank my pacer so I turned around and waited for him to cross. He did so shortly after and I thanked him for doing such a great job and helping me to achieve my goal. I sure wish I asked for his name.
I couldn’t wait to celebrate with Jimmy and the rest of our running mates. First I had to make the short walk back to the hotel and change so I can get back out there and watch Jimmy and the gang finish the full. I’m going to let him share his Derby Festival experience with you.
This was a terrific, well-organized race all around! I would do it again!