Sunday, April 29, 2012

Kentucky Derby Marathon...Success!

Going into this week, I'd be a damn liar if I told you I was over the day that was Boston.  Obviously, it really sucked to come up short for what was essentially the third time (although this time I got to the Start line).  My confidence was kind of shot too as I had basically bombed my last two races.

So enter the Kentucky Derby Marathon.  I ended up being a last minute replacement for the 3:10 pace group at this race.  The same person who organizes the Baltimore Marathon pacers has also recently taken on this event, hence the connection.

Last year, this pacing opportunity was also a casualty of my stress fracture, and I was pretty disappointed I was unable to do it.  This year, I originally decided against it, but the opportunity presented itself once again, and I (stupidly or otherwise) agreed to do it.  All in all, it's a pretty damn good deal:

1. 1 free pair of any Asics shoe I want to do the race in
2. Free singlet, shorts, and hat
3. Free entry to the race
4. Two nights free at the Galt House Hotel (seemed to be one of the best in Louisville)
5.  Free transportation (if you don't fly)

Now of course, it isn't all fun and games.  I only managed 16 miles on the pair of DS Racers that I got only a couple of weeks before the race.  The shorts had no pockets at all, the uniform was an interesting orange color (which I loved, but other people, not so much).  The transportation was also basically a 9 hour car ride from Baltimore.

However, a free weekend in Louisville to do an easy long run is pretty tough to complain about.

On to the race itself, the pace group consisted of myself and one other runner, Keith, who has done many of these pacing events before and can do a 3:20 marathon off the bike in an Ironman (read: beast).  Between the two of us, we were banking that 3:10 would be a cruise through Louisville.  After some trouble getting into my corral (I was assigned C but needed to get in A), I finally managed to sneak in past the volunteers.  Apparently, even the 3:10 pace sign wasn't enough to get into the first corral...

After 15 minutes of standing around, COLD because it was going to be a nice day to run, we were off.  The course overall was pretty damn awesome.  The first 7 miles ran through downtown, and out into some neighborhoods.  There were few turns and generally wide open roads where you could fly if you were racing.  We then turned off to Churchill Downs (aka the race track where the Kentucky Derby is held), actually cut through some back entrance and came out onto the infield before running back out.  It was probably the most unique place I've run through in the middle of a race.

The mile markers in this race were terrible, with many being far off.  Keith's Garmin was also not getting a consistent signal, so we had to run most of the race on feel.  Through the first 8 or so miles we were essentially within 20 seconds of 3:10 pace.

Immediately after the horse track, we essentially slammed right into the split with the half marathon.   Most of our group peeled off as they were half guys just trying to get pulled along for 8 miles.  Our remaining group of 10 continued on into the now much thinner and more open road.

We hit a couple of light hills in Churchill Downs and around it, but then once again, ended up on a flat, wide open road for miles with no turns.  Another real fast section for racers.

A couple of things to note.  By the half way point, I was feeling better than great.  7:14 pace barely felt like an effort.  I ended up even carrying our pace sign (a flag on a long stick) almost all of the way, and it did not contribute to making me anymore tired.  Also, since the shorts had no pockets, I ended up pinning my electrolyes (Honey Stinger Chews) to my shorts, which worked out really well.  All these variables before the race certainly did not end up affecting the run at all.

But anyway, back to the race...  As we continued out on the flat and fast section, we saw the leaders coming back the other way, looking real good.  Eventually, we hit Iroquois Park, which would turn out to be the toughest part of the course.  We left our neighborhood and flat road behind for a few miles of rolling hills, with a real nice long one at the beginning.  The entire park was basically a forest, in complete shade.  It was quite the change from where we just were.

After finishing the hills and coming out of the park, we passed a terribly placed 15 mile marker and looked to still be right around 20 seconds behind (which is about what we were expecting).  Some of our group had gone ahead at this point, and others had fallen off, while a few brave souls still remained in tow.

After 15, we hit the same road we were on earlier, and continued running back towards Louisville on the flat straightaway.  By Mile 18, for reasons that are unclear to me, we temporarily re-merged with the half marathon race.  Since it started at the same time as our race, these were all essentially run-walkers who were going to finish around 3 hours or more.  Thankfully, cones kept them to the left while we continued running on the right.  We eventually merged together, but there was just enough room for our group to get by.

By Mile 19, we nearly went off course as a bunch of deceptive cones were placed on a road not part of the course.  Thankfully, we saw mile 19 and continued running through half marathoners.  By this point, we were bleeding the last few people that were left.  3 runners held on for a little bit, but eventually dropped off.  We also caught every single person that went ahead after the park (a valuable lesson for everyone, including myself, on proper pacing).

By 20, we turned off from the half marathoners to finish our last 10K.  By this point, no one was running with us.  It was just two fools in orange uniforms with one guy holding a "3:10" sign.  But, we made the best of it to help those we passed.  The last 6.2 of this course was completely desolate.  Crowd support was hit or miss most of the way, but now, there was basically no one.  We could see really far ahead, and everyone was so spread out and lonely that we could sympathize.  As best we could, we riled people up and told them to keep going strong.  Most were still running, but no one was running a 7:14 as we were passing people.

Miles 21-25 proved pretty challenging.  The course profile managed to "hide" the decent rolling hills over this section.  Keith and I both ended up picking it up, partially to get our 20 seconds back, and partially because the hills did start to hurt a bit.  My legs were never completely dead, but we both agreed this section wasn't all that easy, and it was better to get it over with.

As we continued to approach home, we caught what ended up being the 2nd place overall female.  She looked to be hurting bad, and was not too happy.  With some coaxing, we managed to get her to finish hard and still run a sub-3:09.  It seemed pretty clear she was originally going for the win, (2:53ish) but was happy for the push we gave her.

One other of our shattered group had managed to catch up to us in the last mile, and we sent him on his way to pass us.  As we approached the finish line, we crossed with a chip time of 3:10:10, well within our 59 second allowance.

We stuck around to congratulate some of the people we helped along the way.  Although no one finished with us, many did better than they would have by running with us.  This included a 62 year old man who ran a 3:12 and looking pretty damn strong on some of those hills back there.  It turns out he started running 30 years ago after quitting smoking and has gotten faster ever since.

After it was all said and done, I was very, very happy with how easy the whole thing felt.  I was never extremely sore or tired, and worked maybe just a little bit on some of the hills.  By Sunday, I was barely sore at all, and have continued to feel better over the day.  It was quite a confidence booster to know that 3:10 is cake, and that all things considered, I'm still in pretty good shape.  So overall, it was quite the confidence booster.  My day for the marathon will come sooner or later.  In the meantime, some Guinness, and a few shots of Bourbon (it is Kentucky after all) managed to round out the weekend.

With 6 miles on Monday, 4 Wednesday, 7.5 Thursday, and 40 bike Miles Wednesday....

Running: ~44 miles
Bike: 40 miles

When I have some pictures, I'll post them because everyone has to see these ridiculous uniforms we wore.


  1. I find pacing as a cool way to both get your mojo back and help another runner out in the process. So it isn't entirely selfish, right?!

    Cool report. One of these days I may try to pace more 'formally'.

  2. Any advice for someone running in a pace group for the first time? I have the MD Half next weekend and not really sure what to expect.