Monday, April 3, 2017

Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon Race Report

The Run the Bluegrass half was one of the races on my race bucket list. It's slogan is "America's Prettiest Half Marathon," and that slogan is not a lie.  It was SO beautiful!!! The race was in Lexington, KY at Keeneland (horse racing!). My Aunt, Uncle, one of my cousins and his fiancee live there, so my Mom and I turned it into a long weekend trip, which was fabulous on its own! Family time is always precious and the race was just one of the highlights.  It was the first race that my Mom saw me finish (she and my Dad were too busy talking during my first half and missed me coming in - I will never let them forget that). And my Aunt was there to see me finish too. They waited in the cold, layered in clothes, gloves, and equipped with hand and foot warmers just so that they could see me finish. That meant so much to me. 

Some of the course was on Keeneland property but the majority of it was on country roads by some gorgeous horse farms.  At one farm, some horses (who looked to be a bit young yet) followed us! It was SO cute!! They saw the group coming and started galloping right along side us.  They looked like they were having such a fun time.  We saw lots of horses out, but even just the views of the hills and fields was something spectacular. If you can appreciate the calm beauty of nature, you must do this race!

You may also want to appreciate, or at least accept, hills. Kentucky is hilly. There are some hills that aren't so bad and a couple (especially one) that are freakin' hard. It's definitely one of those "gently rolling hills" types of races. But the views make it all worth it. As the soreness fades from my legs I can only remember a few of the hills... The rest are kind of a blur.

I took my pace a little slower than normal; or tried to. I knew that there would be lots of hills and I'd done some short incline workouts, but no long runs. This was one of those races that made me feel recharged as far as my love for running. It felt so good. For most of the early hills, I just slowed my pace going up, and let my legs fly as fast as they wanted on the way down (within reason because I didn't want to fall and log roll down a hill, so I did engage the quads to slow myself down a little bit). The weather was, in my opinion, perfect for running. That morning was chilly; in the 40s and cloudy. That's huge for me because the sun can play a HUGE factor in how well I perform in a race. Damn fair skin. Other than hydration stops, I think I only walked part of one hill early in the race. Then, just before half way, the hills seemed to grow.  It was around mile six that I went "okay, now this is serious." We were up and right back down; then right back up.  This continued with few flat spots.  Because I took the pace a little slower, I reached the half way point a bit behind my usual pace, which I expected. Actually I thought I'd have a super hard time and planned to take the entire time allowed to finish (I did not).  Anyway, so that continued. And then just before mile nine there was a nice turn and downhill that almost flattened out for a short distance.  Then as I crested the top of that next small hill, I saw that going down was a lot bigger.... And going up looked steep.  

It was mile nine.  Ask anyone and they'll tell you that the mile nine hill (for the half; I believe it's mile four-ish (?) for the seven miler) is the beast.  Seriously, it's the Mother of all hills.  Mile nine is also Meg's Mile.  If you aren't aware, Meg Menzies, was out for a run with her husband one morning and was hit and killed by some idiot drunk driver. After her death, Meg's Miles (also look at it - Meg Smiles) was born. Meg's husband Scott has been very active in honoring Meg and keeping her memory alive. There was a poster with Meg's smiling face on it that said "Meg's Mile." I heard Meg's story when it happened and have often thought of her on runs (#run4Meg is very popular in social media too). I looked her picture and felt emotional for a second. Then I thought, "okay Meg, help me out here.  I have you and Mav on my mind." And Ed (that Dad of two of my good friends who passed away the night before) was on my mind too. I jogged, slowly, up part of that hill, and then I walked a bit.  I got to the top and jogged again. Correction: I got to what I thought was the top.  You see after that curve, the hill actually kept going and curved, and then it curved again before it was done. I swear that thing seemed like mile ten should've been waiting at the end. In reality, mile ten was at least half a mile away. 

So, mile nine came and mile nine went.  Didn't die. Was super tired for a bit and mostly walked to mile ten. I did have a few short jog intervals in there but I walked too. I did the same until I saw mile 11 approaching. Mile 11 is the beer mile.  As we came into mile 11, the aid station was set up with water and Sword on one side and beer on the other.  It was a small amount of beer. I've never accepted the beer during a race before. This time? I drank that little cup with pride. I don't know if it was the beer, the super fun guy at the aid station, having backed off for two miles, or something else but suddenly I felt better.  By this time I'd long past the point of wondering "do I still have legs?" I mean, I know that they didn't fall off but I couldn't actually feel them. It was like they'd gone numb. But they weren't numb.  It's odd to explain but I just trusted them and went with it.  I started to run again; actually run not just jog at a slower than normal pace (I was naturally slowing down some but not as much as between nine and 11. I still included some walk intervals because I was getting tired, but then I'd have a sudden burst where I was like "I love life!" and I'd run again. I guess those last two miles were all over the place. I jogged slower, I was on pace, I walked a bit. But they were all over the place in a good way. Most blogs I'd read said that people gave up on even attempting a PR early on. I was aiming to finish in less than what I expected. And? I did. And? I finished strong. I turned the corner and saw about 1/4 mile before the next little turn into the finish straight away... We were hidden behind a building so I even continued my slower pace in there. Then I saw the finish and I picked up the pace a little. And then I freakin' sprinted and silently cursed out some people who I was sure were going to ruin my finish line pic and I'm proud of that finish. Damn proud, actually. I don't think I've actually hit a hard sprint into the finish of any of my half marathons. I've ran through them but sometimes it was a very slow jog. This one was different.

I was nervous about this race and all of it's hills; which I'm sure are actually gently rolling if you're not running up them. The course was described as "technical." I was afraid something bad would happen and I wouldn't finish. I thought "soooo do they sweep people in this race?" I even thought of changing to the seven miler (until I thought of the medal and the accomplishment and how very badly I wanted both). In all honesty, even though it wasn't my fastest, it felt like one of the best. Maybe the best. My finish was actually right in the middle of my other four races. Most importantly I had that awesome, freeing feeling while I was running. I felt like I was flying going down some of those hills. The time passed and in the few moments of "what am I doing" that I had, giving up wasn't an option. I kept looking at my watch thinking "I'm not doing too bad." I was passing people even toward the end (even into the finish!). My legs are still a little sore today and that race was hard, but I feel great. What's really great is that I would've PR'd that day if it had been a flat course. Probably by a lot, because those flat spots felt amazing to me; even the early hills didn't feel bad. 

This race definitely made me feel something I don't think I've felt since completing my first half.  I felt emotions and I felt such a huge sense of pride in that accomplishment. I think it was all those hills.

And to give credit to the hills; I now plan to continue to do short incline interval runs at least once or twice a week. Given the level of soreness in my legs and glutes, that will be a great way to work on some awesome leg muscles and to lift and firm the booty. 

Run the Bluegrass wasn't just a race that I crossed of my bucket list or a race in another state (but yay for state four!)... It was a race that showed me that I can continue to make progress and overcome whatever challenges are thrown at me. It reminded me that I'm strong and can accomplish the goals that I set for myself.  RTB made me experience running in a way I haven't in a while. I felt the love. And now I want to go murder some more hills!!!


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