I happened upon this race in looking for something to keep me going between the Walt Disney World Marathon and the Kentucky Derby Festival Mini Marathon. I am glad I did. It was our sixth half marathon, and by far the most challenging. Set in Kentucky Horse Country near Lexington, in my mind, it was the most beautiful as well, although my wife may still argue running up Main Street USA is the best.
The communication from the race organizers, via Twitter, email, and Facebook was outstanding. They were responsive to requests, gave great tips and reminders, and did a good job of building excitement for the event. Nothing was sugar-coated needlessly. Their last-minute traffic tip on Facebook helped in determining how to get there, and how early to get there.
The two-day expo was also excellent, especially for a race this size. Registration ran smoothly. The legendary Hal Higdon appeared both days, and even ran the 7 mile race. The expo featured speakers, race gear, and various local activities. It didn’t hurt that it took place on the grounds of Keeneland on a bright sunny day. The location at Keeneland, as opposed to an off site location, certainly helped in building excitement for the race.
Traffic was horrible, but I don’t blame the organizers. Poorly-timed major construction on the main route to the race was the culprit. We arrived with about 40 minutes to spare and had to hustle a bit to get to the starting line (we like to get there early). The waves/corrals were well-marked, and the lines for the porta-potties were as you would expect. At these times, it’s good to be a guy. We lined up in Wave R. The waves were labeled G-E-N-R-I-S-K, in honor of the famous horse Genuine Risk. The bibs and medal lanyards were also inspired by Genuine Risk’s silks. Luckily for those stuck in traffic, the race was delayed 15 minutes to give those stuck in traffic a bit more time to get there (and to let the morning fog burn off).
AND THEY’RE OFF!!
This was an especially good start, as we got to give our boys a high five as we passed the start line. From that point, as the old Irish Blessing goes, the road rose to meet us, almost immediately. In fact, it kept rising, over and over again. The blessing is that it also had its share of downhills, though seemingly much fewer than those of the up variety. The first hill was within the 1st half mile. This race certainly showed me that I need to work more on my leg strength. Running the flat races is one thing, this was quite another.
The first few miles went as planned. I stopped to take pictures of the scenery, and our time was relatively close to how we usually start. It is always difficult to start as slowly as we need to with all the excitement at the start and the rushing crowd, but we were doing pretty well. Little did we know, there would be no negative splits on this one.
They bill this race as one of America’s prettiest half marathons, and that was not over-selling it. As the miles went by, and our legs kept begging us to give up, the beauty of the landscape surrounded us.
Bands were spaced along the course, usually coinciding with water stops. Each one added to the excitement, in spite of our aching legs. The volunteers were great as well. There were also a few friendly four-legged spectators.
We rolled with the punches through about mile 7 or 8. About that time our legs really started to rebel. Mile 8 is one of the most beautiful of the race, with a nice downhill run to the mile 9 marker. Then, we hit the switchback. Some call it the S-curve. A roughly 100ft vertical rise within a little more than a quarter mile. You know a big one is coming at that mile marker. You can see it. The real surprise for us first-timers is rounding the first right turn. That is when you see the next left turn, still rising with no end in sight. The legs were screaming after this one.
From this point, it was survival to the end. The hills kept coming, but we kept running – slowly. We switched to a 1:1 walk run to make it to the end. Beauty still abounded. I had long since given up on a time even within sight of a PR. I now just wanted to avoid this being our slowest. The 1:1 saved the day on that. We made sure to run in the downhills, no matter where they fell within our pattern, of course. We finally crossed the finish line, and were about a minute per mile slower than our PR.
Run The Bluegrass was as advertised. Beautiful, challenging, and fun. There was an air of excitement, even when people were hurting at the finish. Smiles were everywhere.
The Run The Bluegrass Kids’ Race took place three hours after the half started. Slightly less than one mile, the race used the same finish line as the “big race.” The kids got their own fancy starting line, complete with a police escort, and they got the great opportunity to finish in the same chute as the adults. This was really a great touch.
Thankfully, they delayed the kid’s race for 15 minutes as well, giving us parents a chance to recover a bit and watch our children race. Our oldest loved it and finished the .9 mile race strong. The three year-old picked out a special batman shirt (with cape) to run in, but all the kids + nap time meant that he got a bit nervous. My wife was a trooper and carried him for his race. He is already asking to run another – he wants more medals! He has more at age three than I had at 38. I am proud of both of my boys.
It would be easy to say “never again” due to the tough hills. But I expect there is a really good chance we will be back to take this on again. It was too beautiful. It was Easter weekend, and I found myself thanking God several times throughout the race for the opportunity to be in that place, with the ability to run, even through the pain. That’s the thing about running. In spite of the pain you go through, you feel blessed to have been given the opportunity. These races give you plenty of time to reflect on the blessings of life.