Sunday, March 29, 2015

Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon Recap: Pacing Meagan to the Finish Line

Arguably the best medal I've gotten to date.
After years of wanting to run this half marathon, I FINALLY ran Run the Bluegrass, making it half marathon No. 10 for me.

And as an added bonus, I had the pleasure of pacing a friend to her first half marathon finish. My friend Meagan had been wanting to do a half marathon for some time. After failing to find one for us to do in the fall, Meagan settled on Run the Bluegrass, and we began training for it back at the end of December.

We knew there were hills on this course, but we did not realize how many. This course is unrelenting.

It's one hill after another after another after another.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This was an awesome experience, and this is without question the most beautiful, most scenic course I have run to date. Getting to pace a friend and enjoying some of the prettiest land in the state, great way to spend a Saturday morning.

We got an early start to the day, leaving Corbin at 6:30 a.m. to head to Keeneland Race Park for the race. We got to the gate by 8 a.m. but so did everyone else. Traffic was BACKED. UP. My lovely bride Genople and daughter Haylee made the trip with us, so they dropped us off in order we could get in place at the start line in plenty of time while they went for breakfast and to find a parking spot.

The course was hilly but absolutely beautiful. It was
cool to see the shoe pile at Mile 9 in honor of #MegsMiles
The walk from where we got dropped off to the building to the Expo was a good one for us. It was likely .75 to a mile, and it allowed us to stretch our legs. Normally, I would say that this walk helped warmed us up, but it was 23 degrees at the start of the race with a windchill of 15. This after running in 70-degree weather all week leading up to the race.

After spending 15-20 minutes in the warmth of the Expo, Meagan and I meandered down to turn in our drop bag (wanted to have a warm jacket/hoodie waiting for us at the finish line) and then to our wave. The music was blaring, and while it might have looked like I was dancing, I was shaking, bouncing, doing whatever I could to stay warm. Normally, I'm nervous for a race start, but this time around I was ready to get running so I could get the blood flowing and warm up.

The start of the race was pretty cool. Following a beautifully sung national anthem, the bugler for Keeneland played 'My Old Kentucky Home' and then started the race by playing the traditional call to the post that's played right as the horses are led to the starting gates.

And then like that, we were off!

Leading up to this race, Meagan had some knee pain flaring midway through our long runs and lasting the rest of the way. While she was able to continue, our pace slowed with each passing mile. Meagan was able to find the cause of the pain and it is going to be correctable, but it wasn't going to be 100 percent by race day. Ironically, her knee pain seemed to be worse doing downfall versus doing uphill. I know downhills can be hard on a body, but this seemed old. But it is what it is, and we adapted.

With all this in mind, our plan was to go as hard as we could in the early going to give us a good time cushion for our goal time. Then, when and if the knee started bothering Meagan we'd adjust and do whatever we had to do to get to the finish line.
The course with the elevation chart. So much fun.

From the outset of our training, our overall goal pace was in the 11:30 to 12 minute per mile range. That stated, we wanted our time to be under 2:37. However, with how are last few long runs had gone, I was hoping for 2:45.

But it's amazing how things change and happen on race day.

Everything went well through the first six miles. While there are hills throughout the race, they weren't really that bad during the first half of the race. But what gets you is that the hills are non-stop. As soon as you overcome one hill, there's another one waiting for you. We were constantly going up and down, up and down, up and down.

Still, our splits for the first six miles were pretty good as we posted times of 10:55 / 10:59 / 11:05 / 11:05 / 11:47 / 11:40.

Miles 7 and 8 were slower at 12:14 and 12:35, so I asked Meagan during Mile 8 how her knee was doing. "Oh, it's been hurting for the last two miles," was her response.

Meagan is a warrior. The thing I've been most impressed with her during this whole process has been her determination. Nothing was going to keep her from finishing this half marathon.

We got Mile 9 done in 12:31, and then the real fun began.

The hills got worse beginning at the mile marker No. 9. In the span of about .4, we had to climb nearly 100 feet in elevation. This prompted our first walk break of the race. Part of this climb was steep, and on tired legs and a hurting knee, the break was needed.

It was along this stretch that was just finished climbing a hill we were greeted with the sight of a short descent with another climb quickly to follow. Meagan summed up everyone's feelings by exclaiming, "Jesus!"

My lovely bride Genople did an awesome job getting
high-quality photos of us as we crossed the finish line.
We got Miles 10-12 done in 13:08 / 12:33 / 12:28. With the improved times, I was getting encouraged that we would hit our goal time. We celebrated with high fives at Miles 11 and 12 since those were distance PRs for Meagan.

The final mile started off with one last incline before leveling off for the final .75 of the race. This was by far the longest stretch in the entire race where there was no real climbs or descents. As the finish line came into view, our pace continued to quicken. Mile 13 was done in 12:22 with the final .1 at a pace of 10:18!

During the final .25, the crowds began to grow and cheered every runner along the way. I took the liberty to announce repeatedly that Meagan was finishing her first half, prompting even more cheers of encouragement. Got the PA announcer to congratulate her as we crossed the finish line.

Our official time: 2:36:19 for an overall pace of 11:56 per mile!

Goals met and exceeded!

Overall, Run the Bluegrass is a fantastic race. While there is not a great deal of crowd support, there's not much need. There are plenty of water stops to break things up, plus with 4,000 overall runners running on a small two-lane road, you are never alone out there. There are always plenty of people around you.

Meagan and I after the race.
This race is not for the faint of heart. You need to be prepared for the hills, and fortunately, Meagan and I were. In fact, she was a beast on the hills, really attacking them. The odds of a PR on this course are not likely, but anything is possible. But you will be hard pressed to find a more scenic and beautiful course. You run past horse farm after horse farm with each more beautiful than the one before.

Lastly, I had a blast pacing Meagan to her first half marathon finish. Our time was 32 minutes off my PR, but in all honestly, I felt like I had won the race. Really enjoyed seeing her accomplish her goal.

I would be remiss if I did not mention and thank Genople and Haylee for their support. They were real troopers in getting up so early to get us to the race and were there waiting for us at the finish line. Nothing like being greeted by your loved ones at the end of a race.

On a related note, Genople does an AWESOME job at finding the perfect spot at the finish line to snap photos of me crossing the line.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your memories with us. I saw all of your running photos. Really nice collection. I also enjoy weekend with my family and run with my little kids. Wish you a happy and exciting life.