Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon Recap

Well, last week was a whirlwind, and I never did come back here to post my goals or any of my thoughts at all about this training cycle. But race day don't care, so time marched on until I realized I was lining up for my second marathon whether I was ready or not.

Here's the short version: I PR'd by over 13 minutes and had a completely fabulous time:


Let's be real. You can't run a race just 48 hours before the Boston Marathon (the 2014 Boston Marathon, no less) without keeping it somewhere in the back of your mind. I love Marathon Monday, I get inspired watching the race, and the last thing I wanted was to run a shit race just two days' prior and feel bummed about it on Monday. (Yes, I watch it at the office, but don't worry, I work in a screen-profuse environment.)

Some background: I registered for the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon back in December after my good friend Jamie decided she wanted to run it as her first marathon. We'd started doing a lot of our workouts together, and I was excited to re-experience the first marathon feelings via Jamie. Everything was trucking along well, even though I was feeling burned out and wasn't getting in the volume I wanted. To get specific, I put in only two 40+ weeks, and averaged just 28 miles a week over 18 weeks of training. (My full training plan is here.) Still, we were doing this thing and we were doing it together...until we weren't. Jamie got a stress fracture, re-diagnosed as a "stress reaction" on three of her toes on her right foot during peak week. Suddenly, I wasn't sure if I should race KDFM at all, which was 8 hours away and chosen because we could stay with her parents, who live in Louisville. I considered signing up for Raleigh instead, which was the weekend before. (I couldn't even if I wanted to; it had sold out.) I then considered flying to Louisville by myself and staying in a hotel, so Jamie wouldn't feel like she had to go with me.  After I let Jamie in on my plans, she let me know that she was absolutely, definitely coming with me and that she wanted to cheer me on. I was really overcome with appreciation for her and her heroic acts of friendship, and spent the whole weekend basking in and feeling such gratitude for the affection and support of my friends and family.

We drove the 8 hours to Louisville on Thursday after work, decamping at her parents' place for the weekend. We spent the day before the race wandering around Louisville and eating everything we could find. I mentioned that for New York, I might have overdone it on the carbs, so I ate more or less normally the day before (though I definitely called dibs on the bread basket at dinner.)

At dinner, I was asked how I feel about the race tomorrow. "Um......ambivalent?" I replied. I was excited, but still seriously lacking that winning spirit.

Race morning

On race morning I woke up before my alarm even went off and quietly laid in bed while I tried to expel the feelings of regret and doom I felt (I usually feel like this before any activity of significance; I'm super fun to hang out with!) I ate an asiago bagel with cream cheese around 5am, followed by half of a bear claw. No idea how many calories or carbs that was, but it was what I wanted and it seemed like a lot of food.

I got dressed and was getting my shoes out when I noticed I had done the worst thing: I had packed one left shoe and one right shoe, but from two different pairs. The left shoe had about 40 miles on it. The right, about 250. I was furious with myself and obviously, really embarrassed. Like, there is self-sabotage and then there is self-sabotage. Anyway, there was nothing to do except just lace them up and treat the whole thing as a kind of spiritual test. I resolved to put it out of my head, move on, transcend it, not think about it, etc. 

Jamie drove me to the corrals about 30 minutes before the start (which was more than enough time) and on the way there she pumped me up by recalling some of our best workouts, including a long, grueling tempo we did on the ATT under the cover of darkness. Remembering this did make me feel more hardcore and I started to really want to fight for the best possible race I could have. She dropped me off and I made my way to corral B. The half marathoners and the marathoners were mixed together in the same corrals. I heard the ratio was about 70% half marathoners and 30% marathoners and that seemed about right. Once I found a good place to stand and wait for the gun, I felt like I needed to cry for a moment but choked it back and tried to get in the zone by striking up conversation with the nervous-looking woman next to me. She looked really fit and told me that this was her first marathon and her goal time was 3:40. I rambled about my first marathon and told her she'd be great. My thoughts wandered to Jamie and her hurt foot and I resolved to stop being such an emotional crank.

Miles 1-7

The gun went off and I shuffled across the start line. The first few miles seemed to be downhill, and I tried to settle into my pace. I wanted to finish around 3:45 +/- 5 minutes, so I needed to stay between 8:25 and 8:40. My B goal was to have all sub-9 minute miles. My best guess of where I'd finish would be around 3:47. 

  • Mile 1- 8:30
  • Mile 2- 8:29
  • Mile 3- 8:30
  • Mile 4- 8:35

One of the things that kept me going in New York was knowing where I was the whole time, and my affection for the various neighborhoods we were running through. I liked how connected I felt to every step, that my movements through the city seemed purposeful. Before Kentucky, I worried I'd feel unmoored and unfocused because I don't know Louisville, and wouldn't run as strong because of it. But it turns out this wasn't a problem at all. It was completely fun to run in an unfamiliar place. I didn't know what was ahead and I didn't care. We turned into a beautiful area I now know is called Old Louisville, with tidy lines of old Victorians on both sides of the street, and I put my running on autopilot while I enjoyed being a tourist mid-race. 

  • Mile 5- 8:40
  • Mile 6- 8:29
  • Mile 7- 8:36

Mile 8

We turned a corner and I suddenly realized where we were. Churchill Downs was right ahead of me. We turned left and went through the gates (where this truck is on the left) and I lost myself for a moment while I had a fangirl meltdown.

By way of explanation, I should say that I was (and am) a Horse Girl; I grew up on a steady diet of these books and my greatest career aspiration was to be a jockey. Exercise riders breezed horses as we ran around the infield while I was trying to keep from crying with happiness (so many feelings!!). Nearby was a green awning that was, I think, an ad for some kind of truck, and on it were the words "GUTS AND GLORY." And I thought about how when I was young all I wanted to do was compete and win, and how I never doubted myself and I was never afraid, and how my dream to race horses was far more dangerous and difficult than my dream to run a fast marathon, and so I resolved to channel guts and glory and do justice to my old dream as best I could. 

  • Mile 8- 8:20

Miles 9-11

When we went underground to exit Churchill Downs, I was reflecting quietly on all of these things. The next stretch was taking us down to the hills of Iroquois Park. I knew I would see James et al. at mile 11, so I tried to take it easy. I'd been running for a while now and it felt great to have so many good miles under my belt, but I was feeling cautious. I still had a long way to go.

Seeing James, Jamie, and Steve at mile 11 gave me a big boost. James jumped in with me and I told him I was feeling good but maybe running too fast and I was a little scared I couldn't keep going like this until the end. He just kept saying I was doing great.

  • Mile 9- 8:24
  • Mile 10- 8:28
  • Mile 11- 8:27 

Miles 12-16

Around mile 12 we entered the park and started climbing the big hill I worried about in the week leading up to the race. It ended up feeling steeper than the Queensboro, and took more out of me than I would have liked. Still, I passed a few people on the uphill which reminded me that I was well-trained to run hills, relatively speaking, and tried to just truck along and get through the hilly park without trashing my legs too much.

There wasn't much water in the park and it was beginning to get hot. I was very glad to see that there were small water bottles being handed out at the aid stations. I took one and sipped it every quarter mile or so.

I knew I needed to hit the half before 1:55 but mile 13.1 came and went and I completely forgot to look. 

  • Mile 12- 8:36 
  • Mile 13- 8:29 
  • Half marathon - 1:51:47 (Half marathon PR)

During mile 15, I was getting winded and tired and started to worry that I was fading way too early in the race. I was breathing hard, and two older women running near me asked me if I was okay and if I wanted some of their water. When my mile split beeped at me I almost laughed: I wasn't fading, I was just running too fast by accident. I felt much better when I dialed it back to where I was supposed to be.

  • Mile 14- 8:34 
  • Mile 15- 8:10
  • Mile 16- 8:23

Heading out of the park brought flat roads again and relief.  I saw my cheering squad again at mile 16, this time joined by Jamie's parents, and got back into my groove. I felt great and knew I had a good chance of running a huge PR, even though there were still 10 miles to go.

Miles 17-20

At this point in New York, I was running down First Avenue between swarms of screaming crowds. In Kentucky, this part was a little lonelier and in anticipation of possibly struggling during this section, I brought my iPod in case I wanted it. We had rejoined with the half marathoners, but most of the faster half marathoners had finished already, so the ones that remained were mostly walking. Fortunately, while the street was narrow in a few places the left and right sides of the street were clearly marked and runners mostly kept to their own side. To distract myself from the walkers and to stay in fighting mode, I put my headphones in and immediately got a huge adrenaline boost. It was hard not to speed up with Azealia Banks in my ears, but I knew I just needed to be patient until mile 20, when I could finally crank it up. I was averaging an 8:31 pace and did some "quick" math (quick for the middle of a marathon) in my head and found that I could be looking at a 3:43 finish time, which made me positively giddy.

  • Mile 17- 8:36 
  • Mile 18- 8:29 
  • Mile 19- 8:35

Miles 20-26.2

By now, temperatures were well into the 70s and I was doing everything I could to stay hydrated. I was feeling great, nutrition-wise, and had followed my plan to take a gel every 45 minutes and two cups of water at every aid station. But in mile 20 we turned onto a wide street with no shade. The sun was directly overhead and I started to wilt. Running was growing difficult. I did full-body checks and assured myself that I was doing fine. I didn't feel awesome, but I felt pretty good for mile 20-something. I didn't feel sick. I wasn't bonking. I was just really, really hot. 

We were on this desolate, spectator-less road and running quite obviously away from the finish line for about two miles before finally turning back around. And all the while I was trying to push the pace and feeling annoyed with every mile beep, since despite my efforts I wasn't moving any faster. I contemplated walking but thought about all of the work I'd put in over the past three hours. I wanted that 3:4x marathon and wanted to fight for every minute. I reminded myself about "GUTS AND GLORY" and that there's honor in running a brave race and the suffering at the end is just a reminder that I took a risk and believed in myself. I had worked hard and I wanted a finish time that reflected that work. I refused to slow down, yet I was slowing down. It was very frustrating.

  • Mile 20- 8:31
  • Mile 21- 8:19 
  • Mile 22- 8:32 
  • Mile 23- 8:56 
  • Mile 24- 8:24 
  • Mile 25- 8:57

My friends spotted me again at their spectating spot near mile 26. I was grimacing through the final mile and even though I've shown an ability to kick in the past, I was completely cooked. Later we laughed about this photo. I was desperate to find that finish line.

  • Mile 26- 9:24
  • Last .2- 2:31 (7:52 pace)

Finish: 3:45:02 (8:35) -- 13-minute PR

Just across the finish line, I collapsed in a nice volunteer's arms. He led me to the medical tent where I was given two Powerades and a water, a bag of ice was placed under my neck, and my feet were propped up to let the blood drain to my brain, or something like that. The woman pictured below was extremely kind to me and walked me over to my friends once I was finally cleared to leave. It was a little embarrassing to crash like that after spending 3 hours, 45 minutes imagining myself to be a fast and cool runner, but that's what they're there for!

Thank you, kind volunteers at the finish line medical tent!

Thank you, kind volunteers at the finish line medical tent!

This is already long, so I'll save my thoughts about my race and my new PR for later. But thanks so much for the cheers and congratulations. I'm thrilled! The very first thing I'm going to do is "even out" my shoes.