Kentucky Derby Festival MiniMarathon 2016

13082614_1062433257137865_1933868059233149963_nPhoto Cred

I still vividly remember training for my first half marathon. My first 6 miler that actually felt great, my first 8 miler on a treadmill because of sleet and wind, and my first double digit 10 miler through the park with dad pacing me on his bike. That was in 2008, and this year I returned home – as I do every April – for my 9th consecutive Derby Festival MiniMarathon.

There is so much to love about this race, but the thing no other race can touch is the electricity of Louisville a week before the Kentucky Derby! Oh, and it’s actually spring there as opposed to the weather Chicago has to offer in late April. I got home Thursday morning and obsessively checked the forecast from that point on. I was much more relaxed than I was last year, because this year my goal was to enjoy the race, not gun it for a PR. Still, the threat of showers and possible thunderstorms had me a little concerned. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Friday’s perfect weather by hitting up the expo and spending an hour at the Chow Wagon afterwards!

Expo shirtsAt the expo holding my race shirt from this year in front of the other 8 I’ve collected!

Gold pinDad and I at the Chow Wagon with my winning gold Derby pin

My friend, Sydney, was running as well and we coordinated to ride to the start together. We took off as the sun was coming up, but not before a photo per mom’s request.

Sam prerace

Sam and Syd prerace

Start – Mile 5

Just because I had no firm goal time, I had my Garmin synched and ready to go when the wheelchairs took off at 7:25. I had an idea of coming in under 1:45 (8:00m/m pace), but honestly wasn’t tied to anything. If I felt good, I’d pick it up, if my legs didn’t want to push it, I’d pull back. That said, my first 2 miles clocked in at 7:45. I really focused on my breathing and how I felt by not fixating on my Garmin, and only checking it at the mile splits. It’s really hard to gauge how you feel that first mile. You get caught up in people passing you, passing others, the crowds and the excitement, but by the first water stop I felt a little more settled. The water stop entertainment got a laugh out of me when he boomed through the mic, “don’t spill the water! If you spill the water you’re disqualified!” If you’ve ever been near a water stop, you know how insane that is, there is water EVERYWHERE.

Nearing mile 3 I had found my pace. I was breathing comfortably, but labored and although I felt I was easing off the pace, I hit 7:41. I was speeding up but felt I was slowing down; nice!! I noticed a young kid running with his (I assume) mom, who was getting attention and encouragement from runners. When another runner asked his age, I learned he was 13, AND this was his second time running it! Remember, I was doing a 7:40-7:45 pace. I love how humbling running is!

Just past another water stop were my parents around mile 4. I spotted mom with her sign, “0.0 Here to Cheer!”, and caught her attention in time for her to grab her camera and snap some shots!

thumbs up at 4Thumbs up (right before I chicked the guy in red!)

horse spectatorsBest dressed spectator award winners! (at least in my book)

Mile Splits
Mile 1 – 7:45
Mile 2 – 7:45
Mile 3 – 7:41
Mile 4 – 7:43
Mile 5 – 7:34

Mile 6 – 10 

Heading South on 4th Street I was feeling good and looking forward to the route around Central Park and the radio station and 6 mile split  on the other side of it. I was still around the 1:40 pacer, and while that was faster than I originally thought I’d run, I didn’t feel I was pushing too hard. As the relay teams exchanged runners at the 10K mark, I was excited to be under 2 miles from the epitome of the race; Churchill Downs!

While the race always went around the infield track, it was only a couple years ago they allowed runners to enter through the front gate, making this section even more of a highlight. There are a ton of spectators lining both sides of the street (despite the drizzle that had started) and running under the track through the tunnel is my favorite part by far! The tunnel isn’t long, but since it’s only runners and no spectators, you only hear breathing and foot slaps on the pavement. It is amazing! Heading around the track I spied some horses getting their workout in as well, and took in the site of the Twin Spires, all ready for the big day!

Heading out of the track, we were about a 1/4 mile from the half-marathon/marathon split and roughly half a mile from the 9 mile marker. The 1:40 pacer was just ahead of me and I was ready to commit. I had made it this far and wasn’t struggling, I figured if it started to really feel tough at this point, I had it in me to push. Sometimes you surprise yourself!

Heading North on 3rd, I thought about how there were exactly 2 turns left in this race, and the first wasn’t until we passed mile 12. Long straightaways in the last section of a race are mentally very tough. There’s not much to break up the race so I focused on getting to mile 10 and letting the spectators entertain me.

Mile Splits
Mile 6 – 7:37
Mile 7 – 7:30
Mile 8 – 7:32
Mile 9 – 7:36
Mile 10 – 7:34

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 9.08.12 AM

Mile 10 – Finish

Last year I had a mantra; 5-5-5K (5 miles, 5 miles, 5K). At this point I had checked off the first two, and reminded myself I’d be done in under 25 minutes. The rain was getting more steady, but still very light and actually felt great in the 60ish degree temps. Part of me was thinking how the sooner I finished, the sooner my parents could get out of the rain! I knew exactly where they’d be, on the right, just past the Louisville Tap sponsored water stop. Hey, after 9 years, we have a system!

Coming out from the underpass by the UL campus always feels like more of a hill then it probably is. The drizzle was steady and I watched my feet run over it as I powered up the incline. I noticed a few improvements on campus, but more notably that the frats don’t do rain because the stretch that is usually lined with idiots handing out beers was bare 🙁 Alas, I pressed on and was now alongside the 1:40 pacer. This pacer was wonderful! I wasn’t really struggling like I have before, but was definitely not slacking, and his words to the group were like gold; “Eyes on 11, focus on getting to 11”, and, “You can do this, let the crowds carry you!”.

I had under a mile until my spectators and edged a head just a bit with encouragement from said pacer. I waved – a bit frantically – to mom and she was at the ready!

sam mile 12 floatingI realize this is not the best photo; BUT I AM FLOATING!

mile 12 close up 2 mile 12 close up

Dad reached out for a high five – which I nailed – and yelled, “see you soon!” as I picked it up towards the Convention Center where many spectators were taking shelter from the rain. I had just over a half mile to go and refrained from sprinting, which is hard when you get a boost from spectators late in the race! I was approaching the first of those 2 turns and pressed it a bit, saving enough for the finish.

There were two women seemingly in my division in my sight. I focused on keeping my pace and wondered if I could pass them before the end. When the final turn was a block away I turned it on! I passed them, rounded the corner with two men and got the finish line in sight. I gave it the rest I had, blowing past them and pumping my fist when they called my name on the loudspeaker (this is what that feels like…), officially crossing the finish at 1:39:03! This – amazingly enough – was my exact finish time in the 3M Austin Half Marathon in January of 2015.

Mile Splits
Mile 11 – 7:30
Mile 12 – 7:25
Mile 13 – 7:02

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 2.24.58 PMI love numbers!

Post race samBack home with my awesome medal!

I cannot say enough good things about this race! Running it 9 years in a row should be proof enough how much I like it 🙂 If you’re looking for a Spring half in 2017, jump on this NOW! Registration is only $55 through May 14th! Click here to register and let me know if you do!


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