Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Kentucky Derby Mini Marathon - Race Report

I had never run the Kentucky Derby Mini Marathon. It is usually held the weekend before the 500 Festival Mini, which I usually run, thus at which time I'm usually in taper. I have no reason to run 13.1 miles the week before I race 13.1 miles (and every reason not to), so the Derby Mini was a race I figured I'd never run. Wrong.

Wendy's daughter Amelia decided last fall that she wanted to be like the cool kids and run a half marathon. However, she didn't want to "just" run a half marathon; she also wanted to give it purpose. She decided to use the half marathon race and its training as a means to raise money for Saving Sunny, a pit bull rescue in Louisville. Accordingly, what better race to choose than the Derby Half, held right in the heart of Louisville?

Plans were made. Wendy and Amelia registered for the race. They set up a donation site. I made a donation. I said, "Good luck." I figured I would follow her progress and say, "Yay, Amelia!" and, "Good job!" and totally mean it, but I also figured that would be the extent of my involvement. Wrong again.

In January, Wendy learned that she had to have a fibroma cut from her foot. The surgery rendered her "runless" for six weeks. Suddenly, Amelia and I had both lost our training partner. As a result, we thought it would be a great idea to train together. I joined Amelia on many an icy-cold morning to grind out 10-or-so miles. It was fun.

The more I ran with Ameila, the more I wanted to part of the big event. Fate seemed to intervene as my schedule magically cleared for April 19, the date of her race. Additionally, the Derby Half was scheduled two weeks before the Indy Mini instead of one. My injury(-ies) were starting to stabalize, too.  I asked told Wendy if I could I was going to join the two of them in the race.  She said, "Sounds awesome!"

The Two Race Plans
Amelia's initial race plan involved taking it slowly (≈10-min./mile) for 10K, and then accelerating as she felt like it. After the 500 Festival Training Series 15K where Amelia laid down an 8:37 pace, we decided to run the first mile of the half slowly to get through the crowd, then target some 9-min. miles.

However, Wendy and I never have a single race plan, so we honored tradition and bequeathed to Amelia our practice of matching our clothes and wearing flowers in our hair when we race. The clothes plan is as (more?) important than the race-attack plan. Because Amelia would be wearing orange shorts and a white singlet with the Saving Sunny logo, we planned to wear white singlets and orange shorts.

Sis BoomBozz (It's funny!)
Derby Mini Eve
Ed and I left Bedford for Louisville immediately after school.  We arrived at our near-the-start-and-finish hotel, then walked to the Expo. (Aside: Now, I love me some Race Expos, but this one was Code Red insane. Participants were forced to snake through EVERY booth, nearly single file, in order for their race chips to activate. That format probably backfired in the organizers' faces, because it was the least conducive thing to shopping I've ever seen. End Aside.) After getting my packet, we navigated to Bardstown Road for a great dinner. (Another Aside: The lack of parking lots in Louisville is frustrating to Bedford-born-and-bred me. End Another Aside.)

We met Wendy's friends and Saving Sunny volunteers Brittnay and Russell and Wendy's whole family for a lovely meal at BoomBozz, an establishment managed by Russell. We had a truly fun time chatting, laughing, discussing the race, and telling stories.  And the food... the FOOD! After a great meal, Ed and I headed back to the hotel, and I turned in early for what would prove to be an unforgettable day.

Before The Start
I awoke after an only slightly fitful sleep and prepared for the race. Then, Ed and I walked a half-mile out of our way to meet at Wendy's hotel. The race atmosphere was charged with excitement. Running into a local running buddy and a college friend enlivened me even more. Amelia had the typical excited/nervous/hyper/apprehensive jitters of the first time half runner. However, everyone in our group was about to be full-on pumped.

As we approached our coral we saw in the distance... AMELIA'S FACE. It was enlarged at least two times its normal size and held above the crowd on a stick. And there's Buddy's face! And Darla's! And Brooklynn's! (Those babies are all Amelia's dogs.) The Saving Sunny crew had chosen a GREAT way to motivate Amelia and show their support.

The First Half Of The Half
The first mile of the race was very crowded. We stuck to the plan and took it slow, and I couldn't wait for the crowd to thin. Amelia was chatting and laughing. We took in the sights. I showed Wendy that, yes, there is a river north of Louisville, one that is actually fairly large and notable. Wendy's husband Tim was with us. I ran into another friend, this time from my student teaching years, on those first miles. Everything was all smiles and happiness except for the course congestion, which wasn't thinning like I'd hoped.

Knowing Wendy wanted to stick right with Amelia, I adopted the role of trailblazer. I stayed a few steps ahead and made paths for us, because goshdarnit, that crown would not thin. I had studied the course, so I knew where to be and when. Tim joined me in my efforts, but unfortunately had to bail due to an uncooperative Achilles. Around the sixth mile, I noticed Amelia and Wendy were a little farther behind me than they had been. I slowed to join them and ask Amelia how she felt. "Fine," she answered. I knew better, and so did Wendy.

The Last Half Of The Half
After the halfway point, I traded back and forth between Trailblazer and Motivational Statement Maker, a job I've learned well from the likes of Wendy and her declarations of, "You are closer to the finish than when you started!" I said a whole host of fully obnoxious things to Amelia, including the gem, "You only get to run your first half marathon once!" I philosophized about "Today Ameila" and "Tomorrow Amelia," and how proud Tomorrow Amelia was going to be of Today Amelia and her efforts. Finally, Amelia said very politely, "Let's shut up." Got it.

We ran through Churchill Downs. We ran through tunnels. We ran around some statues. The crowd never thinned. The sun was starting to feel overly hot. When we were nearing completion of Mile 10, Amelia did not look good, but she looked laser-focused on her task. Wendy suggested we run Mile 11 for Buddy, Amelia's late dog. That proposal brought about a little levity that made the time pass, but the pain was coming hard for Amelia. I learned later that she was experiencing cramping (her mother's daughter), and lightheaded-ness. You would never know it based on the effort she was about to display.

I spent the last few miles running ahead of Amelia, yelling to the crowd, "She's 11! She's having a hard time! C'mon, let's hear it for her!" I was being beyond obnoxious, but every cheer brought Amelia encouragement, so it was worth my silliness. We would pass runners (yes, us passing them), and they would marvel at her. I would offer the rest of the story on her fundraiser so they would praise her even more. ANY ounce of encouragement I could help ignite for this child was helpful, so I was on an encouragement-mission.

While a very kind runner was making a video of us at the end of the twelfth mile, I spotted Wendy's brother, Wes, and the Saving Sunny crew with their great big signs high in the air. Our ensuing celebration was, luckily, caught on camera. That group of people gave Amelia the push she needed to make it the final 1.1 miles.

"What is this insane pace?!"
Wendy and I continued the encouragement on the home stretch, but Amelia surprised us when she rounded the corner to the finish line. Since she's known for a fast finish, I expected Amelia to kick. What I did not expect was the 5:13 pace she dropped on the last 200 meters. For this woman, 200 meters is a LONG WAY to run at 11.5mph. We saw Amelia's dad, Yancy. We saw Ed. Then we saw a finish line, and it said 2:01:38.

The Half Aftermath
Just like that, it was over. After a few minutes of "not running," Amelia started to recover. As the day progressed, she felt prouder and prouder, as she should. She was able to celebrate her efforts with her family and her Saving Sunny friends, human and canine. In addition to those important numbers 2:01 (which were earned with negative splits), Amelia was also able to flash $2,200, the amount she raised for the Saving Sunny organization. Not a single person involved in Amelia's fundraiser and running mission had a bad day on April 19. It was all happiness, success, and pride for a job well done. (Here are race results and stats 'n' such.)

As For Me...
I really enjoyed focusing on someone else for an entire race. Keeping tabs on Amelia, blazing her trail, and quarrying for crowd support were FUN jobs. It was like being a bridesmaid to the bride, but way, way, way, freaking-WAY better. Secondarily good news is that I also ran a 2:01 without much effort (until that last 200 meters - good heavens). It used to be my heart's desire to run a sub-2, so a 2:01 that included pace changes, tight crowds, and no self-focus says a lot for my fitness. It tells me that my 1:54 PR is totally crushable in Indy next month.

I hear Amelia has plans to crush her 2:01 at the Indy Mini, too... the 2015 Indy Mini.

Some of Team Amelia

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