That is exactly what we did with the Run The Bluegrass (RTB) Half marathon in Lexington Kentucky! Dubbed “America’s Prettiest Half Marathon” and set up with the backdrop of Kentucky Horse Country, it was one race I will never forget!
I first heard about this race in April 2016, after some friends of mine traveled to Kentucky for it. Half marathon, horses and bourbon? Count me it! I immediately put the word out to my girlfriends that THIS was going to be one race I was not going to miss in 2017! Yes, I was planing a year in advance, but that is how badly I wanted to go! It was time to make it happen! Bring on Girls Weekend 2017!
In the end, it was just Lisa and I that made the trip down for the long weekend (ok 5 days!) but it was still Girls Weekend, none the less! I will do another post with many of our awesome adventures this weekend, but today, it’s all about the race, and everything surrounding!
I also have to mention, shortly after I decided that I was going to run this race, I ended up connecting with Ashleigh (aka The Running Wife) via Facebook and we had an instant connection! She is an amazing person, mom, runner, wife, photographer, business owner and so much more! But she is also a very down to earth person who made this entire experience even better! If you need inspiration, motivation or even training tips, check out her website! You won’t be disappointed! Through The Running Wife, she is on a mission to raise a world of runners and is well on her way to doing it! She also has discounts available to many races (most in Kentucky, but also all over the country!) and even gives away FREE race registrations from time to time! I was lucky enough to actually win one of her promotions and as a result Lisa and I BOTH were able to run RTB for FREE!! (this just meant that we had more $$ left to spend on more fun while we were in KY!) Over the course of the year leading up to this year’s race, we often joked around that it was like we were internet dating and finally after a year got to meet face to face!
One of the cool things that RTB does, is get you excited for the race, even before race weekend arrives! In January, all registered runners are invited to participate in the Directors Challenge to log training miles and earn prizes! Everything from gloves to mugs, socks and more! Best part, it’s FREE! I will admit, the interface on the app is basic and I did have some challenges with it, but I mad it work. The biggest downfall, in my opinion, if that you can’t see your miles logged in the current week until they update the data base on Monday nights. As a result, on Tuesday’s I always found myself going back and forth between the RTB tracker and my Garmin account to make sure I had all mile loggable miles entered in the database! It was sometimes time-consuming, but I made it work.
This Challenge goes until about 2 weeks before the event and everyone is updated on where they finished. Depending on where you finished, determined what prizes you received. In the end, I received a pair of gloves and an awesome beer mug from one of the local (Sponsor) breweries! I was also kicking myself because I got sick at the beginning of March and had to take some time off. During this time, I also forgot to go in and make sure I had all my run logged. I realized my error too late and ended up shorting myself on miles. If I had remembered to log these miles, I would have qualified for additional prizes! Oh well, it was still fun and I am grateful for what I did earn!
The other cool thing that RTB does to help you with your winter training. This race does not hide the fact that it is a HILLY Half Marathon and being a spring race, there are a lot of people doing training on the dreadmill. Since we all can’t train on the hills of Kentucky, they include a Treadmill simulator “map” so that you can add those inclines to your treadmill run while you are training! I will admit that I never ran all 13.1 miles on my dreadmill at once using this, but I worked it into my shorter runs. I actually started at the beginning and however many miles were on the calendar for the day (for my mid-week runs), I ran then using this Course Simulator. Then, the next time I ran on the dreadmill, I started where I let off and ran the next section of miles. Over the course of the week, I usually ended up running the entire course. Thanks RTB for giving me a fun training tool to help make the dreadmill miles a little more “fun”!
When Lisa and I arrived in Lexington, our first stop was packet pick-up and the expo! The first thing we notices was just how beautiful Keeneland Racetrack was! We were definitely not in Wisconsin anymore! Everything was well-organized and as long as you have your bib number, packet pick-up is a breeze. Don’t worry, if you don’t have your bib number, they have computers set up where you can look it up. We got our bibs and headed to do some shopping!
The expo, although small compared to many that I have been to before, was awesome! Again, well-organized and kept the flow of traffic going throughout! We each picked up a few things from the RTB booth and then headed to see what other goodies we could find. It was at the Expo that I found Ashleigh and she made a point to introduce me to her dear friend, who is one of the masterminds behind her favorite hydration drink – SWORD. Since it was going to be available on the course, I had to try it and make sure I was going to like it. Like it, I did. So much so that I ended up buying a bag! I know this is not going to replace my Tailwind for my long runs but this will definitely be added to my hydration plan!
After walking through, getting the necessities, as well as a few “oh, I gotta have this” items. we picked up our race shirts and headed to find our hotel, some food and then settle in for the night!
Lodging in and around Lexington is plentiful and RTB teams up with several of the local hotels to provide discounted rates for those coming in for the race. Since there were originally several of us considering the trip, we opted for rooms at the Residence Inn North, about 15 minutes away from Keeneland (the start/finish line). When it ended up being just Lisa and I, we considered changing hotels to something a little smaller and more cost effective, as we really didn’t need a hotel that would sleep up to 6 people! We found out quickly tho that most of the other hotels were already booked and changing hotels, or to a smaller room at the same place, was not going to save us much per night. So we had luxury accommodations for 2, including a full kitchen with real plates and silverware, a sitting area, a fireplace, 2 TV’s and so much more!
A little more room than we really needed, but since we were staying for a few extra days, the extra room was run! Plus we had room in the fridge for leftovers and that would come in handy later when we had tasty dinners that we didn’t want to have to leave behind! Plus we had room to keep a whole case of water cold at once!
I definitely recommend checking out the partner hotels! They treat you well and make sure you have everything you need! This particular hotel was located in a more industrial area, but we were still only minutes from downtown, 15 minutes from the race and it was a quiet area! Yes, we could have stayed somewhere that had more to do in the immediate area, but being 15 minutes from the race was awesome!
With early alarms going off, Lisa and I were ready for today. Well, as ready as we could ever be for all of these hills! The hotel set up breakfast early so all of us crazy runners could grab food before if we needed it. I headed over and grabbed few banana’s, a yogurt and coffee! But for those that needed more, they had waffles, eggs, sausage, cereal, oatmeal and more.
A short drive later, we were pulling back into the parking area at Keeneland! Once again, organization was on point! We ended up parking halfway between the start line and the finish line (start line was at the bottom of the hill, finish at the top). When we headed up to the building near the finish line to hit the bathrooms etc, we found that many of the expo vendors were still here! How cool! Once last chance to pick up something that you might have forgot!
Since it was a cooler morning that we anticipated, it was a chilly start. I actually opted to keep to keep my long sleeve shirt on. I was actually wishing that I would have remembered to pack my arm warmers to wear instead, but since I forgot, long sleeves it was, with the tank underneath!
After dropping our bag off at gear check, Lisa headed to the bathroom one last time and I spent some time roaming around the start line. Once I found my correct start corral, it was time to get serious. Time to get the game face on and get ready to run! Finding your start corral was a bit tough tho. Although they did have people standing at the beginning and end of each corral holding signs, the signs were not noticeable in the crowds. It would have been nice to have taller signs so that it was easier to figure out if you were in the right spot! I had several people ask me if they knew where we were supposed to be. In the end, we all figured it out, but that was the only things that I really noticed that might need some improvement!
It was finally go time! This race actually starts a little later than most half marathons that I have run. This is nice because with it being early April, the temps at night can be a bit chilly and at least with an 8:30am start time, Mother Nature has a little more time to wake up and warm things up. Didn’t really happen this year, but it wasn’t raining or snowing, so I wasn’t going to complain.
The race starts off with what it is known for – HILLS! From the time you cross the start line, until you make it back to the finish, there is no shortage of hills! However, the amazing thing about this race is that I never realized just how hilly it was. Wince we were running through horse country, past huge beautiful Thoroughbred farms and these amazing creatures in the field, the hills are almost forgotten.
I spent the morning sticking to my predetermined intervals as closely as I could. I say closely because one of my rules always has been that you can’t walk on a downhill! Well, there were plenty of downhills to keep me running. But I also ended up having to slow down on a few of the UP’s! It’s all a balance!
I made a point to also stick with the plan that I wasn’t going to push myself. This, in reality was a training run. Marathon training called for a 15 mile long run this weekend. My trainer and I decided that 13.1 miles of hills in Kentucky was close enough. Sticking with the plan, I kept going, enjoying the day,
I knew that the toughest part of the course was after we hit mile 9. The dreaded S-curve Hill. Let’s just say, it is virtually a mile of pure grit! It will push you further than any other hill can! It was game on. I was not going to let this hill beat me. I charged forward. I did have to take a few short walk breaks but I was so excited when I realized I conquered the beast and ran almost the entire thing!
Once I got past that hill, it was just a matter of getting to the finish!
I did have to laugh though. When I reached about mile 10.5 I felt my watch vibrate. I had not crossed a mile marker so I knew that it must be telling me that I reached one of my goals for the day. I assumed it had something to do with overall steps. I was wrong. At this point, I had officially climbed 50 flights of stairs for the day! And I was not even to mile 11! Ok, I knew it was hilly, but that really helped put it into perspective. By the time I finished I was at 65 flights of stairs climbed!
After a gentle climb up one last hill, the finish line was just around the corner!
13.1 miles of hills in Kentucky was complete!
Just as I was approaching the finish line I heard my friends Scott and Katie yelling for me. That’s one of the things that I love about the running community! I have friends that are just as crazy as me, love to travel and we all support each other no matter where we are!
But that wasn’t my only surprise at the finish line!
Just after I crossed and received my medal, I saw Lisa up ahead of me! She looked at me and was like “Did you just finish? How did I finish before you?” Needless to say, just past the halfway point, when I stopped to hit a port-a-potty, she snuck past me! Yup, the turtle is no more! Speedy Lisa is here! I told her that I was actually glad that I didn’t know that she past me when I made my stop. Since I was looking at this as a training run, I was focused on the pace I wanted to maintain. If I had knows she was ahead of me, the competitive hamster would have come out and I would have ended up pushing myself harder than I needed to. Super proud of this girl and how far she has coming in just a few short years! So blessed that we were able to share this amazing race together!
After grabbing a donut at the finish line, it was time to head over and meet up with Ashleigh at The Running Wife Social Team tent. Here, we found Ashleigh and her husband Tim, as well as Scott and Katie! Tim made some awesome cookies and cupcakes for all of us and Ashleigh provided bourbon and congratulatory hugs! We hung out here for a short time, but we were on a mission for showers and food. We asked Ashleigh for a recommendation for lunch and were off!
Awesome race! I am so glad that I selected this race as my half in Kentucky. I don’t know that I could have topped this experience.
This is one of the first times that I have traveled for a race and before I even finished, I said that I would come back and run this one again. Very well organized, fun expo, great support on and off the course and just an excitement among everyone you meet that is just electrifying! Oh yeah… and the bling was epic!
Throw in FREE race photos’s and you have the Crazy Hamster’s attention! Best part about these FREE race photo’s? I actually liked them! This is one of the VERY few times that I would have paid for race photos, but thanks to the awesome RTB team, I didn’t have to!
As I am on my quest to run all 50 states, it might be a few years before I get back to this one, but I can guarantee that RTB has not seen the last of The Crazy Hamster! Plus, add in the fact that I’d get to see and hang out with Ashleigh again, makes for another awesome racecation!
Do you have a favorite destination race? Share with me please! I am always looking for new races to consider on my mission to keep running in new places and see the country at the same time! Help the Crazy Hamster figure out where to run next! I’m already starting to work on my 2018 race calendar so help me figure out where I am heading next!