Wow! People – I would love to sit here and say OMG – how is it already the end of March and RTB has passed again – EXCEPT that it’s already the middle of April. Time is moving FAST FAST FAST these days – and I say that AFTER I just finished up a week of vacation! Isn’t vacation supposed to be a slow-down time? Nevertheless, it IS mid-April and two weeks have passed by since RTB was logged into the recordbooks. Some races, you write about right away. Others, you need to let soak in. RTB is a soak-in for me. Even with being a race ambassador (or Race AmBADASSador, as we call ourselves) again this year, there are so many details which Eric Marr (RD) and Rachel Crabtree (ARD), as well as their bevy of volunteers, invest themselves in, that I think they warrant a few moments of just absorbing the big picture of the event.
The Race: Billed as America’s Prettiest Half Marathon, Run The Bluegrass starts and finishes at Keeneland Racecourse. Options available are 13.1 & 7-mile distances, run simultaneously. The 7-mile race splits off of the half-marathon course via a cross road and joins back up with it again before the finish. Race date is usually the last Saturday in March, which was 3/28 this year. The date has moved to the first Saturday in April – 4/2 – for 2016.
The Swag: Swag has it’s own special personality at RTB, which is one of the things I LOVE about it most. Included in the race fee is a t-shirt, an option for a personalized bib, and your medal. I’ll admit, on the surface, this doesn’t sound like much – until you also add in the meet-up tents & INDOOR areas pre-race, the post-race PARTY, then the post-post-race party later that evening. There’s also the fact that this race is NOT a crowded melee like many others are these days – worth a premium to me. Other race organizers please note – capping race attendance is NOT a sin!
This year, there was a problem in shipping with the Nike shirts which would have delayed receiving them until after the race. For Eric & Rachel, this wasn’t an option – they knew runners would be disappointed and no one wants to see a sad runner. They sprang into action and got in some super soft hoodies! A lighter-weight version than the winter hoodies, I think I like it better than a shirt! (Especially since I’m trying to thin out the herd of shirts in my running wardrobe right now.) It’s unique and an awesome option to have available to throw over running or yoga clothes for post-workout beers. All of the runners I spoke with LOVED the hoodie and several were already sporting it at yoga the next morning.
Also, they don’t skimp on the medal for this run. The medal is GORGEOUS!!! Beautiful detail and it weighs a ton! If you are into race bling, this should be one you seek to collect.
The rest of the swag available is at your discretion – you have a menu to pick and choose what means the most to you in the form of one-of-a-kind experiences that you buy tickets for – thoroughbred farm tours, distillery tours, race course tours, excellent pre-&-post race dinners. I’ve done many of these experiences myself and this is swag you don’t forget. Last year, I got to pet a foal that in another year, I’m likely to see competing at Keeneland, making its name as a champion. I also learned all about
making my own hooch distilling bourbon and found a new love in bourbon cream (who knew that existed?!). Um, I hear there’s also a yoga class the next day at the race hotel…I think I might know the teacher. :) (And yes, I customized my bib to promo the yoga class.) You can EASILY make an entire weekend of the race, scheduled with events at a pace to suit you.
The Tag: Registration cost is on a sliding scale, depending on when you register. Registration for 2016 was already available at the 2015 Expo for $50 – RIDICULOUSLY LOW – for this run. Discount codes were emailed out to race alumni. Current 2016 registration is $70 for 13.1 and $60 for 7-mile distances. It pays to register early, though I don’t recall fees going over $85 for 2015 – which is still a decent price compared to the experience you get up against a higher fee for RnR races which are way too crowded to enjoy half as much.
The Course: As it says when you open the webpage, RTB is “One of America’s 20 standout, must-do half-marathons” per Runners’ World – and you know RW don’t lie! The course on this race is AMAZING – 13 miles of rolling green hills – pastures – farms. Million dollar horses watch you pass by. At one point in mile 11 – we saw SIX PAIRS of mothers & foals standing side-by-side in a pasture. On a blue-skied, Spring day with all the greenery beginning to emerge, this course is Americana at it’s finest.
It is also HILLY AS F-…hills can be. I have to be honest about the fact that this is NOT an easy course – you will be challenged by it. But that’s also what makes it majestic and completely worth the effort. It’s like running through a postcard. A very pretty, but also sweat-inducing, postcard. There’s a gopro of the course on youtube here. I’ll admit, I didn’t watch all of it because – 90 minutes, but next Winter when I’m training, this will be nice to throw on the iPad and watch from my view on the treadmill as an inspirational tool.
Of Course: Guys, I teared up at the start line. Normally, that’s a finish line thing – but honestly, I was doing my best not to take a minute just to sob it out at the start of my 13.1. Not for any awful reason, but because being able to do this race for the 13.1 distance was a hugely emotional thing for me. This was my 3rd attempt. In year 1, I dropped to the 7-miler at the expo because I was undertrained for the race. Year 2 – the knee injury had me hobbling around taking pictures. I had to admit that there was no way in hell I could run it, not even the 7-miler, a week before the race. After having an entire year to prepare, that sucked. So at year 3, and a year after that injury sidelined me, to just be standing at the start line was a victory in and of itself. Whatever happened on the course was gravy.
My Day: Eric & I opted against getting a hotel this year. We’ve done a hotel the past 2 years, to varying degree, but Lexington is only 80-90 minutes from my house and an EASY drive, so we decided to try handling the experience without one. This would let me rest & recover in my own bed, and keep us from having to book a dogsitter. We drove up for packet pickup on Thursday – the first opportunity. The expo was not crowded and was set up with a walk-through flow that kept you moving. I was able to pick up packets for myself & several RWB friends who were running. Eric & Rachel were both there, greeting runners and helping out. There were a LOT of other local races there and part of what was nice was that you actually had time to stop and chat with the booth people about the runs – as opposed to being hurried due crowds. We stayed for dinner, grabbing a great burger and beer at the Shamrock, then back home.
Race Day started by being out the door at 6:45 with RWB Rebecca joining us for the drive down. We made a pretty seamless drive, got through Gate 2 to park and made it to our RWB tent at 8:35. In that venue, 25 minutes to a race start is PLENTY of time to get where you need to be – except that the porta potty lines looked LONG, but we’d already taken care of that on the way.
Wave starts kept the running crowd from being overwhelming, although I think RTB has done a great job choosing a 5000 runner cap on this race. Then we were off! I had strategized to do a 3:1 interval for this race and not worry about the clock. As I said before, I planned an aggressive Spring racing season – and I wanted to be able to race the whole season, not off myself in the first one. It was perfect running weather for me – I set my dial to HAPPY and got moving. The first 1.5 went by nicely and I was setting up for a great run. Around that point, I came across my friend Jenn. Jenn & I swim together twice a week and she’s on my short list of great training buddies. She was walking and I decided to walk with her – not really sure how or when both of us decided that was the thing to do – we’re pretty good at pushing each other – but we ran a little and walked most of the rest. Keep in mind, other than driving it – I’d never seen the 13.1 course the way it needed to be viewed. And Jenn ran in 2014, in that HORRIBLE weather – head down, don’t look up, kind of freezing cold rain – so she hadn’t really seen the course the way it should be viewed either. Seriously folks – YOU DON’T RUSH YOUR EXPERIENCE ON THAT KIND OF GORGEOUS. For the next 3-hours, we took the time to soak in how beautiful the route was – stopping to take some pictures, chatting, talking training plans for triathlon season. Both of us have our competitive, PR-driven sides, but there was this mutual agreement that happened which threw that out the window for a minute to really see this run. We were enjoying the day, and that was AWESOME!
On meeting Eric at finish, he commented that this was the first half-mar he’d seen me look genuinely happy crossing the finish line.
We took advantage of drinks and food, and the massage table lines were short by that time, so I took advantage of that too. I hugged a few friends and then it was time to ride back. RWB Rebecca had PR’d significantly on that hard course, so it was fun to swap our race stories on the way home. I declined going to the post-post-race party that night as I had to prep to teach 2 yoga classes at the race hotel the next day.
The Ending Line: As I move more into trail running, it’s getting harder to hear the call of pavement, so I’m not sure what will happen in terms of my choosing to run this race next year. It’s likely that I will, but weather made training this past Winter a miserable endeavor. It was tough to get the mileage in that I needed to really make a go of this race. So lots to mull over there. Trying to decide whether the 7-mile option might be better for me, though missing some of that scenery in the upper miles of the 13.1 is a heartbreaking thought too… There’s also the camaraderie I’d miss from the RTB friends I’ve made through being a race ambassador and yoga teacher, as well as the RWB Chapters that showed up from Chicago, Cincy & Lexington.
The Next Race: Um, the next race was this past Saturday – so I’m behind a full race recap on Forget the PR Mohican 25k. Trust me when I say, I need to write that one up! Lots to say about that. Two weeks into the future, I’ll be doing a girls’ weekend at Country Music Half-Marathon in Nashville.