Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Holy Hills, Batman!

It's official... I am back in the game when it comes to running!  Yep, yours truly has re-entered the world of road racing, and boy does it feel good!  Aside from the Race for the Cure last October, I have not participated in any sort of race since I was pregnant with Jake in 2009.  I ran occasionally after he was born, and then was pregnant again before I knew it.  After Lilly came along, I took my time getting back into it and then kicked it into high gear over the past ten weeks, ramping up my weekly mileage and starting to feel like me again.  When I heard that the Lexington Half Marathon had a four-person relay team option, I thought it might be the perfect way to get my feet wet again.  

There are very few things that I love more in this life than a good race day.  And knowing that the course was through Keeneland (a horse racing track surrounded by gorgeous horse farms and gardens), I knew it would be a beautiful place to run.  But race days are more than that for me.  Some people dislike having to bob and weave their way around runners of different paces, but I had forgotten how much I love that.  It's like a little game to me, and it gives me something to focus on other than the run.  And oh the energy!  There is such an excitement at any race that it's almost palpable and this one was no different.  Whether it's your first race or your 100th, those butterflies and jitters are still there.  But more than anything, my favorite part of any race day is the comradery between all of the participants and the spectators.  Since I was part of a relay team, I had to wait at a checkpoint for about 35 minutes until my partner finished the first leg and handed off our timing wristband.  But while a group of about 40 of us stood there, we got to watch as the first guy zoomed by, literally sprinting.  We all cheered and clapped, proud of this total stranger.  Then two more came by and we shouted words of encouragement.  Maybe the biggest applause came when about the sixth man ran by- get this- pushing a DOUBLE jogging stroller!  Wow.  You are my hero, dude.  And then of course we got to see the first women come by and that set us all off into a frenzy again.  We continued to clap and cheer as the crowd thickened and then I screamed my brains out when I spotted Josh.  That would be him in the pink sleeves.  Because as you know, real men do wear pink.

I spent the next few minutes looking for my relay partner and somehow spotted her before I did.  Yeah, we all wore light blue tee-shirts, which did not stand out in a crowd at all.  Something to remedy next year.  I grabbed the wristband and off I went, filled to the brim with bound up energy.  And even though I knew the course was supposed to be hilly, I think I underestimated what that actually meant.  Holy hills, Batman!  This course is... in a word... insane.  When I would get to the top of one hiull, I could see three more ahead of me, laid out like a roller coaster.  The uphills are slow, steady, and brutal.  The downhills are wonderful and frequent, but quickly followed by another trek upward.  I ran my first two miles much too quickly, averaging a 9:10 pace.  By the third mile, I was walking the uphills and running the downhills and flats.  And when I finally handed off the wristband to my sister, Angie, I was pretty sure I was done.  Josh was at the leg 3 checkpoint waiting on me, having had run legs 1 and 2.  One of his relay partners was there, too, so the three of us chatted about our runs and complained about the hills for a few minutes.  Both of us had wanted to use this run as our long training run for the week (he's training for the Nashville full this month and I'm training for the Flying Pig Half in May) so after about ten minutes, we decided to set out, at least to the next checkpoint.  I had heard that my leg was supposed to have been the hilliest, but leg three was no better.  Up and down we went, and one hill in particular went up for what seemed like forever.  Josh and I haven't run together since before Jake was born and we had a blast being out there again.  He high fived everyone on the course, we blasted music from my iPhone, and at the checkpoint for leg 4, we decided to just go to the entire way.  Why the heck not.

This race was perfect for training in a lot of ways.  I'm sure you all have heard of "hitting the wall" in a long run.  Well, I had forgotten what that was like.  And while I didn't go all the way to that dark place on this run, I did stand on the brink of it.  I had the moments where my brain started going from "you can do anything" to "you're never going to finish this."  I'm not entirely sure how, but I shut it off, zeroed in on the finish, and just kept going.  I'm glad I got a taste of that again, just to be reminded of how quickly that mentality can creep up on you.  But even more so, I'm glad that I could shut it off this time at least and finish strong.

Which reminds me what else I love about race day: crossing the finish line.  There is seriously nothing like it in the world.  Running down a chute of people cheering for you, well, is exhilarating to say the least and it felt good to be a runner instead of a spectator again.  And getting a medal doesn't hurt either.  I am a sucker for good bling.

In the end, I ran about nine and a half miles and Josh ran the full distance, but this was just what I needed to gain my confidence back.  I now know that I will be able to finish the full distance in May, even though it probably won't be in record time, which is fine by me.  Over these next few weeks I just need to work on pacing myself, not starting out too fast, and finding a sustainable speed for myself.

If you are looking for a beautiful half marathon to run, this is probably it.  We passed mansions, vineyards, horse-filled pastures, and barns that probably cost more than any house I will ever live in.  If you want a challenging course with plenty of elevation, this would be perfect.  But if you're just looking for a run run with your friends, I'd steer clear or recommend the relay option.  The course is a true loop with no real way to get to the middle without driving on the course, so there isn't much by way of spectators or entertainment.  The water stops were frequent enough, which I appreciated, but aside from the scenery, it's just you, the other runners, and the open road.  I did appreciate the three little girls that sat out on a fence rail and cheered everyone on around mile 10.  They had made signs for their parents obviously, and then another one that just said, "Go Moms!  Go Dads!"  I had to smile at that one.  Oh yeah, another thing I love about a good race day are the little things like that.  And it feels so good to be a part of it again.

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