The Derby Marathon and MiniMarathon is generally regarded as Kentucky's premier foot race. With 18,000 participants, it is the largest running race in the bluegrass state. This was finally my first go at it. It was also my first half of the year, after reluctantly skipping Run The Bluegrass, due to injury. I was eager to toe the starting line, but also unsure of myself. A return to training in Vibram Five Fingers and barefoot running, with an added emphasis on form, had allowed me to resume running without aggrivating my IT bands, but I was well undertrained.
Louisville is only about an hour and a half away from Lexington, so getting up early Saturday morning, the day of the race, and driving west on 64 could have theorically been possible. However, being that there was no race day packet pickup, we booked a hotel north of downtown Louisville. After leaving work Friday afternoon, I drove straight home, carbed up on baked potatoes and veggies, and hit the road with the family.
Despite the relatively short distance between Lexington and Louisville, I don't frequent downtown Louisville very often. Yet, after a few wrong turns, we made it safely to the Kentucky International Convention Center for the expo. I am easily pleased with these events, so long as I can simply pick up my bib and shirt. Yet, I soon discovered that they were out of my shirt size. For the most part, the shirts I have received from races are in my closet collecting dust. However, considering that I registered months in advance, I was annoyed that they somehow did not have the shirt I paid for. On the positive side, I like race posters, and was pleased to see them passed out for no extra charge, plus free gloves.
On Saturday morning, I woke up in the hotel room at 5am, two and a half hours before race start. I didn't get the best quality sleep, but it was somewhat expected, since it was the night before a race that I was unsure of, and I was in a foreign bed. However, don't think it usually has a dramatic effect on my results. I drank a glass of water and ate a couple bananas, the usual before a morning run or race, and we checked out of the hotel before 6am.
Downtown Louisville nearly appeared to be a ghost town during our short commute. I didn't mind, but was surprised considering the size of the race. We were actually able to find parking within a block from the starting line. The weather was somewhat cool and overcast, but ideal for running. I wore a jacket for a while, but took it off before going to the start line, needing only shorts and a singlet.
I entered Corral A, just behind the elite runners, around 7:15. Most of the corrals further back were already full, but Corral A still had plenty of room. Music was playing and the announcers were preparing for the start, until a moment of silence was requested for the recent tragedy at the Boston Marathon. Soon after, the national anthem was sung and the wheelchair racers were off, followed by runners.
I managed to dial in a comfortable pace, without getting too caught up in the excitement of the start. I knew that I'd likely end up passing many of the early sprinters later in the race. We ran through downtown Louisville and then entered the urban neighborhoods. Spectators were scattered, but enthusiastic. In my last big city race, the Columbus Marathon, we ran through Ohio State's football stadium. In Louisville, the main attraction was running through Churchill Downs. Despite living in Kentucky and not being a fan of horse racing, it was interesting to have the experience of running through such a historically famous venue.
Leaving Churchill Downs, I still felt pretty solid. I wouldn't exactly say that I felt like a well oiled machine, because I'd occasionally feel a quark or two that would cause me to worry, but I was doing as we'll as I could have expected. Headed back toward downtown, I encountered a fellow runner who noticed my Vegan Athletes singlet and introduced himself as a fellow vegan. It was a plant powered moment.
As we reentered Downtown for the last 5k, I found myself not only holding on, but seemingly picking up steam. I think this feeling was partially due to so many other runners fading, and I was able to pick off dozens, often 2 or 3 at a time. I'd eye down a runner in the distance, convince myself into feeling confident that I should definitely be faster for whatever reason, and then reel them in.
Approaching the finish, I still felt like some gas in the tank. I think wearing the Five Fingers and focussing on form really helped me run more efficiently. I repeatedly reminded myself to bend my knees, bend my knees, bend until I was running in a semi squatted position. Coincidentally, as I crossed the finish line, I was neck to neck with the only other runner that I saw in Five Fingers.
After finishing, I was given a medal, a space blanket, and had my picture snapped. After eyeing down the table of food, I passed on the dairy based smoothies that McDonald's was handing out, but picked up the healthiest vegan food I could, bottled water, Sun Chips, a somewhat ripe banana, and package of "dry biscuits". Within 10 minutes I was "reunited" with my family.