It’s been a while since our group has done a destination race! The Living Fit Cbus run crew started in January 2014 and has done two destination races in smaller groups, including The Mini Indy and The Detroit Half Marathon. This spring we tackled the Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon in Kentucky, a hilly but gorgeous race known as “America’s Prettiest Half Marathon.” This was also our largest road-trip group to date, with six of us making the trip down to Lexington. We hope it is the start to a fun tradition of occasionally getting out of Cbus and seeing the roads and trails across America!
As we were training, several of us enjoyed reading blogs, reviews, etc about the race, especially since it was known to be a challenging course. Because of this, we committed to start doing more recaps for our readers to view. Here are some of our thoughts from running the countryside of Lexington….
Side note: This was Teresa & Lauren’s first post-baby half! We were in it to “finish.”
Race thoughts by Teresa:
I was very excited to do my first road trip race since 2012 when my mom & I trekked down to Run Raleigh. As a former assistant coach for LifeTime Fitness Run Club, I used to do a destination race annually, conquering many races in mostly mid-west states. Run the Bluegrass was my first destination race with the Living Fit Cbus crew due to my constant cycle of being pregnant, having babies and/or nursing over the last five years! Now that my littles are ages four and one, I feel like I finally have time & enough nightly hours of sleep to begin pursing running goals again. My personal bucket list includes running a half marathon in half the states and although I’ve run through Kentucky during the Flying Pig Half Marathon, this was technically my first “complete” half in the bluegrass state.
We traveled down on Friday night and got to the Expo just in time. It was a smaller one, but it got the job done. We ran into some people from one of our favorite local Cbus brands, Bend Active.
I was weirdly nervous going into this race. Between not having run a half since 2014, and knowing how hilly & challenging the course was, my nerves during race week were doing cartwheels! Even though several of us had said “we should just run it for fun” and we weren’t truly worried about pace or finish time, my heart still wanted to finish with a time I could be proud of. And we did.
Unless you had run the race before or you did the treadmill simulator (like Lauren!), it was somewhat challenging to know how your body can perform over miles & miles of hills. Here in Columbus, you may find a hill here and there, but let’s be honest…. its known to be a flat, fast terrain. So I was dreaming about (rather having nightmares about) hills starting about a week prior to race day.
We always aim to have THREE race day goals. Your “top” goal, like if all goes right and the stars in the universe align. A middle goal. And lastly an “okay, I’d at least be happy if…” goal. This way when you cross that finish line, no matter what your “time” is, you have something to feel proud of! Mine were to 1) Stay at a 9:30 pace 2) Stay under 10 minutes 3) Finish the race, while ‘mostly’ running & attempting to stay under a 10:30 pace.
Several of us started in wave 2, hoping to finish under 2:15 or a 10:30/mile pace. Christine, Lauren, Deedra and I stayed together until somewhere around mile three where we forced Christine to surge ahead – she was really holding back to stay with us and we were like “GO girl!” For the next seven-ish miles, D, L & I embraced the hills, slowed down through the water stops and enjoyed conversation with each other. The horse farms and countryside were as beautiful as the race website and all the bloggers had stated. Although I personally would have preferred a bit warmer day and a little more sunshine (it was a cloudy low 40s), it was an enjoyable ten miles.
Once we hit the 10 mile mark, we discussed the “only a 5K left!” mentality and agreed to finish strong, at our own pace. I popped my headphones in, turned on my power songs (Rise Up & Girl on Fire… repeat!) and went for it. Deedra and I finished almost together and my chip time was 2:04:58. Some miles were slower (those hills!) and some were faster (when I was chasing D at the end!) and averaged out to around a 9:33 pace. Goal #1 met! And this was almost the exact same finish time as my very first half. Although I know there is room for improvement, a time I am happy with!
Things I liked about Run the Bluegrass:
- Although its often harder to get to a destination race expo on a Friday night, I much prefer a Saturday race. I like to have Sunday to relax & recover before heading back into a busy workweek. I’m not really an expo junkie like some, so getting there towards the end didn’t bother me much! And my quads were on FIRE from all those downhills about 12 hours after the race, so I was happy to have Sunday for added R&R.
- Wow, the scenery! Aside from the gorgeous race route, there were many great photo opps including Expo photos with the “horses” (ok, they were fake), the Keenland track itself & the nearby UK Campus.
- Having the girls there at the start, during the race, and at the finish made this one of my most memorable runs. It is always more fun to have ‘support’ and of course, friends to take IG worthy pics with. 🙂
- The website didn’t have a ton of information, but there were pacers, which aren’t always offered at smaller races. Pace groups can be helpful to runners trying to PR, those who need help maintaining consistent laps or solo runners that want a little group camaraderie.
Some things to consider when running this course:
- Although the course was absolutely gorgeous, the crowd support was not like some of the larger city road races… so it was nice to have buddies to chat with along the 13.1 mile course. Unless you love serene, quiet races… bring a friend, your favorite playlist & earbuds, or maybe both!
- Hills. Man do I dislike hills. But hey, they make you a stronger runner and help you “lift” those glutes!
Overall it was amazing and after 13 miles of hill training… I now have my sights set on breaking two hours in 2017!
Race thoughts by Lauren:
I always start my reviews on the expo because let’s be serious, the expo is just as much fun as the race. We arrived at the expo on Friday night and the place was packed! As soon as you walked into the Keeneland Entertainment Center you were able to grab your bag and bib which was super convenient BUT you had to go through the entire expo in order to receive your long sleeve hoodie at the end…very smart RTB peeps, very smart. The expo had a number of vendors but I left wanting something more. The space was on the smaller side and between the crowds and tight quarters I wanted to get through there as fast as possible which was a bummer since I normally LOVE the expos.
Friday night we stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites by the Keeneland Airport which was about 10 minutes from Keeneland Racecourse. With the complementary breakfast and close proximity to the race, I highly recommend this hotel for future runners.
The race started at 9:00am Saturday morning which was wonderful. I love when races are on Saturdays and a 9am start time is even better. We were able to leave the hotel at 8:15 and make it to the start by 8:30 (I got dropped off and didn’t have to park which would have likely added more time). The temperature was a cool 44 degrees which was PERFECT in my book. We all met up in wave 2 (an approx. 2hr finish time) which was clearly marked and close to the starting line. The Yearling group went out first at 8:55 then Wave 1 was out exactly at 9am and we quickly followed.
Right out of the gate we started up an easy rolling hill and were greeted by a few horses galloping along the fence next to us, it was gorgeous and pretty surreal! There were a couple more rolling hills in the next 3 miles and then around mile 3.5 it started to get challenging. Luckily before the race I had used the treadmill simulator of the course elevation so I knew this big incline was coming. I highly recommend you take a look at the treadmill simulator on the RunTheBluegrass training page, it was helpful to know what was coming so that I could pace myself early on.
Once we got past the big hill at mile 4 we had a steady decline and we were able to catch our breath and get some momentum back before we had to climb again. The next 5 miles were hill after hill (sorry, there is no sugarcoating this race!) but with every hill came a nice decline or flat and we were able to keep our pace. It certainly helped that the course was absolutely gorgeous. There were horses everywhere and beautiful farmland, it definitely lived up to it’s reputation for the prettiest half marathon in America.
It was around mile 9 that things were starting to hurt. I felt an aching pain in my back and started to cramp (note to self- don’t use fuel chomps on race day if you haven’t been training with them, rookie mistake). I promised myself I wouldn’t start walking until mile 10 and of course right after we passed the mile 10 flag we were greeted with 2 steep hills. I’m not sure if it was because we were chatting throughout the race or if they were easier than I thought but surprisingly the hills seemed pretty manageable up until this point. The final hills between miles 10-12 were tough and steep. I walked off and on before finally getting an adrenaline boost at mile 12.5 and finished strong.
Overall it was an awesome race. If you’re someone like me who relies on a good crowd to keep you motivated while you’re running I would strongly recommend running this with a buddy or group. Since there isn’t much crowd support along the way it was crucial to have my running buddies there for support and distraction from those wicked hills!
Race thoughts by Christine:
I have fallen in love with running again since having my son 9 months ago and was excited to head to beautiful Lexington for this race with some of the LFC crew. Like T mentioned, the group had some collective pre-race nerves about the hilly course, but I had been preparing for a hilly trail race also taking place in April and had put in the work during my training. I knew I wanted to put in a good effort for my run, but still wasn’t sure that I wanted to “race” this one. I woke up on Saturday and was feeling good — I was rested, the company was great, and the music at the starting line was pumping me up — so I decided to trust my training and push myself a bit.
Overall we loved the race and had a great weekend. These iphone photos don’t do the course justice. We all finished and two girls (Christine and Peggy whoop whoop!) even hit a PR on that challenging course. We went for some re-fueling after and met at Pazzo’s pizza, which we’d highly recommend. Can’t wait for our next racing road trip!