The Day the Stars Aligned

The Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon and Mini Marathon have come and gone. It’s a little like Christmas when I wait and wait in anticipation, and suddenly it’s over. What do I have to look forward to now? A lot of things, actually. As you might have expected, what follows is a recap of the weekend – what a great weekend it turned out to be!

Gary and I left for Louisville shortly after noon on Friday. As much as I was looking forward to the race and all of the events surrounding it, I was looking forward to time with my husband even more. With two seventeen year old girls to keep up with, four jobs between us, and a home to care for, time just for us can be pretty limited. I had decided that I wanted this Derby experience to be completely different than previous years, so I wasn’t going to hang out with the Perry County crowd. I love my running friends more than they’ll ever know, but I needed to focus on myself and getting through this race. I wasn’t there to socialize; I couldn’t because I was so stinkin’ nervous that I wouldn’t have been much fun to be around. I could have burst out in tears at any given moment.

After checking into our apartment-sized room at the Galt House (seriously, we could have taken the entire family, including the babies!), it was time to head to the expo, which is one of my favorite parts of Derby Weekend. There are all sorts of vendors peddling everything running from headbands to Asics clothing to Nikes to compression gear. I went in determined to not make stupid purchases. I tend to get caught up in the moment and buy things I later realize I didn’t really need. I made two purchases: a pair of super-cute purple and white checked Adidas shorts that were half price, and some Nike running leggings that were less than half price. I will definitely use both, so they were smart purchases. I could spend a fortune at the expo, but didn’t need to. After we finished, we had a couple of hours before our friends were set to arrive, and I was hungry. In the Fourth Street Live area, there is a restaurant called the Louisville Sport and Social Club that we have eaten at the night before the race for the past three years. I wasn’t going to eat there this year because, you know, I was changing it up. However, they have fabulous dessert, so we (well, I) decided to go share a dessert to hold us over until dinner.

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Yup, that is a gigantic brownie with chocolate sauce and ice cream. When they brought it out, I thought well, we’ll have to take part of that back to the hotel! 

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We didn’t. Gary and I devoured the whole thing! And gosh, it was scrumptious! We waddled back to the hotel, and plopped down for a nap while we waited for Brian and Debbie to be ready for dinner. She texted and said they’d hurry; I told her to take her time. I needed some time to digest my dessert. It counts as carbs, doesn’t it? We met our friends at O’Shea’s Pub for dinner, and it turned out to be a perfect evening. Debbie and I had spaghetti in an effort to carb load; the food was fabulous and the company even better.

On the way back to the hotel I received a text saying that the Perry Country crew would be meeting for a group picture early the next morning. Again, I was determined to avoid the whole group thing. I was so nervous about this race that I was near tears many times on Friday, and again Saturday morning. I just couldn’t face all my friends who were so excited about the race. I had a certain degree of excitement, but an abundance of anxiety. Thankfully, my husband is a patient man, and when I suggested (demanded?) we go out another door to avoid everyone, he was very understanding (on the outside. I am pretty sure he was finally convinced I am nuts.). We made our way out of the hotel and down toward the start early Saturday morning. Gary knows that I don’t talk before a race, and he leaves me to my thoughts, which that day included a lot of self-doubt. We found my corral and I made my way through the waves of runners trying to remain on the outside of the crowd. Yes, I also have anxiety about crowds, and being in the middle causes heart palpitations and major sweat. I was supposed to meet my friend Danielle so that we could at least start the race together. When I didn’t spot her, I kind of began to panic. She is a very high-energy positive person, and I needed to draw from her energy that morning. I finally saw her and convinced her to climb through the fence and into our corral. Danielle, Kris, and Amber were all smiles and eagerness. I was all nerves, upset stomach, pounding head, and tightening chest.

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I know what you’re thinking…Damn, those knee braces are sexy! I took every precaution: lots of water, carbs all week, Aleve, rest days, compression socks, and knee braces. I wanted to finish this race. Once the crew of ladies arrived, I began to soak up their enthusiasm and relax (just a little). FYI…My daughter asked me what the purpose of the arm warmers was. When the race begins, it is usually early, and therefore, chilly. After one has run a few miles, she begins to warm up, and arm warmers are perfect to just slip off and stick in the waistband. I am not coordinated enough to take off a long-sleeved shirt while running. That would end badly. There are some who wear trashbags on them to keep warm before the race. Really? If I am going to be slow, I am going to look good, and a trashbag is just not very stylish.

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And then they got a little silly…

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I realize it’s difficult to tell, but there were 16,000 runners. 16,000. That’s more than twice the population of our small town! From our starting point, it took us about seven minutes just to get to the starting line once the race began. The minute we crossed that line, I stopped obsessing and just ran. Danielle and I stuck together. I told her that she could go ahead, and I wouldn’t mind, but she stayed back with me. We had only run together once before, but we seemed to have this rhythm that worked for us, and we passed people with ease. We just knew where the other was going as we weaved among the runners. We both had our own music playing, and didn’t talk a lot, but it was nice that there was someone there if I had something to say. Danielle also air-drums to certain songs, just as I do, so we made a great team. When I would start to slow or want to stop and walk, she’d fist-bump and smile, and we’d keep going.

Last year my knee blew in Churchill Downs. It was a devastating moment in my running career (I use that term lightly), and the closer we got, the more my heart began to pound. I had spent a great deal of time on my playlist, and tried to place songs where I thought I would need them. Before we entered Churchill, Addison’s song, I Got Nerve, came on. It couldn’t have been at a better time. It was about not backing down and facing one’s fears. I was so very grateful that Addison chose that song, and that it came on when it did. I was near tears as we entered the track area, but once again, Danielle’s joy got me through. She knew that was a hard place for me, and she kept me going. I was so happy when we came out on the other side. We had about five more miles to go, and we were headed back downtown. The crowds along the route were amazing. I love reading all the signs as I run. My personal favorites: ‘If you think running is hard, you should teach middle school’, and ‘Smile if you’ve peed a little bit’.

The last three miles were brutal. Danielle and I ran a 9:04 pace the first mile, and slowed a little with each mile. That was because of me. She could have kept up a faster pace if she wanted. I so wanted to walk during those last few miles. I was tired, and I kind of felt as if I could puke. How embarrassing would that be? I pushed on with Danielle about ten feet ahead of me. I kept her lime green shirt in my sight and felt like I was on auto-pilot. And then we turned the corner onto Main Street, and I knew we only had a half mile left. I knew that I would see my husband along that street. I knew we were almost there…I was going to make it! I get emotional just thinking about it. I caught back up with Danielle, and we headed to the finish. Then I saw Gary, camera in hand and a smile on his face. We rounded the last corner and sprinted (just a little) toward the finish. Danielle finished a few feet in front of me, and was there with a hug when I crossed. Amazing. I have never been so glad to cross a finish line in my life. I had done it, and my knees didn’t fail me. Actually, they didn’t feel bad at all. I was truly overjoyed.

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If you’re not a runner, you might not understand how important those medals are, but that’s what we work our asses off for. We are just as proud as a first grader winning a medal on field day, or an Olympic athlete winning gold. We have sacrificed time with loved ones, sweated, worked through countless injuries and aches, cross-trained, and run in really crappy weather, all to cross that line and get that medal – and a pretty cool shirt. See those smiles? Those are as genuine as it gets. I am so thankful to Danielle for sticking by my side and encouraging me along the way. I am thankful to all of my friends who were understanding of my need to stay to myself and focus on my run. And I am incredibly proud that I finished a half marathon after thinking I would never be able to run 13.1 again just a few months ago. I am also thankful for all of the texts and Facebook messages wishing me good luck and letting me know that my friends believed in me…even when I didn’t believe in myself.

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After we watched several of our friends finish, we had planned to meet Brian and Debbie for a celebratory lunch (we deserved to pig out at that point), but my stomach was upset, and Gary and I just headed home. I ended up in bed most of the afternoon with stomach cramps. One of my experienced running friends suggested dehydration, and that makes sense. When I weighed, I had lost 3.5 pounds just that day. Once I got up and showered, and started to try to eat, I began to feel better, but was still tired and sore. Today I feel fine other than sore calf muscles.

I have to congratulate my running friends (and I just know I will forget someone – sorry!!!). First of all, Congrats to Danielle for your PR! I’ll run faster next time – promise! To my friends who were virgin mini-marathoners, you are awesome! Missy, Stephanie, and Debbie, I am so very proud of you! Some of you (maybe all of you) thought you’d never run that far, but you worked hard, griped a little (that was Missy), and you earned that stinkin’ medal! Breanne, Blair, Emily, Tomi Jo, Kris, Amber, Paula, Chasity, Melinda, Tony, Scott, and Debbie K: Congrats to each of you! You all inspire the rest of us to keep going, even when it’s difficult. Kathy Pyle…wow. YOU RAN A MARATHON! I am in awe! You have accomplished more in the past few years than most of us will accomplish in a lifetime. Congratulations!

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And to these two little boys, I hope this Nana can always keep up with you! I want you to see that you are never too old to set goals and achieve those goals.

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And my lovely daughters…I hope I make you proud and inspire you to be the best you can be! I hope you always go after your dreams, and know that you have all the support and love you need.

And to my incredibly patient husband, thank you for your support, encouragement, and understanding when I’ve been slightly psycho! I love you to the moon and back!

Peace, love, and running…

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