I selected the Kentucky Derby Marathon as my first (and maybe only) marathon experience. Louisville is under 2 hours from Cincinnati, and I thought a run through a city we once lived in (and a run through the fabled Churchill Downs infield) would be a treat. Plus, with the race in late April, the prospect of decent weather was a draw.
My wife and I booked the posh 21c Hotel the night prior to the run and had a fabulous dinner at a new Italian bistro - Mozz. I loaded up on pasta and also both G2 and regular Gatorade for a couple of days pre-race. I also packed for possible thunderstorms in the forecast, which thankfully did not materialize.
I trained alone, as mentioned above, since I am not a "social" exerciser. I run and lift weights typically at 5:30 am before my family arises to "get it out of the way" before beginning a busy day. Having completed a half marathon 6 months prior, I thought the next logical step would be a full marathon. Through diet and the free marathon rookie program (google it and print out the free schedule), I was in the best shape of my life on race day. 44 years old, 175 lbs, 6 ft tall.
Although I felt I was in great shape, I was a bit worried pre-race for two reasons: 1) I had a hammy "tweak" that had bothered me for a month pre-race. I couldn't seem to shake the soreness by resting a day or two, so just ran through the pain until a week prior to the race. I ran 13.1 miles the Sunday prior to race day and then just shut it down for 6 days pre-race - didn't run at all. The hammy still felt sore leading up to race morning. 2) Due to a family cruise and a trip to the NCAA basketball title game to see my beloved Kentucky Wildcats win an 8th NCAA title, I never completed a training run over 15 miles. I wanted to hit 20, but with the travel and the hammy tweak, 15 was my max. Would it be enough?
My wife kissed me goodbye on race morning, and thankfully, the clouds parted and perfect running weather emerged. It was 50 at the gun, and 65 at the finish - no humidity. The hammy grabbed me from the opening of the race, and as I ran by my wife at mile 1, I told her that I might be in for a long day. However, I trudged through the first 6 miles without incident, until a much needed bathroom break cost me 5 minutes of time waiting in line.
I ran only with my iPhone and 3 packs of GU gummies. I was also determined to take the water/powerade at every stop to maintain carbs and hydration. I started the morning with a bagel and peanut butter and 2 Gatorades - I paid for it with the bathroom break on mile 6 but it was still a good decision, as I was well hydrated later in the race.
The race was crowded with 16,000 half marathoners versus only 2,000 for the full, through the first 8 miles. I saw a guy go down on mile 6, nose bleeding and flat on his back. Hope he's ok. Otherwise, the flat course made its way around downtown Louisville, through UofL's campus and onto Churchill Downs. After exiting the infield, the half marathoners turned back toward downtown (and away from the hills to come) while we marathoners took off south toward Iriqouis Park.
I had not trained for hills, as most of my runs were either on the treadmill or around my neighborhood, which has only a few slight hills. The park was a killer, with 500 feet of elevation change. But, there was not just one hill - we went up . . . and down . .. and up . . . and down through miles 12-15. It was brutal but I was determined not to stop. I pushed through the first half in just under 2 hours, even with the 5 minutes lost at the portapotty.
I popped a GU gummy at miles 2, 5, 10 and 15, and felt full of energy and well hydrated. The race joined the walkers in the half at mile 18 or so, and most of the walkers stayed out of the way. Once I hit mile 20 and we broke off again from the half course I thought "I got this", but I had a long way to go.
I popped my last GU gummy at mile 21 and was cruising until mile 22 when I started up the last set of hills. Miles 22 through 25 were very tough with sadistic hills taunting me (and others). Lots of runners were walking the hills, and stopping to stretch, looking beaten. I did not want to stop on the hills for fear of not being able to kick it back into gear, so I just soldiered along. I knew my pace was suffering, and the pain in my hammy just blended into the pain in my quads. The hills were taking their toll on my quads, and my stride got shorter and shorter.
I finally broke free from the hills at 25 and kicked it up a notch. One more to go! I got this! During my run, my supportive, gorgeous wife, who was awaiting me at the finish, was texting me words of encouragement and quotes about determination from celebs and such. I couldn't read them all, especially toward the end when I was gutting it out, but it pushed me along.
Once I turned toward the finish, the pain subsided and I turned off my music to enjoy the sounds and sights of my first marathon finish. My time was 4:14, so my second half was about 2:15, killing my thoughts (delusions) of finishing in less than 4 hours, but I was so pumped to have made it in decent time. By staying hydrated, eating pre-race and popping the GU (as well as some pre-race motrin), I never hit the dreaded "wall". I saw others really struggling the last 5 miles. If a marathon were 20 miles, a lot of people would sign up. The last 6.2 miles really make the race. Tough.
I got my medal and felt a little woozy heading over to hug my wife. I grabbed a bagel and a water and leaned on her for support. My quads and hammies were screaming, but I didn't care. I did it!
I headed back to the hotel for a well deserved shower and then hit Bluegrass Brewing Company for two beers and a cheeseburger. Walking down stairs was brutal for a few days, but subsided by day 3 and was bearable. Thankfully, my knees were unscathed, as well as my calves and feet. Not one blister - not one black toenail. The tops of my feet were a little sore, and my hammies were tight, particularly the one that I tweaked. But, all in all, I felt pretty good.
The race itself was decently attended, but the marathon is a bit of an afterthought. 90% of folks run the half, and the crowds for the marathon, especially the last 6 miles, were fairly sparse. The finish area was packed and exciting, as was the start, but the marathon needs more runners.
I'm still debating whether to run another marathon. I mistakenly thought this course was flat (and the half was). My time and my quads paid for the hills, which were more significant than I expected. I'm a competitive sort, so pushing my time down 15 minutes would be a goal - just on a flatter course. We will see. I definitely will focus on more half marathons - they are sooooo easy versus a full.