Thursday, April 24, 2014

Running of the Derby...... Festival Marathon

They say it's every jockey's dream to run the Kentucky Derby.   And while it may not be every runner's dream to run the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon, maybe it should be. OK, so I might be exaggerating a little, but this is definitely a race that is worth the trip.  The course is beautiful, plus you get to run into the infield of Churchill Downs.  Even though it's a couple weeks before the Derby itself (can you imagine blocking off roads during the Derby???), the excitement in Louisville in the weeks building up to the Derby is palpable.  Plus, Kentuckians are pretty darn friendly, and you can tell they are incredibly proud to be from Kentucky, especially during Derby season! It's endearing and hard not to love. 
Humongous bat
The Downs
First off, the weather was per-fect.  Sunny, with highs in the 70s.  It was in the 50s when the race started and slowly warmed up so to me it never felt too hot.  You get to run by the ginormous Louisville Slugger bat and, as I said above, into the Churchill Downs infield where were already setting up for the festivities on race day.  They sell an unlimited number of tickets to the infield on race day, and it fills up with tens of thousands of really sober people (a little bit of sarcasm for ya).

One of the hills
Coming up to the halfway mark, you run through Iroquois Park, which is beautiful, but also the hilliest part of the race.  I swear this hill is MUCH bigger in reality.  

You also get to run a little bit through the University of Louisville's campus, past a row of fraternities and sororities.   I passed my sorority, Chi Omega's Louisville chapter house, along with the other frats and sororities, and it was obvious that either they were all on spring break or had stayed out the night before as there was not one single frat boy or sorority girl out there cheering. And this was at mile 19ish, so it wasn't THAT early in the morning. I mean, it was at least 11:00 a.m.  Side note to the Louisville Chi-O chapter...make cheering on the runners a Hootie Duty.

Note the absence of sorority girls
 This race was combined with the half-marathon, and the vibe certainly changed when the course split off.  There were probably about 10,000 half-marathon runners and a little over 2000 marathon runners.  But for being such a small race, there were very few areas devoid of supporters, which was a nice surprise.  

Unlike some races I've done, where the crowd waits for their family or friend to run by, to me it seemed like they were cheering for included.  So thank you citizens of Louisville!  And if you were in the need for some additional inspiration, there was this guy.  Running in full firefighter gear for charity.  Pretty awesome, huh?  Speaking of charities and being awesome, if you wanna donate to the Autism Society, click on the link on the right there that says Autism Society and it will take you to my fundraising page. Thank you in advance!  

If you're looking for a great place to eat, head to Harvest in the neighborhood I think they are calling NuLu.  According to Will at the Beer Store (also a great place to stop) it is really called Butchertown because that is where all the slaughter houses used to be.  This sounds a bit morbid to me, maybe because I've been watching too many episodes of American Horror Story and The Following.  But Will says NuLu is the city's way of making the area cool and hip.  It does have a bit of a hipster vibe to it, but if you are anti-hipster, it's still a very cool part of town.  But I digress.... So to get back to Harvest, this place is a farm-to-table joint which sources it's ingredients pretty much entirely from a 100 mile radius.  There is a map on the wall where you can see where the food is coming from and all over the walls are the smiling portraits of the farmers supplying you with the delicious meal in front of you.  And their drinks are also fabulous.  Grab a beer afterwards at a place a couple doors down called "the garage" where they have lit up ping pong tables and fake grassy ledges to sit on.  It's lively and great people watching.  Another cool spot to hit up if you're into dive bars is a place downtown on Broadway called Freddie's.  The place has been open forever and the owner is a former WWII Navy vet.  I hear he's in there everyday at some point in the afternoon, but I was there in the evening.  And if you're from a place like Chicago, you might experience a bit of sticker shock from the prices....because they are so low!
Inside Freddie's. Copyright Todd Winters Photography

I also recommend a trip to Bardstown, which is about 40 minutes from downtown Louisville.  It's quaint and historic with some distilleries in the surrounding area. There is also a shop where you can get yourself a stuffed longhorn head for about $3,200 from probably the friendliest cowboy this side of the Mason-Dixon line. His dog Cheyenne is also incredibly friendly but apparently has a drinking problem since her dog dish is labeled "bourbon water." 
Barrels of bourbon. Copyright Todd Winters Photography
As always, thanks to everyone who supports me in running all these races.  I feel like I should give a shout out to Healthsource on Milwaukee here in Chicago, Drs. Kari and Robert who keep me injury free!   And and a huge thanks to everyone who has donated to my fundraising site and for your awesome words of encouragement.  I truly appreciate them and they certainly keep me motivated to continue moving forward on this goal.  Which is great, because I've got another one coming up here next weekend, on May 4th, in Providence, Rhode Island!
Kentucky, check! Copyright Todd Winters Photography