The Run the Bluegrass is a wonderful local half marathon that has essentially become a staple race that I have used for the past 5 years as the first race of the season. Over time, I have also became one of the 60 or so “5-year streakers,” meaning I have finished the race every year of its 5 year existence. I also happen to be friends with the race director (who has similarly been helping me plan Survive the Night) so being a part of his race is all the more special to me. This race has quickly become one of my favorites. That being said, it certainly is not because it’s an easy course, but rather my experiences over these past 5 years and particularly a few specific moments, that make the Run the Bluegrass special for me.
2011 – This was the inaugural year of the Run the Bluegrass. The race began at the KY horse park, went to Fasig Tipton and then returned. I won the race this year, and although it was not a particularly fast time in comparison to other years that the race has been held, I still get to claim that I won the first Run the Bluegrass. Plus, it came down to sort of a sprint finish between myself and another friend named Antonio, which I won.
2012 – This year’s race will always go down as some of the worst decisions I have ever made for a running race. I epically failed to: 1) preview the course, 2) at least look at the course profile, 3) thoroughly think through the idea of pushing the jog stroller, and 4) thoroughly think through the idea of taking the double stroller! Eric Marr contacted me 2 weeks before this year’s race and offered me a complimentary entry since I was the returning winner. I remember telling him that my wife Shannon was planning to race (she ended up winning that year!) and that there was no sense in giving me a free entry to come push a stroller. He told me “You’re absolutely crazy, but I can’t wait to see it.” The problem was that I was still naïve enough to think that I could compete despite the stroller. I definitely went after it. Throughout the first 3 miles, I was in the top 10 pushing over 100 pounds up and down the early hills. Then, right as you make the turn towards Old Frankfort Pike, as the long hill climbs begin, I started fading. By mile 6, I was quickly fading. By mile 7, I was crashing and burning. It became a death march to make it back to the finish – which I was able to endure. I did, however, make several new friends along the way. Damien Rock (whom at the time I could only identify by his tattoos) must have felt sorry for me as he helped me push the stroller up the hills on mile 8. His accent and cheery demeanor was like a crude joke as this tiny Irishman was able to push more of the stroller up the hill than me. Then Shannon caught me at mile 9, and we worked together to push it up that monster of a hill (this was my first glimpse of the cruel and unusual left turn at the top that continues ascending, which follows the exact point where you prematurely begin celebrating the accomplishment of getting to the top. The realization that there’s more hill left seems even more devastating when a 100 pound stroller is in front of you). Over the course of the final few miles, a few more random competitors helped me in sequence push the stroller up the remaining hills. We (myself and the boys) still managed a fairly respectable time, and most importantly, they had fun and got their donuts. They were cheering and high-fiving everyone along the way. My conclusion from this year’s race – no more stroller.
2013 – There wasn’t anything very particular about this race itself. I finished 3rd. But, my most lasting memory is of something that happened immediately before the race. The was the first time that I had ever participated in a race where one of my patients came out and supported me. We’ll just call her D – she was actually the same age as me, battling breast cancer, and unfortunately she belongs to the group of women with breast cancer often referred to as “triple negative.” This means a very aggressive kind of breast cancer and one for which we do not have particularly effective chemotherapy drugs. She had just finished radiation treatments with me 2 days before the race. I had been treating her right neck for recurrent breast cancer in the lymph nodes which caused her to have rather obvious skin changes, that was basically a sunburn. As I was warming up, she came over and said hi to me. We talked for a few minutes and I introduced her to Shannon. She had come to the race to watch and cheer for me as well as a few of her friends that were running. She was still recovering from treatment and was barely swallow solid foods yet – so she reminded me how much she would have loved to be a part of the race, but just not this year. We chatted for a few minutes and then it was time for the race to begin. She wished me luck and I was off. I didn’t think much of that interaction at the time, but it has maintained a much more lasting impression on me ever since. As I was finishing the race, she was on the left side of the finishers chute about 20 yards from the finish line. She was jumping up and down, so excited because of how I was doing. After I finished, she came up to me, very excited – gave me a high five and a hug, and told me she was inspired and signing up next year. I was genuinely excited with that idea, and even talked to her about it on the next few follow-up visits to my clinic. She was one of the first patients that I would say I really connected to as we had much in similarity between our age, interests, she was a musician, and she too had a young 3 year old who acted way above his time similar to my son Ande. She frequently would show me iphone movies of her son, and there’s one that I’ll never forget of him telling me “I better cure his mommy,” while shaking his fists at me. Unfortunately, she developed another recurrence of her cancer, but despite our best efforts, she did not survive for the next year’s Run the Bluegrass as we had hoped for. Every time now that I go to the race, or Keeneland for that matter, I am reminded of when she came up to me before the race to tell me good luck. Row 9, bottom of the hill, in front of the Grandstands. I am always reminded of the iphone videos of her son, and how gracious and thankful of a patient she was. I have actually parked in that same spot each year since 2013, and I did this year as well.
2014 – I finished 6th this year. Clearly not my best, but I finally won my age group and received a Bourbon Barrel award. If you haven’t seen these awards… they’re awesome. This was also the year that Shannon decided to push the entire 13 miles on a knee walker due to her stress fracture – and in a bikini wearing a hula skirt. I think her experience here was similar to mine with the running stroller.
2015 – After spending 2 days promoting my upcoming event, The Healthiest Weekend in Lexington, at the Run the Bluegrass expo (realizing how completely exhausting this sort of a venture can be) and nursing myself back after a knee injury, I was able to stay engaged in the race – negative split the second half, catch 2 other fellow runners, and finish in 2nd place. It was important to me that I was able to make a good showing and promote Ironcology. Leading up to this race, I didn’t necessarily have high hopes because I had to take a week off because of my knee less than 2 weeks before the race. The more eventful part of the day was jetting out of Keeneland in order to catch a plane to Chicago within 2 hours. I was a keynote speaker for a dinner that night. I literally made it to my hotel in time to shower, change, and catch a cab to the restaurant for my talk.
2016 – Already looking forward to it.