Missoula, MT half marathon-July 10, 2016

This was the 10th Annual Missoula Marathon and Half Marathon, with a fun Beer Run Friday night and 5k on Saturday.

There were two opportunities to meet with Elite Runners, Jeff Galloway and Michael Wardian during the race weekend.

There were weekly (if not more) newsletters sent out via email to keep you up to date, as well as active postings and replies on Facebook. The website was also stocked with all the right information, including direction to Visit Destination Missoula website for discounts on hotels, cars, and even whitewater rafting!

Flying into Missoula can be a little difficult, if not just plain expensive. I flew out of Orlando via Denver, with a 5 hour layover and a red eye flight back to Florida. Unfortunately both flights out of Denver were delayed making this a very long and exhausting journey. I flew on Frontier for the very first time and I will have to say it was the cleanest, but also most uncomfortable flight I have ever taken. I feel like the seats, that do not recline, where made out of thin hard plastic. I knew going into it they are a discount airline that nickel and dime you for everything, including a seat (yes, you do not get a seat assignment unless you pay) as well as carry on bags. But what drew the line was just how uncomfortable the seat was itself.

With this being a summer race, and wanting to save money, I decided to rough it and camp at the KOA campground, located conveniently between the airport and historic downtown. This was a nice 'city' campground with all the amenities... coverings for tent sites, bath house, breakfast and ice cream social, pool, and even wifi inside my tent!

The Expo was held both Friday and Saturday at a park located along the river in Historic Downtown. Saturday was perfectly combined with the Farmers Market making it a fun morning of meeting locals, tasting fresh produce and baked goods. To top that off, there were 2 more markets (1 artisan and another farmers) located just walking distance on the opposite side of downtown! It was a beautiful afternoon to be outside!

The Expo itself had the official race merchandise, a running store merchandise, and a couple other vendors selling and also giving away goodies (I scored free sunglasses and a small towel!)

There was also an opportunity to write on a motivational board. (not sure where this ended up going?)

Jeff Galloway had a table set up to speak and take pictures with him as well as purchase one of his books.

This is a point to point "flat"course starting in the countryside and running back to downtown. Missoula is located approximately 3,000 feet above sea level, and there are definitely some rolling hills, especially a good downhill in the beginning, but nothing too difficult.

Parking was extremely easy at the University where we boarded a shuttle. There were multiple shuttles where they even separated the full and half marathon runners.


The shuttle dropped us off in a parking lot with over an hour to spare. It was quite chilly and no shelter for warmth. Good thing I had my mylar blanket with me. There were plenty of port potties with little wait. To my surprise fireworks started going off! Turns out, they lit fireworks every 5 minutes until the start time! I found it very odd and not being much of a morning person, a bit annoying. There wasn't any entertainment as we waited, except a very loud speaker who hollered off interesting stats of the race and participants.

There was a hill to walk up and down to do a warm up laps as we waited for the sun to rise so we could start the race.

The weeks leading to race day, temps were predicted for mid 80s. However, the week of the race, a cold front headed our way, dropping the temps into the 50s with a high chance of rain. Luckily it remained overcast and ended up being perfect summer running conditions! Although I feel some Northerners may have thought it was a bit warm, as they brought on sprinklers and water guns to cool people off!

Although the majority of the spectators were at the Finish Line, there was a fair amount to cheer us on, but they seemed to be the same ones over and over following the same runners. There were a lot of posters that were plastered to poles throughout the course to be our motivation.

The stations were well stocked with water and Poweraid and plenty of volunteers shouting out with their northern accents and 'You Betchas!' There were also gummy bears at multiple stops. Wet sponges were passed out and Gel was also provided.

We started on a downhill country road passing pastures of horses and cows. There were some musicians along the course including a violinist, drummer, rock and roll band, and a pianist in a field. A Marathon Maniac running his 50th state stopped at the pianist and belted out a song he wrote for this special occasion. We ran through a lot of neighborhoods and as we approached Downtown Missoula, you could see the infamous M on the mountain. I felt pretty good the entire course. It wasn't too hot nor too cold and the course wasn't too challenging. My times the past few months have been struggling, due to an overindulgence of taking time off from training. So I was happy with feeling good and maintaining a decent time.

The Finish Line was right over the bridge in Downtown, basically right where the packet pick up was. This was unfortunately also a good half mile to mile walk back to our cars at the University.

The set up of the Finish Area was a bit chaotic. The first thing you came across was the food, which was not lacking. There was pasta, quinoa, bagels, oranges, bananas, Fig Newtons, watermelon, popsicles. Unfortunately they put everything on separate small plates, so I walked away carrying at least 4 plates piled on top of each other.

Next was the Gear Trucks, which was mayhem. We were jammed packed trying to get to our UPS trucks; no order to the lines, and seemed like no order to the bags inside the trucks. I was soaked in sweat and now freezing and shivering trying to get my bag. Next up was a couple blocks walk to get to the beer. Thankfully there wasn't a line for that, but unfortunately you were only allowed one. I grabbed it and drank it on my long walk back to the car.

The gender specific shirt is cool, except for it being orange. I like the outline of the state, and the infamous moose with running shoes. The full marathon received a purple shirt.

I like the uniqueness to the medal being in the shape of the state. Kudos for thinking outside the box!

Free photos were provided, however, the photographer was only located at the Finish.

Missoula has a great variety of local breweries and distilleries. Pick up your 'passport' for the Missoula Spirit and Ale Trail at any of the stops and test the local flavors including huckleberry. Montgomery was my favorite (I went twice!) with the entire bar full of fresh herbs that they mix into your unique concoctions! Stamp 9 breweries or 3 distilleries and receive a stainless steel glass or shot glass!

Looking for a warm up or recovery run? Just look for the M on the hill and you've found the M Trail which will get your heart racing and give you a scenic view of the city!

Looking for a day trip? Missoula is an easy 2 1/2 hour drive away from Glacier National Park. The scenic drive takes you by the beautiful Flathead Lake. Plan to stop at the Flathead Lake Brewery for lunch which overlooks the water. The drive takes you past several cherry farms along the lake, making it an experience you wont forget!

Once at the park, the Going to the Sun route is an easy drive straight across the park, but if you want to leave the driving to someone else, jump on one of the Red Bus Tours (which is not a typical bus, but instead a vintage 1930s bus with a roll back top!) Make sure you are up there around dawn or dusk to increase your chances of catching the wildlife! Campgrounds fill up fast, but no fret, there are several right outside the park as well, including Glacier Campground at the West Entrance and Glacier Under Canvas yurts just a little further!

Missoula is your gateway to embrace nature! Come run the countryside, wine and dine afterwards in a small historic downtown with big flavor and friendly crowds, then venture off to one of the most popular National Parks for recovery and gorgeous scenery!

Because of the overall weekend experience, I would recommend Missoula as a great race destination!

State #28

I am currently running a half marathon a month and also running a half marathon in each state all to show support and raise awareness for breast cancer via The Donna. Please consider showing your support by making a donation today! Www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2017-marathon/melissajohnson

ECHO Half Marathon-June 5, 2016

This was the 3rd Annual ECHO half marathon and 5k in Central Florida benefiting the East Coast Regional Rail Trail, managed by Final Mile and sponsored by Florida Hospital.

This is a point to point course with shuttle service from finish to start. We started at Beck Ranch in Osteen, ran a couple miles on the large sidewalk of a main road until we hit the paved trail for about 6 miles from Green Springs Park to State Rd 415 where we were back on a large sidewalk on a main road, then through Gemini Springs finishing up at Oak Tree Park.

I have to say I am a little disappointed in the large sidewalk/main street stretches (especially the 3 miles in the sun) as the website promoted "13.1 canopied miles." They warned us in an email a couple days before the race as the heat was rising throughout the week that the last couple of miles were in direct sun, but that was a little too late.

The 5k  starts and finishes at Gemini Springs (the half marathon finish)

There is not an elevation map on the website, but consensus at the finish was that a majority of the rail trail is on a slight incline. If the course was reversed, we would have been going downhill, which would have been a lot easier in the heat. 

I couldn't figure out the reasoning of the name of this race until it dawned on me driving home. ECHO=to be repeated. What you put into the world will come right back to you. This race benefits the trail system which will one day extend 52 miles from Enterprise to Edgewater FL. Runners, bikers, walkers, even dogs enjoy this shaded and paved trail so why wouldn't there be a race focused on giving back to preserve and enhance this system? I love it!

There wasn't much communication from the event until the couple of days before the race. With that said, I felt like I had all the vital information needed to participate, without all the extra bells and whistles. There is a Facebook page and website which has all your information as well.

One slight fail with this race was the packet pick up. We were told several time on website that there would not be a race day packet pick up. 2 days before the race, we received an email that because of the holiday, they would not be ready for a Friday packet pick up service, so you were now able to do so on race morning. That is fine, but shouldn't they have known about the holiday and its impact ahead of time? Coming from out of town, this really impacted me as I had to get a hotel. By the tine this communication came out, I was already within cancellation policy. I would have much rather been able to drive in on race morning than pay for a hotel.

In the packet they provided a phone armband which was a first for me, but I later found out that not everyone received one of these.

With the race being held in a small country town, there are not many hotel options in the area. I ended up staying in Orlando (because I had an agent stay available to me) which was about 45 minutes south.  They did have 2 basic hosts hotels that offered shuttles to start/from finish.

You have to search pretty hard to find a long distance race in the summer anywhere in Florida, and you should be fully aware of what you are getting into by registering for this or any other Florida summer race. It will be hot and it will be humid. As long as you are experienced in this and take the proper precautions (from the runners side as well as the race directors side) then everything will run smoothly (pun intended). After the sun rose, the temps were in the 80s, with the humidity starting high, but amazingly dropping through the day. The only way to keep Florida summer races cool (besides consistently dousing yourself in water) is for the course to be shaded and near water and this race provided all of the above!

At the Starting Line was a DJ pumping us up as we waited to start. The race promptly started right before sunrise. There were plenty of porta potties with minimal lines. There were pacers to get you to your PR. The bag drop was quick and painless. Although they did have someone writing your bib number on a post it, then pinning it on each bag. If there were more runners, or more showed up at the same time, this could have become a problem.

Yes I live in Florida. But yes I absolutely hate running in the heat. It is amazing to me how many people I meet that actually prefer running in over 80 degree weather. Its been long enough and I really need to start to embrace it more. I know that heat running actually helps you in training later down the road. And I know I am doing two southern Florida races this winter so this won't be the last of this weather for me this year.

I went into the race without my pacer and just wanted to try to run slowly and walk the water stations. That lasted for about 4 miles and then it was all downhill from there. The good thing is, I never felt dehydrated or overheated. It was definitely hot and humid and right now I am probably the most out of shape of the year. I have run very little since the DONNA, Gasparilla Ultra and Treasure Coast half in February and March. There wasn't much going on with the course scenery or entertainment wise, so this was purely just another 13 miles to get through.

The stations were fully stocked with water and Gatorade and there were plenty of them.
 A lot of people carried their own Camelpak or water supply. This was the first time for me running with one, as I did not want to take a chance. However, I would have been perfectly fine with the amount of fluids they were passing out at the stations. Because I had my own water, I took a cup of water at each station and dumped it on my head to cool my body.

GU was provided a little over halfway.

On the second half, each station seemed to have more and more goodies. Pickle pops were given, as well as jellybeans, starburst, skittles, and watermelon.

Volunteers had spray bottles to mist your face. And at the finish line a wet cold towel was waiting for you. I wish they would have utilized a similar idea on the route (sponges, smaller towels?)

You could tell everyone was genuinely concerned about our well being while running in the heat. People were repeatedly asking if we were okay, asking if they can soak us with a water soaker gun, and asking multiple times if were hydrating enough. Thank you to everyone for volunteering!

With the course being in a small town and majority of it on a trail system, there are not spectators. I think I saw a total of 2. The volunteers manning the water stations were basically your cheerleaders as well!

Thankfully the finish area had shade and picnic tables. Beer and BBQ from a local restaurant was provided. Strawberries, bananas, and granola bars were also available. There was a gear check where they brought your bag from start to the finish line for you, but unfortunately there was not a changing area, not even a real bathroom to change into dry clothes. This left us packing the bus full of sweaty, smelly runners for about a 20 minute ride back.

Coach buses were available to shuttle us back to the Start. I didn't have a wait to get on, but they did pack the bus with people standing.

The gender specific shirt design is consistent with the overall race design. I would have liked the colors to also be consistent with the medal instead of a bright red.

The medal is a lot prettier in person. The glass is almost like a stained glass that the light reflects through.

If you like running in the heat, this is definitely a race to consider. I love the fact that it supports the rail trail system and that we get to run on it as well. Being centrally located in Florida, you can easily access this race for a quick overnighter to experience something different.

13.1- 2:52

I am currently running a half marathon a month and also running a half marathon in each state all to show support and raise awareness for breast cancer via The Donna. Please consider showing your support by making a donation today! Www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2017-marathon/melissajohnson

Flying Pig-May 1, 2016

Ever contemplate a Back to Back Race Weekend? Well, this is the one to consider! The Kentucky Derby Mini (or marathon) and the Cincinnati Flying Pig (half or full). I completed both half marathons in one weekend and had a blast doing so! 

For the past 5 years I have been running a half marathon a month as well as trying to complete a half marathon in each of the 50 states. When I realized Apr 30 and May 1 fell on the same weekend, I knew I had to find 2 states close together for a back to back race weekend (aka only one airplane ticket!!) The Kentucky Derby Mini and Flying Pig worked out perfectly being only an easy hour and half drive apart!

So if you read my Kentucky Derby Mini recap, then you know I arrived Cincinnati at 9p the night before the 630a Flying Pig race start! I, of course, had to stay for the Opening Night of the Derby at Churchill Downs  in Louisville KY to see my first horse race! In order to do all this, I had to drive the hour and half each way to the Flying Pig EXPO in Cincinnati on Friday, run the Kentucky Derby Mini in Louisville on Saturday, then drive back to Cincinnati Saturday night. Yes, I am crazy. And YES, it was worth every minute of it!

I'm going to start off with saying, this was one of the most fun races I have ever experienced! Everything about it made me smile! From their unique flying pig theme (which has a true history lesson behind it), to their clever piggy terminology for everything they do, to their cute pig decorations, to their persistent organization, to the very clean and pretty downtown river city, to their overly excited and never ending volunteers, to the wonderfully creative spectators, to their endless supply of giveaways. Even their ridiculous hills made me laugh when I realized how massive and neverending they were!

This was the 18th Annual Flying Pig race weekend. The weekend has a race distance for everyone in the family and if one race isn't enough, pick your challenge and run multiple to earn extra bling! This year was a record breaker of 40,000 total runners for the weekend, with approximately 4,700 marathoners and 12,000 half marathoners. There are tons of charities that participate in this race weekend, so make sure to check them out and follow them (some even gave registration discounts!)

I met up with another DONNA Babe who was running the Full and we stayed at the Westin just a few blocks from the Expo and half a mile walk to Start and Finish. I chose the Westin because it offered a travel agent discount, but also because Westin beds are always so 'heavenly!'  The hotel is a very business like downtown hotel attached to other businesses. It suited our needs well enough for a place to crash. We did have an issue with the elevator not working, but we were quickly escorted to the service elevator once we brought it to their attention. The Westin is known for being health conscious and held a shake out run before the race for those who wanted to join.

The two day Expo held at the Convention Center was pretty huge. Be prepared to pay $15 for event parking if you are not walking from your hotel. Packet/Shirt pick up was so confusing, as they were on complete opposite sides of the building. I walked in circles before I realized they were making you walk through all the vendors before you got to pick up your shirt. Make sure you plan for plenty of time for this Expo as this is not a quick in and out.

The swag for this race is amazing! Besides the shirt, they gave an embroidered duffle bag, race sticker, and official race poster! P&G was a main sponsor and gave away about 8 samples of their products.  I've never seen so many people stand in line before for detergent, tissues, deodorant and pads!

There was also a scavenger hunt to win prizes, but since I was in a rush to get back to Louisville I didn't have time to investigate.

There was a ton of piggy decorations and chances to take free photos. I picked up a limited edition of Run Cincinnati and headed back to Louisville.

The Facebook page is very active to keep you pumped up leading to race day. Emails were coming at least once a day jammed pack with information. If you couldn't find it in the email, their website was just as useful and up to date.

Technically this is an A to B course with a different start and finish, but they are so close you could walk. With the half and full marathon running together until about M9, the course takes you through the very clean downtown city of Cincinnati and beautiful surrounding communities.

We started at the Stadium and right away headed over the bridge to Kentucky. (where else can you say you ran from one state to another?) After grabbing a quick snack of bacon, petting the pig in the wagon, and running down Purple Mile for Alzheimer and Leukemia charities, we were headed back over another bridge to return to Ohio. Through downtown we went and then up, up, up to a beautiful cliff side view of the river from Eden Park. From then on, its all downhill back to downtowns Finish Swine! (with a random incline here and there, of course, just for fun!)

If you want to perform well for this race, you are going to need to practice hill running!

And of course I did not. I went into this back to back halfs weekend without much training. In fact, I had not run much after running the DONNA Marathon, Gasparilla Ultra Challenge, then Treasure Coast half all within 4 weeks. I needed a break, so I knew these races were just going to be for fun. And Flying Pig did not disappoint in that department!

I felt good despite having just run the Derby Mini the day before. It had rained overnight so the ground was wet and the humidity was thick with a few drizzles in the air before we started. The clouds made for an awesome view as the sun rose over the river and a full rainbow even popped out and made me smile! It warmed up quickly after the sun rose and the hills were brutal in the humidity. All I kept thinking is 'I cant believe my friend is doing the full. I am only doing the half, so I can not complain!' I tried to do a 1x1 wog, but quickly realized I would just need to concentrate of speed walking the hills and running the downhills.

Because my DONNA friend likes to sleep, we pretty much have it timed out perfectly to arrive to a race just in time to enter our coral and take off! So unfortunately I don't have much feedback on the Starting Area, except it was overly congested in the narrow walkways to get into the corrals with only one entrance and no one manning who goes into what corral.

What was different about this race is they had porta potties located INSIDE each corral (pig pens). This is both good and bad. Yes, its good the porta potties are right there in case you have a sudden last minute tingle after you are in your corral. Or even if the race is delayed, you don't have to walk too far. But it can also be bad for the 'fasties' as people were still standing in line after their corral had long taken off, blocking the area for the runners to get started.

They had a dj playing some Prince tunes as we started our journey.

The spectators are a huge part of what make this race exciting! They join the Piggie theme and come up with some creative signs such as 'I love Pig Butt and I can not lie!" Some even dressed up in pig ears, noses, or full blown costumes!

A special part was a group that had come out of their retirement home that had signs made as well such as 'Keep up the pace or ill hit you with my cane' or 'Hurry this sign is heavy.'

A hysterical point during the course was a guy at the bottom of the largest hill. He was holding a megaphone, passing out F stamps, and shouting at us to 'Get the F up the hill' or 'Its just a F-ing hill'. Yes, this was the hill that I literally stopped in my tracks and my jaw hit the ground. It was never ending and seemed to go straight up.

This race really comes up with everything! You will be provided a complete buffet of snacks to keep you energized throughout the race. The full marathon definitely had most of the goodies, but the half marathoners didn't miss out on
-swedish fish
-Cliff blocks
and probably much more that I missed

And to combat the sweating, they passed out tissues and had the sprinklers out to cool us down!

However, I was highly disappointed that two of the stations water was SO BAD I literally had to spit it out. I am not sure if they were using hose water, but it definitely was not drinkable. I panicked and worried about an upset stomach, especially if the gatorade drinks were mixed with it too. I later saw a woman who actually did have an 'accident' in her pants and I couldn't help but wonder if the water played a part in that.

The Finish Swine was so cute as there were two huge dancing pigs waiting for you!
After receiving your medal, you were given a wide option of snacks....chips, trail mix, candies, fruit.
There were so many options, you couldn't hold it all.

However, I would have enjoyed real food at the finish, as I still had to wait for my friend to finish the full.

There was a truck giving away small bacon patties (which ran out before the marathoners finished)and Skyline Chili was selling (over priced) chili dogs (not sure what the big deal is on Cincinnati chili).

Michelob Ultra was the Sponsor for the After Party. There were 3 spots for beer and wine, but all were for sale. Only the marathoners received a beer tab for one free beer.

The race provided shuttles that went back to the hotels. I never saw the actual buses, but our hotel was in a walkable distance anyways.

I love the shirt design, but I think it would stand out better on a different shade than this blue.... even the dreaded white.

The medal is double sided and is consistent with the theme. Marathoners medals were similar but larger.

Like I said at the beginning of this blog, this is definitely a race to experience! I feel like I truly am 'oinked for life' as the theme says. This is a must do race, even if you hate hills, just so you can experience the pig excitement! This race definitely deserves a 99.9% in my book. What did they miss? The free beer at the finish. Was that disappointing? Yes. Was there a chance to buy beer? Yes. Would I rather have a free duffle bag instead of a free beer? Oh heck yes! So, I guess I will survive in that aspect. Also, real food instead of just snacks would have made this long day top notch!


I am currently running a half marathon a month and also running a half marathon in each state all to show support and raise awareness for breast cancer via The Donna. Please consider showing your support by making a donation today! Www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2017-marathon/melissajohnson

Kentucky Derby Mini-Apr 30, 2016

Ever contemplate a Back to Back Race Weekend? Well, this is the one to consider! The Kentucky Derby Mini (or marathon) and the Cincinnati Flying Pig (half or full). I completed both half marathons and had a blast doing so! 

For the past 5 years I have been running a half marathon a month as well as trying to complete a half marathon in each of the 50 states. When I realized Apr 30 and May 1 fell on the same weekend, I knew I had to find 2 states close together for a back to back race weekend (aka only one airplane ticket!!) The Kentucky Derby Mini and Flying Pig worked out perfectly being only an easy hour and half drive apart! 

This was the 43rd Annual Kentucky Derby Mini and Marathon with approximately 15,000 total runners. The race is put on by the Kentucky Derby Festival which also hosts 2 weeks worth of events leading up to Derby Day at Churchill Downs (that is the creme de la creme of horse races for those like me who are not familiar). So if you are looking for an extended trip with a race tied into it, this is the one. There are concerts, food festivals, ballooning, all kinds of entertainment to keep you busy! Most of this can be found on the very same website as the race!

There were lots of emails sent with race information the weeks leading up the race. Their Facebook page is also quite active to keep you pumped up for race day. When the weather was calling for 100% rain, strong wind and hail, the emails kept coming letting us know they were in constant communication with the weather service to make sure we would all be safe. When the severity moved along, but we were still at about 100% chance of rain, they even gave tips of how to run in the rain. Kudos to KDF to all the communication leading to race time!

I stayed at the Hyatt Regency basically because it offered me a travel agent rate (rarity during prime weeks). It was located right next to the Convention Center where the Expo was held, and about half a mile walk to the Start/Finish Line, which is also where the KDF events took place as well. I was able to walk to all the major attractions comfortably in 2 days without need for an Uber. (later to find out the city has a 'free' bus system!)

For a basic room, it was quite large, clean, and comfy. The hotel is shaped like a tower, so make sure to request a high floor as the noise from below (inside and out) travels up easily. And if you require a soak after a tough race and the pool just wont suffice, make sure to ask about a bathtub. My room was only equipped with a stand up shower.

Kentucky Derby Festivals
Arriving 2 days before race day, I felt I had plenty of time to check out the city and events without rushing. If you plan to attend the events with KDF, then purchase your Pegasus Pin for entry. ($5 at several merchants throughout the city). This also makes a cute inexpensive souvenir! I picked up mine at the Visitors Center which was right next door to the Hyatt Regency and actually won the Golden Pegasus. (only 1 in 20, which also gives you a chance to win a car!) Friday night started the Chow Wagon and Fest-a-ville on the Waterfront. It was a gorgeous night with a perfect sunset, a country band playing, and after the sun set the hot air balloons lit up the sky!

Friday night Easton Corbin was set to play. However, prepare yourself as its a late concert before
race morning!

The Expo was open both Thursday and Friday. I went right at opening and it was a breeze. I liked how they had an option to see/purchase all the previous years shirts. Unfortunately this years was a bust (as most publicly agreed on Facebook especially those coming from out of town for the first time)

Disappointingly the shirt and medal really do not reflect anything with the Derby. The map itself is very hard to even tell what it is. If they wanted to do a map of the city/course, they shouldn't have used the city map with so much detail. Maybe just the course and pin marked the highlights of the city on the course. You know, like the Churchill Downs we ran through??!

The shirt will be perfect for midnight runs, as its blinding to look at during the day.

One cool thing the race did right, was partner with Jim Beam which gave complimentary engraving on a bottle. Unfortunately, it took over an hour for mine to be completed, so plan to drop it off and come back later in the day!  They also gave us Buy 1 Get One Free Entry into the Opening Night of the Derby Week!

The course is a flat course that runs through downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, passing by some of the citys landmarks such as the Slugger Museum (largest bat in the US), Slugger Stadium, the YUM arena, University of Louisville, and of course Churchill Downs. The marathon and half marathon run the same course until after the Churchill Downs.

The race started at the Slugger Field and finished at the Waterfront, just blocks from each other. There seemed to be enough porta patties, but the Gear Check was ridiculously backed up. We were provided the traditional tab on our bib that you are supposed to put on your clear bag that they provided. However, for some reason, they were zip tying every bag and writing the bib number on each bag. This slowed the process entirely too long. I do like the zip tie idea for security, but they should have had one person passing out zip ties and markers to those in line. I still don't understand the markers when we had the tab with bib number already, but who knows. They loaded the bags into trash cans (I'm sure they were clean, but gross??) and delivered them to the Finish......in the rain!! The Finish line had a huge covering, so I am not sure why they were just sitting in the rain instead. Luckily my belongings were only damp and not damaged.

I went into the race wanting to take it easy because I knew I had the Flying Pig half marathon the next day. Despite me having my Garmin plugged in for at least 24 hours, it was almost dead at the Starting Line, so I just didn't even start it. I did wear my Pacer so my plan was to go for a 1x1 wog (walk/jog).

 I started with and followed these 2 girls for a good portion of the race wearing shirts that read 'Decide. Commit. Succeed.' I laughed to myself when I read it, because that is exactly what this weekend was all about. I had gone into the Back to Back race weekend without having run further than 13 miles TOTAL in the past month. I was completely burnt out after the DONNA Marathon, then the Gasparilla ULTRA Challenge the week after, and then the Treasure Coast half marathon two weeks after that. I just did not want to run anymore. I needed a break. But, I had decided on this back to back race weekend before all of that, so I had to keep my commitment, and I told myself I will succeed in finishing both!  And I did!

After a mile warm up, I started the 1x1, however, I felt like that was entirely too easy, so I ran 3-5 minutes then walked a minute. I felt good the entire time. I had no idea how fast (or slow) I was going, but I was having fun. It was perfect temperatures for running. The rain came about M3-4, but even that didn't bother me. It was almost welcoming because it was a light sprinkle and I knew it was keeping the heat away. I never felt exhausted, but I did get extremely cold once the rain completely soaked me to the core. Thankfully this wasn't until the last few miles. I finished much slower than I thought, but knew it was for the best so I would feel great going into my second half marathon The Flying Pig!

Running through Churchill Downs was definitely a race experience I won't forget! I had no idea where we were, when I looked up and suddenly we were there! We ran through the tunnel (reminded me of Talladega) and there we were in the middle of the track. I looked over and the jockeys were running the horses warming up for that nights Derby Opening Night! It was really fun to run along side them.

Despite the rain, there was a good amount of spectators cheering us on especially in the downtown areas! Early on before the rain, there was a little kid giving Ninja Power high fives wearing his teenage mutant ninja turtle pjs! Later on, there were drummers and dance team performing as well as cheerleaders cheering.

With it still raining and my fingers starting to turn white from being cold, it was hard to stay and enjoy the after party. You were provided 1 beer and the usual race snacks (bagel, banana, chips, etc). All I wanted was something warm! Thankfully they were handing out mylar blankets and I had a jacket, gloves, and another mylar in my bag. I felt sorry for the band that was playing in the rain. They put the beer tent that most people were huddled under so far away from the stage. I was so cold I couldn't even stay long enough to enjoy the beer, I took it with me for my walk back to the hotel.

After the race I finally got my Hot Brown at Bristol Bar and Derby cake at The Galt Hotel (both must haves while in Louisville). I had decided that I was going to stay for the Opening Night of the Derby. I purchased a fascinator at the Visitors Center (the least expensive one I could find in the city!), put on a dress, and made my way to the Derby! I had never been to a race track before, and with all the states I still have left to do, I don't know when I will be back to Kentucky. Despite having to still drive to Cincinnati and run at 630a, I knew this was something I had to experience! It was fun to see the others dressed up in fancy hats, see the horses and jockeys up close and personal, and witness the fastest 2 minutes of your life! I stayed for 3 races, just enough time to have my first mint julep, and then headed back to Ohio.

I'm sure you have heard of the Bourbon Trail before, but did you know Louisville has their own Urban Bourbon Trail? Pick up a passport at the Visitors Center (or any bar on the trail). The book lists the bars that qualify, give a little history/info on the bar, and even gives a bourbon drink suggestion. The passport also advises the price range for each stop. Once you get 6 stamps, you turn your passport in to the Visitors Center and you receive you free Finish(er) tshirt! It was a fun way to explore the city!

-Check out the Country only Underground Zip line course at Mega Caverns, located just minutes outside the city!
-Explore the free artwork at 21cMuseum Hotel
-stand next to the worlds largest baseball bat

KDF and the Visitors Center made Louisville a blast! I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in the city and would highly recommend visiting! Regarding the race, the only thing that makes this race above average is the actual running through Churchill Downs. Besides that, this really is just your typical average race. Enhancements on the shirt/medal, organization on the gear check, and better quality post race food, would make this race stellar.  

State #26
HM #61

I am currently running a half marathon a month and also running a half marathon in each state all to show support and raise awareness for breast cancer via The Donna. Please consider showing your support by making a donation today! Www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2017-marathon/melissajohnson