Running on gluten-free carbs…

Republic Bank Big Hit 1/4 Marathon – Louisville, KY (September 23, 2012)

Me crossing the finish line at the Republic Bank Big Hit 1/4 Marathon - Louisville, Kentucky

Me crossing the finish line at the Republic Bank Big Hit 1/4 Marathon – Louisville, Kentucky

Race: Republic Bank Big Hit 1/4 Marathon

Place: Louisville, Kentucky

Date: September 23, 2012

Time: 52:46

It was another chilly morning in the low 40s when I woke up at home to get ready for the Republic Bank Big Hit 1/4 Marathon.  I was actually pretty excited about this race.  I ran it last year…in 1:03:49.  It was held at the end of October last year, however, instead of the end of September.  They moved the date due to the bitter cold weather we had.  A lot of people initially complained, saying September would still be too hot for the races.  Boy…were they ever wrong.

The Big Hit race series is actually a double race.  Not only is there the rare 1/4 Marathon, but it runs with the 1/2 Marathon as well.  For over four miles, the races are together.  There was the split, where the 1/4 Marathoners turn left and the 1/2 Marathoners turn right around 3rd Street in downtown Louisville.  They still have a lot of race to go…while those of us in the 1/4 Marathon are coming into the home stretch.

A 1/4 Marathon is a 6.55 mile run, just over a 10K.  And I love this distance.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my half marathons as well, due to the challenge and the stress I have to work through to run them.  But when it comes to races, the 10K distance is one of my favorites to run.  This was another reason I was super-psyched to be out this morning at this race.  Not only that, I have been a part of the Big Hit race series now for the two years it has been around.  Both times running in the 1/4 Marathon.  Maybe next year I’ll do the half.  We’ll see.  It depends on my training schedule as I have a much bigger race that I’m prepping for that fall.

But, the journey to the race actually starts at the expo the morning before the big race.  While there is race day packet pick-up at this race, I prefer to have my stuff prior to the big day.  I feel a bit more together when I don’t have to go stand in line and then jostle everything around, trying to get pinned up and ready to run.  It’s race day.  I need to feel relaxed.  Eat my banana.  Stretch.  Talk to people.  Chill.  Zen.  Get in the zone.  So, Saturday morning after running a few important errands (local coffee, picked up my gluten-free birthday cake, indulged in gluten-free pumpkin doughnuts), my roommate and I pulled up to Slugger Field in Louisville, Kentucky and parked.  We climbed out of the car and made the stroll to the stadium, entering through the main doors and stepping inside.

Now, I love race expos.  I think they are a great way to showcase other races in or around the area, and get vendors in to sell products to the runners.  But…as with a lot of the races around here…this expo had next to nothing in it.  The local running store was there.  And Jam Active was promoting the fall Tap ‘N Run (which runs this weekend)…so my face was front and center on the promotional backdrop once again.  A few local companies were there…but that was it.  You know…I spend money at race expos.  This is a great opportunity for businesses and vendors and other races to get out there and promote.  That’s something I hope they work on for the future events.

Packet pick-up was a breeze.  My line was short…with only one other woman in front of me.  And…my bib number was the start of that line.  Number 2500.  It was funny.  I was asked what my bib number was and when I told them, the lady in charge of that line went, “AH!  Karen!  I feel like I know you.  I’ve been staring at your name all day!”  It made me giggle.  I told her that now she didn’t have to.  And she replied that now it was Kristen she’d get to stare at.  I collected the envelope with my timing chip in it and my bib.  Then I was directed over to the next line of tables which had the drawstring swag bag and the t-shirt pick-up.  One thing I also hope they go back to from the previous year is the women’s cut tech shirts.  I loved that option the previous year, but they weren’t doing it this year.  The shirts were back to being short sleeve.  And I signed up to get a small.  I got a small, but it’s still freakin’ big on me.  I find this to be an issue with most t-shirts I receive at races.  I am not built like a man…so the shirts just look strange on me.  Doesn’t matter though.  I still wear them proudly.  I collected my swag bag and shirt and then…I was done.  With no vendors to really walk through, my roommate and I headed home.

That afternoon…I did my new pre-race ritual…and went out for a belated birthday lunch (my birthday was September 19) with my roommate’s family.  I chose to eat at the Mellow Mushroom in Louisville as I knew they had gluten-free pizza.  And my superstitious athletic brain now has my consumption of pizza the day before a big race as linked to my fantastic finishing times I have had as of late.  The big races I ran after eating pizza (or something pizza-like) have me setting new PRs and turning out a great race.  The one recent time I deviated (pad thai before the Indianapolis Women’s Half Marathon), the race went horribly wrong.  So…pizza it is.  Until that fails me.  After a delicious couple of slices of Gluten-Free Kosmic Karma pizza…it was back to the apartment for presents and the most amazing gluten-free strawberry cake I have ever had, compliments of a local allergen-free bakery, Annie May’s Sweet Café.  Even if you don’t have food allergies…check them out.  Their products are awesome!  When everyone left, I picked up a little and then settled in for a relaxing evening.  Because I know how high-strung I can be on race mornings.

And so, it was another early 4 a.m. wake-up for me.  I got up with my alarm and got out of bed.  The first thing I have to do is get dressed.  Even though I was home, I had laid out my clothing for the race the night before.  As the primary colors of the half and quarter marathons are orange and purple (the 1/4 Marathon is orange), I dug out my Frostbite 5K tech shirt (long sleeves) and my really crazy fun shorts.  Problem was, you couldn’t tell I had the shorts on when I wore the shirt, so I went to my regular running shorts instead.  I topped off the look with some fun knee-high socks and my running shoes.  The hair extensions were purple and orange that morning and my hair was properly put up in pigtails.  One of the BondiBands I picked up in Dayton was my headband of choice…it simply said, “iRun.”

When my roommate got up, I poured us some cereal to get something in our stomachs this early.  Then I grabbed a Luna Bar for her breakfast later and my banana to eat about an hour before the race.  This is another combination that seems to work for me.  No peanut butter this time.  No honey either.  Just the banana.  And, with that, we grabbed my race bag with my change of clothes, the sign, and away we went.

Since we left with plenty of time to spare, we had no trouble getting to Slugger Field at all.  That’s how it always works.  No worries though.  This just meant we had our pick of parking in the lot.  So we pulled in, chose a spot, and parked.  Grabbing our stuff, we headed into Slugger Field toward where the packet pick-up/expo was.  Packet pick-up for those who didn’t make it there on Saturday was open, but Cathy and I bypassed everything to claim a spot near the ticket booths (and a heating vent) to just sort of settle in until it was race time.  We dropped off our goods and I decided to hit up the bathroom at the stadium then because it would be empty…and they flushed.  As I’ve stated before…I’m a princess.  If flushing toilets are available…I use them before I even consider a port-a-pottie.  I know…princess.  I can’t help it.  I’m a germ-a-phobe!  So, I did that and made my way back, glancing longingly at the crew that was setting up the beautiful Finish banner across home plate at Slugger Field.  I told the Finish that I would see it soon.  Then, I hurried out of the cold and back into the heated interior of Slugger Field.  Just as I settled in, a text message from my friend Nikky came through.  She was asking about if I was wearing long or short sleeves.  I told her long sleeves but shorts (because…that’s how I roll…or run in this case).  She said she was going to layer up.  I told her I would see her at the end of the race, when we planned to meet up.

Here we have the ever-present LONG wait to the start happens.  While I like not feeling rushed when I arrive at a race, the hurry up and wait game gets a little old a lot fast.  Runners…you know what I mean.  So, Cathy and I just stood around talking, watching as the first few runners filtered in.  Soon…there were more.  All of them were doing pre-race routines.  The guy from Fleet Feet was giving out free massages with a roller and screaming at runners about putting Band-Aids on their nipples and using Body Glide (which they supplied) to prevent chafing.  It made me giggle.  A lot.  Runners were now filling up the interior of Slugger Field, some finding places to stretch out, or eat a power bar of some sort, or just meet up with the people they were running with.  It was nearly 6:50 a.m. now, so I handed Cathy her Luna Bar and I started peeling my banana to snack on and give some time to digest (I usually allot an hour) before the big run.  We chatted and after I finished the banana, I got up to throw away the peel and then begin my own stretches.  This definitely got me loosened up.  I did what I could to stay warm.  But it was inevitable…it was time to head out to the Start line.  That meant…stepping out into the 43 degree morning air.  I kept my hoodie on, of course, and away I went.

The morning was cold.  And as we walked with other runners towards the start line, we just sort of talked about the previous year and how much colder it was then.  So, this was a blessing in disguise.  The signs for the pace groups were up for the race, and I said I was going to hang out with the 9 minute per mile club.  Cathy told me to move up to the back of the 8 minute per mile group, so I did.  She was a bit more optimistic than me, apparently.  It was cold, so I told her I was just going to run a comfortable race.  Get warmed up and go from there.  My only goal was to beat last year.  Despite having a fantastic race at the Rock ‘N Sole Quarter Marathon in Milwaukee and setting a new PR of 54:52, I wasn’t confident I could beat that here…despite the flat course.  I started to let my Garmin search for satellites as Cathy gave me a hug, told me to have a good race, and went to stand on the other side of the Start line to cheer me on as I got started on the race.

The announcer at this race was great.  We had a bit of a delay with the start simply because the time clocks needed to be synched.  So, once that happened, he began the big countdown.  And then…as I started my iPod…we were off.  I crossed the starting line, started my Garmin, and flashed a peace sign at Cathy as I took off on the opening stretch of downtown Louisville street.  Despite the cold…I already felt good being out and doing the run.  I love races because I get to run with other people.  Even if we don’t say anything…the camaraderie is amazing and it does help with pacing.  I followed the people in front of me around a corner and through the first mile of the race.  I actually didn’t even hear my watch beep at me.  As I came through the first mile…I didn’t see a time clock or mile marker…but I did see a group of people up near the corner.  We were running back past Slugger Field and some spectators stayed out to cheer people through the first mile.  Cathy was one of them.  I spotted her and the sign when I rounded the corner.  It does make a huge difference to see your friends and family throughout the race.  Even if this was early…it made me smile.  And, with her telling me to “GO!”…I was through the first mile and heading into the rest of the race, feeling refreshed.

I headed into the second mile, this time seeing a mile marker and a time clock.  The clock was wrong…displaying the time for one mile…but that’s why I have a Garmin.  I really wasn’t interested in my time.  I was taking on this race with a very zen attitude.  I wasn’t going to look at my pace.  I was just going to keep it comfortable.  I could have pushed it.  I need to start doing that more, to be honest.  But not this race.  This race I was taking on with a whole new attitude than normal.  Let the pace set itself.  Run your comfort zone.  Push only if you feel the need to.  And that was how I did it.  Mile 3 was upon me in no time.  And then…Mile 4.  I didn’t see a mile marker or clock here either…but I might have just been zoned in.  What I did know was that the big race split was coming.  I needed to hang to the left.  And all half marathoners were going right.  So, I moved left on the road and sure enough, I could see a volunteer directing race traffic to the proper route, a giant sign behind her giving the split information as well.

Me celebrating  at the finish line of the Republic Bank Big Hit 1/4 Marathon with finisher's medal in hand

Me celebrating at the finish line of the Republic Bank Big Hit 1/4 Marathon with finisher’s medal in hand

I turned left and could see only a couple of runners ahead of me.  I think the majority of people taking part in the races were doing the half marathon.  And as I headed after them, I saw the marker for Mile 5 ahead.  One more mile and then the last .55 and I was done.  This is where I can always taste it.  And my legs felt good.  My feet felt amazing.  So, I picked it up a little.  Like I said, I would push where I felt I needed to.  I didn’t need to, but my run was feeling so great, I figured why not just speed up slightly.  So, down and around the downtown hotels I went.  Then, around a corner and toward Slugger Field.  It was getting real here.  I was so close…I knew I was close.  Mile 6 ticked off and I was heading toward the stadium.  I could hear the announcer as I pushed myself into the open area of the outfield wall and turned to make the run toward the finish line.  I rounded the left field area and hit the white cloth laid out across the baselines.  I sprinted down past third base and toward home plate, where the finish line was calling to me.  My time looked awesome.  It was at 52 minutes when I crossed, meaning, without even trying, I not only beat out (by a long-shot) my previous year’s time…but I also set a new PR for a Quarter Marathon…beating out Milwaukee by 2 minutes.

I felt amazing when I crossed that finish line.  I heard the announcer say my name as I was nearing the actual finish.  She said, “And here comes Karen…with her pigtails flying.”  I guess I’ll always get called out for my pigtails…but that’s my racing style…and it won’t change unless I drastically cut my hair.  LOL!  I received my finisher’s medal and continued on to where I saw Cathy, shaking the cow bell and waving the sign at me.  I threw my arms up in victory.  She said something like, “Holy crap!”  And then she told me to go get my stuff and to meet her at the end of it.  So, into the Race Recovery area I went.  I snagged another banana, an orange, some water, and a granola bar for Cathy…who I knew was probably hungry by now.  Then, I managed to cut the timing tag off my shoe on my own and head up the stairs to the top of the stadium to meet her.  I was bouncing with happiness.  I downed my orange and some water before posing in front of the Republic Bank Big Hit backdrop.

Then Cathy told me to go and get my results.  I did.  And when I was handed the slip with my name and time on it…I was shocked.  Not just by my time, but by the fact that it had me listed as 1st in my division (30-34).  I think I said, “Holy shit!” and passed it off to Cathy, telling her,  much like Geist…that was sure to change.  I nibbled on my banana and we headed down to sit on some chairs and wait for Nikky to finish up her run.  She said she would text me when she got done, but I was hoping to catch her as she came through the finish.  I missed her though because I got the text suddenly…so I told her to meet me at Results.  I went up to the table again and had them pull my results again…and I was still listed as first in my division.  Guess this time it stood.

Nikky and I after we both finished the Big Hit 1/4 Marathon - Louisville, Kentucky

Nikky and I after we both finished the Big Hit 1/4 Marathon – Louisville, Kentucky

Nikky found me and we hugged and congratulated each other on a good race.  We had a good time just standing around and talking.  I told her to come out to the BlueMile Fun Run’s on Monday (yes, Keith…I am coming back to those) and she said she would definitely consider joining in.  We discussed other races in the area that we are running.  And things we want to do next year.  It was fun to meet her in person, finally.  And we just easily fell into conversation, discussing anything and everything.  I got to meet her husband.  And after we talked and talked and talked…we all parted ways.  I wanted to go get into warmer clothes as I was currently still in running shorts and my lips were turning blue.  So, I grabbed my running bag from Cathy and ducked into the bathroom to change into jeans and my hoodie.  When I emerged, she was settled in near the Papa John’s area of the stadium where awards were going to be handed out.  And…as I won my division…I was getting an award.  The ceremony still had about 30 minutes until the start, so we cheered on the half marathon runners coming in for their finish.

Then…awards were given.  Three deep in each division…and then for overall men and women (three deep).  When my name was called, Cathy made a lot of noise.  I went up to receive my certificate to pick up my engraved bat once it was ready.  I can’t even express how surprised I still feel over that division placement.  I am just amazed with how I just set out to run a comfortable race and then ended up having my best one yet.  My actual award had to be custom made…so I have to wait to receive it.  But it will be next week.

The official results of the Republic Bank Big Hit 1/4 Marathon have me finishing in 52:46.  I was 54/486 finishers overall.  I was 13/322 women runners to cross the finish line in the 1/4 Marathon.  And I placed 1/58 in my age division.  Not only did I just set a new PR for a 1/4 Marathon, but I placed first in my division too.  This means that next week, I get to head down to Fleet Feet and pick up a custom engraved bat with my name, time, and division placement on it.  It was so unexpected to even place in this race.  I am still shocked…and thrilled.  Maybe all this hard work I’m pouring into my training is paying off.

For a race well run…I went to the North End Café in Louisville and treated myself to a delicious (and BIG) gluten-free pancake.  Just what the race doctor ordered.  Post-race carbs always taste the best.

And now…I’m ready to hit up this race again next year and see if I can do even better!


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