Monday, October 10, 2011

Bourbon Chase 2011 Race Report

“If I hear banjos, I’m sprinting.” That was my motto for this relay race, The Bourbon Chase. Last year, my husband, Brett , and I were invited to join a BC team. We’d be 2 of 12 team members to run a 200 mile relay race along Central Kentucky’s famed Bourbon Trail. Having just come off the epic adventure of Hood to Coast, we jumped at the chance. Throughout the year, we got to know some of the team mates on Facebook as well as some meetings. The group seemed like a lot of fun and we were looking forward to it. Our team consisted of 2 members who had run each of the previous 2 BC’s and numerous others who had run 2010. Our captain, Mike, seemed very organized and experienced, as well as fun.

About 3 week before the race, we were assigned legs. Brett and I were in Van 2, runners 10 and 11. So Brett would be passing off to me at the exchanges. We had been in Van 1 during Hood to Coast so thought this would be a good way to see how a Van 2 experience would be different. We did have one team member, our co-captain, come up sick a few days before the race but we got an emergency fill-in.

On Thursday, we drove to Lexington separately from the group, checked into our downtown hotel and wandered around until we found some other team members hanging out before the BC Welcoming Party started. Everyone seemed excited to get the racing started. The BC organizers put together a nice welcoming party with free drinks and food. If you ever get to Lexington, try Bourbon Barrel Ale – so good!! At this point, I was pretty happy to be in Van 2 since I wouldn’t start running until Friday evening so I could enjoy the libations at the pre-party. Our Van 1 team members cut out early while Brett, myself and 2 other Van 2 runners, Jeff and Nathan, found some pizza for a late dinner.

Friday morning came early and we packed up our room and headed to the lobby to meet up with the van at 7:30. Two team mates were meeting us at the start line but the rest of us were leaving from Lexington. The white pass vans pull up and we start to decorate them while the boys load them up, attempting to organize them at the same time. Soon, we were on our way. I brought our Tom-Tom and had loaded up some of the exchange zones on it ahead of time. We did find out that the BC organizers had put out a Garmin and Tom-tom route on their website so thanks to the power of laptops, Wi-Fi and connection cables, our Tom-tom was all set with each of the 36 exchanges programmed in. FYI- the voice on our Tom-Tom is Darth Vader, which was pretty hilarious as we got more and more slap-happy.

So, the starting line for the BC is at the Jim Beam Distillery outside of Bardstown, Kentucky. We drove there, got parked, signed in, got our bibs, shirts and found our missing teammates. Took a group photo and got our first runner, Karen, ready to go. Our team was starting toward the beginning since we were expected to be on the slower side. At exactly 10:15, the gun goes off and Karen and 9 other runners take off to start our relay. Van 1 headed off for the first exchange while Van 2 sampled some Jim Beam, did some shopping and toured the distillery.

We weren’t expecting to start our first leg until 4pm so we had some time to burn. We head into town and grab lunch at Subway. Then we take a very twisty back road to the first van exchange at Maker’s Mark Distillery. The Tom-tom had us going on some very narrow roads but we kept saying “Trust Darth, he’ll get us there” . Needless to say, we were happy to see the black and red building that make up Maker’s Mark Distillery. We still had a few hours to burn so we toured this distillery, watched them bottle, label and even hand-dip the bottles in the famous red wax. We sampled, shopped and changed into our running clothes. It’s a beautiful day outside but on the hot side for running with a high of 86. Van 1 shows up and tells us that everything is going very smoothly and they were hitting their expected finishing times. Our first runner, Jeff (who ran the Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim last weekend) is ready to go as the last runner of van 2, Carla, comes tearing down the road. Jeff takes off and we get in the van, leaving Van 1 to have their downtime. Finally, Van 2 is active!!

We drive to our first exchange with no problem and Tina (a strong runner who ran the previous 2 BC relays), our second runner is ready to go. Jeff comes into view and we start cheering for him as he passes the arm band to Tina. Next up is runner 3, Ginger, (our last minute replacement and recent Ironman finisher). Each runner is doing terrific, even in the heat. Brett decides to carry on the tradition he started at Hood to Coast and ran his first leg in a cow costume, a crowd favorite.

I’m up next and our exchange is at a gas station along a busy highway. It’s about 6:30 so the sun is getting lower and it’s starting to cool off. We had noticed since this race is capped at 200 teams, the runners were very spread out. But our team was still counting “roadkills” (runners you pass) and each person so far had at least 3. I kept saying to myself, do your best and try to pass at least one person! Also, Central Kentucky is much, much hillier then what I’m used to in Central Indiana but I had been training on every hill I could find this summer so I felt pretty confident going into my first leg of 7.2 miles. Suddenly, I see a cow come flying down the road and I know it’s my turn! Brett hands me the wrist band and wishes me luck. Since it’s after 6:30 when I started, I’m required to wear a reflective vest, blinking back light and headlamp or flashlight. I started running and noticed that the slope of the shoulder was more then I was used to and my calves start cramping up. I start to panic but just kept pushing forward. They loosened up after a mile or so. I could see another runner in front of me but I wasn’t gaining any ground on him. My van passes me, cheering out the window for me. About 4 miles into the run, I notice the runner in front of me start to walk up one of the hills and I just smiled. I knew if he was walking, I’d catch him, which I did about ½ mile later. The sun is setting so I switch on my flashlight and enjoy the cooler weather. I was able to catch one more runner but was passed by another super fast guy. Oh well, I had a long downhill to finish so I ran hard, finishing in 1:02, a 8:40 pace, a few minutes under my projected 1:05 time. I was pretty happy with this time considering the elevation changes. I pass the band off to our final van mate, Nathan, who takes off into the darkness.

We all hop into the van and drive to the nearby town of Perryville, which is the location of the next van exchange. I had been Tweeting this whole time and found out that Perryville was staying open most of the night for the runners and was really embracing the event. We get parked and the others leave me while I get cleaned up and changed in the van. I meet up with them at the exchange zone, where our van 1 runners were waiting as well. Brett and I are starving so we take off in search of some food. We find an old guy grilling steak sandwiches served with potatoes and beans so we each buy a plate and inhale them. I don’t know if I was just really hungry or what but that was the best steak sandwich I’ve had! I also bought some cookies and a banana from some kids who were wandering around, selling them. And I gave my glow stick bracelet to another girl who reminded me of my daughter. Perryville was a great town! We did miss seeing Nathan finish, opps. He got a few road kills as well so I marked all of these down on the side of the van, approx 21 kills.

Now that our van was inactive again, we drove 30 mins or so to the next exchange zone in Danville. Since this is a 200 mile relay and the Bourbon Trail isn’t 200 miles long, they set it up so the 2nd set of legs of van 2 spent most of their time running through and around Danville. So this town was staying up all night as well. We grabbed some pizza and beer to refuel (looking back we should have gotten this to go and eaten it at the van, it would have given us another hour or so of sleep). There are banjos hanging on the wall and again I comment “If I hear banjos during my night leg, I’m sprinting to the exchange”. After we ate, we drove to the local high school, which had offered their grounds for sleeping, showering, eating and massages. We only used the restrooms and put our sleeping bags down in a quiet part of the grounds. Capt. Mike wanted us to be at the exchange zone by 1:00, so this would give us about 2 hours to sleep. Jeff was staying up but the rest of us crashed. I got a text from van 1 about 12:15 telling us to wait until 2:00 so we actually got a whopping 3 hours!

Our van driver, Dezra (yes, we were so lucky to have a driver so we didn’t have to deal with that, she handled all the driving and recording of our finishing times), woke us up at 1:30. We piled back into the van and drove into town, finding Van 1 at the local coffee shop. Brett headed to the medical tent to get a blister treated while I got some joe. I notice that the other runners are looking like they would be fast so the faster teams must be starting to catch up to the slower teams. Which is good because you’re more likely to see other runners on your leg but you’d also be getting passed vs. passing. Soon, Carla comes running in and Jeff is running out. Van 2 is active again!!

We drive to the next exchange and Tina-Maria gets ready to run. We don’t see many other runners, which was surprising, we thought they would be bunching up some by now. Jeff comes in right on time, with a road kill count of 5 or 6. Tina is off and we drive to the next zone, which is in a little bitty town. We were there with only one other team. Tina finishes really strong and Ginger takes off. On to the next exchange, which is where our teammate who had to drop out due to sickness was volunteering. It was nice to see Delen and give her updates on how we were doing. She lets me know that there hasn’t been a team through her exchange zone yet. And only 4 runners came through before Ginger did so our team was in the top 5 as far as distance (not time since there were teams who started hours later then us who were just a few exchanges behind us).

Brett decides since it’s much cooler that he needed to rock the cow costume again so he suited up in that with his reflective gear and was ready to go at 4am. He was only running 5.2 miles so we hurried to my exchange, in a church parking lot. I find the porto-lets (bonus about being there so early, no one had used them yet!) and got suited up. I did borrow Ginger’s headlamp since running with the flashlight wasn’t as bright as I was comfortable with. I decide to carry my directions with me as the map showed the road being pretty twisty. I didn’t want to get lost and there were only 4 other runners that I had any chance of seeing since we were so close to the front of the pack. I hear Nathan and Jeff yell “Here comes the COW” and I get ready to go. Brett comes screaming in and passes me the wristband and I’m off at 4:57am. Now, at this point, everyone in our van had run their night legs on a major highway with lights and cars. But, my leg started at and continued on complete back roads. I knew from my directions that I would be taking a sharp turn onto a side road within ¼ mile of my starting point so I was happy to see a small sign with arrows pointing to my turn. I had thought I would be nervous or a little freaked out by running alone in such an unfamiliar, rural area. But other than dodging crushed walnuts, it was just fine. Every once in a while a van from another team would pass me or I’d see arrows painted on the ground, or even the occasional sign with a blinky light attached. These would all provide a little comfort that I was going the right way. I actually really, really enjoyed this leg. The hills were very rolling and often but since it was so dark I would have no idea when I’d be on a hill until I could feel it. And I had no idea how long the hills would be or when the next one was. I did start to wonder what was going on with my van as it hadn’t passed me yet and I was 2 miles into my 5.4 mile run. Suddenly my iphone rang on my armband and it was Brett, checking to see if I was ok. I told him I was totally fine, had been seeing signs and was confident that I wasn’t lost. Apparently, I was running faster then they expected so they turned around before they got to me, thinking that I had missed that first turn. Once they realized this, they turned around again and passed me up. About 4 miles into this run, I finally see another runner! Actually, all I see is a blinky red light but I pushed myself to reach that light and pass the runner. I think we were both happy to see someone else and encouraged each other. I hear the sounds of the interstate and know that I’m getting close to being done as my exchange zone was on a bridge over the interstate. I push hard for the last hilly mile and race into the exchange zone, finishing 5.4 miles in 46 mins, a 8:38 pace. Leg 2 is done and I didn’t hear any banjos!!

Our next exchange was at Four Roses Distillery so we hurry there. It’s very busy with different parking areas for each van, long walks to the exchange area and lots of darkness (haven’t seen that many stars since I was out west a few years ago!). I get changed and cleaned up and walk to the exchange area where I find my teammates and Van 1, who were excited to start their final set of legs. Suddenly, I hear Nathan, our runner, come up next to me yelling “Come on, girl, keep coming, lets finish this!!!” I turn and see Nathan running hard up a hill, looking behind him and then I see this yellow dog running with all its might, chasing after Nathan!! Then Nathan runs into the exchange, gives Karen the wrist band and the dog continues to run with Karen! It was so funny and memorable. Nathan said the dog joined him about 2 miles into his leg and Karen said the dog stayed with her another 4 miles until she was passed by a runner and the dog went with him. How funny! I guess a volunteer recognized the dog and got it back home.

So Van 2 is inactive now and tired. We drive to Wild Turkey Distillery to look around (it wasn’t a van exchange but we wanted to see it). Some team members catch a few extra hours of sleep during this time. I wasn’t tired but I did have some fresh apple cider with a splash of American Honey Bourbon to warm my tummy! Oh and I rode a rocking turkey as well. Good times. We stopped at Heaven’s to Besty bakery for some breakfast. Next up was the last van exchange at Woodford Reserves Distillery. Now, this was a beautiful place. It could have been a state park, it was so pretty. We got there early, parked and took a walking tour. We had pre-ordered a bottle of bourbon with our names etched into the glass so we picked that up, enjoyed a tasting and walked around the grounds. It’s starting to warm up now and get busier. The teams are starting to bunch up more so we see some very fast looking people. There are a few costumes too but not many. I did hear that our own Capt. Mike and Braveheart raced to the exchange, with Mike finishing just in front of the blue faced, kilt wearing Scot.

About 11am, Carla runs into the exchange and Jeff is off again. The sun is out in full force and it’s heating up. He had a very tough leg with a 1.5 mile hill. We cheered him on the best we could and we happy to hear that he got a few more roadkills on this leg. Tina-Maria takes off for her final leg then next up was Ginger. We’re starting to get close to Lexington and are driving past some beautiful horse farms with their stables and long wooden fences. It’s just gorgeous country.

Brett’s longest leg is his final one, 8.2 miles. His exchange was in a little town called Midtown. By this time, we’ve got some very serious, elite level teams around us. It’s too hot for the cow costume. But we do stop ½ way through the leg to pass him some Gatorade and encourage him on. We get to my exchange and I get ready to go. I ate some Chomps and filled my hand-held with Gatorade. I see Brett coming around the corner and I’m ready to go. We exchange and I head out. I see two runners in front of me but they were out of sight within ½ mile, they were so fast. I decide to run hard but also try to enjoy the scenery (my other two legs were in darkness!) My quads are not happy to be going on even more rolling hills but I just try to keep pushing. My stomach starts to get upset with the mixing of the Gatorade and Chomps (should have taken water instead) and I’m feeling pretty hot. I worry about being passed by other runners but tell myself that it’s ok. I was actually not passed, which seemed very surprising. I run past some amazing farms and just try to take it all in. I was happy to see the 1 mile left sign but also a little sad, knowing that my adventure was nearly finished. I see the exchange zone at the bottom of a hill and run as hard as I could to get there. Ended up finishing 5.17 miles in 46.53, a 9:04 pace. I’m happy with with considering the heat, hill and exhaustion I was feeling.

We all pile into the van and drive to the finish line, in downtown Lexington. We get parked and find the rest of the team (who had showered and napped already!!). Everyone is wearing our matching team shirts. Brett ran up the road a little bit so he could pass Nathan his team shirt. Suddenly, we see them coming at us and Nathan is running like a bat outta h@!! We follow behind him, all 15 of us (12 runners, 2 drivers and our ill teammate who was also volunteering at the finish line), crossing the line with our hands in the air.

We were given unique, barrel shaped medals, had our team picture taken and settled in to enjoy the post party. It was fun to share stories with the other van mates. There was a bourbon tasting that we went to as well, and then we finished the evening with a group dinner. It was so fun to see all these teams walking around the downtown area, wearing matching shirts, medals and smiles.

I’m not sure of our official time yet but I do know we had a lot of fun!!! If you have the chance to do an overnight relay, do it – you won’t regret it!!