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Illinois racer shares experiences about first Lex visit, Run the Bluegrass half-marathon

By Laura Sievert
Special to KyForward

More than 4000 people ran through the beautiful Bluegrass last weekend in the third annual Run the Bluegrass half marathon. For many of these runners, this was their first real look at what Central Kentucky has to offer. One such runner was Laura Sievert from Quincy, IL. She’s been blogging about her adventures since 2011 on what she calls “the tri-state area’s premiere outdoor blog” entitled Adventure Foot. (Tri-state refers to Illinois, Iowa and Missouri.) Below are excerpts from Sievert’s post about running through the Bluegrass:
“When I signed up for the Run the Bluegrass half marathon in Lexington, Kentucky, I had many lofty expectations that probably seem silly. I pictured rolling green pastures, enormous old estates, chickens in the yard, babbling streams, horses running the fields and miles and miles of white fence framing it all in the perfect picture of the South.
As it turns out- I was spot on.

Morning drive to the race (Photo by Laura Sievert)

I came to this race by way of another race selling out really fast. I had originally intended to run the Quivering Quads half marathon through Cuivre River State Park, but when it was full in a day, I did what any red-blooded American would do: whined about it on Facebook. A high school friend who once lived in Lexington posted a link to what was billed as “One of the prettiest half marathons in America,” and I was sold. I quickly talked my training partner Doug into the race, and not long after that- primarily by reminding him that Kentucky was the heart of bourbon country- I had convinced our friend Glenn from the running club to join us too…
Due to a death in the family and an unexpected trip to Chicago, I arrived in Lexington late Friday night after 10 hours in my car having missed the expo. My friends Doug and Glenn were already there, and I was barely in the door before Glenn had his expo prize out to show me: a bottle of Knob Creek Bourbon that was specially selected for this race which he had gotten signed by Runner’s World’s Hal Higdon. The guys had also each purchased an etched Run the Bluegrass rocks glass and Doug had kindly picked one up for me too. Happy to finally be out of my car, we all went to the lobby to have a nightcap and then were off to bed at a pretty decent hour…
The drive there is worth mentioning actually. There was a low fog hanging over the low spots of the farms along the way, and temperatures just around freezing had frozen the fog in spots and added a gorgeous sparkle to the landscape. The sun was working hard to burn the fog away and the scene was another perfect picture of the South.
We arrived at Keeneland Thoroughbred Racetrack over an hour before the race. Walking up to the spired main building I could see the finish line off to my right. Perhaps the little detail of pre-race that made me the happiest is that the racetrack had plenty of inside bathrooms. There is nothing in this world better than knowing you don’t have to go to the port-a-potty before a race…
We made our way down to race start about quarter to nine, and maybe it’s just the speed of the South, but no one seemed in much hurry to get to the start. We found our spot in our corral among the other 4000+ runners and chatted with the people around us. Mainly, I talked to a guy named Andy who was funny and kind and kept my mind off of the 13.1 hilly miles in front of us. The race started just a little late and by the time we hit the start line, the temperature outside was absolutely perfect…
I noticed the first long hill we climbed had a name: Songbird Hill. It was a good name, since I could hear some meadowlarks off in the field. The next hill was also graced with a sign at the top dubbing it Rose Hill. And at the top of the next hill there was another sign and another name and I remembered what someone in the bike club once told me, “It’s only a real hill if it’s got a name.” Well looking from the crest of the hill we were on across the rolling landscape in front of us, I thought, ‘Gosh, there are going to be a lot of names.’

Sievert (2nd from right) and Doug posing with ladies who ran entire race in costume (Photo by Laura Sievert)

In spite of the fact that we were woefully underprepared for a course like this, both Doug and I were surprised to see the first several miles melting away. The course was very well-marked and large flags called out each mile. Intermittently along the course there were bands playing a wide variety of music (Seriously: there was some screamo at one corner and a bluegrass band at the next. WIDE variety…) but mostly the course was a quiet country road with little to hear aside from footfalls.
Near the bluegrass band was one of those scenes I’d clearly imagined before the race- a yard full of chickens and one proud Tom turkey out strutting his stuff, wearing his feathers tall like royal regalia. Not far up the road was the first close-to-the-fence horse, a big black and white draft horse who stood by the fence waiting for the next runner who would come over and give him a scratch on the cheek. He was very sweet and made me smile. That sort of thing really helps me get my mind off the primary problem: the hills. My god, the hills.
We were struggling mightily up one hill that Doug named “The Widow Maker” when (now don’t miss the irony here) a little old man came by us and said, ‘You know what a little old man once told me about hills? It’s just ground!’…
Probably the most beautiful moment of the race for me was at mile eight. We crested another hill and at the top there were three sets of mares and foals running wide arcs around their fenced pasture. It was breathtaking to watch, and even though I was getting pretty exhausted, their enthusiasm for running returned the spring to my step and the smile to my face…
Special thanks go to the race director Eric Marr and his team for making every part of the race beautiful. From the specially chosen barrels of Knob Creek Bourbon, to the ribbons based on the silks of the famous thoroughbred filly Genuine Risk, this was a race with an eye for the details that make an experience special…

Doug at Town Branch Bourbon (Photo by Laura Sievert)

If you make it down for this race next year (and you totally should) make sure you take a little time to explore Lexington. It’s an awesome town with lots to do. We toured the Town Branch Bourbon Distillery after the race and also got a taste of downtown at a really great creole joint called Bourbon and Toulouse for dinner. Then we treated ourselves to pie by the famous Missy’s Pies at Ramsey’s Restaurant for dessert. I had coconut cream. Wow.
Just remember: If you sign up for this race next year… don’t skimp on the hill training.”
To read Sievert’s blog or to follow her on her foot adventures, click here.

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