Honestly, The Air Force Marathon will always hold that special place in my heart as my favorite, because that was where my love of running was born. Not to mention the incomparable patriotism found laced throughout the event.
But in talking about different courses and events, each race I've ever done has held a different meaning and a unique challenge of some sort.
This weekend, the half marathon I completed, Run The Bluegrass, in Lexington, KY, was no different.
I enjoy getting out on a course I have never studied, run, or experienced. I enjoy not knowing exactly what will be around the next bend. Initially, upon looking at the elevation chart, the race did not look all that hilly. However, upon arrival at the expo, I realized I was somehow misled in my beliefs. The course, in fact, would be quite rolling.
The more I talked with participants through the 2 day expo, the more I learned how hilly my next day's race was going to be. I get competitive against myself, so I had to remind myself how much I love to run for fun and not worry about the time.
Known as "America's Prettiest Half Marathon", their banner theme held true...the course was absolutely beautiful. The start line was like most any start line,the National Anthem gave me chills, as it typically does, but then it was followed by a Kentucky Bugler. You know, the ones you see on TV at all the horse races? Seeing/Hearing that was pretty neat. And then we were off... Large mansions embedded in the rolling hills of the bluegrass country were found along the entire course. Long driveways paved the way to those homes, lined by brick walls or picture-perfect picket fences. The rolling hills held miles and miles of horse pastures and barns and beauty. For the first many miles, the hills didn't bother me; I was captured by the beauty and enjoyment of the event. I was even on track for a really good time, which I did not anticipate. I literally cried as I came upon the one and only wheelchair participant in the event. He was a double amputee, and he was blind. He was a marine veteran, hurt in Iraq. I cried as I passed him on a hill (and not long after, he was soaring by me!) because of his sacrifice and his heroism, as well as his determination to overcome and pursue "normalcy" to the best of his ability and not let his disability hinder him from participating in life. A person like that puts life into perspective.
When I came up to mile 9, I lost a lot of ground in my good time. My muscles, not used to all the hills, were growing tired. And Mile 9 was all uphill. I still found the race course to be beautiful, but I had to focus on forward movement and good posture and healthy breathing a little more, which took away a little bit of the beauty for a moment. I got through that mile and kept pushing ahead. I was no longer on track for my PR, but I didn't care. I was having fun, which is what running should be about anyhow. Around mile 11, the horses in the parallel pasture were enjoying our company, and were running along the fences with us, which once again brought the beauty back to the event. (The hills were still rolling, in case you were wondering). At mile 12, I patted the girl next to me on the back and told her good job. I could tell she was struggling a little. Her pace picked up and she went by me, smiling a little. I wrapped around the corner, seeing all the fencing for the finish line. I can't explain the emotion in the moment. I was lost in it. Even though I have run many races, the feeling of finishing a race is unexplainable. I still love it. Because I love what running does for me.
And then I crossed the finish, got my medal and the moment was over.
This race did not hold the most amazing significance of any race I've ever done, but my mantra, stronger than yesterday, held true through the miles. After a long winter, some trying moments, changes crossing my path, and interesting new discoveries, I finished what proved to be the most hilly course I have ever done. Beautiful, yes. Challenging, absolutely. But amazingly fun...100%.