Review: Horse Capital Marathon

4065870663_872e599455_zWhen a marathon race website indicates “rolling hills” for the course, participants should be prepared for hills, hills and more hills.

That was the lesson I learned at the inaugural Horse Capital Marathon and Half Marathon, held May 16 in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Boston Marathon qualifier was the first race held in the area in 35 years. I wonder if Lexington was any flatter back in 1980.

The Horse Capital Marathon

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 10.40.22 AMFirst off, I thoroughly enjoyed the event. It was my eighth marathon (and sixth different location). Even though it was the smallest — by far — I was impressed with how well organized it was. The race expo was small but the volunteers were friendly and helpful, and there was plenty of free parking at Fasig-Tipton (the oldest thoroughbred horse auction facility in North America).

The expo and race were held at the same location, which also made it easier for out-of-town visitors. (Speaking of out-of-towners, you get a funny look when you tell the hotel clerk you are in town for “the race.” Apparently to locals, “the race” occurred two weeks previously and is better known as the Kentucky Derby.)

The marathon course was pretty simple. It’s basically a two-loop rectangle, with a 2-mile extension as part of the second loop. The half-marathon was basically a single rectangular loop. Friendly volunteers were stationed at appropriate locations to guide the marathoners and half-marathoners on where they should go.

The marathon course passes about 40 horse farms, which is perfect for those who want a scenic landscape and plenty of four-legged onlookers.

On race morning, I arrived about an hour before the 7 a.m. start. I had no issues with parking, finding a port-a-potty or anything else involved with the pre-race routine.

However, about 15 minutes before the start, I learned that the start had been postponed for 30 minutes because of “traffic issues.” I did see quite a few cars backed up, trying to get into the entrance of the parking facility. At the same time, it was discouraging to be ready to go and have to face a delay not caused by the weather.

(I emailed the race director, inviting him to address the issue. It’s been almost a week and I have not heard back. If I do, I will update the blog with his comments.)

Soaked in anonymity

The race did start right at 7:30 as sprinkles came from the sky. All week, the weather forecast had called for a rainy Saturday with possible thunderstorms. Thankfully, the gray skies and light rain kept it cool. Otherwise, the moderate 60-70 degree temperatures may have elevated into the 80s, and played a role during the race.

Instead, the light rain turned into a steady drizzle for the first couple of miles.

Then it rained harder.

By Mile 4, I was soaked. Shirt, shorts, socks, shoes. Soaked. It was time to whip out a new mantra, “Embrace the suck.”

While the rain did let up, the hills did not. The race director was not kidding. The whole course was rolling hills. I really don’t remember a point where I was thinking, “Hey, this is flat.”

Thanks to the elevation map, I knew in advance where the sharpest of the hill climbs would be. I was able to plan when to take nutrition, based on those steep climbs. That seemed to work out pretty well. The aid stations stocked water and Sword Hydration. I had never tried that sports drink before but had a couple of sips along the way without issue.

Because of the layout of the two-loop course — horse farm after horse farm — it’s hard to give a real descriptive overview. Instead, I will try to give you an idea of whether this is a race you might enjoy as a participant.

Run this race if you ….

  • Enjoy the challenge of hills. Lots of hills.
  • Like small races that are well organized but not so small that you will feel like you are on a solo training run.
  • Enjoy the countryside. It was refreshing to see beautiful landscapes, mile after mile.
  • Don’t mind minimal crowd support. I honestly do think there were more horses than people watching, except around the start and finish areas.
  • Prepare for the heat and hills. The middle of May in Lexington can be hot. Without the storm that came through, I would have been soaked in sweat, not rain, I’m sure.
  • Like a good value. The race was moderately priced. In fact, I would consider it an above-average value when considering the race technical shirt, post-race food and, of course, the race experience itself.

At the finish line

The last mile included a short gravel path — the rest of the course was roads — that led back toward the Fasig-Tipton building. Before making the final turn, there was a decent crowd applauding. And several guys rushed to greet runners with hearty cheers and sweaty high-fives.

Once runners made the final turn, a mass of humanity lined both sides of the finish area as the announcer read off the names and hometowns of the finishers. A very nice touch.

Volunteers with medals and water were just beyond the finish line. The race’s website had promised cool towels at the finish, but I assume the downpour eliminated the need for the towels.

11267439_10155491775845562_8810976347044073672_n-2In addition to the technical shirts that were given out at the expo, race finishers received finishers’ medals, which double as bottle openers. I tested the bottle opener soon after finishing the race with a Kentucky Ale, which each runner 21 or over received. The bottle opener worked flawlessly, and the ale was refreshing.

The post-race area also included water, chocolate milk, bananas, chicken sandwiches, granola bars and more. A live band played country and southern rock songs in the finish area, which was conveniently placed between the finish line and the parking area. It was close enough where I could easily walk to my car to get my phone and return to the post-race area.

As I mentioned earlier, this was the smallest marathon I have completed to date. There were 478 finishers, compared to the others I have done which have ranged from 1,572 to 3,725. The overall and age group winners received nice horseshoe-themed trophies — a great way to remember their accomplishment in the wet and hilly Horse Capital Marathon.

Would I do this race again?

When it comes to race recaps, I want to be certain before recommending a race to others. After all, what matters most to runners when it comes to choosing races is the experience. Was it worth the expense? Was it worth the travel and logistics? Did I have fun?

Now that I have had some time to think about it, I would wholeheartedly recommend the Horse Capital Marathon. It’s smallish but has the benefits of a larger marathon.

I would definitely consider running it again. Whether I do or not, depends largely on other races on my to-do list that occur during that time frame. I know I have a long way to go to BQ on such a hilly course. But when I am again looking for a spring marathon with solid value, this Lexington race will be on my short list.

photo credits:
Kentucky horses: Carl Wycoff, Flickr Creative Commons
Race logo:
Marathon medal: Henry Howard

4 Responses to Review: Horse Capital Marathon

  1. Angie Spencer May 28, 2015 at 6:51 pm #

    Great recap Henry. If I took more time to train on hills this sounds like my kind of marathon. Congratulations on running strong in such challenging conditions.

  2. Henry May 31, 2015 at 9:42 am #

    Thanks, Angie. And thanks for the training plan that allowed me to eat those hills, like candy.

  3. Phil Min June 5, 2015 at 1:04 pm #

    I was a pacer at the race. The Race Director made the decision to delay because of a MAJOR traffic problem on I-64 between Louisville and Lexington. There was only one way into the facility and I imagine he did not want to be sending the runners out as cars full of runners were still fighting to get in, plus the police were tied up trying to steer traffic into the facility and not able to keep the course secure. I am glad he went ahead and told us instead of waiting right up to the last minute. It is a little unnerving, but understandable from the standpoint of safety.

    I agree the race was well done. I enjoyed the peacefulness of the course and did not feel that the hills were too bad. I was pleased at the fine job the RD and volunteers did!

  4. Henry June 5, 2015 at 5:13 pm #

    Thanks for the information, Phil. That is certainly a legit reason for backing off the start time.

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