Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon Race Report

2012 Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon Race Report

Troy Shellhamer

May 2, 2012

I fought my way through the throngs of racers clad in brightly colored race garb to reach the start line. Racers stretched for city blocks as far as the eye could see. The 2012 Kentucky Derby Marathon and Mini-Marathon was slated to be largest footrace in the state’s history of over 300 years. There were  18,000 registered runners, even more charity bibs, family and friends. The sum was probably close to 40,000 people lining the streets and sidewalks of Louisville’s historic Main Street.

To maintain order of the masses, runners are quarantined into “corrals” assigned to them based on their projected finishing time. Luckily for me, I was granted bib number 2 and assigned to the elite group which meant I was able to literally have my toe on the line at the command to “Go!” It took some runners over thirty minutes to actually cross the start line and begin the race as the giant herd moved down the street towards the line.

We were off and racing at 7:30am which would hopefully provide some respite from the possible heat that could encroach upon the runners. The temperatures however this year were pleasant and the rain held out as we raced under sunny skies.

I knock off my first mile in around 5 minutes and 50 seconds. This was fast enough that I was in a small group of maybe twenty runners spaced apart comfortably as we thundered down Main Street. My goal pace was in between 6 minutes 08 seconds per mile to 6 minutes 17 seconds per mile. (9.54 -9.83 MPH). Maintaining this pace would yield a finishing time of 2 hours 40 minutes to 2 hours 45 minutes for the 26.2 miles. I was relieved to see most of the runners around me in the opening miles were running the much more popular Mini-Marathon. Of the 18000 runners, only about 3000 were probably attempting the full distance. Most Louisvillians even refer to the race as “the Mini”, and when they ask if you’re running the Mini and you reply you are running the full, they look perplexed at what you are referring to.  

After knocking off 16 blocks of Main Street heading westbound, I got a surge by running by my sister who was at work but took a minute to step outside and cheer. I was already in pain and knew I had to maintain that pace for another 24 miles!

I knocked off my first 5k, (3.1 miles) in about 18 minutes and 45 seconds. This was a bit faster than I wanted so I backed off the throttle and tried to settle into a manageable pace. People often say they feel good in the opening miles and want to take advantage of it, but this flawed logic is a sure fire way to shoot yourself in the foot in the closing miles and crash. My average pace was 10 miles per hour and I knew to reach my goal I needed to run the same pace the whole race.

Once we made our loop around downtown the headwind running slightly uphill on Broadway was noticeable. The energy required to maintain the same speed grew, but was doable. I focused on getting water in at the aid stations and only concentrated on my stride and form. No one else was out on the course as far as I was concerned; it was only me, running the same pace for 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Turning onto southern Parkway was a welcome change of scenery as the hills of Frederick Law Olmstead’s Iroquois Park loomed in the distance.

The hills of Iroquois slowed me down, but not irrevocably. Near mile 11 while climbing through the park, a friend I race trails with, Matt Hoyes, caught me. I figured this would be great motivation to keep the pace up. Matt is a great runner, and we’ve gone back and forth before in some races. I tried to hang with Matt and his friend Jeremy as we exited the grueling hills and headed back down Southern Parkway for the second half of the race.

My 10 mile split was 61 minutes and 17 seconds and my Half-Marathon split in the race was 1 hour 18 minutes. This was good, but meant nothing as I was racing 13.1 more miles and needed to sustain pace.

I tried harder and harder to run shoulder to shoulder with Hoyes, but he bested me on Southern Parkway around 15 or so. I could tell I wasn’t capable of holding up that energy expenditure for the duration so I had to back off and watch him slowly slip away… at least I was still near the top 10 overall, and I had the chance to see many hundreds of friends running up Southern Parkway to enter Iroquois which I was fortunately done with.

The Marathon and Mini course merged for several miles from about mile 17.5 to mile 20.5. This was rather frustrating as expected because most of the crowd takes up all the lanes of the road even through the lanes are marked, but honestly, I was able to cut and weave through the extremely thick traffic without much detriment. The biggest problem during this stretch was a complete inability to even see the aid stations to get water. I didn’t even consider an attempt to use the aid stations on this stretch because the mini runners crowded every aid stop like zombies feasting on the dead.

Mentally I was elated to hit mile 20, because I was still on pace to hit 2:45. I could withstand any amount of pain for such a short duration. I had gone slightly faster than anticipated and had a few minutes in the bank, so I threw the hammer down for the last six miles. As soon as the Marathon course diverged again at mile 20.5, I was pumped up to see the remaining marathoners in front of me wavering greatly. I passed runners frequently and it fueled my pace. This time I was the zombie, feasting on the fallen runners I would pass, and it lit me up.

The last miles of the course are hilly and demoralizing but I was running very strong and embracing the pain trying to make it hurt as much as possible. I reeled in several more runners, and then at mile 23 I caught my friend Matt Hoyes and passed him. I like Matt very much, but was honestly very glad to pass him as I know how strong a runner he is. In front of Matt were three more runners and I had the overwhelming feeling I could reel them in as well. It was an amazing finish. At mile 24 I began to make my surges and attacks to pass the remaining three runners in my sight.

It took a mile to make my passes, but I took every one of their spots. I dug deep and near mile 25.5 I saw my dog Kody accompanied by my wife and I knew I had the fuel to hold off the runners I had just passed.

I made it across the line in what my GPS watch said was 2:43:30, as did the time clock overhead, but somehow the final time they gave me was 2:44:04. Regardless, I was elated! Sub 2:45 and I was 5th place overall. Three Kenyans were the top 3, and I don’t know the man who came in 4th.

I had very high hopes for this race, and I was pretty anxious about it beforehand. In the 4 months leading up to the Derby Marathon I raced 4 Ultramarathons from 50K to 100 miles, and I knew I would be nowhere near top form, but I got in as much speed work as I could while still trying to allow for recovery after my 100 miler only 4 weeks prior to the Derby Marathon. I knew how bad the day was going to hurt, but in the end it paid off. Not only did I beat my goal of 2:45, but I ran the smartest race I could, and gained 5 places in the closing miles netting a top 5 finish as a result.

I felt victorious and I was ready for another.

I decided to race the Backside Trail Marathon the following day! Insanity. THAT report, is available here;


  1. I was amazed to hear about your time and top 5 finish! That endurance engine you have built is quite impressive! I like the fact that you feed off of the pain - I'm trying to get to that point in my racing. Chasing down "rabbits" is always something I love doing as well!

  2. Incredible run Troy. Congratulations!! Must feel incredible running like the wind. I am happy when I run a mile under 8 mins...LOL.


  3. What kind of shoes did you wear for it? I'm curious to know if MR00's could hold up well for that long of a run. Thoughts?

    1. I'm sure the shoes could hold up, the question is, "Could my legs hold up?" I wore the Pearl Izumi Streak II. they are lighter than the NB Minimus Road MR10 and provide a little support even for a neutral shoe. I don't love them, but they work well for me. The MR00 would tear up my calves at a 26.2 distance I think and recovery would take too long since I wanted to get back to training soon...