Chasing Bourbon in Kentucky

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taster

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How does it bode for a 200-mile relay race, when one of the first things you do on the course is taste a little bourbon? Hindsight is 20/20: It bodes very well. Even at the time, it was a good idea: it was after noon and it did help put us in slightly better spirits about the late start time that the organizers gave us: 3:30.

It’s funny that only right now as I write, I realize the full truth in this event’s name, The Bourbon Chase. This was my fifth 200-mile relay, but my first in which I actually felt rushed: the finish line party would close in 29 hours, and we had estimated our total time to be 29 hours. Damn if we weren’t actually chasing… bourbon. The finish line party promised a tasting tent, in additional to food, water, medals, and enormous joy due to the stopping of running.

Technically, the tasting room at Jim Beam wasn’t “on course,” and some of us wouldn’t be running for another 7+ hours, but it was at the starting line. The Jim Beam American Stillhouse grounds made a good area to start a relay race: a little tourism activity to kill time (and learn about the good stuff), plenty of runner needs met (bathrooms, water, gatorade, race t-shirts to purchase, other freebies), plus ribs and lovely fall weather on very green grounds.

cows

I swear, this uses no Instagram filter.

We took the whole team to the start line, which wasn’t a race requirement but with our late start time, we figured it was a good chance to spend time together on a relay. Normally, the two vans just pass each other a few times during a relay, but there were various things about this relay that brought us all together more often. These included: the late start and the relative difficulty (and discouragement) in supporting your runners mid-leg.

By “whole team” I mean two 15-passenger vans, with ten runners distributed into them. The event was designed to have 12 runners on each team, but we fell short, due to injuries and the apparent disinterest of other friends in spending 24+ hours relay-running through a hilly southern state in late September.

Not a single one of us lives in Kentucky: this was a team comprised of Carleton College classmates, their intrepid friends & siblings, or various combinations thereof. All of us flew or drove in from points at least one or two states away, to gather for some adventure and reconnection.

Going into this, I knew two of them. Coming out of this, I’ve already asked them to include me in the next round. They say that traveling is one way to test the resilience of a boyfriend/girlfriend. This is similar. Plus, trekking through Europe with a backpack and access to hostels doesn’t hold a candle to the test of an overnight relay.

Hawk's Place

One shot into dinner

Now that I’ve let them off the hook this early in the story, I’ll detail why this weekend – which ended in an extra day of travel due to a Delta Airlines clusterbuck – was a great experience and has renewed my interest in travel and strengthened my love of relays.

Putting ten runners into a relay designed for 12-runner teams (if you are unfamiliar with the structure, I invite you to watch this video) adds some interesting elements to the mix:

  1. More effort. A few, if not all, runners will run more miles than planned. Plus, you have to be more alert because …
  2. No runner robots: at the outset, we chose to cycle through the runners, then restart, and keep rolling. So, runner 1 ran again in runner 6′s sport, in the first round. Runner 2 started the next round, and so on. So, there was no comfy, simple assumption that in each 6-leg round, I would be runner 4. It changed each time, and a few people were slated to run more than the usual three legs. This required a bit more brain effort than relays do.
  3. Spontaneity: the plan above assumed that the double-leg runners were (as the race went on) able/willing to run more miles, that the double-leg runners wouldn’t decide on the fly that they were up for running two legs in a row (versus spreading them out), and that the team wasn’t assessing the maps to determine if one runner was overdue for a more scenic leg, versus a nasty 4-lane, no-shoulder highway leg.

So, in the end, our runner order wasn’t regular by any means. Add to the mix the relative willingness (or lack thereof) of one van or the other to bend the definition of “relay”, and it gets even more complicated. I’ll avoid detail on said rule-bending, though I will say that at one point, the race officials told us to go ahead. They wanted us at the finish line party, too!

As with all my relay race recaps, there’s no way that this one’s going to come out fully chronological: I’m still sleep-deprived, and the race route wasn’t even linear. So, I’ll provide several highlights. Some may seem low, but they’re worth mentioning:

Smuckers

The ubiquitous smartphone

  • My favorite sip at the tasting tent wasn’t even a bourbon: it was Bulleit Rye American Whiskey. And this was even as I could compare it to a sip of the Four Roses Single Batch, which won me over at a tasting last fall. Perhaps it had to do with the exhaustion and thirst.
  • As demonstrated above, we made it to the party! And it was worth the effort and nefariousness. We arrived at 7:30, had a sweet older lady hang our medals on our necks, then headed for the tasting tent. At its door we got special wristbands that afforded 4 tabs, one each for a sip of of one of the 15 or so liquids being distributed in the tent. The crowd in the tent was very loud and talkative: all were happy to be done and would have signed up for next year in a flash, I’ll bet.
  • For $10 we had access to some tasty barbecue food, which was welcome: pulled pork, mac & cheese, cole slaw, and delicious bourbon bread pudding. I bought a cup of Kentucky Ale to wash it down, and we all sat down to enjoy some live bluegrass music from the Whisky Bent Valley Boys. There was plenty of seating in an area set up at the center of Lexington, and even though the party was about to close down, the atmosphere was festive. Or, maybe our joy at finishing in less than 29 hours made it seem that way.
  • The best scenery of the whole route was in the 30 or so miles approaching Lexington: lovely green rolling hills, pastures full of gorgeous horses, and lovely late afternoon sunlight. It was in these last miles that I chose to run an extra four miles (bringing my total to about 20), and I didn’t regret it. I already had a blister, anyway, and otherwise I was feeling good …
  • … even though my head cold had resurfaced. Go, Mucinex! No big surprise to Mom: it’s true that you can only “outrun” a cold for about 16 miles.
  • Compared to my last four relay races, for this one (notably a homegrown race that isn’t affiliated with the Ragnar group), the locals played a bigger part. The $5 I spent for a shower/sleep combo at the Danville High School was the best $5 I ever spent, and it went to the booster club for that school. Nearer to the exchange point in that town, at least two businesses were open at odd hours for hot doughnuts and coffee. We also had a great meal in a little supper club-type joint, Hawk’s Place, near Maker’s Mark, our van-2 first exchange point, in Loretto. At a later exchange we met some students from the nearby liberal arts college. We doffed our hats/sweatbands to them in solidarity.

    moonlight

    Madness in the Moonlight

  • Our visit to Hawk’s was during normal business hours, so in theory the same hospitality could have happened on local relays. However, since we were all so far from home, it made more sense and was more interesting, to dine out rather than get our sustenance from food we buy or make, to carry in the van. This, the airline tickets, hotel rooms, and the large vans make for a spendier trip, but it’s a worthy trade. It’s travelling, not just running. Two things I love, in one trip!
  • What is it with Kentucky drivers, and not yielding just a tiny bit of roadway to a runner? This was mainly on the wider highways. Even when they had room to move over a half or full lane, I felt dangerously close to some passing oversized rear-view mirrors on pickups. All while trying to avoid those grooves they put into the 1-foot-wide shoulder, to try and deter drivers from sleeping.
  • I felt good, a little speedier than in August, and of course had to contend with a descent-inspired sideache for at least one mile. My only injury sustained: a nasty instep blister (it looked like a leech. I was so entertained that I sent a photo to Steve) from the ProKinetic insole in my right shoe. I need to fix this problem: I think it’s due to the hyper-flexion in the forefoot of my Mizuno Wave Enigma shoes. Their purpleness could not save me. Still: thank heavens for medical technology advancement: a blister-treatment band-aid helped me ignore the blister for the duration of my last two runs.
  • I ran four legs! Coming in to the race with a cold, I had an out. However, when the time came, when a tired and achilles-ache-ridden teammate needed into the van, I was feeling fresh, fueled, and ready to roll for just a few (four) more miles. This brought me to about 20, which was still less than I ran in a relay 3 years ago, but it’s a lot of road miles for this girl who prefers trail for long-haul jaunts in running shoes. I’m pleased that my ankles held up for that much pavement-pounding. It did help that I was off my feet for more of this race, as …
  • … the race rules strongly discouraged teams from supporting their runners, in between the exchange point. This was likely due to the narrowness of most of the roads, and lack of ample shoulder that a van could use to park. At first we were uneasy with this: putting your friend or sibling on a lonely, often dark road, far from home and just letting them run alone for an hour or so is not appealing!  Other runners were scarce, until the last ~6 hours of the race. But, we were able to stop at least once on most legs, finding a dark driveway in which to park and check on our runner. Still, this arrangement allowed for a different dynamic in the van and at the exchange points. There was a lot less jumping in-and-out of the van (to cheer, offer water, etc.), and there was also a lot less coming-and-going traffic at the exchange points. This made them seem a little less dangerous than exchange points in my other relays.
  • My Hippy Bars were a hit, on yet another trip. Winnipeg Cycle Chick rocks.
  • Haiku makes the relay more fun: each runner writes one after each run. I’d share them, but I’d have to share them all as they are a set. Maybe it takes a certain kind of team, but it was a fun post-pee/stretch/refuel activity, which maybe also contributed to extra off-feet time. When you read them all afterwards, you get a pretty good idea of the experience on each leg.
  • The weather! This is the first relay I’ve done that wasn’t in mid-August. The cooler, crisper air of late September is, as some of us exclaimed at the end of a leg, PERFECT RUNNING WEATHER. My night leg also offered a mist that felt great to my sinuses and provided visual stimulation, in my headlamp’s beam and the lovely moonlight.
  • My late, last addition: the bourbon truffles at the Four Roses distillery were so good that they almost softened the blow of our discovery that we were, at the time, dead last.

Lastly, this event was a smartphone extravaganza. It’s a little alienating to look at a start line or exchange area and see almost everyone with eyes turned down toward a little black box in their hand, but it’s a fact of life, now. And in some ways, it adds an enhancement to the overall experience. It “helped” that the race organizers encouraged teams to post to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with “#BourbonChase2012″. While I didn’t find the resulting Twitter feed to be too interesting, the Instagram collection is great! I think it paints a nice picture of what was going on in bourbon country, on Sept 28-90. Scenery, silliness, a little (a lot) of running, some spirits, and plenty of friendship.

Thanks, That Smucking Team, for the long, strange trip! My full Flickr photo set is here. Enjoy!

My closing haiku:

Invited to smuck
Ran, sip’d, snuck, loved warm doughnuts
Smiled the whole night through

2 thoughts on “Chasing Bourbon in Kentucky

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