Sunday, June 14, 2009

Running with the Thoroughbreds

Thoroughbred race horses have always fascinated me. No doubt a few people are aware that I spent countless hours with my neighbors playing statistical, sports board games – particularly professional baseball (APBA and Strato-O-Matic). What probably fewer people know is that APBA also had a Horse Racing board game – where players could run the truly great horses of all time. My favorite was Man O’War. I even read a book about him and came to the same conclusion as the author; he was the greatest horse ever. I was always captivated by the races of the Triple Crown – the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont and followed them intently every year – waiting for the next Triple Crown winner and for a horse to rival Man O’War. During a recent race trip I got to pay homage to my favorite horse – at the Kentucky Horse Museum in Lexington. A prominent section of the park was dedicated to Man O’War, his accomplishments and his almost unbelievable physical characteristics. Apparently, I am not alone in thinking this horse was truly one of the greatest ever.

As for the half-marathon – it may not have been one of MY greatest of all time – but it was okay – with no reminders of the hamstring injury. The race (April 25th) was actually part of the Kentucky Derby Festival in Louisville – a week-long party culminating in the Derby. It was a big deal with almost 10,000 half-marathon runners, plus several thousand more doing the marathon.
It wasn’t among the most scenic runs we have done, but there was an initial (hilly) section in a pretty, wooded park and the finish was in downtown
Louisville. However, the highlight was running through a tunnel into Churchill Downs and running around the inside of the race oval as jockeys had their horses out for their morning workouts.

Pretty cool.

Beyond the race, it was a great trip to
Kentucky. We took a tour through Mammoth Cave, visited Lincoln’s birthplace and monument, spent some time in the historic and very interesting Capitol City of Frankfort

and had a beautiful drive through Kentucky Bluegrass and Horse Country – the quintessential horse estates (hotels might be appropriate) with their vast grassy hills enclosed by white or black fences and the very pampered thoroughbreds, themselves.

At the end of the trip we had checked off State #30 – the 60% milestone! And the Thoughtful Runner even had a few musings. I mentioned that the race wasn’t one of my best. I had actually expected and hoped to do considerably better. Interestingly enough, about 5-6 miles into the race – when I could already see it wasn’t going to be a great race – my mind went to work and came up with any number of reasons to explain my performance – or lack thereof. It was unusually warm (which it was). There were lots of hills in the early park section (which there were). I had to do too much maneuvering at too high a speed to break loose from the throngs at the start (also true). My initial pace was too fast. I had been in New Zealand for a couple of weeks and my training wasn’t where it should have been. All of these were true – and perhaps even contributed to the results. But isn’t it odd – when we recognize we might be falling short – how quickly we can find reasons (excuses) to justify our performance. It just reminded me of a saying I heard many years ago: “Winners don’t need excuses.” In life, as in running, we need to prepare and train and expect what we are going to encounter. Remember – those traveling the same path probably have a lot of the same conditions. At the end of the day, an excuse is not going to help. Run your race – without excuses.