Bourbon Chase 2018 Race report
Ever since I arrived in Kentucky, most people that know I am a runner have asked if I’ve done the “Bourbon Chase”. Up until this weekend I had not ran in this classic Kentucky race. What is the Bourbon Chase? It’s a 200ish mile relay from distillery to distillery following the bourbon trail. It was originally started by one local guy and eventually bought out by Ragnar, who puts on these relay races all over the country. As happens every year, people drop off of teams at the last minute and these teams need people to fill in so they don’t have to run double. I got cornered in the break room at work by some coworkers, and was asked to run for them. To their surprise, I said yes, and told them I want the hilliest, longest, and hardest legs so that way I can train for the Rough Trail 50k coming up in a few short weeks. The team captain, Greg, obliged and stuck me with 3 legs around 7-8 miles each for a total of 21.6 miles for the weekend.
How does the race work? There are twelve runners per team. Six people in each van. Van #1 will run first transitioning through each of the six runners until everyone has ran. The last runner for the van, makes the transition, and hands off to the first runner in the next van. This repeats until everyone has ran 3 times. The race goes straight through the night nonstop so some people get unlucky (or lucky depending on your view) and have to run at outrageous hours in the night. Confused yet? Good.
Now race day. I got thrown in a van where I knew no one. It took a couple hours, but I felt like we gelled pretty good. By the end of the race on Saturday, you’ve spent enough time with each other in various states of sleeplessness and tiredness, that they become good friends. Our first runner, started out and we made it to the transition station for me, I was runner #2. I got in a good warm up, stripped down and waited for Margot to arrive. She was right on time and I took off. The first part of the run was very scenic, through some backroads, before turning onto the main road for about 5 miles. There were some big gradual climbs, but overall, nothing too bad. I averaged 7:13 for the 7.3 mile first leg. I was really excited about this first time. I transitioned off and hopped immediately in the van.
After you run, you have about twelve hours until your next leg. The problem comes in when you have to jump in the van to take off to the next transition area, and make it for the next runners. I’m normally used to doing a cool down and stretching after running a race, but there was no such thing here. I knew in the back of my mind, this would probably cause an issue… more on that later. The rest of our first leg as a van went really well and the team was feeling good. We met up with the second van at Makers Mark Distillery and transitioned off. We hung out, explored a little bit, but then took off to Danville, to where the next major transition would be and our van would be back on the clock. It took about an hour to drive from Makers Mark to Danville. I slept in the back of the van. Upon arrival, we all split and went different directions. I went and got a pizza and breadsticks at Bluegrass Pizza & Pub. It was fantastic. There were 6 hours still until I ran, so I assumed it would be enough time for my body to digest the pizza and not make me feel sick when I ran my next leg. The rest of the evening consisted of trying to sleep on pavement and in the back of the van.
Soon enough, the time came for Margot to run, and we were off to the next transition. We arrived with plenty of time, so I got in a good warmup on grass. I started out very tight, but was able to warm up enough to be limber on the run. The time was about 9pm on Friday night, it was cool with a slight mist. The forecast called for rainstorms later in the night. I took off trying to see if I could maintain my 7:15 pace from the first leg. This second run, was more highway road running. The great part about it was they had closed one of the lanes in the two lane highway so cars couldn’t come really close to you as you were running. I was very thankful for this. The run wasn’t really one to remember, I felt slow even though I was passing some people, and I almost threw up multiple times. Somehow I still managed a 7:30 pace for 6.5 miles, and was able to make another good transition. By this point in the night, the rain started picking up. Things turned into a muddy, sloppy, cold mess. We ended up staying in the van as long as we could without missing our runner coming in. Thankfully, the rain let up and the clouds gave way as the night went on. After our major transition to the next van, we parked in a school parking lot at about 2am, and slept until 5:30ish when we had to get going to meet our next transition. It was a peaceful few hours. I was able to get some good sleep and feel rested when I woke up.
Now onto our third and final leg. Margot transitioned in the dark at about 6:30, which meant I would be running just as the sun was going up. I was most excited about the third leg because it was a very scenic 7.7 mile run through Kentucky horse country. There were rolling hills and ridges. I tried to focus less on maintaining a fast pace and just take in the scenery. The sky had some beautiful colors that I couldn’t stop staring at. I kept turning around and looking at all the farms, sunrise sky and animals. I saw goats, cows, and horses on this run. There were tobacco barns scattered about, and I couldn’t have been happier. It’s runs like these that remind me why I run.
The rest of our legs went off without a hitch, and we had a ton of fun along the way. At the finish line we waited for van 2 to come in and all joined in with running the team across the finish line. Overall, it was a really exciting time and I would recommend this run to people who want to explore a bit of Kentucky by foot. I think this race is more about spending time with the people around you and enjoying scenic Kentucky rather than pushing yourself to your absolute max and going for time. Although, there are definitely teams that do that, most teams are about the community aspect and pushing each other to have a great time. I think if I were to do it again, I would try to get in some more stretching, and try to do a cool down/ jog around when I could. My legs were insanely stiff when I went out to start my third leg. Maybe more rolling would have helped as well. As with any race, there are different ways to approach this race, so check it out and see it for yourself!