Iroquois is for Runners, or How to Ruin the Best Half Marathon in the Country

The Course In Question

Go to the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon/miniMarathon page for the course map.

Where I'm Coming From

I'm a runner with modest ability.  I never ran track or cross country in high school.  I barely finished the mile fitness test my freshman year in high school.

Those PE exercises and recess games in middle school?  I didn't have enough sprint in me to dodge a guy running up to me to tag me with the kickball that I just kicked.

In the last five years, I've built up the strength and endurance to run in the top 10% of the pack in a couple of marathons, and I've finished 8 marathons and 4 half-marathons.

A Comfortable Challenge

I regularly run the Iroquois Hill Runners' Hard Ten route for training.  The uphill portion is a slow and steady climb.  The lower loop [marked Rundill Road on maps] has some steeper grades than the uphill road. And yet, Iroquois is no Eden Park hill in the Flying Pig, no Hatfield-McCoy 700 ft/1 mile up and downhill, no undulating 300 ft/mile up- and downhills of the Flying Monkey.

The lower loop in Iroquois is somewhere between "not flat" and "a little more than rolling hills," depending on the elevation profile of your average training runs.  The base loop's hills around the base rarely break out of the 50 ft range, and you get just about as much assistance on the downhills as you lose on the uphills--without the sustained punishment on your quads of a sustained downhill.

The Iroquois Park Runner's Experience

Uphill and Rundill Rd at Iroquois Park in the Snow

Regardless of whether you're running by yourself, with a couple of friends, or a few thousand of your friends, the canopy of trees makes the run serene. As you race around the bends, the narrow field of view keeps you from focusing on a point too far in the distance, so that landmarks in your field of vision go past quickly. The bends on inclines and declines offer opportunity for the efficient racer to pass without weaving through the crowd. The steady slapping of shoes on the pavement is the primary sound heard throughout the duration of the park run.

In the racing experience, going clockwise through park meant that, once you passed the up hill road, you were catapulted down a downhill for almost a mile as you and your fellow runners spilled onto Southern Parkway.  Then, the race began in earnest.

It should be noted that even the marathoners do not get this release anymore.  The new course travels counterclockwise.

Southern Parkway

Running down Southern Parkway was my second favorite feature about the Mini course. With the start line there, there was plenty of starting area on Southern Parkway with plenty of room to roam on the bridle paths on each side.  Part of the challenge of this arrangement was that the first two miles involved some narrow streets and tight turns.  However, it isn't necessarily a bad thing to be slowed down leading up to the hills leading up to and inside the park.

When the start line moved to 3rd Street, the crowd congestion just after the first mile dissipated, but the legs were left with more than a mile less of running prior to hitting the hills.  No matter--Iroquois Park was still waiting, and the release onto Southern Parkway would still be there as well.

The crowds along Southern Parkway were always amazing. The bridle path on each side provides plenty of room for spectators. Since the Mini drew at least 3/4th of the runners, crowds supporting the half-marathoners will no longer have a reason to cheer along Southern Parkway.  It could be lonely out there for the marathoners, even as early as mile 8 when they split off from the half-marathoners and run toward Iroquois.  At least prior marathoners didn't hear crickets chirping until mile 12.

Commingling Futility

I sure hope there's a SOLID plan to keep 7 minute mile marathoners trying for Boston Qualifying from being obstructed by 15 minute miler half-marathoners when they rejoin at miles 7.75/18.  If I was running the marathon of my lifetime for the first 18 miles, only to be obstructed by people instead of "the wall", I'd feel like I had been assaulted by cronies of the race committee.  [See Again to Carthage: A Novel by John L. Parker (Amazon link) for a more vivid illustration.]

Updated April 30 [Race Day]

As I watched video of mile 10 of the Mini course, I saw a runner moving at roughly twice the speed weaving through the other runners. Apparently, at this point, there was no clear division of the two courses.

Also, due to last minute course adjustments, the mile markers 9/18 through 11/20 were paired...  That means that a 7:30 marathoner would have run into the wall 15 minute half-marathoners [the KDF mini attracts a large walking contingent] and would have to fight through for 2 miles, much like I experienced in Chicago, but with participants moving at half the pace instead of about 80% of my pace.

I encourage the 15 minute miler to participate. I blame bad course management for not giving a clear path for the half-marathoners and marathoners to co-exist.  Of course, I also blame bad course design, but minimally, better planning should minimize the challenges presented by the course layout.

Tradition

Having grown up near the park, I once knew little about the Mini except for the fact that we couldn't exit our neighborhood via Southern Parkway until after 10am, the barricades that lined the bridal path, and the stampede of runners running down the street.

Now, with the only the marathon route passing by at mile 15 instead of everyone passing by at mile 8--the neighborhood will now be blocked until noon, but the stampede of runners will be the thinned out trickle of marathoners that is typical of a medium-sized marathon at mile 15.

So, tradition doesn't mean much.  Unless it's Churchill Downs. I can't recall if Churchill Downs--especially the trip through the infield--was always a "feature" on the Mini-Marathon, but judging by the contrived nature of the path through Churchill's infield, I would have my doubts. Something about running through dank tunnels, snaking around aimlessly on the narrow infield path, and inhaling fresh hay and manure smell doesn't scream "preferred running route" to me.

By contrast, thousands of people hit the Iroquois hills willingly, sometimes even when the traction is limited.

No Complaining Without Solutions!

Okay, so it's easy enough for me to be a naysayer.  What would I do for the Mini course if I had some bizarre insistence on finishing on the waterfront?  Here's my course.  It's a pretty straight shot down 4th Street, and runs by the back side of Churchill Downs but not in it.  It would run through 4th Street Live! as well.