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Kentucky

Updated: May 28

RUN THE BLUEGRASS

Lexington, KY


Streak of Luck

Thursday, May 9, 2024


"With a little digging into horse racing at the library, I learned the Kentucky Derby had been won by fillies three times. It was rare, but it happened." — Lauren Fleshman, former professional athlete and New York Times bestselling author of Good For A Girl


A week after the dust was just beginning to settle following the 150th Kentucky Derby, I made my way to Lexington, Horse Capital of the World, to take on Run The Bluegrass. In addition to being awarded 5th place for USA Today's Reader's Choice "10 best half marathons across the nation for 2024," Runner's World magazine nicknamed it "America's Prettiest Half Marathon." Based on the bird's eye view I had of the race course as my plane began to descend in Lexington, I had no doubt it would be.


I had a window seat this time, and as the clouds parted, Nicholasville and Lexington came into focus. I could see the Red Mile Gaming & Racing race track, which was not far from where I was staying. I soaked in the breathtaking views of gorgeous estates on rolling hills that all boasted quarter of a mile long, winding driveways, and properties with corrals and stables for horses on expansive tracts of perfectly manicured land as far as the eye can see. These were not the laid back Midwestern pastures I was familiar with that contained rows of corn, wheat, and soy beans, or cattle. Not a single blade of grass was out of place here, and everything looked pristine. Horses appeared to be the rulers of the roost, in every respect, and it was apparent to me they are worshipped by their owners.


I looked down on the brilliantly green rolling pastures of what I would later come to be familiar with as Taylor Made Farm, home to the most famous racehorses in the world. I didn't know it at the time, but I was getting a 30-second glimpse of one pasture in particular that was home to the lady champion Streak of Luck. I was seeing the horses of the mare and foal complex for the first time, majestically roaming and grazing, having no idea in that moment I would later have the opportunity to meet the same beautiful creatures I was viewing from the airplane window.



Bluegrass morphed into suburbia and subdivisions as we got closer to the center of Lexington and descended upon the airport. Prior to my arrival, I took the time to do a bit of research on Lexington, as I always enjoy discovering historical landmarks or places of cultural significance to visit during my trips. If you've been following me for any length of time, by now you know I'm a huge nerd. Lexington is rich in history, most evidently on display in the rural sectors of its landscape alone, which has been frozen in time since the 1700s. Run The Bluegrass's race director, Eric Marr, later confirmed my belief, and shared with our tour group that the pastures and much of the lush scenery we were seeing in present day actually has gone largely unchanged since the 1700s, pre-dating the Revolutionary War.


I felt like I stepped into Outlander — and for those who are unfamiliar with the books by Diana Gabaldon or the TV series, the plot centers around Claire Beauchamp Randall, a nurse in World War II who mysteriously goes back in time to Scotland in 1743. Sometime much later in the story (spoiler alert!), Claire becomes involved in the Revolutionary War. Lexington, Kentucky was named after the site of the opening battle of the Revolutionary War at Lexington, Massachusetts, and city officials and community leaders are busy preparing for a celebration in 2025 that will commemorate 250 years since Lexington’s founding. When planning my trip to Lexington, I knew for sure I needed to focus on two things that are central to Kentucky's culture: horses, and bourbon.


When the opportunity presented itself to register for The Real Lexington Tour as an add-on to my race registration, I enthusiastically accepted the invitation, because it included everything I could hope to get out of a weekend in Lexington (more on that below). I learned really quickly that Talon Winery was central to the race weekend experience in every way, and because my hotel was easily 15-20 minutes from, well, everything, I'd be spending more than usual on rideshare costs since I opted not to rent a car. Even with needing to Uber/Lyft everywhere, it still ended up being cheaper than getting a rental.


After arriving, I checked in to the Staybridge Suites Lexington South. I normally don't share photos of my hotel room in this blog because it's typically an extremely boring detail — but WOW, this room was enormous. I felt like I was staying in the Buckingham Palace of IHG properties. Even the details in the furnishings were very "Lexington," with farmhouse-looking cabinetry in the kitchenette. Thank you, Staybridge Suites, for putting me up in this great room!



My dinner selection that evening after I arrived happened to be what is quite possibly the best hidden gem in Lexington, the Kentucky Native Café. This secret garden of a dining space, connected to an actual greenhouse, is part of what is actually Michler's, touted as Lexington's best florist. Michler's is a family-owned business serving the greater Lexington area with food, live music, and of course, a healthy dose of tomato and pepper plants, seeds, houseplants, sturdy perennials, and beautiful annuals. The café keeps customers coming back by intentionally not sharing the menu each day on their website or social media, it's always a surprise until you are ready to order. I observed when they ran out of a menu item for the day, they'd cross it off the chalkboard, and replace it with a different, new surprise.



That evening's menu consisted of crusty garlic focaccia bread and red pepper hummus, with a side of roasted cauliflower and really awesome mushrooms on a toasted baguette. The flavors of the cauliflower were the most interesting, because I could almost taste cinnamon, and they were both sweet and savory. Overall, this botanical culinary experience is an especially great option for vegans and vegetarians, and I don't recall seeing a single menu item that wasn't plant-based. I personally wouldn't consider myself vegetarian, but at restaurants, I love ordering plant-based meals since they're usually amazing, and creatively beyond anything I could prepare for myself. My hipster, avocado-toast-eating Millennial heart was very happy.


I took the time to walk around the grounds and explore, and made a full circle around the café, greenhouse, and garden. As I was returning to the dining space, a woman walking behind me said to her friend, "P & G's make everything better." Her friend asked the same question I had: "What's P & G?" And the first woman responded in a tone like it should have been obvious, "Prosecco and gelato!" I was then inspired to try this combination for dessert, and went with the strawberry gelato, and grapefruit prosecco. She was right. It did make everything better.



Bourbon Without Pajamas

Friday, May 10, 2024


For my first breakfast in Kentucky, I hailed a Lyft to Beau's Café, which I believed would give me the best Lexington breakfast experience based on the reviews I'd read. I had a lot in common with my Lyft driver that morning, who had also served in the Marine Corps, and had also been stationed at Camp Pendleton. The coincidences continued when he told me he also used to work on UH-1Y Hueys and AH-1Z Cobras in aviation maintenance. Johnny, if you're reading this, you were my favorite driver the entire trip, and I hope you already applied for your dream job like we talked about! :)


At Beau's, I started out with a lavender latte, and noted their special, which was called the "Dutch Baby." I decided I'd have to come back to try it, because I really had my heart set on the buttermilk pancakes. Bourbon maple syrup and orange zest? Say less! So there I was, eating my whiskey pancakes, drinking my coffee, and taking high-resolution photos of my food with my cell phone camera, when this dude walks in and begins setting up professional camera equipment. When he broke out the umbrella, I couldn't just mind my own business, so I asked the gentleman what he was doing and he said he was creating marketing material for Beau's, and we had a good laugh. Leave it to the professional photographer to make me feel like an amateur with my cell phone camera.



Following breakfast, I had to be at Talon Winery before 10:00 A.M. for The Real Lexington Tour. I pulled up around 9:45 A.M., and Eric was inside the building with Sarah and Green, our two tour conductors, who were checking our names off on a clipboard. Sarah and Green moved to the bus, where we all begun boarding and they ticked our names off as we found our seats. The ride to our first stop consisted of Kentucky trivia, and I was surprised that I knew quite a few correct answers, such as Kentucky was neutral during the Civil War.


It was approximately a 10 minute drive from Talon Winery to Taylor Made Farm. Taylor Made, proclaimed to be the worldwide leader in Thoroughbred sales and marketing, has been family owned and operated since 1976 and is responsible for breeding, boarding, and caring for some of the most globally recognized horses in the horse racing industry. When we arrived on the property, the first thing that immediately stood out to our group was the impeccable cleanliness of the entire property.


Had we not been informed that we would be meeting some of the facility's current horse residents, we would have never guessed there were horses presently there. There was not a speck of dust, mud, or dirt anywhere, to include the stables and inside the buildings. Several of us were already extremely impressed. Our tour guide was Logan Hopper, who shared with us that he is a groom and an integral part of the Taylor Made Sales Team. He had a great sense of humor, and his passion for his work was evident as he shared the history of Taylor Made with us. What was clearest of all was his love for the horses, and as we were introduced to each horse, it was obvious that they are treated like family.



Logan explained there were currently 400 horses on the farm, and the business was in the middle of horse breeding season. After a crash course on the fundamentals of horse breeding, the traditions and superstitions in the horse racing industry (such as when a race horse is officially given a name), Logan took us to meet our first horse in the stallion complex. Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner Knicks Go, who won a total of $9.2 million on the race track and was named #1 2021 Longlines World's Best Racehorse, was up until that moment the most gorgeous horse I had ever seen in my entire life.


Each horse was more beautiful than the last. As we were introduced to them, they didn't hesitate to put their personalities on display. As we continued through the stallion complex, we met Instagrand, who was his sire’s first seven-figure sale at $1.2 million. He did not appear to be in the mood to socialize, and kept his back to us. I thought his name sounded very close to "Instagram," and he was definitely an Instagram-worthy sight to behold... if only he would turn around.

Across from Instagrand was the famous Not This Time, dubbed 2021's "#1 Sire in North America," 2023's "Top 10 General Sire," and a clear favorite of Logan, who was sporting a baseball cap embroidered with the horse's name. Not This Time was hands down the most gorgeous stallion of them all, and he was extremely charismatic and decided to show off for us in his pen while enthusiastically accepting peppermints. Logan joked that it was a good thing he was feeling social, because he had a scheduled "date" later with several of the mares.


We hopped on the bus and headed down the road to the mare and foal division, where we were given a canvas bag filled with treats and peppermints to feed the horses. We had not been permitted to pet the stallions because of the risk of being bit, however we were told it would be safe to pet the mares and the baby horses. Here is where I met the horse I fell in love with and wanted to take home, Streak of Luck. She had recently sold for $620,000, and was a Lady Canterbury Stakes winner at ages 2, 3, 4, and 5. She was extremely friendly and allowed us to pet her, never losing sight of who had the bag of peppermints. I was absolutely blown away by how stunning she was.



As we made our way back to the bus, we learned that Taylor Made Farm was once home to California Chrome, The People's Horse, featured on the race medal we would receive at the finish line. Logan explained that unfortunately, California Chrome was sold to Japan, where he will continue to do wonderful things on the international stage, although he is missed dearly by the Taylor Made family and all of his fans in the United States who love him. What could make California Chrome even more lovable than he already is, besides a decade of an illustrious career as a world champion? He also does FaceTime. Recently, one of California Chrome's fans arranged for his Kentucky Derby trainer, Art Sherman, to be reunited with the horse, with the Pacific Ocean between them, over FaceTime. Our tour of Taylor Made drew to a close, and we were to be at the James E. Pepper Distillery at 12:30 P.M. sharp.



When we arrived on Manchester Street, we were instructed to divide ourselves up into two groups. The first group would tour the James E. Pepper Distillery, while the alternate group was free to explore the shops on Manchester Street and grab a bite to eat. After the first group finished the distillery tour, we'd swap. I wasn't particularly hungry, considering my stomach was an hour behind on Central Standard Time, so it was a no-brainer for me to join the distillery tour group. Once we selected our teams, divided neatly into groups of 15, the shopping group scattered while our group headed across the plaza to the distillery.


We had a unanimous urgent need to use the bathroom after spending a considerable amount of time on the bus, so we raced to the bathroom as soon as we were inside the building. I had a renewed affinity for the expression "needing to piss like a racehorse" after visiting actual racehorses. After the bathroom break, we milled about the front of the distillery where there was a sampling and check-out counter, and rows of finished product on the shelves for sale.


We were greeted by MiMi, our spirited tour guide, who led us into the archive room and proceeded to dazzle and impress us with her knowledge of the history of the industry and the distillery. She took us back to 1780, during the height of the American Revolution, when Colonel James Pepper's ancestors began producing "Old Pepper" whiskey. Colonel Pepper was the third generation to produce it, and in its prime, the James E. Pepper Distillery was the largest whiskey distillery in the United States. It was during this introduction we learned that "colonel" is actually an honorary title in Kentucky, and unaffiliated with the military rank. A Kentucky Colonel is someone who makes a significant contribution to Kentucky's culture, and we all collectively laughed when MiMi mentioned Kentucky Fried Chicken's one and only Colonel Sanders.


After being regaled with tales of James Pepper's illustrious adventures in New York to promote his brand at the Waldorf Astoria, we learned my favorite part of the story: James Pepper's wife Ella Offutt Pepper single-handedly saved the business and James's career after he was forced to declare bankruptcy. The Pepper distillery and stables were seized, and James's horses were put up for auction. Ella Pepper defiantly headed to the auction block and bid on every single horse.


After rescuing the horses from their uncertain fate, Ella took over the stables and trained and raced the horses herself, winning races all over the globe. Within only a few years, she earned enough money to buy the distillery out of foreclosure. The caption above Ella's portrait in the archive gallery reads, "Mrs. Ella O. Pepper Repaired Husband's Failing Fortunes by Establishing a Racing Stable." I loved MiMi's animated recount of Ella's story, and we enthusiastically gave her a round of applause. MiMi accepted our applause with humor and took a bow before transitioning to telling us about the devastating fire that destroyed the building on April 28, 1934, and how the distillery was rebuilt. The James E. Pepper distillery was one of the only distilleries in the country that survived Prohibition.


MiMi then took us through the actual distillery, where we viewed the mash tubs up close and personal, and became familiar with the inner workings and plumbing involved that produces whiskey — which for the James E. Pepper Distillery, amounts to about 1,800 barrels a year. I watched the boiling fermenting liquid slosh around and bubble in the enormous fermentation tanks while Luke Bryan's hit song "Rain Is A Good Thing" played on a loop in my head, especially the line, "Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey." After MiMi explained the distilling process in great detail, we did a tasting of several different spirits in the process of becoming bourbon, rye, and single malt.


MiMi handed each of us a James E. Pepper shot glass, which we were allowed to keep as a souvenir. Our first sample was pure moonshine, which MiMi cautioned us to not take it like a shot and "don't be a hero," because it was easily 140 proof. In a past tour group, MiMi said she had a 100-year-old Canadian grandmother who didn't even flinch after trying the moonshine, commenting that moonshine is "just bourbon without pajamas on."



Indeed, there were no pajamas in sight. I glanced around our small circle as each guest squeezed their eyes shut in distress as the potable jet fuel made its way down our throats. Deciding our stomachs weren't flammable enough, MiMi then poured the second round, which was milder, and this sample was in the process of becoming a bourbon. Many of us were left hoping the next round of samples were more merciful. We moved into the tasting room, where we took seats around whiskey barrels, and our third sample was administered.


This was the last of the two bourbon samples before we were treated to my favorite of all four, the rye whiskey. What made the rye even more of a treat was we were each given a chocolate bourbon ball to pair with it, and the sweetness of the chocolate complimented the smooth finish of the whiskey very nicely. After enjoying our samples we were invited to move back into the distillery entrance to purchase bottles or try additional samples at the counter. That concluded our tour, and Sarah released our group for lunch and shopping as the other group made their way inside the distillery to begin their tour. I promised MiMi a great review, and I hope this suffices as I have not yet made my way to TripAdvisor. This tour has a five star recommendation from me!



Trying whiskey samples worked up an appetite, and after the tour I rounded the corner and headed into Goodfellas Pizzeria, which technically shares the original building with the distillery. The restaurant used to be a functional part of the distillery, but later it was converted to just restaurant space. The industrial structure of the distillery inside the restaurant was preserved, which I thought was a really cool way to honor the history of that part of the building and the distillery.


In keeping with my tradition of having pizza the day before race day in every state I visit, my Kentucky pick turned out to be a huge success. Despite the Goodfellas Kentucky pizza controversy that apparently took the internet by storm in 2018, when Barstool Sports' Dave Portnoy gave the business a scathing review (I was today years old when I learned about this), Goodfellas gets nothing but 5 stars from me, or 10/10, depending on the rating scheme we're using.



Not only was my slice of pizza delicious and piping hot, but someone must have tipped them off that I was coming, because they served me my favorite pizza combination: pepperoni and pineapples. The staff was friendly and made every guest feel welcome during my time eating lunch. You're probably now wondering what happened with Dave after the pizza scandal, if you were totally oblivious to the story like I was, until today. Apparently Dave paid the restaurant a redemption visit and changed his rating from 0.0 to 7.7, declaring that he and the business are "friends now." Sometimes you just need to fuhgettaboutit.


After lunch I walked across the plaza to get my fair share of shopping in. I ended up going on a shopping spree at Relic, where I picked up a bunch of sarcastic gifts for friends who share my dark sense of humor. If I didn't have a weight limit for my suit case, I probably would have filled it to the brim with profanity-emblazoned artifacts and cute home décor.



The end of my day concluded with packet pick-up and dinner. Packet pick-up and race expo were held at Talon Winery, and our tour bus dropped us off there at the conclusion of the tour at 4:00 P.M. It was convenient, and saved me a trip, because we seamlessly moved from the tour right into the expo. There were tables and racks of merchandise set up at the entrance, and packet pick-up was towards the back of the building.


After I grabbed my race bib, I moved to the tables where race staff had my pre-purchased merchandise ready to be collected. I couldn't resist the adorable shirt that said, "Coffee & Wine & Bourbon & Chocolate & Running & Friendships." It was my entire personality on a T-shirt. Pre-race dinner was at Bella Notte, where I enjoyed a generous bowl of penne gorgonzola. Not sure if it was the pasta, or the whiskey, but I can't recall a time I ever slept better before a race. I got a solid 9 hours, and woke up feeling extremely rested the next morning.


Running For The Roses

Race Day: Saturday, May 11, 2024



I stood in the hotel lobby promptly at 6:30 A.M. on race morning, waiting for my Lyft driver. I anticipated race day traffic from all over Lexington converging upon the single two-lane road leading to Talon Winery before the start of the race, and figured 40 minutes to an hour would be plenty of time for me to make it to the start. I'd had it in my head since the day I registered for Run The Bluegrass that the race started at 7:30 A.M., so when we turned onto Tates Creek Road and were met with bumper-to-bumper traffic, I sat back and relaxed until the minutes on the clock ticked down and my estimated arrival then became nine minutes before I believed the race was scheduled to begin.


"Surely, they can't start the race with hundreds of runners still stuck on Tates Creek?" I asked the Lyft driver, who was worried about how she was going to turn around with the road closed. My anxiety was through the roof, and I was not exactly sure what one does when late to a race start. I'd never been late to a race before. In a panic, I began scrambling through my emails to find Eric's number, as our vehicle inched forward. I'll just call Eric and let him know I'm stuck in traffic, I thought.


Then my finger paused over the dial icon on my phone, and I thought better of the idea, believing Eric was probably getting a hundred texts and phone calls from everyone else in line with me. Maybe if I got out and walked to the start from here? I pulled up the map and realized I did not want to walk a mile and a half, because I would still be late based on my walking pace, and I'd rather be late with saved energy then late with one less mile in my energy tank. Either way, I was running 13.1 miles, and my Lyft driver was getting a tip at the end of the ride.


My thoughts were interrupted by a notification on my phone from the Lyft app, which read, "It looks like you're not heading to your destination. Do you need help?" With the prompt came several options, which included: report safety issue or accident, get emergency help, and "no thanks." I clicked "no thanks," and silently laughed at the irony of us creeping along so slowly that the app believed I was in trouble.


We pulled up to Talon Winery with about 3 minutes to spare, and I was surprised to see hundreds of runners milling about, casually chatting, popping in and out of the porta-johns, and going in and out of Talon Winery's main building, with no indication that anyone was lining up to the starting line any time soon. I tapped a random lady on the shoulder and asked her what time the race starts. "We are supposed to actually start at 8:00 A.M., I believe," she said, amused at my obvious expression of relief, "Eric wanted everyone on the property by 7:30 A.M. so they can close the roads, and he doesn't advertise the actual race start because he anticipated the traffic and knew if he told everyone 7:30 A.M., they'd show up on time before the actual start. I'm surprised his crazy plan actually is working."



With 30 minutes to spare, I took the time to use the restrooms inside the venue, a luxury appreciated by every runner given the choice between indoor toilet and outdoor toilet. The line moved fast, and by the time I went back outside to find the correct wave to line up at the start with, all of the congested traffic had disappeared from Tates Creek, and the cars all either had found their way off the property, or a good parking spot. I would definitely call this start to a race organized chaos, because although we were not given a ton of overt guidance, it seemed everyone somehow knew exactly where they were supposed to be, and when. Eric's strategy to trust us to start the race when we were supposed to was extremely unconventional, and even contrarian, but we were treated like seasoned racehorses who were keenly aware of our assignment.


We were gifted the most perfect race weather we could have imagined, 51° F with a gentle 5 mph breeze at the start of the race. These were my favorite conditions, and no matter what was waiting for me on the other side of the start, I knew the weather would give me a fighting chance of not running a PW (personal worst) despite what I learned about Kentucky's hills the day before. When we finally crossed the start, I delighted in the first downhill of mile 1, feeling really great. The first two miles were net downhill. A little after the mile 2 marker, we encountered the first aid station. It was manned by one gentleman, scrambling to empty a gallon jug of water into blue rubber reusable cups.


I snatched two cups off the table, and hoped the next aid station would have electrolytes. The next aid station did not, in fact, have electrolytes. Or the next one. They were all minimally manned, with only water and one or two overwhelmed volunteers. I don't mean to look a gift horse in the mouth, but this is really the only major aspect of the event I'd recommend for improvement for the future: more lively aid stations with additional volunteers, and electrolyte mix to compliment the offering of water.


The first 6 miles consisted of relatively manageable, smaller rolling hills. As the miles crept along, it was my perception the level of difficulty of the course increased. I was a first-timer running this race, so I had no frame of reference to what previous years had been like as far as course difficulty, but it was my understanding this had been a change from last year's course. This was the most beautiful, and also the most brutal course I've ever run up to this point. Any self-respecting race director would describe the terrain and elevation changes as "gently rolling hills," but these hills were not even gentle enough to gentle a wild horse. Hills are the great equalizer, and I witnessed runners of every speed and ability neutralized by Lexington's respectable hills.



Running adjacent to the same pastures where the greatest racehorses in the world train and live, I knew why they are the best at what they do. If only I'd had four legs for this race, I probably wouldn't have been hurting as much as I was. I channeled the spirit of the racehorse as I watched them being ferried towards me in the opposing lane of traffic. They were peacefully hanging out in their horse trailers, speculatively watching us run past them on their turf.


About halfway through, the wind picked up to about 15 miles per hour, and the clouds rolled in. It was noticeably cooler after mile 6 with the nice breeze, and the overcast skies gave us much needed shade to supplement the shade from the occasional bank of trees lining the road. By mile 9, I felt it was time for me to really buckle down. I'd been enjoying the scenery, admiring the lush pastures and gorgeous estates up to that point, but with the hills becoming progressively more arduous, I needed every last cell in my body focused on making it the next 4.1 miles.


I pulled my earbuds out and stowed them away. The entirety of Taylor Swift's album The Tortured Poets Department had gotten me more than halfway through the race, but now there was no more room in my brain for music, only concentration on the pavement. Feeling my shins and calves begin to protest, I willed every single bone and muscle in my body to participate and get me up those hills, forcing my muscle fibers to propel themselves towards the finish.

At some point, we passed a sign on a front lawn that made everyone laugh and stop to photograph it, which read, "Due to inflation, you will be running 14.8 miles today!" When the vertical banner marking the completion of mile 10 ticked by, the mental battle really began. I sucked down my last Huma gel, hoping the addition of more electrolytes would be enough to give me energy to make it up the mile long hill that was mile 11. "Please make this stop," was the only thought I was capable of. When I finally reached the aid station at mile 12, I was greeted by a volunteer who informed me they'd run out of cups. I cupped my hands and held them out to her expectantly, and she tipped the gallon jug of water forward and filled my hands with water.


I gulped it down and asked for more. "I'm not doing so well," I said to her, matter-of-factly, as a wave of nausea crept up. She asked if I needed medical attention. "Probably," I said, "but I need to make it to the finish. It's not much farther." I was trying to convince myself, rather than her, that I would make it. I focused on my breathing the rest of the way, and on putting one foot in front of the other. I pulled out a single salt packet I'd brought with me, likely swiped from a restaurant, and dumped the entire thing into my mouth, appreciative of the energy boost. A group of paramedics zoomed past me in their go-cart, and one of them who was seated facing the rear smiled and gestured to me that he was watching me. It was comforting to know at least someone would be there to catch me if I collapsed at the finish line.



During the final mile of the race, a tiny elderly woman in fluorescent running gear, bronzed from her travels and many years spent running under the sun, caught up to me. She was presumably in her late 80's or early 90's, power walking at a very measured pace. Her cadence was impressive and it was very apparent to me she maintained that pace the entire race. She had been capable of walking faster than many of us were able to run that course. I thought of my late grandmothers, and I felt compassion and love blooming in my chest, despite the physical pain I was in. "Let her go," the voices of my grandmothers said, "let her have this." I could only hope one day that would be me, winning age group awards in my 80's. I let her pass me and cheered her on as she crossed the finish ahead of me.


Sorry to shock and disappoint you, but I was not draped in a blanket of roses at the finish. Instead, I was bestowed with a beautiful finisher's medal, which featured one of American racing history’s most beloved horses, 2014 Kentucky Derby Winner California Chrome, nicknamed "The People’s Horse." There was an assortment of Cheetos and chips at the finish, along with bottled water, and I hurried out of the way to sit in the grass and graze on Cheetos while I summoned my Lyft. Traffic returning to Talon Winery to retrieve race finishers was as expected, organized chaos flowing smoothly as volunteers directed traffic. All things considered, everyone cleared off the property relatively quickly, as there was no finisher's festival, just a no-frills finish line. I had two beer tickets, however, they'd run out of beer before I finished, so that was not an option for me. Thankfully, they had not run out of medals.


During my 20 minute wait for a Lyft, I used the restroom and took a few photos of the vineyard. I decided I'd repeat Beau's for lunch, wanting to try a different menu item since the first trip was so good. I made it back to the hotel, took a quick shower, and hailed another Lyft from the hotel to Beau's. On the way to lunch, my Lyft driver was making conversation with me, and he asked me who I'd made the trip with.


When I shared I was by myself, he said, "You're a woman, and you're traveling by yourself? You've got cajones. Most women travel with friends." I took a moment to pause, feeling kind of grossed out, and all I said in response was, "It's pretty hard to visit everywhere I'd like to go if I'm waiting on other people. I'm not most women." For the rest of the ride, I was marinating in the awkward silence, and anxious to reach my destination as quickly as possible. His comment was representative of everything I hated about society's perception on women traveling solo, especially because if the concern is safety, I am statistically more likely to be harmed by someone I know, instead of a stranger. I take many trips with my husband, and I take trips with friends. However, I do take a lot of trips solo, and for the life of me, I don't understand why people find it weird or unusual.


Later on, after returning home and heading back to work, I had a great conversation with a coworker whose wife is terrified to travel alone. We came to the conclusion that many people's beliefs and fears around this all come down to how we were socialized growing up, personal or adverse experiences, and where we came from. I'm a very confident person, and not afraid of strangers. This is partially because of my professional background, and also because I grew up in an urban area as a city girl who is comfortable in high intensity surroundings. Growing up in New York and New Jersey, I was exposed very early in my life to every kind of person imaginable, from all walks of life, and every day I was surrounded by beautiful diversity. I am not afraid of anyone, and I have tremendous gratitude for my freedom to travel whenever I want so I can continue to meet people who have different experiences from mine.



Now that I'm off my high horse (couldn't resist this perfectly timed horse pun), let's talk about my lunch. At Beau's, I ordered the Dutch Baby, an absolutely remarkable concoction of popover dough, lemon zest, yogurt whipped cream, and warm blackberries. It came with a couple of little lemon wedges, which I generously squeezed all over the pastry. I also ordered two eggs on the side to increase protein. I knew the Dutch Baby was their specialty, so I couldn't have picked a better menu item to sample. I told the waitress that in that moment, it was the best thing I'd ever eaten in my entire life. To be fair, everything is the best thing I've ever eaten after running a half marathon. 10/10 stars, would recommend, and I plan to return to Beau's a third time if I'm ever in Lexington again.



After a few hours of downtime in the hotel, mostly consisting of Netflix and doom scrolling on social media, I reemerged from my sad cocoon of pillows to get dinner. I'd considered doing more touristy stuff during that block of time, and I had a laundry list of recommendations from every Uber driver, Lyft driver, and local, but I was chomping at the bit (yes another horse pun!) to get back to my room and put on sweats. All I wanted was... soup. Soup was actually the perfect post-race food, it would be easy on the stomach and nutrient dense. I made my way to Ume Craft Ramen, and ordered a plate of the fried gyoza as an appetizer, plus a colorful bowl of Tonkotsu Ramen. I was obsessed with everything, to include the giant robot cat delivering food to each table. While eating the ramen, I made a dorky discovery that I'm way better at using chopsticks with my left hand, even though I'm right-handed.


Sunday morning was Mother's Day. My flight was scheduled to depart at noon, so I had plenty of time to have breakfast and wish all the mothers in my life a Happy Mother's Day. After having the opportunity to sleep in (which is something I normally never do), I walked a mile and a half on stiff legs down the street to First Watch for breakfast before heading to the airport. Typically I do my best to support local small businesses at every meal whenever I'm traveling, however my closest option within reasonable walking distance happened to be a chain restaurant. I decided on the Hawaiian French Toast. I am of the contrarian belief that pineapples belong on everything, and they're appropriate for every destination you choose for your vacation, whether it's Hawaii, or Kentucky. Thank you for your hospitality, Kentucky!




LODGING RECOMMENDATION:

Staybridge Suites Lexington South

209 Ruccio Way

Lexington, KY 40503



Happy running and safe travels,

Stefanie


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