The Iron Horse Half Marathon is a beautiful, well organized race. If you like to travel and love half marathons, be sure to add this one to your list!
It’s official — I ran my 16th half marathon on October 14, 2018. 16!! That’s a lot. Much more than I ever thought would happen in my lifetime, that’s for sure. What’s most significant about this number and the race that brought me to number 16 is that it was the Iron Horse Half Marathon in Midway, Kentucky. The Iron Horse Half Marathon happened to be my second half marathon ever back in 2014. While these numbers are arbitrary and not a nice, round milestone like 10 or 15, for example, they’re still significant.
In 2014, I set out on a journey to run farther than I had ever run before. Prior to 2014, I was happy as a clam running my 5Ks and 6-mile weekday runs. Eventually I realized I needed more of a challenge and took on a 10-mile run first, then my first half marathon, and then my second half marathon. The rest, my friends, is history.
Iron Horse Half Marathon: Review and Recap 2018
If you followed me on social media over the weekend, you know I did not have the race of my life. I rode the struggle bus for the entire 13.1 mile journey on Sunday. I tried to get off the bus several times. First at the 12K mark and then again at the 9-mile mark. But the doors were shut too tight and I couldn’t open them to bail! Which is a good thing considering the history I have with this race. Today, instead of reliving the pain and suffering, I’m going to sugarcoat the hell out of this race because I stand firm in my opinion — Iron Horse Half Marathon is a top notch race experience and despite my own bad attitude, it’s a race I would recommend to anyone looking for a scenic, challenging, and fun course.
Iron Horse Half Marathon Review
Parking for this race is simple. Since the town of Midway, KY is small, there’s ample street parking and any spot you get is within a very short distance of the start and finish area. We rolled in to town around 7:05 am and found a parking spot right up the hill from where we needed to be.
This year the swag was great. We got a long sleeve tech shirt (which fits amazingly!), branded sunglasses, a huge keepsake bib, a gorgeous medal, and as an ambassador I received a fun winter beanie!
Iron Horse is a very small race. It’s not known for crowd support and given the course itself (two out-and-backs) there will likely never be any good crowd support. Having said that, the crowd cheering runners in at the end is phenomenal. Especially on a day like we had on Sunday in the cold rain, I was amazed and honored there were so many spectators and volunteers cheering us in.
The course offers a generous amount of rolling hills. There are horses — oh, the horses! — that run alongside runners. It is picturesque, breathtaking, and a pure joy to run this race. But buyer beware: there are literally no flat areas of this race, so if hills aren’t your thing, this race is not for you.
The post-race party is pretty great. Having said that, I didn’t partake in any of it this year because I was teeth-chatteringly cold and miserable. On good race days, though, there are samples, music, and runners mingle and hang out near Darlin’ Jeans (which has delicious cobbler, by the way).
Iron Horse Half Marathon Race Recap
I promised I would sugarcoat this experience and I’ll do the best I can. It is still among my all-time favorite races. I had a bad day, though, and I totally own it. And I learned some lessons along the way.
The first thing I’m going to say here is that one should never underestimate the importance of sleep the night before a race. And I say that because all of us runners tend to brush it off saying, “well, I’m not gonna sleep well the night before a race anyway so what’s the difference?” There’s a huge difference between 7-8 hours of a little bit of tossing and turning as compared to 4-5 hours of interrupted, uncomfortable sleep. So note to self (and to you guys who enjoy traveling for races): spring for the better hotel. You’ll thank yourself come race day.
Race morning arrived and honestly, I was so thankful to be waking up from that wretched excuse for sleep. I just wanted a cup of good coffee (yeah, didn’t happen) and to figure out what to wear for the race. It was raining and cold (double thumbs down) but our room was close enough to the door outside that I could put on multiple outfits and stand outside to gauge which one I should wear. Yes, I did this more than six times. And I still chose the wrong outfit.
My travel partners and friends, Candice, Julie, and Jessica, had a much less difficult time choosing their outfits and it was finally time to go. We hopped in the car and drove the 10 minutes to Midway. Parking was easy peasy, and we were near the church where packet pickup was held complete with warmth and flushing, clean toilets. (And yes, we did take advantage of said toilets.)
The rain let up by the time it was time to line up for the race. But due to the cold, we waited in the car up until 3-minutes to start time. Then when it was time to go, we made our way down the hill to the starting line. Soon we were off!
Jessica was running the 12K while Julie, Candice, and I were running the half. The three of us stuck together for the first 2-3 miles. I felt warm and was regretting my decision to wear a long sleeve shirt over a t-shirt. There was nothing I could do about it at that point but I knew if I got too warm I could always shed a layer. After a few miles together, I told them I was going to hang back and run a bit slower than my marathon pace. This was, after all, still a training run for me. Given my recent calf strain I didn’t want to chance anything and blow up during this race. I was trying to play it safe.
Around mile four I decided I needed to ditch my long sleeve shirt. I pulled over, saw my friends run by, and tied the long sleeve around my waist. No sooner did I start running again than did it begin to rain. It was a light rain, not torrential, but I started to get cold really fast. I pressed on for another mile but by mile five I was seriously stressed out. My hands were warm somehow but my forearms and my biceps were like ice. By this time I was royally pissed off. All I kept thinking was, “this is one of my favorite races and I’m getting screwed with terrible weather!”
I begrudgingly pulled off again and put my long sleeve shirt back on. Then I started running again. By this point my attitude was off the charts awful. I called my husband because I just needed a friendly voice to chat with. I stopped and took pictures of the thoroughbreds racing back and forth along the fence line. And then I had a snack.
When I came to the split of the 12K and half marathon, and I knew where the finish line was (literally yards from the split sign), I was SO TEMPTED to bail. I was so checked out. But I have that stupid little voice in my head that tells me not to give up when things get tough (shut UP, voice!!!) so I kept going. Bah humbug.
I battled the voice until mile 9. I could turn around and bail and take the DNF — put myself out of my misery. But then I’d have a DNF. Then I thought that when I saw Julie and Candice I could just turn and run with them and cut the course. But I’m not a cheater and I didn’t want to end up on marathoninvestigation.com. So I continued to suffer. Up every hill. Through all the cold rain.
My Instagram friend, Jen, told me she saw me on the second out-and-back. She said I looked like I was hating life. I was. I really was. I’m certain if I had a friend to talk with while I was running I wouldn’t have been so miserable. By mile 10 it had stopped raining. I was slightly less miserable. But by this point in the race it was too late to turn my frown upside down. I didn’t have the mental fortitude to do so. I was also worried about my calf. It felt fine and I was paranoid for no reason, but it was my first time running serious hills since before I strained it, and I was worried in my fatigued, cranky state I could end up overexerting it. I walked up some of the steeper hills to save my legs a bit.
Around mile 11 or so I caught a glimpse of a mother and foal. They were running around their ring while runners passed by. It was the sweetest sight and made my heart happy. I’m telling you, without seeing all those horses out on the course, I would have been in such a worse mood. But that’s the whole reason for and all beauty of Iron Horse Half Marathon — the horses!
At mile 12 I thought, “I can do this and I won’t die.”
By mile 13 I thought, “do NOT sprint across the finish line and risk wrecking your calf!”
I made it. The volunteers and spectators cheering everyone on were saints. They braved the cold rain for us runners and for that I’m grateful. They pulled me in to the finish line and I was never happier to be done with a race!!
Official finish time: 2:21:06
After the race
Afterward, I grabbed a banana and began heading toward the car. I found my friend Kate and her two kids and got to give her a big hug and chat for a few minutes. Julie came to say hi to her, too. I had never been so happy to see a friendly face. I wish we had been able to run the half together!
After we said goodbye to Kate, we headed back to the car. I opened the door and was immediately met with a wall of hot air. Since they had all finished so much earlier than me, they were hotboxing the car!! It was a little much so I turned it down and then of course was freezing a few minutes later. Heat back on!!
We headed back to the hotel, packed up, and hit the road for home.
I’ve always known I’m a warm weather runner. This race solidified that. Most people prefer cooler temperatures and overcast skies. Not me. I do much better when I can cruise in the sunshine.
As I mentioned above, sleep is a priority before a race. Instead of being cheap next time, I’ll spring for the more expensive hotel. With the good coffee and toilet paper!
I’ll dress better next time, too. I knew I shouldn’t have worn what I did but I was second-guessing myself. Next time, I won’t do that. Always go with your first instinct because it’s probably right.
My experience, and performance, at the Iron Horse Half Marathon was abysmal. I’m embarrassed at how I handled myself and I’m embarrassed that my time was so awful. But we all have bad races, and I know this.
The course is truly spectacular even in cold rain. There are plentiful rolling hills and the horses are truly incredible. The race organization is great and everything ran very smoothly. If you have a destination race in your future, you should definitely consider the Iron Horse Half Marathon.
Don’t believe me in this post because my race was so awful (I don’t blame you!)? Check out these posts about Iron Horse and why it should be at the top of your bucket list!
- Fall Races for Every Runner
- 5 Racecations You Don’t Want to Miss
- A Few of My Favorite Races
- Looking for a Scenic Fall Marathon? Run the Iron Horse
Have you biffed a race that you previously loved?
Would you go back and redo a bad race if you could?