Four years of chasing bourbon … on foot

Four years ago, I talked to man who was planning to launch a new overnight relay on Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.

Mike Kuntz explained the idea to me and my friend/coworker/running pal Diane.

Our response: “Bourbon? Running? No sleep? We’re in!”

We were one of the first teams signed up for the inaugural Bourbon Chase back in 2009.

We’ve completed the relay every year since, with three of us staying strong as the captains and perennial returners.

The Bourbon Chase follows the typical overnight relay format — 200 miles, 12 people, two vans.

Each person completes three legs, rotating like a batting order. While one van is “on,” the other van is resting, eating — visiting distilleries.

The Bourbon Chase is unique amongst relays as it focuses around tourist attractions. There are six distilleries along the course — Makers Mark, Jim Beam, Four Roses, Woodford Reserve and Wild Turkey.

I was the 11th runner this year, so by the time I ran my first leg, almost all my teammates were finished with their first.

Foggy weather made it nearly impossible to see on my first leg, as I ran around 11 p.m. through Perryville along Ky. 150.

Much like driving in the fog, my headlamp just reflected off the moisture in the air. I had a hard time staying off the shoulder’s rumble strip, nor could I see debris along the roadway. I just tried to watch my footing the best I could … and hoped I didn’t step on roadkill. (I came close.)

I did yell at Diane for not being in the transition zone on that first exchange — sorry!

I caught about an hour of sleep in Danville, waking up around 3 a.m. and getting a coffee and some breakfast from a local restaurant kind — and smart — enough to stay open all night.

When I walked into the restaurant, I had the disconcerting thought that I wasn’t sure if it was time for breakfast or if it was still dinner. My days of staying up until 3 a.m. are long over!

My second leg was tough — still dark at the beginning of it and raining. A narrow road was packed with runners and vans trying to get to the next exchange. Passing was tough through that area — I had to check for vans, wave that I was passing, make the pass and get the heck out of the way.

Then I snagged another 30 minutes of sleep at Woodford Reserve, but that area is so high-energy it was hard to sit still. Woodford Reserve is the first time the majority of teams are in one place at one time.

Plus, it’s finally light outside so you can actually see everyone.

We ran into some serious traffic snags leaving Woodford Reserve, though. Vans were going both ways on a barely-two lane road — and runners were trying to use it, too.

There were several scary moments where runners came flying up the middle of the street between vans.

The leg coming out of Woodford Reserve is pretty short, and we had a fast girl on it, so we cut it close getting to the exchange. Our next runner pretty much tuck-and-rolled out of the van. (We learned early on in the race that the van would not, in fact, permit a tuck-and-roll. It had to be in park before you could open the door. Safety first!)

Traffic was similar en route to the next exchange. Too many vans, too many runners. Fortunately teams started to string out again after that.

My last leg was through a park in Lexington.

As I warmed up for my last leg, I realized my ankle was really sore — likely from the abuse it took running across the rumble strip in my first leg.

Fortunately, it loosened up during the run. Despite struggling up some uphills in that last leg, I maintained about the same pace for all three legs.

As I ran that leg, I kept checking behind me for a runner in a green shirt — the team we were battling for third place. I couldn’t see her but I kept pushing to give Diane the biggest head start I could.

The anchor leg for the other team was a pretty fast guy, so we wanted whatever cushion we could get.

Unfortunately, we weren’t sure it would be enough.

The last three blocks are visible from the finish line and mercifully downhill.

As our team watched for Diane, we saw the other team’s runner come over the crest of the hill first.

Strangely, my teammates from van 1 began to get excited.

“We have a train delay,” they crowed.

Those tricksters hadn’t mentioned we had almost two minutes extra because our runner had to stop for a train. There’s did, too, but we were at the train first and stopped longer.

“If she makes it here in the next minute, we can get it,” my teammates said.

Then we saw her.

Diane popped over the hill. I took off running to meet her.

“She doesn’t know about the train delay,” I yelled.

I thought if she knew the other team was ahead, she might be easing up her pace. But if she knew we still had a chance, I knew this tough gal would push as hard as she could to get across the line.

I tried to succinctly tell her the situation. We had something like 45 seconds left to capture third.

Diane fired her jets. I couldn’t even keep up.

“We’ve got it, we’ve got it, we’ve got it!”

Insanity erupted. After a back-and-forth for 22 hours against a worthy foe from New Orleans, we barely captured third place.

Despite winning the co-ed division the race’s first two years, the work we put it this year was special. We fought hard for that finish.

Third never tasted so sweet. And to the “Candy Bar Social Aid and Pleasure Club” team from NOLA — congrats.

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