The Triple Crown of Running
Louisville Loves Its Races
Writer / Stephanie VonTrapp
Photographer / Stephanie VonTrapp Et al.
On Saturday, May 8 at 6:50 p.m. the world will gather to spectate what has been universally deemed “the most exciting two minutes in sports”. As the horses break free to run the 144th Kentucky Derby, we will watch with bated breath to see who will walk away a champion with the hope they can also win the next two legs of the Triple Crown of horse racing. Derby is undeniably the highlight of every year for our city as we host hundreds of thousands of tourists, showcasing our historic city with true Southern hospitality.
Our city’s love affair with racing does not end with horse-racing, though. Each year, ramping up to the Derby, thousands of residents and tourist also lace up their sneakers and hit the pavement in races of their very own. Born in 1984, the Triple Crown of Running has attracted novice and experienced runners from all over the country to participate in the city’s race season. They aren’t just running for their health, happiness, and enthusiasm though – they are running for others. Since 2002, the Triple Crown has raised $1.8 million for the WHAS Crusade for Children.
The Crusade for Children ensures 100 percent of each donation received directly helps children with special needs. They have served millions of children in Kentucky and Indiana and are able to support about one third of all children in need of their services in the community. The first leg of the Triple Crown of Running, the Anthem 5K Fitness Classic, is a fun, 3.1-mile, race that attracts many runners, walkers, and joggers alike. The after-party at the finish line is well worth the hard work and training for participants.
There is plenty of swag, more delicious treats than you can devour, music, and joyous spectators cheering on the finishers. The next leg is the Rodes City Run 10K, a 6.2-mile jaunt through historic downtown Louisville and the landmark Highlands neighborhood. It skirts the outside of Cave Hill Cemetery and finishes on the waterfront. This race is one of the oldest in the region dating back to 1980. When the idea was originally presented to Rodes CEO, (the late) Lawrence Smith, Sr., he loved the concept so much he decided to sponsor the race entirely.
I personally had the privilege of knowing Mr. Smith in his final years. He was an inspiring man of great integrity and character and contributed much to our city. Rodes has been a family-owned business in our city for five generations and over a century. Devoted to his city, family and fitness, I can only imagine he would be thrilled to see how many people still unite to run each year. The annual average is about 7,500 participants. The last Triple Crown leg is the Papa John’s 10 Miler, a race down Southern Parkway and through Iroquois Park.
Iroquois is a historic “scenic reservation”, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and features miles of forest-lined road and scenic overlooks. For those brave enough to walk, jog, or run the 10-mile course, the grand finale is the last yardage through Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on the football field. Family and friends cheer from the bleachers and for many it may be the only time they ever get to run in a college football arena. An added bonus is that after nine miles of pavement the spongy grass is heaven for the feet! In the end, participants who complete all three races earn a prize and commemorative Triple Crown of Running Louisville shirt but it’s the feeling of accomplishment they will carry with them forever.
For the truly dedicated, the Triple Crown of Running is just training for the pinnacle of Derby race season: the Kentucky Derby Festival Mini-Marathon and Marathon, 13.1 and 26.2-mile races, respectively. You can run either, but not both since they run on the same day. Each course winds through downtown Louisville and the landmark Churchill Downs but only the marathon runs through Iroquois Park. The run through Churchill Downs is a fan favorite and a particularly unique experience.
One week before Derby, the legendary track is in full swing preparing for its biggest day of the year. Runners get to see the backside and take a sneak peek at this year’s decorations and theme. There are so many runners who participate in these races raising money for charity that the KDF Foundation established a committee to help manage the charitable donations. So far, millions of dollars have been raised for over 32 charitable organizations in our community. It seems the spirit of Derby Race season is not only healthy for the body, but also for the soul. I cannot think of a better way to express our Louisville pride than by generosity to others.
Louisville is not the only Kentucky city participating in the Derby races either. From 2014-2017 Lexington’s Run the Bluegrass, promoted as “America’s Prettiest Half Marathon”, partnered with the KDF Mini-Marathon to offer the Kentucky Half Classic. Anyone completing both races received a commemorative finisher’s medal, and VIP Half Classic experiences after each race. Run The Bluegrass Half-Marathon starts and finishes at Churchill Downs’ sister track, Keeneland Race Course, and follows a trail through breathtaking thoroughbred farms. Starting this year, instead of the Kentucky Half Classic, the Run the Bluegrass will serve as a pace-race for the Derby Mini-Marathon.
Since the Derby race is a United States Track and Field sanctioned course and a Boston Marathon qualifying event, elite runners would benefit from the Bluegrass race as a preparatory for the main event. These races are community events and everyone is welcome to participate. There are minicourses for the kids, volunteering opportunities for students, and anyone can come out to cheer on the participants and spectate. Participants range from elementary school age to seniors in their nineties. Some walk, many jog or run, but each has their own unique motivation.
You will see shirts where soldiers are running in honor of their brethren, those running for a lost loved one, those running to celebrate a birthday or anniversary, nervous first timers, and even some marking their 100th race. Unlike other sports, running is usually about being your personal best and encouraging others. Sure, there are a few in the very front hoping to break a world record or win but most are just enjoying themselves and cheering along the way. Life is full of so many small victories and finishing a race one of them. It is a wonderful feeling to get up early in the morning after months of training and suit up with thousands of others to push yourself towards a common goal.
The excitement and energy on race day is palpable. I can remember tearing up several times with joy while running races, not for any particular reason except that I just felt grateful for being able to be there. So if you haven’t already joined in the Derby race fun, I encourage you to set a goal for next year, even if it means just coming down and cheering. I guarantee you will be glad you did.
These races bring out the best in us, not just because we are getting healthy and helping others but because we are doing it together. Happy Derby Louisville!