- 13.1 miles/Half Marathon
- Road Race
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I had been reading about this race in nearby Kentucky for a couple of years, so when it topped the BibRave 100, I knew that the Urban Bourbon would be on my race schedule this year. This is a standout race for several reasons that I will outline below. After running many races over the years, in a variety of settings and sizes, I have come to understand and appreciate the "personality" of each race. I also understand how the race director, race team, and volunteers create, maintain, and engage with runners by using a consistent "voice." Therefore, I write this review as a runner, but also as a person who thinks deeply about brands, event planning, and communication.
First, the social media for UBHM is on point. They are not only sharing information, they engage with their followers. I tagged them throughout my training in order to help them out, but they reciprocated by cheering me on consistently throughout the summer. If I mentioned them, they acknowledged it. I wasn't expecting a large race to be participating on this level with runners, and it meant a lot to have that small "woot" or "we are excited too" pop up in my comment feed. From a marketing perspective, it is brilliant. They already had me as a customer, I was already registered; however, they were tightening the hug and bringing me into the community. I felt courted for the race, so it was easy to fall in love with it immediately when I arrived in Louisville. Now I want to return year after year. Loyalty earned!
Besides the "easy" communication, the customer service was way beyond expectation if there was a snag. I ordered a training shirt for my husband, and I got a note from the race director that it would be a short delay because of the holiday weekend. I expected that, but that extra touch showed me that my order fulfillment mattered. Then, it turns out that they were sold out of the size I ordered. He communicated back and forth with me about the sizing, and we tried the next smaller size and he was right- it worked perfectly. Finally, when I signed my husband up earlier in the spring, I was rushing and I didn't realize that the Bourbon Bash was included, so I purchased an additional arm band in error. When I put it out there on Twitter that I would like to gift that to a fellow runner's support team member because I had this extra one, UBHM replied with the race director's email and offered to make it right. Since it was my own error, I was more comfortable paying it forward and giving it away, but again, they were on it, and generous. I share these examples because as runners we are normally fortunate to show up to races and never have snags, but UBHM's "voice" shows that they are responsive, attentive, and truly care about our individual experiences.
Pre-race: Free parking, straight-forward packet pickup without lines, and all the basics available for purchase from Fleet Feet should you have forgotten anything at home. Oh, and bourbon.
Race morning: Bag drop was right by starting line. No corrals, but race pace signs were visual cues for where to place yourself in the crowd. It all worked out fine-don't let the absence of corrals deter you. The KY Derby bugler got us in the KY race mood by playing "My Old Kentucky Home" and the "Star Spangled Banner."
Race course: The course was a nice mix of urban and park settings, with a challenging hill in Cherokee Park that is not to be afraid of. It's a lovely park with huge trees and meadows. I power walked up the hill because I wasn't planning to race- this run falls in my marathon training and I didn't want to go all out. Despite walking the hill and hitting up a porta-potty (there are plenty of them throughout the race), I still had a 2 minute and 30 second PR in this race. The race ends downtown amid a cheering crowd.
Aid stations: These were well-stocked, even at the mid-to-back of the pack, and run by very friendly volunteers. One volunteer was positioned at multiple places with bandaids and vaseline. She had hilarious comments to draw our attention to her helpful items. Just another fun touch to the experience.
Safety: There were golf carts running along the course, and police officers at every intersection. They were very friendly, one giving high fives to everyone making one of the final turns, and another female officer who was clapping and cheering (and since I am not at the front of the pack, she had been doing that for a while).
Spectators/Scenery: Although there were not huge throngs of spectators out on a chilly morning, there were enough to feel loved. There was always something new to look at- different neighborhoods, interesting homes near the park, and downtown views.
Bourbon Bash: Now, this, my fellow runners, was a party. A big one. The arm band you receive as a participant has little tabs that you tear off and hand over to obtain your beer, pizza, and bourbon samples. Live music was the backdrop on 4th Street as runners danced (those who could), ate, and mingled. I have never hung out after a race for so long. It really rounded out the experience as a celebration of all the work it took to get there in training. My husband and I were celebrating our 8th anniversary, and the party felt like it was for us. I absolutely recommend that you grab your friends and run this together. We didn't register for the VIP experiences, or the optional Bourbon walk afterwards; however, I am sure those extras added to the experience even more. I did not feel slighted in the least for the non-VIP experience, as the Bourbon Bash was so much more than any other post-race offering. Just know there is a way to take it up another notch should you have the time and resources.
Swag: One of the best long-sleeved tech shirts I have ever received, and a very cool medal with spinning Jim Beam bottle in the middle of a bourbon barrel. FREE RACE PHOTOS, friends! Free. Quality. Photos.
Overall: Attention to detail, a focus on fun, and designed to make you feel as if you came, you conquered, and celebrated. Race management is top-notch, and should be an example for all races. You will not regret heading to horse country and running in the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon!