Kentucky Derby marathon runner hits the street for her own race

Kentucky Derby marathon runner hits the street for her own race
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Morgan Stemple laced up her running shoes before dawn, pinned to her shirt the race bib she printed off herself and set off into the dark. 

She had a line to cross off her bucket list: running 26 miles — a marathon — while she was 26.

The coronavirus pandemic had already canceled the Kentucky Derby Festival marathon, which had been scheduled for Saturday. She wasn’t going to let it stop her from reaching her goal. 

“When they canceled the marathon, I was like, ‘Well, I might as well do it by myself,'” Stemple said. 

She charted her own course through Cherokee Park and down past Iroquois Park before taking Third Street up to the riverfront. She ran along Frankfort Avenue before weaving back to Bardstown Road.

There were no stations offering water or sports drinks. No cheering crowds on the sidelines. No police officers halting traffic. 

But along the way, she was greeted by friends and colleagues from the Frazier Rehabilitation Institute, homemade signs of support in hand.  

Around 11 a.m. at her Douglas Loop finish line, about a dozen more work and church friends peered down the road for sight of their runner. 

“We’re all just trying to be there for her,” said co-worker Maura Haas. 

They cheered and hollered as she ran past them and accomplished her goal in just under five hours. 

Related: Celebrate Derby Day at home with The Courier Journal’s virtual 146th Kentucky Derby

Stemple hugged some of those she works with at the hospital — there’s no social distancing from those she sees daily at work  — and air high-fived her other supporters. 

She laughed as a co-worker holding a “Corona marathon 2020” sign handed her a cold Corona beer, on which she wasted no time taking a celebratory pull. 

Stemple said her physical therapy patients, many of whom are recovering from strokes or brain injury, motivated her. 

“Running for them was awesome,” she said. 

Stemple was one of a number of runners who hit the streets solo on Saturday in lieu of the normal annual races, which draw thousands.

The miniMarathon has been rescheduled and is set for Aug. 22, while the full marathon and marathon relay were canceled.

Race registrants are able to defer to 2021 or 2022, run the half marathon in August or make their 2020 registration fee a donation.

An additional option is to run a virtual race.

Going virtual: So you can’t run the Derby Festival marathon. Or can you? Here’s how you can run virtually

Between April 25 and Sept. 30, runners can complete their race on a day of their choosing or break up the race over multiple days, running down neighborhood streets or even on a treadmill at home.

Festival officials are asking runners to keep track of their distance and time using a phone, GPS device or fitness tracker.

Runners who were signed up before the races were canceled or postponed will be mailed their medal, shirt and other “swag bag” items, starting in late summer. Those who newly signed up for the virtual race will also get a medal and a shirt.

To submit race times and for more information, visit the festival’s website at derbyfestivalmarathon.com/virtual-race.

Reporter Matthew Glowicki can be reached at [email protected], 502-582-4989 or on Twitter @mattglo. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/mattg

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