Kansas City Marathon 2016 recap

Posted October 20, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running

Tags: ,


Yes, gentle reader, I am overdue for my recap of the Kansas City Half Marathon I undertook last weekend. I can begin by saying that I have maintained an unbroken string of poor runs with this effort, and then walk away leaving that behind. Or I could give you an account.

I guess it will be the latter.

This is the third year I have participated in this event. I did the half marathon in 2013 and then the full in 2015. Since I have the NYC Marathon coming up in less than three weeks (!), I chose to do the half marathon this year. I intended to count it as a training run and to glean any lessons I could from it. Sometimes I think the biggest lesson I am getting is that I should find another sport. But then the self loathing subsides and I’m a bit more rational about it all.

I had hoped to do well on this run as a mental boost for NYC. The fact that I ran it well three years ago, and then ran the full last year, let me think that I could again. As you must be imagining by now, I did not do well.

Granted, it is a tough course. The start is uphill-ish, and they throw a couple of big hills at you betwixt miles 1 and 3. Then things level out some for a while. Another long hill starts at mile 7 and doesn’t really relent until mile 9. So it’s not an easy course.

Because this was my third time participating, I knew the details of where to be when and what not. I had watched the weather all week, and there was rain in the forecast until about three days before. Then the marathon organizers began sending out heat warnings. The forecasted high for the day was 80 degrees, and the humidity was already high, so there was concern that runners would be overtaxing themselves and dropping along the course. But the high temps were not going to arrive before lunchtime, and by then most of the runners would have completed even the full marathon. I wasn’t too concerned about the heat, and when I rose with the dogs early that morning, it was comfortable outside. Thus I didn’t need to bother with my throwaway jacket or layer my running shirt.

I’m not sure how many of us were lined up at the start, but there were more than 5,400 finishers of the half and full marathons, so the starting corral probably had a number a bit bigger than that. We waited around, shoulder to shoulder, as the usual speechifying went on. I counted three drones buzzing in the sky overhead, but I don’t know what kind of images the could have captured in the pre-dawn twilight. The official start was accompanied by some fireworks at the starting arch, and I was hoping some of the fireworks would take out one of the drones, but I guess the entertainment didn’t extend that far.

So we were underway. I managed to start my running watch just as I passed over the initial mat. I intended to make a serious effort at keeping my pace under control by paying attention to my watch. Better to go more slowly but go farther than to go fast and burn out fast. In my recent training runs I have found my pace getting faster, and then I am exhausted. So my intention to rein it in. That meant, of course, that people were passing me by the hundreds as we took off, but I am thoroughly accustomed to that.

The course was changed slightly this year. (Actually, it’s been a little different the three times I have run it.) But essentially they threw the biggest hills at us right away. I soldiered through them and pushed on to the flatter part of the course. Each time I looked at my watch I could see that I was keeping my pace under control, but I could also feel that I was struggling to keep going. When I had run this half three years ago (!) I had gotten as far as mile 8 before I took my first (and only) walking break. A big difference about that run was that I had a wingman then. He and I chatted and encouraged each other, and I think that made a difference. This year’s run was not so fortunate. I had no wingman, other than the voices in my head, and they weren’t encouraging at all. After a long downhill stretch before entering the upscale shopping district known as The Plaza, I took my first (of many) walking breaks. I was still hopeful at this time. Hopeful that I would be able to run most of the distance, but my hips were already aching, and I was beginning to feel the first twinges of a burning pain in my quads, the trouble I had at the St. Louis Marathon last spring. I had dosed up with ibuprofen that morning, and I was carrying four pills with me, so I took two and then got back to running. I ran through the Plaza and met my wife, though she hadn’t seen me coming and only knew I passed her when I threw my cap at her feet. (And so began the new, longest distance I have ever gone without a cap on.) Wearing a gray outfit does not make one stand out in a crowd evidently. She had a candy bar for me, but I didn’t want to stop, and I was carrying GU pinned to my waistband for fuel. So I pushed on.

The remainder of the course was a series of runs and walks. It was discouraging. I had hoped to see my wife one more time along the course, but she hadn’t been able to make it work. Somewhere along here I swallowed my two remaining ibuprofen, and then not a hundred feet later a man trotting next to me asked if I had any ibuprofen. I would have given mine to him if I had any left.

After mile 9 there is a two-mile stretch that is mostly downhill, and it’s very welcome. I had illusions of running the entire distance, but it was the downhill running that was aggravating my quads the most. (Just as going down stairs was painful for most of this week.) I had to walk parts of this not merely due to fatigue but to make the pain stop for a while.

At mile 10 one of the course marshals told us that we only had two miles to go. I’ve said before that I can’t do math when I’m running. (Really, it’s apparently a thing with many runners.) But even I knew that a 13.1 mile run had more than two miles left at mile 10. Plus, NEVER TELL A RUNNER HOW FAR THEY HAVE TO GO! Just don’t! (We either know it, or we don’t want to know it.) At mile 11, one of this year’s course changes came into effect. We were turned into the Kansas City Jazz District at 18th and Vine (of the song fame). The place was still mostly asleep that Saturday morning, and this turn meant another hill to climb, but I was glad that the organizers had chosen to incorporate this historic part of the city on the course. I hope they continue this.

After this it was mostly just bleak roadway to run (and walk) to get back to the downtown area where the finish arch was taunting me. One curious thing did happen to me along here though. I found myself running down a road I had run years before in a dream. This is not a stretch of road I drive on regularly, and I realize it’s merely coincidental, but it was an odd moment for me.

Shortly after this, the course turned to the south and the last half mile or so to the finish. I was beat. I was walking as much as I was running, and I was ready to be done with the whole thing. Yet when I turned the last corner and faced the thousand or so feet left, I found some kick and tried to run well. The closer I got to the finish, the faster I was going. I don’t know where I was finding this energy, and I wish I had found it during some of those discouraging walking breaks, but blazing in I came.

And then it was over. I checked my watch and saw what I already knew: I had not set a personal record. In fact, of the nine half marathons I have run, this was my third slowest. (So much for going to New York with the mental boost of a good performance here.)

There was chocolate milk (I had four cartons), and there was a free beer waiting for me as well as a sandwich from one of the upscale restaurants in town. But the lines for each were long and my enthusiasm was utterly gone. (Plus I’m not drinking beer in October in preparation for New York.)  So I found my wife and we left.


I’ve said several times that I would like to make the half marathon my distance, and I have run this distance well several times. But I don’t know why this time was so bad. I suspect I’m just not putting in the training I need. I tried going for a run on Wednesday, but I hadn’t gone a mile before I felt the pain in my quads coming back, and by the time I had cut my run short at three miles, my quads were screaming at me. I hope to go out this weekend and get some miles. Fingers crossed.


in the ether

Posted October 10, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons

Tags: ,

You send out your stories to likely magazines and you cross your fingers, and if you’re wise, you get yourself focused on other things so you won’t fret about your darlings out in the world. And then maybe you hear from one of the magazines saying they like your submission and want to publish it. And if you’re wise, you indulge in a little (or more than a little) well earned revelry. But then weeks go by without another peep from the publisher. Weeks turn into months. Excitement wanes. Worry ensues. And you wait for — hope for — some indication that your story is still in the works.

I’ve had enuf stories in circulation to have experienced many kinds of outcomes. High-profile publication. Labor-of-love publication. Disappearing publication. (True. Two of my stories were published online and then the zines just disappeared from the internet.) Denied publication. (One of mine was accepted by a magazine that then went out of business before my story appeared.) And, of course, my full share of rejections, which is something you have to get used to in a campaign like creative writing.

And then there’s my experience over the weekend. My One-Match Fire story “where late the sweet birds sang” was accepted some months ago by Simone Press, an anthology publisher in the UK. My story, about the family cabin that features throughout One-Match Fire, is the first chapter though it takes place late in the chronology of the overall novel. (I’ve been counseled to refer to the collection not as a story cycle but as a novel. I’d long suspected that was the case, but since I was trying to get many of the stories published on their own, I knew that a piece from a “story cycle” probably stood a better chance with an editor than a “stand-alone chapter” from a novel would. In any case, I’m no longer trying to get any of the unpublished stories/chapters published, and I say that half believing that it will cause the one or two currently out there for consideration to be accepted!)

Anyway, back to my narrative. Simone Press had accepted my story a couple of months ago, and I was told I would be hearing from them with a contract eventually. And I wisely got myself focused on other things so I wouldn’t fret about it. Weeks turned into months and I didn’t hear anything, but nor did I worry. Then the email came. The publishing contract for my story arrived. I’ve been asked to complete it and return it. The contract contains all of the usual stuff — there is nothing objectionable in it. So I’ve completed it, signed it, and returned it. Now I must wait for publication, which is scheduled for April of 2017. Somewhere along the way I had thought publication would be at the end of this year, but that’s not really a problem.

I am currently deep in the “final” rewrite of the stories, using the detailed insights from one of my readers as a guide. My spontaneous tinkerings with the stories have mostly subsided, so I think I have them more or less realized. Now for the polish and good wishes. I’ve even been chewing on some ideas for the query letter I will eventually send to agents.


Regalia Run 5K 2016 recap

Posted September 28, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running

Tags: ,


Go ahead and skip this post if you’re tired of hearing my running laments . . .

This is the fourth year for the UMKC Regalia Run, and this is the fourth year I’ve participated. I like that I’ve been in it since the beginning. Sadly, this was one of those runs where my reach exceeded my grasp.

I had taken it easy through the week before, resting my legs, eating properly, even getting a little more than my barely sufficient sleep. I did have a really good five-mile run the day before (that ended at the bagel shop, as is my custom), but I made an effort not to push myself and so leave something in the tank for Sunday morning’s 5k. Saturday night I laid out my kit, as you see above, just to ensure I had everything I needed. I had hoped to wear a favorite red running shirt, but I couldn’t find it in my closet. This was disappointing since I’ve run three of my four marathons in red shirts, so that must mean something, right? I finally found it at the bottom of the laundry basket and wondered if I might squeeze another run out of it. So I touched it to my nose, but then reared back in horror. So blue shirt it was.

Sunday morning arrived (as is its custom) and so did the rain. I had been watching the forecast all week, and as each day passed, the chance for rain on Sunday morning increased. By Saturday night, the chances for rain on Sunday morning were set at 90%. As long as it’s not cold out, I don’t really mind running in the rain. That part didn’t daunt me, but the 97% humidity turned out to be brutal.

Last year when I did the Regalia Run, I placed third in my age group, which was astonishing to me (and still is). And so I had the notion that I should try to do that again. This became my goal. This became my mistake.

We got to the University about 45 minutes before the race started, which is also my custom (I am chronically early). The rain was trying to fall, and there was a constant patter of drops in the puddles. My wife and I took refuge in one of the open university building (the student “success” center — really, who comes up with these names?) and waited for the time to drag along. I was confident about this run. It was only 3.1 miles, miles that I’d run twice before (the first year covered a different route). And I held this delusion that the rain would keep some runners at home in bed. Thus my chances of placing in my age group would be increased.

I noted in past posts that this run has an uphill start and an uphill finish. I don’t know why they do this. It’s evil. The arch is set up part of the way up a hill. You start by passing under the arch and then you finish the same way. Another thirty feet and you’d be at the top of the hill. At least the start wouldn’t be uphill. But I suppose that has become part of the lore of the run. Kansas City, lest anyone tell you otherwise, is hilly, so an honest run will include some hills.

The rain had, by this time, stopped. The air was humid enuf (97%) to qualify as rain to me, but the actual falling droplets were more or less not there. It continued this way throughout the run and then returned only after I had crossed the finish line. Shortly before getting lined up to start I had stopped at the tent run by the med school students and had my blood pressure measured. I was recorded at 126/78, and the student asked if I worked out. Duh! I was about to run a 5K, like probably every other person who came to the tent that morning. But, given the scandalous history of abuse of my body (another dozen posts — maybe someday), that was a gratifying question to answer. “Why, yes,” I said. “Yes, I do work out.” (True, too, cuz I am actually using that weight machine in my basement regularly now.)

There was some speechifying by the Chancellor and a couple of other people as we waited to start. They thanked us for our participation and the contribution we made to the scholarship fund (apparently more than $10,000!), but the husband and wife news readers from the local TV station (both graduates of the University) did not make their promised appearance (I blame the rain). I didn’t feel cheated by this. If they weren’t going to be pounding out the miles with the rest of us, they had no credibility with me.

After a few minutes of delay, we were off. I made the mistake of telling my running watch to find some satellites as we masses (300 or so — a record number for this little run) were milling toward the starting arch. Normally, the watch grabs a satellite signal within seconds. But given the cloud cover/rain, I should have remembered that this would not be the case. Yes, everyone says that clouds (and trees) don’t interfere with satellite reception EXCEPT THAT THEY DO! So even though I crossed the starting mats (and the chip on my shoe recorded my official start), I didn’t get my watch recording my run for a hundred feet or so after that. The chip time would be official; the watch time was merely for my personal records. Still, it was frustrating.

But we were underway. After climbing the bit of hill at the start, we began a nice descent. This didn’t last long before we were climbing another long but not steep hill. Then we turned a corner and began about three-quarters of a mile of downhill running. My mistaken running strategy began at this point.

Mindful of wanting to place in my age group (rather than merely set a personal record), I took advantage of the down hill stretch and opened up. I began belting out a pace that was more than a minute per mile faster than my normal. I had gravity to assist me since I was going down hill, but I was still pushing myself beyond my practiced zone.

And I felt great. I was passing people and showing fine form and staying in the middle of the road where it was flat (and coincidentally, the driest). I figured that if I made good time on the downhills, my overall time would be really good — and I would place in my age group. (It’s called “banking miles” and it’s considered a stupid strategy.) As you might guess, this comes at a cost. The cost was the fatigue, the spent energy that I would need not merely for the rest of the run but for the next hill I had to climb.

The nice downhill stretch, where I foolishly expended so much energy, ended at about mile one. As we approached the flag marking the mile, I heard one runner say to another that they were already half way. I can’t do math when I’m running (really, it’s a thing!), but I was pretty sure that mile one was not half way to mile three point one. What I was sure of, however, is that mile one marked the end of the downhill and the beginning of a long uphill. I knew this was coming. I’d run this route twice before. And I was beat. What the hell? Why did I do this to myself? I had to walk part of the way up this hill. Walk! In a 5K! I may as well have walked the whole thing! This was bad. It was embarrassing. It was the result of my stupid strategy.

But walk I did, for a hundred feet or so. We were passing the Nelson Atkins Art Museum, a place I might commonly be found on a Sunday. And so I was, though this time outside of the hallowed walls, huffing and puffing up the hill beside it. I walked until I felt rested and then I started my trotting again. It wasn’t long after this that I reached the top of the hill where things leveled off. I was doing okay at this point, and I still held the delusion that I could place in my age group. The sole water station on the route was at the top of this hill, and as I grabbed a cup, I asked for Bud Light and got the expected laugh. Then the route turned and we began a descent the corresponded with the climb I had walked up a bit.

It’s easy to forget your mistakes when you’re running downhill. The running is so much easier, and the idea that you might be able to still place in your age group can assert itself and counsel you to bolt down the three-quarter mile hill at a pace you can’t sustain and that is robbing you of the energy you will need for that uphill finish.

And bolt I did. The downhill part was fine, but as soon as I reached level ground I remembered that it was ultimately up to me to keep the momentum going. It was at this point that I saw a volunteer holding a tablet with the message running across it saying YOU’VE GOT THIS! I really didn’t, but I was tempted to stop and tell him that the phrasing was redundant. It’s actually YOU HAVE GOT THIS!, contracted. And that sounds nearly as dumb as YOU’VE THIS! (You see where the mind strays in times of unending agony?) I didn’t stop and school the man because I knew there was a photographer not far ahead. Being a back-of-the-pack runner, I had lots of open space around me. Some runners were far ahead. Others were presumably far behind. But I was more or less on my own, which means you can often get a decent photo out of it. So I straightened my back and painted something like a smile on my face and approached the photographer, who held the camera down my his hip as though bored with the job of photographing runners. At what seemed like the last possible moment, he raised the camera to his face and took my picture. I haven’t seen it yet, but I almost never take a good race photo. So, meh.

Somewhere along here I passed the two-mile flag, and that also marked the beginning of what was pretty much all uphill running. The first two-thirds of this have a gradual elevation gain. If I weren’t running, it would hardly be noticeable. But I was running. And it was noticeable. And I made the mistake of taking my eyes off of the road before my feet. When I look up, especially on open straightaways, and see how much distance lies before me, I lose heart. (This is why I wear my cap low over my face and concentrate on the three feet before my two feet — to just eat up the distance immediately before me rather than realize how much more distance there is before me.) So this gentle climb went on for most of a mile, and I could see every inch of it. I was tired from my downhill sprint. I was daunted by the road before me. And I walked once again. Yes, I disappointed myself by walking again. This was a 5K! I should have been able to run the whole thing nonstop, backwards. But I had spent my fuel on those downhill runs at the ridiculous pace, with the ridiculous goal of placing in my age group rather than just running a respectable race.

The ascent to the finish would only get steeper the farther I went, and I knew I wanted to run the last (uphill) block, so I marshaled my reserves, walking then running then walking to get closer to the ugly finish. I knew the route. I knew the climbs before me. I knew what I had in me. I did what I could with what I had. And when I made the last turn and faced the three hundred or so uphill feet to the finish arch, I poured everything I had into running the finish as well as I could. It was a good finish for me, though it was a poor run overall. I crossed the finish mats, waived away the bottle of water, accepted the medal, and had the chip clipped from my shoe. Then I looked at my watch.

I had missed a personal record by three minutes. Had I not walked, I’m sure I would have set a new personal record for this run. The race organizers would post the finish times every few minutes, so I was able to see how close I came to placing in my age group.

In the end, it wasn’t even close. I never had a chance from the second I crossed the starting line. The men in my age group who placed were more than ten minutes faster than I was. There was no chance I could have done that well, even on a good day. (For what it’s worth, the man who got first in my age group was from Colorado. I suspect he benefited from high-altitude training. The man who was the overall winner ran in nearly half the time it took me to finish.) I came in twelfth in my age group, 89th of 188 finishers.

Of course I was disappointed. Not so much that I didn’t place in my age group, which was a quixotic goal, but that I had squandered the chance to have a good run by trying to have a great run. Coupled with the poor run I had at the Plaza 10K two weeks before left poor Paul full of self berating words.

I managed to down four cartons of chocolate milk, and I had my blood pressure taken again. This time the numbers were 132/66, which the practitioner assured me was expected after such a work out. (I’ve always had really good blood pressure, even during the decades of abusing my body. No, I can’t explain it.) My wife, who had supposedly been tracking my phone throughout the race, was nowhere to be found at the finish. She had retreated to the “success” center to stay warm and dry — and the rain began again not long after I finished — and only discovered that I was done when she bothered to check the tracking of my phone and saw that I was in the finish area. We met up, and I had no desire to hang around (since I wasn’t going to get any further medals beyond the finisher medal), so we wandered back to the car in the distant parking garage and made our way home.

A hot shower and some reflection later and I thought that maybe I had just approached the run with the wrong goals in mind. I still regret not running this one well, but I think I understand what I had done wrong. I now have the Kansas City Half Marathon before me (in October), and then the big one: the New York City Marathon in November. I guess I learn from every run. I hope I do.



Posted September 19, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

More than seven years ago, I made a post on this humble blog about my initial fumblings with what was, at the time, called Google Documents. (It’s now called Google Drive.) I then wrote two more related posts about it. You can read the first post here, then the subsequent posts here and here, which I know you probably won’t, but, whatever, as the kids say. (Also, this humble blog has been around for nearly a decade!) The reason I note this is because the office where I work has recently denied us access to Google Drive. The stated reason is concern over company files getting loose in the world but the real reason, I am certain, is to thwart me. I’ve placed a lot of my stories on Google Drive and I found it handy for dipping into them during working hours when a fresh thought came into my head. So now I’m shopping around for some alternate online file storage system that hasn’t (yet) caught the attention of my corporate masters. A few have been suggested, but if you have any ideas, let me know.


The three books I wrote about in this recent post are still languishing on my desk. I have not read a word from any of them since I last lamented my laziness. (Not included in that list of books is another sitting idly on my desk: The Autobiography of Mark Twain – volume 1. I drove myself more than half way through it when I first got it, but it can be hard going since so much of what he writes about is obscure, ancient history that I have no context for.)


My latest story, “Old School,” is at an online magazine for consideration. I’m surprised with myself. I think this may be the fastest I’ve ever gone from writing a story to submitting it. Normally I would let a story sit for several months before sending it off so that embellishments and further developments can come to my mind and I can refine the story. But this one is a bit of fluff, a comic little tale that probably doesn’t merit too much thought, so I haven’t been finding these embellishments coming to mind. Probably it’s finished, and if it’s accepted by the ezine, then it’s definitely finished.


The weight machine is now fully assemble in my basement. I sat in it and tried a few of the exercises just to ensure that it works. It does. Now I must. Ask me about this down the road so I’m embarrassed enuf to actually use it.


I have managed to find a way to put the word “enuf” into one of the One-Match Fire stories. This is my effort to evolve the language.

three books

Posted September 15, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic


I think I mentioned once before that I have three books sitting on my desk (within easy arm’s reach as I type this). They are pictured in the photo above: the sonnets of William Shakespeare, The Little Red Book of Running, and The Metamorphoses by Ovid. There they sit, staring at me, chiding me, intimidating me.

My intent was to read one item from each, each day. Or maybe read one item from one one day, then one item from the other the next day, then an item from the third the third day. A simple, thoroughly workable plan.

And for probably just about anyone other than me, it would work. But there the books sit, unread. I’ve poked at a few of the sonnets, and I’ve read a few snippets from the Red Book, but I only got about halfway through the introduction to the Ovid book, and I’ve stalled ever since.

All of this should be edifying, of course. The sonnets have already figured in my One-Match Fire stories, giving the title to “where late the sweet birds sang” and letting me make oblique references in several of the stories to “bare ruined choirs.” The running book (a gift from my wife), of course, should fill my non-running hours with uplift and motivation. And The Metamorphoses will inform my reading of Iris Murdoch novels, where characters sometimes make reference to this work or the myths that are related there. All lofty and worthwhile motivations. And there they sit. Sigh!

I recently passed the ten year mark with my current employer. (I know! I can’t believe it either!) I was given a catalog of gifts I could select from to commemorate my decade of selfless service (to big pharma, alas). There were the usual gifts like watches and jewelry and luggage and decorative glassware and all kinds of “things” that I already have too much of. Unique among them, though, was a weight machine. One you can sit within and do all kinds of resistance exercising with weights on pulleys. I’ve used one of these in the gym at work (a nice benefit, by the way), just as I used the fancy treadmills there before I got a ‘mill o’my own. So I thought that having my own weight machine in my cluttered basement (much smaller scale but probably perfectly suited for my humble needs) would be a good thing. And I think it is. The beast came to me unassembled. More than a month ago. The box weighed 300 pounds, and I’m sure it has more than 100 separate parts (not counting the screws and nuts and washers). I have been slowly assembling the beast since then. (It took me two days just to carry all of the pieces down to my basement.)

I keep telling myself that if I went down to the basement each night and did just one step in the 25-page assembly booklet, I would have it all together in no time, and then I could begin pushing iron and working on the upper body strength so desperately needed for hefting grandchildren. (You forget what that’s like after you stop hefting your own children. Trust me.) Whole weeks have gone by without me touching the beast. Still, I’m only about two-thirds of the way through the assembly. Unfortunately, I’m at the point where I must begin stringing the cables that are the pulley system betwixt the hand-held (or leg-held) parts and the weights themselves. This actually requires abstract thinking since the machine ain’t all together but I have to imagine/perceive/conceive/project how/where the cables will run, assembling and stringing them on faith since they’re not connected to anything much yet. My brain is fatigued. (I had a friend do some electrical work on my house recently, and he saw the weight machine in pieces in my basement when my wife took him down there to find the electrical breaker he needed to shut off, and he casually suggested that he assemble the weight machine as a surprise for me. I wish my wife had taken him up on that!)

So the weight machine approaches completion, just as the three books on my desk await reading.

I can’t be the only person in the world like this.

Plaza 10K 2016 recap

Posted September 13, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running



Are you ready for fall racing season? It turns out I was not!

The Plaza 10K is my traditional first race of the fall. I’d run it for the last three years, and run it well, and I looked forward to running it this fourth time, thinking my marathon training would make it a frolic. Something didn’t add up, however. (It may be worth noting that this is my first organized race since the disastrous marathon in St. Louis last April.)

A 10K is 6.2 miles, and while that is just about the distance of my regular Saturday morning training runs (and half the distance of my Sunday morning training runs), I allow myself the indulgence of taking rest breaks during those. For this 10K I intended to run it continuously, just as I had the last three years. The course is relatively flat; at least there are no monstrous hills to grind up. It’s also familiar territory; I’ve run it before. And I felt trained and fueled. Thus I strutted to the start with confidence. Confidence I may not have earned, it seems.

Because of the wretched heat of August, I ran many of my weekly miles on the treadmill in my cool and cluttered basement. I’ve come to realize that treadmill miles really aren’t that good for training. They don’t mimic the real world. It turns out that in the real world, the ground doesn’t move under your feet; you have to cause all of the forward movement. Also, a treadmill provides a constant pace. And it doesn’t reflect the rises and falls of the terrain. (Yes, there are treadmills with programs in them that will simulate these kinds of challenging variables, but I don’t have one of those.) In short, it’s easy to get complacent doing half of your weekly miles on a treadmill. And just as easy to be, apparently, undertrained.

The Plaza 10K starts and ends in the Country Club Plaza of Kansas City. It’s an upscale  shopping/dining district (which is about as close to the real world as treadmill miles are to running outside, but that’s a different post). The course leaves the district, runs along prettified Brush Creek for a bit, returns to the Plaza, scoots along the main drag through it, passes the art museum, and then goes just far enuf east to skirt the working-class part of town before making a U-turn and returning to the Plaza for a glorious downhill finish. (I do like this finish, which is the same one as the Trolley Run.) There is some rise to the course, especially after mile 4, but it’s all manageable and ever-so upscale.

I had some vague notion that I could PR on this run. I hoped I would run it faster than I had in past years and set a Personal Record. If I ran it continuously, I thought I had a good chance of that. My average pace has been dropping (by 15-20 seconds, which is a big deal to someone of my ability), and if I could sustain that for the distance, I thought I could PR.

So when the anthem was sung (no protests that I could see, though there were a few hats on folks that were not doffed) we were begun. Back in my wave, it was several minutes before I crossed the starting line and turned on my watch. My race was on!

The first mile is the worst mile. Never are the voices in my head as loud as they are in the first mile. And they’re all saying “Stop this nonsense now!” Beating them is a combination of sheer rigor, as I keep putting one foot in front of the other, and constant reminders to the little bit of reason left in my brain that it will get better after the first mile. Generally, it’s my lungs that are the biggest complainers. Also, the 50 years of sloth ingrained in me that says it would be easier to just stop and take it easy.

But I was determined to run this 10K the same as I had the last three years, without stopping. So I ignored the voices in my head and pushed on. (This got harder to do.) People were passing me by the hundreds, but I had placed myself in the front of my wave (based on estimated pace per mile) in the hopes that at least some people in the wave wouldn’t pass me simply because they were slow like I am and I was, you know, ahead of them.

When I awoke on Sunday (yes, at the freakish hour of 3:00) the temperature was a delicious 54 degrees. Perfect running weather. I had selected the short-sleeved shirt you see in the photo above to give it a try out. I am currently auditioning gear for the upcoming NYC Marathon, and the shirt was being given its chance. (It’s actually a pale blue color, but it looks grayish in the photo.) Anyway, what you don’t see in the photo is the compression shirt I wore under it. I wore it solely for the added warmth it would provide. Layering, right? It turns out I didn’t need the extra warmth; the sun had risen and was kissing parts of the course before we had even started. I realized within that first mile that rather than keep me warm the extra shirt was going to make me hot. There was little I could do about that short of stripping off the blue shirt, then stripping off the compression shirt, then re-adorning myself with the blue shirt, and then figuring out something to do with the compression shirt, all while running. My daughter had done something like this on one of her marathons, but she had her husband beside her to help. (Also, it is a compression shirt. I sometimes get the sense when I’m wearing it that it prevents me from breathing as deeply as I might since it is, well, compressing my chest. But that may just be rationalization.)

I managed to get through the first mile (my watch chirped to let me know) and my lungs were reluctantly agreeing to play along. This was when the course made its turn to go back to the Plaza. Only 5.2 miles to go. I was dying.

But I was determined, so I pressed on. As I usually do, I tried to find the flattest part of the pavement before my feet. Roads are built so they will shed water, thus they slope from a crown, generally in the center. The slope is usually barely perceptible, unless your feet are striking it thousands and thousands of times. Then you’re well aware that one foot is falling a half inch or so lower than the other. Thus the center-of-the-road method I try to implement. Often this can be seen as selfish since slower runners are kindly expected to steer themselves to the side of the road, leaving the choicest pavement for the swift. But since I was a back-of-the-pack runner, I didn’t have any of these swifties to antagonize. After the first mile, the mass of people who were going to pass me had already done so. Yes, there were still people passing me, but we had four lanes of road to sprawl across, and I was passing some people as well, so I didn’t feel bad about running on the choicest pavement. All the while I would glance at my watch to check my pace, and many times — too many times — I found that I was going much faster than I could sustain. So I had to rein in my legs and keep thinking of the long haul (as well as ignore those persistent voices in my sweaty head).

At about mile 1.5, we had re-entered the Plaza and were making our way up a longish hill. I was feeling the heat, but there wasn’t much I could do about it other than get rid of my running cap. Fortunately, I expected to see my wife somewhere within the Plaza, and if I did, I was going to toss it to her. At the top of this longish hill we turned onto the main drag of the Plaza, filled with spectators and flowers and unopened, upscale shops and the dawning sun right in our faces. Somewhere along here I hoped my wife was waiting.

And she was, but for some reason she was behind an SUV parked on the side of the road. (I thought there was supposed to be no parking along here.) She kind of jumped out and waved at the last moment, which blessedly didn’t allow her the chance to take a picture of my wretched self, and I had just enuf time to whip off my white running cap and toss it to her. This was at about mile two, which meant I had a little more than four miles yet to go, but they would be the longest distance I had ever gone without a running cap. This was unprecedented!

Somewhere along here was the first water station. It caught me by surprise, in part because I was running into the sun and couldn’t see ahead very well, but mostly because I was fighting to keep going and concentrating on the three feet in front of my two feet. I missed the first few volunteers holding cups of Gatorade out for us runners, but I managed to grab a cup a few strides later and mostly sloshed it all over my hand, my face, my glasses, and up my nose. Delightful.

This run along the main drag becomes its own longish hill, culminating in front of the Art Museum. Then it’s a nice mile plus of downhill or flat running. I needed this because I was struggling to keep moving. I was not as trained as I thought I was, and I was learning this on the pavement. I was fighting to keep going. I was also finding that I was running faster than I should have been each time I looked at my watch. I was burning myself out.

We were once again running along Brush Creek, and the course would take us back into the Plaza along the other side. When I could look up from the pavement and wipe the sweat from my eyes, I could see the hundreds of runners ahead of me who were already on the other side of Brush Creek, about a mile ahead as the course goes. They were climbing that hill I mentioned beginning at mile four. It looked daunting, though I’d run up it the three times before.

But I was unaccountably struggling to keep running. When we reached the end of our outward bound run along Brush Creek, we turned and crossed a bridge over it. That was when my watched chirped that I had completed mile four. And that was when I lost the fight. I started walking. I should never have done this, but the prospect of the hill before me and the exhaustion within me allowed me to rationalize a brief walk. Some part of me knew in that instant that I had just surrendered my PR for the day. I should never had done this.

I walked a short distance, probably not more than two hundred feet, before I began trotting again. Uphill. I was disappointed with myself, but at the time I was also certain I could not have kept running. I think that may have been true. Had I tried to grind up that hill I might have passed out. I felt that bad. I certainly didn’t want to do that on such a lovely day, which is, as you can imagine, part of my justification for being a loathsome quitter.

The trouble with walking even a little bit during a run is that you’ve tasted the sweetness of it. You remember the sweetness of it, the relief it gives. And you want more of it. And thus began the last two miles of my run. An alternating walk/run. I was not the only one doing this, and it is considered an honorable way to manage the miles. But I had run this race continuously three times before. And I failed this time. I was tasting bitterness along with the sweetness. I tried to push myself farther each time I ran, but I would inevitably begin walking again. I repeated this for the rest of the run.

And yet, when I made the last turn into the Plaza, I found some energy and ran as fast and as hard as I could for the last few hundred feet. I crossed the finish line, well below my normal pace, with a mass of other runners, which is uncommon for me since usually by the time I get to the finish, those of us in the back are spread out.

I knew when I had started walking that I wasn’t going to get my PR, but I looked at the time on my watch just to confirm it. And I had. I came in three minutes slower than I had the year before. Had I not walked, I’m sure I would have come in three minutes faster. Of the four Plaza 10Ks I have run, this was the third slowest; only my first time was slower, by two minutes. I had the timing chip cut from my shoe and then accepted the medal handed to me. I strung it over my neck and went in search of my wife and chocolate milk. I found the chocolate milk, but my wife, who had apparently not seen me cross the finish line, was lost in the crowd. (She later admitted that she was watching for my white cap to come in.) I drank four cartons of chocolate milk and ate a bit of bagel, but I was ready to leave. The disappointment was that heavy on my heart. Eventually we did meet up, and off we went. Home for a shower and some dry cotton clothes.


By mid-afternoon, I was reassessing my defeat. Yes, it was poor training and too much reliance of past performance that did me in. But I thought that both of these could be fixed. And so I look forward to two weeks from now when I run a 5K at my old university. Time to PR!

Also, that new shirt I was auditioning passed the test. Its lackluster color, though, may be a problem. I’ll probably get another one in a more vivid color because everyone needs an overflowing closet of tech shirts, right?

“Old School” reaches initial completion

Posted September 6, 2016 by Paul Lamb
Categories: short stories

Tags: ,

I finished the first draft of my newest story “Old School” yesterday. I knew all along where it was going, but I’m still not confident about how it ends. I have ended it, but I’m not sure that’s the most effective way to do it yet.

The story comes in at just over 2,200 words, which is a healthy birth weight for such a slight story; it’s a comic tale, much like my story “Velvet Elvis.” More importantly, though, it is not part of my One-Match Fire universe. It is an independent, stand-alone story that eases me away from the years of devotion I have given those stories. (I’m eager to start on another new story, “Stargazing,” as well. It’s been knocking around in my head for a long while, and I’ll delight in beginning to pull it together. It’s another comic story, with a couple of love interests in it, so it should be fun to write.)

Anyway, uncharacteristic productivity here are Chez Lucky Rabbit’s Foot.