fresh effort at a story

Posted November 17, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Running

So I’ve started fooling around with a new story in my Fathers and Sons cycle. Yeah, I know. I’m as surprised as you are. I still have about a half dozen I hope to write, and they benignly bounce around in my head most of the time. Occasionally, one will accumulate enuf mass to assert that I need to work on it as an actual thing (rather than the idea of a thing). So it is with this newest story, which is titled “Over, Under, Through.” That’s not a reference to General Patton, though he apparently gets credit for the term, but more of a guy thing (there are three guys in my stories) and maybe something else.

Not much happens in the story, at least in terms of plot. My middle character, David, is sitting with his father in the care home where he lives. The father is unaware of his son’s presence while David’s mind not-so-benignly bounces around with thoughts and concerns. Very much present is the grandson, who is only there in the form of a printed email. The story ranges over a great many important points across all of the Fathers and Sons stories, and it will tie many of them together (“tie . . . together” — is that redundant?) and feed subsequent plot points. This is one of the latter stories in the cycle, though at present I see two more after it.

This doesn’t feel like the false start of my many recent attempts at writing something. I certainly hope it has achieved critical mass and will develop into something whole, when I take the time to sit before the screen of jumbled notes and try to assemble them into a coherent story. You’re welcome to ask me about this as a nudge.

*   *   *

I’m still reading Look Homeward, Angel, though I am now in the last third. All of the qualities I enjoyed earlier are still there, but so are the faults. I’m no more drawn to Wolfe now than before. Not sure what I’ll read next.

*   *   *

The editor who accepted my Fathers and Sons story “Twice Blest” has reported that publication has been delayed. Rather than appearing last weekend, it looks like it will come out next week. As always, I’ll be sure to shout it from the rooftops (or at least post a link here) when that happens.

*   *   *

I don’t have any runs on my calendar until April. I’m still recovering from that marathon last month — my left hamstring muscle hurts, and I keep “re-injuring” it with every training run I do. I had hoped to be up to double-digit miles in my runs by now, but last night’s mere five-miler has left me in pain. I’m doing exercises and stretching, and I’m running a lot less than before. Now that I’ve reached my 1,000-mile goal for the year, I intend to take it easy through November and December to heal. Then I’ll ramp up again in the new year.


esteemed friends

Posted November 9, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Rants and ruminations

All around me, writing friends are celebrating their success at getting their novels published. I’m happy for each of them:

Me? A paltry few published short stories, a paltry few unpublished novels, motivation that seems to have contracted a wasting disease, with the days getting shorter and the nights getting longer. Hence the paltry few posts here. But there’s always a glimmer of hope somewhere.

  *   *   *

Currently reading: Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe. A gigantic book. Legend has it that Wolfe’s editor had chopped it down from 1,000 pages into something more manageable. The edition I’m reading is 500 pages — I’m about a third of the way through it — and it is apparently a “restored” edition in which much of the chopped stuff was put back in. Every word is delicious. I’m running to the dictionary constantly (or should be). The metaphors are breathtaking. The comedy is wry and satisfying. But Wolfe’s treatment of blacks, Jews, and poor whites makes me cringe with its outdatedness.

Wolfe was once esteemed in the same cohort as Fitzgerald and Hemingway (two authors I just don’t get the praise for), but in recent decades his star has descended. This novel, and You Can’t Go Home Again, have been on my list for years, nay, decades, but I think once I finish Angel (if I live that long), I’ll be finished with Wolfe as well.


Cliffhanger 8K 2015 recap

Posted November 2, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


Cliffhanger bling

Conventional wisdom in running circles* is that you should never try anything new on race day. You should not change a single thing about your training or gear that you haven’t already confirmed works for you. I like to think I follow that. So for this race I didn’t change a single thing.

I changed two things.

Long-time readers (both of you) will remember that I had done the Cliffhanger 8K run two years ago. You can read my thrilling and breathless account here. I had considered that a one-and-done race; I really had no thought of running it again. But with the marathon now behind me by two weeks, I wondered if my body was ready for another race, albeit a much shorter one (4.97 miles) on a nicely flat course. Last year, after the Portland Marathon, I had run a half marathon two weeks later, and I’ve been paying the price ever since with hamstring issues. (I’m pretty sure that’s the reason; it might just be sinful living. I can’t be sure.) That same half marathon was enticing me again, but the Cliffhanger was on the same day, and I thought it wiser and more prudent to choose the less demanding option. So I signed up for this 8K not long after the Kansas City Marathon and then rested my body, doing only one run (of six miles) in the interim.

Last spring, my grandson, Kenneth, subscribed to Runnerbox for me, and every two months I received a box of running-related stuff to try. Most of it was energy bars, energy chews, energy cookies, energy gels, energy supplements, energy drink mixes, and coupons. On the morning of the Cliffhanger, I decided to nosh on some of the energy chews and then eat one of the energy gels just before I took off. These two things were change number one on race day, and while I don’t think they caused me any distress (and perhaps gave me no discernible energy boost), I partook so I would have the first of two changes and thus not violate conventional wisdom. (Makes sense, doesn’t it?) I should also confess that more than two hours before gun time I ate two pumpernickel bagels. I figured they would have passed through my gullet in plenty of time. (This could count as change number one-point-one.)

The second change was more significant, and it was deliberate. I have found that on the day after a long run, and the Kansas City Marathon was a long, long run, my right Achilles tendon is so tight that I have to struggle going up stairs to the point that I get a pain in my right knee from my unnatural gait with that leg. When I’m not running, when I’m wearing “street” shoes, I have arch support inserts in them. I’ve worn these for decades and they seem to do the job of keeping my feet happy and cooperative (and free of heel spurs). But I don’t wear them in my running shoes, and I get that Achilles problem the next day (or the same day sometimes) after longer runs. So I thought that I should try running with these arch supports in my running shoes to a) see if I could do it (without getting blisters or cramps or fit problems) and b) see if I might prevent the Achilles problem. And since the Cliffhanger was a short and flat (i.e., undemanding) course, it would be a good chance to begin my experiment. And so I did.

The Cliffhanger is run along Cliff Drive, one of the designated Scenic Byways in the nation. The route is gorgeous and mostly along the base of the cliff that gives the drive its name. It’s in the historic Northeast section of Kansas City, a place of stately homes and parks that have seen better times. The trees were turning, and leaves decorated the ground we would run on.

This year’s race had a scheduling difference from the one I ran two years ago, and it was a great improvement. They scheduled the 5K run an hour prior to the 8K. This would allow the 5K runners and walkers plenty of time to cover their 3.1 miles, all of which would be part of the 8K course. Most, and perhaps all of the 5K runners would be finished by the time we 8K runners took off. (Two years ago, when the scheduling was the opposite, we 8K runners were pelting across the finish line and into the chute, which was packed with 5K runners waiting to go. It was a mess of sudden halts and collisions.)

Being at the base of a north-facing cliff in Kansas City in November meant that there wasn’t a lot of sunshine to stand in to stay warm as we waited for the 8K race to begin. There was a patch up the road from the start, and I hung out there for most of the time, looking for familiar faces and otherwise fighting pre-race anxiety. About 15 minutes before the start, I shed my jacket and headed for the arch. The 8K was to begin at 9:00, but they held it until 9:10 to allow more of the 5K runners to complete the course. (Those people would not have been a problem for me. By the time I would have been where any of them were at 9:00, they would have been long finished and at the pancake breakfast. But some of the really fast 8K runners were already within a mile of finishing when I was little more than a mile from the start, and the slower 5K participants might have been “in their way.”)

When it was finally time for us to fly, they gave us a 30-second countdown and I started my watch so it would have some satellites by go time. Perhaps the tall cliffs to the south were interfering, but the watch didn’t find any satellites until after the start and I was several hundred feet underway. (This is the same watch with the supposed 8-hour battery that gave me a “low battery” warning as I was finishing the marathon in much less than 8 hours. I wrote to the manufacturer and got a lot of technical explanations for why the watch wouldn’t perform as advertised. I told them what I thought of their explanations. They wrote back and said they would send me a new watch in exchange for the current one. So maybe all is forgiven — when it arrives and works properly.)

So we were off. Hundreds and hundreds of us. My goal was not much more than having a decent run and seeing how the arch supports worked. Thus I didn’t mind hundreds and hundreds of people running past me. The arch supports felt odd in my shoes, which I fully expected, but I didn’t expect not being able to feel my footfalls in the same way. It was as though my feet were numb, insulated from the ground as they were by the inserts. But this didn’t affect my legs, and my feet must have been relying on muscle memory because I didn’t make any missteps. There were plenty of chances for that, however. The course was heavily littered with leaves and sticks, and a recent strong rain left them wet (and potentially slippery). The pavement was smooth for the most part, but I had a hard time finding the flattest part of the road I prefer given the leaves (and occasional mud).

I thought that two weeks was enuf time to recover from a marathon, at least for an undemanding run like this one, but I realize now I was mistaken. Somehow, I had left my lungs at home. I had no wind to sustain a decent pace. (This may have also been because I had done literally no running in the last week so my lungs were not trained up. Also, those two bagels were still in my esophagus I think, taking up valuable space my lungs might have been using to suck in more oxygen for my screaming muscles.) Whatever the reason, it wasn’t long after mile one that I decided I had to walk a hundred feet or so. I certainly wasn’t expecting that to happen, and I wasn’t happy about it at all. Flat course. Only 5 miles (4.97). Rested and fueled. It should have been any easy course to run continuously and even fast for my ability. Yet it wasn’t. Or rather, I couldn’t.

I was really disappointed with myself, but another piece of conventional running wisdom is that you should listen to your body. My body was telling me not to push it so hard for whatever reason. So I walked until I could run again. But this repeated itself for the rest of the run. I would target a certain runner far ahead, or some landmark like a lamp post, and run until I reached that point, then walk a little more. Okay, so this was a test run after all. Testing the arch supports. And testing my marathon recovery. Lessons were being learned, and I suppose I should be grateful.

The course is an out-and-back. We ran along Cliff Drive for 2.5 miles, turned around, and ran the same route back to where we started. Once I made the turn I got the chance to see how many runners were behind me. There were hundreds, so once again, I wouldn’t be the last runner in. Even so, my walking breaks allowed dozens of those formerly behind me to get ahead. I think I passed the last out-bound runner/walker when I had little more than a mile to go. Still, I needed to walk. Along with the underperforming lungs, my hips were reminding me how thoroughly unpleased they had been with the marathon, threatening to twist me up with pain again if I didn’t stop pushing them. (I hadn’t done my usual overdosing on vitamin I before the race because it was going to be a “frolic.”) So I had that to manage as well. Still, I was closing in on the finish arch and I wanted to look at least a bit respectable as I came in.

There is a curve in the road right before the end, and when you get around it, you can see the finish arch a few hundred feet ahead. All I wanted to do was make it the rest of the way at a run. I was in a pack of other runners, but something happened to me then. I found a little energy or drive or self respect and I started running faster, weaving through the pack of runners I was in and into the open area beyond. And I kept up the faster pace.

I crossed the finish line looking like an actual runner, and since that’s where the photographers were, this was a handy coincidence. (I haven’t seen the photos yet.) We got medals this year, which is a change from the last time I ran it. It’s a nice enuf medal, but I’m conflicted about these. Anything less than a half marathon doesn’t seem “worthy” of a medal to me. Nonetheless, they are getting more common for the shorter races, so they must be what everyone wants. And I’ve never been known to decline a medal.

There was a post-run pancake breakfast that was included in the race fee (maybe that’s where they hid the chocolate milk), but it was disappointing two years ago, and I had no reason to expect otherwise this time. Plus, being a back-of-the-pack runner always means that the feasting is well picked over by the time I get there.

So the Cliffhanger 8K for 2015 is run and done. I didn’t do well, but I did beat my time from two years ago by more than three minutes, even with all of the unfortunate walking I did this time. The arch supports in my running shoes may just work out; I’ll try them on my training runs for a while and see. I have nothing on my dance card until April (though I may sign up for this or that). The April run is a little marathony thing in St. Louis, and while I’ll surely be fully recovered by then, I will need to use all of the time before me to train smartly for it.

Cliffhanger glitter

*In the running community, not actually running around in, you know, circles.

Fiction is not fact

Posted October 26, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

“Fiction is not fact, but fiction is fact selected and understood, fiction is fact arranged and charged with purpose.”

Thomas Wolfe

Kansas City Marathon 2015 recap ~ part three

Posted October 21, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running



“Run, Grandpa, Run!!!”

Kenneth Johnson

As I had been running, I had been eating my GU every three miles. I had eight packs of GU pinned to the inside of the waistband of my shorts, and they were easy to tear free and suck empty while still on the run. (And unlike apparently everyone else, I held on to my empty GU packs until I reached the trash boxes at the water stations.) I also got both Gatorade and water at every water station, which were about two miles apart. I was trying to run smart, controlling the variables I could.

Once I made it through the cut off and knew I could stay on the full marathon course, the pressure to perform eased. We were running along Brush Creek at this point and would cross it on a bridge not far ahead. On the other side of the river I could see the runners ahead of me, going west as I was going east. When I got to that point I wanted to look back across the river and get a sense of how many (if any) runners were behind me. A third, unspoken goal of my run was not to be the last runner in. That happened to me on the first 10K I had run, and while a finish is a finish, it’s disappointing to get to the after party and find half of the vendors and other booths closed up.

After I had crossed Brush Creek and was headed west, I did get a few glimpses of the runners behind me. The pack was significantly thinned then, and in the gaps between the buildings and the trees, I would see one or two runners (who were sometimes walking), so I didn’t really get a good sense about whether there were many people behind me or just a few.

Several things happened in the next mile. I decided to take my first walking break. I knew I was making good time (for my ability and for meeting the absolute maximum allowed on the course), and I also knew that I needed to conserve my energy for the remaining 18 or so miles ahead of me and my legs. I didn’t walk for long, and it wasn’t too long after I’d begun running again that the lead marathon runner was coming my way, with his police motorcycle escort. I had about 18 miles still to go. He had six. And he didn’t look like he was breaking a sweat! I cheered him, but he was focused. Soon after this the course crossed Brush Creek again, and I saw my wife again. I had run about two miles since I’d last seen her, but since it was an out-and-back stretch, she only had to walk about two blocks to be waiting for me. Also with her was my son-in-law’s sister, Chelsea. I hadn’t known she was running the marathon, and she had only learned I was the day before when she was chatting with my daughter (her sister-in-law, if you’re following along). Since I was running again, I didn’t stop to visit but waived away the goody bag and trotted ahead. Chelsea stayed to chat with my wife for a while, but I knew she would catch up with me and eventually pass me since she trains better and she is, of course, nearly half my age. In less than a half mile, she did catch up with me, and we trotted along together for a while, exchanging small talk. I told her not to slow down for me, but she assured me she was running at her normal pace.

We were still running along Brush Creek, and I could look across it to see the runners ahead of me since this was another out-and-back stretch. With the loss of the half marathoners, and with all of us being back-of-the-pack runners, we were strung out. I could see a few runners across the river and through the trees, and I expected to see about the same when I was over there and looked back at where I had been. Somewhere in here, I took another walking break, which allowed Chelsea to get ahead of me. I knew I couldn’t keep pace with her for the rest of the marathon (we weren’t even half way yet), so I didn’t feel bad about being left behind, so to speak. But when I started running again, I would soon catch up with her. Perhaps I was pushing my pace too much because I had to do a lot of walking in this stretch. Then I would catch up with Chelsea. Then walk again. When we were across Brush Creek and I looked at where I had been, I didn’t see very many runners at all. Sure, they could be spread out miles and miles behind, but I began to wonder if it might be possible that I would be the last runner in. All along, people were passing me. Not a lot, and not frequently. But certainly dozens were now that I was on the full course. How many did that leave behind me?

I didn’t need to worry about that, however, because I was coming upon the third big hill of the course. Since the pack was thinned and I had pretty much the whole road to myself (except for the Mercedes SUV of one of the residents in the mansions we were running beside who apparently could at no other time of the day drive right down the middle of our course) I decided to try a hill tactic I thought might work. I started zigzagging up the hill. While this adds a little more distance to the run, it actually makes the hill before you less steep. Or at least it feels that way, and so much of running is mental. I managed to catch up with Chelsea again, which I would repeat a few more times before she got ahead and stayed ahead. But the hill was wearing me down, despite my tactic (which I think did help). My body was no longer dismayed but was actually alarmed at the sustained demand on it. I was feeling seriously fatigued and though I tried not to, all I could think about was how much road there was ahead of me. Somewhere along here (after Chelsea was long gone) I crossed the 13.1 distance; I was half way done. This was not heartening. I was dead on my feet, and I still had to do again what I had just done.

Fortunately, the hill climbing was behind me (at least for the next eight miles). What I faced for a long while was more or less flat ground, with some rises and falls but no difficult elevation gains. Even so, I had miles to go, and I knew I had to walk some if I was going to run some. Actually, I wasn’t very sure I could run at all by this point. This may have been a fueling problem, but I don’t think it was. Rather, I was in pain, and it was getting worse. My knees were starting to give me the same pain they had on the Portland Marathon. Fortunately, this had come much later in the route than before, but the pain was there. My hips were also very angry with me. I’m pretty sure that was a muscle problem rather than a bone-in-joint problem. When I walked, I would take very long strides, and this helped ease the pain. I hurt in places I didn’t even know were places. I was beginning to consider the possibility that I would be the last runner in. Because of the walking interspersed with running, my pace had plummeted. And if I continued in this way for the next dozen or so miles, everyone would pass me.

There wasn’t anything else I could do. I ran for as long as I could, trying to convince myself I was nothing more than a pair of legs, feeling the pull and release of the muscles and trying not to feel anything else. And I would concentrate on the three feet before my two feet, doing no more than covering that distance before I tried to consider the next three feet. It helped some, but walking helped as well. I think by this point I was walking as much distance as I was running. I wasn’t happy about this, but it was the best I could manage.

Part of the course at this point was what I had run twice before in the Rock the Parkway half marathons I had completed. Those were good runs, which disheartened me since here I was on that same stretch of road and doing miserably. But not long after this the course reached its farthest point from the start/finish, the Waldo section of Kansas City. A turn on 75th Street marked my return run. This helped a little. I was more than half way, and I was running toward the finish. I had a mere ten miles to go.

I had packed six ibuprofen in the tiny pocket of my skimpy running shorts, intending to take no more than four of them and save the last two for any suffering runner I happened upon. By the turnaround point on 75th Street, I was dry swallowing my fifth and sixth pills, trotting eagerly toward the water station not far ahead to wash them down. (I had taken three ibuprofen before the run, so my total at this point was nine pills — don’t tell my doctor son!)

While there were a few hiccups at the water stations — generally people stopping to chat and standing right in the way — my passage through them was mostly good. They were usually staffed by teenagers who, I suppose, were on the local cross country teams or otherwise getting community service hours. Even at the back of the pack, many, many hours after the first runners had bolted past them, these kids had smiling faces and encouraging words, and hands outstretched with cups of Gatorade and water.

And, they had plenty of cups of Gatorade and water on the tables behind them. They looked like they were ready for hundreds of runners still to come. I didn’t turn around to look, fearful that I would see no one behind me, meaning they were too far back for me to see or that there was no one behind me. The fact that the water stations were still fully staffed and fully provisioned suggested to me I wasn’t in last place. That helped push away for a while the certainty that I was going to come in last.

I still hurt though. I ran as much as I could and walked as much as I needed. At this point I was on the course of the Trolley Run I’ve done three times. The entire Trolley Run course is covered by just a part of the marathon. Fortunately, this was a downhill run of four miles. I was grateful for that. It allowed me to cover more distance at a run, even with the pain. I was probably a bit delirious by this point. I passed a woman on her right and warned her I was about to pass her on her left. I got it wrong and managed to apologize as I pushed on. (Note: I passed someone at this point.) I also had to be careful when I reached into my shorts for a pack of GU that I didn’t grab the wrong dangling thing and try to tear it free.

At the bottom of this four-mile downhill I once again came to Brush Creek and ran east along the same bit of pavement I had run more than ten miles before. I was eating up the miles, much of it at a run, and when I got to mile 20, I ruefully noted that I only had to run a 10K to be finished.

I crossed Brush Creek for the fourth and last time that morning and wove my way into the Hyde Park neighborhood of Kansas City. Resplendent old homes, green parks, children and adults at play. All lost on me as I fought the agony and the pain to keep going. Ahead, and not very far, was the last serious hill of the course. Mile 23 marked the start of it. At mile 23 you can tell yourself you only have three miles left to go, a mere 5K, and look how much mileage you’ve already got behind you! But throw in a hill at this point, a mile-long hill, and such encouraging thoughts dissolve instantly. I was trudging up this hill, running as much of it as I could, when something truly encouraging did happen.

My wife was waiting for me! I hadn’t seen her since about mile 9, a dozen miles before, nearly a half marathon before. And there she was. I stopped running and walked, and she stepped in beside me. And I ate one of the candy bars she carried in the goody bag. It was awful. The chocolate had gone frosty white. I could barely taste it. But it, and seeing my wife, the sweetness, were what I needed. My wife had a bit of a drive to get back to the start area and then get from the parking lot — whichever was available — to the finish arch. She feared (foolishly) that I would get there before she did and was eager to get on her way. So we parted, and I started running again. I managed to run more distance than I expected, despite the ongoing pain in my hips and knees, and I prudently walked where I needed to.

Beginning at mile 24, on The Paseo, we had a long straightaway on mostly flat ground, resulting a mile later in a mile stretch going downhill. It was a gift for us weary runners. At the bottom of that hill, in the 18th and Vine Jazz District, we turned left on a flat street for the final mile in. This happened to be part of the Rock the Crossroads 5K I had run two summers before (miserably hot), and I mixed my running with walking, hoping to conserve whatever energy was left in me so that I could run up to and across the finish line like an actual runner.

From about mile 14, I have been exchanging places with another runner. I would catch up with and pass him, then I would walk and he would pass me. It went on this way the entire remaining distance. As I made the last turn and faced the quarter mile left to the finish arch (so impossibly far ahead) I saw this man once again. He was also impossibly far ahead, and I had no illusions that I would pass him. I merely put my head down and ran as well as I could through the pain. But when I looked up, I found I was right behind the man. If we kept our paces, I would pass him in the last twenty feet and finish ahead of him. I would not be the last runner in after all.

He must have had a similar thought because when he realized I was beside him, he dug deep and “shot” ahead. I had nothing left, and I needed every ounce of it just to finish at all. So he beat me, and I consoled myself with the charitable notion that I had given him a reason to run harder and not come in last.

I ran across the mats and under the finish arch then turned off my watch. Transitioning from running to walking had been a painful and uncertain, stumbling business for the last 15 miles, and now that I was finally finished, I think I just about gave up altogether. One of the attendants in the finish chute hurried over to me and asked if I needed help, needed an arm to lean on, or anything like that. All I needed at that point was chocolate milk. And my wife. I took the medal — they actually hung it around my neck, which was nice and fully earned. Then I wrapped myself in the foil blanket they provided because it was breezy. My wife hurried up to me at this point and we found a break in the fencing of the finish chute to head over to the after party area. Given the time it took me to finish, the crowds had dispersed. I collected the little ticket that gave my official time. We asked where the chocolate milk was. It turned out to be near where we had been in the chute, impossibly far away, but somehow I managed to stagger over there and drink four cartons. As I stood there, the crew was already packing away the food and other treats on the table before me. I realize they can’t stick around all day, but I paid as much as every other runner who competed that day, and I was a little miffed that I was barely getting leftovers.

But I had just finished my second marathon. It wasn’t the brilliant performance I had dreamed of, it wasn’t even very good, but despite the walking, my average pace was decent enuf, and I knew the pain would go away. Eventually. (I still believe that.) Plus, I had beat my Portland time by more than 25 minutes. So I got a PR. And despite what I assured myself from about mile 10 onward, I was already thinking about the next marathon I would run and how I could do better. (Start training now!)

It turned out, when I looked up the official numbers online later, that there were 156 other runners behind me on the full marathon course. Given that coming in last in my age group many times and last overall one time, this is something I feel proud of.

So the medal hangs on my wall beside the one I got in Portland last year and beside three empty hooks. I need to fill those three hooks and then fill all five of them one more time.

But first, rest.

Kansas City Marathon 2015 recap ~ part two

Posted October 20, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


KC Marathon bling

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

Haruki Murakami

The marathon started and ended at Crown Center in downtown Kansas City. Crown Center is a hotel and urban shopping mall complex that is also the headquarters for Hallmark Cards. We got down there about an hour and a half before the official start time and drove around various still-empty parking lots, trying to decide the best one for giving my wife access to non-blocked off streets so she could drive to various points on the course to cheer.

We marched our way through the pre-dawn darkness toward the mall and comparative indoor warmth as the minutes ticked away. There were a few dozen people gathered in the food court as we claimed a table. I chose to use the bathroom, which is always prudent, and then returned to the table to watch people gather. I saw some faces I knew, and it turned out there were many people I knew who were running the half marathon that morning, a few more running the full. Time dragged as I thought about and then resisted getting myself a bagel. With about a half hour before gun time, I thought I would use the bathroom one last time. The line was easily 200 people long, so I went up to the next floor where the line for the men’s room was only about 50 people long. And I waited. From there, I had about a ten-minute walk to the starting area, and I had decided to leave the line if I had to so I could be there on time. As it turned out, I was done and on my way with 14 minutes left. (The line was longer then than when I had arrived. And the line for the women’s restroom was even longer.) I found my wife and we headed out into the morning chill to merge with the mass of humanity (nearly 9,000 I later learned), she on the sidelines and me in the corral.

I was not especially cold since I had my throwaway jacket on. I got this thing at the thrift store for a few bucks more than a year ago. The idea is that you wear such a thing to keep warm as you’re standing around at the start, then as you get going and warm up, you take it off and throw it to the curb where it is collected and donated to the thrift store, whereupon you could very easily buy it again. I have not been able to successfully throw away my throwaway. The few times I have worn it to races, I’ve always shed it just as I’m coming up to my wife or someone else in my support crew, and the jacket comes home with me again to wait for the next chilly run.

There seemed to be a false start; I heard the second countdown (the first was for the wheelchair racers), but the crowd did not move. I was not near the front, but I could see the course beyond the starting arch, and there were no runners on it. I don’t supposed they were giving more time to the people waiting to use the bathroom. Time passed and then something must have changed, for the herd began moving forward. I turned on my new running watch, but it took longer to find a satellite than I expected — I’ve heard this can be the case in areas with tall buildings — and I hadn’t engaged it until almost a block after I had crossed the starting mats. I could have worried that this would give me a shorter distance than the actual course distance, but I had a race to run and didn’t give it a bother.

The first mile of the course took us into downtown proper, looping around the Sprint Center, a glossy, space-age arena that someone described as a giant baked potato. This mile was a gentle uphill, which meant when we made the turn we had a gentle downhill of about a mile. I was doing fine, running at a reasonable pace that would not burn up my energy too soon (since I had a full marathon distance to manage). My first goal of the morning was to get to the split where the half marathoners go one way (toward the finish) and we full marathoners go another (toward miles of away-from-the-finish). I had little doubt I would reach the split within the time required; if I didn’t, I would be shunted to the half-marathon course rather than be allowed to run the full. But I wanted to stay on task and get there, so while I measured my pace, I also pushed myself to keep going.

That gentle downhill ended at the base of Hospital Hill. This is a long, relatively steep hill that passes between Crown Center and Children’s Mercy Hospital (where my wife and I had volunteered for more than ten years). There is even a half marathon in town that is named for this hill. I was determined to run up the hill. And so I did. My body began asking me what I thought I was doing at this point, but it wasn’t screaming so much as acting surprised at the demands on it. I hushed it, knowing there would be a relief at the top as we ran down a corresponding hill, losing all of the elevation gain we had made, before facing the second big hill of the morning.

I got up Hospital Hill without much trouble, made the turn, and then applied the brakes so I wouldn’t be pelting down the hill on the other side too fast. Not only is running downhill fast a prescription for falling (at least for a less-than-nimble runner like myself), but it deceptively eats up a lot of energy. You think gravity is doing all of the work, but it ain’t. At this point, I passed my wife’s car. The lot had filled in the time since we had left it there, and she was hemmed in by runners on the course, but I hoped that when she was ready to drive away, the pack passing the area would have thinned enuf for her to squeeze by (which is allowed as long as you don’t interfere with the runners). She wasn’t there, of course, because she was waiting for me at mile three, atop the next hill.

The course took us to the Liberty Memorial, which sits on a promontory that overlooks the city. I had run up here two years before, though by a different route, when I did the Kansas City Half Marathon. I doubted I could do it then, yet I did, so I believed I could do it again. Plus I had that cut-off time I had to make. So I trudged up the hill and got to the flat promenade at the top, eyes peeled for my wife. By this time I could feel the sweat rising on my skin, and though the sun hadn’t risen high enuf to reach us poor runners except in occasional patches, I thought it was time to throw away my throwaway. I suspected I would be chilly for a while without it, but if I shed it then, I could hand it off to my wife (assuming she was there). Otherwise, if I wanted to give it to her later, I would have another four miles of its close friendship. I spotted her across the promenade, and she spotted me soon after. Our first meeting of the morning. I began peeling off my jacket and immediately felt the chill of the morning on my sweaty skin and skimpy, plastic clothes. I was dressed then the same as I would have been for an August run.

My wife had a bag of supplies for me if I needed them: lip balm, Vaseline, cortisone cream, vitamin I, candy bars, an extra shirt, an extra hat, a running jacket, more safety pins, more small bandaids for personal places, and so on. As I ran up to her, throwing my throwaway to the curb in a dramatic way, she asked if I needed anything, but I didn’t and told her I was feeling strong and doing well. (Which was true despite those two wicked hills in the first three miles of the course.) I saw a lot of runners wearing green bibs (mine was orange) who were standing around, walking around, chatting with their squads, and otherwise not running, and I wondered at first why this was the case. Then I realized that they had participated in the 5K, which would have reached its 3.1 mile distance there atop the promontory. Good for them. They faced the same two wicked hills as the rest of us and earned their bragging rights. But their departure also thinned the pack some, which is always good.

So, onward. The first thing I faced after leaving the Liberty Memorial was . . . another hill. I knew this was coming, and I was determined to run it, so I did. All the while I was passing people and being passed by people. It was much too early in the race to gauge my endurance based on my placement among the other runners so I just focused on myself. Soon after this hill, we were on gritty Main Street, running past tattoo parlors, vaping parlors, empty store fronts, bars, old buildings converted to warehouses, run down apartment buildings, and all sorts of sights that don’t make the list of touristy things in town. We were only on Main for a mile, and I suspect they took us along here solely so they could make the turn onto Westport Road and lead us into the oldest part of Kansas City. Westport Road is actually a stretch of the Santa Fe Trail. It’s a funky part of town, with some of the oldest standing buildings in the city. When I had run the half marathon two years before, it was along here that I first felt the twinges in my knees that were to bedevil me through the second half. I was mindful of this and was pleased to discover that my knees were doing just fine, as was the rest of me.

The route through Westport was only a mile with a gentle downhill followed by a gentle uphill, then we turned south for a nice, long downhill stretch leading into the Plaza area of Kansas City, the swanky shopping and dining district and the second place where I expected to find my wife. It happens that as we wove through and around the Plaza, we were covering much of the same course as the Plaza 10K I had run a few weeks before. I had done well then, so I felt confident going over this same ground again.

Two things happened at this point. I did see my wife, just where we had planned (again, no need for supplies from the goody bag, though someone did take a picture of us “running” together). And I turned over my running odometer to 1,000 miles for the year. I didn’t take note of it at the time, but it was another goal achieved.

And the next goal lay about a half mile ahead. The cut off for the half marathon/full marathon split was waiting for me. I had been running continuously, and feeling pretty strong all the while, but my body was begging for a break. I had to get through the cut off before I would consider that, so I pressed on. And there it was. Most of the runners were drifting to the left side of the road then because most of the runners were doing the half marathon. Suddenly I had all of the space I needed to weave around cracks and manhole covers and such. And I had a comparatively empty road ahead of me. While that was helpful, it was also a little unnerving. I felt more on my own then than I had before. When I ran the Portland Marathon last year, I had my son with me, and he kept me buoyed. Here I was solo, relying on my own mental resources to keep going, knowing I had a long way to go it alone.

It turned out I had reached the cut off with plenty of time. My plan to run continuously in order to reach it had worked. (Keep in mind I am not a fast runner. This was a serious challenge for me.)

All that remained then was to run the remaining nineteen or so miles!

Kansas City Marathon 2015 recap ~ part one

Posted October 19, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


KC Marathon kit

“Ninety percent of this game is half mental.”

Yogi Berra

You could say that I have been preparing for this race my entire running life. Or you could say that I didn’t prepare for this race at all. Both would be correct.

You’ll recall that I had run the Portland Marathon last year. (Look here and here and here.) Something like half of one percent of Americans have run a marathon, which put me in an “elite” group when I completed Portland. But I never considered that good enuf. For too many people, running a marathon is just an item on their bucket list, like writing a novel or traveling to Mars. I didn’t want to be part of that group as well, those people who are merely checking off disparate goals as a way of collecting them. I wanted running to become a way of life for me, and to do that, I needed to show (myself) that I had the wherewithal to run more than one marathon. (The goal I want to check off is ten marathons, and if there is sufficient insanity in my fevered brain, I think I can even achieve it.) Curiously, I can’t find a statistic on the percentage who have run at least two marathons.

My training for this biggest endurance event of my life was spotty and inadequate. I didn’t run nearly the miles nor the distance that any reputable training plan calls for. The longest training run I had done for this marathon — and only once — was 15 miles, and that was months ago. I had a silly notion that got in my way. I wanted to have accumulated 974 miles for the year by race day so that I would complete 1,000 miles during the marathon, preferably in the last miles of the marathon. I had done this two years ago when I was leading up to my first half marathon and then again last year before my first full marathon. But I didn’t pace myself properly this year — August was an especially high-mileage month — and with only a week before the marathon I had already run 994 miles. There was no way I could have my 1,000 mile goal met during the marathon and do the proper distance training at the proper time before the marathon. So while my friends were doing their 20-mile runs to complete their training, I was measuring out 6-mile runs that always ended at the bagel shop. Whether my silly devotion to my silly odometer goal would hurt me or not I would find out on race day.

I should acknowledge right here that my friends who trained properly are all much better runners than I, with the ability to turn in fast completion times, continuous runs, and happy faces at the end. I would be satisfied with completing the distance before the maximum time limit when the course is closed, with walking more than a little, and with agony as my constant companion. Perhaps for my remaining eight marathons I’ll train better and perform better. I’ve already decided I am not going to set myself the thousand-mile goal next year that I have for the last three years. (At least not formally. Who am I kidding? Of course I will!)

Three weeks ago, I came down with a head cold severe enuf to make me miss a day of work, which is something that never happens. I believe I caught it from my grandson in New York, who sent it to me by way of my wife who had just returned from visiting him. The cold was bad enuf that my doctor put me on a course of antibiotics, which would end well before the marathon but that could have “gastro-intestinal side effects” for weeks after. (Didn’t happen.) By unfortunate coincidence, my flu shot was scheduled for just two days before the marathon. I was assured that there would be no impact on my running performance (such as it is under the best circumstances), but all the next day I grew anxious about every sniffle and sneeze that visited me. The entire week before the marathon, the woman two cubicles over was coughing and sneezing constantly, and I avoided her as much as I could but worried nonetheless.

My own body may have been conspiring against me without outside help though. For most of a year I’ve had a pain in the back of my right thigh. It would only happen when I sat for a long time, such as driving or sitting at a desk, and it would go away almost instantly as soon as I stood and took a few steps. The condition seemed to be subsiding, as shown by a drive to and from St. Louis two weeks ago when I had nary a complaint. Yet for the last week my left thigh has been giving me this same pain. Was this some kind of perverse joke my body was playing on me? Added to that was an unexpected pain shooting up the inside of my right calf, starting at the ankle. It only hurt when I walked, and it would sometimes go away after a few steps. Other times it wouldn’t be there at all, only to stab me unexpectedly while I was otherwise walking like a normal person. Neither of these seemed like they would affect my actual running (though . . . 26.2 miles can make just about anything go wrong) and I treated them with doses of vitamin I (ibuprofen).

Yet I was doing some things to prepare. Each day for more than a week before, I drank at least one bottle of Gatorade to elevate my electrolyte levels. (I have no idea what I’m talking about.) And I indulged in carb loading in the days running up to the run, stuffing my face with pasta. And, of course, the bagels were ever present. I’d also bought myself a new pair of running shoes a few weeks ago and got the proper break-in mileage on them. There’s nothing like a new pair of running shoes! I stocked up on GU energy gels. I felt prepared mentally, convincing myself that I had done this thing once before; I could do it again. I gave myself permission to walk if I needed to (and there are some wicked hills on the course). I only had two goals with this marathon: I needed to reach the cut-off point at mile 7.5 within the designated time limit so they would let me remain on the full marathon course, which wouldn’t be a problem if my training runs were any indication. And I wanted to complete the full course within the maximum overall time allowed. I had done that in Portland with stabbing knees, so I was confident I could do it in Kansas City, perhaps even with a better finish time.

Three days before the race I got my hair cut, both to be streamlined and to drop the extra weight. I had trimmed my toenails and my fingernails. I had even trimmed my eyebrows! (Really! I have this one hair in my left eyebrow that grows insanely fast and curls down before my eye, snagging my eyelashes. There is nothing worse that having an eyebrow hair snagging your eyelashes — really, nothing is worse.)

I had a light dinner the night before and was early to bed. I slept surprisingly well and woke before my usual freakish hour (2:30 a.m.). When I let the dogs out, the temperature was 47 degrees, which was much better than the 39 degrees that was forecast. I always dread the “cold” even though I know that once I get going I either warm up enuf or I have other things to manage and don’t care about the cold. But 47 degrees isn’t cold, and at 52 percent humidity, the conditions were just about ideal for running. My legs felt great as I stumbled around the dark house. I flossed and brushed thoroughly. I ate a banana and a bagel. And I dressed in my kit slowly, as I always do before a big run, mostly to make sure I have everything I need but also to take some time to be contemplative and focused.

All that was left was to drive downtown and get ready to run.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 29 other followers