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.