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.