Kansas City Half Marathon ~ Part One
This was the big one. This was the one I’d been dreading all year, beginning back in January when I registered for it and through all of the months and miles of training and doubt. The Kansas City Half Marathon, on a notoriously hilly course, under the gaze of not only thousands of spectators but of the many members of my running club who have become friends over the last year. What could possibly go wrong?
This Saturday dawned at 34 degrees, but I had learned that cold temperatures are a runner’s friend. I had watched the weather forecast through the week, so I knew it was going to be chilly, but I was grateful that the rainstorm had passed through the day and night before and that the course would be dry. More importantly, I would be dry. All week I had been working on my gear. I had gone to the thrift store near my house to get my throwaway pullover a few days prior. I made sure to have my Shot Bloks for quick energy. I got a haircut so I could be sleek and lightweight. And then my wife and I went to the expo the night before to pick up my packet and all of the swag.
Because my running odometer was about to turn over a certain targeted number, I had not been running much in the two weeks before this half, but I had gone out Monday evening for a quick five miles. I felt good then, but two days later my right Achilles tendon had seized and I was in burning, stabbing pain and limping, transferring pain into my knee and hip. My whole running mechanism seemed to be falling apart three days before the half. Great. The tendon was a little looser on Thursday, and I kept walking on it properly (despite the pain) to try to stretch it back to normalcy. Friday was better, but it wasn’t a hundred percent. That tendon had been giving me grief all year, and I thought the two weeks of comparative rest before the half marathon might have been enuf to make it heal and go away forever. Not so. (What I’ve determined is that by running five days a week through the year, I was keeping the tendon stretched but not giving it a chance to actually heal. So my Monday run just caused it to flare up.) When I woke on Saturday and tested the heel, the pain was gone. I was able to walk like a normal person, and it seemed like I might be able to do this crazy thing after all.
Of course I could not sleep, so I was up at 3:00 on the morning of the run. I had some iced tea (unsweetened, of course) to stay hydrated and surfed online for a while, but eventually I began getting dressed in the outfit I had shaken down in the weeks prior. The heel felt good. I had done 13.1 miles a couple of weeks before on a training run, so my confidence was good. I had everything I needed, and all that remained was to get down to the urban mall where the race began and ended so I could stand around in the cold and look for friends to share our anxieties. I had eaten a banana and two slices of bread, but otherwise, I couldn’t eat. Better to run on an empty stomach and supplement with energy gels. (I had tried running on a pastrami sandwich once, but that didn’t work out too well.) As is my way, I expected to be ridiculously early, but there were already hundreds of runners at the mall, milling about, already waiting in lines for the bathrooms, looking for and finding their friends and teammates. Our club had a designated meeting point, and I stayed close to there, waiting for them to arrive. Eventually the place was packed (remember it was 34 degrees outside), and I found about a half dozen of my friends (from the about 30 who were running that day). We chatted and took photos. My heel felt good. I thought maybe I wasn’t a complete idiot for attempting this.
Earlier in the week, one of the runners in the club, a man named Todd, had said he would run the half with me. I didn’t know what to think of this. I’m mostly a solo runner — in part because my pace is so much slower than everyone else’s — and I intended to suffer through the long miles on my own terms. Todd had run with me on a Saturday morning training run several weeks before and had pushed my pace to my fastest 5K ever. That’s a fine thing, of course, but I needed to conserve my stamina on this much longer distance, and I worried that even unconsciously, he would cause me to go out faster than I should. He seemed so eager to be my wingman, though, that I didn’t object. And part of me thought that maybe it would be good to have a companion on such a challenge.
As the start time grew near, we thousands of runners (12,000 to be exact) herded out of the warm mall and into the cold pre-dawn street. I was shivering, but I knew that would go away as soon as I began running. There were all kinds of runners out there. A man beside me was running the full marathon in a business suit. It was his birthday and he said he wanted to run in his birthday suit. A woman nearby was at least twenty years older than I, eager to start. Spiderman was there. Gumbi. A relay team dressed as bananas. And Todd at my side, chatting about this and that and, though I didn’t realize it at the time, keeping my mind off of my anxiety.
We were at the back of the pack, and I learned later that due to a technical malfunction, the national anthem the organizers intended to broadcast wouldn’t play. So the crowd sang it in unison. I missed all of this since I was so far back, but several friends near the front said it was very moving.
The race started at 7:05, but Todd and I were crossing the starting mats at 7:13. I managed to get my running watch to find a few satellites in time and I pressed the start button just as I crossed the mats.
We were off.