Plaza 10K 2015 recap
This was my third year running the Plaza 10K. I have loved this run, perhaps because it is generally my first for the fall racing season, or because the course is mostly flat (except for one long but not steep hill at mile four and one steep but not long hill at mile five and a half), or because just about everyone in town runs this so I see plenty of familiar faces, or because the after party is great (even for slower runners like me who often find the goodies all gone by the time we stagger across the finish line). I had signed up for this run on the day the registration opened months and months ago.
After the last few weeks of serious competition between the heat and the humidity to see which could post a higher number at the exact hour each day when I would run, we’ve experienced a weekend respite from the heat. When I rose at my usual freakishly early hour on Sunday (3:00) and let the dogs out, the temperature was a chilly 54 degrees (though the humidity was at 80% and rose through the next few hours). I had run the morning before under nearly the same conditions — and for the same distance — and did well, so I set out a similar combination of skimpy plastic clothes and trusted that I would survive on race morning.
That’s my newish running watch in the photo above. It’s a Garmin Forerunner 15, replacing my older Nike SportWatch that I’d worn for nearly three years. The SportWatch was taking longer to find satellites and didn’t seem to be holding a charge (which was getting to be a problem since my Sunday long runs might last four or more hours — not all of that time in actual running of course). I had accumulated enuf gift cards to pay for a new watch, so I got the Garmin in the summer and began fooling around with it. It grabs a satellite almost instantly, but the little icon on the face showing battery life is frustratingly vague, so I’m never clear just how much running time I can expect from it. (I guess I’ll find out at the marathon next month.) I chose not to wear the gloves after all. Not shown are my new calf sleeves, my socks, or the compression shorts and shirt I wore as a base layer (shorts for chafing, shirt for chill and also chafing in a couple of personal areas). Those are my newish shoes. They only have about 200 miles on them, and I try to get at least 300 miles out of a pair of running shoes, but these feel completely worn out already. I get mild ankle and knee aches after every run, which are generally signs that it’s time to replace shoes. I bought these online from a discount outlet, which is something I had vowed never to do since I want to support local merchants who give advice and lore along with the shoes and gear they sell, but at less than half the retail price (even with my running club discount at the store) I felt I couldn’t spend the extra bucks at the store. I’m now rethinking that. I wonder if the online outlet sells seconds or factory rejects or something like that.
But anyway, about the race . . .
I got to the race (the Country Club Plaza district in Kansas City) about an hour before the start and tried to stay out of the breeze since it was in the fifties then and the sun was not up (also, skimpy clothes). Crowds were gathering. Just over 3,000 runners and walkers eventually crossed the finish line (I would have guessed more), and I was among them. I was at the back of the pack in the chute waiting for the start. Even after the horn sounded and the elites took off, several minutes passed before my part of the pack was crossing the starting mats and on our way.
The course has remained unchanged in the three years I’ve run it (I can’t speak for the two years before that), so I knew what was ahead: the turns and hills and flats as well as the discouragement and the screaming lungs and the eventual resignation to see how far I could go before taking a walking break. I had a bad start, not because I was going too fast or because everyone was surging past me (both of which were true). Something is bugging me about running lately. Perhaps it is merely the summer heat and humidity that made most of my recent runs so miserable. Maybe now that better weather is here, I will come back to the satisfaction and challenge of it all. Or maybe it was from too much carb loading the day before. Or the funeral I went to then. Whatever the reason, my mind was not in the right place for this run, and I truly questioned why I was doing this to myself as I trotted along. (I got no answer.) I had done a short warm-up run before the start just to jolt my lungs into what was to be expected of them; my lungs are the least willing part of me to run, though they tend to come around after a mile or so. And the first mile passed before I realized it. (My new watch chirps at each mile, a feature that I like, so far.) So I told myself that I would push myself to run at least as far as mile two, or at the very most, to the first water station, which was just after mile 2. But then I remembered that my support crew (wife and oldest son) was going to be waiting for me somewhere along there (with phone cameras ready) and that I had to run at least until I was well past them, so I didn’t really know where I could give in to my woe and self doubt.
Fortunately, this was all along a nice flat stretch that took us into the rising sun toward an eventual long downhill. The lungs were more or less in the game by then, and the legs were doing okay. Much of running is mental, so it was really the demons in my head I was fighting. And for the moment, I was winning. I saw my wife and son just where I expected them, and since I saw them first, I straightened up, plastered something like a smile on my face, and gave them a wave. Photos of me soon wound up on social media. Then it was onward.
Part of what I like about this run is that it takes us through 6.2 of the prettiest miles in the city. After leaving the Plaza shopping district, we were soon passing the art museum and some nice homes. To our
left right was Brush Creek, recently beautified by the Corps of Engineers (though they will say it was all for flood control), and we ran along this for nearly a mile before turning and running along it on the other side. As I was still heading into the sun, I could see plenty of runners already on the other side of the river, far, far ahead of me. Of course I was not racing any one of them; I was only racing with myself and maybe with last year’s finish time, though I told myself I would not try to beat it and just run for fun. (I wasn’t having the fun part however.)
Eventually my feet carried me to the bridge that turned us to the west and along the other side of the river. There is a long, gradual uphill here, and it is so gradual that it’s hard to even see it. But my lungs knew it was there. Surprisingly, I was still running. I hadn’t given in to that large part of me that said it was okay to walk. (Earlier a part of me tried to make the case that it was okay to quit. I have never done that in a race. Ever.) The second water station was about half way up this long hill. As a beginning runner, I used to disdain the water stations. I never felt thirsty, so I assumed they were there for the weak. But after I hit The Wall on my first half marathon (two years ago), I started re-thinking my fueling and hydration strategy. Now I take a cup or two from every water station (unless some group of noobs is stopped in front of it having a confab). I’ve never hit the wall since. Unfortunately, this second water station was not staged well, and there was really only one chance for me to grab an extended cup (of Gatorade) unless I was going to stop, which by then I thought maybe I just wouldn’t. The cup was larger than I’ve usually seen, and it was full. I appreciate the generosity (and the Gatorade was not watered down), but jostling a full cup of Gatorade and trying to get it mostly into my mouth resulted in much of it getting on my face, spotting my glasses and making my fingers sticky. (I learned very early in my running life how irritating little things can be when you’re stuck with them as you’re fighting to keep body and mind working toward a goal far ahead.)
But soon I was at mile five, a bit astonished that I was still running after I had promised myself that I could certainly rest — without shame — at every mile along the way. Believe me, I wanted to walk. I think that was secretly why I told myself that I wasn’t going to try to best my time from last year, that I was going to take this run more easily — so I could walk. But with little over a mile left to go, even I would be ashamed to stop running now. So on I pressed, the Gatorade spotting my glasses, my lungs periodically telling me I was an idiot, my self doubt never far away.
But the finish arch wasn’t far away either. The last real challenge of the course was a short but steepish hill at about mile 5.5. I knew it was coming. I’d run it before. It wasn’t that big. And after that, it was almost literally downhill all the way to the finish. From somewhere I had dredged up the conviction to finish the race at a run. I turned into the hill and trudged to the top (really, it was only about one block, and I doubt the elevation change was even 15 feet, so don’t let my florid words fool you). Plus, I was passing people. Not a lot of them. But for the last two miles, I was gaining on people ahead of me and then passing them.
After the top of this little hill (it really was a non-event despite my anticipation) I was in the home stretch. I doubted that I had any kick left for the last hundred feet (when I generally try to finish strong), but I knew I would run the entire distance, which was a big surprise to the man who had started the run.
The last turn was back into the Country Club Plaza, and it leads to a gentle downhill toward the finish arch. Despite my being near the back of the pack, there were still plenty of spectators along the side, cheering and waving signs and ringing cowbells. (I hate cowbells!) And though I hadn’t consciously intended it, my legs were beating out a much faster pace than I thought they could. It was as though they had decided to finish strong, even if my brain was unconvinced of the idea.
The finish chute was the usual mess of congestion. We have to stop and get the timing chips cut from our shoes. We have to collect a bottle of water if we wish. And we have to be given our finisher medal (see below) in an unceremonious and hurried manner. (I think at only two races was the medal ever hung around my neck.) All of this lead to a big pile up of people so soon after beating across the finish line as fast as I could. I know this could be organized a lot better; I’ve seen it. So it annoys me that this happens so much.
The first time I ran the Plaza 10K (three years ago) I set a personal record for that distance. Granted, I had only run four 10Ks prior to that, but the record held for the subsequent 10Ks I ran until I did the Plaza 10K a year later, setting a new personal record by nearly four minutes. And that record has been unbeaten since. As I said, I ran this year with no intention of setting a record, either for this particular event or for my 10Ks overall. For this reason, I hadn’t looked up my time from last year, so I had no idea whether my time this year was a new record or, as I felt in my heart, an embarrassment to my running life. Plus, my running watch recorded the distance as 6.33 miles, so whatever time it told me wouldn’t be a fair comparison with prior 6.2 mile runs. I had to wait until I got home and the official results were posted online to get my actual number.
And, it turned out, I had beaten my best by nearly two minutes!
I had not expected this. Not one bit. Further, I managed a negative split; my last whole mile was my fastest mile, even with that steep hill in it. (The last two-tenths of the run was even faster, but that was downhill, and my legs were in charge then.)
I collected my medal and my bottle of water, then I came across a friend and congratulated her on her finish. Soon after that my wife and son found me and we chatted as I recovered. Then I went in search of chocolate milk. (I drank seven cartons of the stuff, and every drop was delicious!). There was some milling around I could have done. Bagels I could have consumed. Swag I could have collected. The usual post-run exhibition stuff, but I was ready to go, so we left and found a salad at the same restaurant where I normally end my Sunday long runs.
The fact is, I was not happy about the run, despite my PR. I finished it and was eager to walk away. I find myself questioning why I’m doing this. That’s a strange thing to be happening in my head.
I currently have only two races on my dance card: a 5K at my old university, which I’ve run every year since its inception, and the Kansas City Marathon, which has been fomenting low-grade terror in my heart for months. Normally I would have at least one race lined up for each month this time of year (and it’s never too late to sign up for one) but I find myself reluctant and I’m not sure why. The fees aren’t that onerous (and my company pays for most of them as a benefit). I’m training as much as ever, so I feel as though I am prepared. The races are nearly always a good time and I’m glad I’ve done them when they’re behind me. But something is holding me back.
I think it is the marathon looming out there next month. I ran the Portland Marathon last year and I lived, which is a perfectly acceptable outcome for a first timer, I think. But there is something about this second attempt that worries me. I can’t put my finger on it. Perhaps it is merely dread of the inevitable pain and suffering to come. I suspect it’s something deeper than that though. Or maybe not. Maybe when I cross that finish line whatever anxiety I have will dissolve. Regardless, I haven’t signed up for any races beyond that as I wait to see what my running outlook will be like.
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