Kansas City Marathon 2015 recap ~ part one

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.

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