Kansas City Half Marathon 2017 recap

I suppose I should write about this rather than keep avoiding the subject. I’ve not written much about my running because it’s been going so badly lately. And the half marathon I “ran” last weekend was no exception. But I want running to be a part of my life, I want to be able to use running as part of how I define myself, so I shouldn’t shy away from discussing it.

And despite how poorly I am running lately, there are runner friends of mine who can’t run at all. One woman whose blog I read used running to battle her depression and has even run the Boston Marathon (the Holy Grail for runners) but now due to an injury can barely get out and do a few strides any longer. Another friend I know personally, and whose pace in a 5K is my personal goal, needed foot surgery and is now getting around on crutches. She hopes to get back to running, but there doesn’t seem to be any guarantee that she will. Yet another woman I know had to have knee surgery and is now on the injured reserve list, though she has been walking a lot and doing some short runs. And a man I know had to end his streak — running at least one mile outside every single day — after 11 years because of an injury. (Imagine running every day for 11 years!) Compared to these people, I have little to complain about. But I probably will anyway.

The first thing I should tell you about the Kansas City Half Marathon is that I did not train for it at all. In August and September I ran a total of about 40 miles. I’ve done that much on some good weeks, but that comes about to about 5-mile weeks in the time I should have been training for 13.1 miles. So, as I said, I was not trained for this race at all. But I had signed up for it last spring, soon after I had completed the Brooklyn Half Marathon, when I was energized and in denial about my declining performance. And I know I would have regretted not lacing up for the Kansas City Half (in part because I’d already paid for it). So lace up I did.

I’d run this half twice before, and I ran the full Kansas City Marathon once, so this has become something of a tradition for me. This year, however, they had changed the course. Chiefly they reversed the direction, but they also made some changes in the latter half that involved hills. Thus whatever performance I could have mentally called upon from my past runs wasn’t going to apply. So I was going into a new course with no training. What could possibly go wrong?

One thing I thought I could do mitigate my current inability (and lack of training) was to run with a pace group that would control my pace. I could pick a pace group that would finish in a modest but committed time, certainly not near the best I’ve ever done, but better than the completion time threshold I had set for still holding some self respect. Controlling my pace is, I think, part of my problem. I get going faster than my heart and lungs can support and I get winded. Thus, running with someone who would set a pace (which would vary depending on the terrain) could be a way for me to manage my moderate skills (and lack of training). So I picked a pace group that seemed reasonable, with plenty of cushion between it and that finish time limit self-respect threshold. I was really counting on this to work for me.

It didn’t. As I look back now, I see that the pace group I had chosen was only six minutes slower than my best half marathon time ever. There was nothing modest about this pace, at least for me. I’m not sure why I made such a poor choice.

Anyway, when we took off, the first thing we faced was a mile of uphill running into downtown Kansas City. I could feel myself straining to keep pace with the group, and it wasn’t long before I knew it wasn’t going to work. I began walking at the half-mile mark, watching the pace group move farther from me. It was the first of many, many walking breaks for the next 12.6 miles. I could run, but I couldn’t keep running. I had to take walking breaks and pant heavily.

Fortunately, I was not the only one like this. I don’t mean to disparage these other runners, but I am glad I was not alone in my performance.

After turning the first mile we had a long stretch of nearly a mile going downhill before we turned onto flat ground and headed for the Jazz District of Kansas City. This circuit is a recent addition to the route, and it’s a good choice since Kansas City and jazz have a long history. Alas, early on a Saturday morning, the place was deserted. And after we left the Jazz District we faced more than a mile of uphill running. I continued to alternate running and walking, and I hit all of the water stations, but I was not doing well. (Note that this particular uphill mile had been a delightful downhill run in the past, before they reversed the route.)

But I persevered, and mile 5 meant the top of the hill. From here we had about two miles of generally downhill running, and it was somewhere in these two miles that I hoped to see my wife and grandson Emmett, ready to hand off a candy bar to me for quick energy. (I had also carried four packets of GU — chocolate mint, which is my favorite — that I was eating every three miles or so.)

By this point I had pretty much found my informal group. I keep passing and being passed by the same runners. Occasionally I would think that just about everyone who was behind me but was going to pass me had already done so. Then another pack of runners would hurtle past. Some of these packs were later pace groups, and I saw their dedicated times (on little flags held by the pacers) approaching that threshold time I needed to beat. Being passed didn’t bother me much because a) my goal was to finish before the threshold time, and b) I was out of my mind with fatigue. It was somewhere at about this halfway point that my legs started to give me grief. This was surprising since my legs almost never give out, but this run they were. My right quad, just above my knee was burning with an unfamiliar pain, and I could feel a wicked case of shin splints coming on. Even the soles of my feet felt odd, almost liquidy. But what could I do? I was only half way through the torment, and if I was going to retain any measure of self respect, I had to get to the finish under my own power. So power on I did.

And it was not long after this that I ran past my wife and grandson. They didn’t see me, and I only spotted them after they were behind me. (I had given up expecting to see them in this area where she said she would try to be since another block ahead was a turn onto a street and a new part of the course that was not spectator friendly.) So I turned and trotted back to them, grabbed the candy bar, moaned my agony, and took off again. I am told that little Emmett was very upset that I didn’t stick around. (Part of me was too.)

I continued to alternate walking and running, knowing that in about two miles I had a long uphill before me. I would likely walk more of that than run it. Shortly after the halfway point the course split, the full marathoners going to the south while we half marathoners continued to the west. We ran through the Plaza shopping district, nice, but also mostly empty on Saturday morning. The pack had thinned by this point such that the police were letting cars cross our path when there were sufficient breaks among us. There were also a lot of ambulance sirens in this area. I can’t say if they were picking up exhausted runners, but it was unnerving, and while the cars had to yield to us, I suppose we runners would have to yield to an ambulance that needed our roadway.

The big hill arrived. I made the turn and ran as far along it as I could, but it was only a fraction of the distance to the top, and my walk/run method was once again in full use. I’ve driven these particular roads hundreds of times, but I never appreciated the subtle rises and falls in them from the seat of a car the way I did with my feet.

Somewhere around mile 10 the first full marathoner passed me. The escort motorcycle had been chirping behind me all the way up that long hill, and he caught up on the flat bit after it. The full marathoners’ course went out for 13.1 miles after the split then rejoined our course for the remainder of the way. The runner was little more than a stick man. He was tall and lean and seemed to have no more muscle on him than was necessary to allow him to float past me. He also had no more clothing on him than the skimpiest purple shorts I’ve ever seen on a person. (The weather was about ideal for running: in the fifties and overcast. The thunderstorms would come that evening.) Soon after, another young man passed me, and he was moving with such grace that I knew he was an athlete. We half marathoners had blue on our bibs; the full marathoners had yellow. Had I turned to look at these people passing me so effortlessly I could have confirmed that they were running the full, but I didn’t because agony.

So I was well more than half way through the course, but my legs were hurting and though I finally managed to get my breathing under control such that I could sustain more distance between walks, I was too exhausted to do much. I plugged along. There are parts of the run along here that I have no memory of. It was hilly along here, though falls as well as rises and it was just a matter of persevering. There was no glory in it, no runner’s high. But also no defeat.

We wove through a neighborhood I’ve run in several times before on other races. I’m grateful that these folks tolerate having their street closed for a few hours a few times a year.

Somehow I had fallen in with a pace group. It was the one I probably should have chose at the start, much slower but still faster than my threshold. The lead pacer kind of pulled me into her group and spoke encouragement to me, and she got me up the very last hill on the course though I had to walk after that and lost the group.

No matter. The last half mile was a glorious downhill run. I knew this was coming because I had driven the course a few weeks before. (I ran a 5K several weeks ago that had an uphill finish, which is just mean.) Once I crested the hill and saw the half mile laid out before me I thought I would find a burst of energy and finish well. But I was so shot (remember, no training) that I actually had to walk a few blocks just so I would have something in the tank to run across the finish line.

And I did. I came down the hill and saw the finish arch ahead of me. The pack was very thin at this point and I could run right down the middle of the chute. Some friends on the sidelines spotted me and shouted encouragement. And then it was done.

I accepted my medal (I really wish they would hang these things around your neck rather than just hand them to you) and a bottle of water, most of which I poured on myself despite the chill. Then I found the chocolate milk but only took two cartons. Somewhere in the crowd was my wife and grandson, and my job was to find them and try to endure the ride home without cramping too badly.

They were in a grassy area near the finish. Emmett was playing, as he was supposed to be, when I staggered up. He was happy to see me again, but he had playing to do. Libby and I talked about going over to the finish line festival full of booths, with free massages, sandwiches, and beer as well as hundreds of sweaty people, but Emmett was fussy, having given all of the patience he had to being good for the morning, so we decided to leave and steer ourselves homeward. We did have to stop once so I could get out of the car and stand until the cramping in my shins (!) passed.

Once home I did some foam rolling and some stretching, and then I took a long bath with Epsom salts and finally crawled into some comfy sweats.

Once the official statistics were posted online I found that I came in 73rd of 97 men in my age group. That was acceptable enuf, but more importantly, I beat my threshold time by seven minutes and seven seconds!

I don’t have anything on my dance card right now, which is a peculiar feeling. I need to ramp up my training runs again and see how that goes, and then maybe I’ll look around for another race.


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3 Comments on “Kansas City Half Marathon 2017 recap”

  1. markparis Says:

    I drove through Kansas City a few days after your run on my way to visit friends in Denver. Is there any info on what’s happening health-wise?

  2. Paul Lamb Says:

    Mark – No news. All of the tests came up with no red flags, though I haven’t explored the endocrine system possibility yet. I’m pretty sure it’s down to training and motivation though.

  3. I am fairly sure, but not positive, that I wrote to you about Jeff Galloway’s book “The Run-Walk-Run Method.” It’s available on Kindle as well as at bookstores. I started running 10 minutes, walking one . . . quite a few years ago and am now doing 4 minutes of running-1 minute of walking-4 minutes of running . . . . with fairly good results at half marathon distances. Meanwhile I am thinking of trying 2-1-2 for a marathon next year after I turn 75. (The mind is willing but I am not sure about the body.)

    If you are looking for a spring challenge, there is still the ‘Round-the-Bay 30k run in March in Hamilton, Ontario. I have signed up already.

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