Ward Parkway Thanksgiving Day 5K 2021

So now it has become a thing, just like leaving a milk chocolate Toblerone on her bedside table. It seems that whenever my St. Louis daughter-in-law is in town, we must do a 5K together. This time we added another family member.

As you may know, my DIL Celestine is from Kenya. It happens that her mother, Mechtilda, is in the U.S. visiting for several months, and one of the things she wanted to experience was a typical American Thanksgiving observation. Somehow my son, Seth, decided that this typical experience was to be had in my dining room. And since they were going to be here, why not find a 5K to trot together, mother-in-law from Africa included?

So I did. I signed us up for the Ward Parkway Thanksgiving Day 5K. Ward Parkway is a boulevard street in Kansas City that runs through some nice neighborhoods. It’s suited for road races because it is divided and more or less flat (and there is a major street nearby that can take the traffic when this road is closed). The Rock the Parkway Half Marathon I’ve run twice (long ago) is also run along Ward Parkway (though on a lot more of it than what we did for our 5K). The start and finish were at a local shopping mall with ample parking. About the only problem we faced was the temperature. It was 30 degrees at start time, and while that just meant layering up for those of us who have lived in the Midwest of the United States all of our lives, for someone who has lived all of her life only a few miles from the equator, this was a challenge. In fact, Mechtilda commented, wrapped in my wife’s down coat, at least one scarf, and a knit cap, that if it were this cold in Kenya, people would die. I don’t like the cold, but this morning was manageable to me.

We arrived shortly before the 10K race was to begin. The race looked to be well attended (more than 3,000 entries across the 5K and 10K), and since it was a family-oriented event, there was a good crowd of support people cheering in the cold from the starting line.

The 10K runners took off first, and at the head of that pack were many who were dressed in no more than shorts and tank tops (and shoes — though barefoot runners are a thing). Soon after they were gone we more populous 5K runners lined up in the starting chute. There were flags showing where different expected paces could gather. Obviously, the swifter runners needed to be nearer to the front simply so they didn’t have to run around slower runners and walkers. (And slower runners and walkers could be at the back so there would be fewer people running around them and making them feel feelings.)

Soon after the 10K runners were given a good head start the 5K pack was launched. As has been my experience at the back of the pack, we stood still for 10-15 seconds after the official start and then only started shuffling forward with the herd for a while. By the time we got to the actual starting line and crossed the sensors (so our official timing could begin) the crowd had dispersed enuf to allow us to enter into a trot, which we soon did.

The pack was thick for the first half mile or so. People from behind were running around us (and the other walkers/runners) as everyone found their pacing and spacing. The three of us walking side-by-side made a kind of wall that people had to get around, so I tried to stay behind Celestine and her mother to present less of a barrier. But soon enuf this was sorted and our alternating trotting and walking was no longer in anyone’s way.

The course went down one side of Ward Parkway, took a U turn, and then up the other side. This allowed us to see the swifter runners across the wide median who were ahead of us. At first it was the 10K runners we saw there, which I could identify by the color of their bibs. But then I started seeing the dark blue bibs of the 5K folk ahead of us. While every person there was there for his or her own reason, the family friendly nature of the run — there were many small children and strollers and even dogs on the course — meant that many were there just for the fun of the day (in the cold) with no sense of competition. Still, when we made the turn and started up the other side of Ward Parkway, I got to see the many, many people behind us. which was encouraging to that tiny part of me that felt competitive.

Seth had brought Small Paul along to cheer us, but the morning was still cold and the boy was sleepy, so once we were off, Seth took Paul back to the car to nap and keep warm. The layout of the course (a loop) meant that about the only place where they could feasibly meet us to cheer was directly across the boulevard from the start. Somehow we managed without it. In fact, there wasn’t a lot of sideline crowd for this run. The cold and the difficult layout accounted for this, I suppose. (At least there were no cowbells. I hate cowbells.)

We alternated trotting and walking (more of the latter). We chatted about this and that. I talked a little about my volunteer time at the water station of the NYC Marathon (must do that again!). We passed a few people. A few people passed us. Many runners and walkers were dressed as turkeys or as slices of pumpkin pie, and many more had comical hats or sunglasses. It was clearly intended to be a fun event for families, and I know it was, but in the last mile, we came across more distressed families. Little ones who were too tired to go any farther. Babies in strollers crying from being overheated from being wrapped too warmly or crying for not warmly enuf. Family members stepping off the course to wait for other family members to catch up. Overall, I think it is good for parents to establish fitness as part of their family life, but I wonder if some of the youngsters we saw had different thoughts.

The course made a second U turn near the end, threw one more hill at us, and then we could see the finish arch. We were mostly just walking for the last half mile, but about a block from the finish we decided to run it it, which is always a satisfying feeling (and who knows where the photographers might be stationed). As I came hurtling in, I saw Seth with Small Paul hoisted in his arms, cheering us. (Small Paul, I think, was mostly just confused by all of it.) The chute after the finish was crowded with spent runners and family members greeting them. This is always problematic to me. Granted, I’m not blazing in at a 5:00-minute mile pace and need space to slow down, but I did have to dodge around people as I came in and for the twenty or so feet after I crossed the finish line. I wasn’t in the competitive part of the pack, and it was a family-focused fun event, so I shouldn’t complain, but I would still have liked the organizers to have kept this area more clear.

Nor were there people at the finish to bestow our medals on us. If we wanted medals, we had to purchase them when we registered, which I had. (I can see the sense in this. Effectively, you do purchase your medal for any race in your registration fee. This race just gave you the option to reduce you fee a bit, though if you’re trying to encourage a healthy lifestyle in your family, you’re not likely to dispense with the reward medal at the end, are you?) So Small Paul had our medals waiting for us when we finished. I hung Mechtilda’s around her neck, and she hung mine around my neck. We were also supposed to get pies. Part of the fee included a 6-inch pumpkin pie for each finisher, but the line for those was more than a half-hour long (in Seth’s observation as he waited for us to come in). Given the morning temperature, the fact that we had a small child and a woman who had spent her entire life living near the equator, and the fact that three large pies were waiting for us at home (along with hot showers and fresh clothes), we decided to skip the pies and walk back to the car.

As we wove through the crowd and the departing cars, still bundled against the cold, I casually commented that there is a race in town that is run underground, in old limestone mines, and that people literally do run in shorts and tank tops because the temperature there is about perfect for the sport. Celestine immediately asked when that race was run since if her mother was still in town, they would return to Kansas City to do it.

So it looks like I’m going to sign up for another 5K.

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