Archive for the ‘Running’ category

Ward Parkway Thanksgiving Day 5K 2021

November 26, 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.

New York City Marathon 2021 ~ report of a surprise at mile 6

November 9, 2021

Being fully vaccinated, boosted, and masked, I found my way to New York City over the weekend. Sunday was the marathon, which long-time readers may remember I ran with my daughter in 2016. I did not run this year, but I did put in the hours by volunteering at a water station along the route.

This may seem odd since the marathon in Kansas City was just a few weeks ago, and I had not participated in that at all. The reason for my journey east was because my daughter was again running the NYC Marathon, and I intended to surprise her by being the one to hand her a cup of refreshment at one of the water stations early in the race.

Doing this involved a good amount of conniving with her husband (the world’s most excellent son-in-law, MESIL) and we mostly pulled it off. My wife and I arrived at La Guardia on Friday afternoon (no delays as happened when my wife returned from Seattle the weekend before, her 1:30 p.m. return being pushed to 2:00 a.m.) and MESIL was there to collect us. To make this happen more smoothly we compromised a little on the secrecy. He told my daughter that my wife was coming to town to help with the grands in the week after the race when my daughter would be bone tired. Thus he could have an excuse to drive to the airport instead of collecting the grands after school. This was also the justification needed to buy a new mattress for their spare bed (otherwise in pieces in the basement) since Grandma couldn’t be expected to sleep on the couch, could she?

I was dropped off at a nearby hotel while my wife was taken to my daughter’s house in Brooklyn and installed there as guest of honor. This left me all of Saturday to poke around the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn. I immediately found the bookstore and made a purchase (the latest Elizabeth Strout). I found some breakfast and late lunch, and I got myself supplies for a long day on Sunday.

Sunday brought the time change, which meant I got an extra hour of sleep, though I was trusting to my phone to wake me, so I woke anxiously several times in the night to check the time. (The phone did come through.) I showered and got dressed (sensible shoes, warm clothes) and then checked out of the hotel (leaving my bag at the front desk as one does). Then I marched off in the darkness eight blocks to my destination for much of the day.

I had requested a water station early in the miles with the thought that I would see my daughter while she was still fresh and positive and my volunteer time would be over soon. My shift was from 5:30 to 11:00 (but plans changed a little). I was the first to arrive (as I always am — not sure if that’s a bug or a feature) but other volunteers and the men and women in charge soon followed. There was still traffic along 4th Avenue at this hour, but there wasn’t much and it didn’t interfere with our set up efforts. Dozens of police cars and motorcycles cruised by, I guess to ensure the road was open and clear.

We set up more than sixty tables in the street (beside the sidewalks and on both sides of the median). We later filled these with paper cups of (diluted) Gatorade (first four tables in each row) and water (the remaining eleven in each row).

We had three levels of filled cups on these sixty tables at gun time (and later we ran through them at a frantic pace). Before we could do this, however, we had to wait for our delivery of the cups (and other supplies). Apparently there were supply chain problems with this too. We were all issued ponchos (green for water, orange for gatorade — though I don’t think most runners understood this) and identity badges. The police continued to cruise by as well as dozens of cars marked with the marathon logo. I suppose they all had important things to do. While it seemed like the set-up work would not be finished in time, it was, and we had an hour or so of standing around waiting. (I was waiting for the sun to come around the building before us to warm me a little. It wasn’t bitterly cold, and I was wrapped in layers supplemented by the plastic poncho, and I knew that once I got really active I’d warm up.)

The arrival of the runners was a little confusing to me. The wheelchair participants were first. There were dozens of them and they were moving quickly. I’m impressed with the upper-body strength these men and women must have. They did not pause for an Gatorade or water. After them came a group that did not seem like they would be leaders of the pack. They were all wearing the same shirt and while they were running along and laughing with each other, it was clear they were not athletes. (I learned later that they were the cast of the latest iteration of The Bachelor television show. They also didn’t stop for a drink.) Then the real running show began.

The elite women were the next wave. When I think of the grace of sports, these women personify it. They made it look so effortless. They floated by, their feet barely touching the ground it seemed. And they were moving fast. I suppose for them this was a measured pace appropriate for mile six of a twenty-six mile race, but I don’t think I could move that fast if I was falling off a building.

A flurry of vehicles passed, going about whatever their mysterious business was, and a few wheelchairs still rolled through, but soon after that the elite men came through. They repeated the performance of the women. They made it all seem just as effortless, and I know that they have better training and even different muscles (fast-twitch muscles), but it didn’t matter. These elites delivered the beauty of the sport. (They had their own water people, so they didn’t stop.)

It was not long after this that the water station day really began. The start on Staten Island, six miles away, was conducted in waves based mostly on the recorded or verified paces the runners achieved in other races. The swifter runners would go first, followed by waves of runners progressively “slower” until the last wave that would include people who would literally walk the entire distance. During my shift I served all of those waves, but more on that later.

From our location, we could see a couple of miles down 4th Avenue, so we could see the runners coming long before they reached up. Among the first wave of (non-elite) runners, there were a good number who were ahead of the pack and they came ripping through our station on fleet feet. I held out two cups of water (because I was wearing a green poncho) should one of the runners want to snatch it on the fly. And they began to grab them.

There is a reason they give you a poncho to do this job. While some of the runners had a finesse when grabbing the held-forth cup, most of the time some water was spilled, sometimes the paper cup exploded in the grasp, sometimes it was grabbed and then dropped or just knocked from my hand. (A substantial reason why I handed our water and not sticky Gatorade.) There was a debate among the volunteers about how to hold the cup. The goal is to make it easy for the runner to grab. One sect held the cup with fingers and thumb on the sides of the cup. This proved the most difficult for grabbing on the fly, but many volunteers did this. A second approach is to stand the cup on your open palm, held horizontally. This proved better but a misdirected reach could result in your hand being slapped and the cup joining the hundreds and then thousands of others on the ground. The method I used, and what the director of our station told me was the preferred technique, was to pinch the rim of the cup with my thumb and forefinger. This presented the most amount of cup to the open air, and with my hand arched above it, the least amount of me in the way. (This was sanitary because we were all wearing rubber gloves, which I changed several times through the morning.) There were still plenty of mishaps but more successes. A lot of the runners would approach and point to me so I knew they were going to take my cup of water. Other began reaching for the cup several paces before they reached me, so I knew about them too. But there were many who seemed to run past me — out of my line of vision that was directed toward the approaching runners — and then grab the cup from my hand. That surprised me every time, but after a while, I had one cup in my extended hand and three pinched in my reserve hand, so I could quickly make the replacement.

When the bulk of each wave came through the pace grew frantic. Runners were taking cups of water as fast as I could present them, and then I would dash back (ten feet) to one of those sixty tables to grab more cups and return to the fray to hand them out as fast as I could again. (Behind me were another twenty volunteers holding out cups of water. No one went without water if they wanted it.) Many of the runners did not want Gatorade for whatever reason and would gasp “water?” when they came to me. The cups I held were different from the Gatorade cups, I was wearing a green rather than orange poncho, and there was a sign overhead showing where the water tables began, but having done a little distance running in my life, I know that a runner’s focus can get so tight, even things that might seem obvious with the luxury of reflection are lost in the moment.

I’m sure I handed out hundreds of cups of water on Sunday and with every single one I got a jolt of satisfaction. It was exhilarating the first few times a runner grabbed the cup I held out, but that feeling continued throughout the morning. It felt really good to be doing this thing for the hard-working runners, making their race somehow a little better (or a little less worse), and I never tired of doing it. My shift ended at 11;00, and several fellow volunteers left then but I stayed on.

My plan since early summer was to surprise my daughter at this water station. Unfortunately, her wave didn’t launch until noon, an hour after I was supposed to be gone. (I hadn’t known that at the time I signed up or I would have volunteered for the second shift.) I still wanted to surprise her, though, so I stayed with handing out cups of water. This time, though, I stepped away more frequently to track my daughter’s progress on the course. I had told our local boss that this was my intent, and he had stopped to chat with me several times during the morning to ask if it had happened. Eventually I stopped handing out water (the second shift was filled with fresh volunteers) and took a position on the elevated medium where I could watch for my daughter more easily. Her husband had sent me a photo of her before the race, so I knew to watch for a bright pink shirt. As she grew closer, I was tracking block by block. When I spotted her (with my eyes) I stepped down from the median and wove through the runners to the side of the road where she was running.

We were required to wear face masks (prudent when facing thousands of heavily breathing people), and I was one of dozens of people in a green poncho there, so I was not surprised that she didn’t recognize me as she approached. I had to call her name several times before she turned and saw me. Hugs ensued. A few selfies. An avowal of complete surprise. Months of planning and hours of anticipation, and it was all over in a few minutes. She had miles to go before she slept, and her own family was waiting for her just a few blocks beyond, so we parted and she was on her way again.

So my goal was met. My shift was done. My legs were tired. My bags were waiting at the hotel, and MESIL was going to pick me up at a certain intersection soon. I didn’t stick around the water station.

I had a great and satisfying day working at the water station. I’m certain I will do it again, perhaps in New York but certainly again.


Was the surprise a surprise?

My smokescreen was that after I had dropped my wife off at the Kansas City airport on Friday, I was going to spend the weekend at my Ozark cabin where I don’t have any phone signal. Thus she wouldn’t be surprised that she couldn’t track my phone for the entire weekend (and see where I really was). But when my wife told her she was coming, my daughter was confused that I was not also coming. I was supposedly staying home to care for the dogs (who were actually “at camp”). I suspect she thought that was a flimsy rationale. Further, right at the start, when she was crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge she sent me a text saying she missed running on it with me (as we had five years before). Why would she do that if she truly thought I couldn’t get the message? Was she trying to flush me out? She later said that a weekend trip to the cabin was awfully convenient as a way to make me incommunicado.

No verdict.

UMKC Virtual 5K ~ race recap

September 25, 2021

For as many years as my alma mater, the University of Missouri – Kansas City, has held a 5K, I have participated in it. (I even got an age-group placement medal one year, but that was long ago.) In recent years, and for obvious reasons, their 5K has been virtual, as was the case this year. I signed up for the event as soon as I knew about it, and then I ran it on the first day (of the week permitted) when I could. I had mapped a 3.1 mile course on the streets and trails in my neighborhood, so I could leave home and return home without needing a ride.

I am only recently trying to get back into the sport of running. I am certainly out of shape, and my performance on this run is a sure indicator of that. But one of the things I especially liked about running is how egalitarian it is. Runners of all skill levels are welcomed, encouraged, and praised. Thus, if my run this year involved more walking than running, it still counted. (The event was even promoted as a run/walk.)

I left the house about an hour before dawn and started the stopwatch on my phone. Then I took off. The first mile of my route was along a busy road with street lamps every hundred feet or so, but because I would detour onto the Indian Creek Trail, which is not lighted, I had strapped on my headlamp. I know this trail very well, but there are some places deeper in the woods where it can get too dark to see safely. A fallen branch or a walnut could easily turn my ankle. That’s when I expected to use my headlamp, but it happened that some of the sprinklers were on along that busy road at the start, and rather than get my skimpy plastic clothing wet in 56 degree temps, I ran in the street along there. And I switched on my headlamp when I was in the street (though no cars passed me during the time I was there). I did use my headlamp a few times along the trail itself, but by then — I was about half way — the sky was light enuf to see the trail. It was along here that I met up with more runners and riders than I would have expected at that time of day. Everyone was courteous and announced themselves well before reaching or passing me, and I like to think there is a kind of community among the trail users.

My route took me back into my neighborhood, and it was here that I left the trail and got on a sidewalk. As I said, I had mapped out my 5K course earlier, so I knew when I reached 3.1 miles, and when I did I stopped the timer on my phone to get my time.

The race organizers asked us to report our time, in part because that’s what you do in racing and in part because they were giving out prizes for age-group best times. I had no ambition to compete for an age-group placement, and at this point I’m not even trying to improve my time. But when I looked at my stopwatch I saw that I had completed the 5K a couple of minutes faster than I had at the Rotary Club 5K a few weeks ago. (And that was with a Kenyan running at my side!)

There were no medals or shirts or other bling for this event. All of the funds raised from the entry fees were donated to the UMKC Food Pantry. I did get a race bib that I have added to my collection. And I think there will be some random prizes, so I may get something like that. (Last year I got a cooling towel.)

As I said, I’m a long way from racing fitness, but there is a 5K on Thanksgiving Day that I’m eyeing. My Kenyan daughter-in-law will be in town then, and maybe together we can improve my time again.

Leawood Rotary Club Labor Day 5K 2021

September 8, 2021

So I did a thing.

For a while I’ve been scheming a way to get back into running. I’ve been pretty diligent about logging miles on my treadmill, and I have all of my running gear of yore (except the new shoes I got myself earlier this year). I didn’t expect to begin again at my peak fitness or even the level of fitness I had fallen to before I left the sport, but I thought I could give it a try again.

A serendipitous coincidence made the difference. I had been shopping around for an entry-level 5K I could attempt and I found one nearby that was on Labor Day. The course was described as “fast and flat,” which has sometimes even been true about courses in my experience. But I actually knew most of the route from having driven and ridden my bike along it many times, so this much was correct.

The second thing was that my son and DIL and Small Paul were coming here for Labor Day weekend to observe Small Paul’s first birthday. My daughter-in-law Celestine and I had done the Trolley Run together several years ago. That was the last time I felt I had had a good run. So when I knew she would be in town, I suggested that she and I do this 5K together. She was delighted by the idea and agreed readily. So I got us signed up.

The very little running on pavement I’d done in recent weeks told me that my brisk walks on my treadmill were not really preparing me for shoes on the ground, throwing one foot in front of the other running. So I showed up on race day mostly unprepared, but then I didn’t set any pace or timing requirements either. I was going to do what I could and be in the moment, a quality that was sorely lacking in my past running life.

Celestine said she had done very little training for this run as well. (The fact that she’d had only two weeks notice may have had something to do with that.) Still, she is Kenyan.

My wife, my son, and Small Paul were our support team at the race. They would cheer us as we passed, the course allowing them to see us a few times without the need to go far from the start/finish. Small Paul didn’t understand any of this, of course, but he did like smacking a cowbell against his stroller. My son tells me that one time when we passed and waved, he tried to run after us. He’s barely mastered walking, so running, even at my pace, was a little ambitious for him. Still, he’s half Kenyan.

I knew I could not run the entire course. I was fine with running some and walking some. Celestine slowed to walking whenever I did and picked up the pace when I was ready (which often coincided with passing our support team and/or course photographers). We started out running, but I soon slowed to walking when we came to the first (and only) very slight hill on this “fast and flat” course. After that we alternated between running a specific distance (“to that sign,” “past the race photographer”) and walking generally a greater distance. I did find, however, that once I was warmed up, I was able to run farther and longer, and by the end of the 5K I felt pretty solid in my ability.

We “sprinted” to the finish arch. My sneaky original plan had been to bolt ahead of Celestine so I could say I beat a Kenyan, but she had proved such a delightful running companion — full of conversation, encouragement, and a friendly ear — that I didn’t. We crossed together, just as we had at the Trolley Run several years ago.

I was handed a bottle of water and then someone handed me the medal you see above. It was wrapped in a plastic bag, so I had to tear it open and hang the medal around my own neck. I always prefer it when this is done to/for me. I feel like I’m honored for my effort. But I finished my first organized race in years, and I was upright at the end.

I’m not at the level where I can run a half marathon continuously. Not yet. But when I got home, and after we packed my truck with furniture my son was taking to his St. Louis home, and after I had a shower, I began shopping for another 5K I could do soon. I found one at my old university, and I’ll “run” it later this month.

But I can also put my feet on pavement and just run for myself. I have a lot of miles to collect to get back into decent running shape.

Mill Creek Streamway

September 7, 2020

For a couple of months I’ve been wondering about another longish trail in my neighborhood and whether it would be a worthy alternative to my typical weekend marathon distance on the Indian Creek Trail.

The Mill Creek Streamway (also known as the Gary Haller Trail in some sections) runs north/south, and if you follow it north, it ends on an island in the Kansas River. I’d run on parts of this trail back in those days, but I didn’t know much else about it, including what the sections were like that I’d never seen.

So last Saturday morning I decided to find out. I’d looked at maps of the trail online and I thought I knew where it began. (Turns out I was off by a few miles, but I had run those miles in the past, so I didn’t miss anything there.) From what I could tell, the trail was 17 miles long, which is a good distance though short of my usual weekend route.

But an hour before dawn I was at the trailhead (actually an access point I thought was the trailhead), just as the park ranger had opened the gate. When I ride the ICT I often cover the first few miles in the dark, and I have an old head lamp that I rig on my handlebars to throw some light on the trail before me. It’s not a very good arrangement. Every bump jostles the light, and then it’s no longer showing the pavement in front of me and generally shining in my eyes. Such was the case on this new, unfamiliar trail in the pre-dawn miles.

That turned out to be a problem. I often couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead, which meant that two hills came along that found me in the wrong gear and without sufficient momentum. Sadly, I walked my bike up those hills when I realized I couldn’t downshift quickly enuf to crank my way to the top.

As a courtesy to later runners and riders, I did clear away all of the spider webs spanning the trail. I am also pretty sure I reduced the gnat population by several thousand as they struck my face that early morning. At one point, something big and shadowy lumbered across the trail in front of me. I hope it was a raccoon. A little later I heard something very big approaching me from behind. It got louder as it got closer, and then I realized it was a train on the track the trail was paralleling.

From what I could see of the trail by my inadequate light, it looked like a nice stretch through neighborhoods and past a good number of parks with playgrounds. There seemed to be more little rises and drops and blind turns than on the ICT, though that may only be due to my familiarity with that other trail. (To give a fair assessment the Mill Creek Streamway I really need to ride it during the daylight.)

By the time it was light enuf to read the mile markers, which descend as they approach the river, I understood that my ride on the trail was not going to go for 17 miles. I was already at mile 13 after about 15 minutes of riding. Where I got on was not the start of the trail, and that other part that I knew from my running days should have been included.

But I was on my way, and I began seeing riders and runners, some with lights and some without. In recent years, lane stripes have been painted down the center of the trail. This is for safety, of course, but it also helped me feel confident that I was still on the trail. When I studied the map of the trail, I saw a number of places where I could likely have taken a wrong turn, ending up at some parking lot or playground. What I found was the that painted stripes were only done on the main trail, and at the turns I could rely on them to show me which way to go. I was also soon able to read the signs at these intersections, pointing to the main trail.

For a long way I was in unfamiliar territory, and since the trail mostly follows Mill Creek, it is in open bottom land without houses nearby. I trusted the stripes and my jumbled memory of the map, but at about two-thirds of the way along, I entered one of the really big parks in my area, and I had run on this part of the trail in the past. It was good to see familiar pavement again and know I was still on course.

Since my distance was shorter than I had expected, I stopped in this park and sent a text to my support team (my wife and the dogs) saying I expected to reach the end earlier than expected. Then a pedaled on, and when I left the park I was in unfamiliar territory again.

And it was along here that I faced what could have been an early end to my adventure. There were sawhorses and tape across the trail saying it was closed for construction. Back in my running days, this would not have deterred me since you can usually run (or walk) through or around anything. But I wasn’t so sure when it came to being on a bike. I’ve noticed that they put these barriers up at access points so you’re not stopped in the middle of mile of forest. That’s a nice courtesy, and I could have pulled off there and waited for my support team to track my phone and fetch me.

But I decided to venture forth and see how impassable the construction was. I steered around the first barrier and had a look. Several drains under the trail were being replaced, or rather, had been replaced, and the ground above them wasn’t repaved yet. These were easy enuf to go around or even across in some rough cases, and as I continued, I had to skirt a few more barriers. I could tell by the condition of the dirt in these places that I was not the only cyclist who had ignored the signs (though I was probably the first that morning). There were probably a half dozen of these barriers before I came to the last one at a huge baseball complex. Around there the marker said I had two miles left to go.

We had scouted out the access point where my support team would meet me, but that was not the end of the trail. There was still about a half mile of trail, including a loop on the island, beyond that access point, so I had to ride past my take out and then return to it, which always feels wrong in some way.

When I got to there, I saw my bright red truck in the parking lot, and though I rang my bell vigorously, my wife did not see or hear me as I zipped by. She was busy getting leashes on the dogs and getting them out of the truck. So on I went. I crossed the bridge that led to the island and made the loop. The island is forested, so there’s really only one place, deliberately cleared, where you can see the river. Apparently, in season, you can see bald eagles here for there was a sign about how to identify them. Otherwise, I was underwhelmed by the island. It’s nice enuf, and it is a fitting end to the trail, but by then I was ready to be done with this adventure.

I turned my bike around and rode the half mile or so back to the access point where the support team waited. Then it was time to pack up and go home for a hot shower and pancakes.

My curiosity is satisfied. I don’t see myself riding this trail again, though there is one optional stretch in that large park that goes up and down Ogg Hill, which is a monster that I could never run up successfully back in those days. I think cycling it would be even harder, but it might be a good challenge for some future me.

After my shower and breakfast and a nap, I went to the bike shop and bought myself a proper light for the front of my bike. You can’t do these things cheaply, I guess. I spent a chunk of change of a light that I think can illuminate a stadium, so it ought to do fine on a trail.

so I did a thing

June 8, 2020

Yesterday I did a thing.

I had signed up for the 2020 Head for the Cure 15 Mile Bike Ride nearly a year ago. Back in my running days I had done their 5k twice and volunteered for it once. I’m no longer running, but I am cycling, so I was eager to get in the game a little more.

Given the global situation, the group ride was turned into a virtual ride, which meant I didn’t have to ride the route downtown and could ride 15 miles in my neighborhood to complete the activity. And that’s what I did.

I started at mile post 15 on the Indian Creek Trail with the intention of riding to mile post 0.0, which is just across the Missouri state line. I’ve run and ridden this route scores of time, so it was all familiar to me, but I hadn’t been out riding too much this season, in part due to spring rains making a mess of the trail, in part because I have to mow my lawn about once a week now (last summer, you may remember, I only had to mow it three times), and partly because sloth. Thus, while I knew I could complete the distance, I wasn’t sure if it would be pretty.

I started just after dawn because I wanted to be on the trail before the little kids with big dogs on long leashes were out. And while I achieved that, there were still plenty of adults on the trail, running, walking, and riding. Still, I had no mishaps or delays. I was able to ride without stopping, though I did stop at mile post 8 because that is in my neighborhood and my wife was there with a water bottle for me. There are a number of water fountains on the trail, but given the pandemic, they have not been turned on this year. So that was about the halfway point, but the hard part of the trail was still ahead of me.

The two worst hills on the trail are at mile 7 and about mile 4.5. (This is going from west to east.) The first one isn’t steep, but it is long, .75 miles long. And very soon after you gain all of that elevation, you lose it again in an S-curve with blind turns. Then come a series of bridges you must cross on narrow sidewalks. On one side of you is a steel fence (so you don’t pitch into the stream) and on the other side in a concrete retaining wall (so the passing cars don’t pitch into you). These are perfectly navigable unless some jerk coming from the other direction decides to play chicken with you. This happened to me once years ago, and while we did manage to pass each other on this narrow stretch, I lost some of the skin on my shin after scraping against the concrete barrier. Nothing like that happened on my ride yesterday.

The second big hill is not long but it is steep. There is actually an alternate route along paved streets and an ancillary trail that bypasses this hill and connects with the main trail later, but I decided to take the big, bad hill. I rarely use my lowest gear, but I did on this beast. I was also zig-zagging up the path (about eight feet wide with encroaching branches) to managed the climb a little better. I managed to get to the top without stopping or walking, but the last twenty feet or so were covered at less than normal walking pace.

After that it was a rapid descent through another S-curve around blind turns and then mostly flat trail for a long while.

There is a detour on the trail because of a massive construction project at a water treatment plant. The trail used to pass right in front of this plant, but not now. The detour is on more ancillary trail, and it’s nicely paved and picturesque, but there is one more monster hill waiting as a result. I knew it was coming and managed to downshift properly, making it to the top of the hill at a less embarrassing pace. then one more rapid descent on curving trail, though the turns were not as blind.

At that point I only had a mile left to go, and all of it was on flat ground. I made it to the end point, as you can see here:

There is no stopping or parking space for cars near here, so I rode another quarter mile to a shopping center the trail passes behind. My wife was there with the Prolechariot and I soon had my bike loaded in the back. Then it was home for a hot shower and dry clothes.

Somehow, I am supposed to get a nifty shirt for my participation, but the organizers have not been informative about that bit. I know there was an after party down at the official race start, and I know a bunch of people did ride the official course, so that’s where the bling was no doubt dispensed. Those of use who rode virtually will have to make other arrangements, I guess.

Update: After I wrote this I texted a friend whose daughter works for this organization to ask about the magnificent shirt. She told me that because the event became virtual, they had extended its “existence” to July 1st. After that date, they will mail the shirts to the participants.

regarding leprechauns and running

October 8, 2018

I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that I was making notes about a story with a leprechaun in it. I want to say that I don’t write fantasy, and maybe by some definitions of the genre I don’t, but I just counted, and six of my twenty-nine published stories have a fantastic element that drives the plot, seven if you want to loop in science fiction. That’s more than the number of my stories that involve running as important to the plot, which surprises me.

I “finished” the new story, the one that involves the leprechaun (though you wouldn’t recognize him as such on a first reading, and he’s not the central character). This story doesn’t change the math though since it involves both fantasy and running.

I’m calling it “BQ,” which may mean something to a few of you. It’s made clear in the story what that references. Right now it sits at 2,200+ words though I think that may increase a bit as I fortify the growth of the character in the plot.

After I wrote the last words of the story — last words that came to me unbidden and really, really summed up the theme (as though by magic) — I gave the story a read through out loud and really liked what I heard. I realize this is tempting fate, being so confident about a story at such an early stage, but sometimes my stories do develop this way. I guess this is the story I had hoped to write during my week in Seattle; it just came to me in its own time.

So I’ll let it gestate for a while and continue to tinker with it. But I already have a journal in mind that I think will like it. Nice way to start a week.

in retrospect

October 2, 2018

it may have been a bad idea to go for a bike ride Sunday after my first running race in a year. My quads are really, really angry with me right now!

UMKC Regalia Run 5K 2018 ~ race recap

October 1, 2018

About what you’d expect from someone who hadn’t run a step in 11 months and was running poorly in the six months prior to that.

So I ran the UMKC Regalia Run 5K again this year. I’ve participated it every year since its inception six years ago, and I’d decided that whatever else I might do/not do in my running life, I would continue to participate in this. It’s only due to that vow that I signed up; I haven’t found whatever spark or motivation I once had for running. I want to, and I’d taken up bike riding in the hope that it would segue into running again, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Anyway, on with the gruesome details. As I said, I hadn’t trained for this one single bit, and that certainly showed in my performance. We arrived at the University early and did our customary sitting around. In past years it has been colder, and last year it was raining, but this year was favorable: the temps were in the 60s, and while the sky was overcast, there was no threat of rain. Shortly before the race started, the start/finish arch collapsed, which some might have taken as a sign of things to come. It seems that the fan that kept the arch inflated had died. Not to worry, though, for the outfit running the event had a back-up fan installed quickly. (A random man in the crowd turned to me and said he was amazed that anyone would have thought to have a back-up fan, but I guess this has happened before.)

If you’ve read my past accounts of this race (except for last year when I didn’t post one out of disgust with myself), you know that both the start and the finish are uphill. That’s evil, of course, but it’s also tradition now. There was the usual speechifying before the start, most of which was inaudible due to poor technology. (Tech is not my thing, of course, but this hasn’t been a problem in the past.) Eventually they got to the countdown, and then we were off.

I had told myself not to expect anything, good or bad, in my performance. If by some miracle I could run long, I would. And if I needed to walk, I would. Before the first quarter mile, I was already walking. It was clear that no miracle was going to befall me this day. The run/walk strategy is what I relied on for the duration of the run. I ran as much of the downhill stretches as I could, thinking that I merely had to throw one foot in front of the other and just let gravity do the hard work, but even that wasn’t something I could sustain. I managed to run past my wife, who was stationed in her usual place about a half mile after the start. And I kept challenging myself to run to this or that point I identified on the course ahead of me. I even ran up parts of some of the long hills. But to be honest, I probably walked half of the 3.1 miles. It was not my best 5K, and I’m too intimidated to look in my records to see if it might actually be my worst 5K.

It would be easy to take discouragement from this. When I ran the KC Half Marathon in October of last year (also not documented here), I did so poorly that I asked myself why I was even doing these things at all if that was all the better I could do. I found myself asking this same question during the 5K, but I shouted it down. I knew I hadn’t trained. I knew to expect a poor performance. The fact that I’d entered at all was a contradiction of my negative mindset.

My hope is that this run will be a turning point, that I’ll lace up and get some training in now. Notably, I did not wear my running watch to the race. I think part of the reason I lost my enthusiasm for running was that I was overanalyzing my performance. Rather than just getting out and grabbing some miles for exercise and training, I was obsessing over my times and pace and distance. All I could learn from that was that I wasn’t running as I had in my youth (four whole years earlier, that is). So when I crossed the finish line at this 5K — running! uphill! — I had no idea what my time was, whether it was close to respectable or further evidence that I should quit. (And I didn’t learn my time until I got home and looked it up online.)

But some points:

  • Had I finished only four minutes faster, I would have gotten third in my age group, which I had done once before at this race.
  • Had I finished a little over six minutes faster, I would have beaten my time for the race from last year.
  • I had finished in the top two-thirds of all runners of the 5K. There were nearly 40 finishers behind me.
  • Had I trained at all for this, I am sure I could have turned in a better performance, both in terms of finish time and the physical exhaustion I felt, which strongly suggests to me that I’m not without hope (at least in terms of running).
  • No complaints.* No throbbing knees or screaming ankles. Even my hips, commonly the least enthusiastic member of the team, bitched not. My quads were a bit angry, but a brief (brief because it hurt!) session with the foam roller helped enuf that I was able to get on my bike later that day for a dozen miles. It was only at the end of the day that I took two ibuprofen.

I could say that I have nothing on my racing dance card, but that’s not quite right. In fact, I am signed up for a one mile run, a 5K, a 10K, a half marathon, and a full marathon. All within a few days of each other. And all at Disney World in January. My offspring decided that the best way to honor my personal odometer turning over a significant number this year was to take the whole family (10 adults and six children, who will all be under 4 years old) to Disney World for a week. I’m not going to run in all of those events, but I’m thinking of doing the 5K and then the half marathon, which was always my favorite distance for a race.

*Okay, one complaint, but not from my poor body. When I finished, there were only three cartons of chocolate milk left — for everyone! This race has been bad about having chocolate milk. I think in the six years I’ve run this, only one time did they have copious amounts of chocolate milk.

so I did a thing

September 3, 2018

As you probably know, I haven’t run a step since last October. That was when I did the Kansas City Half Marathon (with essentially no training) and did so poorly that I asked myself why I was doing it at all. (I still haven’t found an answer to that, but I think I need to; I have a 5K coming up later this month.) I don’t know if I’ve walked away from the noble sport of running or if I’m merely taking a break. A break is not uncommon from what I understand, but the longer my break lasts, the harder it’s going to be to get back into running.

Perhaps to alleviate that or to find an indirect way back, I got myself a bike. This is the latest in an almost unbroken series of bikes I’ve had since my earliest memories, perhaps the most memorable being a gold Stingray bike with raised handlebars and a banana seat. I called it Tiger Paws. I went everywhere on that bike when I was a boy. My last bike was taken from me when my son moved out, as I recall. It had hung from the garage ceiling for several years, untouched because I was, well, running. When that stopped, I no longer had that bike, and with the nagging in my head to get back to running increasing, I knew I had to do something to find a way back, so I got the new bike.

It’s nothing fantastic; it’s a cross bike, halfway between a mountain bike and a racing bike, meant for pavement and casual, noncompetitive cycling. It suits me perfectly. I’ve had it for a month, and in that time the heat has traded places with rain storms frequently. The times I was free for an hour or two ride didn’t often coincide with tolerable weather, so I was only able to get out on the bike (which I haven’t named yet) three times. Twice were rides of more than ten miles, and once was a rain-interrupted jaunt that had me sheltering under a park pavilion with about forty female high school tennis players doing various stretching and jumping exercises.* (I looked at my phone.)

But yesterday, before the heat got too intense and the forecasted rain came (but after bagels) I jumped on my bike and took off. I road on the Indian Creek Trail, a place where I have logged literally thousands of miles on foot (and may again). My vague idea was to ride it to the east, beyond where I ever ran. That meant going at least ten miles on familiar trail first, which was fine. I enjoyed revisiting the old places, zipping around walkers and runners (“On your left!” — I should probably get a bell) and bouncing over walnuts. This took me into Missouri (after mile 8), which made me feel like I had gone a respectable distance. And I kept going. Soon I was riding on parts of the ICT** I had never seen before. It appeared that the trail had very recently been repaved, and not cheaply either. The trail was paved with concrete rather than asphalt, which is certainly more permanent, and less prone to cracking and heaving as asphalt will do, and I suppose that’s better for cyclists, but among runners the conventional wisdom is that concrete is harder on the lower joints than asphalt. It’s a commonly held assertion that I’ve always been skeptical of, though I like to think I could feel a difference betwixt the two when I ran on them.

The ICT runs under the interstate three times, and the extension I took when I reached its end passed under the interstate a fourth time. The trail also passes under two railroad bridges, which I don’t think I’d ever run or ridden under before. The approach (from each side) to the railroad bridges was covered with metal canopies going out fifty feet. Does a lot of debris fly from railroad tracks when a train passes? When I passed under the interstate for the fourth time, the trail I was on was diverted through a shipping container (those metal boxes you see on the back of semi trailers or stacked perilously high on cargo ships). The highway bridge is under construction, and I suppose there was a risk of falling debris here as well. Thus the short passage through the cargo container. Odd, but effective.

I kept going, telling myself that at the next landmark I could see ahead (a bridge, a soccer field filled with grown men shouting plays to each other in a language I did not know, a certain rise or dip) I would stop and turn around. But I kept going. Finally, when I paused in some shade (the heat was rising) and checked my phone, I found I had dinner plans with my son. There was more trail ahead, but I knew I had to cover all of the distance I already had just to get home, so I thought best not to add any more to it. I turned around and tried to find my way back, which wasn’t easy since I wasn’t familiar with this part of the trail and there were many spurs leading from it. Plus I was going the opposite direction, so many things that ought to have looked familiar didn’t from this opposite direction. I managed to get back to the part of the trail I knew from my running days without mishap and the rest of the way home.

I did not wear my running watch to log my distance and time. If I had, I could have plugged it into my computer and gotten a map of my journey, including mileage. Instead, I visited one of the sites that distance athletes use to record their runs and mapped my ride. It turns out that my morning adventure was 28 miles. (It would have been longer, but my house is at the top of a hill. I think you can figure out what I mean.)

So, pretty good ride. The other conventional wisdom is that the ratio of cycling to running is three to one. Three miles of cycling is equivalent (in energy used? in wear on the joints? in conditioning?) to one mile of running. Thus my little ride was a bit more than nine miles of running. If I truly am building back my heart and lung capacity (and my quads), then maybe I’ll be (somewhat) ready for that 5K later this month.


*I’ve had a number of interesting, even spooky happenings at this shelter.

**I’ve found that there are some subtle but compelling differences between running and cycling. Hills for one. I’ve found that if I haven’t built up enuf momentum and I’m not in the right gear (and even if I have and am sometimes) I can’t always ride up a steep hill. I had to stop and walk rather than try to crank the gears into a hopeless fight against gravity a few times. With running, a steep hill ain’t pleasant, but it is manageable enuf to keep moving afoot without stopping even at a walking pace. Turns are another. At cycling speeds (even my speeds), there is less room for error. And with the luxurious growth of the trees and scrub that line most of this trail, there are some more or less blind turns. Were I running, they wouldn’t be a problem; I would simply hug the right side of the trail and come upon whatever was beyond the turn with a complete ability to deal with it (usually slowing or side stepping). On a bike, there is less time to react (stop quickly!) coming around a blind turn. I didn’t have any mishaps, but had there been a young parent pushing a stroller suddenly coming into view, I might have had to steer myself into the trees rather than something worse. So my point is that rather than call it the Indian Creek Trail, I think they should call it Insufficiently Clear Turns.