Kansas City Marathon 2015 recap ~ part two

Posted October 20, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


KC Marathon bling

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

Haruki Murakami

The marathon started and ended at Crown Center in downtown Kansas City. Crown Center is a hotel and urban shopping mall complex that is also the headquarters for Hallmark Cards. We got down there about an hour and a half before the official start time and drove around various still-empty parking lots, trying to decide the best one for giving my wife access to non-blocked off streets so she could drive to various points on the course to cheer.

We marched our way through the pre-dawn darkness toward the mall and comparative indoor warmth as the minutes ticked away. There were a few dozen people gathered in the food court as we claimed a table. I chose to use the bathroom, which is always prudent, and then returned to the table to watch people gather. I saw some faces I knew, and it turned out there were many people I knew who were running the half marathon that morning, a few more running the full. Time dragged as I thought about and then resisted getting myself a bagel. With about a half hour before gun time, I thought I would use the bathroom one last time. The line was easily 200 people long, so I went up to the next floor where the line for the men’s room was only about 50 people long. And I waited. From there, I had about a ten-minute walk to the starting area, and I had decided to leave the line if I had to so I could be there on time. As it turned out, I was done and on my way with 14 minutes left. (The line was longer then than when I had arrived. And the line for the women’s restroom was even longer.) I found my wife and we headed out into the morning chill to merge with the mass of humanity (nearly 9,000 I later learned), she on the sidelines and me in the corral.

I was not especially cold since I had my throwaway jacket on. I got this thing at the thrift store for a few bucks more than a year ago. The idea is that you wear such a thing to keep warm as you’re standing around at the start, then as you get going and warm up, you take it off and throw it to the curb where it is collected and donated to the thrift store, whereupon you could very easily buy it again. I have not been able to successfully throw away my throwaway. The few times I have worn it to races, I’ve always shed it just as I’m coming up to my wife or someone else in my support crew, and the jacket comes home with me again to wait for the next chilly run.

There seemed to be a false start; I heard the second countdown (the first was for the wheelchair racers), but the crowd did not move. I was not near the front, but I could see the course beyond the starting arch, and there were no runners on it. I don’t supposed they were giving more time to the people waiting to use the bathroom. Time passed and then something must have changed, for the herd began moving forward. I turned on my new running watch, but it took longer to find a satellite than I expected — I’ve heard this can be the case in areas with tall buildings — and I hadn’t engaged it until almost a block after I had crossed the starting mats. I could have worried that this would give me a shorter distance than the actual course distance, but I had a race to run and didn’t give it a bother.

The first mile of the course took us into downtown proper, looping around the Sprint Center, a glossy, space-age arena that someone described as a giant baked potato. This mile was a gentle uphill, which meant when we made the turn we had a gentle downhill of about a mile. I was doing fine, running at a reasonable pace that would not burn up my energy too soon (since I had a full marathon distance to manage). My first goal of the morning was to get to the split where the half marathoners go one way (toward the finish) and we full marathoners go another (toward miles of away-from-the-finish). I had little doubt I would reach the split within the time required; if I didn’t, I would be shunted to the half-marathon course rather than be allowed to run the full. But I wanted to stay on task and get there, so while I measured my pace, I also pushed myself to keep going.

That gentle downhill ended at the base of Hospital Hill. This is a long, relatively steep hill that passes between Crown Center and Children’s Mercy Hospital (where my wife and I had volunteered for more than ten years). There is even a half marathon in town that is named for this hill. I was determined to run up the hill. And so I did. My body began asking me what I thought I was doing at this point, but it wasn’t screaming so much as acting surprised at the demands on it. I hushed it, knowing there would be a relief at the top as we ran down a corresponding hill, losing all of the elevation gain we had made, before facing the second big hill of the morning.

I got up Hospital Hill without much trouble, made the turn, and then applied the brakes so I wouldn’t be pelting down the hill on the other side too fast. Not only is running downhill fast a prescription for falling (at least for a less-than-nimble runner like myself), but it deceptively eats up a lot of energy. You think gravity is doing all of the work, but it ain’t. At this point, I passed my wife’s car. The lot had filled in the time since we had left it there, and she was hemmed in by runners on the course, but I hoped that when she was ready to drive away, the pack passing the area would have thinned enuf for her to squeeze by (which is allowed as long as you don’t interfere with the runners). She wasn’t there, of course, because she was waiting for me at mile three, atop the next hill.

The course took us to the Liberty Memorial, which sits on a promontory that overlooks the city. I had run up here two years before, though by a different route, when I did the Kansas City Half Marathon. I doubted I could do it then, yet I did, so I believed I could do it again. Plus I had that cut-off time I had to make. So I trudged up the hill and got to the flat promenade at the top, eyes peeled for my wife. By this time I could feel the sweat rising on my skin, and though the sun hadn’t risen high enuf to reach us poor runners except in occasional patches, I thought it was time to throw away my throwaway. I suspected I would be chilly for a while without it, but if I shed it then, I could hand it off to my wife (assuming she was there). Otherwise, if I wanted to give it to her later, I would have another four miles of its close friendship. I spotted her across the promenade, and she spotted me soon after. Our first meeting of the morning. I began peeling off my jacket and immediately felt the chill of the morning on my sweaty skin and skimpy, plastic clothes. I was dressed then the same as I would have been for an August run.

My wife had a bag of supplies for me if I needed them: lip balm, Vaseline, cortisone cream, vitamin I, candy bars, an extra shirt, an extra hat, a running jacket, more safety pins, more small bandaids for personal places, and so on. As I ran up to her, throwing my throwaway to the curb in a dramatic way, she asked if I needed anything, but I didn’t and told her I was feeling strong and doing well. (Which was true despite those two wicked hills in the first three miles of the course.) I saw a lot of runners wearing green bibs (mine was orange) who were standing around, walking around, chatting with their squads, and otherwise not running, and I wondered at first why this was the case. Then I realized that they had participated in the 5K, which would have reached its 3.1 mile distance there atop the promontory. Good for them. They faced the same two wicked hills as the rest of us and earned their bragging rights. But their departure also thinned the pack some, which is always good.

So, onward. The first thing I faced after leaving the Liberty Memorial was . . . another hill. I knew this was coming, and I was determined to run it, so I did. All the while I was passing people and being passed by people. It was much too early in the race to gauge my endurance based on my placement among the other runners so I just focused on myself. Soon after this hill, we were on gritty Main Street, running past tattoo parlors, vaping parlors, empty store fronts, bars, old buildings converted to warehouses, run down apartment buildings, and all sorts of sights that don’t make the list of touristy things in town. We were only on Main for a mile, and I suspect they took us along here solely so they could make the turn onto Westport Road and lead us into the oldest part of Kansas City. Westport Road is actually a stretch of the Santa Fe Trail. It’s a funky part of town, with some of the oldest standing buildings in the city. When I had run the half marathon two years before, it was along here that I first felt the twinges in my knees that were to bedevil me through the second half. I was mindful of this and was pleased to discover that my knees were doing just fine, as was the rest of me.

The route through Westport was only a mile with a gentle downhill followed by a gentle uphill, then we turned south for a nice, long downhill stretch leading into the Plaza area of Kansas City, the swanky shopping and dining district and the second place where I expected to find my wife. It happens that as we wove through and around the Plaza, we were covering much of the same course as the Plaza 10K I had run a few weeks before. I had done well then, so I felt confident going over this same ground again.

Two things happened at this point. I did see my wife, just where we had planned (again, no need for supplies from the goody bag, though someone did take a picture of us “running” together). And I turned over my running odometer to 1,000 miles for the year. I didn’t take note of it at the time, but it was another goal achieved.

And the next goal lay about a half mile ahead. The cut off for the half marathon/full marathon split was waiting for me. I had been running continuously, and feeling pretty strong all the while, but my body was begging for a break. I had to get through the cut off before I would consider that, so I pressed on. And there it was. Most of the runners were drifting to the left side of the road then because most of the runners were doing the half marathon. Suddenly I had all of the space I needed to weave around cracks and manhole covers and such. And I had a comparatively empty road ahead of me. While that was helpful, it was also a little unnerving. I felt more on my own then than I had before. When I ran the Portland Marathon last year, I had my son with me, and he kept me buoyed. Here I was solo, relying on my own mental resources to keep going, knowing I had a long way to go it alone.

It turned out I had reached the cut off with plenty of time. My plan to run continuously in order to reach it had worked. (Keep in mind I am not a fast runner. This was a serious challenge for me.)

All that remained then was to run the remaining nineteen or so miles!

Kansas City Marathon 2015 recap ~ part one

Posted October 19, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


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.

fraternal grandmother

Posted October 14, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

I read a memoir recently in which the writer referenced his “fraternal” grandmother.

Where was the editor?

“Twice Blest” has found a home

Posted October 6, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, short stories

Tags: ,

My Fathers and Sons story “Twice Blest” has been accepted for the winter 2016 issue of Writers Tribe Review.

I had submitted it in response to their call for stories under 3,000 words on the theme of family. Of course, my Fathers and Sons stories are all about family, and at a lean 1,300 words, “Twice Blest” certainly met their length requirement. I’ve written about this story here on the humble blog a few times, perhaps most fully here. The title comes from The Merchant of Venice, specifically from the well known Quality of Mercy speech. The story is set in the spring of 1968, which is not necessary to know to read the story, but it does give a deeper meaning to some cryptic statements by the father. When the inevitable collection is published, this will be the first in the chronology of the stories but, as I envision it now, the second story in the collection.

I don’t know exactly when the winter issue will be published*, but it will be online, so I’ll link to it when that happens. This is the fifth of my Fathers and Sons stories to be published and my twenty-first short story to be published.

Always nice to put good news on the blog.

*Update: I re-read the acceptance email and learned that the next issue is scheduled to be published on November 14, 2015. So, that’s good.

UMKC Regalia Run 5K 2015 recap

Posted September 28, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


Regalia Run 5K kit

Sunday was the third annual UMKC Regalia Run 5K, and this was the third time I ran it. I’ve been in on this race from the start, and I hope to keep running it every year, regardless of wherever else my feet may take me.

Just as with the Plaza 10K two weeks ago, I didn’t look up my prior time; I just wanted to run this one and enjoy it rather than try to set a personal record for the third time. Rather than get up at my usual freakish time Sunday, I slept in until about 4:30 and then puttered around the house, brushing my teeth thoroughly (there’s nothing worse than finding some annoying bit of food stuck in your teeth when you have miles to pound out — really, nothing is worse), and dressing in my kit slowly. I wore what you see above plus compression shorts, calf sleeves, and socks. Look at those poor shoes of mine. They don’t even have 300 miles on them yet, but they look beat up. Most of that look is due to a patch of mud I encountered on an early morning (dark) run along the paved trail. My headlamp didn’t distinguish the mud from the dark trail, and I was well into it before I felt the squish and slide beneath my feet. So, muddy shoes. I had intended to wear a compression shirt as well to help me stay warm, but Libby deterred me, which proved to be a wise thing.

We got to the university about an hour and a half before the race, so I drove the course. It was the same course as last year, so I knew what to expect, and driving it did not turn up any surprises other than a dead animal at about mile two, smashed in the middle of the road. The route is hilly with three long hills (I’d say at least half of the 3.1 miles was uphill), and not only an uphill start but an uphill finish as well. That’s just mean.

Volunteers from the School of Nursing at the university had a tent set up and would give general medical advice as well as take your blood pressure. My BP has always been good, but I wanted to get my numbers both before and after the run, just for comparison. My pre-race blood pressure was 132/62, which the nurse assured me was very good. (Yes, the top number could have been a little lower, but she said that BP is often higher just after waking and/or consuming caffeine, and I’d had iced tea, unsweetened, of course).

There was a lot of standing around, milling about, and general waiting as the runners assembled and stood in the sun that was creeping over the trees. For whatever reason, the run did not start on time. The official start time came and went, and no one had moved to the start line. Eventually, through some unheard prompt, the crowd did head over to the start, and I joined them. I was told that there were 213 runners and walkers that morning, so I picked a spot before the arch that I thought would be near the back of the pack. I misjudged and found I was in the first third of the group. That didn’t really matter other than that it meant more people would surge past me at the start, which is fine.

The sound system was terrible; it sounded like a sick cricket, and most of the runners around me chattered away even as the “celebrity” announcers did all of the usual thank you’s and pep talk. (The celebrity announcers were a husband and wife news team on the local NBC station, both of whom happened to graduate from UMKC — as I had, but they’ve not asked me to be a celebrity announcer yet.) With all of the usual stuff out of the way, there was a countdown, and then the air horn blasted, and we were off. I got my watch online just as I crossed the starting mats, trudging up the hill and into the first turn of the morning.

I had gone into this run with some unspecified anxiety. Perhaps it was from having run a hard six miles the morning before. Or the ongoing dread of the upcoming marathon (next month). Or whatever the general malaise is that has been clouding my running life of late. Whatever the cause, the anxiety disappeared as soon as the feet began moving across the pavement. That’s nearly always the case, and it’s a good tonic. (Later that evening I succumbed to a head cold that kept me out of work today. The early stages of this probably contributed to my anxiety without me realizing it.)

With a shortish bit of uphill out of the way in the first quarter mile, we were soon on a flat section before a nice, long downhill stretch. My wife was waiting for me at a corner along this downhill, so I straightened up and closed my gaping maw long enuf to look as though I was in control and having a dandy time. She took a photo that was soon on social media, but I had miles to go, so I gave her a wave and pressed on.

The pack had thinned by this point, my lungs were reluctantly in the game, and I looked up to see who was beside me, ahead of me, behind me, and racing past me, assuming I would be with this crew, more or less, for the rest of the run. This pretty much was the case, though a few left me far behind, and a few I managed to get ahead of and stay ahead of. There was one man ahead of me, running at about my pace, who looked to be around my age. I told myself I should pass him and keep him passed, just as a challenge. But a part of me also thought that if he was in my age group, and I came in fourth (for the age group), I would regret not passing him and collecting the accolades for coming in third. I had no illusions about this, though. I didn’t come close to placing in my age group last year, and in fact, I have never placed in any of my runs. (There was a long period when I first started attending races where I successfully defended my position as last in my age group.) But it was a little mental calculus that pushed me along a bit.

I think it was Isaac Newton who said that for every downhill there is an equal and opposite uphill. That was certainly the case with this run. Since the course was the same as last year, and since my wife and I had just driven it an hour or so before, I knew that this hill was waiting for me. It was a long hill, climbing past the sculpture garden at the art museum. The sun was out. The run down the hill behind me went a little faster than I should have allowed. My cockiness in passing that man may have caught up with me, because that man now caught up with me, most likely because I stopped running and began walking up the hill. I had not wanted to do this. A 5K is only 3.1 miles. I should be able to run that whole distance without difficulty. (I’ve run 13.1 miles nonstop before.) But my body wasn’t having it. I could have staggered at something like a run up that long hill, but I think it would have pretty much destroyed whatever stamina or control I had for the rest of the run. So I walked. Maybe only a third of the hill. But I walked. I was not proud of that as I watched the man of my age run past me and continue to run up the hill.

So I did what I do in these situations. I picked a lamp post ahead of me and told myself that when I reached that point, I would begin running again. And as I usually do, I started running before I reached that lamp post. It wasn’t too long after this that I reached the top of the hill and made the turn on a short flat stretch. This was about the halfway point of the run, and ahead was the one water station. I trotted up, my hand held out so the volunteers would know to give me a cup, and I said what I usually do in these situations. I looked at the water and said, “No Bud Light?” That always gets a laugh, though I expect that eventually someone is either going to recognize me as “that guy” and not laugh or else have a can of Bud Light ready to hand me. (As funny as that would be, I wouldn’t drink it. Most runs happen in the morning, and I wouldn’t want all of that carbonation sloshing around in my stomach, especially since I couldn’t throw away the can only half emptied. That would just be wrong.)

After the water station, we had a nice, long downhill to match the uphill I had walked a part of. I had a clear view of the course before me, perhaps for as much as a mile, and I knew that once I had covered that distance, I would have only the final, cruel uphill to the finish arch. Two things happened at this point. The first was that I passed the dead animal my wife and I had spotted during our earlier drive through. It was a former opossum, it was thick with flies, and it was rank. The second thing was that I caught up with the man I had so glibly passed before. I caught up with him and I passed him again, and I decided to keep him behind me for the rest of the run. Fortunately, I had the long downhill to help me with this, and I put as much distance between us as I could on that hill.

Which may have been a tactical error because I ran out of gas with less than a half mile to go. I was walking again. The man was still behind me, but he had kept running. So I walked until I felt I was sufficiently rested, then took up my running pace again. We were back in the campus by this time, and I knew what hills remained. Basically, all of the last half mile was uphill, some of it steeper than other parts. But uphill nonetheless. I did more mental math. I looked back to see where the man was (really, you should never look back in a run) and calculated how much more rest I could grab before a face-saving sprint to the finish arch. I suspect that the man was having as much trouble with the hills as I was, and I thought his running pace would slow when he reached the steepest parts of the last bit, so I walked for a third time. This was for a much shorter distance, but it was certainly welcome. (And I had not been the only walker at any of these points.)

Coming around the last turn, I could see the green finish arch near the top of the hill. It was the same hill we waited on for the race to begin, so here at the end I would run up the part I hadn’t run up before. And I put my rest to good use, running as hard as I could up the hill and to the arch. I remember hearing several people cheering that I was giving it a hard finish. I guess I was.

I crossed the mats and turned off my watch, noting that it registered my run as only 3.02 miles, rather than the 3.1 miles of a full 5K. I can’t explain that. I didn’t cut any corners. I even ran some of the turns wide to give a high five to the police or volunteers there. Whatever the explanation, I had started and finished under the arch, and the distance was considered official.

I collected my bottle of water, had the timing chip cut from my shoe, and was given my colorful medal, as you see below. (It’s the one on the left.)

Regalia Run 5K bling

My wife found me, and I made my way over to the Nursing School tent to have my blood pressure taken again. This time is was 150/62. The nurse was amazed. The top number was expected to be higher after a run, but so was the bottom number, yet it wasn’t. She said my heart sounded strong and that the unchanged lower number (after the run) was a sign of real fitness. Me!

I then found the chocolate milk (and consumed five cartons before my wife dragged me away). Since my watch recorded a different distance, I couldn’t rely on that time to be an accurate representation of a 5K, so we waited around for official numbers to be posted.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was not my fastest 5K, and I would have guessed this one wouldn’t be a personal record given the walking I did. When I found my official number, placing me at 80th overall (out of nearly 200 who eventually completed) I didn’t take note of my time. I would be able to look it up online later. So I turned to my wife and thought about heading to a well-earned pancake breakfast.

But something about my listing made me want to go back and look at it again. There was an unlikely number in one of the columns beside my name. I wouldn’t let myself admit to what it meant, and so I waited for more of the tallies to be posted. And then it was confirmed.

I had completed third in my age group! Me!

That has never happened before. I’ve never held any expectations of placing in my age group. I’d always joked that the only time I would ever get third in my age group was when there were only two in my age group. And yet I had done it. And there were seven men in my age group for this race, so it was a legitimate win.

There would be a ceremony when age group awards would be announced and handed out, but that was most of an hour away as they waited for all of the runners/walkers on the course to come in and then hold the Kangaroo Hop for the little kids. (Kasey the Kangaroo is the mascot of UMKC. Kasey was originally drawn by Walt Disney.) With a busy day ahead of us, we didn’t want to wait around, so I went to the awards table and collected the other medal you see above. The bronze one for third in my age group. And then we left. In retrospect, I wish I had stayed for the ceremony. This may be the only time I will ever get such an award, and I should have reveled in it rather than dashing off.

I will do the Regalia Run again next year, but I expect it to be stressful since at least a part of me will want to place in my age group again. And at the least, I won’t want to be defeated by those hills, so I’ll probably train extra hard.


Plaza 10K 2015 recap

Posted September 14, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


Plaza 10K 2015

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.

P10K bling

“Travel Light” travels again

Posted September 8, 2015 by Paul Lamb
Categories: short stories

Tags: ,

My previously published story “Travel Light” (Penduline Press, 2013) has been accepted for reprinting in an upcoming issue of If and Only If Journal. Specifically, it will appear in Issue 3, which means sometime next year.

If and Only If is an online magazine that features creative work about body image and eating disorders. Certainly my character, Chris Newton, can fall into that category.

I have a few stories on submission here and there. Mostly I’m getting nicely worded rejections, but it’s nice also to get the occasional acceptance.


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