Posted tagged ‘Trolley Run’

Trolley Run 2017 recap

May 1, 2017

After taking a year off, I took on the CCVI Trolley Run this year, making my fourth time running this really nice Kansas City race. (I skipped last year because I was “recovering” from the St. Louis Marathon, though in retrospect, I should have done the Trolley Run then regardless.) This year was different because I would be running with my new daughter-in-law, Celestine. I wanted to do well, or at least not embarrass myself in front of her, which was especially difficult since she is Kenyan, and Kenyans have a well-deserved reputation as runners.

This year was also different because the day was cold and windy and rainy. I’ve run in the rain before; there’s a Zen quality to it that’s a nice change of pace. And I’ve run in the cold before; you know that the world around you is cold, but for the most part you are deep inside yourself and don’t care. But rainy and cold is a different beast altogether. I had watched the weather forecasts for the full week before, and for a time the likelihood of rain on this Sunday morning actually diminished, but that was soon corrected and the chances for rain at race time increased as they day grew closer.

As much as I could, I hoped to deal with the wet cold by dressing for it. You see most of my kit above, which includes a long-sleeved shirt with a second shirt layered over it. I did wear shorts, but not shown are the calf sleeves and compression shorts I always wear, so my legs were mostly covered, and my legs don’t tend to feel cold when I run. (I do have a pair of long running pants, but they slip down my waist when I run, and I’m constantly tugging them up as I go. I haven’t gotten myself to buying men’s running tights yet.) Those are my newest socks. I paid $18.00 for them, and they are the second pair I have that are dedicated to right and left feet! The shoes you see above are a pair I pulled out of retirement specifically for this race. If I was going to be running in the rain, and likely puddles, I didn’t want to trash my newish running shoes since I’m going to need them for that little half marathon I’ll be running in New York in a few weeks. Also not shown is the throw-away jacket I had purchased at the thrift shop the day before. It is more of a light-weight rain jacket than something for warmth, but I figured that adding a third layer might do some good.

I woke (freakishly) early on race day and checked the weather map. There was actually a break in the storms over Kansas City, but the start was still four hours away, and there was a front to the southwest that was roaring our direction. My hope was that it wouldn’t get here until after I had crossed the finish line.

My hope was denied. We drove through mist from our house in the suburbs to the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City where the race starts. Because I am obsessive about these things, we arrived about an hour before gun time, so we found a quiet place to park and wait. As we did, occasional drops of rain began to pelt the car. These drops grew emboldened and became a more steady rain that in turn came close to a downpour, all as the start time grew closer. Libby checked the weather map on her phone to see if the worst of it might pass through before we had to hoist our still-dry and warm selves out of the car and out in the open. It looked iffy.

The start was different this year (and perhaps last year) because they didn’t have color-coded waves for us runners to get into before the start. Instead we were to stand behind whichever pacer (holding a sign showing the time he/she would complete the race) matched our intended pace. This amounted to the same thing, but I was reluctant to get out of the dry car and find my proper place behind the starting line. But then something unexpected happened. The rain let up. It never really stopped, but we could dodge most of the drops and cope with the remainder in our wet-weather gear. So we decamped the car and hurried over to the start area a block away. Then we retreated a bit because the empty start area out in the street was windy, which explained why most people were on the side street, huddling near a tall brick building. Everything about this run was going to be a challenge.

Not long after this, the voluble announcer came over the loudspeakers, asking us to begin lining up in our pace areas. The moment had come. We had to step into the wind (that we would likely be running into for the next four miles). But, since there were thousands of us out there, it was easy to stay out of the wind. And since the rain had more or less stopped, we could keep dry-ish. (Unfortunately, we were standing under a streetlight arm, and the mist that collected on it would gather and then drip right onto us. Once I figured this out, I moved us a short distance away. I’m clever like that.)

When we were huddling beside the building earlier, I had noticed some runners with different colored bibs. These were the elites. They would complete the race running five-minute miles and better. They were asked to line up at the starting line itself. The rest of us would mass behind them, getting let loose in packs every few minutes (to reduce congestion on the course). There was the usual speechifying, the anthem was sung, more talking, and then the elites were sent on their way. Curiously, in the time it would take my pace group to shuffle toward the start, these elites would likely already be finished running.

Waves were let fly every few minutes after that, and we approached the starting line. My son Seth, Celestine’s husband, was with us and would run for a while, but he was going to fall back with the walkers eventually. When the wave before ours was released, they also let our group go. I hadn’t expected this and hadn’t started my watch to find satellites. And had I remembered my experience with it, I would have known that it takes much longer to find satellites when the sky is overcast. And so for the first time in my running life, I was not able to start my watch as I crossed the mats. But what could I do? Celestine was moving and I didn’t want to be left behind, so I trotted along and kept glancing at my watch. As soon as it reported a good signal, I would start the recording. And on we ran. It was nearly two-tenths of a mile before this happened, which meant my record of the run wouldn’t be an accurate representation of my performance. This frustrated me, and I didn’t need something even as trivial as this to hurt my concentration, but once I had it going and could pay attention to something aside from my watch, I found that we were nearly into the first turn of the morning. We were truly underway.

We had driven the route the day before, in part to give Celestine a sense of what we would be facing. The conventional belief is that the Trolley Run is “downhill the whole way,” but that’s not quite true. There are some small hills to climb in the first mile and a half, and I was deep in the self talk bit to keep myself from deciding to take a walking break (in the first mile and a half!!!). We were running down neighborhood streets, and there were some people in their yards, cheering us, but the rain and cold kept away the crowds I had seen on my three prior runs of this course. The bacon station at about mile 1.75 was bigger than ever this year. Children from one of the neighboring homes stood at the side of the course with plates of bacon for runners to grab on the fly. I love the gesture, but even the smell of it at that point was turning my stomach. I darted past the plate holders, as did Celestine. I’m not sure she believed me the day before when I told her about the possibility. (By this time, Seth was walking and so was farther behind us. I don’t know if he partook or not.)

Just before mile two the true downhill part of the race begins and it really is downhill the rest of the way. It’s a gradual downhill, barely noticeable from a car but certainly welcomed by tired legs. I was keeping pace with Celestine. (Did I mention she’s KENYAN?) But I was having an issue. I should have used the Porta Potty at the start when I first felt the need. But I dismissed it, saying I would quickly cover the four miles and take care of things then. Except that due to our drive through the day before, I knew there were more Porta Potties at the water station and I decided if I took the chance to reduce my stress a little bit, I would run better. I told Celestine to go on without me as I pulled off the course and waited the few seconds for one of the fragrant booths to be free.

Business done, I got back on the course. I doubted that I would be able to catch Celestine, and I didn’t want Seth to catch me, so I just poked along as well as I could, knowing I was now half finished. I came upon and passed a runner friend and her fiance. We did the shake and howdy thing since this was my first time meeting him, and then I kept on. By this time I began seeing some runners coming the other direction, running on the sidewalk. These were the swifter ones who had already finished and were going back on the course for some reason. One man I know finishes quickly and then goes back in search of his wife and children in the walker group. Others were perhaps looking for friends and family to join. Whatever their intent, they were still running, and for them this part of the course would be “uphill the whole way.”

Celestine had bought a pink jacket at the thrift store the day before, and I kept half an eye open to spot that somewhere ahead of me. Unfortunately, there were many women wearing pink on the run. So I looked as well for the bright orange stocking cap Seth had given her to wear. (She did not grow up with the kind of cold we have in the Midwest, and even though the day was in the 40s, it was uncomfortable for her. Hence the hat.)

And what should I see not fifty feet before me but a pink jacket topped by an orange stocking cap. I had caught up with Celestine. (She later told me that after slowing to grab a cup of water at the station, she wasn’t really able to get back to her race pace. And that may be true. Or it may have been that she slowed deliberately to let me catch up.) So we were soon running together again. Ahead we saw a cloud of smoke, and long before we got to it, I could smell it. This was unfortunate since my lungs are the least cooperative part of my running team. It turns out that the police, who were blocking the intersections with their cars, were also using flares to alert drivers to stay away. This was the first time I have ever seen flares used on a race course. I suspect that the police have a protocol that dictates when to use them. The day was overcast and rainy, and perhaps the orange traffic cones were not considered sufficient. In any case, they were doing their excellent job of protecting us runners, so I can’t complain. There was one other intersection where flares were fouling the air, but in both cases I managed to run through the area without losing a step.

Keeping pace with Celestine took a lot of my concentration, so I barely registered when we passed the three-mile flag. It was only when a certain stoplight hove into view that I understood how close we were to the finish. Less than a thousand feet, and the legs were still working. During our drive through, I had told Celestine that when we made the final turn, into the Country Club Plaza where the finish arch was waiting for us, that would be the best place to step up the pace for a fast finish, if she wanted to. And when we did make that turn we both agreed that we each had nothing left in the tank for such a kick. So it was just a matter of running it in. (When I downloaded the run from my watch later, I found that I had increased my pace here, so I must have had a kick somewhere in me. And Celestine was ahead of me.) I watched as she threw her arms in the air while crossing the mats. I was a second behind her, and she turned to me and gave me a big hug. It was a good race and a good finish for both of us.

There are no medals for this race, and our timing chips were in our bibs so we didn’t need to have them removed, so there was no need to linger in the chute. We had agreed to meet Libby in front of the toy store and Celestine hurried over there. I went to the table that had bottles of water and grabbed two then found the ladies and gave Celestine the water. She was close to ecstatic to have completed the run, and she and Libby chattered about it. Later she found the banana table and helped herself to one, and the three of us waited for Seth to come in. I was able to track his phone and knew where he was on the course I had just run. He was perhaps ten minutes out, but I suggested we take ourselves to the finish line where we could cheer him in. And so we did.

Celestine saw him before I did (charged as I was with the responsibility of getting some photos of him finishing), and she ran onto the course to grab his hand and run in with him. (He had run/walked the four miles.) I managed to get some blurry photos, but they were soon past me and crossing the finish line. (This would be the second time that day that Celestine’s timing chip was crossing the mats. I don’t know what the computer is going to do with that anomaly.)

Libby and I found them in the exit chute and we made our way toward the vendor tents to see what food/drink/goodies they still had for us back-of-the-pack runners. The rain and cold had deterred some of them enuf that they had shut down and left. (Reminding me of the finish I met at the St. Louis Marathon.) But there were still bananas and rolls and water and what looked like lemonade, and far ahead I saw what I sought most: chocolate milk. I drank entirely too many bottles of this nectar and didn’t mind one bit.

The wind was picking up, though, and we were all wearing wet clothes (partly from the drizzle and partly from our sweat). Hot showers and dry clothes awaited us at home, so we decided to steer ourselves in that direction.

The rain had more or less held off during my run of the course. My glasses were misted over, and I had to wipe them clean several times, but there was no actual rain. I ran through the puddles I couldn’t run around (in my retired shoes), and I found about halfway through the four miles that the extra jacket I was wearing was making me uncomfortably warm. I was glad later to have it to keep the wind off me as we wandered among the vendor tents. I did not set a record for this run. My pause at the water station explained part of that, but despite hustling to keep pace with Celestine, I still didn’t run this as fast as I have in the past. My watch time is not reliable, and the official times haven’t been posted online yet, so I don’t know how much faster I needed to go.

But it was a good run. This is the first organized race I’ve run since the New York Marathon and I had deliberately held off from running any others since then just to rebuild. Seems like I’m on the right path.

Trolley Run at work and play

April 28, 2014

One of my Fathers and Sons stories, called “Runaway”, is set during the Trolley Run, an annual event here in Kansas City for 26 years, um, running. I ran it last year, and I ran it again this year on Sunday. Before I bore you with my account of it below, I wanted to tell you that I considered running it pure research for my story. Granted, the story was finished last fall, and I’ve even been sending it out to a few places. But I was glad to run the race again just to gather whatever little details I might to add to the tale and the telling.

In my story, the son, Curt, is beginning to grow apart from his father. He’s about 11 years old, and that’s natural enuf, but the father, David (whom you’ve met in “The Lonely Road” and “Men at work and play” and the soon-to-appear “The Most Natural Thing in the World” as well as “When We Were Young and Life Was Full in Us” if you happened to catch it for the week or two the magazine allowed it to be online) is feeling the separation keenly even as he sees it as healthy and inevitable (and in part of his own doing). So I combined work and play, but on with the play by play:

*   *   *

I had really wanted to have a good experience this year at the Trolley Run. Last year, when I ran it for the first time, I was pleased with my performance. But I hoped in the time since then that I had gotten a little better and would turn in some “impressive” numbers.

I assumed I was fully recovered from the half marathon I did two weekends ago, though I had been running less in the subsequent days. I guess I was eager to find out of if my reduced training would help or hinder my performance on the four easy, downhill miles of the Trolley Run.

Unlike most runs, I got to the start with only an hour before it was to begin. That’s cutting it close for someone with as much pre-race anxiety as I have. But I immediately ran into some friends from the running club, and as I wandered around, I met more. City busses were pulling up constantly, disgorging runners who had parked at the finish and were being shuttled to the start. I understand there were about 10,000 runners and walkers this year, which is even more than last year. I suppose I was lucky to see anyone I knew but I’m glad I did.

I was afraid my luck would be thwarted, however, by the gathering clouds in the sky. It was nearly 70 degrees at 7:00 that morning, and the benevolent sun was shining on all of us, but a storm was rushing in from the west. The forecast estimated it would reach the city by around 10:00, and even if I walked, I’d be finished before then. It looked as though the storm had other plans, however, and was eager to be at the start of the race with the rest of us. The sky to the west was filled with dark clouds and they were getting closer every minute.

I was in the green wave once again, the third group to start. The first wave was to start at 7:45, but according to my watch, they were let out of the gate several minutes early. (Maybe I wasn’t the only one watching the sky.) By the time my wave was shuffled to the start, we were only a few minutes past the official start time. The small gang of friends I was with at the start all wished each other a good run. We would run at different paces, so we wouldn’t see each other again until the finish. I got my watch to find some satellites, and after a moment, I was across the starting mats and on my way.

Too fast.

As I said, I wanted to have a good run, but that meant marshaling my energy so that I could sustain it across even the comparatively short distance of four (downhill) miles. I made the mistake, there at the start, of looking at my watch and seeing the pace I was running. Much, much too fast. A lot of runners start out too fast because the whole pack is surging around them. I knew I would burn out quickly if I kept going at that pace (which didn’t really feel fast to me at the time). So I tried to throttle back. I did not look at the pace my watch reported but merely trotted along at what I felt I could sustain. And after a few turns and elbows in the ribs (the pack was dense for about two-thirds of this run) I reached the first mile marker. Of course I was already trying to negotiate with my rational self for a short walking rest because my lungs were really pretty angry with me. They say you should always be able to carry on a conversation while running and that if you can’t, you’re going too fast. I couldn’t at that point, but it was only because my lungs were monopolizing the conversation. I’d had a chest cold several weeks back. In fact, I was in the last stages of it when I ran that half marathon two weeks ago. I suspected I was not fully over it because I was breathing harder than I thought I should be at that point.

At mile two the first water stop loomed before us. I was running down the middle of the road (less slope there to avoid potential knee or hip ache) and had to cut over quickly to grab a cup. I try to be charitable in my assessments of other people’s efforts, especially those of volunteers. But I have to say the water stations on this run were terrible. Perhaps they were unprepared for the number of runners. Or maybe those of us in the middle of the pack were coming along a little late. But they didn’t have enuf cups filled (though they were frantically trying to) and wound up just handing us the bottles of water intended for filling the paper cups. This is problematic for two reasons. One, even an eight-ounce bottle of water is too much to drink on the run. So then you have the half-filled bottle to carry along with you. Or, two, you take a couple of sips and then throw the bottle, mostly still filled with water, down on the ground. That’s what I did. As had hundreds of others. So there were plastic bottles in the road that our fleet feet had to race across. (I had thrown my bottle to the curb.) Something similar had happened to me on the St. Patrick’s Day run when they served (too much) water in large plastic cups that then littered the ground beneath our feet. Because road hazards. I didn’t even slow down at the second water station on the Trolley Run.

All the while, my lungs were screaming at me to STOP THIS INSTANT! By this point I was on the true downhill stretch of the course, a straightaway before the last turn to the finish arch — my absolute favorite finish stretch in the city. I wasn’t about to stop, and I had more or less vowed to open up on this stretch and maybe grab a fast enuf mile to beat my performance last year. Except I didn’t have anything left in me to open up the run. I just plodded ahead, throwing one foot in front of the other and, curiously, continuing to pass people.

When I finished the long straightaway and turned toward the finish arch perhaps a quarter mile ahead, something clicked and I did manage to pick up the pace a little. I’m sure I looked ragged. I felt ragged. I knew that there were photographers in the area, and I didn’t want to look the way I felt, but by then it was all about finishing the run as well as I could regardless of how I looked. So I threw my mouth open, threw my feet before me, and threw everything I had left into the run. The cheering crowds. The gentle downhill straightaway to the finish. The delicious delirium of being within reach.

And then I crossed the finish mats and switched off my watch. I was panting, but I wasn’t about to spiral to the ground or empty my empty stomach. I was done, and my lungs were grateful. The chute after the finish was crowded (just like last year — ugh!), but I managed to get the timing sensor clipped from my shoe, and then I went in search of chocolate milk. My wife and son found me, and we pushed our way through the crowd to the party booths beyond. One bottle of Propel (not too bad), one slice of pizza, one whole wheat roll, and four blessed, blessed bottles of chocolate milk later, and I was ready to go. I met some of my running friends and we shared high fives. But I was beat.

I had really wanted to have a good run this year. But I did not. I had a GREAT run this year. The reason my lungs were so angry was because I had run — and sustained — a very fast pace for my ability. I had shaved four minutes off of my time from last year. I ran faster for longer than I ever have. And I beat the rain.

So I’ve had a good Rock the Parkway half marathon and two weeks later a good Trolley Run. Seems like I’m going to have to keep this up now.

runaway writing

May 6, 2013

Last summer, when I ran my first 5K, I knew (as I was plodding along, surprised at myself) that I would somehow incorporate running into one of my Fathers and Sons stories. I wasn’t sure just how at the time, but I realized that this sport was going to take up a large part of my life, and I figured I ought to put the experience to work.

Fast forward to April. I completed the Trolley Run in Kansas City last month, and I finally felt I was ready to begin that running story. Now, there are a couple of things you need to know. First, unless a plot bursts fully formed in my mind (and I’m not sure that has ever happened), I tend to “accumulate” a story in pieces. Images present themselves. Bits of dialog. A theme that seems worthy of developing. I collect these bits and copy them into a file that seems suitable until the story itself begins to gel. When I reach some intangible tipping point, I generally start writing the first draft of the story, knowing that it will evolve from there, sometimes in far different directions than I ever imagined.

The second point is that the Trolley Run was a watershed for me in many ways. When I first began trotting around the dog park with my Border Collie a year ago, I couldn’t conceive the notion that I could run a quarter mile, much less the 3.1 miles of an entire 5K. But I thought that if I stuck with it, pushed myself farther, and kept my eyes on a goal, maybe, just maybe, I could do it. I set the Trolley Run this year as my goal. (I didn’t know at the time that it was 4 miles long, longer than a regular 5K.)

The running story continued to accumulate, and the general outline of the plot revealed itself to me. Basically, a son it taking up running, which is an activity his father doesn’t share, and though this is a good thing in general, it becomes another thing that divides the two. (My working title right now is “Runaway” with multiple possible meanings, of course.) I thought that the Trolley Run, which is an annual event of some renown here in Kansas City, would be a good setting for my running story. Thus I had to wait until I had done the Trolley Run before I began the story in earnest.

Well, I completed the Trolley Run, and last weekend I started on the story. Even though I’ve done a half dozen 5Ks and three 10Ks, and even though my afternoon runs are generally far longer than 4 miles, the Trolley Run had become my psychological barrier. Because it was the goal I had set for myself a year ago, it was far more meaningful for me to complete than any of the other runs I’ve done. Well, I burst through that barrier (at a pretty decent pace for my ability, even setting a PR), and while I’m not sure that’s given me any insight to my story, it’s given me the raw, real-world material I needed.

I had reached the tipping point. As I said, I started on “Runaway” over the weekend, and I think I made pretty good progress on it. I’ve mentioned here before that I really need to devote some effort to working out the timeline of these stories. Three generations of men, spanning a lot of years, but so many of the stories are particular moments in their lives, not sweeping themes. How old is the central character in each story? When was he born? When does it have to take place so that subsequent (and prior) moments fall in line properly? Does it make sense that he is this or that age when this or that happens? And so on.

Right now, I can write most of these stories without obsessing too much over that. But someone needs to tell me to buckle down and work out the timeline.

(I’m training now to run a half marathon in October. It’s my new psychological barrier. Yikes!)