This, gentle reader, is the pine preserve atop Danger Island at Roundrock. This is the 10 x 10 foot area I fenced and cleared to plant a dozen shortleaf pines two springs ago. And then planted another dozen last spring when most of the originals died. And you see what’s become of it. A gigantic poke plant raised itself in the very middle of the square and sent its branches hither and yon. I’ve never seen a poke plant this huge. Those stalks in the center are better than two inches in diameter. This beast of a plant literally covered the entire fenced square.
When Flike and I were last out to Roundrock — more than two weeks ago — we diverted to the island (which is currently high and dry) to have a look at the pines. I expected some losses since these are not in ideal soil. (The island was just pushed-together gravel from the lake bed.) The pines got whatever water fell from the sky whenever the gods chose to grant it. And, as you can see above, they had no one to visit them periodically to prune away any competitors for the sunlight.
We marched around the fenced area; I had to cut some poke branches away with the loppers just to get by (I never leave the cabin without them). As we went, I peered in through the scrub to see if any pines were still there. I couldn’t see many, perhaps only a half dozen. Most of those were brown and dead. I suspect they simply didn’t get enuf water to survive the summer. Yet a few were green and looked to be thriving, biding their time and getting their roots established before making their bold sprint for sunlight. In fact, you can see one of them at 9:00 in the photo above. The green smudge with the pink tie on it. That’s one of the pines.
This was a noble experiment. I envisioned the island with tall pine trees rising from it, and I tried for two years to make this happen. But I’m not going to try any more. If the few surviving pines survive and thrive, that will be great, but I think I’ve learned that the conditions are not close to good enuf to plant and then abandon pines.
See above what greeted me when I got to the door of the cabin at Roundrock on my last visit. This is the base of the door. The closed door would be on the top right of this photo. And if you’re a tiny critter, subject to predation from above and all around, this might be a safe corner of the world to nestle into, giving protection on three sides and from above. It seems to be a good place for the small critters since the front porch of the cabin, right against the wall, is always filled with droppings when I arrive.
In this case, the threshold seems to be a fine place to have a meal as well. The acorns — so abundant in my Ozark oak/hickory forest — are mere husks, the edible bits all eaten away. The discarded shells have accumulated, suggesting many, many meals were enjoyed here. What you can’t really see, however, is the “outcome” of those meals. The darker stains at the top of the photo are these “outcomes” and they don’t sweep away the way the empty acorns do.
I suppose I don’t have much to complain about really. A few critter droppings I can easily sweep or wash away. I want to be a good steward of the land, and the critters haven’t gotten into the cabin. (Except that one time. Although the moths seem to have found a way in.)
So a little work with the broom each time I arrive is a small price to pay for being the beneficent landlord of a little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks.
Last month I undertook a little endeavor, and the reward I got for my effort was these two trees (among other things). They are western red cedars, and right now they are living peaceful, quiet lives in pots in my house in faraway suburbia. I was surprised they survived the plane trip back from Oregon in my luggage, but there the are.
Actually, the one on the right is looking more ragged now. It’s lost one of its branches, and the needles are dry. But it is in the same location as the other, in a south-facing window, and both get the same water and kind words. It may be that only one will survive until next spring when I plan to plant them at Roundrock, at the back of the pine plantation. No, they’re not native to Missouri, so I am violating my land ethic, but only slightly.
The inside walls of my cabin are being festooned with stickers lately. You can see my two most recent additions above. The Portland Marathon sticker is actually for a wine bottle; apparently a special wine was made for the marathon, but I never saw a drop of it. There are other stickers on the walls. Some are running related (mostly products you can buy) but some are also political, and I suspect, of the political cast that would not endear me to most of my neighbors. Perhaps some day I’ll cover all of these with insulation and then put up drywall. Then, far down the road, someone will uncover them and puzzle about the person who put them all there.
Behold the latest addition to the mouse-proof cabinet. 26.2. Yes, it’s pink. The man who gave it to me had originally bought it to give to one of the women in the running club, thinking (foolishly it turned out) that he could talk her into running a marathon. When she politely and repeatedly declined his challenge, he kept the magnet in his car and waited for me to run my marathon.
So a big part of my life is intersecting with another big part of my life. Seems fitting.
But November sun is deceptive. It’s cheery but doesn’t give a lot of warmth. The high forecasted for Roundrock today is 36 degrees, and that’s the warmest day of the week going forward.
We received a little bit of snow in Kansas City to greet us this morning. Everything that reached the warm ground melted right away, but on elevated surfaces, such as my back porch, the evidence was there. Winter weather has arrived.
Flike took me with him on a trip to Roundrock last weekend. He even let me drive the truck and pay for breakfast. What a good dog!
Since Libby and Rachel (and Baby J) were in Kentucky at the River’s Edge Film Festival — a regular annual event — Flike noted that we were unsupervised and suggested we make a break for the woods where there are abundant sticks to carry around in our mouths. And so we did.
We were on the road shortly after 6:00 a.m., but we stopped at the nearby bagel shop to get our breakfast. I had two bagels (unsliced and untoasted) to go with my iced tea (unsweetened, of course), and he had a turkey sausage, egg, and cheese bagel sandwich that he had me lay flat and open faced on the backseat of the Prolechariot. I expected a mess, but he did a good job with it, as he assured me he would.
The drive down was unremarkable, but we did stop in the little town near Roundrock to drop off a bag of books at the county library. (Some they add to their collection. The remainder they sell at their annual fundraiser.) Then we stopped at the sandwich shop to pick up some lunch for later. After that, it was on to Roundrock.
I think I mentioned that last summer a group of us landowners got together and intimidated each other into throwing some money into the till to get our common road improved. We drove on the fruits of that effort once we left the paved road. It’s a rough gravel road from that point on, but it is a much-improved rough gravel road now, one that does not leave you in fear of losing a filling or snapping an axle as you cross it.
When we entered our 80 acres of forest, the first thing we saw was a buck deer (I couldn’t count the points because he was moving fast through the trees, but I think he had at least six) and what looked like a fawn. The second thing we saw was many branches on the road, presumably from a storm in the time since we were last there. We stopped the truck and got out. I slipped on some gloves and began tossing the fallen branches into the trees. Flike, of course, thought that this was a game and began bringing them back to me. What a good dog!
We drove slowly past the pine plantation, and I’m happy to say that the pines we planted last spring are doing very well. Some are already more than two feet tall. I need to clear more of the small trees from around them, but to do that, I need to get my chainsaw fixed. (What a finicky thing a chainsaw is!) Maybe soon. Right now is the best season to work with a chainsaw. Not hot and humid, but not yet too bitterly cold.
We passed the pond where we saw some (unidentified) ducks paddling, and then we drove down the road along our northern property line. For whatever reason, it looked as though my neighbor to the north did not harvest her soybeans this year. From what I understand, the rains didn’t come at the proper time or something like that. Given that the beans were not harvested, I expected to see a lot of turkeys and/or more deer in there foraging. When they are, and they see us coming, they usually make a dash for the forest, which means that they cross the road right in front of us. That didn’t happen this time; there were no critters in the soybeans. (Perhaps they’ve foraged all of them? Or the plants didn’t produce?)
The Cabin at the End of the Road was waiting for us, silently and patiently, and we were happy to visit it. Once I parked and opened the back door, Flike exploded from the truck in search of a stick. I’ve cut many for him over the years, and he loses about half of them. So Libby hit on the idea of keeping them in the cabin (instead of thrust into the gravel pile where Flike can grab each of them in turn and then lose them). So the first task ahead of me was to open the cabin and fetch him a stick. He approved of this and we were soon playing keep away. (I’ve heard this from other Border Collie owners. The dogs don’t fetch and return but fetch and retain, taunting you to take it from them, which, of course, you never can.)
Flike had no chores for us on this visit (other than keep away), but there were a few things I wanted to do around the cabin before our adventure — whatever that would be — began. Fall’s abundance of leaves had collected against the back wall of the cabin, and I needed to rake those out of there. They threaten in two incompatible ways. One, they are perfect kindling for setting the wooden cabin aflame should a ground fire come along. Ground fires are more common in the spring (though they have never happened in my tenure, except when my neighbor’s “controlled” burn got out of hand, but that never got very far into my woods), but they could happen at any time. Their second threat is that if they get wet from the rain (or, soon, snow) they create a humid microclimate on the backside of the cabin, fostering mold in the wood. I already have mold in the wood on the lower “logs” so I do what I can (during my too-infrequent visits) to prevent this from getting worse. When I got the rake out, Flike got excited, I guess because the handle of the rake looked like a very long stick. Once he saw that I was going to do work, though, he disappeared. What a good dog!
I also put some peanuts (unsalted, of course) on the log near the cabin for the critters, and I filled the bird feeder. You may recall that I had a bad batch of black oil sunflower seeds that the birds refused to eat. The feeder would stay full for weeks and weeks. I eventually poured out the remains of the large bag of seeds on the road, thinking at least the foraging turkeys would eat them, but even they refused. Eventually, I bought a bag of the standard backyard bird seed from the grocery store in faraway suburbia and filled the feeder. It took the local birds a while to return the the feeder that had disappointed them for so long, but now that they understand that the good stuff has returned, so have they. The feeder was empty when I arrived and full when I was finished that morning. (The feeder is made of metal and glass. The plastic feeders we have tried have not lasted long. I blame the raccoons. But even this feeder is showing its age; I think it is time to replace it.)
I straightened up around the cabin a little, but the forest was calling our names, so I threw the daypack on my back, grabbed the long-handled loppers, and started marching west. Flike was in complete approval of this plan and joined me riotously. My vague idea was to go in search of some nice round rocks. You can never have enuf of these here and there about the cabin, and in the backyard in faraway suburbia, and on the shelf next to the desk where my computer sits. Occasionally, I’ve even made a gift of them.
Unfortunately, this is about the very worst time of the year to go round rock hunting. The leaves covering the forest floor hide them very effectively. February is the ideal time, but this was early November, and the temperatures were mild, the sun was shining, the forest was beckoning, the dog was eager, the feet were itching, and I was willing. So off we went.
Along the way, I liberated many young cedar trees from their earthly toil. Flike, of course, assumed I had done this to give him more stick-like things to grab and carry along. Oak and hickory branches rotting on the forest floor seem bad enuf to carry in your mouth, but freshly cut cedars, with their sharp needles and flowing sap seem even worse. Not to a Border Collie, I guess.
My goal was the farthest reach of the lake bed. Round rocks wash down from the hills and collect in the rubble that is pushed into here. The lake is up, and likely will be sufficient to over-winter the fish, but it isn’t high enuf to have water in this area, and so I thought that I might find a few nice round rocks in the recent inflow of gravel.
But those darned autumn leaves. If there were any round rocks here (and I’m sure there were), they were hidden by the leaf litter. Well, there is a nice, open bit of the seasonal stream not far from here that I can often find nice round rocks in, and so I directed our six feet there, first getting around a lot of the deadfall that blocked the way.
This nice, open bit of seasonal stream is just about at the very center of my 80+ acres. Getting there is a bit of a hike, given the rougher terrain (and the constant deadfall), so when I do visit this place, I feel like I’m at the heart of it all. In the past, I’ve tried to keep this more or less open, but the deadfall outpaces me every time. Now I just take it as nature gives it to me, which is also nice enuf. Flike, of course, rates it on the supply of sticks, which he was having no trouble finding.
I did come across a few likely round rocks in this dry creek bed, but none was really worth collecting. (Not round enuf, not smooth enuf, not interesting enuf.) So we pressed on. I decided to wander up the draw where I had long ago wedged a round rock into the fork of a tree and have now wedged a second round rock, the first having been engulfed by the tree. Flike had no objection. By this point, he was wandering pretty far away from me. At some points, I couldn’t even see him and had no idea where he was. But each time I called him, he came bounding over.
I was pretty sure I knew the draw I wanted, and I really didn’t want to go any farther from the cabin in any case, so I headed up what I thought was right to see what I would see. At first I feared I had made a mistake. The going was rougher than I remembered. There was a fork that I expected, one leading to the pond we had passed on our drive in and the other leading, I hoped, to my intended destination. Regardless, it was a fine day, and we were happy enuf, so we kept going. A lot of the geology of Roundrock is presented in these draws. The hillsides are covered with scrub and trees, but the the creek bed itself is full of the rocks that tell the tale. There is plenty of limestone, and quite a few round rocks, and then there is the occasional large chunk of sandstone, which is the top layer of the subterranean world of my woods. A geologist could have a good, informative time, just studying the rocks that litter the bottom of the draws.
I had chosen the correct draw because after a bit of a hike, getting around more deadfall, I suddenly found myself before the forked tree where I had wedged those two round rocks. The first was still there, certainly, because the tree had mostly eaten it, but the second was also there, which surprised me a bit. I expected it to have fallen free in the time since I had placed it. (I assume the storms that whip the trees around would create enuf momentary gap between the two trunks to let the rock slip out. I’ve found it on the ground once or twice.) The last time I was by, I had pounded on the round rock with another rock to wedge it in place more firmly. Perhaps that will be enuf.
With that bit of discovery done, it was time to turn our feet to the east again and find our way to the cabin. The hillsides of these draws can be steep in places, which means they are often leaf free. And that means, anyone watching the ground for good round rocks has a better chance of finding them (at least in leaf-littered November). Pablo did find them. Two good ones. The first was suitably round and more or less smooth. The second was more ovoid, and even smoother. They were interesting finds, and I dumped them into my daypack to carry back. Adding rocks to the day pack is not a real hardship. Once it hangs from your shoulders, the added weight doesn’t really seem so much more. But this only works when you have someone along who can put them in your pack so you don’t have to take it off. Libby was in Kentucky. Flike had no interest in helping me with rocks. (Sticks, on the other hand . . . ) This mean I had to take off the pack, slip the rocks (the very dense rocks I should add) into it, and the hoist the pack back onto my back. When you do it this way, you feel the full weight of what you’ve added. But they were good rocks, so I didn’t mind.
Flike and I made our way back to the cabin, liberating young cedar trees as we went. I’ve hiked this bit of my forest many, many times — as shown by the round rocks placed in unlikely spots, like the base of a tree or atop a large rock — yet it seems to be different every season. I knew the general direction I was going, and Flike was darting all over the place, but the forest looked new to me, which, I think, is a good thing.
Eventually, I could see the red of the Prolechariot ahead in the trees and I knew I was nearly to the cabin. Flike was happy to be back because he headed straight for the bowl of water I had set out for him upon our arrival. Carrying sticks seems to be thirsty business. Although it was early, I declared it lunch time and got out the sandwich I had picked up in town. (Also, iced tea and a banana.) Flike suddenly had no interest in the kibble I had put in his bowl and was far more interested in my sandwich. Border Collies are known for their mesmerizing eyes. Apparently it’s what makes them good herders. They can stare a sheep into submission without the need to snap at them. So, imagine eating a sandwich with a Border Collie looking at you with his magical eyes. What can you do but share your sandwich with him? He had no interest in the banana, and he wasn’t going to get a drop of the iced tea, but I’d say he got a third of the sandwich.
And then it was time for a nap. The woods is a healing place, and a nap was pretty much what I needed then. To lie down and close my eyes and not open them until I was ready, if ever. Flike seemed to understand the agenda and found a comfy place on the rug to sleep. I think an hour passed this way, me drifting in and out of a sleep-like state. Perfect.
But my brother, his wife, and their two sons were in Kansas City, and I had made some vague promise about meeting them for dinner, so I knew I couldn’t hang out in the woods any longer.
We packed our things (not much) and then prepared to leave. I swept the cabin porch as I always do for my last chore. Then we were on our way. This may have been the last moderate weekend to visit the cabin, but I’m sure my body will acclimate to the winter, and there will be many more Roundrock trips in the months to come.
It’s aster season at Roundrock, though the last few cold nights have probably brought it to a close. Fall is always a bittersweet time for me. I appreciate the milder weather, the relative lack of bugs, the extravagance of the oaks and hickories, the more subtle flowers, and the chance to take it all in with long, slow breaths. But fall is also a reminder that winter is coming. The ease is ending and the grind is coming.
Asters seem to embody this for me. They are exuberant, but in a tentative sort of way. They are a last splash of color before the forest goes to grays and browns, but it is a milder color. (I especially favor this pale purple.) They make me look back and look forward.
I’ve never been able to get a good photo of asters. I could blame my camera (and that’s at least partly true), but maybe it’s that their thematic role in the circle of life leaves them ungraspable. They are neither of the summer or the winter. They are in between. Part of a period that is not one thing or the other but its own thing, defined by opposites.
Or maybe I just can’t take good photos.
Why not, right? Run 26.2 miles and then in less than a month, run a half marathon. Any idiot can do it.
The Kansas Half Marathon last Sunday was my fifth organized half. (I generally do longer than that at least once a week on training runs too.) I’d really like to make the half marathon my distance; it’s very hard for me to do, but I can do it. Thus I get both challenge and accomplishment. So with the Portland Marathon behind me, I thought I should challenge myself again. (I’d actually signed up for this before Portland took place. I knew then that I wanted a follow up before the Midwestern winter took hold, and I shopped around for some possibilities. The Kansas Half seemed the best fit, if a little closer to my marathon completion than I might have liked.)
The half was on Sunday, but Saturday morning dawned with temperatures below freezing. I expected a frigid start on Sunday morning and thus selected the kit you see laid out in the photo above. (Not shown are knee-length compression shorts, calf sleeves, and a throwaway jacket I picked up the night before at the thrift store for $7.00.) Yet at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday (when I rose, naturally), the temperature was 48 degrees. I expected that to drop a few degrees before dawn finally arrived, but even so, it was not going to be nearly as cold as I feared. In fact, it was going to be just about perfect running weather. So I made some minor, last-minute changes to the kit. I put the long-sleeved base layer shirt back in the closet and pulled out a short-sleeved compression shirt instead. Then I substituted my club running shirt with a plain blue technical shirt. (Yes, those are cotton gloves. I picked them up at the running store for $3.00 and intended to throw them away once the day and the body grew warm enuf.)
I went through my usual routine of pacing and fretting Sunday morning. I brushed and flossed. I ate a banana and a piece of bread with some peanut butter on it. (Peanut butter is widely recommended as a pre-race meal, and maybe it did do me some good, but it sits heavily in my stomach nonetheless.) I also drank some iced tea (unsweetened, of course) since that’s what I do. I slowly got dressed as the rest of the household awoke. Libby and Seth were coming to the race as my support crew, and we were to meet Aaron and his wife, Amber, at the race since they live in Lawrence, Kansas where the race was held, but the dogs were going to stay at home. (Lawrence is a college town about 45 minutes west of our home. You may have heard of the school there: the University of Kansas, or KU. It seems to be a big deal around here.)
We arrived at the park where the start/finish arch was about an hour before gun time, which is my preference. But it was still dark, and I didn’t really want to stand around in the cold for that long, so we stayed in the car for about a half hour. Light was beginning to show in the eastern sky then, and other runners and their families were gathering near the start, so we got out and joined them, sending Seth back to the car twice, once for Libby’s coat and a second time for my throwaway gloves that I had earlier thought I didn’t need after all. (I did have my throwaway jacket on.) I knew the day was forecasted to be windy, and it was already proving to be the case as we stood around in the gathering light, getting on the leeward side of trees and groups of people to keep out of the knife-like wind. The announcer chatting up the crowd mentioned that winds up to 40 miles per hour were expected. Yay!
Eventually, the announcer urged us to get into the starting chute, and it was actually warmer there, probably because so many bodies were so close together. (I understand 600+ runners were in the race that day.) With two minutes before official gun time, I told my watch to find some satellites, and it obliged me. Soon we were off, I in the back third of the pack and quickly passed by most of those behind me. Libby and Seth had gone up the block (yes, an uphill start!) to cheer me, and when I got there a couple of minutes later, I saw that they were joined by Aaron and Amber as well. I smiled and waved, but I had a big job ahead of me, so I didn’t linger but pressed on.
The first mile or so of the course went south on Massachusetts Street, which could serve well in anyone’s idea of Americana of a certain bygone era. There are lots of shops and restaurants, theaters, small parks, and such, most of which were wasted on me because — already — I was concentrating on the three feet in front of my two feet. It’s a well-traveled street, and I was keeping my eyes on the ground to watch for pot holes, cracks in the pavement, and, at this early stage of the run when we were all elbow to elbow, orange cones that would suddenly appear before me when the runner ahead of me side stepped them.
I had misread the map (that I had printed more than a month before) and thought we were running to 19th Street, where we would turn to the east for a long stretch. I don’t know why this turn meant so much to me, but it seemed like a kind of touchstone, a sign of progress. So I was surprised when all of the runners ahead of me were turning onto 15th Street. That touchstone came earlier than I expected, and I was buoyed by it. But I had miles and miles and miles to go.
Somewhere before mile two was the first water station. This seemed a little early in the run, but my strategy was to walk through the water stations to grab a little rest, so I was happy to put it into effect. They offered both Gatorade and water, and I took a cup of each. Then I was running again.
When I had been in Lawrence several weeks before, I had gotten lost finding my way back to Aaron’s house and drove out to some remote farmland before deciding I needed to turn around. This happened to be the exact route of the half marathon, and I found myself in that remote farmland again, only under foot power this time. At this point, they took us off of the pavement and onto a corrugated gravel road. This was not fun to run on. I spent a lot of attention on finding decent places to let my feet fall with each stride. But on we went, and eventually, we reached pavement again, rough and ragged but at least pavement. The miles ticked away, and I was ready for another water station, but I wasn’t seeing one ahead. I ate my packet of GU (pinned to my shorts) on schedule and plodded along, taking occasional walking breaks and regretting each step of them. Eventually, I could see a familiar tall building far ahead in the trees and I knew we were coming back into town.
By this time, the sun was well into the sky and I was feeling the warmth. I was ready to ditch my jacket, but the organizers had requested we do this at the aid stations rather than at random places on the course. (Plenty of people had done the latter regardless.) I was also done with the gloves, but I liked them so much that I wanted to keep them, so I took them off and tucked them into the waistband of my running shorts (on the side, rather than flapping in the front or back). I was back in town by then, running on quiet streets with well-kept homes, though there were not a lot of spectators. I suspect the morning chill kept them indoors. Coming down a gentle hill, I began to think that I was going to be one of those runners who cast off his jacket at a random place on the course. (These are collected and donated to the poor.) But ahead I heard and then saw Libby cheering to the runners passing. I began peeling off the jacket (kinda wet on the inside for some reason). Amber understood right away and ran toward me to take the jacket. Then, as a sudden thought, I pulled the gloves from my waistband and tossed them to Libby. Again, I had a run to manage, so I didn’t linger (and it was a sweet gentle downhill stretch).
Several blocks ahead I came upon the second water station. That was a long way from the first, more than the “approximately” two miles we were told (though they had given us the cross streets for the stations well in advance, and had I been familiar with the town, I would have known). I took the water and the Gatorade, spilling both on my (gloveless) hands and running watch before I remembered that I was supposed to be walking through the station. So I did, downing the drinks and tossing the empty cups in the general direction of the trash can. (They say that runners make terrible basketball players, and if you’ve ever seen the spread of discarded water cups in the several hundred feet after an aid station, you understand.)
This was pretty much the end of the biggest loop of the course, and I was just over half way done. My left knee had started barking at me a few miles back, but I quickly swallowed two Advil (shhhhh! don’t tell my doctor son!) and that seemed to quiet it. But my hips were not at all happy. They generally don’t give me any trouble on runs, and I’m not sure why they were this time. But there was little I could do except take occasional walking breaks, which made just about all parts of me feel better except my ego. Back in downtown Lawrence now, we were making an ascent to the bridge over the Kansas River. The second part of the course would be north of the river, in a wilder bit of country. But first we had to cross the bridge.
As bridges go, it was nice, modern, clean, and spacious in the pedestrian section. Unfortunately, there was only a waist-high railing between me and the river far below. Bridges have been my bane since I’ve become a runner. I get disoriented by the yawning space to the side (and if it is a bridge over a highway, I get further disoriented by the rushing of cars below and perpendicular to me). I ran on the left side of the walk, as far from the railing as I could get and just did my best to stay focused. It worked. I was across the bridge and heading down a hill into a small residential area. This was clearly where all of the town’s architects had chosen to live because the houses along here were eye-popping. I’ll have to go back and visit in a more coherent state sometime. Not long into this area, probably less than a mile since the last aid station, was . . . the next aid station. I’m not sure why it was plunked down there, but I grabbed (and spilled) two cups and even sunk the empties in the trash barrel. And onward.
We wove through some streets, past houses in what was obviously the river’s flood plain, protected by a levee to our south. This stretch was another loop and when we made the turn to head back the way we came, we were directed onto the levee for a long, straight, flat while. The top of the levee was packed gravel, but there was enuf loose gravel atop it to make selecting footfalls another attention grabber. I did my best, walked a little, ran some more and then, suddenly, I was at the third water station. Not only had we barely gone another mile, but from where I was on the levee, I could see water station number two just down the hill. By this time, the bulk of the runners had already passed, and I think the enthusiasm at the water stations had ebbed. They handed us water and Gatorade, but it was more automatic than encouraging. But running is a solitary endeavor, at least for me, so I didn’t mind. (At least it wasn’t like that horrible half I ran last spring where they had run out of cups at the water station!)
I was running in the sun now. Free of the weight of the throwaway jacket and gloves, and two packs of GU lighter (well, I suppose not really), but I was weary. Somewhere along here I had downed the second pair of Advil to fight my hip pain (the knees were keeping quiet). It was a slog for me though. I was running and then walking and then running. The trouble was that I was running too fast when I was running. I can’t seem to control this yet, and I realize it is something I need to work on.
Although the winds of the day would find us occasionally as we made turns and such, they had pretty much left us alone, but that was only a ploy to deceive us. They were waiting until we were most vulnerable to whip it up.
After the third water station, we passed under the bridge we had crossed over the river and were soon on the levee on the far side. This was an out-and-back stretch of perhaps a half mile each direction. As I ran out, plenty of other runners were coming at me on their return stretch. More importantly, the wind was at my back, blowing strongly and pushing me along. It was glorious. With each footfall I and the other runners made, we were stirring up dust that the wind would carry ahead of us. You know where this is leading, of course. We were running out. Soon we would be running back. And in the faces of the runners doing that I got a preview of what I would soon be facing. Their eyes were squinting. They were bent at the waist to stay as low as they could. They were holding onto the bibs pinned to their chests lest they be ripped off by the wind blowing up the river unimpeded by anything. Oh boy!
At the turnaround point there was another water station. This, too, seemed too soon after that last, but I think it made sense since runners needed to be reminded to turn around. For all I know, that levee might go all the way to Colorado, and it is an unfortunate phenomenon that runners sometimes miss turns and go for miles before realizing they are off course and lost. I had no trouble understanding this was the turnaround, in part because I knew it marked the end run (of perhaps only three more miles to go) but also because I had that preview of what I would be facing in the wind, so I was reminded that I had to turn. And I did.
I was not disappointed. I got it all. The stalling wind. The grit in the face. The rattling bib held to my shirt with four pins yet threatening to fly off into the river. (Our timing chips were in the bibs. Lose the bib, lose your official time and finish.) The only good thing about the wind was that it was ripping tears out of my eyes. That kept the grit at bay but it sure made the ground beneath my feet look funny. And some wise guy had decided that this was a perfect place to station one of the course photographers. Here we were, squinting, hunched over, holding our hands on our identifying bibs, and there was the photographer zooming in on us to get our memorable shot of the day. Luckily, I saw him and was able to correct most of that (I was still squinting into the wind, and probably looked like I was crying). And as soon as I passed him, I resumed the posture. Not long after this, though, we approached the bridge to cross it a second time and return to the more civilized part of Lawrence. We had less than two miles to go when we crossed the bridge, and the course was obviously designed to burn those miles. We wove through residential streets, taking what seemed like random turns just to eat up the distance. Again I had misunderstood the map (that Libby had with her by the way) and expected to make the final turn toward the finish at the bottom of a hill I was on. But when I looked up, I saw the runners ahead of me turning the opposite direction of what I expected. We were running away from the park where the finish arch was. I soon understood why.
The last water station seemed almost like an afterthought. It was small and manned by mostly children (who nonetheless did a perfectly fine job), and then suddenly I found myself crossing a school playground. This may have been the oddest stretch of earth I have ever run, but it was about to get weirder.
In front of the school we made a sharp turn and went into a tunnel under the street. The tunnel was less than four feet wide — I could have touched both walls as I ran through but didn’t want the friction to slow me down — and ended with a sharp turn and a hill back up to the street. It made sense, of course. The tunnel allowed the school children to get to the other side of the street safely, and I suppose the course director wanted to throw this novelty at us. Okay.
And now I really was in the end run of my 13.1 miles. I did a bit more walking here to rest up for the final blitz to the finish arch. We made a last turn, and I saw the park ahead. I had heard the finish line announcer long before, when I was on that windy levee, but now it was my turn to have my name called out.
The last few hundred feet were downhill, and I grabbed the little energy left in me to finish strong. I came into the chute and heard Libby and Amber (and probably Aaron and Seth) shouting my name, but I didn’t look for them. I had to focus and push and keep it together for just a little more.
I never did hear my name called by the announcer, though he may have. I was nearly blind with effort, and when I crossed the mats, I turned off my watch, slowed, then staggered, then realized I had passed the people handing out the medals but fortunately came upon more people handing out medals and I took one, as you can see below.
The medal is a little gaudy, but at least it’s not the size of a dinner plate, which seems to be the trend lately, a trend I hope has a short life. (Silverback is not my running name but the name of the management company that conducted the half marathon.)
After I let my brain catch up with my body and could think close to rationally again, I looked at my running watch. I hadn’t tried to set a personal record, and I really didn’t expect to given all of the walking I had done that morning, but suddenly that didn’t matter. My watch reported my total distance as only 12.99 miles. A TENTH OF A MILE SHORT OF A HALF MARATHON! Yikes.
Sure, I had my official finish and time from the chip in my bib, but Nike would never praise me for falling short when I plugged in my watch later that day. There was only one thing to do. I clutched my medal and started running again. I had to get that tenth of a mile. I ran along the sidewalks of that park there and kept going, weaving between families and exhausted runners and strollers and dogs until I had my tenth of a mile, my 13.1 mile distance. And then I was done. Done.
I had been promised a bagel after the run. And there was the possibility of chocolate milk, so I wandered over to the tents to see what they had for me. Apples. Bananas. Granola bars. But no bagels. And not chocolate milk but hot chocolate. Um. Well. By this time Libby and the kids had found me, and Libby encouraged me to take what I could get since I would likely regret missing out later. So I did. I got two granola bars and a cup of hot chocolate. My engine was running hot by then. The sun was full out. Hot chocolate might have made sense at the start, but it was not-so-much at the finish.
We stood around for a while and then decided to have something real to eat. I made a few Facebook posts about the run. Had a sandwich and an iced tea (unsweetened, of course). And generally recovered. We made our way over to Aaron and Amber’s house to meet the new cat they have adopted (since they have kind hearts and can’t turn away strays that come to their door). And then it was time to go home. I slept (or at least fell into a stupor) on the drive, and then I crawled up the steps to my computer and plugged in my running watch.
Nike did register my run as a half marathon and congratulated me appropriately. And then I checked my records.
I had set a personal record for the half marathon. By about a minute and a half, which is pretty good, I think.
So it was a good run in the end. I rolled my sore leg muscles then got into the shower. Soon I was in breathable cotton clothes, sitting in a chair with my feet up and thinking about when I might run again.
Another sky shot from our latest trip to Roundrock (now nearly two weeks ago). I was standing in the road next to the cabin, watching a turkey vulture wheeling in the sky. I pointed my camera within its arc, but the vulture never did float into the frame again.
Lots of blue nonetheless, and nearly 80 degrees in late October. I’ll take it!