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Archive for September, 2015
Sunday was the third annual UMKC Regalia Run 5K, and this was the third time I ran it. I’ve been in on this one 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 on Monday. 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. Libby 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 Libby 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 Libby 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.)
Libby 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 Libby 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 Libby 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.
Maybe a can of disinfectant spray is a good thing to have at a cabin in the woods. Or maybe not. We’re trying to decide.
A long, long time ago, my house in faraway suburbia was “invaded” by bats (wow, nine years ago!). We managed to get the bats safely out of the house and plugged the holes where they seemed to be getting in, but Libby also sprayed the area (the thinnest gap between the bricks of the fireplace and the wooden shelves of the flanking bookcases) with Lysol, thinking that the acrid stink of the stuff would deter the bats further. Perhaps that even worked: no more bats. (It also dissolved the finish on the bookcases where it made contact, not too noticeable unless you get close.)
So far, we haven’t had any bat incursions at the Cabin at the End of the Road, but some critters have been gnawing on the woodwork outside the cabin: the door frame and the corners of the porch. The gnawing is minor, but it is ongoing. I’m not sure what the critters are achieving by this. I can’t imagine they’re getting any nutrition from it, at least not from the wood itself. My guess is that male coyotes use these corners to mark their territory (the corners and the porch floor are stained where this is happening) and that the gnawing critters are getting some nutrient (or salt) from the coyote urine. If you have any other ideas, let me know.
Here’s an example of the wreckage:
You see that it’s not structurally significant, but it’s a bit unsightly and — why is it happening?
So Libby’s idea was to repeat our success with the bat eradication by spraying the affected areas of the cabin with the Lysol, thinking that the stink of it would deter the coyotes (if that is what is happening) and thus deter the subsequent gnawing critters. So on a recent visit, Libby did that, generously spraying the affected areas.
On my most recent visit I was eager to see if the Lysol had its intended effect. I don’t know how I would be able to tell if the porch corners were no longer being anointed, but I figured the door frame might show fresh munching if the offense continued.
It’s not easy to tell in the photo above, but the munching has continued. The lighter bit of exposed wood is fresh work. (The darker wood is actually stained from the Lysol.)
I’m not sure what to conclude from this. Perhaps the coyote visits have been deterred. And perhaps the gnawing critters are simply going after the remnants of previous coyote visits. Time will have to tell. Repeated applications of the Lysol might help.
Number One Son, Seth (a pollution control engineer), tells me that the popular deodorizing spray (rhymes with sea breeze) actually does nothing to remove odors from the air (or surfaces or fabrics). Rather it works on your nose, anesthetizing your sniffer so you simply can’t smell the stink that is still there. Over time, your ability to smell (with your nose, that is, not with other body parts) is reduced. I’m not sure if that is how Lysol works since it is supposed to disinfect too.
This was the sky I ran under last Sunday in my neighborhood in faraway suburbia. I was at about mile 5 by this point, eager to grab one more mile so I could then grab some bagels and iced tea (unsweetened, of course). But when I looked up and saw this sky, I stopped (reluctantly) and took the photo.
This view is to the west. Dawn was behind me and not even a hour old by then. You can’t really tell from here, but this is a downhill stretch; by this point it’s a gentle downhill, but that’s always appreciated by mile 5. On the other side of that retaining wall to the left is an interstate highway. That’s a golf course on the right (behind the tall fence). The black square shape you see in the wall far ahead is a tunnel under a road that crosses over the highway. I did not go in the tunnel but rather turned right there and made my way to that road. I was soon crossing the highway myself and facing the last steep uphill before my bagel reward.
Update: The malware bug several of you reported is supposed to be corrected now. Let me know if it’s not.
What you see here is a sack of seeds, Kentucky 31 tall fescue seeds to be specific. You’ll recall that I had some expensive repair work done to the dam and spillways recently. That left a lot of raw, exposed dirt, and I worried about it getting washed away before I could get something growing on it to hold it (and the dam and the spillways) in place. Sadly, nearly a month (and at least two rain storms) passed before I could get myself out to Roundrock with the grass seed to get the job done. Also sadly, Libby was in New York visiting our grandson, Kenneth (who is 8 months old and crawling all over the place), so the job fell to me alone.
I bought two 50 pound bags of the seed from my local big box hardware store. The cost went into three digits (not counting decimals), but the man checking me out (that sounds weird) said that if I had the store’s credit card, I could save 5 percent. Alas, I said, I did not. Then he said that if I applied for the store credit card, I would be given a $50 savings on my purchase. Thus my two bags of seed cost me only two digits of my hard-earned money. And I have a big box hardware store credit card. But enuf about my penny pinching.
I took the seed out to Roundrock last weekend, and since Libby wasn’t home, I had to take the two dogs with me. They proved to be no help at all with the chores, though they did help me with eating my sandwich for lunch. (Yes, I brought them their food, but they disdained it when they smelled my lunch.)
My bigger concern was getting grass growing on the spillways since they would more likely see water flowing over them sooner than the face of the dam would. So I began with the southern spillway, the one all the way across the dam, which seems immeasurably far away when you’re schlepping a heavy sack of seeds on your shoulder.
The seed is coated with a substance that is supposed to help it absorb and retain water, thus giving the seed an advantage for germination. I suppose. I know that my hands were also coated with the green chemical by the time I was done with both bags.
I started seeding about halfway down the spillway and worked my way uphill. I needed to make sure that the two bags would cover the two spillways and the two parts of the dam that needed it. So I began conservatively. When I got to the top of the spillway, I began casting the seed about halfway down the face of the dam on the south side, again seeing how far I could stretch the bag of seeds before I committed to the entire face of the dam.
It’s good that I did. The first bag was empty by the time I was at the top of the dam. That left one bag, one spillway, and one more part of the dam to be seeded. It seemed my plan was working.
So I repeated my effort and got the same result. In the end, I could have easily used up a third 50 pound sack of seeds, addressing the bottoms of the spillways, the bottom of the dam, and some of the scraped-clean area of the pecan plantation as well. But these are not serious erosion concerns. Or rather, if they get any erosion, it won’t be a threat to the integrity of the dam because they are too far from the critical areas. (At least that’s what I tell myself.)
This is, I’m told, the best time of the year for seeding grass. It can sprout and set roots before the winter freeze and then be well established by the summer heat to survive. That’s part of the reason I wanted to get the job done now (and why I should be putting at least as much effort into my lawn back in faraway suburbia, which is the eyesore of the neighborhood).
I get all righteous when I think about getting this seed down on the dam and spillways, but it may be that I needn’t have bothered. Grass had already begun sprouting in some of the sunny areas before I got there with my seed.
The northern spillway and the northern half of the dam looked like this in many places. Obviously, it was the sun that made the difference. The southern spillway, in the shadow of the ridge, did not show any signs of growth. Regardless, I’ll be glad if I can get a clean stand of fescue growing in these places so that I don’t get random scrub growing there instead.
The forecast for Roundrock calls for sunny and dry conditions. A gentle rain would have been nice, but I’ll have to take whatever falls from the sky, whenever it does.
We’ve gone through a succession of bird feeders out at Roundrock. The critters are hard on them (I suspect it’s the raccoons who climb the pole and do direct battle with the feeder to get the seed inside — though I’ve never witnessed this). The plastic feeders that might be sufficient for a suburban back yard don’t stand a chance in the wilds of my woods; a metal and glass feeder my daughter-in-law gave me survived the longest, but even it lost the battle to rust.
So we generally keep our eyes open for replacement feeders when we’re at feed stores and garden supply centers and the like. Mostly we don’t find what we think will survive, but occasionally we come across a full metal feeder that looks sturdy enuf.
Such was recently the case when it was time to replace the rusted-through metal and glass feeder. But even a full metal feeder can be damaged by the vandal critters/varmints, and that happened to our newest, as you can see above.
The plastic dispenser/regulator was ripped from the metal mesh, presumably allowing the varmint (this looked like raccoon work to me) easier access to the seeds within. You can see how the mesh was even torn where the bolt was pulled out.
What’s more astonishing to me is that the dispenser/regulator is an internal part of the feeder. How did the varmint even get enuf leverage to rip this part free?
You’re seeing the internal part of the dispenser in the photo above. The part resting against my thumb is inside the feeder. The part with the bolts and nuts provides the thinnest face on the outside of the feeder. (Also, what’s with the skin on my hand being so wrinkled?) Yet somehow, the varmint grabbed this and ripped it from the metal mesh of the feeder.
Part of the explanation is that the bolts were not big enuf for the job. You can see in the top photo that the bolt was torn from the mesh. But you will also see that the lower bolt came free without tearing the metal. The head of the bolt was simply too small and slipped apparently quite easily through the hole in the mesh. At least that’s my best guess.
So I took the dispenser home with me and put it where I would see it every day in the hope that I would overcome my lethargy and inertia and take myself down to the messy workbench I have in the basement to find a new nut and bolt (and maybe a washer or two) to do the job. And, amazingly, I even did do that, though it was after several come-and-gone trips to Roundrock before I did.
And here is the repaired part. As you might imagine, it’s tight work getting this work done. Though the feeder is a cylinder, it is bisected vertically by a wall, creating two chambers within (presumably for two different kinds of seed, though the Roundrock birds have never been that discriminating in their seed preferences). Getting my hand in there to manipulate a nut or bolt was not easy. Add to that the fact that most of the dispenser is inside the feeder along with my clumsy hand and the tiny bolt that needs to fit in the tiny hole.
I made several frustrating attempts before I handed the job over to Libby, whose slender hands were more suited to the job. She got it done, and the feeder was soon refilled and rehung.
Filling the feeder is as sporadic as our visits to Roundrock. The local birds don’t rely on the seed there to survive, though I imagine the occasional bounty is welcome — they certainly can empty the feeder quickly. And so the ongoing story of the succession of bird feeders before my little cabin goes on. Each new visit brings the potential of another surprise in this story.
On our last visit to Roundrock, we ventured to Libby’s Island at the westernmost end of the lake. We don’t get there often, nor is it an island often. But our feet steered us there this time, and we stumbled up the steep side to push our way through the scrub that was growing vigorously there.
When the lake and the island were first built, the ground was scraped clean and there was nothing but Ozark gravel to crunch underfoot. It seemed impossible that anything could grow on the island, and we put some effort into planting trees and seeding wild flowers there with the hope that something green might emerge. And I carried out two comfy chairs so we could sit on the island and oversee the hoped-for growth.
You see how baseless our worries were. All sorts of scrub has grown up there. I had to kick my way through it since a number of vines snagged my ankles. The green chairs were beginning to be engulfed by the growth. I can’t say when the last time was we sat in those chairs. It may have been more than a year since we were up on the island. Another year and the chairs might have disappeared altogether.
But there we were on this day, and though it’s not a particularly long or difficult hike to reach it, we chose to sit in the chairs for a while and relax. Libby dragged the chairs back a couple of feet so that the relatively clear area that had been beneath them was now before them and we could rest of feet in that open area as we sat.
This being the first island we’d ever owned, we had great ambitions for it including making it the final resting place for all of the many dogs who have shared their lives with us. When Whimsey had died years ago, I had carried her on my back to the island. It was a bitterly cold winter day with snow and ice on the ground, and we didn’t dare attempt to drive all the way in to our woods. I had more than a mile hike with her on my back, a shovel in one hand and a pick axe in the other. The island, it turned out, was little more than a pile of large rocks with a veneer of soil on them. Digging her grave deep enuf to prevent predation was a rough job, as maybe these things should be. I did plenty of prying and wrestling along with the digging. I managed to get the job done, and we adorned her grave with a collection of the best round rocks we could find. On this most recent visit, I cleared the scrub away from it in fond memory of her.
But I also learned from that effort that any future internments would not be done on the island. We now bury the pets (two more so far) at the pine plantation where there is actual soil as deep as my shovel has dug.
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), 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 was 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 Libby and Seth 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 Libby and Seth 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.
This is a picture of my lower left thigh. I also have a lower right thigh. I’ve had them for as long as I can remember, and they’ve been with me through many adventures. But that’s not why I’m sharing this photo.
Look more closely and you may see a hundred or so small reddish dots. Those are chiggers. They are a pestilence that just about anyone who has ventured into the woods or fields in the summer knows about. Chiggers are not larval ticks (despite what Libby insists), though they are related. (Nor are they chigoes, a native of more tropical areas, that sound even worse.) Chiggers are far worse than ticks. These little beasties will attach themselves to your skin, liquify your flesh, then slurp it up before dropping off to mature to their next stage in life. After they’re gone, your skin will begin to itch terribly. For me, the itch can last a week or more. One or two “bites” are not bad, but an infestation of these “bites” concentrate the itch, intensifying it horribly.
I managed to prevent the chiggers you see above from reaching my skin. They are fragile little things, and I simply rubbed my hand against the fabric of my pants a few times, crushing them. (Unfortunately, the permethrin I had saturated my pants with earlier in the summer seems to have lost its potency. It is a contact insecticide and should have killed these chiggers shortly after they touched my pants.) Normally, a summer trip to the woods ends with a swim in the lake, which seems to wash away these pests, but the day was too cool for that, so I had to rely on my smug assurance that I had caught and dispatched the invasion.
Alas, these may have been diversionary chiggers. A couple of days after this last visit to Roundrock, I learned where their real attack had been staged. They had penetrated my socks (also treated with Permetrhin) and feasted on my ankles. Dozens of small welts raised on both ankles, and they itched like crazy, even waking me from my sleep. My coping strategy consisted of slatherings of cortisone cream and daily doses of antihistamines. I survived the worst of it, though there was still a great deal of scratching that couldn’t be avoided. The first frost is welcome to come any time now.