I’d been having some not-so-good runs in the days before this race. I think because I spent so much time on the treadmill these last few cold months, I was having pacing problems. The treadmill belt turns at a constant pace, so I trot along at a constant pace (despite what the shoe sensor is telling my running watch). I can increase or decrease the speed on the treadmill, but for most of my runs I keep it at a constant pace.
Not so, it turns out, on actual pavement. The real ground does not move beneath your feet. You have do more than just lift and drop your feet. I had forgotten that detail. And when you are doing “real” running, you are in complete control of your pace, except when you’re not paying attention and let yourself get going too fast. Then you wonder why your lungs feel like they’re about to explode and you’re seeing black dots in the corner of your vision. So on recent outdoor runs I’d get going too fast without realizing it and then stop to gasp or slow to a walk to recover, which is not satisfying or encouraging (especially when you have a full marathon in your fast-approaching future).
So I was apprehensive about this four-mile run in the middle of Kansas City. I had wanted to run it last year but couldn’t because I was out of town. Thus I was eager to take the chance this year and signed up for it as soon as the window opened. I’d had a bad run on Wednesday of last week and decided I was running too much. (I know, blasphemy.) So I took off Thursday and Friday to rest, and to fret.
Saturday morning dawned warm and sunny. My legs felt rested. I had picked up my packet the afternoon before. My watch was charged. My attitude was hopeful. And so Libby and I made our way down to Westport, the oldest part of the city. It’s a place full of restaurants and bars and funky shops that come and go. It has a vibe, mostly counter culture, but we suburbanites leaven it a bit.
This year marked the 36th running of this race, and since it’s in observance of St. Patrick’s Day, the organizers felt it appropriate to have it start in front of a bar called Kelly’s and end in front of a bar called McCoy’s. There were several thousand runners, mostly dressed in green, as well as folks in costumes either of color and splash or of caricatures (or stereotypes) of Irish culture. Is there really an Irish bobsledding team? Are three Gumbys somehow representative of Ireland? Runners were encouraged to form teams, which would tie themselves together. (A hazard when you want to run between them if they’re in your way.) One team consisted of a leprechaun, a rainbow, and a pot of gold. Another, more unsettling, team was a middle-aged man and two much younger (and more fit) women all encircled by a rope. The women ran the lead with the man behind them as though being towed.
But I gave myself over to the happy spirit of the day and decided to concentrate on my own run, which was really the only thing under my control anyway. I met with several friends in my running club and we all chatted before the official start. But we would all go at different paces, so once we were off, we split up as expected.
Since there were so very many runners, and since I was in about the middle of the pack waiting to start, I think several minutes passed before the general shuffle got me to the starting line. I had managed to get my watch to find some satellites in time so when I crossed the starting mats, I started my watch. And I was off.
As usual, hundreds of people passed me. The start gave us a brief down hill and then a gentle rise to a more or less level stretch for a while. Being mindful of my tendency to start too fast at these events and to fail to pay attention to my pace, I tried hard to go at a reasonable rate. I knew I had to shepherd my energy for the entire distance. So I got over to the right side of the road where the slower runners were and settled in. Even so, this reasonable rate proved to be faster than my blistering rate normally. But I felt good and so tried to stick with it.
At the first quarter mile, someone was on the side of the road handing out shots of Guinness extra stout beer to anyone who wanted it. (Note that this was not an official aid station.) I might have been tempted except for two things: I don’t like stout beers and I was leery of drinking any beer so early in a run. So I passed on the beer.
And I passed a lot of walkers. I’m sure there were hundreds of people who were there to walk the four miles, and I hope they were who I was passing. If they were runners who had already exhausted themselves in the first quarter mile, then they were going to have a disappointing morning.
By the half mile mark we began to climb a steep hill. That didn’t last long, but we only leveled out for a short while before a long, more gradual hill presented itself. This hill lasted until mile two. It was at mile two that the first (and only) official aid station was. They were handing out cups of water, which is a fine thing and something I now try to make use of on all of my runs. (I think it helps me more than I realize.) Unfortunately, it appears that someone had donated cups for this event. They were about 10-ounce plastic cups. Souvenir cups with some company’s logo on the side. I, and I think every other runner that morning, did not want to carry a souvenir cup the rest of the race, so like the paper cups normally used, these were drained and then tossed to the ground. Paper cups are no problem. You can run on them and they crush readily. These plastic cups were not so obliging. If your foot landed on one of these you might turn your ankle. Or the cup might crush and send a shard of itself up into the sole of your expensive running shoe. We were dodging around the hundreds and hundreds of these cups in our path, kicking them when we couldn’t miss them, and cursing them all. This was a mistake in planning, and I certainly hope it does not become the norm.
But that mess was soon left behind, and as I turned the corner after mile two, I knew I was halfway done, with no appreciable hills left to face. A mother and daughter were just ahead of me along this stretch, and the mother was coaching her daughter (perhaps 10 years old) about endurance. But she kept telling the girl that the next mile was going to be the hardest. I think it had something to do with being eager to finish but still being a long way out. I’m not sure, but that certainly didn’t seem like the kind of thing to tell a novice runner. The girl didn’t look like she was having any trouble keeping up with her seasoned runner mom, so why tell her she was about to have trouble?
Along here, and not surprisingly, I began to pass other runners. This nearly always happens to me in organized runs. I guess I get warmed up or find a stride or achieve emotional maturity or something, and I get going faster. Sustainably faster. I knew I was pushing my pace at this point, and I was able to keep it up. Granted, I wasn’t blistering along like some fleet forest animal, but for me, I was moving. And that was satisfying, especially in light of the bad runs I’d been having lately.
Unlike most runs I do, I had not driven the route of this one, so I didn’t really know where we would turn and such. But there were still plenty of runners on the road with me (and behind me), so I had no trouble staying on course. Even so, there are whole stretches in this second half of the run that I have no memory of. I don’t think I was lost inside my mind (it’s not a very big place after all), and I wasn’t fighting exhaustion. I don’t know why I can’t remember any specifics about these parts. Maybe I was just in the zone.
The last mile was a straight shot to the finish, and I was familiar with this part of town. I felt myself running faster the farther I went, and although it was a push, I felt good, like I could keep going. And I did.
At mile 3.5 another unofficial aid station appeared. This time they were handing out cups of (non-stout) beer and Jello shots. The beer might have been nice at this point; the shots, not so much. But I was so close to finishing, and I was running so well, that I didn’t want to delay even the few seconds it would have cost me. Instead, I pushed even harder. And when I saw the finish arch not too far ahead, I really pushed, running at nearly two-thirds of my normal pace. I think I only achieved that because I knew I didn’t have to sustain it for long.
We were told in advance that our finish line appearance would be on video later (in addition to the free photos we would get), so I wanted to look fabulous (rather than exhausted), but I hope my pumping arms and legs achieved that for me because my face and gaping mouth probably didn’t. (I haven’t seen the pix yet.) In any case, I crossed the finish mats and turned off my watch, then I accepted the green bead necklace that they gave us in lieu of the finisher medal we were promised. It seems that the finisher medals were tied up in customs — so much metal being shipped into the country apparently set off alarms. So we get to pick them up later in the week, which won’t be a problem since one of my runs goes right by the running store where they will be available. (But this explains why I don’t have a photo of the medal and my bib.)
Then I looked for Libby, who had intended to be waiting for me there. I don’t know what it is about the areas past the finish arch, but too many people were gathered and milling about. It seems like this could be better organized so that we runners pelting across the mats don’t have to hit the brakes so suddenly and the folks hoping to get a photo of us pelting can get a clear shot. But I don’t organize these things, and no one has asked me to.
Libby and I missed each other, but I wandered about and eventually found her. I grabbed some chocolate milk and we got ourselves some late breakfast. (Apparently I was entitled to as much free green beer as I could drink, but no one had told me this, and I don’t think I would have had any had I know. So I don’t feel too bad about missing that.)
I had a good run, which was exactly what I needed. My next run is a big one: a half marathon in April. I have a couple of shorter runs after that, then another half in June. Then there’s that full marathon looming in October. I am, of course, insane.