Conventional wisdom in running circles* is that you should never try anything new on race day. You should not change a single thing about your training or gear that you haven’t already confirmed works for you. I like to think I follow that. So for this race I didn’t change a single thing.
I changed two things.
Long-time readers (both of you) will remember that I had done the Cliffhanger 8K run two years ago. You can read my thrilling and breathless account here. I had considered that a one-and-done race; I really had no thought of running it again. But with the marathon now behind me by two weeks, I wondered if my body was ready for another race, albeit a much shorter one (4.97 miles) on a nicely flat course. Last year, after the Portland Marathon, I had run a half marathon two weeks later, and I’ve been paying the price ever since with hamstring issues. (I’m pretty sure that’s the reason; it might just be sinful living. I can’t be sure.) That same half marathon was enticing me again, but the Cliffhanger was on the same day, and I thought it wiser and more prudent to choose the less demanding option. So I signed up for this 8K not long after the Kansas City Marathon and then rested my body, doing only one run (of six miles) in the interim.
Last spring, my grandson, Kenneth, subscribed to Runnerbox for me, and every two months I received a box of running-related stuff to try. Most of it was energy bars, energy chews, energy cookies, energy gels, energy supplements, energy drink mixes, and coupons. On the morning of the Cliffhanger, I decided to nosh on some of the energy chews and then eat one of the energy gels just before I took off. These two things were change number one on race day, and while I don’t think they caused me any distress (and perhaps gave me no discernible energy boost), I partook so I would have the first of two changes and thus not violate conventional wisdom. (Makes sense, doesn’t it?) I should also confess that more than two hours before gun time I ate two pumpernickel bagels. I figured they would have passed through my gullet in plenty of time. (This could count as change number one-point-one.)
The second change was more significant, and it was deliberate. I have found that on the day after a long run, and the Kansas City Marathon was a long, long run, my right Achilles tendon is so tight that I have to struggle going up stairs to the point that I get a pain in my right knee from my unnatural gait with that leg. When I’m not running, when I’m wearing “street” shoes, I have arch support inserts in them. I’ve worn these for decades and they seem to do the job of keeping my feet happy and cooperative (and free of heel spurs). But I don’t wear them in my running shoes, and I get that Achilles problem the next day (or the same day sometimes) after longer runs. So I thought that I should try running with these arch supports in my running shoes to a) see if I could do it (without getting blisters or cramps or fit problems) and b) see if I might prevent the Achilles problem. And since the Cliffhanger was a short and flat (i.e., undemanding) course, it would be a good chance to begin my experiment. And so I did.
The Cliffhanger is run along Cliff Drive, one of the designated Scenic Byways in the nation. The route is gorgeous and mostly along the base of the cliff that gives the drive its name. It’s in the historic Northeast section of Kansas City, a place of stately homes and parks that have seen better times. The trees were turning, and leaves decorated the ground we would run on.
This year’s race had a scheduling difference from the one I ran two years ago, and it was a great improvement. They scheduled the 5K run an hour prior to the 8K. This would allow the 5K runners and walkers plenty of time to cover their 3.1 miles, all of which would be part of the 8K course. Most, and perhaps all of the 5K runners would be finished by the time we 8K runners took off. (Two years ago, when the scheduling was the opposite, we 8K runners were pelting across the finish line and into the chute, which was packed with 5K runners waiting to go. It was a mess of sudden halts and collisions.)
Being at the base of a north-facing cliff in Kansas City in November meant that there wasn’t a lot of sunshine to stand in to stay warm as we waited for the 8K race to begin. There was a patch up the road from the start, and I hung out there for most of the time, looking for familiar faces and otherwise fighting pre-race anxiety. About 15 minutes before the start, I shed my jacket and headed for the arch. The 8K was to begin at 9:00, but they held it until 9:10 to allow more of the 5K runners to complete the course. (Those people would not have been a problem for me. By the time I would have been where any of them were at 9:00, they would have been long finished and at the pancake breakfast. But some of the really fast 8K runners were already within a mile of finishing when I was little more than a mile from the start, and the slower 5K participants might have been “in their way.”)
When it was finally time for us to fly, they gave us a 30-second countdown and I started my watch so it would have some satellites by go time. Perhaps the tall cliffs to the south were interfering, but the watch didn’t find any satellites until after the start and I was several hundred feet underway. (This is the same watch with the supposed 8-hour battery that gave me a “low battery” warning as I was finishing the marathon in much less than 8 hours. I wrote to the manufacturer and got a lot of technical explanations for why the watch wouldn’t perform as advertised. I told them what I thought of their explanations. They wrote back and said they would send me a new watch in exchange for the current one. So maybe all is forgiven — when it arrives and works properly.)
So we were off. Hundreds and hundreds of us. My goal was not much more than having a decent run and seeing how the arch supports worked. Thus I didn’t mind hundreds and hundreds of people running past me. The arch supports felt odd in my shoes, which I fully expected, but I didn’t expect not being able to feel my footfalls in the same way. It was as though my feet were numb, insulated from the ground as they were by the inserts. But this didn’t affect my legs, and my feet must have been relying on muscle memory because I didn’t make any missteps. There were plenty of chances for that, however. The course was heavily littered with leaves and sticks, and a recent strong rain left them wet (and potentially slippery). The pavement was smooth for the most part, but I had a hard time finding the flattest part of the road I prefer given the leaves (and occasional mud).
I thought that two weeks was enuf time to recover from a marathon, at least for an undemanding run like this one, but I realize now I was mistaken. Somehow, I had left my lungs at home. I had no wind to sustain a decent pace. (This may have also been because I had done literally no running in the last week so my lungs were not trained up. Also, those two bagels were still in my esophagus I think, taking up valuable space my lungs might have been using to suck in more oxygen for my screaming muscles.) Whatever the reason, it wasn’t long after mile one that I decided I had to walk a hundred feet or so. I certainly wasn’t expecting that to happen, and I wasn’t happy about it at all. Flat course. Only 5 miles (4.97). Rested and fueled. It should have been any easy course to run continuously and even fast for my ability. Yet it wasn’t. Or rather, I couldn’t.
I was really disappointed with myself, but another piece of conventional running wisdom is that you should listen to your body. My body was telling me not to push it so hard for whatever reason. So I walked until I could run again. But this repeated itself for the rest of the run. I would target a certain runner far ahead, or some landmark like a lamp post, and run until I reached that point, then walk a little more. Okay, so this was a test run after all. Testing the arch supports. And testing my marathon recovery. Lessons were being learned, and I suppose I should be grateful.
The course is an out-and-back. We ran along Cliff Drive for 2.5 miles, turned around, and ran the same route back to where we started. Once I made the turn I got the chance to see how many runners were behind me. There were hundreds, so once again, I wouldn’t be the last runner in. Even so, my walking breaks allowed dozens of those formerly behind me to get ahead. I think I passed the last out-bound runner/walker when I had little more than a mile to go. Still, I needed to walk. Along with the underperforming lungs, my hips were reminding me how thoroughly unpleased they had been with the marathon, threatening to twist me up with pain again if I didn’t stop pushing them. (I hadn’t done my usual overdosing on vitamin I before the race because it was going to be a “frolic.”) So I had that to manage as well. Still, I was closing in on the finish arch and I wanted to look at least a bit respectable as I came in.
There is a curve in the road right before the end, and when you get around it, you can see the finish arch a few hundred feet ahead. All I wanted to do was make it the rest of the way at a run. I was in a pack of other runners, but something happened to me then. I found a little energy or drive or self respect and I started running faster, weaving through the pack of runners I was in and into the open area beyond. And I kept up the faster pace.
I crossed the finish line looking like an actual runner, and since that’s where the photographers were, this was a handy coincidence. (I haven’t seen the photos yet.) We got medals this year, which is a change from the last time I ran it. It’s a nice enuf medal, but I’m conflicted about these. Anything less than a half marathon doesn’t seem “worthy” of a medal to me. Nonetheless, they are getting more common for the shorter races, so they must be what everyone wants. And I’ve never been known to decline a medal.
There was a post-run pancake breakfast that was included in the race fee (maybe that’s where they hid the chocolate milk), but it was disappointing two years ago, and I had no reason to expect otherwise this time. Plus, being a back-of-the-pack runner always means that the feasting is well picked over by the time I get there.
So the Cliffhanger 8K for 2015 is run and done. I didn’t do well, but I did beat my time from two years ago by more than three minutes, even with all of the unfortunate walking I did this time. The arch supports in my running shoes may just work out; I’ll try them on my training runs for a while and see. I have nothing on my dance card until April (though I may sign up for this or that). The April run is a little marathony thing in St. Louis, and while I’ll surely be fully recovered by then, I will need to use all of the time before me to train smartly for it.
*In the running community, not actually running around in, you know, circles.