east and west of the cabin

May 6th, 2015

east

Sorry for the blurry photo. I don’t think I’ll ever master the macro function on my camera. But no matter. This is the red buckeye on the east corner of the cabin. For the third year now it has brought out flowers, which warms my black and shriveled heart. So far, no buckeyes themselves, but I am hopeful.

The plants (there are three of them within the fence) are now taller than their cage. I suspect that the deer will not bother them, but as an absentee landlord, there’s not much I can do if they do.

Libby said that last year she saw a hummingbird on the outside of the fence, trying to figure out how to get to the red flowers inside the fence. That’s not going to be a problem any longer since the flowers overtop the fence.

Even more thrilling was what you see in this blurry photo:

west

These are flowers on the buckeyes on the west corner of the cabin. This is the first year for them to bloom; they’ve been in the ground for two years. Libby thinks that these western plants don’t get enuf sunlight. There is a largish Black Jack oak I want to remove that will help resolve the sunlight issue. and I could do some trimming elsewhere to let more sunlight get to these. All it takes is time and effort.

wiggling and squirming

May 5th, 2015

tent caterpillars

A not-uncommon sight at Roundrock this time of year. This tent was in a young cherry tree not too far from the Cabin at the End of the Road. I promptly broke the branch from the tree and took it for a walk. (Did you know that these caterpillars must weave their tent in a spot that gets full morning sun? They need it to warm their bodies in the spring so they can begin to forage. The temperature must also be high enuf to allow their bodies to digest the leaves that they eat.)

I walked down to the lake so that I could introduce the caterpillars to the fish in there. I’d done this once before with inconclusive results, but here was another fine opportunity, so I took it.

I had hoped that I could tear open the webbing and just shake the caterpillars into the water, but they cling tenaciously, and that tent has may layers and chambers within it. I used a stick to tear through parts and expose some critters, then I knocked them into the water. And I did that several times until I had all of the caterpillars liberated and going for a swim.

My results were inconclusive once again. There are times when I am certain the universe is conspiring against me. This was not one of those times however. I had simply executed a doomed plan.

Because I did not walk into the water (it being a chilly day), I had to deposit the caterpillars in the shallow water. And because it was a chilly, not-very-sunny day, the fish were in the deeper water rather than in the shallows. Also, there is still plenty of scum floating on the surface of the lake. And there was some lingering grass and other scrub sticking up out of these shallow waters (since the lake had been low all winter). The caterpillars thus found many refuges on the water once the wind blew them a foot or so from their entry point.

I didn’t get to confirm that they made a tasty meal or not. (In fact, it’s possible that the fish would not like the taste of them.)

But the effort was not a complete loss. As I looked in the water, I saw then what you see now:

polliwogsTadpoles. This confirmed that the fish were deep; I think they would have devoured these tadpoles if they had been up in the shallows with them.

 

once again

May 4th, 2015

phoebe 1

This is what greeted us on the cabin porch when we were last down at Roundrock.

Actually, there were three messes like this on the porch. We often will find little mysteries on the porch when we arrive. Who’s eating the door frame? Who put all of those rocks there? How did these sticks get here?

These mud pellets, on the other hand, are no mystery. They are all just part of this beautiful creation:

phoebe 2

 

Once again, a phoebe has used the protective overhang of the cabin porch to build her nest. Perhaps it is the same phoebe who built a nest here last summer. Maybe it’s one of her offspring. She doesn’t stick around to chat when we arrive but flies to a nearby branch and spends her time scolding us.

That is the ceiling of the porch you see in the top left of the photo; phoebe built her nest much higher this year. Whether that was to keep the nosy humans out of her business a little better or just because she found better purchase there for her mud pellets, I don’t know. Possibly both. Possibly for other reasons as well.

Because the natural light so close to the ceiling isn’t very good, I had to use the flash on my camera to get a decent shot. Unfortunately, that washed out some of the color. Along with all of the pellets of mud (thousands of them, I guess, in this effort and the two that didn’t take nearby), phoebe has decorated the outside of her nest with bits of green moss. It’s actually about as pretty as something made of mud can be. (And where is she finding all of this mud in my Ozark gravel soil?)

I worried last year that our coming and going would keep the bird off of her nest enuf to allow the eggs to die. That was apparently not the case since I kept an inventory of the eggs in it through the summer, and it was evident that she’d hatched her first clutch successfully since the eggs I had seen earlier were gone later. Then a second clutch appeared.

Sadly for me, but good for mama phoebe, my comings and goings at the cabin are not as frequent this year, so she’ll have more undisturbed time for sitting on her nest.

And what was within?

phoebe 3

Pablo had to stand on one of the comfy chairs and then take a blind shot into the nest still over his head to get this photo. Such a heartwarming image, at least to me.

 

Skywatch Friday ~ rainy portents

May 1st, 2015

cloudy sky

This was the sky that greeted us just after sunrise last week as we headed to Roundrock. There was a chance of rain in the forecast, but I crossed my fingers and we headed out nonetheless.

It never rained on us, and the clouds parted a number of times to show us blue sky. In any case, we were at our little cabin in the woods for the day, and that was a good thing.

 

fallen timber

April 29th, 2015

fallen

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that we’d found a tree near the cabin that the storms had brought down. Well, as you can see in this photo, the storms hadn’t quite finished the job. The snapped tree was resting on its trunk when we arrived. It fell to me (so to speak) to finish the job, and I couldn’t quite manage it either.

What you can’t see in this photo is that the top of the (former) tree is resting in a crotch of a nearby tree. When I lifted the tree off of its trunk and began to pull it down, the branches of the two trees contrived and conspired to thwart me and held onto each other.

My concern was that if the tree came to the ground on its own, it might do so by falling on the cabin first. Although it looks as though this tree is leaning over the cabin, it is not. The tree is about fifteen feet away, but given its length and its posture high in that other tree, I think another storm could, possibly, throw the tree cabin-wise and maybe do some damage.

My moving of the snapped terminus to the ground, combined with the grip the two trees have on each other, makes me think that the cabin is now safe. Next time I’m out I’ll figure out how to liberate the fallen tree and then begin cutting it into fire wood.

I hadn’t known that this tree was weak (or perhaps even dead). It had brought out leaves last year. I’ve slowly been cutting away trees that are close to the cabin, but I’ve pretty much finished with the ones I’m comfortable attacking. Most of the rest are too big for my meagre skills and confidence. I just hope I’m not leaving it to the storms to finish those jobs.

smiles

April 28th, 2015

smiles

I came upon this unexpected smile when Libby and I (and the dogs) were at the cabin last weekend. It is unfortunate that that was our first (and only) visit we’d made in the month of April, but it was worth the wait, even though we didn’t do much but relax and knock around.

Rain was in the forecast, and as the week before progressed, the chances for it increased. When we left home early that morning, we drove in the rain for a while. But I had checked the weather map, and it didn’t look to me as though any storm was going to be in the Roundrock area, at least during the day. The closer we got, the drier the roads were, and by the time we left the paved county road for the two miles of gravel going in, we were leaving a rooster tail of dust behind us.

Yet we found the lake at nearly full pool, which was fantastic since it will give the fish plenty of room for swimming and breeding and growing and knocking around. There had apparently been some violent storms in the area because one tree near the cabin had snapped and was resting in the limbs on a tree beside it. In other words, fire wood.

The cheery round rock you see above had fallen from its perch and was on the ground. I replaced it, as you can see below:

in situ

And here’s another smile for you:

Smiler

 

Trolley Run 2015 – recap

April 27th, 2015

Trolley Run kit

Do I have a correct sense that my long, detailed race reports are a bit tedious? I have the notion that you’re getting bored with them, and here in the middle of spring racing season, they keep coming. (I have a half marathon in a week and a half, and I’m thinking of running another half the week after that, which is insane and brutal in itself and probably isn’t too kind to you, gentle reader.)

But this was my third year doing the Trolley Run, and it’s a kind of personal tradition for me, so I hope you’ll indulge my indulgence here (even as I try to keep the account short). You can read about the 2013 run here and the 2014 run here.

Since this was my third time for this run, I felt confident. I’d just run those two half marathons back to back and well, and I think I may have turned yet another running corner. (I say I’ve turned so many corners that I’m back to where I started.) Yet last year at this run I had done much better than I had expected, and better than on any comparable run since. It was as though the running gods had granted me that one day of speedy legs.

So, of course, I had to do better this year.

Four miles. Most of it on a gentle downhill. My training runs lately have been good. My shoes were broken in. I did a shake down run earlier in the week with the kit you see above (also, long-sleeved shirt, compression shorts). All the pieces were in place. I got to the start early, just before dawn in the 43 degrees with overcast skies and 93 percent humidity, and started looking around for coworkers (since I was company team captain this year). I only found one — by boss — though I saw two more in the faster waves later. He and I shivered in the cold, and I gave him what tips I could since he is new to the sport (and he is, well, my boss). Time passed. Crowds gathered. Clouds gathered. People were migrating to their wave corrals. Again this year I was in the Green wave, which challenged me a bit, and that is a good thing for me to do. I crowded to the front of the wave not out of ego but as a practical measure. There were 10,000 of us, shoulder to shoulder in the start chute, and I’ve had my frustrations with clots of runners ahead of me that are hard to get around. (I wanted to run this year as hard as I could, and if I could get ahead of the crowd maybe that would help.)

A drone buzzed overhead. An announcer chatted up the crowd. Runners huddled and shivered. We were told there would be a delay because of an “issue” on the course. They never said what that was, and I never saw anything tell tale on the trail. But eventually the first wave was let go, and they flew. The second wave then shuffled up to the start and, apparently, several of them decided not to wait for their official start but just took off. The announcer tried to call them back (!) and chastise them, but they’re runners! (The point of staggering the waves is, in part, to reduce congestion on the run but also to spread out the finishers so they’re not crowded and jostling as they try to get those last few hundred feet done. On a run as short as this, that’s a valid concern.) Soon enuf the second wave was let fly, and my wave stepped up.

Plenty of people must have shared my front-of-the-pack strategy because though I was about two people behind the front before, by the time we stood at the starting mat, I was twenty people back. We waited the few minutes before we were sent on our way. I got my watch going. And soon, we were off!

A common mistake I make at the start of timed runs is to head out too fast. I exhaust myself and just stagger through the rest of the run. Recently I’ve gotten good at reining myself in and keeping my pace reasonable so I have enuf energy to run well throughout.

I did not do that this time.

As I said, I intended to run this hard and do better than the year before. I took off and was squeezing between runners to get ahead of them. Eventually I just went to the outside of the four-lane road devoted to us and hustled along in the more open space there. I could feel the burn in my lungs, but I wanted to get ahead of the pack at least until it began to thin naturally and opportunities to move ahead would be more plentiful. I made the mistake of glancing at my watch to see my pace, and I was pulling down a number that amazed and startled me. I knew I had to throttle back, and I did. And as soon as I did, people began passing me. Even so, I could feel (without looking at my watch) that I was going faster than my usual fast pace. My hope was that I could sustain it.

I say that the Trolley Run is four downhill miles, but the first half mile includes some slight inclines, and there are a couple more in the last mile. I could feel my pace slowing as I met those first hills (hardly hills, but my mind is a strange place to live in). I heard myself saying that I was going to have to start walking soon. There was really no way I was going to be able to run all four of the miles (despite having run two half marathons continuously in the two weeks before). Shame is a valuable motivator. I didn’t let myself walk, and though I knew my pace had slackened on those hills, I vowed to step it up on the flat stretches.

And then we were out of the inclines and on Brookside Boulevard, the wide street that would take us nearly all the way to the finish arch. The flag for Mile 1 loomed ahead and I thought maybe I could actually do it. I was still pushing, though I don’t know if I was doing well or just exhausted. It didn’t matter. People were passing me. Little children on the sideline were holding out plates of bacon. (I passed.) The usual cheering and encouragement was shouted, and I was pleased to see so many people out braving the brisk morning temps. All of the children were begging for high fives from the runners, and one man held his dog’s paw out as well. Since I was running down the middle of the road (flatter pavement), I missed all of that.

I also missed the first water station. I was nearly upon it before I realized it was there, but the pack had thinned, so I was able to dart over to the side to grab a cup. Unfortunately for me, they were handing out bottles of water. All I needed was a sip, and I didn’t want to carry a bottle with me just as much as I didn’t want to throw a mostly full bottle on the ground. So I blew through the water station.

We were into the “downhill” portion of the run by then. It’s a gentle slope, and you could easily not even realize you were going downhill. (You would realize you were grinding uphill if you were going in the other direction.) I wasn’t hurting, and I wasn’t really exhausted, but I could feel my drive to keep pushing fading. And then I heard something that made me chuckle. A girl (perhaps 7 or 8) was running with her father, and she asked when they were going to get to the downhill part of the run. I suspect she felt a bit deceived by promises made.

I’d run this race before, and I’ve run the actual Trolley Trail itself (that goes along Brookside Boulevard) several times, so I knew where I was in relation to the finish. I could not let myself think of that though. I was only about half way through and I didn’t think I had anything left. Except two more miles.

Somewhere behind me my boss was coming along. If he found me walking — if he passed me — that would be all I would hear about for weeks at the office. I didn’t relish that, so I kept throwing one foot in front of the other, reminding myself that I had done far better with far worse.

Mile three passed. I managed to get a cup of water at the second aid station. I managed to keep running. And not too far ahead, I could see the turn off of Brookside and into the Plaza where the finish arch was waiting for me. It was here, I had told myself before the race, that I would want to pick up my pace and finish gloriously. But I just didn’t have it. Or perhaps I didn’t have it yet. I’ve noticed that it’s at about mile four in a long run that I finally feel like the parts are coming together. I wasn’t there yet, and I had pushed hard already, so maybe it just wasn’t going to happen this time.

But run on I did, and when I made that turn into the Plaza and faced the last bit of downhill before the flat finish, I managed to find some energy somewhere and did the best I could with it. And this finish was different from nearly all I’ve ever made. I was running with a crowd. I guess because I had pushed, I managed to keep up with much of my wave. So there I was, approaching the mats, and dodging around people (though most were kicking it as much as they could too). With each step my growing exhaustion was being pushed aside by my growing certainty that I was going to finish well.

I ran across the mats and turned off my watch. I expected to stagger or vomit or display some other kind of showmanship, but it didn’t happen. I slowed to a walk. I breathed evenly. I moved with the crowd to the volunteers who cut the chips off of our shoes. Then I walked beyond them, looking for Libby. I found a bottle of water that I didn’t really want. I had a cup of PowerAde. I moved closer to the tents where all of the yummy food was waiting.

The lines before those tents, however, were long. The after party area stretched for blocks, and these were the first tents. I suspected that the tents farther down wouldn’t be as thronged, and I was right. I had to pass the free pizza (meh, probably not good on a recently run stomach), and the bagels, and some of the fruit. But my certain destination was ahead, and it was staged so that lines didn’t need to form. I stepped up and helped myself to three cartons of chocolate milk which I then gulped.

Libby began texting me to find where I was. (Why not just use the phone?) We met up. And then we decided to leave. Yes, I was the team captain, and I probably should have been at the finish chute to shout in my team members, but most of them I merely knew as email addresses. Only a handful I would even recognize, and I knew two of them had finished well before me. Plus, I knew where there were bagels to be had without a long wait in line.

We skedaddled. The sun never came out (until the afternoon), and it never got warmer. Bagels. Some foam rolling. A hot shower. Warm, cotton clothes.

Also, I had looked at my times from the last two Trolley Runs, and I knew what my watch had reported about this third run.

Bottom line: I had beat last year’s time by nearly two minutes. That’s pretty good for such a short distance. And the first year? I crushed that by more than eight minutes. I had done well.

Now, of course, there’s next year, right?

 

pining away

April 22nd, 2015

pine

The pines have been my greatest success at Roundrock. Through the years, I’ve planted hundreds of trees and shrubs in my 80 acres. Most have simply disappeared and are unlikely ever to confirm their presence in the decades to come. But the pines have taken hold and are doing something close to thriving. (I have planted them in the best soil I have, which is really good soil, especially compared to the rocky rubble that constitutes most of my “soil.”)

I began planting them nearly a decade ago. Some of those originals are now more than twenty feet tall. Spindly, and seemingly not well rooted, but tall. Many, of course, didn’t survive. I replanted where others had died and slowly expanded the area where the pines might thrive. The one you see above I planted last spring and it’s already more than tripled in size. (Same with the one in the top right corner of the photo.)

I didn’t plant any this year. They are labor intensive, at least the planting and girding of them in their chicken wire cages. The deer seem especially interested in rubbing the velvet off their antlers on these pines, starting first with the cages, which they can apparently smash with ease.

I tell myself that I’ve run out of room for planting them, but that’s not really true. Yes, I could clear some larger oak trees near the existing plantation and open enuf space for a dozen more pines. And, actually, there is enuf space between the pines already planted for more. Plus I could try for a third time to plant more pines on Danger Island. I could. I should. I might.

The lake comes and goes. The pecans seem to grow only grudgingly (a mere dozen of the hundred I’d planted still alive). The road needs constant maintenance.

But the pines pay me back with satisfaction.

Garmin Half Marathon 2015 ~ recap ~ part two

April 21st, 2015

Garmin bling

After I crossed the finish line and Libby found me, we turned the corner to enter the after party area, but we quickly turned away from it and decided just to go home. There was a long line out of the food tent (with free chicken sandwiches for all as well as the usual chow). But the line was standing in the rain and not moving. The tent was dark on the inside (I suppose since there was no sun). The rest of the area was crowded with vendors all trying to sell things. Thunder and lightning overhead. Just yuck.

This was a disappointing run. Not because I didn’t set a personal record; I hadn’t intended to. I was actually pleased with the time I turned in, it being much better than I had expected given how tired I was from the prior week, my anxiety about the weather, and my unfamiliarity with the route. Nor did I have to rely on scabs for chafing protection, so that was good.

But the water stations were poorly staged. The start seemed ragged and chaotic. There were unnecessary bottlenecks on the route. The pace groups were thick and blocked faster runners (though this was the case at Rock the Parkway, too). The finish was lackluster (even if the weather had cooperated). The dirt on the trail hadn’t been cleared. Supposedly paved sections were a mess. Overall, the course was ugly. The after party area was too congested. And given the weather history of the event, I think they should have had a better contingency plan for most of it. I really expected better from an outfit like Garmin, but perhaps these are growing pains. I know that Garmin took over this race from its original organizers several years ago. Maybe they’re working out the kinks.

But the whole Wizard of Oz thing bugged me, too. If you’re from Kansas, you’re pretty much sick of all of the references to the Wizard of Oz and Dorothy and Toto and the Yellow Brick Road. (Why don’t they credit us with being the home of Superman? He grew up in Kansas!) Plus they keyed everything off of the movie version of the story. See Dorothy in the (ugly) medal above? See her ruby slippers? In the novel they are silver slippers (that some have theorized was Baum’s argument for a silver currency standard at the time, some fascinating reading here). I realize it was all supposed to be fun, but it left me cold. I wouldn’t have run this if it weren’t part of the Heartland Series, and I doubt I’ll run this one again.

After we left, Libby and I drove to the bagel shop and sat down to enjoy what we had missed earlier (including chocolate milk). But as I was eating my bagel and drinking my iced tea (unsweetened, of course), and putting my feet up on a chair, I realized that there were likely still some full marathoners out on the course, in the intense rain of the moment, squishing their way through what surely had to be several inches of wet mud by then.

While there I got another text from my grandson (notice his proper use of a comma):

congrats Garmin

I’ll be grabbing more miles this week since I don’t have another half marathon for more than two weeks. But I do have the Trolley Run this weekend. It’s only four miles long, and nearly all of it is downhill. Plus it is renown for its after party, set across several spacious blocks. That will be nice. And the weather forecast looks about perfect.

 

Garmin Half Marathon 2015 ~ recap ~ part one

April 20th, 2015

Garmin kit

When I read accounts by others of races I’ve done (or intend to do) — recaps or reports, they’re called — I find that what I write about them is more about my personal experience than about the race itself. Others’ accounts tend to be about how well the race was conducted, the water station set ups, the course conditions, the quality of the cheering fans on the side of the road, the after party, that kind of thing. I tend to give an account of the state of my unraveling mind along the way. My recaps tend to be about my run rather than the run. That’s generally all I have for you, and if you’re a runner considering a race, my account may not be useful to you. But if you’re fascinated by anguish and mental breakdown and eventual giddiness, then I try to deliver.

The Garmin Half Marathon (there were also a full marathon and a 10K) was the second in a series of three I’m doing this spring. It’s a local tradition, called the Heartland 39.3 Series, and I’d known about it for about two years before I thought I might be trained enuf to actually accomplish it. As you know if you read my account of the first race in the series, Rock the Parkway 2015, I had signed up for this last summer, believing I had most of a year to get trained up and mentally conditioned.

Conventional running wisdom is that you should allow yourself one day of recovery for every mile after a big run. Thus, after I ran 13 miles two weekends ago at Rock the Parkway (and did well), I should have allowed myself nearly two weeks of rest and recovery time before attempting another big race. Didn’t happen. Since the Garmin Half was exactly one week later, I only got six rest days. (And if you add the two days I ran — total 10 miles — during that week, I really only got four rest days.) But I’ve never given much credence to conventional wisdom.

I will confess that I was nervous about this race. I’d never done this kind of thing, running two challenging races so closely placed. I’d read an account of a man who ran a full marathon in the morning, then joined his friend to run another full marathon that afternoon. I suspect some people just have the musculature, the metabolism to run this way (and live), but they aren’t most people, and they certainly aren’t me. I didn’t know what to expect of myself, and once again, the only goal I set for myself (aside from finishing) was to run past mile 8 before taking a walk break. I thought that might be too optimistic though given my lack of sufficient rest.

The Garmin Marathon of 2014 still figures large in running conversations around Kansas City. The weather then was horrible, with rain coming down in buckets, ankle deep water puddles to run through, cold headwinds, and horizontal sleet in the face! Given that the race is held in the spring in Kansas, the weather is equally likely to be ideal or horrific. Thus I studied the weather report the entire week before the 2015 race, watching each day as the updated information showed an increase in the likelihood of not just rain but thunderstorms, an increase in the amount of rainfall expected, and a decrease in the predicted temps at race time. The closer the day got, the worse it looked. I don’t mind running in the rain — if it’s not cold. But it didn’t look like that was going to be the case. Plus, I had less than a hundred miles on my new shoes, and I wasn’t eager to trash them so early in their life. (I try to get at least three hundred miles out of a pair of running shoes, and one pair gave me six hundred miles before I noticed the ankle ache that told me it was time to trade up.)

I rose early on race day (3:15, of course) and let the dogs out. No rain had fallen in the night, and I stepped onto the back porch to get an early sense of the day I would be facing. Surprisingly, it was warm. Warmer than the predicted high for the day by about ten degrees. This was encouraging. I poured myself some iced tea (unsweetened, of course), swallowed a multivitamin, ate a banana, then went upstairs to surf the net (and check the weather reports) for a while before getting ready to go.

The race was to start at 6:45, which is the earliest I’ve ever seen. I suspect that since most of it is run on city streets (in Olathe, Kansas — Olathe has three syllables, by the way — o-LAY-tha), the organizers wanted to get the runners off the main streets as soon as they could so they could be reopened for car traffic. (The last third of the half marathon was on paved trails, and the full marathon managed to squeeze its last third on these trails as well, though in a different arrangement. That clever set up got the runners off the roads sooner even though they still had miles to go before they got their free banana.) I wanted to be on the road (for the twenty minute drive) by 5:00 because I didn’t know very clearly about the parking at the start (at Garmin headquarters) or even how to best get there given that some of the streets around the start would be closed. Thus I was brushing and flossing earlier than normal and squeezing myself into my running kit more quickly than I was comfortable with. I prefer to dress out slowly so I can think through each step and make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. It’s part of my ritual to feel confident about the run. Still, I felt as though I had forgotten something.

Because we were on the road so early, I didn’t get to stop at our local bagelry to do my last bit of carb loading; I had to be satisfied with two slices of multi-grain bread. (I had managed to eat a lot of pasta meals in the week before though. Part of the hardship of being a runner; don’t feel sorry for me.) We got to Garmin headquarters and had no trouble parking but did have to walk perhaps a half mile to the start area. The clouds were thick and ominous, and it felt like rain was coming, but nothing was falling. There were various tents set up that were still empty in the pre-dawn, but as the minutes passed, vendors arrived and began moving in. Libby and I wandered around. I used the porta-potty. I looked for people I knew (and didn’t see any, but today is the Boston Marathon, and many of my running friends were already there so they wouldn’t have been at this run). I ate a GU for a last-minute energy boost. And then I realized what I had forgotten in my hurried dressing.

I hadn’t applied band aids to two personal places on my chest. On a long run, these places can chafe so badly that they bleed. It was certainly too late to drive home. But I did apply some lip balm to them, which may have helped. Plus, I was wearing a long-sleeved blue shirt (see above) underneath, and it is more form fitting than a regular running shirt, so I hoped that would reduce the friction. Other than that, I would have to rely on scabbing.

With about fifteen minutes before the official start, I gave Libby a kiss and made my way over to the starting chute. There were no waves for this run. We were all to start as a pack of 4,500 people. (We shared the first three miles of the course with the full marathoners. At that point they would split and grab some of their extra miles before rejoining us.) I settled myself behind the pace group that I thought would give me a relaxed but still challenging run. And I once again looked around for people I knew but only saw one just seconds before the start. She was dressed as a Flying Monkey, and she was with others dressed as Dorothy (a guy), a Tin Man (a woman), and a Lion. There were many runners dressed this way, and it’s part of the tradition of the run (but more on that later).

The run started about ten minutes later than the stated time. I think that may have been due to the long line of people still waiting to check their bags before the start. Their line bisected the starting chute, so they had to be cleared before we could shuffle forward. (Had I been waiting in line so close to the start, I would have been angry. None of them seemed to be though.) I never heard a horn or gun. I only knew we were underway because, far ahead, I could see runners on the road, past the starting arch. Several minutes passed before we back-of-the-pack runners could move forward, and I took that time to get my watch going and grab some satellites. About fifty feet from the arch, I started trotting. As I crossed the mats, I told the watch to GO, and I was underway.

My controlled pace in the half the week before had paid off well, and that was my strategy for this race. I settled in to something slower than my “race pace” and kept peeking at my watch to make sure I was sticking close to it. People were passing me, of course, but I was running my race, and I was fine with that. Oddly, not even a quarter mile from the start I saw people already walking. Perhaps they were doing the full marathon and this was their pacing strategy. Regardless, they get points for being out there!

One of the ways I keep my mind off of the agony of running during these races is to listen to the conversations around me. All kinds of things get talked about, some of them quite intimate. There were primarily two topics that I managed to overhear on this Saturday. One was recent Easter visits with family. The other was the weather at the 2014 Garmin Marathon. So far the rain was holding off. The sky was thick with clouds, and the sun never made an appearance, but nothing was falling on us.

The first mile was a straight line going up a mild hill. I always doubt that I can complete the first mile without stopping, and I always make it through. I think I did well this time in part because I had the example of my performance the week before at Rock the Parkway when I ran the entire thirteen miles without stopping or walking once. (Okay, I tried walking through a water station then, but I quickly got back to running.) Somewhere in this first mile, a random woman running beside me turned with a big smile on her face and we exchanged a fist bump. I’m not sure where that came from. Maybe she does that with every runner she encounters.

After the first mile, I found myself crowding the back of the pace group I had intended to stick with. I really wanted to throttle back my pace in the first half of the run to save my energy for the long haul, but the relaxed-but-challenging pace this group was maintaining turned out to be a little slow for me. I watched for breaks in the pack and wove my way through it then just settled into a pace I thought I could maintain. Not long after this we came to the first water station. We were running down a two lane road, so there was plenty of room, but even so, I had to dart around people just to grab the tiny cup of water or Gatorade as the others strolled through the station. The congestion wasn’t too bad, but it presaged most of the water stations the rest of the morning.

We were going up a slight hill once again, through a neighborhood of modest homes. The streets signs identified the neighborhood as “Original Town.” Original, for Olathe, goes back 150 years, during the Westward Expansion (land grab). At one point we crossed the route of the Santa Fe Trail. If any of the houses in Original Town dated to that period, they’d since been covered with vinyl siding or such. They looked old, but not that old. Up the hill I went, which heartened me. Hills are a runner’s bane, yet somewhere along my running life, I decided just to face them and keep going. That’s a good thing to have in my bag of tricks since there will always be hills.

At mile three came the second water station. That’s about a mile since the last one, which seems too close, but I was glad of it. I was carrying packets of GU, and my intent was to eat one every three miles. I understand the energy gel will metabolize faster if it is chased with water, so I gobbled the GU just before I turned the corner toward the water station.

I was also glad it was there because it was staffed by members of the Olathe Running Club, which I’m a member of. I didn’t slow to a walk or stop to visit, but as I grabbed my cups of Gatorade and water I saw many familiar faces and exchanged greetings with as many as I could. But I had ten miles still to go, so on I went.

I had driven the course the weekend before (sometimes a good thing, sometimes not), so I knew that the three biggest hills of the course were soon coming up. Just before that fun began, the full marathoners split from the rest of us and headed off to the hinterlands in the west. We turned east not long after and pretty soon face two of those bad hills. This was about mile five, so it was much too early for me to even consider taking a walking break. Plus I wanted to meet the challenge of these hills, even if it meant my running pace was little better than a walk. They say (whoever “they” are) that you use different muscles when you run up a hill. Maybe that is true because my pace actually improved as I went up these two hills. I was going (slightly) faster up the hills than I was elsewhere. I was passing walkers and runners. Of course I wanted to conserve my energy — I wasn’t even halfway through with the run — but the pace felt good, so I didn’t throttle back. At the top of the second hill we turned right and began a long descent, greeted by another water station just after mile five. I managed to get some hydration and kept going.

Although I don’t live in Olathe, the Olathe Running Club does many of its summertime Saturday runs in this very area, so I knew what the conditions were like. It was all familiar and that may have given me some encouragement because as I reached mile six I barely noticed that I was at the highest point (in elevation) of the half marathon. I knew we were creeping up a long hill, but it didn’t feel like that. Probably this was due to the fact that the worst seeming hill of the course began at mile seven, and that was what was on my mind.

A pesky Interstate highway got in the way. We had to cross it on a bridge that soared over it. All I could see when I turned the corner at mile seven was the bridge going higher. Even as I started up it, the top never seemed to appear. It always got higher the farther I went. But there will always be hills. I kept at it, and there was a vague wish to walk, but I was easily able to resist it, which was encouraging in itself. The whole bridge, from where it first rises in the west to where it finishes in the east is only a half mile; it’s not much distance at all, and half of it is downhill. The challenge of it was in my mind rather than my legs and lungs. And with it behind me (and nothing more than downhill and flat course ahead of me) I was feeling pretty good. Exhausted and sore, but pretty good. Somewhere along here I downed two Advil (small pocket, skimpy running shorts) because my hips were starting to bark at me. Odd how my knees used to be my problem. Now it’s my hips. But there are exercises for that.

We were on a major street at this point, a divided boulevard with one lane coned off and dedicated to us. Many of the drivers across the median were honking and cheering to us. Nice, but I was concentrating. At mile eight, we turned off this street and onto a neighborhood street. We had a nice, long, gentle downhill, and I was grateful for that. I was also pleased that I had gotten past mile eight without stopping or walking once. I had met my goal for the run. Yet we were going downhill, and I knew what waited for us at the bottom: the paved running trail I’ve run on many, many times. I knew this part of the course well. And I knew, at that point, that I was going to push all the way to mile 13.1 at a run. I knew I was going to run the entire half marathon just as I had the week before (and as I had done last year in Vancouver, Washington). That pushed aside my fatigue and filled me with a sort of giddiness.

I still had five miles to go however. Nothing to be dismissive about.

At the bottom of the hill we left the street and got on the paved trail. And then someone started yelling at us. “HALF MARATHONERS TO THE RIGHT. FULL MARATHONERS COMING THROUGH!” This paved trail is about seven feet wide. After running on streets, we back-of-the-packers were accustomed to being spread out, faster runners slipping ahead, slower runners and walkers staying reasonably out of the way. But on this comparatively narrow trail we couldn’t have that luxury. Plus, the first of the full marathoners were quickly coming up behind us. (I had seen the police motorcycle escort not long before, so I knew the fastest ones — the front runners — were coming. I’m all for giving them their space. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in the way of one of these athletes doing the thing they were best at. And I did get over to the right margin of the trail. But I didn’t like being yelled at. Yes, that is how the man had to speak in order to be heard in an urgent situation, but I felt as though the “important” runners, the “real” runners (the 1%?) were being favored while we were being grudgingly tolerated. That’s not the case, of course, but at mile nine, your mind is doing everything it can to demoralize you and get you to stop. (Or my mind anyway.) Had this been my run to organize, I would have set up cones down the middle of this part of the path with signs directing the two kinds of runners their respective directions.

This stretch where the two running groups were squeezed onto the path only lasted a couple hundred feet. We half marathoners soon turned right while the full marathoners turned left for an out-and-back that would get them more miles before they returned to this point and finished the course on the same route we did.

Several things happened here. I crossed mile nine. I could hear the announcer at the finish line (close, but still four miles away by the route I had to take). And the rain finally began to fall.

This part of the trail follows Indian Creek. Given the copious rain we’d had in recent weeks, the creek had flooded several times, covering the path and leaving mud and flotsam behind. The flotsam was brushed aside, and the mud had dried since the last flood, but with the rain coming, I feared that the dry mud would quickly turn to wet mud and be challenging and even dangerous to plow through. Again, had this been my run to organize, I would have had a front loader out there scraping the dried mud away. (This is how the city of Olathe maintains the trail.) I don’t know why they hadn’t done this.

I had further incentive to keep running then. I wanted to beat the heavy rain before it ruined the course (and my newish shoes). At this point, the rain was nothing more than a sprinkle. It made me no wetter than sweat would have on a hotter day. But the clouds were thickening, the wind was picking up (including a headwind channeled by the trees along the trail), and the temperature felt like it was dropping. I had pushed up the long sleeves of my shirt at about mile one, and at this point I was considering tugging them down again to get warm. That wouldn’t have worked though. Bare skin will stay warmer than skin covered by wet fabric, especially fabric designed to wick away water (and thus body heat). Still, the hard rain was holding off. My engine was running hot. I was determined. And the cold wasn’t really too bad.

I passed familiar landmarks along this path. I counted down the distance. I peeked at my watch and saw a miserable pace (though some of that I can attribute to running under trees — that’s not supposed to affect reception, but it so consistently does that I’m convinced it’s true). And I kept on. The lowest part of the path, and thus the stretches of thick, dried mud, was soon enuf behind me, but the more elevated part I was on is terrible in its own way. Its cracked and patched and sloping toward the creek. I hate this stretch, and had the road beside it not been busy with cars, I would have just jumped over there to cover this bad half mile.

It didn’t last long. Soon the official course did take us on that road, now blocked off for the running tribe. I’d run this before as well, and I knew the hills to come, though they were minor, and I was determined. We wound through some neighborhood streets, which felt odd, but I realize they were trying to get us to the finish without using major streets that would have to remain closed for half the day. By this time (even though none of the full marathoners had reached this point) the cheering crowds had thinned, and there were even some cars inching their way through and around us runners. I was grateful to the good people of Olathe for putting up with us for the morning, so I didn’t mind. Plus, these drivers were being courteous and patient.

As I said, I had driven this route the week before. Once we were finished with these last neighborhood streets, we would get back on the paved trail for a few blocks. Except that the week before there was no paved trail. Parts here had been torn up for some kind of construction. I had asked about this at the race expo a few days before, and I was assured that the city had since paved that part of the trail, so there was nothing to worry about.

I wish that had been true.

There was one slab of fresh concrete (harder on the joints) but the remaining asphalt was cracked, beaten up by heavy machinery, and missing in places. It was a mess. It was runnable, but it was another sign of how disappointing this course was. The last water station was the very worst. They had been getting progressively worse as the miles ticked away. Remember that the path was about seven feet wide. This water station had a few tables, set on opposite sides of the trail, so the runners had to funnel between them and the volunteers standing on the trail to hand out water. I actually ran into a woman who had slowed to get a cup of water. I apologized and went on, but I heard her say that she didn’t get the water she wanted. I felt bad, but it was the stupid design of the water station that was to blame.

Okay, enuf complaining. I had less than a mile to go to the finish arch. The course took us along a sidewalk for a short distance and then into a high school parking lot. This was, of course, to get us from here to there without the need to close another street. The parking lot was wonderfully clear of traffic and narrow-path congestion, and though it was slightly uphill, it was a pleasure to have the elbow room in the last bit.

The rain had picked up. We heard thunder. And then a bolt of lightning crackled through the sky. Someone near me said he was glad he had not dressed as a Tin Man. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) the Garmin people had placed signs along this part of the trail that said “Melting My Pretty?” That was clever, but I would have put a comma between the first two words. And I did have enuf presence of mind to consider how the runners behind me were dealing with the fresh mud that churned up on the trail.

I was nearly finished, but I was also exhausted. Somewhere along the way I had caught up with the next faster pace group and had stuck with them the entire time. That had not been my plan, but I’m glad I had. It gave me a good feel for my progress. I knew I wouldn’t set a personal record for the run, but I was pleased with how I was managing my self and my resources. I could have done without the “encouraging” words of one of the pacers: “You got this!” “You can do this!” “You’re almost there!” I suppose that helps some people, maybe most people, but I pretty much can’t stand it. (Even the cheering of the people on the side of the course bugs me. What do they know about how hard it is to run these damned things?) I just dug in and pushed on.

Once we were clear of the high school, we crossed the street we had started on and up a tiny hill to the finish arch. I ran up the middle of this road (as I had most of the roads that morning because the pavement was flatter there) because they had stuck plastic mats of painted yellow bricks on the ground in the finish chute. (Yellow Brick Road, get it?) I’d heard they were slippery, and I certainly didn’t want to fall in the last two hundred feet.

I was beat, but I pushed as hard as I could. It wasn’t the magnificent finish I’d had the week before, but it was decent enuf, and it was the strongest finish I could manage. And then I was done.

But not happy. Since the rain was falling, the finisher medals were folded inside their ribbons and put in our hands. No ceremonial draping of them over the sweaty necks. I took a bottle of water I didn’t want and a space blanket folded and packaged to the size of a deck of cards. (I never opened it.) And then Libby found me.

Well, this account has rambled on long enuf, so I’ll finish my complaining in tomorrow’s post.