The marathon is 20 miles of hope and 6.2 miles of truth. -Gordo Byrn
At mile 20 of the Kansas City Marathon, you are on Volker at Rockhill. If you were running Hospital Hill, you would head up Rockhill. But for the marathon, you continue on Volker and you get .5 miles of descent. This is where the Wall begins. I think of this stretch as “the approach.”
After the descent, you turn north onto The Paseo and cross the bridge over Brush Creek. You turn west onto 47th and start heading up to the CVS on Troost, which marks mile 21. This is the place I was waiting in 2012 for T, my running buddy, as he was running the marathon. It occupies a special place in my psyche. I remember how excited I was to see him rounding the corner and looking strong. There are 5.2 miles to go.
From the CVS, the next section is a long up to Linwood (32nd), where you reach mile 23.5. On this 2.5 mile trek, there is a long, winding stretch of 1% grade on Harrison to 39th. Then there are two tough climbs. As Harrison turns north, you face a curving 2-3% climb to Armour (35th). (I imagine tennis balls rolling down the hill toward me, and I try to pick the easiest path to the top of the hill. I pay attention to the crown of the road, and I look forward to the marathon when I won’t have to worry about traffic.) Then you turn east onto Armour and have a slight down, one block, to Troost. The second climb is a straight 3-4% grade up to The Paseo. When you turn north onto The Paseo (this is mile 23), you can see the .5 miles ahead: a long, steady gradual up to Linwood (32nd).
That’s the first 3.5 miles of the Kansas City Marathon Wall. It’s a climb to the top, and it’s a little more than a 5K. What follows is 2.7 miles of mostly down to the finish. On my way to the top of the Wall, no matter what, I tell myself “I am a well-trained runner. When I crest the hill, I will start using different muscles.” I prepare myself for the switch to downhill running. At Linwood, I become water and stay off the brakes. I run smooth and change my gait to heel-toe. In 2011, the top of the Wall is where I fell apart. All of my training runs had been to 31st and The Paseo. This year, I have trained all the way through the final miles. I have prepared for them.
From miles 23.5 to 25, you are on The Paseo, and the stretch is composed of two steep downhills broken by two bridges that afford beautiful views of downtown Kansas City. The first view is as you cross above Bruce R Watkins, and the skyline is on your left. From Bruce R. Watkins, you are 2 miles from the finish. (This mile, then one more.) The second view is as you cross the train tracks at 20th. The view is not quite as good, but still worth a glance.
When you turn west onto 18th, you are at mile 25. At 18th and the Bruce R Watkins underpass, there is 1 mile left. There is a very slight climb for .5 miles to Grand. You pass Locust, Oak, McGee, and then turn south onto Grand. On Grand, you have about .4 miles of descent before the final climb to the finish line.
That’s it. 10,000 meters of the True-True.
Now, let’s suppose I’ll cover those last 6.2 miles in 45 minutes. That’s about a 7:15 pace, which is slightly faster than I expect. My heart will be beating at about 150 bpm, so that’s 6,750 heart beats. And let’s suppose that my stride is about a meter (actually, it’s a bit longer). So that’s (about) 10,000 steps. I breathe on a 3 steps inhale / 2 steps exhale pattern. So that’s 2,000 breaths to the finish line. 2,000 chances to say “Yahweh.” That’s what helps me make it up, over, down, and through the wall.