On the day before the race, I wrote this to Melanie, “I would like it if you were in front of the finish line a bit this time. It is a nail-biter right now; I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Will my piriformis hold over the course of a half at “race pace”? What’s going to be left in the tank as I hit mile 10.5, the top of the Paseo? I’m just going to have to wait to find out. But I’m thinking the climax of this race is going to be as I’m rounding the corner from 18th onto Grand (a half mile from the finish). I’m either going to be in good shape there or not.”
My theme song this season is “Every Little Prison,” by Matt Maher. From wanting to be praised by all, from needing to be first, from constant worrying about myself, deliver me. And all my self-esteem dressed up in vanity and doubt, deliver me. Show me what it all looks like scribbled on the pages of a human life, breaking all the cages wide open. Every little prison.
From needing to be (my idea of, my version of) better. Deliver me. And in some way, I do feel like I’ve gotten out of prison. Released from the worries of a nagging injury and from the need to PR constantly; I had a great race.
What follows is a real-time accounting of race day with timestamps.
4:45:00 AM I am awake and dressed. My free BBQ ticket is safety pinned to my bib. I don’t trust the perforations to hold. I don’t want to lose it! My beer ticket is hanging on by a thread. I could not care any less about it. I tried some beer after finishing my first half marathon and couldn’t do it. It’s not that I don’t like beer. I love beer; I especially love dark beer. And I don’t have any interest in ultra-beer. On the other hand, BBQ really hits the spot for me after a race.
5:36:00 AM On the drive to the Fed, I pass the firefighters fountain on 31st at Pennway. It is tinted Royal blue. There is no wind. The flags at the fountain are still, dropping straight down. And it is beautiful: 48° and clear. And a sliver of the waning moon is left. After parking, I head outside the garage and have a look around. The moon is at ten o’clock in the sky when you face south. It is white and glorifying God.
This morning, after putting on my tights, things were a bit loose. I took off my tights and put on my compression shorts. That’s better I thought. And then I put on my tights, and I thought, “Double-sacked!” Now that I’m out in the weather, I decide it is warm enough to drop the tights. Now I’m glad I decided to wear the shorts.
Entering the Fed, I said to the guard, “It’s race day!” He said, “Oh boy? Is it?” like it was a mild annoyance. I said, “Yep! They’ll have traffic shut down.” The streets will be mine, ours. [And on Monday, picking up an aluminum can I thought, “I sweep the streets I used to own.” Viva La Vida]
5:47:10 AM In the lockers at the Fed, I have a second bowel movement. I am cleared and ready for take-off. I imagine going to the beer tent and giving away my ticket or actually going in and getting a beer and then giving it away. [I did give away my beer ticket to a passer-by. He said, “Thanks!”]
5:57:52 AM This is not a test of ultimate will. But it is not a normal training day either. My right piriformis and ham are not perfect. So it is not a day to push it. I am going to run at 7:05 and see.
6:13:09 AM I’m drinking my rocket fuel (coffee and sugar), and the race day fog has set in. I’m transitioning from the locker to the starting line. I feel like I’m sorting through my supplies and leaving base camp for a mountain. I have one more drop; I’ll be able to leave my gear check bag with my running buddy, Tad, who is volunteering this morning at the food table with his family. I’m not carrying much. I’m wearing sweat pants and a KC Chiefs sweatshirt. I have dry underwear and socks for after the race. I have my badge, blackberry, race fuel, and race gear (gloves, sansa, and Forerunner). I’m getting ready to ride my bike down to Crown Center. One last #1 and then I’ll be off. It’s time to suit up for blast-off.
6:16:50 AM I’ve threaded my headphones through a hole in my shirt that I just cut this morning with the scissors at my desk. I forgot my badge on the first trip to my desk. I got all the way to the door on the third floor, and there I was with the keypad in red. Impenetrable. I went all the way back to the gym for my badge and headed back upstairs. It was a long walk. But I still have plenty of time. Cross necklace on. Headphones in. Music up.
I head out to my car and get my bike off the trunk rack. After leaving the garage, I stop at the entrance to start my watch and catch the satellites. It’s beautiful. The moon is up, and the traffic heading into Crown Center is getting heavier. Tomorrow may be the new moon. [The new moon wasn’t until Wednesday, 10/22. There were a couple more days of slivers left. Each one of them, incredibly, more beautiful than the day before.] In any case, it will be a new day. Runners are streaming down to the starting line. I coast down on my bike, being careful of both pedestrians and cars. I try to be courteous. I don’t want to get run over or bump anyone.
6:35:33 AM My bike is parked in Crown Center! It was an easy ride down. It’s warm in the garage. I chain my helmet, reflective vest, and bike together and tether them to a storm pipe. There’s a 99.98% chance I could leave my bag here and it would be fine. There’s a .01% chance it would get stolen, and a .01% chance they would call in the bomb squad and shut down the race. I decide to take my gear bag with me. Surely I’ll be able to find Tad.
I’m thinking about being a bandit. It would be awesome to come to this race and just run with it. No entrance fee. I don’t want any support. I just want to own the streets and run with all these people.
6:45:00 AM I get in the corral at the back with the 14:00 pacer – the sweeper truck. In just a bit, I look over, and there at the banana table with a race official is Tad! He is wearing his orange Boston jacket and looking like he is thinking about buying the place. He greets me and we exchange our pleasantries about “it’s good to see you” and “it’s a great day.” We start walking to the front, and the runners start to get thick. I’m squeezing between them, and Tad is coasting along on the outside. We hit a tent, and I say “See you on the other side.” I get to the other side, and I don’t see him. I look around. No Tad. I remember that he’s wearing that orange Boston jacket. I spot him no problem, just a few feet away and looking for me. We continue to about the 8:00 pace group, where I decide this is close enough. I can see all the pacer banners that I’m interested in, 1:30 and 1:35. I decide this is a good place to hang out.
As I’m standing there with Tad, I say something like, “I’m at a completely different place right now. Like no other race. I’m very relaxed. This is not for a PR. I have no HOPE of a PR. I hope I run faster than my best training run this season, but I don’t want to run so fast that I hurt myself. I want to keep it at sub-injury pace. This is a marathon pace setting race. It’s to see if my body [my piriformis (my gloot)] will hold up to race pace.”
6:55 AM The National Anthem is sung by a tenor and it is beautiful. I’m a tenor, but at “the rocket’s red glare” I drop down an octave.
7:00:00 The wheelchair race starts. I see a drone hanging over the start/finish gate. It has blinking lights and looks like a little space ship. Eerie. There are no excuses this morning; God has provided a perfect day. I take off my sweats, and the cold air envelopes me. I stuff my sweats in the gear bag and hand it to Tad. He’s going to drop it at gear check, and I’ll pick it up after the race. [What a friend! Thank you, Tad!]
7:05:00 Bang! Stand still. I like that I am on the outside, near the edge of the corral. I have a little running room in not too long. As I pass under the starting gate, I think a race is a game of moving your chip through a series of gates. And on a looped course you want to get back to where you started as quick as you can. I no longer think that people trying to put a little white ball in a hole in the ground using specially made sticks are insane. Pot, meet Kettle. I think about my chip as a football. I remember a scene from somewhere with Madden screaming, “Rookie! Don’t fumble [your chip]! Damn!”
Before the first mile marker, rounding the corner at the Sprint Center, there are drums. They are pounding, and they are the perfect first encouragement. This stretch (eastbound on 13th) is still uphill before you turn south onto Oak for a sustained downhill. Right here, on 13th, I catch up with a guy in a wheelchair who has no legs, and he is pushing hard uphill. I pass him. He’s had a 5:00 head start on us. I’m hoping to be nearing mile 2 in about 5:00. I turn the corner onto Oak, and it’s back down to Crown Center. In about a minute, he rolls past me with his hands braking the wheels. Some guy (a pedestrian) is prancing across the street through race traffic. The guy in the wheelchair sees the ped and has to brake a little and dodge to miss him. “Jerk,” I think. I never see the guy in the wheelchair again. So amazing.
Headed up Gillham Road, there is another wheelchair ahead of me, and I’m quickly gaining on him. His hydration mouthpiece is dragging on the ground behind him. I run up and I’m about to tuck it into his pack when he sees me in his mirror. He says, “I’ve been looking for that. Thanks!” I say, “No problem,” and we catch each other’s eyes for a moment and smile.
I recently read that the New York marathon is “one third runners, one third volunteers, and one third spectators.” I’m reminded of this as I pass a smiling volunteer with a cup of water offered to me. I wave at her, “No thanks.”
7:31:00 AM Sunrise
As I am warming up, and I’m thinking about running this pace for the rest of the race, I am reminded of a Ryan Hall quote, “There is no other race in which you can feel so good for so long.” My running math works a little like this these days. I think of the half as 1.1 miles of warm up, leaving 12 miles to deal with. So, just over 4 miles (at 4.1) I am done with the first quarter; and just after 5 miles, I am done with the first third. Mile 7 (the half-way point) is at the JC Nichols fountain (with the horses spitting water) on the Plaza; Mile 9 (the beginning of the final third) is in Gilham Park before the last sustained climb; and Mile 10 (the last quarter) is just before you crest the Paseo at Linwood (31st Street). And it’s 2.7 miles of down hill to the finish from Linwood.
Back to mile 3, in a freak coincidence, Vertigo by U2 starts as I’m headed up Wyandotte Hill, the highest point on the course. “I’m at a place called vertigo. And all I know is that you [God] give me something… I can feel your love teaching me how to kneel! How to kneel!”
Headed south on Main toward 40th (Westport Road), I see the runners strung out in front of me, headed up hill. It is both inspiring and humbling. At the turn from Roanoke into the Plaza, I hear, “Nelson!” I turn to see Julie, (a friend of mine from church who I wasn’t expecting). I shout, “Julie!”
As I head east on 47th through the Plaza, the sun is still low on the horizon. The sun is south of the east-west roads, which is perfect. We are running in the shade of the buildings. This gets me thinking about where we are in the year. It is almost a month after the autumn equinox. The KC Marathon is the Saturday after Columbus Day. I was thinking of this day as New World Saturday. We are solidly into the fourth quarter. It’s the bell-lap of the year.
As I headed back north through Gilham Park I could see the KCPT tower. I know it is on 31st street, about where you crest Paseo and start heading back downhill toward the finish. I beheld it as a promise and a goal.
When I did reach Linwood (32nd Street) I was ready to fly the last 2.7 miles; I could smell the finish line. I had good energy left, I had pushed it hard but not to the edge, and my body was holding up. I was ahead of my virtual partner (on my watch), which told me I was about a minute ahead of pace. I was ready to roll downhill and see what kind of time I could make. At one point during the race, Follow You Down by the Gin Blossoms had come up in my playlist, and I was reminded of the lyrics, It’s a long way down when all the knots we’ve tied have come undone. Anywhere you go, I’ll follow you down (Anyplace but those I know by heart) Anywhere you go, I’ll follow you down (I’ll follow you down, but not that far).
In the last miles of the race, I pass some of my favorite landmarks. On the Paseo, as I crossed 71 and 22nd street (2 miles to go), there is a spectacular view of downtown, and it was beautiful in the early morning sun. I think the race needs a scenic overlook sign here. Here is the view as captured by google, with the setting sun in the background. You can see the Kauffman Center and Bartle Hall.
At Paseo and 18th is the Paseo YMCA, with a mural and mini-baseball field in honor of the KC Monarchs (1.5 miles to go). When I pass under 71, I remember when Eladio Valdez III (the coach at runner’s edge) was there, cheering, in 2011 when I blew up in my first marathon. He was sitting there in a folding chair shouting, “One mile to go!” But today, the wheels are on and I am rolling. On 18th at Oak Street, there is a sculpture of a man made out of chrome pieces salvaged from cars. I really like it. One of his hands is raised in the air as if waving to a friend or hailing a cab. This is the last landmark before the finish line, and it was a welcome sight. I poured it on.
Two more blocks and I turn onto Grand and head south for the finish line, I’ve dropped the pace and I am cruising along and shouting at the crowd. “Good morning, Kansas City! KC tough! Come on! Give it to me!” I’m getting some high fives, and I’m looking for Melanie. Finally I see her, about .2 miles from the finish. I shout, “Yeah! Yeah!” and double-point at her. That puts a spark in me, and I kick it up to another gear, which is unsustainable. I drop it down and finish the race still cruising. I get a sustained high five from the people near the finish line. 100 yards away, I break it off, leaving some people hanging. I see the clock is on 1:32; it is not anywhere near 1:33. I feel strong and fast.
8:42:12 AM (1:32:12 after the start) I am going through the recovery line. I actually hear my name announced, which is nice and a little weird. The volunteers are there: Water! Gatorade! (None for me, thanks. I’m carrying sweet coffee.) And I see Tad walking toward me. He knows that things have gone well, and he is smiling and showing me my splits. He says I missed the space blanket, and I was looking for them. So Tad offers to go get one. [Thanks, again, Tad!] I choose a person to give me a medal. Chocolate milk! “That’s what I came for!” I get two rolls, a banana, and an apple; and I put them in a plastic grocery sack that I keep in my hydration belt for exactly these occasions. I open the chocolate milk and take a pull; now, I’m headed back to homeostasis. This is when I had a numinous feeling of being in heaven, past the pearly gates. I had finished the race, and it was time to rest. My friend Tad was there, his family was there (smiling and offering me the entire buffet line of food), there were volunteers greeting and congratulating me, and I was wondering where Melanie was.
During the race, I had trouble finding some of the half marathon mile markers. Since my watch was about .2m ahead, I knew where they should be. A few days later, I watched some guy’s youtube video of the LA Marathon, and their mile markers are these inflatable gates over the road. I won’t miss those!
Signs that I liked: Your glutes are amazing. Toenails are for sissies. Run like someone called you a jogger. Worst parade ever. [Never gets old.] Your feet will forgive you. Eventually. [This reminded me to take it easy on my feet. I didn’t realize how hard I was pounding on them.] On the way up Paseo there were a series of mantras beginning with, “You got this!” People said, “Have a good time!” [And on race day I heard it as “Have a good finish time!” And then I started telling people when they asked about the race, “I had a good time and my time was good.”]
9:29:47 AM I must earn an orange Boston jacket. Like Tad’s. [On Sunday, I decide that I should wear an orange t-shirt for LA. So I stand out. Or I might wear a Jayhawk technical tee with “Rock chalk…” written on it. I’m wondering if I can get people to shout “Jayhawk!” at me, and I can reply with “Go KU!”]
09:45:00 AM I email some friends… I finished the half in 1:32:12, uninjured and in spectacular spirits! LA on 3-15-15… Here I come! (Hey… 3:15:15 @ LA doesn’t sound too bad!)
I start going over my times… Chip time (13.1 miles) vs Garmin time (13.31): 7:03/mile vs 6:55/mile pace. Do you see why this stuff drives me insane!?!
Now, here’s a word problem for you: At what pace should I train for LA? Don’t forget to take elevation into account. Express your answer in the form of a 16 week training plan, starting the week of Thanksgiving.
10:04:10 AM I thought, “What a freaking awesome RESULT!”
10:23:18 AM This ain’t no disco. Ain’t no country club, either. (This ain’t no mud club or CBGB. [Talking Heads]). This is L A. All I Wanna Do by Sheryl Crow
11:09:39 AM In a while now I will feel better. Amaryllis by Shinedown
12:20:58 PM After a race, comes the baptism. EVERYthing gets washed.
3:17:44 PM While mowing the lawn I thought about the U2 song… It’s a beautiful day! Don’t let it get away! The heart is a bloom. Shoots up through the stony ground. (I love this allusion to the parable of the sower and the seeds.) There’s no room. No space to rent in this town. (I always think of Mary and Joseph coming to Bethlehem, and finding no place to stay but the stable. [And I think Jesus is that heart in bloom, shooting up through the stony ground.] And I wonder if the guy let them stay for free or if he charged them.) You’re out of luck and the reason that you had to care. Traffic is stuck and you’re not moving anywhere. Thought you’d found a friend (in Jesus) to take you out of this place. Someone (a homeless guy to give a free meal to – the least of these – Jesus) you could lend a hand. In return for grace. (But there is no exchange for grace. You can’t earn it. You can’t pay it back or forward.) It’s a beautiful day!