"What the HELL was I thinking???!!!"
That thought pinged my brain…over and over and over again…as I was grinding out over 13.1 miles Saturday in my first half-marathon.
Sometimes, runners will have a mantra…a statement or slogan repeated frequently…which is SUPPOSED to aid in concentration and provide spiritual power….My mantra was supposed to be, "I CAN and I WILL" - but I couldn't stop the questioning of my sanity as the miles (and the pain) increased.
It was just a few short months ago that I had a brain cramp, and somehow found myself registered for the Kansas City Marathon weekend, signing up for the lesser of two evils - the half - as if that would make things easier. It would be my first EVER half-marathon, and I spent most of the summer months diligently training, putting my legs through the paces so they would be prepared to run a total distance of over 13 miles. Doubts crept in as the day got closer, which I think is normal for anyone who is embarking on a physical challenge that is new…and as much as I tried to calm the fear, it was there…below the surface…as Saturday morning loomed.
Friday night, in anticipation of the early morning adventure, was spent relaxing and chowing on some gluten-free pasta…and before I went to bed for the evening, I made a HUGE newbie mistake.
I did something new.
Which is a NO-NO for race runners…who stress, over and over again, don't EVER do anything new the night before a race - or the day of a race. Don't eat something new. Don't wear something new. Don't try something new. Period. GO WITH WHAT YOU KNOW.
I KNEW that. And like an idiot, I ignored the advice - and paid dearly for it.
In my defense, I was worried. I was worried that my race jitters would…um…to be slightly blunt and I apologize if I'm sharing too much information here...carry over to the restroom…if you get my drift. And that could be disastrous while running through the inner-city for thirteen miles. Port-o-potties would be plentiful along the course, but what if I couldn't get there in time??!! What if there was a long line??!! What if…God forbid…I were to have an ACCIDENT??!!
So…I took an Immodium on Friday night. And then chased it with an Ibuprofen.
Which promptly made me sick. Gah. Wave after wave after wave of nausea…all night long…bad enough that I couldn't - and didn't - sleep a wink. Our alarm was set for an early 5:00 a.m., and I know that it was well after 2:30 in the morning before I finally fell into a restless sleep. Lovely, huh? You can imagine my brain at 2:00 in the morning…"Holy crap, Sherri - you have to run over THIRTEEN miles in a few hours - and you haven't slept a WINK!!! Not to mention, you're probably going to puke your guts out!!!"
Yes. I had a wonderful night.
So, Saturday morning…we get up and start layering on our running clothes…with a few layers thrown on top for warmth. The temperatures outside were in the brisk lower 40's…and not expected to get much warmer by race time (7:05 a.m.) My trainer had given us a tip: to head to the nearest thrift shop before the race, and buy some $1 or $2 sweats. We would wear these while waiting for the race to start, and not lose energy by shivering ahead of time…and could then discard them along the race route once we were warmed up. This proved to be an invaluable tip, as I never got cold before the start of the race, and was at the perfect temperature.
Along with over 8,000 other runners, we arrived at the race location with about 45 minutes to spare before the start of the race. I used that time to try and calm the nausea in my stomach, to no avail. Bleh. I felt miserable, but I faithfully downed some Honey Stinger chews for some energy, hoping they would stay down. I also met up with my running buddy, Kristin, who would be running this race, as well. A quick kiss to Hubby, before he made his way through the throngs of runners towards the front - while I navigated my way towards the back, where the slower runners were located.
Weeks before the race, I had done some thinking on just how long it would take me to run this. Being a newbie, this was kinda' hard for me - as I wasn't sure how much time to allow for "energy drain" - which will slow you down as the miles increase. At one point, I was being conservative, and told my trainer that I hoped for a 3:00 hour finish - or a 3:30 finish. Jessica looked at me like I was somewhat crazy, and said, "Are you nuts??!! You can do it in 2:45!"
With that in mind, I went and made my way over to the 2:45 Pacer…which turned out to be a smart move on my part. Some races will provide free pacers - and I HIGHLY recommend these, especially if you're new to running. A pacer is a volunteer runner who will run the race in an exact, advertised time…for instance, you could find pacers doing 2:30, 2:35, 2:40, etc - all the way up to 3:30. They will carry a "flag" which indicates what time they are running, and you just "glam-on" like velcro to this person and you're guaranteed to finish at that time. My pacer's name was Gay, and she was very enthusiastic, very cheerful, and very encouraging to the ten or so of us who gathered around her. She told us that her strategy would be to walk some of the seven or so hills along the course, as well as through the water stations - but we would be running the rest of the course. Kristin had gone to run with the 3:15 pacer group, so I had said my goodbyes to her, as well - wishing her luck.
Right before the gun started, I quickly stripped all of my "extra" clothes - as I was pretty warm by them, being in a mob of 8,000+ runners…and I knew that the minute I started running myself, my body heat would quickly climb. As I said, this was a smart move - as I was never, ever chilled. I ran the entire distance with a headband to cover my ears, knowing that if my ears stay warm, I stay warm - and vice versa. Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than cold ears…gah. I didn't wear any gloves, as my hands seem to get really, really hot when I run, so I didn't want to deal with hot, sweaty hands. It turned out that I was pretty comfortable, temperature-wise, the entire race. All of these discarded clothes are picked up by the race organizers and then donated to charities. Cool.
Pre-sunrise…we're waiting for the race to begin!!!
The gun started…and it took me almost 6.5-minutes to reach the "official" start line. That's how far back I was - and that's how many runners there were. I always make note of how far "off" the official clock I am when I start, as I will subtract that time when I cross the official "finish" time. Starting my Garmin watch, as well as my running music, I was off. Along with everyone else:
The race started a little north of Crown Center, on Grand Ave…this is what the view looks like NOT on race morning:
After crossing the bridge over the railroad tracks, we are immediately running up a mile-long, gradual hill. You know you're in for a tough race when they throw the first of seven hills at you right off the bat. Glancing over to my left, I saw the Power & Light District, which is full of bars and restaurants. This is a cool place to come hang out and watch a sporting event on the giant screens, cheering along with thousands of others:
"Maybe I'll celebrate there tonight…oh, heck. What am I thinking??!! I'll be celebrating by SLEEPING tonight!!!"
Immediately to my right, I see the Sprint Center…our venue for concerts and such:
"Why does this always look like a flying saucer??!!"
A view of the runners as we're making our way up the hill:
"One mile down…HOW many more of these??!! TWELVE??!! Holy crap…what the HELL was I thinking??!!"
After passing the Sprint Center, we make a right turn, quickly followed by another right turn - so we're now heading south on Oak, heading BACK to Crown Center. This brings a much-needed, albeit, short descent, and I take advantage to speed up a bit and shake my arms out. That break is short lived, though, as we are now running up the infamous, dreaded Hospital Hill. (insert ominous music here)
Hospital Hill is an area in Kansas City that is 1. where a bunch of hospitals are located, dating back to 1870 and 2. hilly. Very hilly. There's a dedicated race in June that is called the "Hospital Hill" run - and experienced runners will tell you that not only is this area steep and challenging - but is bound to wear ambitious runners a bit thin. This is not even two miles into the race, and knowing I have over 11 more miles to run, I choose to walk up the half-mile hill, and save my energy for later. This strategy is employed by quite a few of the runners, as well as the Pace Group I was tagging along with.
"Holy crap - this hill is steep. What the HELL was I thinking??!!"
It was about here that I ran into my friend, Dana, who I met online a few months ago, and met in person at the Plaza 10k in September. It's amazing that you can run into anyone you know in a sea of 8,000+ runners - but Dana and I chat for awhile before I run on a bit ahead. I can't tell you how awesome it is to see a familiar face, and get a bit of encouragement! Dana's friendly smile alone will keep you motivated!!!
Dana's in blue…in the middle…she's awesome.
We no sooner get up and over Hospital Hill, when we're faced with another climb - this one called "Memorial Hill." Fortunately, this is only a third of a mile, and not quite as steep as Hospital Hill, but seriously…??!! If you ever think that Kansas City is FLAT, I'm here to tell you that it is most definitely NOT flat. Gah.
We were at about the Mile 3 mark now, which took us down and around Liberty Memorial, a monument dedicated to the men and women who had served in World War I. There's an awesome WWI museum located under the tower, and if you ever get a chance, you should visit it. This part of the run was AWESOME, because it was flat. This was actually one of the very few truly flat parts of the entire course, so I reveled in it. I also reveled in the beautiful sunrise that was coming up and showing the Kansas City skyline in all it's glory. You can just see it there in the background of this photo:
"It's flat…it's flat…it's flat…woot! Woot! Woot!"
My joy was short-lived, though, as we exited Liberty Memorial park and was faced with a short, but nasty hill along Wyandotte Street, that was probably the steepest hill along the course. About this time, we're four miles in…although I'm really trying not to think about it too much. This led us to 31st and Main Street, where I came across the first aid/water station along the course at Mile 4.
Let me just say right here, that the aid/water stations were AH-MAZ-ING. Seriously. Each station was 'manned' by a different volunteer group - and the enthusiasm they displayed was contagious. The cheers - the offers of water and Gatorade - the smiles - were HUGE in keeping me motivated. I can't thank them enough for everything they did, as I don't know if I would have finished without them.
My strategy was to alternate water and Gatorade between each station…and to ingest some GU energy gel at the 4-mile mark, as well as the 8-mile mark. So, taking a brief walk through the aid station, I grabbed one of my chocolate raspberry GU gels out of my running belt, quickly downed it, and chased it with a sip of water. The gel has some much-needed caffeine, which was definitely needed at about this point.
At Mile 5, we turned right on Westport Road…Westport is an historic neighborhood that saw action during the Civil War. And the action has never stopped. It was one of Kansas City's first entertainment districts, and so the quaint streets are lined with shops, bars and restaurants. When I was growing up, this was a rite of passage for anyone turning 21…go to Westport and get your first drink. And where do you go to get your drink? Why, Kelly's, of course. Kelly's has been around since 1850…and it is a Kansas City staple.
I was running beside a guy at this point, who looked about my age, so I had to say, "Hey…maybe we should have our OWN aid station inside Kelly's??!!! "
"Works for me!" he said.
We ran west on Westport Road for about a mile, eventually hitting Mile 6 near Westport and Roanoke Parkway. Here was another aid station, this time manned by one of my running clubs, KC Express. Last March, I met these fine ladies when they ran a running clinic here in town over the course of six weeks, teaching me a lot about the sport. I wouldn't be where I am now without these women getting me started all those months ago. I got rather emotional as I walked through their aid station, thinking about how far I've come since March.
"Thank you, KC EXPRESS!!!!! You ladies ROCK!!!!!!!"
When we hit Roanoke Parkway, we turned south, running downhill (thank GOD!) and along the western edges of the Country Club Plaza. When we reached 47th Street, we turned left and began making our way east, through the Plaza. This was a BEAUTIFUL run, as we're running along architecture that was built in 1922 and modeled after Seville, Spain. Lots of statues, fountains, shops, restaurants…it's one of my favorite places in the city. It's also known as the very first outdoor shopping center in the world. Trivia. Cool.
This was also a nice run, as it was relatively flat. And I knew, from doing my research ahead of time, that things would be about to change. I'd soon be facing one of the most difficult portions of the race, but for another mile, let's run along 47th Street and enjoy some of the most photographed spots in Kansas City:
The JC Nichols Fountain is the most famous fountain in Kansas City…it's temporarily blue, in honor of the Royals going to the World Series.
A little further along, and I was running by the world-famous shuttlecocks in the front yard of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
I guess the artist envisioned the building as a badminton "net" - and there are four, 18' shuttlecocks on the lawn in front and behind the building. They're the largest shuttlecocks in the world, by the way. They were rather controversial when they were first put in, back in 1992, as some people thought they were gaudy. I think they're whimsical. And whimsical is a GOOD thing when you've been running for over seven miles at this point!!!
Soon, we were approaching our left turn to head north on Troost. This is where the marathoners split from the half-marathoners. Because of confusion in years past, this year, they had guys on bullhorns making sure you knew which course to run - as well as some strategic signs along the way:
They needn't have worried about me. There was no way IN HELL I would have accidentally ended up running the marathoner's course.
A short jog over to Gillham Road, where I met up with Mile 8. As well as something else.
"Oh, hello, Wall. Fancy meeting you here."
Yes. I hit the WALL at this point. And this was not good. Not good at all. My legs felt like ground-up hamburger at this point, and I was mentally exhausted. This could potentially be disastrous….
Not only did I still have over five miles to run, but the next two of those would be run uphill. Yes. Uphill. The hardest part of the race was coming - and I was ready to throw in the towel.
Knowing that this point would be coming, I had fortunately prepared for it. I quickly dug into my racing belt, and pulled out a spare Ibuprofen I had pocketed. An aid station was quickly approaching, and I downed not only my pain pill, but another energy GU, as well, with a sip of water. However, I had one more ace in the hole.
Looking up to the skies, I quietly pleaded, "Dad. We got this. I know we got this. But I could sure use a bit of your help right now to keep going."
And at that second…I kid you not…my most favorite running song IN THE WORLD just happened to start playing on my iPhone. Seriously.
"The Walker" - by Fitz and the Tantrums - can inspire me to start running Kenyan.
With a nod to my Dad for his divine help, I picked up my pace with renewed energy. I knew that if I could get through the next two hellatious miles, it would be downhill from Mile 10 on.
I honestly don't remember much about the next two miles. I couldn't walk up this hill - it was too long; it would have eaten too much time. I had to grind it out and use all my reserves to get me up and over. Running was a blur - I was just putting one foot in front of another and following blindly the person in front of me. I don't remember seeing much scenery at this point, but I DO know my mind was going a bit crazy:
"What the HELL were you thinking??!!"
"Get to 10! Get to 10! Downhill from then! Downhill from then!"
"You CAN and you WILL!!"
"Good for my butt. Good for my butt. Good for my butt."
"Is that a blister that I feel on my foot?! Oh, please God, NOOOO!! No blisters!"
"Whose idea was this, anyway?????"
I know we ran up Gillham; up Harrison; and east on Armour Boulevard for a stretch before turning north on The Paseo. This stretch is known as the Harrison Boulevard Climb - a massive 1.82-mile ascent up 137 feet -- not steep, but quite long. I remember bits of Gillham Park and Hyde Park - but that's about all I remember.
I know that I had pulled ahead of my pacer group miles ago…and had caught up with the 2:40 pacer group. However…all that water was catching up to me, and I found a Port-o-Potty near Mile 9 that I had to visit. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a line…and so I lost some time due to the call of nature. By the time I got back on the course, the 2:40 group was way ahead, but the 2:45 group was still behind me. I was somewhat stuck in the middle, so to speak. On my own now - but that's okay.
We were soon approaching Mile 10 around 32nd Street, and I saw signs promoting the next aid/water station ahead. One of them caught my eye, as it said, "Training in honor of Suzie Warren."
Suzie is one of my BFF's - one of my high school friends - and I knew that her group, Team in Training, was manning an aid station. This must be her station - cool!!! Sure enough, as I approached, I saw all sorts of Team in Training shirts - but no Suzie. She was volunteering, but arrived about 15 minutes after I had already ran through. I was just too fast - and Kenyan - at this point, huh?
See how much freakin' FUN the aid stations were??!!
Powering up with a sip of Gatorade at Suzie's station, I began the last leg of the race…knowing that it was "only" a 5k to go until the finish. I could do this. I was strong. I was so close.
Somewhere between Mile 11 and Mile 12, as I'm shuffling along The Paseo, I hear a cow bell ringing. A lot of the course monitors would ring these so it would break through the runner's "fog" and insure we were paying attention to where we were going. I look over at the course monitor, and I'll be darned. It's a fellow Kansas City volunteer with the American Red Cross - Kathi - and so I made a BEE-LINE over to her to get a hug.
And a hug never felt so good - just another "boost" to keep me going. Kathi recently ran the full Chicago Marathon - 26.2 miles - so she's a rockstar in my book.
"You got this!" Kathi told me, as I quickly got back to the course.
Well. We'll see.
Soon, we were approaching Mile 12…and this brought up the awesome Buck O'Neil & the Kansas City Monarchs murals at the historic Paseo YMCA. It was at this YMCA in 1920 that the Negro National League of baseball formed:
That's just too cool. These guys are my heroes.
We turned west on 18th Street, taking us into the 18th & Vine jazz district of Kansas City:
I should have timed my Playlist to start playing some jazz right about here...
This was just past Mile 12, and the aid station volunteers here were full of smiles and cheers for all of us. They knew that our legs were cramping, our motivation waning, and we needed every bit of encouragement we could get. I wish I knew who this group was - because they were pretty inspirational. Thank you, random strangers, who took the time to volunteer on a beautiful Saturday morning.
A left turn at Grand, and we were heading south again - towards the finish line. Just a little over a mile to go, and I'm giving it every thing I've got at this point. I REALLY want to finish before 2:45, so I can't slow down.
It was here, though, that I looked up - and saw a blessed sight. Oh, not the finish line. Yet. That would come later.
But even better.
Running back to meet me and run in with me.
Yes, Hubby had already finished - and bless his heart, was now looking for me so he could give me that last boost that I needed. We ran the last mile in, when he veered off right before the finish line so I could have my moment of glory:
"Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!!!"
There it was. The Finish Line. Two hours and forty-three minutes after I started, I was crossing this beauty.
I did it. I had ran A FREAKIN' HALF-MARATHON!!!!
Emotion flooded over me as I crossed, and I quickly pointed to heaven to give Dad his due. I know he was right beside me in spirit the whole way, giving me those boosts of encouragement when I needed them.
And my prize??
This beauty. It's all about the bling.
*Because of the Royals' extraordinary run to the World Series this year, the organizers had asked everyone to wear blue. I did, and I was met with all sorts of chants and cheers along the way. A lot of the aid station volunteers and supporters along the route were wearing their blue, and it was so fun to see some of the signs:
Ha. So true. And I run about as fast as Billy Butler.
Speaking of Billy Butler, here's another one:
"That's what speed do." Jarrod Dyson, one of our speedier players, coined this phrase, and it's become very popular here in town.
"If the Royals can make it to the World Series, you can make it to the Finish!" True. It took 29 years for the Royals to make it back to the World Series; thank GOD it didn't take me 29 years to run the race…although it certainly felt like it sometimes!
Oh, child…I could only DREAM that I was running like I did 29 years ago!!
*Immediately after running, I spent some significant time stretching and using my foam roller…which made all the difference. I was slightly sore on Sunday and Monday after the race, but not as bad as one would expect after running 13.1 miles.
*The tendonitis behind my left knee has been flaring the last few weeks…so, I put on an Icy/Cold menthol patch BEFORE the race…it was a miracle. I never felt my knee flare the entire course. And - knowing I tend to get lower back/hip pain when I run long distances, I proactively put another patch on my back before the race. And again - it was amazing. I may do this in the future.
*I'm thankful I've been training on hills. These hills - seven of them - were a BITCH…but I made it through and didn't die. I need more training, though.
*The police officers, volunteers, family members, cheerleaders, etc along the course were the best part of the race, I think. I tried to thank every single police officer that I passed - as well as the volunteers. We couldn't have done it without them.
*Fortunately, I never puked along the course. But I was still sick Saturday night - hours after the race. I learned my lesson, and will never take Immodium before a race again. Gah.
And for the final thought:
Would I do it again???