Monday, April 13, 2015

Rock the Parkway Half-Marathon: A Review

I ran my 3rd half-marathon last Saturday, at Kansas City's 6th Annual Rock the Parkway…one of the fastest growing half-marathons in the area.

And if I'd just been brazen enough to wet my pants…I would have smashed my previous record of running a half.

Darned bladder the size of a pea.

Darned long lines at the port-a-potty.

Darned peeps in front of me in line who took FOOOORRRREEEEVVVVEEEEERRRR themselves.

Let's back up, though, shall we???

So…Rock the Parkway…let's talk about it.

A year ago, Hubby and I ran the 5k at Rock the Parkway…which was one of my first, ever, official races…and I remember I about died, trying to complete a 3.1-mile run. I wanted to puke afterwards. What a difference a year makes…because here I was, attempting my 3rd half-marathon, 13.1 miles, in less than a year. And let me be honest - even after having ran two previous halfs, I was by no means confident that I could pull this off. Not at all. My anxiety and nervousness knew no bounds, as I knew that my training the last few weeks had fallen far short of where it should have been - what with my bum knee and my insane travel schedule.

Saturday, I woke up at 5:25 a.m. in order to begin the process of getting dressed. The night before, I had laid out "Flat Me" to look like this:

However, when I checked the temperatures, they were a tad bit chillier than I had expected…so I ended up throwing on a base layer underneath the shirt (which I would regret later, as I got WAY too hot during the race), and a pair of running capris under my skirt (which I never regret, as they're like a second skin). I also threw on a "throwaway" Mickey Mouse sweatshirt at the last minute, which would keep me warm before the race began, but could easily be discarded along the side of the road when needed.

I'd packed my Fitletic Running Belt (which is pretty awesome, by the way) with not one, not two, but THREE GU energy gels, along with some eye drops, chapstick, Ibuprofen, and a hankie. Energy gels are a no-brainer: my plan was to suck down a GU every 3-4 miles for extra energy, as this has worked great for me in previous long runs. My contact lenses demand that I run with eye drops, as the least bit of wind will dry my eyes out like the Sahara Desert - gah. The Ibuprofen was there in case my knee (or any other part of my body, for that matter) decided to throw a fit during the run…and the hankie is because my nose sometimes decides to run just as much as my legs. Nothing can be more distracting, to me, anyway, than having a runny nose when you're trying to focus on running a race.

So, once Hubby and I were packed, we hopped in the car and drove to the Starting Line, which was located at 9400 Ward Parkway in Kansas City, Missouri (a good 23 miles from our house). A good majority of the race would take place on Ward Parkway, a wide tree-lined boulevard that has some awesome homes, fountains and scenery along the route…hence the name of the race, "Rock the Parkway."

This was the 6th year for Rock the Parkway, and it had sold out with 7,000 half-marathoners for Saturday's race. There were an additional 1,400 runners signed up for the 5k, which is what we had participated in last year. There is a staggered start for the race - the 5k runners start 30 minutes after the half-marathoners - which is nice, leading to less congestion at the start line.

We had no problem parking, choosing to park in a local high school's parking lot that was within yards of the starting line. There's lots of other parking lots nearby, as well as tons of side streets that offer available parking. As soon as we parked, I immediately texted my BRB (Best Running Buddy), Kristin, to see if she had arrived yet. She immediately texted back, "I just parked at Rockhurst High School. Plenty of parking here." How funny - that's where WE were parked at, and after glancing around the parking lot, I found Kristin about one row away from us.

Kristin and I, pre-race, in our throwaway sweatshirts…

We made our way to the starting area, where we hooked up with our running group, KC Endurance. My Beast of a Trainer, Jessica, was there, and she gave me some last-minute strategy and advice on how to tackle the race…as well as calming my nerves. KC Endurance had an awesome tent set up, so it was the perfect place to drop my Mickey Mouse sweatshirt - he will live to see another race!!!

I went for a last-minute visit to the port-a-potty, hoping it would be my last trip of the morning…little did I know that all of the water I'd been drinking for the days leading up to this race would come back to bite me.

Soon, it was time to head over to the corrals…RTP is a wave-start, and you're placed in a wave when you submit an estimated finish time when registering. I was back in Corral F, while Hubby was in B…so after kissing him goodbye, I made my way back. Along the way, I ran into Dana, another Running Buddy that I met first on Facebook, and then "in real life."

Too bad Bruce had his eyes closed…!!

All too soon, the race started, although it was a good 10 minutes or so before my corral actually got close enough to cross the timing mat at the start line. A quick flip of the Garmin watch, as well as a quick flip of the tunes on my iPhone, and I was off.

I'd only gone a few feet when I realized I was running with the 2:30 pace group…and I was immediately faced with a decision. My goal was to either tie - or beat - my time from the KC Half Marathon last October, which was 2:43. I had planned to run with the 2:40 pace group, but seeing the 2:30 pace group right in front of me, I quickly decided to hang with them for awhile, and if forced, I could always drop back and pick up the 2:40 group behind me. I wasn't sure how fast the 2:30 group would be going, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to "test the waters" for a mile or two, and then decide a final course of action.

The first couple of miles of the race are a long, gradual incline heading north on Ward Parkway…and I was having no problems at all running with the 2:30 group. Having ran with the Smart Pace Teams before, I knew what their strategy would be: they'll run a bit slower in the beginning of the race, walk through the water/aid stations, go really, really slow uphill, and go like hell downhill.

I could do that.

My only concern was my knee…and wondering how long it would take before it started hurting…and how much it would slow me down. Little did I know that it wouldn't be my KNEE that slowed me down…grrrrr….

So…I ran. And I ran. And I ran. Pretty much ran the entire first 4 miles straight, with no walk breaks - except for a brief walk through the first water station at Mile 2 - but at a pretty slow pace, considering it was all uphill. And I felt pretty strong…slammed down a GU gel at around the 4-mile mark, and grabbing water and Gatorade at the water stations. The Gatorade was for sipping; the water was for splashing on my face to keep me cool. And the 2:30 Pace Group was right there beside me the entire time, and I was starting to think that I could possibly, just possibly, shatter my personal record.

And then…disaster struck.

**insert ominous music here**

I had to pee.

As in…I had to really, REALLY pee…and it wasn't going to wait. Like, I had reverted back to being a newly potty-trained toddler and needed to go NOW. It didn't help that I had just passed the beautiful Meyer Circle Fountain at Mile 4, and the water was gurgling and bubbling and doing crazy things with my mind:


Frantically, I began looking for the nearest port-a-potty, and right around Mile 5, I saw a blessed sight: five little potties in a row. That was the good news. The bad news? A line of about 12 runners, waiting impatiently for those potties.


Having no choice, really, I ran over and joined the line…and then began waiting. And waiting. And waiting. We waited SOOOOOOOOO long that I seriously started thinking that the potties were empty, and we were being punk'd by some sadistic a$$hole. Minutes went by…precious minutes that I was losing on the clock, and I could see that 2:30 Pace Group disappearing off into the distance…a long-gone forgotten memory by now.


Finally, FINALLY, people began emerging from the potties, so the line began moving…but alas. By the time I hurriedly took care of business, I emerged and hopped back into the race in a sort of "No Man's Land" - not seeing any Pace Groups in front of me, nor behind me. I had no idea how much time I'd lost in that little venture, but I knew it had been over five minutes.

I should have just peed my pants. They were black. Who would know??

Okay. I kid. I would know. And that would be one too many people as it was.


Back to the race…the rest of it is sort of a blur. I knew we ran uphill…and uphill…and uphill…a lot. I know we didn't run downhill all that much, which kinda' pissed me off. But, knowing that running is 90% mental, I'd quickly try to squash the negative thoughts, so that I wouldn't sabotage my efforts. And it was getting hotter by the minute, so I was regretting that base layer I had on under my t-shirt. If I hadn't paid $99 for that base layer, it would have been stripped off and thrown away. But $99? No way, no how. I'd melt before I'd throw that sucker away.

One of my friends, Mary, lives along the route, and at a party the night before, had told me she'd be out looking for me to run by. Sure enough, I saw her standing on a street corner, anxiously peering through the crowd of runners parading by her, so I shouted and gave her a quick, sweaty hug - after first posing for an awesome photo, that is:

Do you see that girl with the dark blue top/purple sriped skirt to the front of me? I followed the girl the whole time - and I totally lusted after that skirt. It was pretty awesome. I. WANT. THAT. SKIRT.

Speaking of skirts…I got a lot of compliments and thumbs-up from fellow ladies on my own skirt. Which tickled me to no end, because as I always say - I may not be the fastest runner on the course, but I'll certainly be one of the most fashionable. Priorities, people.

Somewhere between Mile 5 and Mile 6, I came across a sofa…sitting in the middle of the road, really…with a table beside it and a giant sign: "Beer Stop." And on the table were little cups of beer. For the taking. Wha?? Was this legit? Apparently, this is a tradition that some mysterious benefactors do every year, but it doesn't take long for our local police department to find this little hidden gem and shut it down. Darn.

Soon, we were running through the mansions…the houses that are 10,000+ square feet that I can only dream of…I was swinging my head back and forth, overwhelmed by the house porn that was on either side of me, when I stepped in a pothole and rolled my ankle. Crap. That's going to hurt. Fortunately, another water stop was on the horizon, so I quickly downed one of those emergency Ibuprofen. Thank God for modern drugs.

Telling myself to quit paying attention to the houses, and pay more attention to the road in front of me, I carried on. Soon, I had passed Mile 7, and as I was rounding Loose Park, I looked up…and up…and up. There, in front of me, was a monster of a hill, that seemed to go on forever. Jeremy, our KC Endurance guru, had warned us about The Hill in his pre-race pep talk, telling us to not go all out on this, because this wouldn't be the last hill of the race…there were more. Crap. Well, he needn't have worried about me going all out on this…I was getting hot. And my legs were getting a bit tired.

And my lower back was starting to hurt.

As in, major pain. Like, I want to cry, pain. What the hell was this???!! This was new. This was unexpected. And this was not good. I still had 6 more miles to run, and I couldn't be dealing with a sore back.

Time to push on.

As I was somewhat slowly trudging up The Hill, I heard someone yelling my name, and I looked over to see another friend, Kathi, making her way up The Hill. Kathi's a Red Cross buddy of mine, and a fellow running fanatic. We chatted for awhile, more to take our minds off The Hill than anything, and soon I was taking off, hoping to get to the next water station at the Mile 8.4 Mark, so I could down another GU and another Ibuprofen.

Gah, I sound like a junkie.

Miles 9 - 11, I don't remember much, although I know the crowd support along the sidewalks was incredible. So many people, with so many amazing signs. Some were encouraging, some were motivating, and some were downright funny. "Smile if you've peed a little" - duh. I broke out in a HUGE smile.

Taken somewhere after Mile 8.4, because I'm down to my last GU in my belt…I'm amazed at my detective skills here….

Around Mile 12, I knew that a downhill was coming - soon - and I broke into a bit of a happy dance:

Wheeeeee!!!! I'm flying!!!

I also knew that I was going to be close - but it was possible to set a PR (personal record). Even more happy dance. Although my back felt like a thousand needles were being stuck in it, so I couldn't do the happy dance TOO much. It was agony just to move at this point.

Soon, I was running the last mile - a long, downhill stretch - that took me to the raucous finish line:

Pointing to my Angel in the Sky, my Dad...

My official time?


I HAD DONE IT!!! I'd shaved three minutes off my time from last October, and if I hadn't had to wait so darned long in the potty line, who KNOWS what time I'd had??!!

I was happy. Deliriously happy.

And looking for Hubby in a sea of 8,000 runners and 10,000 family and friends…it was a moving mass of humanity as I made my wait to get my medal and banana.

Hubby and I…with our bling. He found me, fortunately, as I would NEVER have found him in the mass of people...

So, I rocked the Parkway. #3 under my belt.

Woot! Woot!!

Happy dance, people!!! Happy dance!!!

Post-Race Thoughts:

Race Bling:

The Half Marathon shirt (different than the 5k shirt) is a royal blue tech shirt, and came in a men's or women's cut. The mesh sleeves are a nice touch.

It's pretty awesome, and will likely become one of my favorite shirts.

The back of the shirt:

I rocked it, indeed….

The medal is nice and solid, as well as heavy. A decorated ribbon is a nice touch:

Course Support:

Amazing. Lots of police presence at intersections, lots of volunteers at the water stations, and lots of people to cheer and yell on the sidelines. Couldn't ask for better support.

Race Organization:

The Kansas City Running Company sponsors this race, and they are truly the pros when it comes to organization. They know how to do it - and they do it right.

As for me, my only concern after this race is my back…what was causing it? And how can I prevent this in the future? Unsettling, to say the least - but certainly something I need to explore as I continue with my running adventures.

As far as Rock the Parkway goes - I would definitely do this race again. And maybe, just maybe, hold my pee.




Dana of The Stone Rabbit said...

I loved reading this post/race report!! While my time was lots better too than the half in oct. , you still whipped me! Way to go! I told my running pal that I'm pretty sure part of our time improvement was actually due to the fact that we did not have to take a potty break.....I think it was because we were so preoccupied with dealing with all of the hills we did not know were on that "flat course "! :)

I nearly stepped in one of those square holes that were cut out at one point in the first half of the race.....I couldn't believe it when I saw them.

The last three miles were blurry for hip wasn't the culprit , but my lower back was! What's up with our backs?

I bought the same belt at the expo ( I have an older model but my phone doesn't go in it as well and it didn't have the gel holders). I loved it cept it takes skill to get the gel pulled through the elastic. I feared the packages would rupture as I yanked them out and I'd be up a creek without my fuel! Haha. I also used the bib attachment thingies and loved that feature. I have that on other belts, but this belt yseems to be heavy enough to stay in place better .

I love the shirt that came with the run, too....and I treated myself to a great zipped pullover that KCRCo was selling at the expo.

I felt much more "spent " after this half than I did in my 2 previous halfs . Probably due to the lack of time to really prepare for it . I'm looking forward to the 1/2 inn the fall and the time I'll spend building up to it.

This was a great account of the run.....I must do the same on my blog .....very soon before i forget the details !


Heather said...

1) WOW!! Congrats on your PR!!
2) Darn those porta-potty lines!! I have been lucky enough to make it through all my races without having to stop...but I do think a line of running diapers would go over well with runners :)
3)How in the world do you take such amazing running photos? I just looked through my course and finish line photos and I look ROUGH!!

Hope to see you (getting another PR of course) at the Garmin Half this weekend!!!

Sherri Odell said...

Dana - I'm not sure what's going on with our backs… it's frustrating, for sure! My trainer and I talked this morning - maybe I was "hunched" forward in an attempt to power up over all of those hills…?? I'm going to have to watch my posture better in future races!!! I'm glad your hip was better - I was thinking of you at some point during the race, and wondering how you were doing.

That belt is amazing…I've learned if I fold my GU packets in half before I insert them, they go in (and come out) much easier. It was tricky at first, but now it's second nature to slide them in or out. Practice a bit and you'll get the hang of it. :)

I'm glad you didn't get caught rolling your ankle like I did. I shouldn't have been gawking at all of the houses we were running by. Lesson learned.

I can't WAIT to read your recap - I love your blog! I'll see you on down the road at the next race, for sure! :)