Kansas City Marathon – Relax. Run. Redemption.
I’ve been running long enough that I know my body well. But every so often, it still likes to surprise me. One of those surprises happened today while running the Waddell and Reed Kansas City Marathon. I’ve never gone into a race feeling so unprepared and under-trained. I kept having flashbacks of the near disaster of a race at Women Rock half marathon a little over a month ago. I seriously debated up until this morning if I was even going to attempt to run. A half marathon or 25k, I can fake my way through. A marathon is a totally different beast. Without decent training and proper fuel and hydration, things can get bad fast.
I didn’t train. No excuses. I flat-out didn’t put the effort into training that I should have. My longest run was my trail 25k back in July. Nothing longer than 10-11 miles since then. Sure I’ve had some decent mileage weeks, but I never got in that 20 mile run, or even an 18 or 16 miler. In fact, I haven’t done a run of that distance since Grandma’s Marathon in 2010. A long training run was much-needed.
When it became apparent that training wasn’t going to happen how I would have liked, I switched my focus from racing to using this as a training run and gear up for the Huff 50k. Just how much of a disaster I was expecting this to be would give me a good idea of how much work would need to be done to get me ready for my first ultra. I texted the two friends that were planning on running down there with me to see what their game plans were. Marny, who I should probably mention just gave birth a few months ago, was planning on running with the 3:40 pace group. Knowing Marny, I had a feeling this would end up being more like 3:30. The girl is a rock star! Had I actually trained, then I would have been tempted to join her. Then I talked to Ammanda. She was planning on running with a few of her friends and starting with the 4:40 pace group. At first that sounded so slowwwwwwwwwwww, and Ammanda knew I’d probably be shooting for a little faster time, but still invited me to join them, at least for a while. Rethinking my race strategy, this actually sounded like a decent plan. I could run with them for a bit, see how I felt. If I was sucking, I’d stick with them, if I was feeling good, I could always pull ahead. I made plans to meet Ammanda in the Crown Center lobby around 6 am and my race day plans were set.
The morning of the race, my mom came and picked me up from the hotel I was staying at. I’d learned my lesson at Grandma’s not to share a room with my daughter the night before a race. I don’t know if I slept at all that night. So I ended up at one of the hotels across the street from them so I could at least try to get a good night’s sleep before the race. Other than waking up every few hours in panic mode, I was at least able to attempt 7 hours of sleep. My mom called at 5: 30 to let me know she was waiting outside with my requested breakfast of bagels, peanut butter, and bananas. I nibbled on my food and sipped water as she drove me down to the starting line. Somehow along the way, we ended up in Kansas. She’d taken the wrong exit, despite having lived in KC for the first 45 years of her life. Luckily, she realized her mistake as we were driving over the stockyards, turned on the GPS, and got us back into the right state. I met Ammanda and her friends, chatted for a bit, then got in line for one of the shopping center restrooms (no need to use a porta potty! YAY!!!) After I was done using the restroom, we headed out to the bag drop and it was time to line up and run. We found the 4:40 group and we were off!
As soon as we started, I realized I’d left my Garmin and sunglasses in my bag. No worries on the Garmin, this would actually be a good thing later in the race, but the sunglasses, I was missing once the sun came up. The race started off up Grand towards the Sprint Center and the Power and Light District. We took in some amazing views of downtown before turning back towards Crown Center. The first few miles were as hilly as promised. After the first uphill into the Power and Light district, we came back down, had a nice little flat section as we passed Union Station, then it was up biggest hill on the course to the Liberty Memorial. Right about this point, I was happy I’d decided to stick it out with the 4:40 group. I made it up the hill still running, sort of. We looped up to the memorial and back for a nice little flat section before another steep little hill. 3 hills in 4 miles. The hill training out at Afton was paying off.
The next few miles took us down to Westport where I was greeted with the smell of BBQ and bar after bar. Food and a beer was really starting to sound good at this point. Right around mile 5, Ammanda’s friend was starting to struggle. Another one of their friends had caught up to us and we were falling behind the 4:50 group. Ammanda was having a hard time staying at that pace, so she started to push ahead and I followed her. We caught back up to the 4:50 and had the 4:40 group in our sights when I decided that all that water I’d had before the race needed to go and made a pit stop. When I got out of the porta potty, I’d been passed by Ammanda’s friends and the 5:00 group. Knowing that Ammanda couldn’t be too far ahead, I picked up the pace a bit, found a good rhythm and started knocking off pace groups. I got ahead of the 5:00 group, and started in on the 4:50 group. We ran through Westport towards the Plaza. I made up some time on this section with lots of flat and downhill to really pick up speed. I met Ammanda’s friends as we were leaving the Plaza and ran with them for a bit before they told me to go give Ammanda their love. I caught up to the 4:50 group, where I was heckled for having obviously lost my pace group. The next section of race took me through some beautiful neighborhoods and rolling hills. I kept my lookout for Ammanda’s pink compression socks and would get excited as soon as I spotted a pair, only to see it wasn’t Ammanda when I caught up. I passed the half way mark and then the 4:40 group. I was feeling really great and had set my goal to make it to the 18 mile mark where I would reassess and come up with the rest of my game plan. Somewhere around mile 15 or 16 and after pit stop #2, I finally caught up to Ammanda. She’d been cruising along and was coming up on the 4:30 group. We were slowed down a bit as we hit the section of the course that was in the process of being repaved and had just been stripped, leaving uneven pavement to run on for that stretch. Other than feeling a few tweaks start to show up in my IT band just outside of my knee, I was feeling good. We picked it up again as we got back on to decent road and caught up to the 4:30 group just past mile marker 20. Other than my pit stops, I’d run the entire 20+ miles and wasn’t about to stop now. My new goal was to hit mile 23, leaving me with just a 5k to the end. I was hoping that my legs would still be feeling as good and I’d be able to cruise into the finish.
We met up with Ammanda’s family just before the last hill leading into the homestretch. We got hooked up with some jolly ranchers and then took off up the hill. I lost Ammanda around this point, but kept plugging on. I ran for a bit with a girl from Wichita, then kept on going, hoping to make up a little time on the final downhill back towards Crown Center. 23 miles down, 24, 25…. I picked it up a bit for that last mile. I felt strong as I came into the finish line.
My mom was waiting at the finish line. Her first remark when she saw me was how much better I looked than at Grandma’s. I felt much better. I didn’t walk. In fact, I got faster as the race went along. My final time was 4:27:22, just 4 minutes slower than Grandma’s, that I trained for like mad. The difference between then and now? Experience. I know my body much better and have learned when to reach and when to hold back. I’d only had 2 half marathons under my belt in 2010. Now I’m closer to a dozen, with 6 or 7 of those this year alone. But I also learned my lesson on bailing on the training. It’s stupid kids! Don’t do it!