Monday, April 23, 2018

"Running" in the Land of Oz -- Garmin Marathon Race Report

Kansas City is one of my favorite metro areas in the U.S. I'm not kidding. It has beautiful rolling hills, expansive views, cool pioneer history, lots of hip little neighborhoods, gorgeous parks, delicious food, and I could go on and on. It is a runner's dream -- unless, of course, you're running a marathon when you come from a flat place and you haven't trained hardly at all and you're tired of running marathons.

This marathon has a Wizard of Oz theme. That was just about the only thing I knew about the marathon before stepping up to the start line, other than the fact that it is sort of known for iffy weather. April marathons! They are not for the faint of heart. Think of Boston this year, or that dreadful Oklahoma City Marathon last year. The forecast for race day consistently said rain and temps between 47 and 55 in the week leading up to race day. That is dreadful weather, but also no surprise. My good luck with marathon weather ran out a long time ago, and I no longer expect good race weather. Therefore, I was surprised on race morning when it was warmer than expected and not raining.

My friend John was pacing this race for 3:45, and also finishing State #50 in his 50 states quest. He beat me by a week. Way to go, John. I am going to mention here that John finished every one of his 50 marathons under four hours. I finished almost half of my marathons in under four hours, and the other half... not in under four hours. Anyway, John is impressive.

The start and finish lines were at Garmin headquarters in Olathe (pronounced Oh-LAY-thah, which the race guide had thoughtfully put in writing because no one from out of town would be able to pronounce it otherwise). Being at Garmin headquarters was pretty cool. I have spent thousands of dollars on Garmin products, and this is where they come from! I had a brief flash of sentiment about standing outside Garmin HQ, but it went away pretty quickly when the cranky security guards told us not only to get outside of the building but also AWAY from the front of the building. Like we were a bunch of bums instead of the people whose disposable income built this building.

The race started precisely on time at 6:45. We had rolling hills from the beginning -- big, gradual climbs rewarded by big views of the big, big Kansas prairie. Remember my hip injury that I got back in November? Well, that injury, after being quiet for months, flared up again on my very last pre-marathon run, which was a piddly three treadmill miles on Thursday. It was so painful I had been limping ever since, but I actually didn't worry about it because I was convinced it was one of those phantom injuries, the kind manufactured by my imagination in the days preceding a marathon just because I want to make sure I have an excuse ready if I suck. If I ignore those things, they generally go away once the race starts. This one didn’t go away. Instead, it hurt from the first step and got worse from there. The pain peaked at about Mile 3. I slowed down because it hurt to run. I thought about the cold and how much I didn’t want to run a slow marathon and be out in the cold for five hours. Did it even matter if I finished fifty states this month or not? Couldn’t I just come back and do Kansas and New Jersey at some later date?

At Mile 4 I passed a guy who had slowed down to a walk. I heard him say to a police officer, “How do I get back to the start? I don’t want to do this.” That guy was clearly in worse shape than me – mentally, physically, or both. He wasn’t going home with a red slipper medal – but I was. I’ve noticed over the years that seeing other runners suffering worse than me somehow gives me a boost. I don’t know why. Because I’m a terrible person, maybe. Anyway, the pain gradually dulled and became bearable after that, and I had a more or less steady pace up until the half.

Just before Mile 9, we turned onto a bike path, and right after that, we passed mile marker 15. Oh, no, that indicated my very least favorite feature on a marathon course – the out and back on a bike path. But I was going to try not to think about it because I was so relieved my hip was tolerable. I kept going, noticing how much of the path was downhill. That was fine and good for the “out” part, not so much for the “back” part.

At the turnaround, I was still ahead of the four hour pace group, but not by much. Everything got worse from there. I had to stop to fix my insert. (Somehow it had slid forward in my shoe, something it has never done before.) Then I got hot and took my shirt off entirely. Then I got cold and put it back on. I complained to myself about how there was no one out here and the aid stations were too far apart and this felt like a supported training run because there were no spectators and blah blah blah. But I finally passed the Mile 15 sign and knew I would be getting off the bike path soon.

Only I didn’t! Instead of returning to the road that we had originally been on when we entered the bike path, the course went under that road. More bike path. Oh, I was mad. This section of path sucked too, with lots of very nasty, short but steep hills. I walked all of the uphills, and didn’t even walk them fast. The 4:15 pace group passed me and I didn’t care. There were about three more “bonus” miles of bike path than I was expecting, but we did finally get out on the road again.

We had a long slog up a hill. It seemed like almost a mile, though I can’t be bothered to look at the course map and check. At the top was one of the few interesting things to look at on the whole course – a woman standing outside the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop holding two goats on a leash. I love goats! That was, seriously, the best thing I saw that whole day.

The rest of the course is a blur in my head of neighborhoods, light rain, hills, and general suckiness. I seriously don’t remember anything about it other than that the last mile was a tiresome uphill slog through giant parking lots and the Garmin driveway. I felt pretty nauseous at the end, which was surprising since I usually only feel that way when I worked hard, and I definitely did not in this race.

I love Kansas, but I didn’t love the Garmin Marathon. I can’t say that it wasn’t well done; I can just say that there was too much bike path and too few spectators. Oh well. One more week and 26.2 more miles to struggle through and then I will be done with the quest!

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