Since I'd only started this blog this week (the third week of May), instead of back-logging all past races, I'll lump them together in just a few short posts. This one is a quick run-down of the few 5k run races I'd done through the end of April.
January 18th, 2014: The Battle of the Bean 5k, Leawood, Kansas
3.12mi @ 21:46 (6:59/mi); 4th place of 45 in age-group (37th of 1008 overall)
Last November, I went in to the Cliff Drive 8k with a stiff right knee. The following week was the KC 15k. Following the 15k, the stiff right knee turned to full-on intense knee pain. I had, apparently, contracted patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) -- basically a painful irritation of the cartilage under the patella (the knee cap). This was complicated by an already-existing patellar tubercle, a bony protrusion from the top of the femur that causes major irritation, tightly rubbing against the bottom of the patellar tendon. I had developed this courtesy of puberty, and have had on-and-off pain to the touch against the bottom of the kneecap ever since.
But nothing like this. The pain kept me out of running shoes for strings of days -- luckily in the "off-season." Over the winter, I'd performed specific leg-strengthening exercises to increase strength and flexibility in my patellar tendon and quadriceps, as well as focusing on IT band flexibility. Cycling helped supplement this, further strengthening my quad muscles and surrounding tendons.
Eventually, by January, pain had subsided enough to consider an early-year "check-in" race, to check in on my legs' progress, and further determine how to focus my early-season training. In 2013 I had registered for the Battle of the Bean 5k, a 3.1-mile run/walk in honor of your chosen morning brew: coffee or hot chocolate. Due to harsh Kansas weather, I decided to skip the run. For 2014, I'd give it another shot.
With 39 degrees, overcast skies, mild winds, and no precipitation chances, things were looking good for our set out from Foo's Fabulous Frozen Custard in Leawood, Kansas -- our host store. In addition to testing out my legs for the first time in over a month (I'd ran a Santa-themed 5k four weeks before that didn't go so well), I had just purchased the newly-released Brooks Pure Connect 3 shoes to test out (they would be the shoes to replace the Mizuno Wave Musha 5's for 10k distances). I also nabbed a patellar tendon band to help stabilize my knee and avoid mis-tracking of the knee cap.
Amazingly, the outset of the race was fast and smooth. I'd intentionally held off just a bit for safety's sake, despite having warmed up for a solid mile and half before the start. Before the 1 mile mark I pushed it to 10. My energy started to fall about just aver the 2nd mile marker, but only as a result from not racing in months. My knees held up perfectly -- not pain-free, but nowhere near what I'd worried.
January 26th, 2014: Groundhog Run 10k, Hunt Midwest Subtropolis, Kansas City, Missouri
6.24mi @ 46:43 (7:29); 15th place of 60 in age-group, 121st of 1426 overall.
The groundhog run is a 5k/10k benefit run for Children's TLC in Missouri (a former partner of one of my current workplaces), and one that is always as well-organized as it is unique. It's draw: it is run completely underground. The route loops through Hunt's Midwest Subtropolis, an underground storage facility in North Kansas City. The run is always held in January, but despite potentially sub-freezing outdoor temps and ice storms to boot, underground it is always guaranteed at least 62 degrees.
2013 was the first year I ran the Groundhog Run. I will admit: going in to this race was a touch unnerving. The thought of being, at the furthest point, one mile from any exit from an outside exit made me preemptively claustrophobic. But it would be an experience. That, and if we'd suffered a nuclear attack, I'd be among the safest in the city. I ran it and had a great time ("time" as in experience...my finishing time was shit).
However, one thing unsettling that I did not anticipate: the ambient air. Breathing Subtropolis air was an experience on its own, and I frequently found myself stifled by the thick and sometimes pungent byproducts of whatever engine - mechanical or organic - had exhausted what little oxygen I presumed there was. Nearing the start/finish/lap line (the 10k involved two laps of the 5k course), garage doors to the outside were open -- this is where you most-recognized how thick the deep underground atmosphere really was. Driving home after finishing, I felt sickly -- my sinuses burned and lungs covered. The next morning, I woke up with a fever. Sinus infection. Could it have been the underground air?
A year later and I'm toeing the start line again. I knew what to expect now, and certainly that sinus infection was just coincidence -- I always got sinus infections during the winter months. Besides, fresh off such a hopeful 5k, I wanted to test my middle-distance skills. I had a 5-straight-10k PR streak going. No pressure, or anything. At least the course was flat(-ish).
Once again my breathing fell apart (about the 2-mile mark), causing me to slow up tremendously. At just short of the 5-mile mark, my legs fell apart, making late efforts near-impossible. My lungs were singed, my legs were shredded, and every time I passed a garbage bin, in this stale air, I wanted to hurl. The final mile was miserable. I watched my average pace plummet towards my PR, match it, and eventually pass it. For the last half-mile, I was limiting my losses. My goal was 45:00. I crossed at 46:43, a 7:29 average pace, just 6 seconds slower on the mile than my PR, or 36 seconds overall. Still a solid showing, and though I didn't achieve PR status, I did achieve a second-best, whilst still recovering from painful knee problems.
I didn't have the stringing sinus cavities post-run, but still had the gunked-up lungs. I chalked this up to dry air -- I always coughed a lot after winter-weather races. I got through the remainder of the day feeling fine, then woke up the next morning -- sinus infection. What in the hell is in that air??
I love the Groundhog Run. I just doubt I'll ever go back. Bummer.
February 16th, 2014: The Sweetheart Run 5k, Overland Park, Kansas
3.16mi @ 21:18 (6:44) (YR); 5th place of 46 in age-group, 24th of 948 overall.
And the slow progression back continues...
This was my first time running the Sweetheart Run, a team run whereby team pairs combine their times to get one master time. Individual placing is still awarded per the usual age grouping, but the target was team cumulative time. I ran with my fellow 5k compatriot, Rachel. She'd assured me we could be very competitive; after all, last year's winning team only managed 44 minutes and change total time. With a targeted sub-21-minute finish for me, and an average 24- to 25-minute finish time for Rachel, we had a chance. If not at the top, at least a podium spot, and the coveted champagne flute finisher's medals.
The weather was near-typical for Kansas in February: Lower 30's and overcast skies with moderate winds. The only thing missing was the blinding snow and pelting ice -- we'd gotten lucky there and it had snowed the night (and days) before, just missing us by mere hours. The course started and finished from Ritz Charles in Overland Park, heading south on Antioch, west on 143rd, north on Switzer, and east back on 137th towards the Ritz -- a perfect block, and one that I'd trained on in the past. The trek down Antioch was really a trek up Antioch -- initially a quick uphill past 139th, then a slow incline just before the turn on to 143rd. 143rd itself had a few undulations, and up Switzer was a nice even descent before the flat finish along 137th.
As expected, my lungs burned from the frozen dry air right from the opening airhorn. The jaunt up Antioch was a strong one, but I held my pace for 143rd street. Once turning on to 143rd, I began to notice a patter: the 2-mile marker had become my enemy. For the last several 5k's (and perhaps long before that, but had never noted it), it was right around the 2-mile marker that I'd hit "the wall." This is the point where all energy is sapped from your body. It could be that you can't catch your breath, it might be that your legs are shredded -- likely it's any variation and/or combination of both. PR's go from safe, to being under threat, to out of the question, all in the single blink of an eye.
For the Sweetheart Run, it happened on que. Luckily Switzer road back towards 137th offered some respite to my lungs, but shredded what left I had in my quads (and knees). I gave a strong push at 2.5mi to barely edge out a fellow age-grouper, finishing 5th of of 46, and right on PR pace. And a year-record.
Then came the team results: Rachel crossed in just short of 27 minutes, a PR for her, giving us a cumulative 48-minute time. Theoretically, this could give us a podium spot, but the field seemed larger this year. When checking results, we'd found that the winners crossed in a cumulative 38 minutes. Then, another realization: last year's run was a 4-mile run, adding almost an entire full mile to the mix. Whoops. At least we'd still be awarded the event's heart-candy box finisher's medal.
Despite the potential horrific weather that normally comes with living in Kansas in February, if this year's run is any indication, The Sweetheart Run is always fun -- well-organized, well-attended, and well-received by all. I will again be looking to tack this on the calendar for '15.
March 15th, 2014: The KC Big12 5k, Sprint Center, Kansas City, Missouri
3.13mi @ 21:12 (6:46); 11th place of 50 in age-group, 39th of 1417 overall.
Finally Kansas City was starting to warm up (in all reality, we would continue seeing 30-degree weather through the start of May -- pshh...Kansas). Typically the Big12 5k is a chilly one, with the first of spring winds blowing in, although not warming the city up much. This one wasn't much different, but at least we got some sun, as opposed to last year's overcast conditions. Plus, they pushed the start time from 8am to 10am this year, supposedly to give Mother Nature a better chance at warming things up a bit.
In honor of Kansas City's [again] hosting of the Big12 championship, this run was launched a few years ago, and has grown in popularity ever since. It's starts and ends in front of the Sprint Center, on Grand Street, alongside many of the Big12 Festival's many added attractions, such as 3-point tournaments, open outdoor basketball courts, and many other events targeted at children and families.
I have run several downtown runs over just a few years' time. Running downtown Kansas City is always a sticky proposition, and never easy to estimate the level of difficulty based on elevation change. No, Kansas (or Missouri, as it were) is not completely flat. If it were, this event would be so much easier. My first run in 2013, this event hosts perhaps the most difficult climb next to Hospital Hill, what I call the Kauffman Climb. Last year, this climb was a half-mile ascent around the west edge of the Kauffman Center, with about a 4% grade and a maximum of 7%. It was lung-searing. This year, the route segment runs to the east of the Kauffman Center, rather than around it. Though it is technically shorter (by about 40%), it is painfully more steep, with an average gradient of over 5%, and a maximum just under 10%. What's worse? This climb comes right around the 2-mile marker. Great.
I would start this run with new kicks: the Brooks Pure Drift in bright orange (true racing flats with the most minimal of cushion). Downhill and in to the wind for the first half of the run kept my pace tame. Though the route back north meant wind at the back, this was the slow ascent towards the Kauffman Climb. I preserved a bit just short of the climb, hitting the base at just below target pace. Kauffman hits at about 2.5 miles. The climb up felt like miles, despite it being clocked at only three tenths of a mile. My pace went from 7:00 at the base, to 8:26, 8:26 and 9:35 at each 0.1-mile split on the way up. Though the following quarter mile is a quick downhill, any race centered in the Power & Lights District means a slow uphill finish. I only managed a final 7:26-average final 0.1-mile, finishing at 21:12, a 6:46 average pace -- just off PR. I managed 11th in age-group and 39th overall of about 1400 finishers.
Among the early-season 5k's I had been training for my first target, which would come in only 7 days time. Next up: The Rock 'n' Roll Dallas Half-Marathon.
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