With my new-found love for the half-marathon, I, along with my brother, decided to beef up the challenge by tackling KC Running Company's Heartland 39.3 Series, a series of three half-marathons around the area spread over just five weeks. None of these half's I'd participated in before, but I had some limited exposure with the 5k's, including Running with the Cows in Bucyrus, Kansas, and the always-popular Rock the Parkway, which happened to be my very first 5k road race.
April 12th, 2014: Rock the Parkway Half-Marathon, Kansas City, Missouri
13.22mi @ 1:52:18 (8:29/mi); 85th place of 202 in age-group, 741st of 4933 overall.
Race number one of the three-race Heartland 39.3 was the Rock the Parkway Half, by far the most-attended HM under the Kansas City Marathon. Surprisingly, Rock the Parkway, despite being so well-attended, was only in its fifth running for 2014. Total registration was capped at 6,000, to which it reached in record time.
In 2013, race expo and packet pickup was at the Overland Park Convention Center. To ease parking and access (and I'm sure exhibit hall fees), the expo was moved to the Overland Park International Trade Center. The parking was easy (although I parked on the west side of the building, and the exhibit hall was on the exhibit hall was on the east side of the building, with no walk-through route) and floor layout this year was easy-flowing and wide-open, a few of my biggest negative criticisms from last year's (and 2012's) race. I grabbed my 39.3 commemorative technical t-shirt, my rock the parkway bib and packet and t-shirt, a few complimentary GU's, and readied for race day.
The 5k interation of this Rock the Parkway route has always been noted for its straight-up-straight down profile, a personality that extends and holds true for the first and last three miles of this 13.1 jaunt. The first significant climb comes within the first quarter-mile, and really starts to uptick at about .7mi, lasting all the way to the 5k turnaround (1.32mi @ 1.6%). Climb #1 is immediately followed by the #2/3 punch, again with a progressive grade from 1.72 to 3mi (combined) at an average 2.5% slope. Mini climbs hit the middle of the course, with several short-yet-painful efforts at 5.8, 6.3 and 7.74mi. A deeper, more significant hill splits the course in two at Loose Park include a 7mi bender with a slope as high as 7.5% in some spots. Additional undulations at the 'top' of the course make recovery from the hills at Loose Park quite the task. A final bump at close to the 10mi mark shreds what legs are left (#5, 1k @ 4.1%), making even the final descent to the finish seem pithy. I would have to save a significant spot of energy for the final climb and descent towards the finish to out-pip those that ran their energy off in Loose Park (if I weren't the one devoid of energy).f
Race morning came and my legs felt reasonably well-rested (cherry juice, man!). Strong nervousness hit me given the high standard placed upon myself from Dallas, but was able to tame it. I parked on the opposite side of the Burns & McDonnell headquarters from the start line in the designated car parks a full 90-minutes-plus from start time, well ahead of other arrivals. Remember 2013, the closer to start, the stickier the parking. I walked down Summit Street to the start line.
Staying true to its namesake, Rock the Parkway runs north from the Burns & McDonnell headquarters -- our title sponsor -- on Ward Parkway towards Loose Park, before diverting off towards the Country Club District neighborhoods on 57th and Bellevue. I had started out expecting to match-or-better my Dallas PR. So for the trek up Ward, I did just that: matched and bettered my PR, a true 'rookie'(-ish) mistake. Given the uphill profile, little did I realize how much I was shredding my legs. South on Bellevue offers a touch of respite with it's slow downhill before heading back north on Pennsylvania toward Loose Park. Pennsylvania in to Loose park included a nasty short and steep climb, which is where the fatigue started to really hit. The circuit around loose park offers some tough short hills as well, and heading west away from Loose and back on to Ward Parkway -- just after mile marker 8 -- I was toasted.
The entire route north on Ward came with a tailwind, which normally would be welcomed, if it weren't for the humid conditions on race morning (an oddity given the chilly history of the race). Though the majority of the race back south on Ward was in to the cooling wind and mostly downhill, my pace took a massive nosedive. Eventually, at just after the 10-mile marker, and up the last real climb of the route, I had to walk -- something I'm not really used to doing at this distance. I felt defeated, and my PR pace ran off without me. From 8 miles on, I'd ran an 8:50, 8:41, 9:36, 9:06 before finishing the 13th mile at 8:45. I'd even felt I pushed the 13th mile hard, only to still come up way short of an 8:30 average pace. I crossed at 1:52:18, an 8:29 pace.
I walked a bit after finishing to keep from what I knew would be incredibly painful cramping if I'd sat. Just despite, my legs screamed at me. I had to sit. 5 minutes of pain and a touch of nausea, and I could finally appreciate the finish. Not a PR, but still well below 2 hours. At first, I'd wondered what I got myself in to with registering for the 39.3, but I was already ready for Garmin, a short two weeks away.
ROCK THE PARKWAY HALF-MARATHON RUN METRICS
April 26th, 2014: Garmin Half-Marathon, Garmin Headquarters, Olathe, Kansas
13.18mi @ 1:49:00 (8:16); 37th of 113 in age division, 310th of 2199 overall.
Only in the Land of Oz.
Race number two was the Garmin Half-Marathon, also a relatively new race offering that has quickly exploded to superstar status. As the name would imply, it is put on by Garmin themselves, and starts and finishes from the Garmin World Headquarters in Olathe, Kansas. I had registered for the 5k iteration of the course for 2013, though did not start for whatever reason (I had missed a lot of early-season races for a variety of reasons last year). This year the 5k was a 6k (just short of 4 miles), although I was running the "Wickedly Fast Half-Marathon."
Though I'd already picked up my information for the 39.3 at Rock the Parkway's expo, my race-specific bib still required pick-up the day before (there were both Thursday and Friday offerings, as well as the morning-of). The packet pick-up, smaller than Rock the Parkway's, was held on the second floor exhibit hall of Olathe's Hilton Garden Inn. I learned that later that night, Meb Keflezighi would be speaking at the pre-race pasta dinner, fresh off his Boston Marathon win. I decided not to attend. And I now regret that. Regardless, packet pick-up was quick and easy -- in-and-out in about 10 minutes total, barring a quick convo with an old friend I hadn't seen since high school.
I knew very little about the course coming in, though organizers claim it was far from hilly, thus giving it its "Wickedly Fast" moniker. Undulations ran the first two-thirds of the course, with mini-climbs at 2.7, 3.9 and 4.4 miles. There would be three significant climbs, each one longer than the last: the first the steepest and quickest (1/3mi @ 4.1%), the middle the higher "category climb" (.7mi @ 2.6%), and the final long and shallow (1mi @ 1.6%). The final third would be a slow uphill, including climb #3 smack-dab in the middle, though the fall from the climb hopefully would provide some extra legs to be strong over the final 2 miles. Overall the course would provide a mix of elevation changes of all types, which -- despite it being the least-climbing of the three of the 39.3 -- might prove to tax nearly every muscle fiber type in my legs. To me, it only seemed to me that the course was truly "flat" according to seasoned half-marathoners. I would have to take advantage of early descents to utilize as many muscle groups as possible, leaving gas in the tank for the final uphill third.
Race morning was chilly, though the sun was helping just a touch. There was just enough breeze to encourage me to bring along arm sleeves. There would also be the possibility of rain in the forecast, although it sounded as if it'd stay off until a few hours past finish time. I felt a little better-prepared for this course compared to Rock the Parkway, although still planned to at least tame my pace on the outset a little bit, as during the first HM I rocked a 7:30 out of the gate. I also was feeling great with my new running buddy, Garmin's brand-new Fenix 2 GPS watch. A statistics nerd, I would gladly be tracking my metrics throughout the race, including the standard heart rate (HR) and pace, as well as cadence (cad; or number of steps -- or in runner-speak, turnover -- per minute), ground contact time (GCT; or the amount of time your foot stays on the ground with each step), and vertical oscillation (vo; the amount of upward bound taken with each step). Combined, I should get a fairly accurate view of my running efficiency.
I was regretting not doing the pasta dinner the night before. Maybe in shaking Meb's hand, I could have absorbed some of his godlike ability. Standing down towards the start, Meb was nowhere to be found -- off on his international winner's tour, I'm sure. No Meb mojo...I'm on my own for this one.
We set off promptly at 7am, the 6k'ers at 7:30. From Garmin HQ, we set north on Ridgeview Road, then west on Loula and north on Northgate through downtown Olathe. I hit 7:20 pace in spots, and forced myself to slow as we hit downtown. I found the 1:45 pace group -- about 8:00/mi average pace -- and decided to stick with them, surging ahead softly with I had the ability. The first sizable mini-climb took place on Northgate (and it sprinkled a little bit, as well), with the largest of the "major ascents" (the real nasty short-but-steep one) as we turned east on Harold Street, about 4.5 miles in. I pushed hard up the climb, making sure to closely monitor my stats as I did so. I kept my cadence high (around 170) and worked off of perceived effort, rather than pace. I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice.
Just like Rock the Parkway, difficulty started to come around the 6-mile mark. I started to lag behind the 1:45 pace group, and approaching a mini climb at 6.5, would start losing sight of them. A welcomed ascent began at 7.5 miles as we started to head south on Arapahoe from 127th/Harold, but I knew the climb to the finish was looming -- all as soon as the route climbed on to the Indian Creek Trial. 8.5 miles marked the minimum elevation for the course, and as we jumped on to Indian Creek, it started to sprinkle again, this time with lightning and thunder accompanying. 9 miles hit, and the sprinkles turned to a light rain. The thunder continued, still a suitable distance. Then 10 miles, and the rumbles turned to crashes of lightning and heavy raindrops. At some points, the rain hurt -- until realizing it was the hail scattered throughout that provided the random pings. At 11 miles, it was a deluge. My shirt weighed me down, my shoes were saturated sponges -- I was lifting an extra pound of water weight, all being carried on the outside of my body. 12 miles to go, I turned from loving running the rain to despising it. I wanted to get out of there. I was pissed at the Weather Channel: "Chance of showers, mainly after 1pm. New rainfall amounts less than a tenth of an inch possible." My ass.
I tapped my frustration out on the pavement. Mile 11 would pace an 8:59. By mile 12, I was running 8:20. By 13, 8:15. I finished my final 0.18-mile in 8:05 pace, finishing 1:49:00 on the dot (8:16). Still a bit behind Dallas, but now was neither the time for celebration, nor disappointment. I wanted out of the drenching rain. I got to my car, parked an additional half-mile away, and got changed as quickly as possible.
Clothes dry, windows steamed, I could finally sigh relief. ...That was sorta fun.
GARMIN HALF-MARATHON METRICS
(cad = cadence; GCT = ground contact time; vo = vertical oscillation; SL = stride length)
May 10th, 2014: Running with the Cows Half-Marathon, Bucyrus, Kansas
13.21mi @ 1:49:15 (8:17); 32nd of 79 in age division, 230th of 1679 overall.
The final half. I went in with mixed feelings about my level of preparedness. Rock the Parkway went horribly. Garmin went better than expected. Nothing matched how I did at Dallas. Several half-marathons over just a couple of months' time starts to wear on you. But all despite, I was looking forward to 39.3's final offering.
I've always been (and by 'always,' I mean since last year) an enormous fan of Running with the Cows. In '13, I did the 5k route and had a blast. Everything, from the bus transport to the start/finish line, to the community rally, and the massive sustenance offering post-race, was all the best any race could offer. And the route itself, simple though it may be, was relaxing. Wide open fields, fresh air, zero traffic.
The final packet pick-up took place, as same as last year, at the 24Hr Fitness in Overland Park, Kansas. There were two time offerings, the Thursday or the Friday before race day. You also had day-of packet pick-up option if necessary. Like Garmin, the packet pick-up was in what looked like a small exhibit hall or meeting room. This time though, there were no exhibits. Also like Garmin, 10 minutes and I had all I needed for race day -- quick and easy.
Running with the Cows requires a touch earlier of a wake-up time due to the travel. Bucyrus is a small township about 25 minutes south of Overland Park, or about 40 minutes south of where I live in Olathe, Kansas. It sits right off of US-69 Highway out in "the middle of nowhere, Kansas," it seems, although a frequent visitor or neighboring Louisburg, it didn't seem too far out.
However, admittedly, the race route, start/finish line and parking all lay among wide open fields along side country roads, so parking is extremely limited. Two options are given for where to park: one north of the race route along 199th Street and US-69 Highway, and one south of the race route along 247th Street and US-69 Highway (huge homemade signs with cows adorn the side of the highway to point you towards these options). To ameliorate any potential parking issues, race organizers in 2013 had a large number of parking tenants and police officers guide you to side-of-the-road parking. These parking areas -- be it south or north of the race -- were organized by color. School busses were dispatched from the start/finish line to pick up runners within these parking zones. At the race's completion, just find the bus with your zone color and you're gravy; about 5-10 minutes bus time each way. VERY well-organized, and although leaves room for much confusion, is incredibly well-attended by volunteers. In fact, last year, I found the bus ride to the start line to be almost euphoric, windows open to the fresh air, sun rising over the open plains. Gorgeous.
This year, the same strategy was implemented. Unfortunately, I must say, I left early enough to where I got parking access on the school grounds where the start/finish line was, a mere 60 second walk away. This was convenient if I wanted to hit my car real quick before race time (which I ended up having to, because I'd left my HRM sensor in my race bag), or if I didn't want to utilize bag-drop. Although I did quite miss the relaxing bus ride to-and-fro.
The start/finish line sits in the front lot of Wea Elementary School just east of Bucyrus, Kansas, among dirt roads and farms pock-marked across the open plains. The school itself was open for bag drop, late packet pick-up and general hang-outery, but no restrooms beyond the port-o-johns outside (can't blame them for that). Given the slightly-cooler-than-room-temperature weather outdoors, many opted to wait inside. Post-race, the school's cafeteria would open up to finishers and spectators, community members offering any number of post-race munchies.
Start time was at 7am, or 7:30 for the 5k'ers. The route literally only had a few corners to it: Heading out of the Wea front lot, we'd head north on Metcalf, east on 215th, north on Nall, east on 207th, and north on Mission to the turn-around at 191st Street. The way in was the reverse of the way out. Like you would expect with country-road running, the overall elevation differential pointed towards a relatively flat course, but regular undulation kept the route anywhere but. Similar to Rock the Parkway, the only real significant hill showed up on the 5k course, which was the out-and-back version of the first 1.55mi of the course.
I made it a point to set out slower than 7:45 pace at least, despite my usual practice of starting strong and "banking time" (which you should NEVER DO during distance racing). I still wanted that Dallas PR time. I ran the first two miles, including the only noticeable climb, at 7:47 and 7:55 -- right where I wanted to be. Beyond that, I just tried to hold pace and enjoy the views. Through 15k (9 miles) I was performing exactly how I wanted: running every other lap just faster than target, and every other lap just slower than target: I tap-danced around 8:00 at 7:58, then 8:03, then back to 7:50 and so on. I even was giving the 1:40 overall pace group a run for their money. Then, around the 10-mile marker, only 3 miles left, my energy bonked. I had been fueling consistently throughout the run (despite suffering a touch of stomach-sloshiness), but apparently not well-enough. My legs felt surprisingly good, my body was telling me to stop. My 10th mile I posted an 8:45. Checking my overall pace, I still had a shot at PR if I could run the final 5k similar to Dallas. The 1:40 pace group passed me, followed quickly by the 1:45, all within a span of minutes. The 11-mile marker showed in the distance -- it seemed like that mile was longer than usual. I check the watch: lap time = 9:21. Horrific. My target pace was now a near impossibility, barring a sudden sub-7-minute-mile average over the final two miles. I kicked the best I could, but my body only gave so much. My final two miles I posted similar pace: 8:58 and 8:45. I had completely spent myself. I crossed the line in 1:49:15, only 15 seconds overall slower than Garmin, and one second slower on the mile at 8:17.
I crossed, grabbed the medal, grabbed water, grabbed the 39.3 medal, and about passed out. My body was unhappy with me, and fought relentlessly to topple me to the floor. I'd never felt so spent after a run that I was actually light-headed. Normally it was just the legs yelling at me, and my body tired yet accomplished. This time was different. Supposedly my brother hit the wall the same at 3 miles to go, but at least he could eat something post-race. I grabbed what little I could stomach, including a few sips of soda to calm my gut as well as pull my blood sugar up.
It took a solid 20 minutes before I felt anything besides ill-at-ease. Now I could start to think back on the accomplishment: 3 half-marathons in 5 weeks, and all well under 2 hours completion time. For someone that ran his first half 7 months ago, that was no small feat. Zero regret came to me throughout the entirety of this month and a half, despite the obstacles and questioning of my own motivations for attempting such a crazy thing. The long hours and hundreds of miles logged on treadmills or in freezing temperatures...the joint pain, muscle soreness and utter exhaustion -- all of it leading to a 39.3 experience that ended just as quickly as it began.
Would I do it again? Yes. Will I? ...Probably not.
RUNNING WITH THE COWS HALF-MARATHON METRICS
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