This year’s Kansas City Marathon was a difficult but rewarding race. This is a long post, so I am not going to bury the lead:
I ran it with an injury, which was an unusual experience. I’m fortunate that I have been able to run almost all of the past 4+ years injury-free. As Yogi Berra might put it, I think that’s probably 90% genetic, and the other half is my post-40 running style (minimal shoes, forefoot/midfoot landing).
In late August I decided to check out a new trail I hadn’t run on before. I was expecting a grassland trail, but the area was overgrown. When I finally found the trail, it turned out to be a more typical wooded single track with rocks and roots. During that run, I had a pretty good trip and stomp – I didn’t fall down, but I did come down really hard on one foot after the trip, I think right on a rock. It was one of those instances where you don’t immediately say “I am injured.” Rather, I remember thinking something along the lines of, “wow, that really hurt, but phew – I can still run!”
Stage 1: Denial
In retrospect, within a few days of The Injury I realized I had nagging pain in my heel. However, for whatever reason I didn’t associate it with the acute event – probably due to lack of severity. The pain lingered on through September and hampered my training – less speed, cut some runs short. In late September it was just getting worse and I finally had to admit to myself that I was injured and it wasn’t going to get better by keeping things status quo.
Stage 2: Anger
I skipped right past anger and moved straight to bargaining.
Stage 3: Bargaining
“I will … if I can just race…” I started some aggressive conservative treatment with Coach Kyle’s guidance – stretching, massage, etc. and skipped a long run with two weeks to go to the race. I also dosed some tart cherry juice concentrate. I was in the taper anyway, or at least immediately after that last skipped long run. Backing off helped, and I improved enough that I thought I’d be able to make it to the starting line.
Sure, I had read a few horror stories on the interwebs about how racing with an injury turned someone’s nagging pain into a life-altering condition. The tagline of this post is an acknowledgement that I knew there were some risks and made a conscious decision that the benefits outweighed them. Mind you, I’m not trying to persuade you to (pun alert) follow in my footsteps. Part of the risk was my denial – not only did I refuse to come to grips with the fact that I was injured until about a month after it happened, but I hadn’t sought any medical attention. In my defense, these nagging things have always worked themselves out on their own for me. However, as I finally complete this post some 3 weeks post race, I’ll say that I did go to the doctor to get an x-ray last week. I wanted to check my personal differential diagnosis. Fortunately, I have no signs of fracture, so we’re going with “heel bruise.” The plan is to take the rest of November off from running, subbing in cross-training such as swimming, rowing, and the elliptical. Low impact, whatever doesn’t hurt. Also, icing and stretching. I’m going stir crazy for not running, but I’ve got to get past the pain before I can get back to it at the level I want to be at.
Stage 4: Depression
My stubborn attitude was that I had put in a summer of hard training, and felt like I was in PR shape before the injury happened. I didn’t want to just give that up with no payoff. I knew I’d lost some fitness over the intervening weeks, but not a significant amount since I was still running. Disappointed, I had given up on my goal of a fall PR (the original plan was to go for that in December at a flat course in Springfield, MO) but not on my goal of a course PR at KCM.
Stage 5: Acceptance
I woke up the morning of the race feeling good, but not great. That’s just how it was going to be. The best way I can describe how my right foot felt is that while it didn’t hurt with every stride, it definitely felt different than my completely normal left foot. I think if I was still a heel striker, it would have caused me way more problems than it did. Fortunately, I land on my forefoot/midfoot, so I wasn’t directly impacting the injury site. The TEMPOs I wore are Skora’s most cushioned shoe, but still extremely light. I wouldn’t wear anything else for a marathon now that I’ve run two in them.
My pre-race routine was typical and atypical. I’d employed my Western Australian carb-loading protocol (see here) the day before, and I’d just tried out a new cramp prevention supplement a few days prior. I know – will I ever learn? This wasn’t at all like the great beet flameout from this summer’s Hospital Hill. I was very fortunate to have my request to try an advance sample of #itsthenerve granted, so I drank a dose of that per label instructions right before the race. More on how it performed below. No GI issues at all, along with my usual double espresso with heavy whipping cream, and a top-off of my carb loading elixir.
It was a weird morning. The rest of my family had gone out-of-town to a funeral, which was also weighing on my mind and making me feel selfish. I did have some company for the ride into downtown, since my niece, Shelbi, was running the half. I love having my wife there at marathons – even if it’s briefly, I really look forward to seeing her on the course, and she always chases around to see me in a few different places.
The morning was perfect, weather-wise. Temps in the low 40s, and I don’t think they ever got out of the 50s, which as far as I am concerned is absolutely perfect for a marathon. Shelbi and I hung out in the Westin lobby until about 20 ’til, then made our way to the starting chute. With my wife and kids gone, it was wonderful to have the calming support of Shelbi and other friends, such as Nelson and my neighbor Jeremy at the start line. Nelson was running the half, and when he saw me, he said “are you running?” A legitimate question, since he knew I had the injury. Also, I was wearing an old XL Cosby sweater and wide-wale corduroys over my running kit to fend off the cold until the start! The answer was yes. I said I had decided that I was going to run hard today.
The race kicked off after a beautiful and creative version of the national anthem. I wish I knew their names so I could thank them – it was sung a capella by 2 or 3 ladies. I’d describe their sound and interpretation as Dixie Chicks with resolving dissonance (which sounded really cool).
I had decided my race goal was going to be to run to 3:10 pace and see what happened. There wasn’t a 3:10 pace group, so I jumped in with the 1:35 half pacers. In the opening miles, they turned out to be too fast (I warmed up the first mile with a 7:27), so I just tried to stay ahead of the 3:15ers – the fastest full pace group. I know from past experience how incredibly helpful it can be to run along with a pace group – so much less mental energy, and on a windy day, even some decreased wind resistance. However, Kansas City is a big enough race to have pace groups and runners at a wide variety of paces, but not so big to have a group where I’d like to be at.
I didn’t run this course last year since I ran Chicago, and it’s changed. The ridiculous “up” to the Liberty Memorial has been somewhat smoothed out with an approach from the east, instead of from the north. As we circled the Mall at around mile 3, I got a shout-out from John (my neighbor, and freshly minted sub-3 marathoner) and Dustin, who were cheering on November Project members. I saw them again in Westport just before mile 6. Jeremy’s wife Liz was chasing the race and she gave me my other “hi Tad!” at a couple of spots. Thanks! Jeremy PR’d in the marathon!
These photos were taken just as I had finished off my fastest split of the race, mile 7 – a 6:46 after coming down Roanoake onto the Plaza on 47th:
It’s hard to tell who the “competition” is at this point in the race. While the herd has thinned out considerably by the 7 mile mark, the “split” is right at/before mile 8. That’s where the half-marathoners head back north to finish their morning. I tried not to let it bother me when a couple of people passed me in this stretch, and sure enough they headed into the left chute.
As we crossed the creek, a couple of twenty-somethings who were looking really strong passed me at a significantly faster pace. It made me wonder what they had been doing for the first 8 miles. Before we got through the two-mile stretch along the south side of the creek, they were long gone. I had a feeling it was an unsustainable pace, and sure enough I caught one of them walking on Ward Parkway past mile 14. I caught the other guy too later on in the race.
This next series is on Ward Parkway around mile 15:
At this point in the race, it was getting kind of lonely. I was trying to stay on pace in the low 7s and pick people off. There was a guy in a blue shirt who had passed me earlier, and I noticed I was getting closer to him before the turn onto 75th. We ran practically together from mile 16 through 19. I encouraged him to keep pushing me and he did for a while before I had to move on.
In years past, getting through miles 20 and 21 without falling off pace has been a challenge for me, but this time I had confidence to keep pushing through this stretch, knowing that the Gillham hill was soon to come. I chatted a bit and encouraged a first timer who was doing great but starting to hit the wall around mile 20. I kept it together through mile 22, but mile 23 was my slowest split of the race. That last series of hills and turns before you break out on to the Paseo is a tough one, and I managed to convince myself to stay in the 7s (barely) until the top of the hill where I could relax and speed up with the downhill.
I picked it up a bit, but not much through mile 24 – I was fully inside the pain cave at this point. Then, coming down the big hill prior to the turn onto 18th, the cavalry arrived. It took the form of a Pacer, Matt, who was running with the 3rd overall woman. She was running STRONG. Effortless. I looked up and saw that Matt was holding a 3:13 pace stick. Actually, at first I thought it was a 3:15, but then I looked closer and saw it was 3:13 (they run two pacers in each pace group – one is a BQ-safe 2 minutes under the target time). I managed to ask “are you on that?” pointing to the stick. Matt said they were actually a little ahead of it. Here’s shot of us as we turned the corner onto 18th:
You can only see Matt’s shadow there. The woman dropped us when one of her friends who had already finished came back to run with her to the finish. Matt stuck with me, encouraging me the whole way. I fully emerged from the pain cave and ran hard to the finish – I managed a 7:06 for mile 26, and the final half mile (yes, actually .51, and not .2 – you can’t run a perfect 26.2) I ran at a 6:49 pace. I got so emotional at one point on 18th street that I started to hyperventilate (that has happened to me before at Boston). I had to take several really deep breaths. I was just so excited because I knew I had it in the bag – a course PR and a great race for me despite a difficult and frustrating 6 weeks leading up to it.
Nelson and his cousin had finished the half and gave me a big shout as I turned on Grand for the finish. A little further down, Jeremy’s wife, Liz, took this one in the home stretch:
Here I am crossing the finish line:
My chip time was 3:11:05, good enough for 43rd overall, and first place in my age group.
I can’t complain, but sometimes I wonder why the photographers don’t set up a bit farther back. I always run HARD through the finish line mats – no Usain Bolt hot-dogging slowdowns for me, thanks. I had an elated fist pump, which you can almost make out in this picture – which I’ll post to say thanks to Matt!
The Immediate Aftermath
The immediate aftermath was pretty great – hugs and high fives all around, followed by the news that I’d won my AG. My heel pain wasn’t any worse than I expected it to be, and I didn’t feel like I’d added further insult to my injury.
I experienced no muscle cramps during the race, despite a course PR at max effort, which historically has produced cramps for me, especially in my calves. The #itsthenerve product worked as advertised. As they say, their founder:
“Dr. Rod MacKinnon – a Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist and endurance athlete – suffered from debilitating muscle cramps, and his frustration catalyzed his four-year journey to find a solution. He learned that muscle cramps are not the athlete’s fault. No matter what conditions impact the muscle in the first place – heat, fatigue, dehydration, electrolyte loss, reduced blood flow – muscle cramps are caused by the hyperactive firing of alpha motor neurons in the nerves. When the nerve is agitated, muscle cramps occur.”
I would say the product enabled me to push myself harder with confidence and reach my performance goals. I would definitely recommend it. I don’t like to carry stuff on my person while I’m racing so I didn’t have a “backup” bottle along, but I didn’t need it. In the future I’d probably have a friend drop some for me along the course around mile 19-20, just in case.
The Day After
Most marathoners will tell you it’s not the day after, it’s the day after the day after that’s worst. However, I had some serious overcompensation pain – it was completely subconscious, but my body adjusted my stride in a way that placed extreme stress on my right hip flexor. I could barely walk until Tuesday evening, when everything started to loosen up – I was fine by Wednesday morning.
So, like I said, it’s going to be hard, but I’m glad I don’t have a calcaneus fracture. I’m hopeful December will be pain-free and mark a return to running!