On November 20, I ran the Gobbler Grind Marathon in Overland Park, KS. This race fit nicely into my “every other weekend” race schedule, and it gave me my fourth marathon or ultra in Kansas, which brings me one step closer to completing my fourth circuit of marathons in all 50 states.
I was originally planning to drive to this race. The drive time would’ve been about seven hours. In recent months, I’ve found long drives to be extremely uncomfortable. When I priced flights, I found the airfare to be quite reasonable, so I flew to Kansas City and rented a car. As my flight was on it’s final approach, I looked out the window. I was pleased to see there wasn’t any snow on the ground. I knew it was going to be cold, but it was reassuring to know I wouldn’t have to content with slippery conditions.
I arrived in Kansas City just before lunch. For lunch, I went to a Neapolitan pizza restaurant called Spin! They have several locations in the greater Kansas City area. I went to the one that was closest to the location of packet pickup.
Packet pickup was held at Garry Gribble’s Running Sports at the Ward Parkway Center, which is on the south side of Kansas City. When I got there, I was surprised to see a line that went all the way around the inside of the store. That was the line for packet pickup for either the marathon or half marathon. When I got in line, there were about 50 people ahead of me, and the line moved slowly. I was there for about half an hour.
The T-shirt I got with my race packet was a long-sleeve shirt with a hood. The design includes a turkey. Now I have another shirt that I can wear for Thanksgiving gatherings. I used to wear the shirt that I got at this same race 12 years ago.
I stayed at the host hotel for the race, which was the Doubletree in Overland Park. It was easily the closest hotel to where the race starts and finishes.
The day before a race is usually a rest day, but only because I don’t usually have time for a workout when I’m traveling. This time, I had the afternoon free, and my hotel had a fitness center and a pool. After unpacking, I went to the fitness center to do some strength training exercises. I followed that with a 20-minute spin on the stationary bike.
I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the hotel and watching college football. Then I went to dinner at a pizzeria that’s also a taproom for a local brewery.
I was able to get to sleep early, and I slept well, which rarely happens the night before a race.
When I got up on Sunday, it was 22 degrees. It would warm up quickly during the race, but it would also get windy at times. This was one of the coldest marathons I’ve ever run.
I have circulation issues in my legs if they get too cold. To keep my legs warm enough, I wore a style of pants that fit like tights but have a thicker fabric that’s more like sweatpants. I’ve worn these many times for cold weather training runs, but it was the first time I ever wore them for something as long as a marathon. On my upper body, I dressed in layers. I wore a long sleeve polypro shirt, a tech T-shirt, and a Tyvek jacket. I kept the jacket open in front, so it wouldn’t obstruct my race bib. I also wore a winter hat, and I had two layers on my hands.
The race started at 7:30 in an office park called Corporate Woods. We were able to park in the parking lots of the various office buildings. The start was only half a mile from my hotel. Had it been a warmer day, I probably would’ve walked. Instead, I drove and parked.
I was conflicted about when to leave. It would’ve been tempting to wait until the last minute to drive over there. Then I could avoid the need for a last-minute bathroom stop and also minimize my time in the cold. There were just two problems with that plan. First, I didn’t know if all the nearby parking spaces would fill before I got there. Also, I didn’t know when they would block off the streets. The shortest route to building 40 (the closest building to the start) included a street that’s part of the marathon route. If I waited too long, it would almost certainly be blocked off.
I went to the race website to see what it said about road closures. I couldn’t find anything about it. It turns out the information I weas looking for had been included in an email. I probably saw it, but I couldn’t remember.
The race started at 7:30. I left the hotel at 6:45. I didn’t actually start driving until several minutes later than that, because I needed to clear the frost from my windshield before I could drive. When I left the hotel, the first turn I need to take was already blocked. According to the email, they closed the road at 6:45. Had I left 5-10 minutes earlier, I would’ve been fine.
I didn’t know how to get to the start without crossing the course, and I didn’t have my phone with me, so I wasn’t comfortable trying to improvise. I got to the start, but I had to drive around a couple of barriers.
I was planning to wait in my car with the heat on until 15 minutes before the race. Then I started to feel like I might want to make a bathroom stop before the race. With 25 minutes left before the start, I got out of the car and started walking toward the start.
As I got onto the road, I saw a row of port-o-potties a short distance away. Then I saw what appeared to be a line. It was unbelievably long. I asked people if this was the line for the port-o-potties. It was. I went to the back of the line, and realized there were well over 100 runners ahead of me in line. There were 10 port-o-potties and a single line for the next one available. By now, I had 20 minutes until the race started.
I didn’t think I would have time to get through the line, but I waited. Nine minutes before the race, the woman behind me gave up and headed to the start. With five minutes to go, I was tempted to do the same thing. I wondered how long it would take to make it back to the start area.
A minute and a half before the race, I made it to the head of the line. Believe it or not, I was able to do my business, hurry to the start area and make my way through the crowd before the race started. I think they started a few minutes behind schedule.
I started the race with the 4:10 pace group. One of the pacers was Eric, who I ran with two months ago at the Heartland Marathon. Starting with Eric was a way of making sure I wouldn’t start too fast. Besides the marathon, there was also a half marathon, a 10K and a 5K. When I did this race 12 years ago, I started too fast, because the people around me were all doing the 5K. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.
I was able to make a bathroom stop before the race, but I paid a price for it. The extra time standing outside in the cold caused me to get cold. When I started running, my legs felt ice cold, and my feet were partially numb.
Each pace group had two pace leaders. One ran in front, a little ahead of pace. The other ran a little bit behind pace, to bring up the rear. Eric was the trailing pacer for the 4:10 group. I started out running with Eric, but after a few minutes, I found myself getting ahead of him. As long as there was another 4:10 pacer in front of me, I wasn’t worried about starting too fast.
The early miles were on roads going around Corporate Woods. I was running near the lead pacer for the 4:10 group when I heard him tell one of the runners that he would stop for about 10 seconds at each aid station. My face felt like it was frozen, so I was planning to skip at least one aid station to give my face a chance to thaw out. I knew I would need to start drinking eventually, but I wasn’t perspiring yet, so I felt I could afford to skip at least one aid station.
I couldn’t see an aid station yet, but I allowed myself to get ahead of the 4:10 group, knowing it would probably happen anyway when we reached an aid station. Just ahead of me, there was a 2:05 pace group for the half marathon. They had the same goal pace, so I was comfortable getting ahead of the 4:10 group as long as I wasn’t also getting ahead of the 2:05 group.
Going past one of the office building, the street was paved with bricks. The soles of my feet were still numb, so I felt a bit uneasy on this street.
Somewhere just past two miles I saw the five mile sign. Obviously, we were going to come by this spot again. Then I reached a street with signs indicating we needed to turn left on our first loop, but right on our second loop. That confirmed my suspicion that we would run two laps around Corporate Woods before leaving this area.
Just before we completed three miles, we passed an intersection where 5K runners were directed onto a paved trail, while everyone else stayed on the road. Then we ran through the start area and began the second lap though Corporate Woods.
As I started my second lap, I was now in front of the 2:05 pace group for the half marathon. I didn’t know if my pace was going to be sustainable for the whole race, but I needed to run at a fast enough pace to warm up. My legs still felt cold, my feet still felt numb, and my thumbs also felt numb, even though I had two layers on my hands.
When I got back to the street paved with bricks, my feet felt better. Some of my toes were still numb, but the feeling had returned to the soles of my feet. This time around, I wasn’t as worried about tripping.
There was an aid station that we passed on each loop around Corporate Woods. The first time I reached it, I just kept running. When I got back to it for the second time, I slowed to a walk to grab a cup of Gatorade. I had to use both hands to hold it. I was slow and deliberate, because I didn’t want to spill ice cold Gatorade on my shirt. It felt cold going down my throat, and it briefly gave me chills, but I needed to start taking in fluids. For now, I was cold, but it was going to warm up at least 15 degrees before I finished. Sooner or later, I was going to start sweating.
I got back to the spot where the 5K runners moved to the trail on the first lap. This time, everyone else moved to the trail. The rest of the race would be on paved trails through the woods. There were sharp turns and lots of small undulations. There weren’t any big hills, but there were lots of places where the trail would rise or fall by about five feet. I found it hard to stay in a consistent rhythm. I would slow down going up a small hill, and then I’d need to lift my effort to get back to my previous pace. It was starting to take more effort just to run at the same pace as before.
The lead pacer for the 2:05 group passed me. I didn’t try to keep up with him. Then the lead pacer for the 4:10 group passed me. Then the trailing pacer for the 2:05 group passed me. Eric was still somewhere behind me, but I knew he would catch up to me soon. Then I’d have to decided if I would work hard enough to stay with him or if I would resign myself to running the rest of the race alone.
Just before 10K, we left Corporate Woods. The rest of the race would be out-and-back along paved trails. By now, Eric had caught up with me. I picked up my effort so I could run with him, but I didn’t know how long I could sustain it. The pace now felt tiring.
I was almost to the seven mile mark when I heard some noise in the distance, I realized I was getting close to an aid station. By now, my hands had warmed up enough that I could get by with just gloves. I was also wearing shell mittens, but those made it more difficult to hold a cup. I took off the mittens and stuffed them into my fanny pack.
Sure enough, as I came around the next bend, I saw the aid station. This time, the Gatorade felt better going down. I had finally warmed up.
It was shortly after that aid station that I started to see the runners in the half marathon who were on their way back. Their turnaround point was at least two miles away, but the fastest runners were already coming back.
The other runners in the 4:10 pace group were all running with the lead pacer. By now, I was the only one still running with Eric. Our conversation made the miles pass easier, but I was finding the pace to be tiring. I told Eric I didn’t think I would be able to stay with him for the whole race. He reminded me that I said the same thing eight weeks ago at the Heartland Marathon and I not only stayed with him, but surged ahead in the last two miles. I was skeptical, but he had a point.
When I felt like I was warm enough, I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist. The shirt underneath was getting sweaty, and I immediately felt the cold wind after taking off my jacket. I knew I would gradually warm up again. I expected the temperature to climb into the upper 30s by the time I finished.
Somewhere between 11 and 12 miles, we left the main trail to run an out-and-back section on another trail. It was on this section that we passed a port-o-potty. Eric took the opportunity to make a bathroom stop. He told me to keep running, and he would catch up to me later. I kept running, but I eased up slightly in my effort. Keeping up with Eric was tiring, and I welcomed the opportunity to back off a little.
Before I reached the turnaround point of this shorter out-and-back section, I saw the rest of the 4:10 group coming back from the turn. There were enough turns in the trail that they often disappeared from view. Now I could see that they weren’t as far ahead of me as I previously thought.
After making the turn myself, I could see where Eric was. He was gradually catching up to me, but it would still take a while.
Just before the 13 mile mark, I crossed a bridge over a creek. I was surprised to see that the water was frozen. The temperature dropped down to 20 degrees overnight, but running water takes longer to freeze than still water.
I started paying attention to my watch, so I could see my time at the halfway mark. When my watch read 13.1, my time was 2:04:30. I was on pace for 4:09. I still didn’t think I could keep up this pace for the whole race, but I was half done now, and the remaining distance would gradually feel more manageable.
A couple of my fingers started to get numb again, and I wondered if I was going into the wind on this section. If so, they would warm up again when we turned back onto the main trail. Soon, Eric caught up to me again. When we returned to the main trail, my hands did indeed warm up again.
We still had four or five miles before the turnaround point of the main trail. I struggled, at times, to keep up with Eric, but I was determined to stay with him for as long as I could.
When we made the turn and started heading back, it started to feel easier. More than once, I commented to Eric that I wasn’t noticing the hills as much in this direction. Each time, he pointed out that we were currently going downhill. I’m not sure, but I suspect the trail was more uphill going out and more downhill coming back. I also suspect we had some wind resistance going out, and the wind was at our back coming back. In any case, keeping up with Eric seemed to be getting easier.
As we completed each mile, the remaining distance seemed less intimidating. Eight miles left, then seven, then six. I was tiring, but it seemed plausible that I could stay with Eric until the end.
Sometimes Eric would notice that we were getting a little ahead of our pace, so he would slow us down. Each time, it was a huge relief. One time, he noticed we had slowed down in our previous mile, so he picked up the pace. I briefly fell behind, and I had to work hard to catch up to him, but I eventually did.
In the late miles, I started to feel warm. I didn’t want to take off my hat or gloves, and I didn’t have any other layers that could be easily removed. I pressed on, knowing there weren’t that many miles left.
With about two miles to go, Eric said we were a little ahead of our pace, and he was going to be easing up the rest of the way. I could see the lead pack of the 4:10 group in the distance, and I decided to see if I could catch up to them.
I must’ve been looking down at the trail, because I didn’t notice when the leading 4:10 pacer disappeared around a turn. When I reached the same spot, I kept going straight. Eric saw that I missed a turn, and he yelled to me. He had to yell three times before he got my attention. Then I backtracked to the place I was supposed to turn. Fortunately, he got my attention before I ran too far out of my way.
After making the turn, I regained sight of the other 4:10 pacer. I was still determined to catch up to him, but I only had about a mile and a half to go.
It took a lot of effort, but I caught up to him in the last mile of the race. I asked him how he was doing in relation to a 4:10 pace, and he said he was 57 seconds ahead of schedule.
With less than half a mile to go, I saw a building that looked familiar. I asked the pacer if that was Building 40, which was the closest office building to where we started. He said it was Doubletree. In fact, we were within sight of both Doubletree and Building 40, and Building 40 was the one I was looking at. It’s worth noting, that this is yet another race where the course went within sight of my hotel.
When I got the last split from my watch, I saw that I ran mile 26 in 9:15. That was my fastest mile of the race. I surged ahead of the 4:10 group and finished on my own, crossing the line in 4:09. I ran even splits.
This wasn’t as fast as my times in the Twin Cities or Chicago Marathon, but it’s faster than I thought I would run today. I’m happy with that result.
After I got my finisher medal, I turned around and waited for Eric to finish. Then we made plans for lunch. Eric knows how much I like pizza, so after we each had time to shower and change clothes, we met for lunch at Minsky’s Pizza, which is Eric’s favorite pizza place in the Kansas City area. We split one of their prime cut pizzas, which have five kinds of meat, including bacon. I noticed several other pizzas on their menu that would also be worth trying, but I fly home tomorrow and probably won’t get there again on this trip.