Kansas Marathon 2009
This was the inaugural Kansas Marathon and for that I can be pretty forgiving for any faults it had. There were a few complaints – but there were also (and more importantly) many nice things about the race.
The night prior, I went to bed a few minutes after midnight to pleasantly warm and clear weather and near quiet. By 1 am or so it was pouring rain; by 2am it was storming superbly and by 5am the house with windows open was freezing. Despite the shifting overnight weather the start of the race was greeted by a brisk morning with no rain and just a hint of chilliness. By the time the race actually began at 7:30 I was quite comfortable in my normal racing attire of shorts and a short-sleeve tech shirt.
It was during the first mile that I encountered something extremely scary and it is my first complaint about the race. As we all started tramping down Massachusetts St. in downtown Lawrence I happened upon two hair bands in the road – one on top of the other in two concentric circles encased in a plastic. What was this fear invoking item?? It was a timing chip!!
I’ve seen a few different flavors of timing chips but never one quite like this. I usually see the timing chip that’s a very small hard plastic circle about the size of a dollar coin. On one run I had an elastic band that velcroed to your ankle, like a bracelet (anklet). And the most recent innovation I’ve seen was a disposable timing chip in the Omaha Marathon. My favorites are the hard plastic circle and the disposable chips – but one characteristic that these three chips have in common was that I never felt that they might come off. Sure it’s a worry, but not one taken too seriously as they seem to firmly attach and you don’t find them littered around on the race course – don’t think I’ve ever seen one.
Here though was a different story. To begin with I was a little apprehensive attaching it as it didn’t appear to be too firmly attached with the one zip-tie that I was issued. I almost went and grabbed another but I was stopped short by the third iteration of the announcement: “All half-marathoners to the start line now please!” As the gun sounded and the mob surged forward I took off at a good pace very near the front of the crowd. It wasn’t so crowded though as to completely obscure the view of the road ahead – and good since I spotted an upcoming obstacle: a man in the middle of the road armed with a video camera. Must have been quite an entertaining view – an entire legion of red rover players – except in nightmare version: you’re the last one left and the line is coming for you. That might be a stretch (especially if you aren’t familiar with red rover) but I’ll bet it was fun to watch from his perspective. Luckily of course the laws of nature were observed as a virtual delta of runners formed just before critical mass in front of the camera. I dare say though that the operator did look a tad bit frazzled. I had a good look myself as I ran right by him – and now regret not making a scene for the camera as I was clearly given providence. With the camera man quickly fading in the rear view mirror I began to notice another object coming into view. At first I mistook it as some wad of trash or an accidentally discarded running gadget – but the latter it was. As I very nearly trampled the device it began to dawn on me with increasing horror that this was a timing chip, and mine was likely in jeopardy as well. As others around me noticed I heard mutterings such as, “that’s the second one I’ve seen” and “hold on a second let me check mine.”
Now – maybe I was worried about nothing. Maybe the fact that two of these were lying in the street was due only to the fact that they were attached (or not) by a complete moron. Maybe they were de-attached by a bumbling of feet where one foot instead of stepping in front of the other – stepped on its brother and ripped it from its shoelace clutches. Maybe they were tossed on the ground not by a swaying shod foot but by a banishing toss as the owner decided, “f$%k this race”.
Whatever the case – I’m certain these timing chips were less than ideal. It was noisy bouncing against my shoe which besides being annoying with each step it further intensified the worry that the lone zip-tie fastener was slowly but surely being shredded to pieces.
Also I noticed that on the start line there was no chip mat. I thought perhaps that being the strange timing chip that it was, it also employed a different method of recognition on the start and finish lines. This wasn’t the case; on the results page everyone’s chip time is identical to their gun time leaving little doubt as to how this worked. I was also fairly certain as I reached the finish line – as the chute straddled a telling timing mat – that the start line was intentionally left blank in this department.
I am grateful for two things though – the timing chip did NOT fall off – and I lined up only 3 seconds behind the start line – making my gun time pretty much exactly what I ran. Even though by standard practice I started and ended my watch as close as possible to the start and finish lines, I’ll take my official time as is. 1:46:29 is a new PR and a time I’m quite happy to have run.
Ok … so maybe I got off on a tangent about the timing chip. For the rest of the complaints – I’ll just voice them quickly. The fans/cheering/spectators were severely lacking. This could partly be attributed to some decidedly uncomfortable weather though – as the day wore on it got colder and windier. No timing mat at the start. Some of the goodies at the after party were gobbled up by the 5kers. I only found out about some items that had been there from my brother – who ran the 5k. He had a nice KU flag, some gels, few other delectable goodies. I finished 142nd of 720th and these things were long gone by the time I got to the line.
Seemed like there was another complaint or two… but I hate to gripe when I could be saying NICE things… like:
Great after party – the band was rocking and there were provisions aplenty. Fruit, bagels, bread, muffins of many flavors, soda(?!), vitamin water, coffee, water, milk, juice, hot dogs, the list goes on. I didn’t stay too terribly long but it looked like there were a lot more eats to be had even after I’d walked around for quite some time…. Didn’t see any free beer though.
The course was nice for quite a while. Very nice start down Massachusetts, very nice turn into the campus and through there, nice stroll through some woodsy paths (not for long enough though), and then a run through a golf course / show of homes section of Lawrence. Up to this point the course was quite scenic and diverse. The last section however, consisted of a long straight section on a slowly rising incline on concrete sidewalks. A runner remarked as he passed me (well, he did have an ironman shirt on) “…and add to that head wind (dramatic pause) concrete sidewalks!” – as he merrily strode away. That’s the runners unspoken creed – to complain about the conditions from the smallest annoyance to the most ambominous timing chip with verbose merriment and bounce along like those things just spoken of don’t exist… yes that’s how we get our jollies.
Let’s face it though, at mile 12 the bounce-less cement can in fact hurt; the knees transforming from shock absorbers to pain centers. After flopping down the concrete sidewalk for a half-mile or so, the course displays a number 12 and takes a sharp turn to the left. The short exuberance experienced from seeing the final mile under your feet quickly turns to dismay as the realization sets in that this will be your slowest mile by far: the 90 degree turn heads straight up a hill. On any other day this might have been just one more thing to laugh off, but on this particular day there just so happened to be a gale force (no exaggeration) freezing wind blowing straight at us as we ascended the hill to the finish line.
Running up the hill, I caught a breath and remarked to the guy next to me that “this last mile is a killer huh?” After he didn’t say anything for a minute my expectation for a response had dropped close to zero, but as I was realizing this he began to mutter between labored breaths: “course … designer… should be … shot…” – ok gotcha! He’s maybe taking it a little more personal than I was… I was just a little discouraged that I wasn’t going to be setting the new US Half-Marathon record thanks to this grueling last mile.
Before the finish line was completely into sight the course did taper off to a level surface and even a touch of a downhill slope… so everyone got to *run* across the finish line with a smile (grimace) on their face instead of a bewildered crawl.
And there waiting for me was a water, a person to cut off the timing chip (they just nudged it off), and a medal still wrapped in cellophane. Hey – this is a good looking medal though! Shaped like the state of Kansas (ok not that hard to do, but still harder than Colorado) it’s one of the better ones in my collection now. Did I mention that there wasn’t any free beer?