Friday, January 2, 2015

Race Report: Operation Jack KC Run in the Snow Half Marathon

Ninja runner!  Balaclava on!
The goal of "14 halfs in 2014" was planted in my head by Kimberly Markey.  I wasn't sure if I could do it because of the lack of halfs in the cold weather months of November and December - but I definitely filled up November (four races!) and had Texas and Florida for December.  Through my research, I found the last race I could do without requiring extensive travel costs was to either Springfield, MO or Kansas City, KS, when I was home for the holidays - ultimately, the KC race, so I could meet up with friends Amanda and Shanna while I was up there.  It was actually tentative up until Christmas Day that I was even going to run that last half, since I wanted to make sure I was up for it.  I went online to register, but online registration had closed, so I e-mailed Sam Felsenfeld, Race Director for the Operation Jack KC Run in the Snow Half Marathon, and he said that it was totally cool to do walk-up registration the morning of the race!  So up I was at 5am on Saturday morning, to take the 2.5 hour drive up to Kansas City to run the race.

And we're off... the starters of the Operation Jack KC Run in the Snow!
(photo courtesy of Autism Society of the Heartland)
The Operation Jack KC Run in the Snow is actually a satellite race of the Operation Jack Marathon, an annual race that started in 2010, intended to be a one-time event to help Sam Felsenfeld complete his goal of running at least one marathon a week that year (ultimately, he did 61 total and two ultras!)  Sam and his wife Tiffany have three children - his middle child, Jack, was diagnosed with autism shortly after his third birthday.  After watching his son struggle day after day with his condition and going through constant therapy and treatment, Sam decided to do something to make a difference in his honor.  He started Operation Jack and the Operation Jack Foundation as his "never-ending quest to help causes in need, one charitable act at a time," and to generate attention to raise funds and nationwide awareness for Train 4 Autism, an organization that works tirelessly to raise money for Autism charities.  In 2010, he raised more than $90,000, and since starting has grossed nearly $300,000, all in honor of his son and to encourage parents, relatives and friends of those struggling with autism to find a positive outlet by leading an active lifestyle that promotes awareness and raises funds for autism-related charities.

Leaving Wichita shortly after 5:30am, I got on the drive toward the Kansas City area, and mind you, it was already cold.  The sun was obviously not up yet, and wouldn't rise until I was more than halfway through my trip and only an hour away from my ultimate destination.  My old high school car, a 1996 Mitsubishi Montero that my parents still use today, had an outside temperature gauge that measured between 25 and 27 degrees Fahrenheit for the entire drive.  I had enough gas to last me up to Ottawa, around 135 miles in, and ended up getting gas (at $1.99 a gallon!) just off I-35 on the exit toward Garnett, KS.  I ceremoniously pumped $13.10 worth of gas to last me the rest of my trip and a drive out toward Kansas City, Missouri, and then continued on my way.

With fellow Fifty State Half
Marathon Club members!
I made it to Shawnee Mission Park at about 8:20, and registered at the table set up in the parking lot with Sam, and then met up with fellow Fifty Staters Dan and Paula (local, from the KC area), their friend Margaret visiting from Toronto, and Karen (who drove in early that morning, just like me, from the St. Louis area).  We posed for a quick photo in front of the gates to the Shawnee Mission Theatre in the Park, and then got ourselves ready at the start line for the race.

Finishing, struggling...
But done!
(Photo courtesy of Autism
Society of the Heartland)
We got on the out-and-back course at 9am.  Felt fine, albeit cold, at the start, and clocked a 9:11 first mile, which wasn't bad.  But then, my leg muscles started to stiffen.  By the time I hit mile 2, I started to feel a bit of pain in both of my legs, right around the shin area.  I proceeded to walk-run for the next four miles, through the paved trail that snaked through Shawnee Mission Park.  While it was a really beautiful run, it was super painful.  Many people passed me, and some even expressed their concern as they saw me struggling.  But I powered on through, especially through a tough uphill at mile 6, and made it to the turn around on the 6.5 mile mark.


The awesome 4" long dog-tag medal!
At that moment, I walked for a bit and then started to feel a little better in my legs, but still some pain.  I ran conservatively for the next 5k, down that hill I had gone up not long before, and through some areas I had originally walked.  I was doing pretty well, made all the aid stops where I stretched as best I could.  There was even a point that I was running and about five military helicopters were flying overhead headed northeast in a V formation, which I thought was kind of cool.  I hit mile 11 or so, and got back to the first aid station just past the lake, and immediately began to hit a wall, slowing down significantly, but still managing my run-walk.  I knew early on when I started feeling the pain in my legs that this was not going to be a good race - and I was going to post my worst time at the half marathon distance.  I was ok with it... I mean, only two weeks earlier, I had posted my best - and finishing was really my only real goal, so I could say I got my 14 halfs in 2014.  I struggled all the way to the finish, finishing 50th out of 61 finishers, in a time of 2:42:47, nearly thirteen minutes slower than my previous "PW" or personal worst.  Yeah, it was not a great race for me, but you know what - even though I did this race for my own personal goals, I felt content that my participation was actually something that would mean a lot to the families and friends of people who deal with autism everyday.  I ran through the pain and got through all of those miles not only for myself... but also for them.  The pain I felt after the race pales in comparison to the day-to-day that kids with autism have to deal with.  Sam works tirelessly for his son, and I really commend him for putting on races for four years running, to raise money and to raise awareness for a disability that affects far too many young people.  I was happy to be able to be a part of this year's Operation Jack Half.

In an odd twist of fate, my home state of Kansas now has my two worst times for half marathons.  I visited with Sam at the end, who kindly took my ritual victory headstand photo, and then headed back to my car to warm up and get in touch with Shanna and Amanda to meet up for lunch.

#VictoryHeadstand in Kansas City, despite my struggles!
14 in 2014, DONE!

Yum, chimichanga!
I drove out to Westport to meet up with them, very slowly and painfully walking from my car to the restaurant, and had some delicious Mexican food at Port Fonda.  Luckily, when I got back up, the pain in my legs had subsided significantly, and then I decided to get on my way back to Wichita.  I found a gas station only five miles away (in a not-so-safe neighborhood, I learned later from my dad) that posted $1.85/gallon gas, and then drove home with a quick stop at Caribou Coffee for a wake-up.  The drive back at sunset, while at times blinding with the sun glare, was gorgeous, and made me nostalgic for the Kansas sunsets I grew up with.  But in the end, I finished my 14 in 2014, an awesome accomplishment that I was proud to have completed!

WHAT?! $1.85 gas?  I haven't seen this since I was a kid!

Bye, KC!  The Plaza is so pretty during the holidays....

A Kansas sunset is hard to beat... this is now my phone's wallpaper!

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