Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Race Report: Kansas City Marathon

After a cancelled flight two weeks before due to weather west of Kansas City, I had a chance to do it again, this time with the imperative need to be in Kansas City on Friday night because I was running a marathon the following morning.  Thankfully, the flight gods were kind; despite sitting on the tarmac for nearly 1 1/2 hours (La Guardia ATC has its hands full), we still landed at MCI only 37 minutes late.  Luckily, I had been upgraded early to First, so I had a nice dinner on the flight, satiated and ready for the following morning.

My cousin Patti and I bright and early in the morning before my race
Downtown KC from our hotel window
My cousin Patti had retrieved my bib for me, so I was all ready to go when she picked me up and had a few hours sleep before we were off to downtown Kansas City again in the early pre-dawn hours of the morning.  The winds were strong as we drove from the airport Friday night and continued on into Saturday morning, so I was anticipating a similar feel to the weather from the week before in Detroit, but not as intense. Patti booked us a room downtown so I could roll out of bed and be at the startline ready to go.

Fireworks at the startline
So early the next morning, I was up well before the sun was out, threw my race clothes on and woke up Patti to join me as we headed downstairs and over to the startline just down the street from the hotel.  The wind was definitely blowing, and the temps on the higher side for late October; we took off northward along Grand Boulevard, heading right into Kansas City's extremely popular Power & Light District, a nine-block dining, shopping, office and entertainment district developed in 2008 and one of the largest development projects in the Midwest. It was a pretty substantial uphill, climbing 128 feet over the first mile of the race.  As I stopped to grab a photo with a Power & Light sign along the way, I happened to run into my friends Martin and Wesley from Austin, who ran the half; they would fly home that afternoon to catch a flight down to Puerto Vallarta for vacation!

Powering through the Power and Light District

Runners coming down Woodland Ave
Passing the Sprint Center, a large, multi-use indoor arena that's been used for concerts and sporting events, we made it to E. 11th Street, where we turned right, and then proceeded to go downhill along Oak Street, heading back into the downtown area for short of a mile.  We turned left onto 18th Street, making our way past US-71 and into a neighborhood known as 18th and Vine, internationally recognized as one of the cradles of jazz music and a historic hub of African-American businesses in the eastern part of Downtown Kansas City.  The course made its way around a park with several baseball fields known as The Parade. We made our way down Woodland Avenue on the park's east side, before turning right onto 18th Street, and then began our long slog down The Paseo.

18th and Vine, a cradle of jazz music
The course wound its way for two miles southward along a somewhat curvy and uphill route along The Paseo, a major north-south parkway modeled after Mexico City's Paseo de la Reforma, from which it takes its name.  Created as part of Kansas City's extensive parkway and boulevard system and part of the City Beautiful movement of the early 1900s, The Paseo is lined by some small city parks and passes over US 71; as it climbed uphill as we passed by the neighborhoods of Wendell Phillips, Beacon Hill, Mount Hope, and Center City, I progressed forward on a very on-again/off-again run walk with no real set interval, the hilliness made me stop to walk more when I felt like it. Along the way, I met Kelly from Georgia for the first time - she'd been enjoying her time exploring the Midwest for the past week, having taken advantage of the previous week's Des Moines Marathon and making an I-35 challenge out of the two races.  It got tougher as the wind picked up in areas where there were no trees or buildings blocking us, though I could see the faster runners just power on through. Perhaps hill training... or training at all does work? 

Official race photo by the
Kansas City Marathon
The architecture along The Paseo was quite beautiful as well, as we ran past some cool old-style traffic lights, as well as some well preserved buildings.  We ran past the Kansas City Scottish Rite Temple, a monumental Beaux-Arts/Egyptian Revival style civic auditorium at the intersection with Linwood Boulevard; as well as the Victorious Life Church, formerly the Beth Shalom Synagogue, with its recognizable Byzantine style mosaic domes at the intersection with 34th Street.  At 35th Street, we finally turned right, making our way past Squier Park and toward Harrison Boulevard and the historic Hyde Park neighborhood. As the road changed into Harrison Parkway, we were finally rewarded by a downhill that I powered through as we ran through this residential area, finally posting a sub-10 minute mile at the 7 mile mark, which hadn't happened since the first mile of the race.

Passing by the shuttlecocks at
the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
After 39th Street and the actual Hyde Park, Harrison Parkway turned into Gillham Road, as we ran through the middle of the strip-like Gillham Park, named after the man who designed Kansas City's Cable Railway System completed in the 1880s, and helped plan and promote the city’s Parks and Boulevard system.The road curved its way as it meandered south before we turned right again upon reaching Emmanuel Cleaver II Boulevard.  Roughly 8 miles into the race, the marathoners and half marathoners would split.  On our right, we would be passing by the expansive front lawn of the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, and its famous shuttlecock art installations.  I spent many times with my childhood boychoir sitting on the steps of the museum having lunch as we came up to Kansas City to participate yearly at a choir competition in nearby Worlds of Fun amusement park.  Finally, the marathoners would turn left onto Oak Street, while the half marathoners would continue straight.

Before the marathoners turned off on their own, I ran into a monkey chasing a banana.
Passing by the PASEO hill
After passing Frank A. Theis Park and Brush Creek (a stream that runs right through the center of Kansas City), we turned left onto Volker Boulevard, passing the Russell Stover headquarters and the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, aka UMKC.  We also passed the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, a biomedical research organization that conducts basic research on genes and proteins that control fundamental processes in living cells to analyze diseases and find keys to their causes, treatment, and prevention.  A little further down the street, we passed mile 9 and began to run on a short out-and-back along Swope Parkway.  I felt a bathroom break coming on, but the line was long, so I passed it by; we were then back on The Paseo, passing by Paseo Academy, a performing arts school which has PASEO painted into the grass on a hill overlooking its namesake parkway.  That port-a-potty unfortunately did not come until over two miles later, and to make things worse, the run on The Paseo from Volker Boulevard to 159th Street was yet another gradual uphill.  A positive though was meeting Klara from Oklahoma, curiously running the race with her affable German Shepherd named Dierks.   I was flabbergasted to find out they were running the full marathon - and the dog had endurance, as he had already run a trail 50 miler in the recent past.

Klara and Dierks doing 26.2!
We continued on southward, past the working class neighborhood of Blue Hills on the left, and passing by the private Rockhurst University's housing complex known as Townhouse Village and its baseball field, Loyola Park, on the right.  After a short downhill to 63rd Street at roughly the 11.3 mile mark, the course curved around into Meyer Boulevard for a short while before turning left onto Rockhill Road and past University Academy.  The course twisted through the historic neighborhoods of Oak Meyer Gardens and Holmes Park, until we reached Gregory Boulevard, as we reached the southern limits of the race.  We ran southward along the more commercial Wornall Road down to 75th Street, then followed the course along side streets through the tony and affluent area of the Ward Parkway neighborhoodnd all the way down to 79th Street.  Easily, the homes here were much larger and well kept.

Ward Parkway
We finally turned right onto Ward Parkway, where we would begin our journey northward, now 14.5 miles into the race.  This nicely manicured boulevard has a wide, landscaped median, which in many places is decorated with fountains and statues, such as the Meyer Circle Sea Horse Fountain at the intersection with Meyer Boulevard, a beautiful fountain with statuary figures brought over from Italy in the 1920s.  We were only a few blocks away east of the Kansas-Missouri state line (aptly named State Line Road), running parallel to us. Ward Parkway is considered the crown jewel of Kansas City’s 135-mile boulevard and parkway system, defining features of the city that tie communities together with ribbons of green and balance the need to move traffic with a desire to maintain a “City within a Park” feel. We were running along this stretch of road for just under three miles, a mostly flat stretch of the course, before we'd encounter some of the more hilly parts of the race.

Beautiful street views in Country Club
We finally turned right onto West 57th Street, beginning our run through Kansas City's upscale Country Club District, where some of Kansas City's wealthiest residents live.  Many of the homes here date back to the early 1900s up until 1950, with homes designed by or made after plans of many noted architects of the time, including Frank Lloyd Wright, McKim, Mead, and White, Louis Curtiss, and Mary Rockwell Hook. The trees in the lawns in front of homes here were quite majestic, with autumnal colors were in full effect. We weaved our way through the neighborhood, ending up back on Wornall Road, passing by the Greek Revival-style home of the road's namesake, John Wornall, now a museum that is furnished to represent the daily life of a prosperous, pre-Civil War family. The home was actually at one point used as a field hospital for both Union and Confederate forces after the Battle of Westport during the Civil War in 1864.

Passing Frank Theis Park for the second time
Country Club Plaza
We continued to weave our way northward, through the hilly Ward Estates neighborhood and past Jacob Loose Park (once the original site of the Kansas City Country Club) in Sunset Hill.  We eventually found our way onto Sunset Drive, heading northeast until we reached Ward Parkway once again.  The course followed Ward Parkway eastward as it reached Volker Boulevard near mile 22, where we had come by 14 miles earlier. We made our way across Brush Creek on Oak Street, but then veered left, headed toward Country Club Plaza, a shopping center built to resemble the Moorish style architecture of Seville, Spain, but best known as the world's first shopping center designed to accommodate shoppers arriving by automobile.  The "Plaza," as it's known to locals, is quite nostalgic to me, as its buildings were always lit up during the holiday season; my immediate family would travel up to Kansas City from Wichita over the long Thanksgiving weekend to spend time with our extended family and on Thanksgiving night, the lights would be ceremoniously switched on to initiate the holidays.

Mile 25!

The finish is just down this hill
With under four miles left in the run, we ran along J.C. Nichols Parkway northward, past Mill Creek Park on right and Saint Luke's Hospital of Kansas City on our left, as we made our way toward Old Westport, another historic neighborhood that has experienced a bit of recent redevelopment and is considered one of the city's main entertainment districts. Historically, the area was known as an outfitting and starting point for traders, trappers, and emigrants heading west on the Santa Fe and Oregon trails.  We took off northward along the somewhat uphill Pennsylvania Avenue into the Valentine neighborhood, then found ourselves zigzagging our way onto Broadway Boulevard, then Main Street, for the last push to the finish.  After a slight uphill to the highest point of the entire race (a mere, 1,000 feet above sea level), we reached a beautiful view of downtown Kansas City, and it was a steady downhill past the Federal Reserve Building for the last 3/4 mile to the finish. I powered through to the finish line with a 5:18:31 finish, with my cousin Patti waiting for me as I crossed, just opposite the National World War I Museum and Memorial to the left.

Moments after finishing the race, Patti finds me to take a quick finisher photo!
I always seem to make new friends like Kelly and Mimi from Delaware while running races!
40 states done! Official photo by the Kansas City Marathon
Crossing the finish line! Official photo by the Kansas City Marathon

DOWNHILL! Official photo by the Kansas City Marathon

Me and Dierks post race!
I grabbed a quick bite to eat in the small post race finish area, and then found Klara and Dierks at the finish and took a photo with the dog, who very clearly and willingly finished the 26.2 miles alongside his owner! I found a gong (naturally), and ceremoniously hit it with a mallet to signify my 40th state finish.  We took my headstand photo with the Kansas City skyline in full view on a section of road still closed off from the race. I headed back to the hotel to take a much needed shower, then went off to get some lunch with Patti at Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue in the restored historic Freight House railroad building in the Crossroads Arts District north of Union Station.

Victory Headstand with the Kansas City skyline!

Reunited with old friends from Wichita!
Afterward, we headed down to Overland Park, Kansas, where I got to see Patti's parents (my uncle and aunt), before we headed to my old family friend's house nearby, who was hosting a party with other family friends from Wichita who had relocated to the area.  It was quite the reunion, getting together with people I've known since I was a toddler, catching up and getting to know their families!  After a full day of activities, I was pooped, and headed back to my aunt and uncle's place for some shuteye; Patti drove me early the next morning up to the Kansas City airport for my flight home to New York.  It was a quick trip, but I checked off state #40 in the process... only ten to go!

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