Race Report: Hospital Hill Half Marathon

A portion of the downtown Kansas City skyline
Image via Wikipedia

Ran the Hospital Hill Half Marathon on Saturday.  I would love to say that I was 100% ready for this race but that was not the case.  I was barely ready, undertrained and motivated only to go have fun with my friends and enjoy the race.  This race is a big one.  Over 7000 runners, nice venue (downtown Kansas City) and a good production.  Lots of support on the course and at the finish.  This was my first year to run this race.

I had heard that the course was tough and hilly.  The course was named for Hospital Hill, a supposed monster of a hill that, although short, was supposed to be a killer because it was, a.)Steep and, b.) 12 miles into the race.  Having run in Columbia, MO for over 4 years now, I’m not scared of hills.  I had also run the KC marathon and knew the terrain.  I was more concerned with the predicted 75 degree start temperature and the lovely midwest humidity that accompanied it.  Neither of which disappointed… unfortunately.

This was a “good, bad and ugly” race for me.  I will hit on each as I cover the course.

Start to Mile 4

The race starts on a slight down hill section to flat for the first mile or so.  I wanted to pace the first mile easy at 8:30 until I got out of the scrum.  The first bad came and almost turned ugly when some moron dropped his iPod a half mile into the race and STOPPED to get it.  You can imagine the impending flood of people behind him, of which I was one, couldn’t stop in time.  I’m surprised he lived.  I tripped over the guy in front of me as he leaped to avoid him and about 10 of us nearly went down.  A race this big needs to BAN IPODS.  That was unbelievably dangerous and could have been tragic.  Once I got my heart rate and blood pressure back down (I was PISSED), I settled back into my pace and the mile one marker at 8:34.  Just past mile one, the course hits the first of 3 climbs for the day.  This one, honestly, is the toughest one on the course.  You are not warmed up yet and it is a fairly long climb.  I managed to get through it at an 8:33 pace and then finished the next two flat, to downhill miles at under an 8:00 minute pace.  I was hot, but feeling OK and enjoying the run.  I found myself purposefully running right down the middle of the (usually) busy city streets… just because I could.  …heh.

Miles 5 through 9

These are the daydream miles for me during a race.  I’m settled in to a pace and the crowd has thinned out enough that I barely have to give attention to traffic, the road or my pace.  Mile 5 was somewhere around 8:15 and then we hit the next up hill section.  I was getting warm at this point and started taking water at mile 6.  I was sweating a lot, but that wasn’t unexpected in the humidity.  Mile six slowed to an 8:45 pace and it was about the same for mile 7.  It was during mile 8 that the “ugly” started to happen.  My stomach started cramping.  Not the “I gotta go potty” cramps or a side stitch.  This was a “something you ate is about to screw up your race” cramping.  Complete with nausea and heartburn.  I have run enough races now to know.  I was done.  Around mile nine, my legs started feeling weak and I knew all I could do was just manage the rest of the race and live to tell about it.

Mile 10 to the finish

Around mile ten there is another up hill section, but it is mild.  Around the end of mile ten to mile eleven, I started getting really dizzy.  I walked the water stop and took plenty of fluid and even enjoyed getting hosed off by a local resident who was offering up his garden sprinkler to the masses.  The last stretch of mile 11 was out of what little breeze there was and I was cooked.  I had to walk (I never walk) for fear of passing out.  By now I had passed several runners laying on the side of the road and one being stuffed into an ambulance.  My new goal for the race at this point was simply to not be like that guy…  I will admit to being worried at this point about “the HILL” that everybody talked about.  As we headed back into the concrete jungle around the Crown Center I knew it was coming.  We crossed a bridge and made a turn and I heard somebody say “This is it!  Welcome to the HILL!”  …ya know…  Even as sick as I was… I gotta say I was pretty disappointed.  “THE HILL”  just wasn’t all that.  Yes, it was a little steeper than most, but it was short.  We run stuff much steeper and longer every week.  I almost panicked because I thought the hill kept going past the first part, but it actually just headed downhill to the finish.  I almost missed my cue to speed up because I was thinking there was more to it.  The first hill on the course was MUCH tougher.  The finish is downhill through a tunnel so it is loud and fun.  I managed to gather up enough energy to surge to the finish and actually had a 7:27 last mile.  But miles 8 -12 ruined any chance I had of a sub 1:50.

I finished with a PR of 1:53:32 but I can’t say I’m really proud of it.  I sincerely felt that I had a 1:45:00 in me, even in the heat.  But I let myself down with my nutrition choice.  I think it all boiled down to my choice of energy bar.  This was a new one, but one by a maker (PowerBar) that I eat all the time.  So I thought I would be OK.  Lesson learned.  You hear it all the time.  Nothing new on race day.

The race itself is a really good one.  Lots of volunteers and support, great swag, good food and beverages and expo afterwards.  But most of all it was fun to be with friends and run a race without a ton of expectations.  I initially signed up for this race as a part of my early season plan to do a half Ironman this year.  But I changed my mind about that race and decided to do all Olympic distance races this year.  I almost backed out of this run, but I’m glad I didn’t.  It wasn’t the race I wanted but it was fun and that’s all that really matters…!

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