6.6 Miles is not a Marathon

Even if you don’t know the actual mileage of the marathon, you probably know enough to know it’s a lot more than 6.6 miles. But that is all I was able to run during the Heartland Marathon this past Sunday. Having had a terrible race back in May due to the warm sunny weather I was happy when the ten day weather forecast projected clouds with light rain. It seemed like perfect weather for race day to get me to my ambitious Boston qualifying time. Unfortunately light rain turned into storms across the Midwest which led to more flooding.

Even if you don’t live in the Midwest it was hard to miss the spring flooding that devastated the region. A National Disaster declaration was declared on March 9th and was extended through July 14th. The ice dams and high water that broke levees on all the rivers was followed up with an unseasonably wet Spring and Summer. Whole cities were flooded and are still reeling from the disaster which cost billions in infrastructure, housing, crop and livestock loss.

These events remind us of how connected we are as cities, states and regions. What happens upstream affects all the communities located below. I was reminded of this once again when I received an email from the race director saying the route was being altered. We could no longer run south on 10th street and cross the Highway 275 bridge into Iowa and return back over the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge to finish. We instead would have to make four out and back loops along a trail in Iowa across the Bob Kerry Bridge. This change was caused by heavy rain in South Dakota 10 days prior to the event. The extra rainfall upriver would make its way to our marathon route by race day, flooding portions of it.

Despite being discouraged by the monotonous new route, I understood that nature would have the final say. I wasn’t prepared however to show up the morning of the race in the pouring rain to only run 6.6 of the total 26.2 miles. Runners, especially long distance runners, are naturally thick skinned or we wouldn’t punish ourselves with months of hard training only to end in a 26 mile race. So we lined up as the water poured down for the start. The trail was wet with some large puddles soaking our shoes almost instantly. By the time we made it to the Iowa side the wind had picked up sending rain at us like sheets of ice. I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t wish I was home on my couch, but I was upset when a volunteer passed by saying the race was cancelled for lightening. All those months of hard work and 5:30 am runs was wasted.

While lightening was the justification I heard, another reason for the race cancellation as also offered up. Since March when the flooding started, drainage pipes have laid across the trail pumping water from the river side over to the sewer system to keep it from topping over the bank into the residential neighborhood. As I ran to get back over the bridge and to my car I passed a pickup heading down the trail, which someone said later was headed to access the pipe which was malfunctioning during the storm. Hundreds of runners crossing back and forth over these pipes would make it very difficult to service.

This race and the series of events leading up to the short run remind me just how futile our efforts can be to manage weather. We built our cities on the banks of rivers hundreds of years ago because it was efficient and economical, but never foresaw the change in climate that would soon make theses river cities regret their decisions. No amount of man made levees and infrastructure will keep our communities impenetrable. We will have to devise ways to live with the water instead of trying to tame it.

Nicodemus, Kansas: Not Just a Flyover City