Sunday, February 26, 2012

Off-season update:Topeka, Kansas

Just got back from a very long run this afternoon in Topeka, Kansas. Just couldn't help it -- the sun is out, the air is mild (about 60 degrees), the ground is dry, and the winds are light. So I went out for what turned out to be the longest run I've done in a long while -- at least in the past year, anyway.

It was 9.2 miles as measured by the rental car, taking 1 hour and 51 minutes. Like all great runs, I was motivated by a simple goal: to "capture" the Kansas State Capitol, about four miles to the west in downtown Topeka. (That's it above, under renovation.) It was ambitious for an off-season run and I wasn't sure I could do it, but I felt good (despite a draining nose and recent lack of sleep) so figured I'd just keep the route simple and see how far I got.

I started out on Fairlawn Road in West Topeka (where I'm staying at a Best Western), a suburban enclave of motels and convenience stores, and started down 6th Street -- or I should say up, because the first stretch slopes up at a surprisingly steep angle, made no easier by the lack of sidewalks. My plan was to stay on 6th Street all the way into downtown, and that's what I did, going up and down rolling slopes, first through residential areas and then past commercial properties.

It's a wide street, with two lanes in each direction, leading me to believe it must have been the main road out of town to the west (towards Salina, Kansas) before Interstate 70 was built just to the north, along the Kansas River. The commercial properties date from its heyday, and now repose in various states of use and neglect.

Up and down I went. Who says Kansas is flat? Not along 6th Street, as I reached major cross streets that told me I was getting closer: Gage, MacVicar, Washburn. I felt good, and was keeping my eye out for the first actual glimpse of the state Capitol's dome, topped by a statue of a Kansa warrior named Ad Astra, and currently augmented by a large construction crane. At one point, Topeka's street grid shifts to the right, and when I reached that point, I knew I was getting closer. Still, hard to see beyond the continuous wall of auto body shops and Mexican restaurants that lined the street.

But then, when the cross streets begin to be named after pre-Civil War presidents (Taylor, Fillmore, etc.) I saw it -- or I saw the crane, at least. Not too far off, actually, but not close either. But for the first time, I felt I just might have a chance at successfully completing this quest.

After getting held up by heavy traffic on Topeka Boulevard, I crossed and entered the downtown area. Even on a nice day, the place was completely deserted: no cars, no trucks, no pedestrians. It looked like a neutron bomb had hit the place! I jogged by the building that houses the Jayhawk Theater, then up 7th Street to Kansas Avenue, the "Main Street" of downtown Topeka. It was so quiet I could have run right up the middle of the street and wouldn't have bothered anyone.

Still feeling strong, I made a right on 9th Street, and there the Capitol was, facing me. I circled around the southern side, "capturing" it by jogging across the lawn and now facing into the sun, which lit up the building behind me like it was about to appear in a Cecil B. Demille epic. And then I started back, knowing the challenge was to keep going but not push too hard so my feet would hold up.

I was on 10th Street heading back, and it was a good choice: mostly commercial, with good sidewalks almost all the way back to Fairlawn. Leaving downtown and heading back west, I found 10th Street to be more institutional than 6th Street: hospitals, churches, the county's modern library, and Topeka's amazing high school, which was build in 1931 but looks like it belongs in an English university town.

The slog began to get to me by the time I hit Gage Road, but I pressed on, determined to make it back to Fairlawn without stopping. Soon the sidewalk gave out and the road narrowed, meaning I must be getting close. Uneven ground near the road forced me out into the flatter part of a gigantic open area, apparently part of a church cemetery, before I finally crested on final rolling hill and saw Fairlawn just below. Nice! I made it.

So pretty amazing that I've got the legs for this length of run at this time of the year. Hope I can keep it up, as it could mean some really good times for races later this year.

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