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Friday, April 30, 2010

The 2010 Oklahoma City Marathon

As I have in the past, I'll divide this Race Report into The Event & My Race:

The Event:

Not having spent any time in Oklahoma City, I'm happy to report that this town has a lot of charm. I arrived on Saturday afternoon and headed straight downtown for the Expo. There was an Arts Festival going on just west of the convention center so the streets were filled with loads of people. Packet Pick-up was quick and the Expo was large with many vendors.

This was a special weekend for Oklahoma City with their NBA team (Thunder) playing in the playoffs against the Lakers. The City was bubbling with enthusiasm. In addition to the Thunder game Saturday night, on the other side of the convention center is Bricktown and the home of the Texas Rangers AAA affiliate the Oklahoma City Redhawks who were also playing. Action packed weekend for sure.

Since this is a running report, I won't dwell on the circumstances for holding this race. Just remember: April 19, 1995. 9:02am. A bomb was detonated in the street in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, OK, destroying the Federal Building and killing 168 people. The Memorial that stands there is really amazing. The pre-race 168 seconds of silence was eerie and a great reminder that this day was not just about me and my fellow runners.

A 6:30 AM start time may sound unusual, but given the potential heat that could have been part of the day a good idea. Leaving my hotel, the forecast of high winds was clearly accurate since the flags were whipping fiercely. The NW winds ranged between 13-20 MPH with gusts up to 30 MPH. The temperature at the start was 52 degrees and climbed to 73 by midday.

It was dark when 22,000 tried to shuffle their way to the starting corral (2,634 Marathon Finishers). The only problem was that if you wanted to use a porta-potty, you had to leave the corral entirely. Barriers and spectators prevented one from re-entering at the appropriate pace group. The corral was long and skinny and moving forward or backward was not an option. A poor design all the way around. Basically, if you needed to pee, you were starting at the back.

The course is rather hilly. Nothing too steep, but not much flat either. We ran downtown, by the baseball stadium, past the Capital, out to Lake Hefner and through many neighborhoods on the way back downtown. It was a nice course. The wind may have been a huge factor, but only for those out front. Those of us back in the pack were largely shielded from most of the headwinds until things spread out after the half marathoners turned back toward town at Mile 8.

Overall, my complaint about mega-marathons was true here. Too many people running at different paces in too small a space. I suppose had I been up in my pace group rather than starting dead last it could have been different, but I was still dodging walkers five miles in.

One thing they got right that many others do not is that they had plenty of water and Powerade at EVERY aid station. The first few are always dicey because it just doesn't seem they have enough ready to go and can't replenish fast enough, but these folks had it nailed. Great people too! I discovered this when I ran in Ardmore last month, the folks of Oklahoma are downright friendly. There were also some fantastic themes from many of the volunteer teams. That always helps divert the mind. Some of the neighborhoods got into the action as well. I really enjoyed the huge inflated gorilla at Gorilla Hill.

The wind became an issue as we approached the Lake. Fortunately, most of it ended up being a cross wind, but I can honestly say that I've never run in winds blowing so hard consistently. Too much exposure would have taken a toll on all of us.

By mile 17 we were headed back toward downtown. The crowds built gradually and were fantastic the last 5 or so miles. When you make the turn and have the final .2 to go, the crowds are deep and loud. All my complaining about running big races always gets erased in these last miles. It is a trade off, but the reception at the finish reminds us of why we do this. Thank you Oklahoma City!

Cross the Finish, snag a wonderful two-sided medal and a nice technical finishers shirt then on to the fluids and food. Post race food area was pretty standard except they were making hamburgers. The smell was very pleasant to me...not sure everyone felt that way, but it was a nice surprise.

Aside from the wind, which from what I hear is fairly typical for this race based on the older race reports I read, I would highly recommend this race to anyone. Not one for a PR really, but overall well done for a race of this size.

My Race:

Starting at the very back instead of somewhere near the 10 min mile pace group was a bit of a mess. I think I expended a lot of energy just maneuvering around walkers and slower runners even though I had vowed not to do so. After snapping a quick photo during the first mile, I hopped off the curb and landed pretty hard on my right leg. Right knee pain would appear a few miles later and linger for most of the race. I'm not sure they are related, but that's my story & I'm sticking to it.

I had loosely hoped to run between 4:25 and 4:30. I ran White Rock in December (4:35:21) and felt I should improve on that this time around.

My splits were all over the place, but I got through the most crowded portion (Miles 1-7) on a 10:20 pace. As I've become good at running negative splits, I felt pretty good that I was in good position. Physically, I just never felt good. Slight knee pain and just overall lacking energy. Nevertheless, this wasn't my first rodeo so I knew that things would turn for me sooner or later.

The next 7 miles I covered at a 10:07 pace and finally felt fairly comfortable. Things temporarily fell apart when I noticed a small rock in my shoe so I stop to remove it rather than get a nasty blister. This also begins the run on the windy Lake Hefner.

The 7 miles (15-21) were at an average pace of 9:50 per mile. I was now enjoying myself and just wanted to ease it back a bit and reserve some energy for when I hit the wall...assuming it was coming at all. Stupid statement, stupid thought, stupid, stupid, stupid.

I ran mile 22 in 11:45. No, that is not a typo...11:45. About half way into mile 22, I noticed my breathing was a bit labored. I grabbed a water at an aid station and while walking I could tell that something was wrong. My legs, though tired, were not giving me any real trouble. I just couldn't breath and my heart rate seemed to stay extremely high even when I started walking. I took off running again, but within a minute I knew I needed to walk for awhile to make sure I wasn't in any real danger.

While I was still able to smile and chat with the spectators and volunteers, I was slightly concerned. I promised my wife, kids and parents that I was fine to run this thing and "no" they didn't need to drive up from our home in DFW to see me in yet another marathon. The last thing I could afford to do now was end up in a medical tent (or worse) and having to call home. They'd never let me go play by myself again.

Miles 23 & 24 were at about the same pace with a mix of running and walking. I was clearly dehydrated and took in a lot of fluids during these miles. All this time I had been focused on the wind and didn't realize the sun baking down on me. I know better. Common mistake. Train through the winter months at lower temperatures and then run your race on what can typically be the warmest day you've run in since early fall.

I also remembered a vow I made to myself when I decided to start running marathons again after a 5 year layoff. I promised that I would do this for fun and always run in a manner that left me feeling reasonably good afterwards. I needed to make sure I didn't burn out as I had previously. I despised the marathon distance so badly after my 5th marathon in December of 2004 that I swore I just wouldn't do it again. I wasn't about to repeat that so I needed to just slow down and finish....even if it meant walking the rest of the way.

Finished the last 2.2 miles at about an 11 minute pace and spent the time thanking volunteers and giving High 5's to small kids. Numerous cheers of GO RANDY were thrown my way and I had a blast. This is why I run these things. Not for the time, but for the feeling.

Total time was 4:34:15 (10:28 Pace). Not great, but good enough. While I'd like to get back to 4 hours, I think the slower pace suits me fine. I may have blown up in this race, but I didn't ruin the experience in doing so. I was able to regroup and get it done. I'm thankful for that.

This race was a great reminder to run for the joy of it and in manner that keeps you longing for more.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Friday, April 2, 2010

A2A Half Marathon

I was blessed to have run the Inaugural Arbuckles to Ardmore Half Marathon (A2A Marathon)this past Sunday and set a new personal record (PR) by almost two minutes. This race popped up when searching for a Spring marathon to keep me motivated after running Dallas White Rock in December. Fearing that I might get lazy after my next marathon, I opted to do the half and save myself for one last full marathon later in the Spring. I'll separate this report into two sections: The Event & My Race

The Event

First, I want to say this was possibly the best organized event I've run in over a decade. It was simply a blast! I drove up the morning of the race. Packet pick-up was a breeze. The people were amazingly friendly at 6:30 AM...a trait that never waned the entire day.

A weather report is in order. Very strong winds out of the north made the 47 degree temps seem especially frigid.

The race is point-to-point and they had school buses lined up to take the marathoners and half marathoners up into the Arbuckles for the start. Our bus driver on the #25 bus was wonderful. Rather than run buses back and forth to pick-up more runners, they had enough buses to let us stay onboard until 7:45 (15 minutes prior to the start). Folks rotated off and on the bus to use the bathroom or hand off their drop bags. Runners are friendly people and even friendlier if happy.

The race was advertised as being largely downhill with 531' of elevation drop in the first 8.5 miles of the half marathon course. This fact and the stiff tailwind made this an extremely fast race. While the course did have some rolling hills, there were many times when I could feel the wind simply blowing me up the hill.

Water & sports drink were provided with aid stations at nearly every mile. Is it possible to have too many stations? Since the race is largely run down rural Highway 77 there was little crowd support. Nevertheless, the aid station volunteers were enthusiastic and always ready with a smile and encouragement.

Once in town, the race moves back east and north toward Noble Stadium. The quarter mile run into the blustery wind during the last mile was a great reminder of how fortunate we were that day. Once in the Stadium we lapped the track and finished at the 50-yard line to a surprisingly large crowd in the stands.

I could go on all day about the wonderful people. When I told people "thank you for being here and volunteering", they each said "no, thank you, we are so glad you're here." So, maybe they were trained to say that...who cares. It felt genuine.

Nice Medal, Finisher's Shirt (technical), T-shirt (long sleeve cotton) and Food, Food, Food! Besides the usual fluids and fruit, they went all out. Chicken wraps? Cinnamon Rolls? Come on....that is just too awesome. Later...the cranked out the BBQ, chili and who knows what else.

Again, this was a special event and to pull it off on the first try was something special. Thank you Ardmore, Oklahoma.

Now, I'll state it here and move on to my performance...if the wind had been out of the south, this report may have a slightly different tone. I can't promise that I would have been able to joyfully observe the volunteers and community if I'd spent 2 hours getting beaten into submission with strong winds. So when I say at the outset the I was blessed to have run the race, that blessing included the weather.

My Race

I have purposely ignored the term PR since turning 40 a couple of years ago. In these recent years, I have focused on running negative splits and trying to finish feeling comfortable. I took several years away from running seriously after abusing myself pursuing a marathon time that I had no business pursuing. The agony of the the event stuck with me and I swore I'd never run another one. When I did return, I vowed that I would run within myself and run to finish. To enjoy the moment and let the kids and newcomers stress themselves pursuing meaningless seconds and minutes.

Unfortunately, I suppose the hiked skirt of a new record is like any other temptation. As outlined above, the downhill course and tailwind made for ideal conditions to push for a PR...if only by a few seconds. The plan was to go out with 9:30 pace for the first half, run 8:45 in the back half through 11 or 12 and then pound 13 to get me below my previous best time of 2:02:38 from 3 years ago.

Well...the wheels shot off the plan within the first half mile. With the strong winds, 9:30 pace just felt too slow. I assumed I could drop to low 9:00's and hold it without expending much additional effort due to the conditions. So I ran between 8:50 and 9:10 for the first 9 miles. It felt fairly good, but I could tell the finishing kick I had at Cowtown (low 8:00's for final 3 miles) was not available on this day. The faster pace took much more out of me than I expected...or maybe it was just one of those days.

Finished with a strong mile 13 (8:40), but the last tenth measures mysteriously .28 on my watch. I knew I had the PR and was sure I was going to be under the two hour mark as well. I actually coasted mile 12 not wanting to go too low and put this day's PR out of reach for a lifetime. They called my name over the loud speaker in the stadium which is always fun to hear. As I rounded the last turn on the track, someone yelled for me to hurry to break two hours. Hurry? Then I saw the clock....oops. I needed to bust it because I knew this might be my only chance to break two hours. Dead sprint to the finish...well sort of.

Gun Time/Stadium Clock: 1:59:58 - Watch time of 1:59:44.

I did it. The old man did it. What a thrill. I haven't walked that tall in years.

I'm still sore and dreading the 20 mile training run I have in the morning in preparation for the Oklahoma City Marathon, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe I can occasionally chase meaningless seconds and minutes after all.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace