Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Route 66 Marathon recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 41st Edition 
617.6  miles raced, 7480 meters swam and 202.3 miles biked in 2011
Race: Route 66 Marathon
Place: Tulsa, OK
Miles from home:  1212 miles
Weather: 30s; cloudy; windy

People don't believe me when I tell them I still get nervous for marathons. I do. Truly. As I have said often, it is 26.2 miles no matter how many times today you have run 26.2 miles in the past.  It may get "easier" but if you are pushing yourself, it never gets "easy". However, throw in the fact that the last time I toed the line for a 26.2 miler I wasn’t even sure I was going to get to the starting line because of an inflamed Achilles tendon, then you can imagine my trepidation at the start of the Route 66 Marathon. I had barely run anything but races in the time between these two races and was feeling anything but fantastic.  Fortunately, in one of what had to only be about three times this year, I was not working an expo the day before a marathon. For those of you who may scoff at the notion of how much added exhaustion this can put on your body prior to racing, give it a shot. Instead I got to wake up late, stroll around the expo (hang out with Arturo Barrios for a while), get my packet and head back to watch Penn State play Ohio State.

As a proud Penn State grad I had mentioned on facebook that I would be wearing my PSU hat and singlet to show my support for the university I know- the one which has graduated so many people that one in 700 people in America is a Penn Stater. I was not trying to overshadow what may have happened with Jerry Sandusky. I was not trying to put the face of my university over the children who may have been abused.  In a rush to state “No *I* really hate child abuse much more than you!” many had lost perspective.  If the allegations have occurred, there will be no one more ashamed than Penn State grads. I heard someone tell me that of all the friends they have from various universities all over the country, that she had never seen such fierce loyalty as she had amongst Penn Staters as well as the biggest sense of being completely aghast at what could have occurred on our beloved campus.  So my point of wearing the singlet was to show my pride in the ideals that I feel my school has. Not to support the football team and not to support Joe Paterno.  Penn State is much more than both (although we owe the world to Joe and you cannot begin to fathom how shocked any of will be if he knew there were untoward things going on and did nothing about it) and that was why I was donning the Blue and White. If some felt it was “too soon” and I was not being contrite enough, then that is their problem. I feel it is never too soon to show that what you believe in differs from what the masses may think you do.

Race Day:

I was fortunate enough to have a hotel just a few short blocks away from the start of the race. With a late start (8 a.m.) that meant I wouldn’t even need to get up until 6:45 a.m., leaving me plenty of time to get ready and saunter to the start.  It was a chill and blustery morning later called “prefect running weather” by some newspaper article (interestingly enough I have heard the same words to describe about 15 different weather patterns for races across the country.) However, it was indeed a great temperature. The wind, on the other hand, was going to be a problem.

First 10k(ish): 6:35, 6:58, 7:07, 6:44, 7:02, 6:32

My plan was to hit the first half right around 90 minutes and see what I had in the tank to potentially go sub-3. That, of course, goes completely against being nervous about even finishing the race but at times runners can be both extraordinarily wary and full of bravado. I do not tempt to explain it, but merely report on its presence.

 For the first few miles I found myself running next to two of the three founders of the group Marathon Maniacs. I laughed because there had been a post on the Maniac facebook page by some runner  that the “true spirit” of the Marathon maniacs was about simply completing the races and not about running fast. Yet here were 66% of the founders well under sub-3 hour pace. Guess the self-appointed spirit-assessor may have been a little off.

I hung with them for a while but then before the third mile I had to take a much-needed bathroom break.  For the next 10 miles or so I would be just a few hundred feet behind the tell-tale signs of their bright yellow singlets. I figured I could push to catch up to them or simply stay where I was.  As long as I didn’t lose any further ground I figured that where I was suited me just fine.

Throughout the course there were plenty of volunteers at all the necessary points which was definitely making up for the lack of any real scenery. Again, scenery, for me, is really just a bonus. It might make me decide to run a race again down the line but for the most part I just want an accurately marked course. Here, we were even notified of the speed bumps.

Now that is going the extra mile.

To the Half: 6:41, 6:59, 6:54, 7:38, 6:57, 6:44, 7:09

For the next few miles I was running with a real nice gentleman named James who was running something like his 5th marathon in a month’s time or something similar to that.  He lamented that he wasn’t getting any faster and I chuckled. I told him, it might have a smidgen to do with the fact that you have had almost zero rest and recovery the past month or so.

While the wind did not present too much of a problem for the first few miles of the course, blowing in all directions and helping a little bit before it hindered, after mile nine, the course turned into its teeth. For the next five miles we would be running in one direction, out in the open, into wind. Not fun.

On the only part of the course that was quite flat, very little could be done to really try and put in some cushion for time . I tried my best to run in groups of people to break the wind but I kept needing to pass one group, hold onto my ears to keep me from blowing away, and then fall in behind the next group. In hindsight, I should have not worked as hard as I did here and just sat like most people did in a group which lasted out the wind. If I was racing for a win I might have done that. But here I was battling for something like 25th place- not really something I cared too much about. I simply wanted a faster time.

The one very good thing about this out and back was seeing all the runners behind you. I always enjoy this as I can see all the friends and fans I never get a chance to see normally in a race. I cheered lustily for those I recognized and threw my hands up in the air for those who recognized me but said “Go Dane!” after they had passed me.

The most interesting part of this course were the number of “Go Penn State!” and “We Are…!” calls I got from other runners.  This echoed many spectator cheers and associations along the course as well. I could see they all got it- Penn State Proud.

To mile 20: 7:20, 7:20, 7:05, 7:23, 7:08, 7:27, 7:39

After the half split, which always leaves your heart a smidgen heavy because you know if you were running that race you would be done in about 90 seconds, the course got quite desolate. Not sure if the weather had turned away normally abundant crowds (having never raced here before) or if this was the norm. Either way it was quite lonely, windy, and after mile 14 a series of up and down hills (mostly up) awaited us runners. At mile 16 my energy was really beginning to ebb and I figured that a sub-3 was not even remotely possible. With all the hills to face, and me quite wary to actually pushing too hard with the achilles problem, I simply could not maintain the speed necessary to go sub-3. However, I was still passing runners who has started out too fast and felt quite good about what I was running.  I popped a PowerBar Strawberry Banana Power Gel and the next two miles went by fantastically. I knew miles 18-20 presented the final bit of climbing, at last according to the race elevation profile on the website (more on that later.)

More cheers in favor of my Penn State singlet from the spectators helped me fully cement I had done the right thing and that people, all in all, really do get the message that others put out there. I was told I needed to think of those who may misunderstand my message.  My reply to someone who stated that was with as in the public eye I as I am with my signings, speeches, and social media, I cannot possibly begin to shape the way I am to try and cater to what some people may think.  I have to be me and hope that the vast majority of people get what message I am putting out there. If they don’t and wish to be idiots to me, I have thick skin. I’ll be fine.

Although, I still have to pee quite frequently in races so I was very thankful for the deserted highway underpass right before the final climb to mile 20.

Heading Home: 7:24, 7:18, 7:18, 7:12, 7:24, 7:24, 1:31

The next few miles took us through the University of Tulsa campus which was about as dead as dead could be. I guess perhaps that 10:00 AM on a Sunday is still sleepy time for college kids or that Fall break was in session. Definitely could have used a little pick me up from a student cheering section here but made do without. Around the 21st mile a very tall chap passed me named Adam. He led for a while until another PowerBar gel gave me an energy burst and I passed him.  I was looking forward to the virtually nothing but downhill section for the last three miles of the course and figured I would be able to hold anyone off.

Alas- the actual course did not really reflect the elevation profile, or at least greatly smoothed over some of the last humps. In the last three miles, it wasn’t exactly the smooth sailing we saw on the website but rather a gentle net downgrade with plenty of little rollers to finish a weary runner off. The hill at mile 25 was especially brutal. Here is where Adam passed me again and my desire to try and see if I could get a high 3:05 for the day completely left me. There really is not much difference in running your 39th or 33rd fastest marathon ever when all you are trying to do is see if you can run the distance without anything tearing.

So I cruised in to the finish with Whit Raymond, my announcing friend, calling out my name. I finished in 3:07:07, good enough for 30th place overall in the race. It was just my 33rd fastest marathon overall but my fastest of the nine times I have run a 3:07. In case you haven’t figured out, I absolutely love statistics. When you have a sample size of 136 marathons (with an overall average of 3:17) it helps you play around with them more.

But the main thing was I felt super strong at the end. I was very worried that my lack of training and hurt Achilles would leave me crippled and exhausted at the finish. Fortunately, neither was the case.

Instead, I knocked off a marathon in my 45th state and had a great time doing it.

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