|Ich bin ein Marathoner|
In addition the weather turned out to be unseasonably cold. According to the Route 66 Marathon web site, the average temperature that time of year is in the low 40's - really ideal for a marathon. The temperatures for this weekend ended up in the mid-20's!. Let me tell you it was COLD!
I will also note here that - although as of this writing I have not posted it yet, I will be putting up the latest addition of the Runner of a certain Age Podcast by the 29th, and in that I will have some more personal observations and anecdotes. So check back! [Note: the podcast is now available]
Expo. I went to this expo with some very specific goals in mind (besides, of course, picking up my race packet). First, I needed some gels. Second, I wanted to check out any race merchandise (although I promised myself I would only buy something if I absolutely had to have it). And finally I needed a new GPS watch. I've been using an iPhone app called iRunner for a while and was very happy with it - but the GPS feature on the phone was draining the battery and I had run out of charge - or come close - a few times on long (23 mile+) training runs. And I did not want that to happen on my first marathon! I had bought a Timex Ironman GPS but after returning the 2nd one that would not take a charge I gave up on that. So, in terms of getting gels, a local Fleet Feet Sports had a booth with everything I needed. In terms of merch, turns out the t-shirt that came for participants was a cotton T, not a tech shirt, and really exactly what I wanted. And Garmin had a booth as well and were very happy to sell me their new Forerunner 220 (which I love - full review later).
[Note: The race organizers left me the following note in twitter: "...the cotton/poly blend participant shirt IS a Tech shirt, so sweat away! Gotta love technology!"]
All that said, I was just a tad disappointed in the expo. To begin with it seemed a tad small for a race of this size (a total of about 8,000 participants from what I can tell). To tell the truth I think my biggest problem was more related to the fact that I didn't get there until a few hours before closing so things were dying down a bit. That said, I got my first look at the amazing volunteers at this race. All the folks who helped with picking up the racing packets were terrific. In particular there was a guy in a kilt who made a very big deal out of the fact that this was my first full!
Pre-race and corrals. Unfortunately it was so cold there was not much of an opportunity to enjoy the pre-race activities. Normally I love to walk around and people-watch, and I was really hoping to talk to some folks before the race. But in this case everyone pretty much huddled together anywhere they could to stay warm. I was able to chat with a few folks while we waited, including 2 women, one named Laura and I confess I don't recall the other's name. In addition I did see one guy in what was perhaps the most inventive running getup I think I've ever seen - he was dressed as the leg lamp from "A Christmas Story": lampshade hat, fishnet stockings and all.
There were only 4 corrals so they were quite large - nearly 2,000 in each. The folks running the half as well as the full all started at the same time. I was in corral D (the last) and did not get in until the last minute so I started out well in the back of the pack. Those of us in the last corral had to wait what seemed like quite a long time - a feeling that was no doubt exacerbated by the cold. In fact I would have sworn it took us about 20 minutes to get to the start after the gun, but according to the official results it was only about 5 minutes. Plus they did a nice send-off for each corral including shooting off a confetti gun - nice touch.
The course. Oklahoma has a well deserved reputation for being, well, flat as a pancake. And it is. So I was somewhat surprised by how hilly the Route 66 Marathon course is. Admittedly it's nothing like my neighborhood loop which boasts a 150 rise in .4 miles, nor was it as hilly as the Sleepy Hollow Half Marathon that I ran earlier this year. But it is still pretty darned hilly. And of course the worst of it is right at the half way point - a special treat for those of us running the full marathon.
One thing I have noticed - unsurprisingly - about these races is that the courses seem to show off the host towns to their best. This was true of Providence and it is certainly true hear. Or maybe all of Tulsa is equally nice, but I was certainly taken by the city's charms. The highlights for me included running along the Arkansas River, running through the University of Tulsa, and also all of the wonderful Midwestern architecture on display in many of the neighborhoods. I saw several charming Spanish inspired homes with stucco walls and red clay roofs. I also was quite taken by the University campus. It boasts an old world charm although it appears to mostly be new construction. And again it seemed as though the course was chosen to show off the campus at it's best.
All in all I give this course very high marks. I'm sure that if the weather had cooperated with a sunny, brisk day it would have even been better.
Support. Speaking of the weather, I have a feeling that if the elements had been more cooperative, this race would have taken the award for best local support. I was very surprised by the number of local folks who braved the cold to cheer the runners on. And this is coming from a guy who was at the back of the pack! One thing we saw a lot of was folks camped in their front yards with a fire going in a fire pit. It was all I could do to keep myself from joining them.
And then there were the volunteers. Volunteers at races are always awesome and very much appreciated. Still, there's something about watching these folks go about the business of doing the things that make a race possible, and doing while it's dead cold out, that really makes you realize what a selfless act it is to volunteer for one of these races. These folks simply get my undying gratitude and admiration.
The Race. The last couple of weeks leading up to the race my back had been bothering me. I sustained a traumatic back injury about 14 years ago (I took a nasty fall off a horse). Through strength training, stretching and chiropractic (thanks Dr. Stu!) I have managed to keep it mostly at bay. Still, on occasion it acts up on me and it picked the last couple of weeks to do so. I was so concerned I stopped all cross training and even most of my running for the last 2 weeks or so. Needless to say I concerned not only about my back, but my conditioning as a whole. This in mind, I decided to take it very easy and I convinced myself to not worry at all about my time. My goal was to finish, preferably not hunched over. Well, I did take it easy and, although I kept my pace very slow, I was able to maintain a pretty consistent pace through about 17 miles or so. After that I think my lack of conditioning over the last few weeks took its toll and I started to feel very fatigued. One thing I noticed in particular was that - even though I think that the temperatures had remained pretty constant, I started feeling the cold a lot more for the last eight miles or so. In fact my fingers started getting numb and I needed to curl them into a fist inside my gloves to keep them warm.
Something the Route 66 Marathon folks push a lot is the "Center of the Universe Detour" - a .3 mile optional detour near mile 26 for which you get a free beer and a nice little medallion. By the time I got to the detour I had absolutely no desire to do it. Volunteers were urging the runners to take it. "No thanks" I said, "I'm done". But then I saw everyone else doing it so I figured "why not?". And I'm glad I did. I had no desire for a beer (or Red Bull which was also offered) but I'm always happy to snag a little extra bling.
After the detour there were two more turns then the sweetest site in a race: the finish line. Is there a better site to the weary runner? And have you ever noticed that race organizers always seem to put the finish line soon after a turn? It's not like you're a mile away and you see it in the distance. That would be cruel. It's always that you turn a corner and there it is. I love that. I also love it when, like in this race, there is an announcer calling out your name as you cross the finish. It gives me goose bumps. Just like when I finished my first half marathon in January, I nearly burst into tears as I crossed the finish line. It is an absolutely amazing feeling. What a rush.
Post race. After having the awesome medal placed around my neck and having the obligatory post-race picture taken, I enter a blessedly heated tent where I was greeted by an amazing site: a bowl of hot pasta with bolognaise sauce. I don't know if I would call this fine cuisine, but it was one of the most appreciated meals I have wolfed down in many days. It truly hit the spot.
Owing to the raw weather and, no doubt, the fact that I was among the last to finish, there were not many folks left hanging around after I finished. So, after enjoying my post-race meal and the conversation with the man who prepared it, I headed back to my hotel for a much needed dip in the Jacuzzi and a nap. Overall it was an absolutely awesome experience, made all the better by the efforts of the organizers and the volunteers. Would I do it again? If it weren't for the fact that it's so hard to get to I'd say absolutely. I understand that next year will be their 10th which makes me wonder what they're planning - I'm sure it's something pretty awesome.