Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pass Baggin' on the Mountain Bike

In late summer and early fall, when I had some open time on a weekend or we were visiting the mountains, I found myself bringing the mountain bike more than previous years.  It's been a great change of pace, and, frankly, blasting through wildflowers across tundra or forest trails covered in golden aspen leaves on a bike is about as good as it gets.

For trail running some of the best trail runs end on mountain summits.  But for bikes, some of the best roads and trails may not go to proper summits, but instead traverse across saddles and passes.

Some of the classic Colorado pass rides I've done that are highly recommended and popular:
  • Kenosha Pass: Colorado Trail in either side
  • Georgia Pass: Colorado Trail on either side
  • Monarch Crest near Monarch Pass
  • Schofield Pass/401 in CB
  • Rollins Pass Nederland to Winter Park
Getting back on the bike this year when I could, I found myself seeking out a few new (for me) bike-accessible passes.  Here are some of them.

Wheeler Pass Loop
While J was in Breckenridge for a work meeting, I took a jaunt up to Wheeler Pass, which goes straight up through Breck ski area, then drops down the other side to Copper, before returning on the bike path.  (With more time, which I didn't have, taking the Peaks Trail between Frisco and Breck would add more dirt).

I followed the guide and map from the SummitDaily free Bike Guide -- these magazines are ubiquitous in Summit County and convenient for ideas and tearing out the page you need, but sometimes the directions are a little sparse -- mostly, it's written for people who seemingly already know which way the ride goes.  For example, this ride goes under a "quad lift" and then "another quad lift" whereas the simple addition of the lift names might have been helpful.  So it was that I headed too far over before finally making my way up to what I hoped was Wheeler Pass.

Indeed it was, and it was nice to see the weather breaking, as did my mood after spending too much time trying to figure out if I was going the right away.

I enjoyed a heavenly slice of banana bread that I brought from La Francaise before heading down.

The backside had a different feel as it dipped into the woods, with the recent monsoon moisture making it feel more like the PNW.  Some ruts and switchbacks slowed down the flow a bit but all in all it was a great descent followed by the cranking the bike path to finish the loop.

French Pass Out-and-Back
Also while in Breckenridge, one of J's coworker's husband brought his bike and was up for a ride, so we decided to head up French Pass, again using a Summit Daily description.  One could drive up a bit toward the pass but we enjoyed the warmup straight out of town (so much that we missed Wellington Rd. altogether and took 450 -- at the corner by the 7/11 -- straight up French Gulch instead).

A stream crossing got things nice and wet, and things were still marshy up high, with a little hike-a-bike in the mud, but ultimately it was another gorgeous place to be up high.

Dropping down the other side looked enticing, as did a ridge run along any of the nearby Class 2 summits, but instead we headed back the way we came.

Copper "Dirty Triangle" -- Searle, Kokomo, and Resolution Pass
Well this was a fun one and nice surprise.  I knew that Searle and Kokomo was a great section along the Colorado Trail, but it seemed a modest half-day ride would need to be an out-and-back.  Instead, though, I saw an intriguing loop called the Copper Dirty Triangle, which is a fun play on the classic 80-mile road bike ride (much like the Morgul Bismark vs. Dirty Morgul Bismark near Boulder).  While the trail version is about 45 miles shorter, it's more of a technical and aerobic challenge.

And routefinding, as following the Colorado Trail across Copper Mountain gets tricky in a few areas.  Of course, logically, it's a good bet that Kokomo ski lift is named for a nearby geographical feature, and indeed that's the side of the mountain you want.  As an aside, having ridden or run in summer on over a half dozen ski areas by now, I've had the frustration of ski area summer map and trail situation: summer trails are given new and unsigned names on "Summer Maps" despite large coincidence with downhill ski runs; more importantly, summer maps often lack detail on useful landmarks like ski lift names, ski runs, structures, and topographic features.  But I digress!

And it wasn't too bad once you get the idea of heading straight across Copper.  The thinning air and occasional steeper sections made for honest work.  Eventually, up high, I saw a helicopter buzz by a few times, and I immediately became concerned about a rescue mission -- especially when I saw something dangling below.

It turns out, it was an annual re-supply flight to the nearby Janet's Cabin ski hut.
More rolling terrain as I approached and then crested Searle Pass.

And more rolling still toward Kokomo Pass, above 12k feet.

I'm glad I crested Kokomo, rather than an out and back, because the descent was fun and I was treated to a gorgeous carpet of colourful tundra.

The trees in Camp Hale were starting to change as well.  This really ended up being a great choice for mid-September, as being one of the first areas to change noticeably, days or even a week or more before some of the other classic areas started peaking.

There's a few miles of flat through Camp Hale, and then the final grueling climb up Resolution Road.

Be forewarned, this section is shared with ATV's and motorized traffic, and is relatively unshaded.  Supposedly the next gulch over is steeper and shorter, but I didn't take the time to see how these might have connected.

I finally made it to the top, then began the descent on dirt road, keeping my eyes peeled for the quickly-approaching trail that branched off to the right along a switchback, necessary for making the loop.  This trail wasn't as hard to spot as I thought, and I chatted briefly with a few hikers visiting from the east coast, envious of all of Colorado's great trails.

Only a few miles remained on singletrack, which became waterlogged and overgrown in a few spots, but was also resplendent with Colorado colour.

I stayed right at a fork, and although unnamed in the description and on the signs from this direction, it is the Wilder Gulch Trail.

Now I had a quick descent down the Vail Pass bike path to finish the loop.  Even the colour here made it worthwhile, and even though this is a classic road bike section, it's nice to fly down fast pavement confidently on cushy fat tires.

Webster Pass
I did red mountains.  My head is on a swivel when we drive through the San Juans, over Red Mountain Pass, for example -- yet I haven't been up Red Mountain 1/2/3, or even the aesthetic 14er walkup of Redcloud.  I guess I like to look at them from below.

Much closer to home, though, is Red Mountain near Webster Pass, between Montezuma and Jefferson.  A rocky jeep road leads up from either side.  In this case, I made a loop from Montezuma, tacking on Webster Pass as an out-and-back, and then taking Deer Creek back down.
I guessed correctly that the colder weather and recent snow would cut down on the motorized traffic that usually infests the area in the summer.  But it also made things tougher for biking, with most of the switchbacks up Webster Pass covered in pedal-deep snow.  The drifts are made worse by snow-fencing and the fences put up to keep motorized traffic off of re-vegetated areas, so the protective fences actually end up keeping more snow on the road itself.

The snow and wind was cutting into my schedule, so I didn't actually get up on top of the mountain.
Still, it was worth the slogging hike-a-bike up to Webster Pass for the views of Red Mountain.

After descending the pass, I needed to regain as much elevation toward Teller Mountain to complete the loop, and in fact the climb up the ridge, while without a named pass, was even higher and more challenging on and eroded and steep mining road.

Again, though, it was worth it for the view.

The trail rolled along the divide further, but I cut down into the trees in Deer Creek, unable to feel my feet which had been wet for the last several hours.  Still, I was grinning at the prospect of the coming winter.  Even though I'll curse it come March or even late February, it's always exciting when it's new.


What are some of the other great passes in Colorado?
Tomichi Pass-White Pine between Salida and Gunnison is probably tops on my to-do list right now.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A boy's life

And this blog was about local trails and runs and mountains and all that stuff.  Those things are still fun, and important, and we can't focus only on the most important things in life, all the time, lest it be too dull.  That variety, and sharing of it, makes us human.

But those things have fallen far down the list with a new role, the most humbling and happy I'll ever experience:


The next run...

I had nothing on the schedule after Bighorn.  And that nothingness was great.

The Bighorn finish means I have 2 more lottery years of eligibility for Hardrock.  That's the long-term goal.  I've calmly accepted that I'll get my chance eventually, and that each run or hike -- especially when it's uncomfortable -- is another training step for Hardrock.

I was able to get some good rides on the mountain and road bike instead this summer.  But the most fun I had running was up by Cameron Pass, on a great weekend of scouting for Gnar Runners' Neversummer 100k slated for July next year.  Since I'll still probabilistically not get into HR this coming year, which is fine, I'm excited about races like that, as well as some more hikes/runs and mountain bike rides.

The Neversummer 100k has the potential to be a phenomenal event on a very inspiring course.  The only thing better than tromping through those mountains and woods will be doing it with friends and family cheering and hanging out at campfires.  Can't wait!

A handful of other 100's otherwise hold my interest, but at this point it's clear that I won't spend many more years running these things, and certainly not racing them.  I can finish them comfortably, with a smile on my face, but am not able or willing, for better or worse, to push into that realm of competitiveness at that distance.  I've had some incredible experiences and gotten more than I ever thought out of it, but I'll focus more on variety.  Hope to be on the skis and bike more -- and taking some slower, family-friendly hikes -- instead of looking too far forward.

2014 Bighorn Trail 100

2014 Bighorn Trail 100

A few months late, but the Bighorn 100 was as great as I thought.
I don't have much advice to add that hasn't been covered elsewhere.

I rode up with some friends, met some other friends at the start, and ran with some more during the first parts of the race.  J and Mama W were there for crew support, with my friend Chris S. out from SoDak for night-time pacing duties.

Saw Brandon at the start -- good to see him and thanks for the pic!
I think I was pretty much this happy for the next 24 hours.

Wildflowers, mud, some moose, a couple-hour rainstorm up high at night, more mud, then a new day with even more wildflowers.

It was as gorgeous as advertised.  My pre-race goal was to run in under 24 hours so as to join the arbitrary Rusty Spurs club.  I ran the race almost too conservatively so as to hit this goal, figuring that missing it would be more distasteful than running slightly faster.  And so it was, a nice romp through the wildflowers, ending with that last 5 mile, hot, flat run on a dirt road back into town, where I was fortunate enough to still be jogging and have my lovely wife join me for the finish.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

2014 Bighorn Preview Thoughts

Once again, I'm quite behind in blogging, and have a few fun weekend trips (mostly mountain biking) worth writing up eventually.  But otherwise, I need to tell the universe that I am absolutely stoked to be running the Bighorn 100 on Friday!

First and foremost, I'm incredibly excited and lucky to have this chance again.  I'm not planning on doing 100-milers for the rest of my life, and even that much longer, so there's a short list of inspirational races and courses that I'd really love to experience.  Bighorn is very near the top of that list.  Numerous folks have mentioned how great it is...Alex said it's probably the most beautiful course he's seen, and let's not forget it was a spry and youthfully naive Nick Clark's introduction to 100 milers.  And earlier this year, while jogging across a windy expanse near Boulder/Superior (during a winter Fatass), Dana K. told me it was the most beautiful wildflowers she's ever seen.  Compared to Crested Butte?  Aspen Four-Pass?  San Juans?  Yes, yes, and yes.  Wow.
I've been near the Bighorn Mountains once, --12 years ago -- when we were moving to California.  Anxious to get to Yellowstone, I made a last-minute decision to take the dotted-line "scenic route" on the map instead.  Having never really seen mountains, it was the most incredible thing I'd even seen.  (And it actually made Yellowstone a comparable disappointment once I saw all the crowds and traffic).  Never would I have imagined, at the time, that I would come back and have a chance to run 100 miles through that terrain!  Pretty sure I had never run more than 3 or 4 miles -- on sidewalks -- at that point.

I'm also lucky to be out there with my friend Chris S., who has run every distance at that race.  And he has graciously offered to pace me!
And again, I'll have my sleepless, top-notch crew of J and Mama W meeting me in the middle of
the woods.  Again.  I hope they enjoy another random weekend in a beautiful part of the world.
I'm certainly looking forward to numerous friends from across the Front Range -- running, pacing, and crewing -- that will be out there as well.  Some will be ahead of me, some near me, some behind me, and in each case it will be great to see familiar faces in addition to meeting new ones.

Lastly, I'm very excited about the vibe of the race -- the small town, the community, the support.  Check out the NYTimes article from 5 years ago.  It feels like the anti-Leadville, the anti-Western states -- even if I like/love those races, the pressure and scrutiny and traffic gets to be a bit much.  This sounds more like my speed: a chill race and a shared sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural surroundings.  More like my training runs.  And a small-town feel that I'm more comfortable with.

Am I ready?  Sure.  I'm not as fast, but I put in the miles (and realized that flat speed was never that helpful anyway) -- more on the trail than ever before.  I'll be steady and smart.  I'm ready and excited to be out there as long as it takes.  See you at Bighorn!   (Or, online, if you're bored.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Quad Rock 2014

Photo: Sean Lara, Coloradoan

2014 Quad Rock

The third round of Quad Rock packed another wallop, but not enough to knock out over 350 of us who took on a vertical mile of burly climbs and descents, with 132 folks making the decision to turn around and run everything again in the opposite direction.

This was my slowest finishing time yet, and I was unable to finish in the top 10, but by no means did that make for an unenjoyable race.  That's because of the fantastic race organization and community of fellow runners, spectators, and volunteers, to go along with some of the best runnable trails on the Front Range.  With the same tales on the same trails as previous years, augmented with an handful of shirtless un-glamour shots, why bother with another race report? 

Mostly, I want to take the time once again to thank everyone involved with the race, and reiterate what a great event it is.  Any indulgence from writing about the race is from people reading, commenting, or telling me that they've read these reports, and cheering by name during the race itself, which is incredibly rewarding.  I know some people are trying to get all the information they can as they're excited about the race; others are contemplating the race as a new distance challenge, or a more difficult trail race than they've done before.  A tip of the hat to both.

I also have to back up and give Nick and Pete an extra "Thanks" this year because I was able to gain a free entry into a race that is already a bargain, whether you slice it by average cost of 50 milers; cost-per-mile; cost-per-minute; or the amenities (useful and aesthetic coffee mug, shirt, great food, beer, and music).  This was because they graciously donated a Quad Rock entry as a raffle prize as a fundraiser to send legendary ultrarunning superfan (and fellow Packers fan) Bill Dooper to Western States.  Jessica and I were happy to donate a small share to help Bill realize his dream, and then I was fortunate to have my name drawn for the Quad Rock entry.  As another link to the race, it bears mentioning that Deceptively Fast Aaron Marks and QR-CR-holder Ryan Burch initiated the fundraising campaign; and as a testament to the broader running community, it's inspiring that 40 people donated more than enough money to get Bill out to Auburn (by way of Squaw).
So with savings from the entry fee, I was then able to give a bit to Larimer County Search and Rescue, one of the QR volunteer groups and beneficiaries.  (Admittedly, there's a reasonable chance that's more of a selfish "investment" than a donation).

I'm not too much into pre-race "traditions," but again I went with a big rice stir-fry from East Moon.  A difference this year was not sleeping in my own bed before the race, but because my wonderful in-laws put me up for the night (and various trailrunner friends undoubtedly would have done the same), I still only had a short drive in the morning, with a bonus of getting to play with my adorable niece and read her a new (used) book I brought about a bicycling turtle.
The point here, is, if you're thinking about this race as a possible "destination" race, you should totally go for it!  There's a ton to do in Fort Collins, great places to eat and drink before and after, and if you send out an email to the trailrunner list or use the ultrasignup forum, you might be able to find or share lodging or a campsite with fellow runners.

One change this year was a start time of 5:30AM, negating the need for a headlamp (and the logistics of dropping them off/retrieving them) at the start.  This also made it half an hour "warmer," which made a noticeable difference in making short sleeves tolerable at the start.  Great change!  
As far as conditions, we had some rain a few days leading up to the race.  Mud was a concern, even when parking in the morning, but it turns out the trails were essentially perfectly tacky.  

I checked in and chatted with friends, and then found myself in a bathroom line less than 10 minutes before the start.   Now I hesitate to share my secret, but I quickly remembered the other bathroom up by the Timber Trailhead, a scant tenth of a mile up the road.  I gambled and jogged up there, and the gamble paid off.  As a small suggestion (if only to balance out my otherwise effusive praise and at least give the appearance of objectiveity), a few more bathrooms might have been helpful. 

Barely able to make it back in time, we were off with the usual mellow start at a chalk/flour line on the ground.

I ran next to and chatted with former occasional training partner Sarah Hansen a bit, who was running the 25M, where she would eventually finish 2nd.  Things were conservative and felt easy, yet I was a bit closer to the front this year.  Then we hit Stout/Sawmill after a 24-25 minute warmup, and it was time for the business of the day: up, down, up, down...rinse, repeat -- a veritable Konami code of a course.
On Towers, I was happy to hang out and chat with Nick D.  He's one of the fastest Towers ascenders around, but he also hiked the steeper sections along with me, knowing full well the value of saving and using different muscles early in the race.
We rolled down to the Horsetooth Trailhead just under 90 minutes in, which I think is a few minutes faster than my previous times.  Everything still felt good, but it was warm enough (almost perfect) that I ditched the shirt already in my Horsetooth anti-dropbag as the sun shone down on the trail.

As usual, I was overjoyed at seeing friends at each aid station, and received personal, quick aid station attention from NMP and the Erskine, Mr. May, and Deceptively Fast Aaron Marks, with cheers, greetings, and photography from others.  If anything, I think I lingered a bit longer at aid stations this year to greet friends I hadn't seen in months.  
I should also mention, by way of advice, that the gel situation was a bit "sticky", let's say, at times.  I really love the use of VFuel because the product itself, the folks that run it, and the support they give is top-notch.  I also prefer the use of gel flasks to cut down on waste -- not just raw garbage (and those little tops of the packages that sometimes fall out of your pockets and into the weeds, despite best intentions), but the unnecessary silliness of sending a product out to be packaged unnecessarily.  Thanks to this race for leading the way in reducing waste. Logistically, though, cooler temperatures made it difficult to pump/pour the gel from the bulk containers, and some aid stations were low later in the day.  The volunteers did a great job of improvising anyway, and this overall wasn't much of an issue for me, but my thinking and concern is more for other runners coming later or arriving in larger groups.

I was surprised to see Golden/Lakewood fasties J-Fitz and P-Mac pass me up.  I wouldn't have thought they both had extra-long pit-stops, but it turns out they missed the Westridge turn -- which they said was indeed amply and adequately marked.  Bummed that they tacked some on but hopeful that it wouldn't make much of a difference in the long run, especially if they didn't let it bother them mentally.

Farther along in the race, by the Arthur's Aid station, I was again recharged by the sight of friends.  But I was completely unprepared to see one person especially: Jane Welzel.  
No exaggeration, I cannot think of a more inspiring runner I would rather have seen at that point.  Here, she is focused on taking a picture of me, right before I gave her a big hug: 

Photo, and much more, by Jane Welzel

A third of the way into the race, and it was already a good day.
Race deja-vu for the rest of the first lap, although I was pretty much alone.  I missed running with Alex and Lee from previous years!  Ended up in and out around 4:08 or so, similar to previous years.

No thought of stopping, as I headed right up.  I had counted heads somewhere around 15, with an unknown handful at the turnaround as well.  This was surprisingly closer to the top 10 than I expected -- but seeing who was in the top 10, I knew it was a stout group that likely wouldn't falter, nor would I wish that upon them.  I was focused on my own race....

...Mostly.  The advantage of the multi-loop course is seeing everyone else coming down.  This ends up being a mutual cheering parade for over an hour. The parade begins with folks and friends that I know, some of which are literally chasing me, and then continues with an inspiring group of first-timers and others from all walks of life.  Dare I say it, it makes the Timber Climb (which I was able to run entirely) almost a "freebie" if you let yourself flow with the spirit of the other runners.  I try to call out as many people by name as I can, and am humbled by those that do the same before I can stumble out theirs.  If you signed up for the 50 and have that moment of doubt, just turn around and head up, smile, and take out your headphones and cheer each other on!
I have a commitment to cheer on each and every runner that I see, which is easy, but as I started downhill, I decided to turn the knob to "11" and really start whooping and shouting whenever I'd see a small group of folks pushing hard up the hill.  It helps me as much or more as it helps them.

Otherwise, I started faltering on the descent back to Arthur's, though, as my legs and feet weren't cooperating on anything technical.  In future years (this is a note to myself as much as anything), I'd put extra training here, as it's probably also the section of trail, literally in the middle, that I run less than the other sections.  This was a theme for the rest of the trail: losing ground on rolling, technical terrain.

Caught a few people and passed by a couple -- still a net win.  

The only other thing of note was finding myself in the thick of the women's race.  This was between Darcy Africa and Becky Wheeler -- 2 incredibly impressive runners with lengthy trail resumes.  Usually, the competitive front-end of races isn't one of my top interests -- I'm more concerned with how my friends are doing (often enough, some of them *are* at the front, so I'm interested in that point).  But I do appreciate the promotion of excellence in performance as supported by races, and Gnar Runners have done everything they can to recruit and reward fast men, women, and master's runners alike.  While past races have had great performances all around, this one was shaping up even better with two experienced athletes pushing each other the whole way.

And I had a front-row seat.  Actually, a middle-row seat, for pretty much an hour and a half or so.

As it turns out, I was running near Darcy all day.  I actually can't think of a time where I've run that long, that close, to another runner.  I've seen her very stout Hardrock finishes, and the only ultra I remember running with her was Collegiate Peaks a few years back, when her steady presence made me realize I had gone out too fast.  We leapfrogged at nearly every aid station, as I'd run ahead and then linger a bit too long at the aid station.  This went on for the entire 9 hours, as it turned out.  If nothing else, it gave me the illusion of running steady.

Rolling along Westridge was where I lost more time -- with Darcy pulling ahead, and another runner in a red shirt catching up to me.  I didn't know nor think about gender -- just "blue shirt" and "red shirt."  I have a tough time with Westridge in general, which is improbably uphill in both directions.

Conceptual drawing of Westridge Trail, which goes counterclockwise

Also had frustration with the technical parts of upper Horsetooth, and finally when it smoothed out, I tripped over a few granules of sand on the ground.  I popped up before Becky ran me over, a little surprised she didn't even laugh at me.
Luckily, I still had downhill roadie legs, which is what really saves me at the end of this dumb race, as I'm able to run the service road and Towers, so I was barely able to stay ahead, until both women exited the Horsetooth aid station ahead of me, and very near each other.

With long views up Spring Creek, I was able to watch the chase unfold.  Becky closed in slowly but not without a fight, and they ran a bit together.  I was gaining on both of them, but needed to take the time to step off trail for a quick but important minute or two.
They were still in sight and I was still gaining, but once Becky opened up a bit of a gap, she sped up.

Again, Darcy and I swapped spots at the aid station, and both gave each other a "Nice work."

Alex, Eric, Ellen, Rob, and crew had me in and out as fast as I was willing to go.  They told us 5 miles downhill/flat, which is a double lie, because it's more like 6 miles and nobody should ever forget the rolling climbs remaining on Stout.

I was optimistic about the Towers downhill, and able to catch back up to Darcy, but Becky was nowhere to be found -- not even a distant view on the Stout turnoff.  She must have been flying. 
I was able to run the Stout climbs as well and wanted to get as much out of sight as possible from Darcy, but still stumbled a bit on anything semi-technical.

Finally, the "flat" finish on dead legs.  I did the math and realized 9 hours were out.  Becky was able to do and thus set a challenging bar for the women's race. I checked over my shoulder once or twice or 80 times for Darcy: I dread ever having to race on that final stretch.  Swapping positions 5 miles earlier would be fine, but would be quite distasteful that close to the end.

 I kept my eye on my watch to keep my 2nd loop under 5 hours, an arbitrary but extra goal.  That's a bigger positive split than I'd like and has some lessons in it for the astute reader.  Then again, when I train on this course it usually takes 5-5:30 for a single loop, so it blows my mind how much the race day support and excitement add to performance for anyone. 

"Top 15" (although there's really no such thing) was still much better than I expected.  The attrition or folks that stayed with a 25M time unbelievably made the Top 10 within reach again, should only I have been in a similar shape as previous years, so a missed opportunity there.  But I'll take it as yet another fun day on great trails with great friends.

I took a good 20-25 minutes to change clothes and get recombobulated.  
(Protip: Bringing a bicycle is a good way to go back and spectate along the course, and/or make it the long 1/3 mile back to your car without hobbling).
As fun as it was to run, it's even better to sit and enjoy a great veggie burger, tabbouleh, Pateros Creek brews, and good company with the Swashbuckling Doctors rocking in the background.


Thanks everyone who was at the race, and thanks for reading.  Hit me up if you want any extra motivation to sign up for this race or run it!  It is as much of a shining example of a well-run race and supportive community as you'll find anywhere.  Put it on the calendar to run, spectate, volunteer, and join the party.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Oklahoma City Marathon 2014: One Last Hometown M

2014 Oklahoma City Marathon
3:01:37, 9th

Jessica and I made our third trip out for the Oklahoma City Marathon and Half Marathon.  Things were stacked up to make this one a little tougher than other ones, but perhaps no less memorable.  Because this is a really great race with great citywide support, I always like to share a bit about it.

It's not an easy, PR-type course anyway, but my initial plans back in January were to improve upon previous times.  My training and workout/race results weren't suggesting this was possible, so I had to dial that back.  I figured I might be good for around a 3 hour effort, so of course that was the goal, which I missed, but I also planned on letting things play out as they may and then try to race for position at the end.  That part ended up working out alright.

This particular race was even more bittersweet, because my parents (who live near OKC) had decided a month earlier to move back to Wisconsin.  This meant the end of running races in Oklahoma with some regularity, and certainly the ability to run as a "hometown" race where we can hang out at home peacefully before and after.  It was nice, however, to know this information ahead of time so we could really appreciate the race itself one more time and let it all soak in.

And soak, we did:

It was obvious throughout the week that the race weather was going to be fairly dreadful, mostly with wind, rain, and high humidity.  The worst part, though, was intense storms that threatened tornadoes, in addition to lightning and hail: a distinct line of a dark red dry line on the radar, scheduled to hit right at race start, in addition to storms that may occur earlier the previous evening, which could impact some of the earlier equipment setup.  And any lightning strikes that occur anywhere near the course -- probably more than 25 square miles -- cancels the whole race, understandably.
The only hope was that it would move out quickly.  It looked very likely that it would be delayed, but we had no idea how much leeway they had.  Remember, volunteers are scheduled for a block of time, as are road closures and police/fire/emergency resources.  Truncating the race would cause consternation among the participants who would take longer on the course.  With the overwhelming majority of runners doing the half marathon, I actually wondered if they'd cut the marathon in half was well.

With all this uncertainty, we were still up by 4AM, and out to the start line before 6.  We met our friend Andrea, up visiting from Texas to run the half marathon as well, and headed to the start line, with dark clouds overhead, sticky but cool weather, but not much precipitation yet.  Andrea and I made our way quickly to Corral A (listed on the bibs), which is always a little stressful but not too bad.  Other than a few people mingling right in front of the corral entrance with headphones on, it was easy to make it through toward the front.  (If a fast runner made it closer to the start time, keep in mind that the wheelchairs start 5 minutes early, but other than that it's possible to jog in a few blocks from the front of the course).
I knew there was no chance we were going to start at 6:30, but decided to loosen up with some strides anyway, figuring that any delayed start would be more compact and after a quick weather break.  Plus, it was nice to get out for a jog.  A few other folks taking strides but not too many, people were just waiting for an update.
Then we got the announcement of a half-hour delay, so we had almost an hour to get ready.

Since Andrea hadn't been to Oklahoma City before, I led her off the course and onto the grounds of the National Memorial.  This is a poignant tribute to the victims of the 1995 bombing, and although I've seen it at dusk and during the daytime, it was even more humbling to walk through the grounds at dusk, right before a race.

The race really is a testament to the community spirit of overcoming a tragedy.  Think about it: we often memorialize tragedies with statues and monuments, which are our best attempt at superseding our own mortality, but isn't it even better to have a yearly renewal of blood, sweat, and spirit?   This is a marathon with a purpose.

And up until now, it hadn't ever been canceled.

Well before 7 o'clock, we heard of another delay.  I don't remember the sequences of delays vs. the heavens letting loose, but eventually it was obvious for everyone to take shelter.
We had been warned of different parking garages in the case of storms.  Andrea and I headed out vaguely in search of Jessica, among tens of thousands of people, slowly moving under different buildings and awnings and through a few parking garages.
By blind luck, we found her, and huddled inside the garage. Some minutes later, my parents, who were walking the 5k, also found us.  Lots of iPhones around us were either on a weather radar page or Facebook.  As the wind picked up and heavy rain came down, I poked my head out to see boiling, churning clouds moving swiftly across the sky.

Rumour was that 8AM was the absolute cutoff.  8AM was approaching fast and we had no further delays, so the word was to line up.  I got up and out of there quickly, but the storms were no less menacing.

And then more lightning, rain, and thunder.  I jogged up ahead to another "unofficial" parking garage I spotted in front of the start line, which had a few dozen other runners in it.  I also realized I had totally ditched Andrea in the corral in my hurry to get back to the start line.
And then, behind speeding clouds, were small patches of blue sky.  We were right on the edge of the storm...but also right on the edge of a possible start.  Indeed, we lined up for an 8:20 start -- which would have been quite a gentlemanly option from the off.  But by hanging around for a couple hours, this meant I hadn't eaten anything for 4 hours, and was also thirsty.  I was looking forward to the first aid station just to get something to drink!

At 8:15, the wheelchair racers started.  This was really going to happen.
I found Andrea again and we lined up several rows back.

And then we were off.

My vague plan was 6:20's, 1:25 out, in a cross-wind/tailwind, before getting smacked with a headwind and higher temps on the return.
I spotted course-record holder/female winner Camille Herron at the front.  I jogged up to her at Mile 1 -- right at 6:20 -- wished her luck and then backed off.

Even with all the half-marathoners, and relay runners, we were spread out pretty quickly.  I'd occasionally draft or lightly greet another runner side-by-side, but soon enough we were even more spread out.
The race is great with lots of aid stations and a clock at every mile.  The cheering at each of these points helps keep a steady, honest pace.

There's a "hill" on the course called "Gorilla Hill", which isn't that much of a climb, but is a pretty fun experience, with a giant inflatable gorilla and people dressed as bananas.

The best part of this is that it's just some private citizens in a neighbourhood that decided to do this -- the guy owns the giant inflatable gorilla!  And they hand out bananas to runners.
I think I was "too serious" last time to take a banana, but this time I gave a finger wave and nod, and someone lobbed a banana into the air in front of me to grab mid-stride.

Not long after this, we split from the half-marathoners, in a lonely stretch of road where I had to pay attention to see if I was really on course.  Then the crowds picked up a little, and then waned on what really is the biggest/hardest hill on the course: a climb on a bridge before descending to the lake.

I hit the halfway point right at 1:25, then turned into the brutal wind and watched my pace drop into the 7's.  Couldn't get my wet singlet to stay around my waste, so I wore it on my head.  Felt like I was really sluggish and expected to get caught by some people but we were all in the same situation.  Pace was slowly fading as full sun came out, so I figured I'd be around 3 hours and just decided to enjoy the rest of it.  One guy told me I was in 13th place.

In the last 4-5 miles, we re-merge with the half marathoners.  Up until this year, it was a nightmare for running twice as fast through crowds, and even harder to get over to the aid stations.  Several of us shared feedback on this and the race addressed this by having a separate lane for marathoners.  Bravo!  This was great and much easier than weaving, ducking, and warning.
There was still a few hitches, though, as the second marathon aid station was walking across and giving extra support to the half marathoners, so nobody on the marathon side had any Powerade.  Occasionally, half-marathoners or spectators would also walk back-and-forth across the lane to visit friends or get a water bottle, invariably with headphones in the ears (more of a frustrating etiquette issue than anything), but by and large half-marathoners would kindly cheer and I was happy to do so as well.  One of the most enjoyable things about a race like this is seeing so many people taking on a monumental personal challenge for themselves and their health.  Sure, that happens in Colorado races as well, but I feel like the majority of Colorado runners are quite into running and competition at some level, which can be daunting for an average non-runner.  OKC presents an inspiring picture of what's possible for anybody.

Somehow I still passed 2 guys, with nobody up ahead in sight.  With a couple miles left, I saw I could run low 6's -- basically my starting pace -- and still break 3 hours.  Doing this into the wind was a painful proposition and my legs didn't want to go any faster.  I checked behind me a couple of times, and my calf cramped up if I did anything other than run in a perfectly straight line, so now I had to hope it held on.

Without any ability to kick at all, I jogged in, about 10 minutes slower than 2 years ago.  I fought my way through slow-moving crowds, past the cheeseburgers and bagels and what-not, before finally reaching simple bottles of water, of which I was able to drink 2 immediately, despite drinking at every single aid station.  Not used to the heat yet.  But I started feeling much better.
J found me right away and she had a great run, pretty much the same as last time in harder conditions.  Andrea ended up blowing past her PR and finishing in the top 5W for the half.  Camille won again, in her 2nd-worst marathon time and about 6 minutes slower than her course record, suggesting to me how tough the conditions were compared to 2 years ago.

I was happy to run another OKC marathon, and also pleased to find out I made it in the top 10.  I also learned that I wasn't even the fastest guy from Colorado...or even from Golden (Josh Vaughn)!
If I hadn't done it last time, the extra 100 seconds over 3 hours would have tormented me.  Instead, it got me excited about putting the training, timing, and right course together for another go at a faster time -- but the window is short.

Also proud of my parents, who walked the 5k again.
Mom doesn't get lost in races like her son does...
We're really going to miss this tradition...
One that includes a post-race Mexican feast:


The OKC Marathon is a great race for everyone.  We're really going to miss it as a sort of adopted hometown.