Sunday, April 29, 2012

OKC Marathon: 2:50:52

Oklahoma City Marathon 2012
2:50:52, 10th

I'll make this report a little longer because I want to simultaneously promote the race and town, but reiterate a few opportunities for improvement.

The 2007 Oklahoma City Marathon was the first marathon I had ever done. It's a wonderful celebration of triumph over the OKC bombing disaster of 1995, with a mixture of somber reflection and the strength of community. Since my parents still live there, it's a great time to come out and visit for the weekend. J enjoyed the half marathon back then and wanted to run it again, and our friend Jenny came out, ending up switching to the 5k but enjoying a quick weekend break. Not to be left out, my parents both walked the 5k as well -- awesome!

Everyone also enjoys the fact that marathon weekend is also the same weekend as the OKC Festival of the Arts, which includes a fantastic mix of sculpture, kinetic art, pottery, paintings, etc., including pieces costing tens of thousands of dollars, but mostly very affordable (hear that, Overrated-Cherry-Creek?), high-quality art, all in a beautiful downtown setting next to the Myriad Botanical Gardens and the epicenter of the most interesting new architecture in downtown OKC.Most importantly, the festival includes my favourite type of art -- culinary arts! Similar to Taste of Fort Collins, this means everything from local restaurant selections to fried fair food, and the local dessert, Strawberries Newport:

Other than the festival, we headed over to the Expo to pick up our packets, and met some of my Dad's coworkers: Jim was running a 2nd half marathon in as many weeks, and Cynthia was running her first marathon. (Looks like she finished with an even first and second half, very cool!)

This is the first time I had ever repeated a road marathon on the same course, so I had some idea of what to expect: a flat but not fast course. I was rested and tapered, doing what I could to control my own race, but had one main concern (and another minor one) on my mind.
First, the weather: the biggest threat to running a fast time here is wind, followed closely by humidity, and storms (rain/hail). We got a little of all of it, but not the absolute worst, as the larger storms fortunately moved north of the city. Last year, I guess, there was a terribly cold, soaking rain and a delayed start. This time, we had a dry start, but dry is a relative term, with humidity between 80-90% all day. Winds were forecasted between 10-20mph, and coming from the North in the morning was actually preferred, because it would lead to a tailwind in the more-exposed second half. Theoretically.

One aspect of the race that could be managed a little better is the overlap between the half-marathoners and marathoners. The two races segregate before 7 miles, but rejoin at around mile 21. Previous reports describe a bit of chaos among this overlap, where faster marathoners may have to weave through large crowds of half marathoners, and it's especially hard to get water/aid. That wasn't a noticeable factor in my first race, but I was apprehensive about what to expect this time. I didn't want it to be too much of a burden, but I also didn't want to get in a foul mood.

My race goal was to go out for a 1:22 first half, and hold on if not negative split (ha!) for <2:45. Next goal was 2:50. Somewhere out there was the fact that I'd never run < 3 hours. Finally, although it depends on the crowd, I thought top 10 would be a great goal based on previous results.

Onto the race itself. (If you want to read a race report from someone finishing way behind the winner, who am I to judge?)

Getting into the front of Corral A was pretty easy at about 6:05, or 25 minutes before race start. That gave time for some easy strides off the front, and then settling in for the customary 168 seconds of silence (for each bombing victim) at 6:15, and the wheelchair start 10 minutes later. At 6:30 on the dot, we were off.

The start was wide enough to find the right spot with only a few swerving maneuvers. I wanted to run manageable and controlled, possibly even slightly slower than my 6:15 goal pace. We felt relaxed and I heard a GPS guy say 6:30s. I sped up a bit, and we hit the first mile at 6:05. Whoops.

Well, I still felt good, and the next 2 miles were the same. Did I mention there's a digital clock at every mile? I love that fact. But I was going too fast. Still, I was thinking about "banking" time for some of the lonelier, windier stretches, so why not? Still a rookie mistake, I should know better by now.

I think by Mile 5 or 6 I was settled into my goal pace for sure. On some spots, we'd have a stiff north wind, and we were already fairly separated (even with half-marathoners and relay racers mixed in) to work together at all, though I did have a few brief chats with some fellow runners. When going west, or up small hills, it was harder work in the humidity, with a bit higher heart rate, and I was already dumping water on my head and face. Another sign I should have slowed down.
It turns out the dewpoint was in the low-mid 60s, which should have meant slowing down immediately.

Still felt like I'd be 81-82 at the half, and slowed down a bit to ensure that. Hit just under 82, though it did feel like a bit of work. That's a race PR I guess, though I had a solid workout a few weeks ago faster than that, which is where I came up with the idea in the first place.

Oh, one more thing I forgot: the race allows >7 hour finishers to start even earlier than the official start, provided they're willing to do some self-support for the first few hours. This is great and definitely opens up the race to even more people. But I forgot about this aspect and was surprised to be have to do some slight weaving or calling out starting before Mile 10. (Although balanced, as much as I could, with encouragement).

After the halfway mark, I knew we were getting closer to Lake Hefner, which I knew would be an interesting turning point, literally, as the course began heading predominantly south. I'm intimately familiar with this section from the previous marathon and a previous Turkey Trot: it gets windy.
But a storm was brewing, and the skies were getting dark. This was accompanied by a shift in the wind, so we had a headwind (again), now from the South. Ugh. Again, nobody to work with here, though quite a few half marathoners in this section, mostly sticking to the right side of the path so running in the middle was reasonable. Dropping 6:45's here, and was thinking 2:50 was the goal soon enough.

And then it started raining. No thunder or hail, and the rain actually felt like a pretty good relief from the humidity. But the headwind and soggy clothes weren't helping for time. Technical fabric can't "wick away" a downpour.

Just focused on one mile at a time, with erratic pacing in the 6:30s and 6:40s. At Mile 20, ran next to a marathoner and said, "Nice, just a 10k left." No response.
I started thinking about my next trail race.

Worked our way up the hill, and I heard more footsteps. Red Relay Bib? No, another marathoner. Hadn't been thinking about positions yet, but some guy on the hill told us we were 8th and 9th (tied for both, really). That meant 10th was gaining from behind, and eventually passed. I knew I was fading, and the guys that passed me were wearing OKC or Tulsa racing shirts -- running a wiser Oklahoma pace for the course - but I didn't want to lose more positions. And I heard more footsteps, which caught up at the aid station. My stops were quicker there, though, and I never got passed again.

Soon enough, we were in the thick of the half marathon. I did some math on this, and this section meant passing around 600-700 people in 5 miles(!), although there are 2 short but welcome sections of marathon-only course within those last 5 miles. As people said, sometimes the best thing to do is to run along the center of the road (only one lane is closed) and possibly use the lane of (uncontrolled) oncoming traffic if necessary. Otherwise, mostly it was easy to find gaps, by either shooting for them or calling them out. Trying to make the best of it, I enjoyed encouraging the other runners (and vice-versa), and pretending there was some sort of game in my chasing the guy in front of me (who was weaving much more).

I was still able to get some water aid at the stations (one previous reviewer said they skipped all water after Mile 21 to avoid the chaos), but it was clearly the most stressful section. At the worst, runners would grind to a halt, or start eying a cup that I was likely to reach twice as fast, or do some sort of picture-posing or exclamation to friends without looking behind them. But among hundreds of people, this was the vast minority of a handful per mile or water stop.

And I was still chasing green shirt guy. He slowed down a bit and I actually caught up to him at Mile 24. On his shoulder, I just said, "What's up, bro?" and he took off.
Can't wait to get back to the trails!

Otherwise, despite the crowds, it was nice and encouraging to see everyone enjoying themselves and working at the last part of the race.

Somewhere between 24 and 25, on a separated boulevard for marathon-only runners, I caught up to another runner and passed. After a few bumps, there was mostly gentle downhill, and the weather was the best all day. Felt good but did the math and thought 2:50 was out. I was OK with that -- how about 2:50-something

Finally, a few turns and the finish line. Did some more math and mental calculation on the distance, and knew I needed a bit of a sprint. Dad caught the final agony on camera:

The Race
The race is very well organized and has grown up even more in the last 5 years. The volunteers are plentiful and awesome, and so are the local residents who cheer all along the course, as well as community groups and businesses. I would recommend this event to anyone, with a great weekend encompassing the other events in town (you could have caught playoff basketball game the night before as well). The expo does attract some legends like Rodgers and Beardsley, and past winners, but otherwise, I have to be honest: this race still misses a beat at the top end. I'll leave myself far out of it, but wonder about the extra work of the leaders (actually, first place still does get an escort which leads to a clear path), where it is a bit unusual to focus on passing 1000 people in 5 miles.
But the race is clearly focused on half-marathoners, which may be considered sensible since there are 4 times as many, as well as beginners (and local repeat-offenders with course knowledge and course-record goals). That satisfies the needs of 99% of the runners -- and given the choice, that's how I'd focus a race, too. There is no prize money and little recognition of winners -- but again, this is a fundraiser and celebration of the memorial, so I "get" that (although there still are race medals, which I'd gladly forfeit for a little bit of prize money for some talented runners). So I love the race, but there's that part of me that sees OKC growing into a Big League City, and I can't help but make comparisons to Grandma's in Duluth or the Fort Collins Marathon, where race directors make a very concerted effort to ensure that the top runners receive a top-level experience -- where elites and local runners can have top-level treatment on their hometown course -- rather than an experience that's slightly diminished for their effort. I also wonder about people, especially local runners working hard at their hometown race, trying to qualify for Boston or NYC. All I'm suggesting is some sort of late-course separation (race marshals keeping marathoners to the right, e.g.).

And I make these suggestions because I think very highly of the Oklahoma City area and the surrounding community, as evident by investment and revitalization of the downtown area, and highly-regarded scholarship at OU. Knowing this, I think these few minor changes (echoed on previous marathonguide reviews) could instill the utmost excellence in this premiere community event.

Found J, and found out she finished her half marathon in 2:19 -- a PR, under 2:30, and right around the 10:30's I've been telling her she's capable of. She looked fresh and relaxed...I forgot how much road marathons hurt.

Didn't break 2:50, and surprisingly I didn't care about the extra couple seconds/mile. Checked the results and found out I was 10th (M9, with winning female getting the course record), which I surprisingly did care about more than I thought. Usually, you can't control external factors, but if the same people show up, at least things like the weather affect everyone equally, so it was a goal I had to be in the top 10. (Some quick comparisons between repeat top-20s from last year -- a cold, rainy day but without the heat/humidity I guess -- showed a half-dozen runners 4-10 minutes slower in 2012 versus 2011. Female winner Camille Herron grew up in OK and is an OT qualifier, but has been running 5-8 minutes faster on more favorable courses). It doesn't answer my question about how hard I can run a flat course on a perfect day, but it answers my question about current fitness and provided more valuable race experience, and how to plan for future races. The lesson will be repeated until learned.

It was otherwise great to return to the site of my first marathon, and I hope to be back again, to enjoy the run again and run at an even, smart pace. Or maybe convince J to run the marathon and tag along with her.

Filled up afterward with Ted's Cafe Escondido's "Plato Gordo."

At least if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I know I've run 2-something. I think I've got a faster one in me yet. But most importantly, especially at a stage a month ago where I was nearly burned out, I'm at a renewed and hungry stage for a steady diet of trails. See you out there, thanks for reading.

UPDATE 02.2013:
The OKC RD's, having already shown that they can put on a great event, have responded to feedback and made changes regarding the course finish.  As reflected in an email:

  • From 50th Street to the Finish Line we basically will be running two parallel races. One for the Full Marathon and Relay and the second for the Half-Marathon. There will be water stops on both sides of Classen from 50th to 18th Streets. We will have Classen divided in half, one side for the Full Marathoners and Relayers and one for the Half Marathoners.
  • We will now have 13th Street open for the Half-Marathoners  all the way to Broadway and 12th Street open for Full Marathoners and Relay runners.
  • The Finish Line will be divided in half from 13th until you cross the Finish Line, the east side will be for the Half-Marathoners and the west side and the Full-Marathoners and Relayer finishers.
There are additionally multiple start corrals, to address feedback about start line issues.
This kind of response and ability to meet growing demands and challenges is awesome.
I even more heartily recommend this marathon for basically anyone, as it's a great event and a great way to experience Oklahoma City.


  1. Nice final stretch shot, Dad! Nice face, Mike! I love how you are working so hard yet all those ladies are just speed walking around you. You look slightly out of place. Welcome to the sub-3 club.

  2. Sorry Mike, my PR is still 22 seconds faster than yours. Okay, so I did that 20 years ago. I bet you crush this PR sometime in the near future if you want to. I think you are Quad Rock-ready!

  3. Havn't you learned yet that you can't make withdrawals from that bank ;-)

    Solid run nonetheless!

  4. JP and I will send you an invite for the exclusive "Sub 2:50 Wannabe Club."

  5. Thanks guys. JT, sounds like Rob needs an invite, too!
    Rob, I didn't know your time was out there as a target -- I mighta had a chance of shaving 22 seconds off of the last 1.2 miles (when I knew I couldn't get 52 seconds)! Oh well.

    NMP: I thought I had a legit shot at 2:45 and didn't want to rule that out, but that would have been perfect conditions, and I didn't adjust expectations accordingly. I'll try for that again sometime, but it probably would have bothered me way more 20 years from now if I was never sub 3.
    Good to remind myself now *again* before the trail races, I'll do way more of an even effort without early number targets (like you've mentioned a few times I think)!

    1. 10-minute PR in tough conditions is nothing to scoff at. Very impressive. And 2:50 ain't bad for a guy who spends most of his runs going up and down mountains. There's not a huge group of ultra runners who have gone faster than that on the roads.

  6. Nice job Mike and good report. A 13+ minute PR in a marathon is pretty outstanding. And as a gauge on your fitness for upcoming trail races, this shows you are ready to do some amazing things at QR and WS. I'm glad I'll be there to witness it. See you at Towers.

  7. Great job Mike, very impressive. I am sure you have more marathon PRs ahead of you-if you want them. That's a big chunk of time to shave off a marathon, good news for your fitness for upcoming races!

  8. Okay, so taking a 10+ minute chunk off your marathon PR certainly isn't unheard of, but generally when you approach that sub-3 threshold, the minutes start coming off in singles. Nice job on the massive PR!! What's next, sub-2:30? :)

  9. That's an awesome (top) picture !

    It's gotta' be some kind of "measure of the man" that people are willing to get up at ridiculous hours to see you start/finish.

    Great result !! I believe you were the fastest non-Okie, no ? Meaning ... out of your climactic element, but ... blazing !

  10. Great time man, congrats. And J too.

    >"Nice, just a 10k left." No response.
    I started thinking about my next trail race.

    Lol. I'm as big a hermit as you'll ever find, yet even I don't comprehend the silent treatment.

    I wonder if it's waves that make the diff. between a race that is too clogged and one where you can actually run. The Bolder Boulder is ginormous but very quickly after starting you can run free. Maybe it's the width of the course at the beginning over on 30th (or whatever it is).

  11. used cycles london
    Excellent Working Dear Friend Nice Information Share all over the world..God Bless You..
    used bicycles london
    used cycles london uk