The Post Oak Challenge consists of 2 days of trail races at the Post Oak Lodge in Tulsa, Oklahoma. On each day, 3 races take place simultaneously for a total of 6 races for the weekend. On Saturday this year, Post Oak went metric with 10K, 25K, and 50K distances. On Sunday, they ran the slightly less metric Marathon, Half Marathon, and Quarter Marathon. What makes Post Oak a bit unique in my experience is that they allow runners to “double” by running races on both days. Beyond your performance in any one specific race, they also rank all Doublers by their cumulative time.
Coming into 2015, I was still on the fence about the health of my achilles and only planning to run the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon in late April. Near the end of January, though, I had some particularly good training runs culminating with a 1:42 half marathon training run. I was not trying to PR yet there I was at the end of 13.1 with a 10 minute PR for the distance. And what do you do when training goes well? You sign up for too many races. The day after my training run, I decided to Double at Post Oak with the 25K and 1/4 Marathon.
I’ve already discussed the 25K a bit on the blog, but let’s get into some more specifics and then talk about the 1/4 Marathon and what it took to get myself ready after my physical challenges during the 25K.
If you just want a quick summary of my thoughts on the Post Oak Challenge, feel free to jump to the end.
Post Oak Challenge 25K
Do I look determined in this picture?
No? That’s strange because that’s my determined face. Clearly my face isn’t psychic. If it was, it would have been more fear than determination. They weren’t kidding when they said Post Oak was hard. Humbled Turkey Mountain runner checking in.
As I always say, I like running in the heat, but I think I finally found some heat that didn’t go my way. The forecast Friday night before the Saturday morning 25K called for mid to upper 30’s at the start of the race. The highs were supposed to get into the mid-40’s by the time I expected to finish the race. Instead of 40’s, the temperature made it well into the 50’s with the sun out for the duration of the race.
I dressed for the colder temperatures which meant I was running pretty hot by about 30 minutes into the race. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why I was so fatigued, but looking back, I think it had a lot to do with the heat and a failure on my part to realize I needed to adjust my hydration and fuel to accommodate it. If I had it to do over again, I would have stopped and taken off my long sleeve compression undershirt to keep my temperature down.
Unfortunately, there was not quite enough nice weather between Wednesday’s sleet and snow and Saturday’s race to dry the entire course. The weekend weather was great, but the melting snow left a lot of mud on the course. After spending the day navigating a lot of mud, I think I’ve decided I prefer running in the snow. Mud just knocks the stuffing out of you.
All of the races started in front of the lodge every 30 minutes starting at 8:00 am. That meant the 25K gun went off at 8:30 AM. After a brief sprint on the pavement, the race turned onto the trails.
My memory of the course is a little foggy, but what stood out to me from the first few miles was the technicality. Rocks were constant anytime there was single track trail. Some of the rocks even liked to hide under the grass. I witnessed ankles twist in front of me in ways that my ankles just don’t twist without injury, and it was almost always a sneaky rock hiding out in the grass.
It also seemed like we never got more than 4 or 5 strides before having to turn a corner. Those corners also led to confusion as trail markers for multiple paths could be seen and inadvertently followed because the trails are not quite as well defined as public trails like Turkey Mountain. I followed two runners the wrong direction in the first 2 miles, and then somewhere around mile 4, a large group of us thought we were following a volunteer’s instructions but missed turning into the woods. That mistake only cost us about 1/2 a kilometer. One other location near an aid station on a tight loop also caused further confusion, but I believe by around mile 7, things calmed down for me and those around me.
That wasn’t the case for everybody, though. You can see from the map that there are several places in the first half of the course where you could easily cut the course accidentally. Most of the locations had very clear markings and often a volunteer directing traffic, but some runners still managed to get confused.
There was mass confusion through the out and back section. I didn’t get caught up in the mess, but I saw several runners crossing caution tape. Most appeared to be aware they made a mistake and were trying to get back on course. As I emerged from the out and back, the man in charge of the course was headed out to that section presumably to clear up some of the confusion. Whatever he and other volunteers did then and after the races to clear up the course markings must have worked because I didn’t see any of those issues on Sunday. I heard there were still some issues, but the 1/4 Marathon seemed fine, and the marathoners I chatted with weren’t complaining.
I basically ran my goal pace through those sections of the course. I didn’t feel good, but I was essentially on track. The problem was that the cumulative fatigue of carrying extra weight (ankle braces and hydration pack), turning tons of corners, dealing with technical trails, and sliding through the mud took their toll. Around 9-10 miles, my wheels started coming off. My splits went from mid-9 pace to 11’s due to all of the walking I had to do.
One interesting feature on this back half of the course was the zipliners flying around overhead. The volunteers told us to look up, and I heard encouragement coming down. Given where I was physically and mentally, though, I kept my head down and tried to focus. Little did I know I had friends from out of town flying around above me. I wouldn’t have recognized them given they were way up there, but it was an interesting coincidence to learn about after the fact.
How many races can you run that have people flying around overhead? There was also a plane, but I guess if you live somewhere like Dallas, that happens all the time.
The back half of the 25K brings you through Holme’s Peak and the Hill from Hell. Holme’s Peak is a straight but steep incline with reasonably good footing. It was the one I was looking the most forward to running after running it on the training day, but I was worn out when I arrived and didn’t have any energy saved up. After walking about 1/3rd of it behind several other runners, I finally took off.
With the race photographer perched at the crest of the hill, I took some jabs from my fellow runners for mugging for the camera, but like I said, I really just wanted to run the hill. To add to the comedy, I stumbled on a rock near the top, and the photographer managed to catch not only my only smiling race photo ever but also a lovely photo of what I really felt like after the trip.
Holme’s Peak is the highlight of the Post Oak Lodge trails. It’s up above the tree line and allows you to see the entire downtown Tulsa skyline. If I were a good blogger, I would have a picture, but as you can see there is no picture.
Unfortunately, my little outburst on Holme’s took the rest of the wind out of my sails. The cramps got much worse on the Hill from Hell which, unlike the straight climb of Holme’s, was more of a winding climb with a much shorter straight section. Knowing that I had only half a kilometer left, and my kids waiting for me at the finish line, I decided to try to run it the rest of the way in. I made it about 1/4 of a kilometer before my calf locked up. It locked up 2 more times before I finally crossed the finish line.
After running a 16K at 9:12 in horrible conditions just a week earlier, to say I was disappointed in my performance would be an understatement. I ran 10:46 pace for a time of 2 hours and 47 minutes. Cramping calves aside, the only goal I achieved was coming home without any new injuries.
- Overall 31st Place
- Age Group 4th Place
- 10:46 Pace
Recovering for the 1/4 Marathon
I’ve done my fair share of cumulative training. It was only a few weeks ago that I did a 6 mile run, upper body strength training for 45 minutes, and then swam for 90 minutes on a Monday following a long run weekend. I felt a lot better that Monday than I did last Saturday following the 25K. I might as well have run a road marathon the way I was feeling.
My calves had cramped. I was dehydrated. The scale had me down 3 pounds after I had already downed 24 ounces of soda post-race with 3 liters of water during the race. My left hamstring was on fire, and within a few hours of finishing, I started feeling a twinge of either bursitis or patellar tendonitis in my right knee.
My pre-race diet is designed to minimize potential GI distress and leaves a lot to be desired for endurance racing itself much less recovery. So far, though, my choices are to eat a combination of foods it’s taken me a few years to discover or take a chance of having to run porta-potty intervals. I’ve said too much, haven’t I? Moving on…
My pre-race diet is heavy on lean protein and light on carbohydrates and fats. There was no way I could stick to it exclusively and recover for more running on Sunday.
The first food I added was Ruffles. I realize that sounds terrible, but ruffles are oil, salt, and potatoes. They certainly aren’t an ideal food but they gave me some extra carbs and a bit of fat without much GI danger.
For quality fat, I turned to coconut oil and green tea. That combination was an idea I derived from Bulletproof Coffee a couple of years ago. I can’t even stand the smell of coffee, but I can tolerate most forms of hot tea. Yes the combination sounds weird, but it tastes pretty good.
Other than that, I hydrated with a combination of soda (yeah, yeah, whatever), water, and coconut water. I also made sure I ate some Energy Bits and took a multivitamin to cover all of the bases.
Beyond nutritional, I first used my Addaday Roller, focusing on my cramped calves. After that, I wore 110% Clutch Tights for about an hour, 30 minutes of which included ice packs in all of the ice pockets. I also did minimal active stretching but mainly laid around the house, caught up with my Chinese studies, and watched some television.
My only concern before going to bed was that I was sore below my right knee. I’m not sure if it was/is runner’s knee or bursitis, but I was concerned it might flare during the 1/4 marathon.
What the hell did I get myself into? I was up at 4:00 am for the second time in as many days only this time it wasn’t actually 4:00 am. My body thought it was 3:00 am due to Daylight Savings Time. Not only am I up ridiculously early, but I can barely walk without a severe limp. My left hamstring has locked up on me, and my right knee is none too happy. Seeing as I was already awake, though, I figured I should just go run the race. Or walk…there’s nothing wrong with walking. So off to the Post Oak Lodge I went for Day #2.
When we lined up, I saw Philip from Tulsa Runner head to the front. That meant the best any of the rest of us could do was 2nd. Philip ended up winning by almost 3 minutes with a time that I would struggle to run on pavement downhill with a 40 mile per hour wind at my back. That might have been an exaggeration, but for him to go out there and run sub-7 minute pace on that terrain was amazing. Hats off to 2nd and 3rd place as well, both of whom came in under 7:30 pace.
For my part, I got it in my head that I could hang with a couple of runners I met during a training run. During the training run, I could tell they were strong runners, but I didn’t think they would be able to leave me behind. Of course, that day I was fresh and pre-injury whereas on Sunday, I was a shell of myself and tentative on anything remotely technical. Even so, I had it in my head I could stay with them so I tried.
Looking back at my splits, I ran the first mile at 7:46 pace. To put that in perspective, I almost never run under 9:00 for a full mile on trails. I will have bursts down into the 8’s and 7’s, but they’re only bursts. At the point this picture was taken, I was still trying to maintain that early pace.
Now that I see this, it’s clear that kid behind me is cheating. It’s a running race, no flying allowed. Of course, it was the guy behind him and the woman to my left who were truly flying. Both beat me handily.
After going out way too fast, I must have needed a nap because I somehow logged a 10:39 minute mile, and I don’t recall walking at that point in the race . From that point forward, though, my pace was more inline with what I expected. Most of my miles came in with mid-9’s, and I had a couple of slower miles there at the end with the Holme’s Peak, backwards this time, and the Hill from Hell (slightly different route I think than the 25K).
Some of the improvement may have been due to the course, a lot of which seemed familiar from the 25K but run in reverse up until the Hill from Hell.
What I really enjoyed about the 1/4 marathon was that we merged with some of the faster marathon runners, and I spent some time chatting with a guy who came all the way in from Wisconsin. I think he ended up taking 4th or 5th, and unlike a lot of us on Saturday, he looked completely relaxed and comfortable.
More like my trail races in the past, he would pull away from me downhill, but I would eventually catch up to him as we went back up. He needed to conserve energy for a second lap so it wasn’t like I was faster or fitter. I was just running a different race with a different strategy.
There was also a guy in his early 20’s who caught up with me on a downhill section, and he looked like he was having a blast every single time I saw him. He got quite a bit ahead of me going into the Hill from Hell, but near the end of the climb, I caught him, Wisconsin, and the marathoner in front of Wisconsin. We all chatted for a second before we crested the hill and began running downhill again. Happy guy beat me, and I was happy for him.
The finish of all of the races loops around the lake in front of the lodge and back onto the drive. I could see the only guy in front of me who I thought was in my age group about 100 yards ahead of me. I had assumed he would have already finished, but seeing him with a couple hundred yards left to run woke me up. I opened up and flew past Wisconsin, but I was too far back to make a serious play for first in my age group. 2nd still gets you a trophy, though…
1/4 Marathon Results
- Overall 11th Place
- Age Group 2nd Place
- 9:27 Pace
The Doubler Results
Like I said, the Post Oak Challenge is a bit unique in that they also combine times for people registered as Doublers. The 25K-1/4 Marathon Doubler was one of the less popular combinations, but 10 of us finished. To my surprise, I WON. I said this on Facebook just the other day, but to emphasize the point with a slight modification for the Doubler:
Sometimes it’s not how fast you run but which races the people faster than you run that matters.
So here’s the tale of the tape:
- Overall 1st Place
- Age Group 1st Place
- Net Time 3:48:54
Things I Liked About the 2015 Post Oak Challenge
- It is a serious challenge. I expected it to be easier than Turkey Mountain, and it was every bit as hard if not harder.
- The Post Oak Lodge and the trails that surround it are beautiful.
- The view of Tulsa from Holme’s Peak is incredible.
- The Photographer: Watt Design Photography has people out on the course taking extremely high quality photos (note the ones captioned above and not my personal photos with an iPhone) all day, both days. Then, and this is the really crazy part, HE SELLS FULL RESOLUTION DIGITALS AT A REASONABLE PRICE.
- Hearing out-of-staters say, “I thought Oklahoma was flat.”
- Meeting out-of-staters. Hopefully I left them with a decent impression of Oklahomans.
- Water Stops: Seriously, if you’re going to do water stops, this is how you do them.
- Volunteers: Hats off to all of the incredible volunteers.This wasn’t just a little 5K. There were runners out there for almost 10 hours a day.
- The Hill from Hell: You’re mine next year. I ran most of you yesterday, but I’m still not satisfied.
- Swag: Long sleeve technical shirt bright enough to be seen from Mars, huge finisher’s medals, hat, and unique trophies.
- Tulsa Runner: I’m not a group runner, but Tulsa Runner is where I shop so they’re the only group in town I know personally. It’s a great place to shop with a great owner who knows a lot about everything running and friendly, knowledgeable employees.
- They Fixed the Problems: I know people got lost last year, and I truly believe they thought they had everything marked clearly. As soon as there were problems, though, I saw them out on the course making adjustments, and Sunday went much better.
Things I Disliked About the 2015 Post Oak Challenge
- So Many Turns: It was hard to get in a consistent rhythm while constantly looking for the next trail marker those first few miles.
- I’m Lost! In every trail race, there’s usually at least one point at which you think you’ve goofed. On Saturday, I had 3 legitimate goofs and several minor panics when I lost site of the markers in the woods.
- Start Time: I know I’ll never win this battle, but between temperature fluctuations the first few hours of the day to the pain of springing forward for day #2, why don’t we just start around 11:00 AM both days. Who’s with me?