The Oklahoma Aquarium Run takes place every year in early April and consists of a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and Fun Run. Its purpose is to raise funds for Oklahoma Aquarium exhibits and educational programs, but it also makes a great tune-up race for the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon and, as of this year, the Tulsa Golden Driller Marathon along with any other late Spring or early Summer races.
With the starting line right in front of the Oklahoma Aquarium on Aquarium Drive, the course is flat and fast. For 2015 the course looped around the Jenks High School for the 5K. It then crossed the river and went North up Riverside for the 10K and Half Marathon. At the 10K turn-around, the Half Marathon runners continued North on the Riverside Trails to the turn-around point near 61st street.
The only potential stumbling block to a PR on this course is the wind. There are a couple of miles in the Half Marathon course where the wind could adversely affect your time if it’s against you. For 2015, the wind cost runners at most a few seconds.
I jumped into the Oklahoma Aquarium Run at the last minute as a dress rehearsal and training run for the OKC Memorial Marathon. My training has been all over the map between injury and illness, and until a successful 20 mile long run last week, I was seriously thinking about stepping down to the Half Marathon or not running at all. With that one good long run, though, I switched from stepping down to the half to deciding what pace to run for the full.
My goal at the beginning of the year was to run my first sub-4 hour marathon at OKC. With my training pace and recent results, though, I am thinking a bit crazy. What about 3:30?
To even consider a leap of nearly 1 hour in my marathon PR, I felt like I needed to be able to run much faster than 3:30 pace at a half marathon. My goal for the Aquarium Run was to get as close to 1:40 as I could without blowing up.
As part of my dress rehearsal, I ran with the clothing and fuel I expect to use at OKC. That included:
- Altra Provision 2.0 Shoes
- Injinji Over-the-Calf Compression Socks
- Injinji Run 2.0 Original Weight No-Show
- Nike Shorts
- Nike Dri-fit Shirt (yes, the same one I always wear)
- Salomon Park Hydro Handset
- 10 oz EFS Liquid Shot with 2 scoops of EFS Prerace
- 17 oz Water
I’m sure there are a couple of items on this list that make very little sense so I’ll explain further.
In the case of socks, I wear toe socks to prevent blisters, and I wear compression toe socks to help with calf fatigue. Unfortunately, Injinji’s OTC Compression Socks are incredibly weak in the toes, and my thick toe nails, trimmed or not, tear the big toes of the socks within 2 long runs. Given the price and Injinji’s lack of interest in responding to my support request, I wear them with the holes and use a second pair of normal Injinji socks to protect my toes. If I had a good alternative, I would use it, but I’m not aware of one.
With the Salomon Park Hydro Handset, I’m trying to find a way to carry my fuel and water so that I don’t have to stop for the first half of OKC. The half marathon traffic at OKC is so thick, the water stops are crazy, and I’d rather avoid the mess. In the past, I’ve worn a hydration vest to all of my marathons with about 2 liters of fluid, but I’m trying to avoid the extra weight to help increase my pace and endurance. The Park Hydro Handset lets me carry enough fluid for almost half of the marathon along with all of the fuel I need for the full marathon. As soon as I run out of water, I’ll either use the water stops like normal or stop and refill once or twice. The nice part about the handsets is that they can be worn either inside or outside the palm, and whichever way you wear them, you have fairly good use of your hands. The only negative aspect is that gel is very difficult to get through the bite valve. I found I had to thin the gel slightly so I’ll be carrying more weight in the gel handset than I expected. If my arm fatigues, though, I can switch arms after the water handset is empty.
Based on my training results, I knew there was a good chance I could run 1:40 on the Oklahoma Aquarium course. Since I’m training for a full and testing my fitness, I decided to add a wrinkle. Instead of driving to the Aquarium, I run-commuted to the starting line from close to home. That meant a 5K run to the starting line and a 5K run back home after the race. My total distance for the day was around 32 kilometers.
On the 5K run to the starting line, I ran a conservative pace and stopped a few times to deal with shoe problems. My pace including stops was 8:41 min/mile.
After 20 minutes waiting for the start of the half marathon, I took off at 7:30 pace and tried to maintain it for the entirety of the race.
This being my first Aquarium Run, I was surprised at a few aspects of the race.
The first surprised was that the 5K took off 10 minutes before the Half Marathon on the same course. This meant lots of slow traffic within the first 4K while we were still on the 5K part of the course.
Second, the Half Marathon and 10K both started at the same time. This meant you had to try to figure out pacing and leaders for the half marathon with a lot of 10K runners pacing much faster than they would for a half marathon. Around mile 9, we finally saw the leaders for the half marathon coming back from the turn-around, and I was honestly surprised how many runners were ahead of me.
Last but not least, the number of runners was a major surprise. Between the 10K and Half Marathon, there were almost 1,000 runners on the starting line. It’s a lot smaller race than OKC or Route 66, but you still felt like it is a bigger race due to traffic from the 5K and 10K races.
Until the last couple of miles, my body never struggled with my goal pace. It was more of a mental struggle. I tend to run 8:00-8:30 when I’m not paying attention so I often drift toward 8:00 minute miles. I had to use my watch to help keep me at my goal pace. Anytime I saw a 7:40+ mile tick off, I got annoyed and ran a l little faster.
Somewhere near mile 10, I decided that breaking 1:40 was impossible but did my best to maintain my pace anyway. As usual, though, my mid-race runner’s math failed miserably. With just over a mile left, I realized 1:40 was still within reach if I could just log one more 7:30 or better mile.
For the final mile, I was able to run 7:12 pace to sneak in just under 1:40 at 1:39:35. I ran a 7:36 pace over the entire distance which was in line with my 7:32 at the 2014 Tulsa Run 15K but a significant improvement given the extra distance.
Excluding the first few miles on the 5K course where it was hard to tell who was who, I believe I was only passed by 3 runners throughout the balance of the half marathon distance. The first caught me early and was too fast for me to risk chasing. The second caught me at the turn-around, and he appeared to be surfing an incredible runner’s high at the time. I caught him twice in the final couple of miles when he stopped to drink or rest, but each time he was able to get going again and stay ahead of me. The 3rd caught me literally a few feet from the finish line. He was over 2 minutes behind me at the turn-around, but it appears he kicked it into gear, finishing up the race with a 6:45 final mile. Needless to say, he gave an impressive performance on the last 5K.
What I really enjoyed about this race was being strong at the end. Yes, I was passed near the finish line, but I also picked off some runners on the back half of the course after the race had thinned out. In the final 5K, I caught 2 runners, one of whom was 2 minutes ahead of me at the turn-around. I also caught 4 or 5 runners before the turn-around only one of whom passed me before the finish. It was a nice change from the Tulsa Run where I was holding on for dear life. It was all I could do not to hold up my watch and show them my extra mileage as I went by.
- Overall 22nd Place
- * Age Group 6th Place
- 7:36 Pace
- Finish Time 1:39:35
- 12 minute 33 second PR
* The race incorrectly listed me as 7 years old so I’m not listed in my age group. I’m still not sure why the news media hasn’t called to discuss my world record half marathon pace, but oh well. Last year, my pace would have been good for 2nd in age group. You just never know when the faster old guys will show up in Tulsa.
So now I have a decision to make. I ran a 3:30-ish half marathon time. Do I go for 3:30 and risk blowing up, or do I just try to get under 4 hours? Decisions, decisions…
By the way, the run home was torture. I waited at least 30 minutes to find out the results since I thought I ran fast enough for an age group award. Everything tightened up so bad that it felt like running the last 3 miles of a marathon or worse. Candidly, I walked a bit of it. It was a good reminder that a half marathon time put into a calculator doesn’t mean anything. You still have to run the miles and endure the pain.