Race Report: My First Triathlon – Tulsa Triathlon 50 Mile Distance

2015 Tulsa Triathlon TAT50 Bike Transition

In the Summer of 2014, I started wondering if I was approaching the limits of my ability to improve as a runner. Sporting a leaner upper body due to more cardiovascular training and less strength training, I still couldn’t get under 8 minutes per mile for much longer than 5K. As a result, I would be confined to middle of the pack age group finishes in all but the smallest of the local races. While I have no problem with not winning, the competitive side of me still wanted a goal.

I have always had my eye on the triathlon as a possible alternative or complement to my running. Albeit never a trained swimmer, I spent a lot of time in pools and lakes growing up and have always felt at home in the water. I also knew from experience that my legs would adapt well to cycling. So with dreams of passing triathletes during the run dancing through my head, I dipped my toes into the murky waters of the triathlon.

I bought my bike, a Kestrel Talon, in August 2014. I think I wrecked it the first time in…oh, I don’t know…let’s say…August 2014.

After months of trying to convince myself to make it to LifeTime consistently for swimming, I finally broke down and started training with the masters at the Jenks pool. Since my kids are part of the Jenks swim team, it made it easy for me to train during their workouts. Wearing jammers in front of other Jenks swim parents didn’t really excite me, but I got over it.

It took quite a while, but I finally got into a rhythm with the training. I would usually ride 2x per week during lunch and then swim 2x per week during my kids’ practice. Running continued to be 2x per week during lunch, and I would often add either a weekend long run, bike ride, or both.

After running the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon in late April, I had to take off most of May to get over an achilles injury, and then I traveled with my family to China for most of June. A lot of the work I had done toward the triathlon was lost.

On top of recovery from injury, I dropped 20 pounds while I was in China. That is not a typo. I occasionally mention my GI problems on the blog, and this is an unavoidable consequence of them. I’m sure you’ll call it an eating disorder, but given that I don’t really do it by choice, I just call it a massive inconvenience.

When I travel, I drastically reduce my food intake and retreat to the safest foods possible. Under some circumstances, I will skip multiple meals and/or substitute something like 100 calories in EnergyBITS for an entire meal. 20 days in China really took its toll on me physically. I lost a lot of fat, but I also lost quite a bit of muscle.

My original plan had been to compete in the Red Man Triathlon in September in Oklahoma City, but I really wanted some kind of warm up event to make sure I had the equipment and transitions figured out.

When I returned from China, I found out that the Tulsa Triathlon had been postponed due to flooding and would be rescheduled for late July. The Tulsa Triathlon offered Sprint, Olympic, and 50 mile distances so with 3 weeks to train, I saw no reason why I shouldn’t enter the 50 mile event. Yeah, that’s how my brain works.

The biggest challenge in training was trying to get my heat tolerance where it needed to be. I’m normally perfectly happy in the heat, but my month in China, filled with hot weather and long days of walking though it may have been, stole a month of my usual heat adaptation. In the mid-day heat of July in Oklahoma, my body just couldn’t handle running. I went in to the event knowing it might be a problem but hoping some shade and water dumped on my head every so often would carry me through.

The Swim

2015 Tulsa Triathlon TAT50 Lake Heyburn

Lake Heyburn

I knew from my time with the masters swimmers that I would not be fastest, but if nothing went terribly wrong, I wouldn’t be the slowest either. On most days at the pool, I was cranking at about 2:00 per 100 meters, but this would be my first time testing myself in open water without the occasional break at the wall to catch my breath.

The event took place at Lake Heyburn, a smaller lake about 30 minutes from Tulsa near Kellyville. Lake Heyburn is one of those Oklahoma lakes that looks a little like your favorite Starbuck’s drink. The clay soil keeps the water nice and red so you don’t have to worry about seeing what sea creatures might bite you as you cough and sputter your way around the 2-lap triathlon course.

After a slight delay for a breakaway course buoy, we were off. Since it’s a fairly small race, the start wasn’t as bad as what you often read about online. My biggest problem was that I wasn’t sighting well due to lack of practice, and I completely flubbed the first buoy to start the course.

From there, I set off toward the second buoy of the triangular course. Swimming basically parallel to the shore, it was probably 300 meters to that buoy. My biggest problem on this stretch was maintaining a straight line. You take for granted the markings in a clear pool to help you maintain your heading, and I had trouble finding a rhythm for breathing and sighting that wasn’t wasting a bunch of time.

I think it was in this first lap that one of my friendly competitors found me going off course and decided to sink me. I know a lot of people panic at their first triathlon when a competitor pushes them under, but like I said, I really am very comfortable in the water even if I’m not the fastest swimmer. If I hadn’t been at fault for failing to hold my line, we might have had a disagreement.

There may have been one more collision on that first lap, but I began swimming pretty far outside the buoy line to try to avoid messing up anyone’s race.

When I made the turn for the 2nd lap, I decided to breaststroke a bit to see where I was and catch my breath. All systems checked out so I took off again. This time my drift got so bad that I found myself almost to shore when I felt something on my hand. I had initially thought it was the foot of a swimmer in front of me, but I was a good 10 meters off the line so it seems I had an encounter with an aquatic creature. Shortly after touching my hand, it hit me in the chest. I guess I was too big or not tasty enough for breakfast.

The rest of the 2nd lap was a major beatdown. It honestly felt like I would never make it to that first stupid buoy at the far end of the course. As it turns out, the course went long because the buoy broke lose from its tether. The reason I felt like I was making no progress when sighting the buoy was because I wasn’t. The buoy was running away just as fast as I was chasing it.

Most estimates have us swimming 2,200 or more meters for what was supposed to be a 1,500 meter course. When I got out of the water and looked at my watch, though, I saw 45 minutes and 2,200 meters and thought I had zig-zagged so badly that I had added 700 meters to my swim. So that was a bit of a downer, but I knew the swim was my weakest event, and I was honestly much more worried about the hills on the bike.

The Bike

The day before the race, I drove the bike course just to get an idea of the elevation changes and the turns. What I found was far beyond anything I had ridden. I don’t train to avoid hills, but I also don’t train to encounter them either. I spend most of my time on the Riverparks trail system, and you just don’t find long, rolling hills like what the Tulsa Triathlon course offered out on Route 66. Even where you do have some rolling hills, there just aren’t enough of them to compare.

Given my lack of training, my strategy was to conserve my energy uphill and push hard on the downhill. My cardiovascular system was in better shape than my quads so that was really my only strategy. On this course, that frequently meant swinging from 12-15 mph uphill to 35 mph+ downhill, but they were long hills so I often felt like I was going nowhere while climbing some of the hills.

On the 40 mile course, I was able to average 17 mph which I consider a serious win given my level of training.

The Run

2015 Tulsa Triathlon TAT50 Run

I Ran For the Picture...When It Counted

After wasting a considerable amount of time in transition (slowest transition of the field…wohoo!), I set out on the run. I was so happy to be out of the water and off of the bike that I had no care in the world about pace. I knew how to run with burnt quads so all systems were go, and I was probably running around 8:00 to 8:15 pace.

I was so happy that when I saw the first aid station at the beginning of the run loop, I turned down the cold towels they were handing out to all runners. That was a mistake. The heat and the hills quickly caught up to me. Within 1/2 mile, I was questioning why I wasn’t feeling right. After running the first hill, I was forced to walk to the next aid station.

The 2nd aid station was around the halfway point of the 5K loop. For the 50 mile distance, we were running 3 5K loops. I filled up on water, dumped a bunch on my head, let the kid with the squirt gun spray me as much as he liked, and then set out across the Lake Heyburn dam. By the time I got back to the same aid station, I had to do the same dance again. Water, water, more water, and I was still overheating.

That’s basically the story of my run. I had to run-walk the entire 15K run. It was the first time I had ever gotten to run in temperatures that I love running in, and I failed miserably.

On the 2nd lap, I kind of figured out how to keep my body cool, but it was all too far gone. We were running in a 110 degree heat index with absolutely no shade on an extremely hilly course. You can’t let the needle move as close to heat exhaustion as I did and come back from it.

My 3rd lap was faster, but I still only managed to notch a 12:57 pace over the full 15K distance, little better than walking the entire 15K.

The Finish

2015 Tulsa Triathlon TAT50 Finish

2015 Tulsa Triathlon TAT50 Finish

For the 1500 meter swim (hardy-har-har), 40 mile bike, and 15K run, I finished in 5:12:48. Much like most running races, I finished in the middle of the pack. Due to the number of competitors, I actually took home an award for 3rd place in my age group.

The Postmortem

During the last few miles of the bike and most of the run, I didn’t feel right. In training and racing both, I’ve logged some serious time from blowing up for whatever reason, and I had never felt quite like I did during the triathlon. Heat couldn’t explain all of it, nor could my lack of training. In truth, I felt fine later that same day most likely due to the fact that I was forced to walk so much of the run course. My legs were still itching for a run since they hadn’t really run that day, at least not the way they’re used to running.

Within a couple of days, my body gave me the answer. I had picked up some kind of stomach bug. Now, to be completely honest, I could have picked it up before the race, but due to the digestive issues I have already, I take a lot of precautions with food heading into a race. The odds of me having picked up a bacterial infection were slim, and given that school was out, the odds of a viral stomach bug were equally slim.

I believe I picked up something from Lake Heyburn that morning. That would explain why I felt I needed tons more fuel at the end of the bike even though I had been fueling more than normal for a bike ride. It also explains some of my struggle to stay hydrated in the heat. My body just wasn’t digesting the electrolytes in my gel, and due to the fact that I can’t consume gatorade, I was stuck. I had no alternatives.

Keep in mind, I grew up water skiing in Lake Carl Blackwell, a lake that looks every bit as nasty as Lake Heyburn. Picking up some kind of bacterial infection wasn’t even on my radar, but when I did some research after the fact online, it appears to be a pretty common issue. It’s often exacerbated by heavy rains and flooding of which Lake Heyburn had received both in spades in the weeks leading into the triathlon. They even had a greywater disposal pond within site of the swim start and who knows what kind of farms are distributed around the perimeter of the lake.

Parting Thoughts

Suffice it to say I’m having second-thoughts about my interest in the triathlon. For my level of fitness at the time, the Tulsa Triathlon could be considered a success, but I fought with a stomach bug for over a month following the event. No, I wasn’t puking every day, but in the interests of avoiding TMI, let’s just agree that I was not “normal” for over a month. For a person who spent the better part of a decade fighting to find some kind of “normal,” it wasn’t a good experience reliving that time in my life.

Looking at the times logged for the 50 mile event, I could definitely be competitive if properly trained and healthy, but at this point, I don’t know if I want to climb back into another Oklahoma lake. I might be willing to climb into the Atlantic, but that’s a much bigger financial commitment than I want to make right now.

Ironically enough, training for the triathlon seemed to break whatever plateau I had experienced in my running. I’m now pushing my pace down into the low 7’s for half marathon distance so I’m becoming a bit more competitive. If I happen to show up to a race where some of the stupid-fast 40 year olds don’t, I might actually take an age group award. It’s really all luck of the draw unless I can get just a little bit faster…

Race Report: 2015 Route 66 Marathon

2015 Route 66 Marathon Medal Photo

Mistakes were made but goals were still attained.  I think that’s the best way to look at my performance in the 2015 Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Going into the 2015 race, I had 2 primary goals. First, I wanted to run the marathon. I realize that sounds odd, but keep in mind that I still have yet to run a marathon without significant walking in the last 10K. Second, I wanted to finish in about 3.5 hours (8:00 minute mile pace). Unfortunately, I was not able to run the entire marathon distance without some walking, but I did meet my time goal.

In my previous marathon, the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon earlier this year, I arrived at the starting line significantly injured having fought off an ankle injury and a long battle with the flu only to find myself with severe achilles tendinitis the week before the marathon. That injury brought me a very painful PR, my first sub-4 hour marathon. For the 2015 Route 66 Marathon, I decided toeing the line injury free was far more important than having a perfect training log or a full race calendar.

Training

I began training in late August for the November 22nd race. I originally wanted to run 4 times per week with 2 longer midweek runs, a shorter mid-week run, and the usual weekend long run. Strength training would be reduced to 1x per week to try to maintain as much of my upper body mass as possible (because vanity) and to build lower body strength. Because I was having trouble working the 3rd midweek run into my schedule, most weeks only included 3 training runs.

  • Monday, 90 minutes
  • Wednesday, 90 minutes
  • Thursday, 60 minutes total body strength training
  • Saturday, 13-20 miles

The 90 minute runs coincided with my daughter’s swim practice. I would drop her off at the pool and run from there to Tulsa’s trail system. Giving myself a 10 minute cushion, I would do an out and back route and whatever pace I felt like running that day. Early in the training cycle, I was often running only 8-9 miles in 90 minutes, but by the end of October, most of my runs were 10-11 miles.

For my Saturday long runs, I tried to change things up a bit as well. The biggest change was that I tried to run slower than my goal pace by 30-60 seconds per mile. To me, that approach seems counterintuitive, but people smarter than me who have run far more successful marathons than me swear by time on your feet so who am I to argue? I’m the guy doing 10K death marches at the end of every marathon to date so I thought I should take the freely available expert advice.

Divorcing my long runs from pace goals also allowed me to make some more minor changes. I frequently wore heavy trail shoes instead of my road shoes so that I could run up into Turkey Mountain as a way of getting in some extra hill training and further strengthening the lower legs. I also wore a fully loaded hydration pack on some runs (+10 lbs) but also experimented with using only handheld gel with water fountains on others. These water fountain runs finally gave me the confidence to run a race without carrying my own water.

Strength training consisted of the following exercises most weeks:

  • Weighted Chinups/Pullups
  • Bench Press
  • Standing Dumbbell Curls
  • Lateral Dumbbell Raises
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • Dumbbell Front Raise
  • Leg Press
  • Standing Barbell Calf Raises
  • Lying Leg Curl
  • Planks

Some of these exercises really are purely vanity. 3 years ago I was doing weighted chin-ups with 100 pounds, and my biceps were, needless to say, fairly large for my body size. Currently, I struggle to do more than a handful of chin-ups at 50 pounds. Bench press is basically the same, just me trying to maintain mass I worked hard to build a few years ago.

The rest of the exercises, I would argue, are useful to marathon training. Standing Dumbbell Curls do target the biceps, but they also hit the forearms, shoulders, core, and back to some extent. The lateral and front raises also hit the shoulders, back and forearms as well. This work can and will help maintain your arm swing through the marathon distance. Even with all of this work, I had some cramping in my forearms near the end of the Route 66 Marathon.

The leg exercises are those that I feel I can do without risk of serious injury. Unfortunately, my back continues to give me trouble with squats and deadlifts. If it didn’t, you would see both of those exercises listed here as there are few strength exercises as beneficial to overall strength and endurance as the squat and deadlift. These 3 exercises are what my home equipment allows me to do safely, without fear of injury.

The only thing all that unusual about how I do these leg exercises is the amount of weight I use on the calf raises. Assuming I’m not having any injury concerns with my calves, most weeks saw me doing 3 sets of 10-12 reps with at least 220 pounds on the bar. When you consider how much weight you want to use for calf raises, keep in mind you’re trying to launch 100% of your bodyweight with one calf while you’re running. So I weigh 165 pounds most of the time. That means the total weight I’m pushing on 2 legs is 165 lbs (bodyweight) + 220 lbs  on the bar for a total of 385 lbs. Cut that in half to get the load on each calf, and you have 192.5 lbs. That means each calf is only lifting 30 pounds more than bodyweight which isn’t really that much when you consider the extra force you apply in running to counter momentum with each stride. Go heavy on your calf exercises. Your running will thank you for it.

Racing

Like I said, I wanted to keep my racing schedule a bit more subdued to help avoid injury. Missteps on the trails took their toll on me in late 2014 and early 2015, and I didn’t want to suffer any setbacks.

One thing I knew I wanted to do was test my 5K fitness if I felt healthy. With almost no speed work, I jumped into the Trojan Tough 5K at the last minute both to run with my wife and son as well as take a shot at a sub-20 minute 5K. There was a snafu in the route resulting in the race going 1/2 mile too long, but based on GPS data, I ran approximately 20:30 for the 5K.

The second goal was to do a marathon dress rehearsal by running a local half marathon. I ended up running the Jenks Half Marathon here in Tulsa 2 weeks prior to the Route 66 Marathon. My goal was to run 7:30 minute per mile pace or better using handheld gel with water stops as my fueling and hydration strategy. I ended up running a 5 minute PR of 1:34 which is around 7:10 pace.

This more minimal racing strategy basically worked. I may have missed one goal time, but both times I ran pointed to 3:30 being attainable while at the same time giving me the all important race day rehearsal that helps limit mistakes heading into a big goal race.

Injury

For the most part, I made it through training injury free, but I was constantly battling what I believe to be Hamstring Origin Tendonitis in my left leg. At the outset of every run, the dynamic stretching I do for my hamstrings would reveal tightness at the top of the hamstring that was never present in my right leg. During training runs, pain would show up if I tried to run too fast or climb too many hills. Because of the condition, I had to give up on hill training after my first attempt in early October. I also avoided speed work and limited tempo runs.

Race Strategy

Pacing…why is pacing so hard for me? I’m getting better and occasionally have races where the pacing works out, and I’m still strong but tired at the end, but those races are usually shorter than marathon distance. At every marathon so far, I’ve crashed and burned somewhere in the 18-20 mile range.

Based on my experience using water stations at the Jenks Half Marathon, I knew I would need to walk some stations to be able to stay hydrated. I just couldn’t get enough fluid if I ran through every station. I sweat a lot, and a few ounces of water every 2 miles doesn’t get the job done. My assumption was that the 3:30 pacer would run most of the water stops so I wanted to set out at a slightly faster pace and let them catch me somewhere in the final 10K.

Much like the OKC Memorial Marathon earlier this year, my goal was to average 7:45 minute per mile pace as long as possible. If I had any gas left at the end, I could switch gears and start running 7:30 or faster. If I was spent, the 3:30 pacer would catch me, and I would try hard to stick with him.

Of course, there’s race strategy and then there’s…

…Race Day

All race days start for me about 3 hours prior to leaving the house for the race. With a race in downtown Tulsa at 8 am, that meant getting up at 4 am to be out the door by 7 am. The purpose of this long, excessively early morning is to make sure my stomach is settled and ready for the race. During that time, I eat the most bland breakfast you can imagine (hello canned chunk chicken and corn chips), hydrate, prepare my race fuel, double-check all of my gear, and waste a bunch of time watching television. After 2 1/2 hours of trying to stay awake, the last 15 minutes before I leave the house are complete chaos as I try to shower, dress, and get out the door to the race.

We left the house a little later than planned, but with my wife and son having done the 5K on Saturday at the same start time, we felt pretty confident about the timing. My wife’s work parking lot is across the street from the Corral D entrance with no road closings in between it and the highways so we don’t have to hunt downtown parking on marathon day.

With the weather forecast showing temperatures just below freezing at the start, I didn’t mind getting there pretty close to starting time so I wouldn’t have to wait in the cold as long. As it turns out, I barely had enough time to use the facilities, walk to Corral A, stretch, and work my way up to the 3:30 pacer for the start.

As I’ve said in the past, cold is not my friend. I know I run faster in 40’s and 50’s, but I don’t like running in the cold. I would choose slower times over colder weather any day of the week. As a spectator for the 5K Saturday, I was dressed in 3 layers head-to-toe, and I was struggling. Granted, there was a stiff wind, but the temperature was actually slightly warmer than what was expected for the start of the marathon.

Fear of how I felt watching the 5K prompted me to try hand warmers for the first time at the marathon. I think this is the only time I’ve tried something new on race day that wasn’t a disaster. The hands I could barely feel inside gloves on Saturday were relatively comfortable for the entire race Sunday, and for the most part, my body was never cold.

The rest of my gear for Sunday included:

  • Under Armour Long Sleeve Cold Gear Shirt
  • Nike Short Sleeve Dri-fit Shirt
  • Nike Dri-fit Skullcap
  • Nike Dri-fit Gloves with Hand Warmers
  • Champion Compression Shorts
  • Injinji Compression Socks
  • Injinji Socks (yes, 2 layers)
  • Hoka One One Clifton 1 Shoes
  • 2 x Ultimate Gel Flasks with Holsters

Between Saturday night and Sunday morning, I spent a lot of time fretting over whether or not to wear tights. The forecast called for sunny and low-40’s by about halfway through the marathon so I decided to leave them at home and just run faster if I was cold at the start. That turned out to be a good decision as around mile 8, I almost warmed up too much. Tights would have overheated me in that section if I had worn them.

With what I was wearing, the first solution was uncovering my ears with the skullcap. It’s amazing how much heat you can dissipate by exposing your ears. When I warmed up a little more in the sun, I took off the skullcap, but those were my only temperature adjustments. The gloves and hand warmers stayed on throughout the race. I noticed some other marathoners dropped their hand warmers shortly after passing the halfway point, but they were obviously running faster than me and generating more heat.

So back to the starting line. I was about 1/4 of the way back in Corral A, positioned about 15 feet to the West of the 3:30 pacer, stretched, and ready to run. I had my Garmin on and prepped so I just had to hit the start button to begin tracking and pacing the marathon. When the gun went off, I crossed the first timing mat and clicked the Garmin’s start button. Seeing as I often mess up when I start my watch, I looked down again quickly to double-check it was tracking. The clock was going, but the pace and distance were doing nothing. I ran a bit and looked down again…nothing.

Knowing my pace was very important to my race plan, I decided to restart the activity tracking on the Garmin. How I managed to stay on my feet while I ran among all of those people, I have no idea. For my trouble, I was rewarded with…nothing. And as a software developer and general tech geek, I’m embarrassed to say that was the extent of my troubleshooting. Why didn’t I power cycle my stupid Garmin? Why? I made the decision not to stop and not to keep fiddling with the technology and just run my race.

By that time, my eyes had been down on my Garmin for a 1/4 of a mile or more. Runners were streaming past me because I was running slower than I intended coming out of the starting line. I had no idea where the 3:30 pacer went. I didn’t see him in front of me, and in the one glance I took behind me, I didn’t see him either. My Garmin failed, and the pacer was not within sight. All I had left was to run as close to 7:45 pace as I could and stick to my plan.

Within 2 miles, I saw the time and realized I was ahead of the pacer, but even though I may normally be pretty good at math, my run brain consistently fails 1st grade math. I tend to round everything to even numbers so dividing time by number of miles doesn’t really work out well for me if I’m targeting 7:45 instead of 8:00. I did find a runner I knew around mile 3 and found out I was probably doing about 7:30, and I would occasionally ask a runner with a watch what we were running, but it’s still hard to maintain without being able to check the watch a couple of times every mile.

On top of pacing issues from not having a watch, you have all of the hills. It seems strange to say Route 66 is a hard course when I know there are much harder courses out there, but in terms of major marathons, it’s more NYC and less Chicago in terms of overall elevation changes. Unlike NYC, Route 66 goes up and down more frequently to smaller degrees.

I’m not sure how you are supposed to run a steady pace when you’re never running level. My calves view hill climbs as a personal affront. If I’m not tired or hurting, it’s hard for me to ascend any slower than I run in the flats. At the Jenks Half Marathon 2 weeks ago, I went from a 7:30 mile mostly flat and downhill to a 6:45 mile mostly uphill at mile 6 of the race. That’s normal for me. On a short hill, I will often accelerate as I climb. It’s not the best way to extend my endurance, but it’s what my legs tend to do.

What goes up must come down, and I don’t think I notice descents in any race as much as I do Route 66. For two years now, I’ve run descents with the intent of sparing my quads because I’ve blown them out braking on downhills in other races. That means I try to run with gravity as long as gravity doesn’t force me to spin my legs so fast that I run out of breath.

Between climbing and descending, I’m often running a 7:45 climb into a 7:00 descent. It’s tough to get into any sort of rhythm on your pace under those conditions. I could tell I was all over the place because I was trading positions with many of the same runners repeatedly throughout the first half of the race. It’s obviously something I need to practice more.

I ended up running the first half in 1:38:14, the 2nd fastest half marathon I’ve ever run. That’s 7:30 pace, exactly what I didn’t want to do in the first half of the marathon. 15 seconds per mile doesn’t seem like a lot, but for where I am in my fitness, it’s huge.

Needless to say, I was concerned heading into the 2nd half of the marathon, but I felt really good. I knew I needed to get more water, but other than that, my legs were basically happy (excepting my injury), I wasn’t tired, and everything was generally working.

After the half marathoners peeled off toward the finish line, I started walking the aid stations to get more water. Other than that, I still kept my pace under 8:00 minutes even with walking the aid stations.

At 16 miles, I knew I was fading a bit, but my body was fine so I didn’t change anything.

At 18 miles, the wheels came off. My minor injury announced itself in a big way. I was coming down a hill and making a left turn to head North toward the University of Tulsa. My hamstring cramped severely right at the point of the injury. Honestly, I thought I might be done, but I cramped at OKC earlier this year due to injury, and I knew it might be possible to work through it.

Camber…when I cramp, that’s my first thought as to a solution. You can often run the camber in a way that will minimize the cramping if it’s only on one side. I tried running with the left leg higher, and it got much worse. I then hopped to the other side of the centerline and ran with the left leg lower. Yahtzee! I could run. There was the constant feeling of impending doom screaming from the top of my leg, but I could run.

My success was somewhat short-lived. I came out of the University of Tulsa headed South for the dreaded turn onto Cherry Street for two of the last and biggest hills. I had to walk a bit due to my injury, but for the most part, I was running.

I came up on a marathon maniac who pulled up with visibly severe cramps. I apologized and asked if he was alright. I knew the answer because I’ve been there before and was already battling the same thing. Another 1/4 mile down the road, and it was my turn. My other hamstring cramped.

Here I was, past 20 miles, right at 7:45 minute per mile pace, and I was cramped in both legs with the single worst 1 mile section of race ahead of me. Needless to say, there was a lot of walking, but I knew my family was waiting on those hills, and I hoped a quick breather and some water with them might get me going again.

I did a lot of high-stepping over the next 1/2 mile to try to stretch my hamstrings out without stopping my forward progress. I would run a bit and feel alright, and then they would seize up again. I knew from experience not to push them too deep, or the cramp would be so severe I’d be like Baghdatis trying to beat an aging Agassi at the US Open (yeah, tennis reference…get over it…life before running…click the link and watch the video).

When I got to my family, the 3:30 pace group finally caught me. There was no way I could go with them. They were cruising at about 8:00 pace, and I could barely walk, much less run. They were a little early, though, so I held out hope I might still be able to get in at 3:30 but at least under 3:40. For some reason, staying in the 3:30’s was important to me. I don’t even remember why.

After my family cheered me up, I was able to run quite a bit, but I would still walk a lot and stretch out my hamstrings as I went. The one time I got up a decent head of steam, we turned West into downtown Tulsa, and a 30 mph headwind gusted out of nowhere. The next turn was a short distance ahead so I walked to the turn and started running again.

That’s pretty much how it played out in the final 5K. It was a rough way to achieve my marathon time goal, but I’ll take it.

2015 Route 66 Marathon Sloth Running Midtown

Results

  • Overall: 145th out of 2,590
  • Division: 22nd out of 192
  • 10K: 45:52
  • 10M: 1:14:05
  • 13.1M: 1:38:14
  • 20M: 2:34:58
  • Chip Time: 3:35:32
  • 8:14 mile pace

So the marathon puzzle remains complex and elusive, but there are thousands in every race that would kill for a 3:35 finish.

In my 2013 Route 66 Marathon Race Report, I somewhat prophetically said that mid 3’s might be possible before age catches up with me and posed a question to myself….do I want it enough?

Let’s double-down. I might be able to cut my first marathon time of 5:55 in half before age catches up to me. Just in case you’re running and struggling with the math, that means sub-3. The only question is…do I want it enough?

Marathon Taper Madness

Marathon Taper Madness

This is me…trying to taper….

Is that a stress fracture in my foot?

What’s the weather forecast for race day?

Is it time to race yet?

Should I lengthen today’s run a bit?

Is it time to race yet?

Maybe I should run some hills today.

Is it time to race yet?

Is it bad to do VO2 max intervals during the taper.

Is it time to race yet?

What’s the race day weather forecast? No, I need hourly.

I haven’t run over 13 miles in 2 weeks. Have I lost all my fitness already?

Is it time to race yet?

Maybe I should reduce my PR goal time. Let’s see what the marathon time calculator says.

Ooh, 3:15. 7:30 per mile for 26.2 when I’ve trained for 8:00? Maybe?

Is it time to race yet?

.

.

.

I think you get the idea.

Taper Madness is a confidence sapping exercise of patience and will, and I suck at it. My races show it, too.

My best races have always been the late entries in the middle of training, not the actual goal races. Prior to the 2015 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, I set a 15-minute Half Marathon PR at the Aquarium Run with a 1:39. Just 2 weeks ago, I PR’d at the 2015 Jenks Half Marathon with a 1:34, and I left at least a couple of minutes or more out on the course.

To be honest, some of my marathon issues are lack of training and injuries, but several of my injuries have come during the taper. I didn’t run the 2014 Route 66 Marathon due to an achilles injury exacerbated by an extra long run during the taper. I went into the 2015 Oklahoma City Marathon injured due to an achilles injury on the proper length long run during the taper. I was on the hills for that 8 miler. Should I have been on hills during the taper?

Anyway, the point of all of this is if you are struggling with your taper, you’re not alone. The best advice I can give you is to plan your taper at the beginning of your goal race training and stick to the plan religiously.

Other than that, just keep checking the weather. Speaking of which….

Uh-oh. Last time the forecast looked like this at Route 66, the temperature dropped during the race.

I wonder if I should wear 3 layers instead of two…

Product Review: Elevation Training Mask 2.0

SubdueTheSloth Elevation Training Mask

There is a reason many of our best endurance athletes live in and train at altitude: altitude training improves performance. The real question is can amateur athletes achieve similar results without moving to Boulder, Colorado. Over the past year, I’ve tried to find an answer that question by training with the Elevation Training Mask 2.0.

Strange things happen to my body beyond 15 miles. In each of my 3 attempts at the Route 66 Marathon, I endured breathing that felt like a friendly grizzly bear was hugging me to death. Not only does that feeling make it tough to run, it also makes me question whether it’s just normal long mileage exhaustion or something much, much worse. At the outset of every long training run or marathon, I promise my wife I won’t die, and when you’re struggling for each breath, it’s tough to decide between keeping a promise and going for a PR.

After the 2013 Route 66 Marathon, my frustration with my breathing led me to the Elevation Training Mask 2.0.

Prior to purchasing the Elevation Training Mask, all of the reviews I read about it indicated that wearing it was not the same as training at altitude. Although I’ve never trained distance running at altitude, I have played my fair share of tennis in both Lake Tahoe and various cities in Colorado. In my experience, the Elevation Training Mask is definitely not the same as training at altitude. But…does that matter?

In my opinion, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t have mountains (or $2,000+ for a hypoxic air generator and tent), you don’t have any elevation for training. If you don’t have any elevation for training, how many other options do you have? We’ll get to options in a minute, but first, let’s talk abut the product itself and the benefits I’ve seen from using it.

The Elevation Training Mask is a rubber mask that fits over your mouth and nose. It has 2 intake ports with interchangeable valves to control the level of breathing restriction. The documentation equates each intake valve with an elevation ranging from 3,000 to 18,000 feet in 3,000 feet increments. There is one exhaust valve in the center that seals upon intake. It’s not unlike simple respirators available at your local hardware store.

Unfortunately, the Elevation Training Mask is not comfortable. The mask must seal around your face so that you inhale and exhale only through the 2 intake ports and 1 exhaust port respectively. The rubber-like material chosen does not feel great after a few miles of sweat, and with some facial hair, you have to crank it down that much tighter to get a good seal. The velcro strap that secures it to the back of your head does not fit me well and always feels like it’s slipping down my neck. There is also a strap that goes over the top of your head to help hold the horizontal strap in place vertically. The top strap seems more like an afterthought than a properly thought out design, but it works for its intended purpose.

Like I said above, this mask bears a striking resemblance to respirators available from hardware stores. Respirators come in 2 basic varieties, disposable and reusable. While either mask could potentially be used for this kind of training, I think you’ll find either alternative less than ideal. One is made of cloth and gets soaked with sweat which restricts breathing too much, and the other can be larger, heavier, and difficult to wear when running. In both cases, there is no straightforward way to control the level of intake restriction (i.e. altitude).

Getting beyond the product design, fit, and comfort, let’s talk about the benefits. The benefit I wanted to see was more strength in my diaphragm for the back half of the marathon, but a funny thing happened along the way. I got faster.

Within a month of occasional use of the Elevation Training Mask, I went from barely being able to run 1 lap on my treadmill at 10 mph to running 3-4 laps. I don’t know if you can attribute all of that progress to the Elevation Training Mask, but I think it’s reasonable to attribute some of it to the Elevation Training Mask (look ma, no science!).

Unfortunately, I was injured in my first marathon after beginning to use the Elevation Training Mask. The injury forced me to walk a lot on the back half of the course so it was hard to know if my breathing had improved. I can say that my long training runs went well enough that I never noticed a significant problem with breathing, but most of those runs topped out around 20 miles.  The breathing problems usually don’t show up for me until that last 10K.

Like I said, I’m not offering you any science. I’m telling you flat out that this is not altitude training, and the jury is still out on whether or not this will help with my particular endurance problems. That said, I can tell you that I do not consider the money wasted, and I continue to use the Elevation Training Mask at least 2-3x per month to supplement my training.

It might be important to note that I do have very mild asthma, and the limiting factor in my running speed is almost always my lungs. My speed improvements as a result of training with the Elevation Training Mask may be unique to my lung condition.

 

 

 

 

 

Product Review: Newton Distance S III

2012 Newton Gravity vs. 2015 Newton Distance S III

2012 Newton Gravity vs. 2015 Newton Distance S III

Well, this is unfortunate. This is my 2nd pair of Newton Running shoes, and I absolutely loved them except for a couple of glaring issues, one of which may keep me out of Newton’s shoes permanently. Let’s get into it.

POP

When you read the rest of this review, you’re going to wonder why I buy Newton’s at all. It’s the POP. I know some people have mixed feelings about it, but the lugs that make up their POP system work for me. I feel faster with less effort in Newton’s than in any other shoe. I can definitely match my speed in a similarly weighted pair of shoes, but it will feel like more effort.

If I want to test my 5K or 10K PR, I would definitely want to have on a pair of Newton’s.

5 Lugs

The only reason I didn’t keep training in Newton’s following my first pair in 2012 was due to the 4 lug system. It always took me a couple of miles to feel comfortable, and they never felt all that stable to me.

More recently, however, Newton introduced 5 lugs. The change solved all of my issues with running in Newton’s. 5 lugs felt extremely stable, and I still felt the same speed and endurance benefit from the trampoline effect of the lugs.

Durability

Newton Distance S III Lug Wear Pattern

Newton Distance S III Lug Wear Pattern

I have never felt compelled to contact a shoe company about the durability of their product until the Newton Running Distance S III. Why? It should be obvious in the above picture. The outer lug on only my left shoe wore down almost completely within the first 120 miles of use. Let me say that distance again: 120 miles.

I don’t know exactly when the lug wore down. It might have been 50 miles, or it might have been 100 miles. Either way, it was not 500 miles. The older Newton Gravity pictured alongside my Newton Distance has over 500 miles on it, and there is almost no wear to any of the 4 lugs. They’ve lost some of their pop, but I bet I can still run in the Newton Gravity for another 500 miles. I’m at over $1/mile in the Newton Distance S III.

So I contacted Newton Running support to see if they had an explanation. Without looking at video of my stride or asking any further questions, the support agent diagnosed me as a supinator and told me I should be in a neutral shoe instead of a stability shoe. My old Newton Gravity are neutral shoes, and I knew I had more outside wear on most of my shoes so I accepted the explanation and went on my way.

It really kept gnawing at me, though.

Why do NONE of my other shoes show a significant wear pattern difference between left and right shoe?

Why did the local running store identify my foot strike as neutral?

Why did stability shoes solve a lot of lower leg problems I was having in neutral shoes?

I’m not sure why it took me so long, but clearly it was time to shoot some video on the treadmill and see what was really going on.

I spent some time researching pronation and supination to make sure I understood fully after seeing this video. The basic difference is which way the ankle moves when you land.

With pronation, your ankle will shift inward as your weight transfers toward the ball of your foot and big toe.

With supination, the weight transfer doesn’t happen, and your ankle might shift outward on impact.

As you can clearly see, I pronate. On the left side, it is more pronounced. This is due to my right ankle injury, and the hardware holding it all in place. My right ankle can only move so far before the internal hardware says it can’t go any further.

You can also see that I land initially on the outside of my midfoot. With a heel strike, that landing would show up in the tread on the outside of the heel, and then the pronation would show up with wear on the inside of the forefoot. Looking back at my first pair of running shoes from when I was still heel striking, you can see exactly that wear pattern. Most of my walking shoes also show the same pattern. The outside of the heel wears first followed by the area beneath my big toe’s metatarsal.

However, I no longer heel strike. I used Newton’s and Vibram’s to shift to a mid-foot strike to avoid injuries I thought were being caused by heel striking. So now my initial landing is on the outside of the mid-foot, right where the 5th lug is located.

I’m definitely impacting the outside lug on the left foot more than any other part of the shoe. There may also be a bit of scraping as that part of the shoe begins to contact the ground. That explains the wear pattern, but it doesn’t explain 120 miles.

My Altra Provision 2.0 which were in rotation during the same training cycle as the Newton Distance SIII have about 200 miles on them. The wear pattern is symmetrical and barely visible.

My Brooks Pure Cadence, 2 pair from 2014 and 2 more pair from 2013, all have around 200 miles of use. The wear pattern is symmetrical and barely visible.

My Newton Gravity from 2012 look like they’ve been barely worn and have 500+ miles of use.

My concern is that I don’t know why that particular lug wore down so severely. You would think I’ve been riding a bike and dragging my foot to stop. That’s how bad it looks. Given Newton Support’s misdiagnosis and lack of interest in pursuing the issue further, I’m not sure I want to spent $150 more on another pair just to see if it was a fluke.

Comfort

My other issue with Newton shoes is not new to the Newton Distance S III, but it was a bit more severe. The shoes have to be tight to keep your metatarsals right where they need to be over the lugs. That tightness, in my experience, translates to pain right where the laces tie together if you run far enough.

If you’re staying below 1/2 marathon distance, you may not even notice. At 10K or less, I never notice a problem, but on a 20 miler earlier this year I did enough damage that I was having trouble tying any of my shoes properly for weeks. I had to use some creative lacing techniques to be able to run a 1/2 marathon at the end of April and a marathon in early May due to the pain from that one 20 miler in my Newton’s.

Pros:

  • 5 Lugs for Stability
  • POP System for that Trampoline Effect
  • Extremely Comfortable Upper Except for Lacing Issues

Cons:

  • Lack of Durability (approx. 100 miles)
  • Cost (due to lack of durability)
  • Lace Discomfort
  • Responsive but Inaccurate Support from Newton