Race Report: 2015 Oklahoma Aquarium Run

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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:

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.

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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.

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Results:

  • 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.

Oklahoma Aquarium 2015 Results

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Race Report: 2013 Jenks Half Marathon

As part of my training for the Route 66 Marathon, I planned to run more races to help practice race-day preparation and expose any problems with my nutrition plan.  By the dearth of posts to this blog, you already know well how massively I failed at that task. Fortunately, I did manage to get out to the Jenks Half Marathon as part of what was supposed to be my final long run before Route 66.

The Jenks Half Marathon is a small but long-running Half Marathon operated by Tulsa Runner, the running store right next to the trails I use for most of my training.  It begins near the Jenks High School track and winds around an area North and West of Jenks High School including the R.L. Jones, Jr. Airport.  Being a smaller event, the streets remain open with a small contingent of Tulsa Police helping direct traffic and runners at major intersections.

My goals for the race were pretty simple:

  • Carry my fully loaded hydration pack with enough fuel for a marathon.
  • Average 8:30-8:45 min/mile pace.
  • Run an additional 7-9 miles after finishing.

Being new to running, I find it hard to know where to line up for the start.  With big marathons, it’s easy:  find the corral and walk forward until I run into people.  For smaller events, though, I find myself gravitating toward the back as I don’t really think of myself as all that fast.  Nevertheless, in every race I’ve run, I spend a lot of time and energy early in the race passing other runners.  Some of it is adrenaline pushing my pace too high, but some of it is just my inexperience in knowing where to line up.

Between adrenaline and traffic, I ran my first mile at 7:53 min/mile.  Without my hydration pack, that’s a sustainable pace for me, but with a full pack, it’s crash and burn pace.  Putting 12 pounds on my shoulders changes the pace dynamics drastically, and I have to be really careful not to burn out the major leg muscles, quads, hams, and calves, by going too fast.

Fortunately, I happened upon a more experienced runner with whom I started a conversation.  He was aiming for the same pace I was and was nice enough to let me hang in beside him and chat for the majority of the race.  Seeing as I was without my headphones due to the course being open to traffic, it really helped pass the time and kept me much more on pace.  In fact, we managed to run all but about 4 miles from that point on at 8:30 pace.

As I mentioned, the open course prompted me not to wear headphones which meant I wasn’t hearing time and distance information from my GPS app.  What hadn’t really occurred to me prior to the race is that I tend to drink at every 1/2 mile announcement from my app.  Without the app making those calls, I completely fell off of my hydration and fuel plan.  On top of that, around mile 8, I had some of my sports drink try to come up on me which further delayed my hydration.  At mile 12, I suddenly felt extremely sluggish and dropped to 9:00+ pace for the final 2 miles, even walking a little bit shortly before the last couple of turns.

Even with these challenges, though, I’m still happy with the results of my first official half marathon:

  • Overall:  64th out of 173 men
  • Age Group:  16th out of 31
  • Time: 1:51:50 @ 8:33 min/mile

Needless to say, these numbers are exactly what I was after for my first Half Marathon and final long training run of the season.  It wasn’t the pace I could run without a pack, but it was a pace I can hopefully sustain for most of a full marathon.

Unfortunately, the run went from great to terrible at the end.  On my way out of the event, I mentioned to a friend that I felt more tired than I should and was still perplexed about those last 2 miles.  It didn’t take long for it to become clear I had messed up my hydration.  I kept trying to get going after the half, and I just couldn’t.  If it wasn’t a pain in my right shin, it was a cramp in my left calf.  If my legs started feeling better, my shoulders and arms would stiffen and lock up.  Eventually, I was being bent over by cramps under my ribs and just had to call it a day.  Once you’re that far gone, there’s really no good way to come back.

Finally at home, the scale told the complete story.  I had dropped at least 7 pounds during the run.  It’s hard to know exactly how bad it really was because I hydrated heavily during the time I spent trying to run my additional miles.  I weigh myself before and after almost every run to try to gauge if my hydration is keeping up with my sweat rate.  I find 2-4 pounds off of my 170-175 pound frame to be fine, but going much past 5 pounds is a recipe for disaster.

So, lesson learned.  I have to be much more mindful of my hydration and not let anything distract me from drinking on schedule.  In fact, I went out this last Saturday and put in 14 miles just to show myself that it was all hydration and nothing to do with conditioning.  I know that’s more miles than most run the last weekend before a marathon, but I felt like I needed a bit of a confidence boost.

So, with any luck, this Sloth is about ready to run Route 66 and make last year’s DNF a distant memory, and with just a little extra luck, clock a somewhat absurd 2 hour PR.