Race Report: 2014 Turkey and Taturs Trail Race

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I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve grown more and more interested in trail running over the past year. During the Spring and Summer, I was running at Turkey Mountain, Tulsa’s middle of town technical trail heaven, once a week. My racing schedule included bookending the Summer with trail races. In March, I ran the Trail Madness 15k, and in August, I ran the 5 mile Escape from Turkey Mountain.

In reviewing possible races this Fall, I noted the Turkey and Taturs trail race as a possible option to test my fitness shortly before the Route 66 Marathon. It included 10k, 25k, and 50k options. Coming out of the Tulsa Run without any major issues, I couldn’t help myself and signed up for the 25k. The longest I’ve run on trails previously was 15k so 25k was a major step up.  25k also matched my longest run of the season on the roads.

The race started at the YMCA on the North side of Turkey Mountain, one not many people know about. I had been there before but only by the Turkey Mountain trails. I was forced to consult Google for driving directions. It’s on Olympia accessible from Skelly on the Southeast side of the Highway 75 and 44 interchange.

The 7am start left me a bit miffed, but it balanced out a bit with the time change that same morning. Nevertheless, I arrived in the dark and immediately became nervous about whether or not I needed a headlamp.  Fortunately, the sun came up as scheduled (go figure) so only the earlier start to the 50k took place in the dark. 

Turkey and Taturs was a bit smaller race with just 53 participants in the 25k. Knowing the length of the run and having no feel for the speed of other runners, I moved to the middle of the pack for the start.  I still don’t know if starting mid-pack was a mistake or not. I ended up stuck behind competitors running 1-2 min. per mile slower than my goal pace of 9:30.  On the single track trails of Turkey Mountain, it can take a while to find a good place to pass so I spent some time working my way through a handful of runners. 

I once again experienced what has become standard fare in my trail races, closing on another runner going up a hill only to find I can’t hang with them in the flats and downhill. I spent a long time behind one other runner early in the race as a result. And, I hate having someone in front of me blocking my view of the terrain. Turkey Mountain is far too technical to shorten reaction time with poor visibility. Fortunately, the other runner stopped at the first water stop which finally allowed me to move ahead. 

The route the race followed through Turkey Mountain was an interesting one. I’ve run a lot at Turkey Mountain, and I discovered new trails on this race. I honestly can’t imagine a scenario where you could successfully create a more difficult 25k course at Turkey Mountain. I prefer running uphill, but to be honest, it seriously felt like we hardly ever stopped going uphill. When we did stop going uphill, there were very few sections of easy descents. Many were steep and technical, the kind that slow me down and completely burn out my quads. 

The YMCA sits at one of the lowest points of Turkey Mountain so the first 5k of the run gradually took us up to one of the higher points at Turkey Mountain. From there, we ran the section called Power Line which is a combination of steep up and down hill sections. There is a lot of loose rock in this area so the downhill is challenging if you’re concerned about twisting or breaking ankles, which I am.

From there, the race turned into the East side of Turkey Mountain weaving back and forth between Power Line and the main Turkey Mountain Parking Lot. There were sections within this stretch where the running was pretty straightforward, but there was a stretch of 5k around the 10k mark on a tiny trail I had never seen before. It was along this trail that I lost my gel flask from my hydration belt for the 3rd time only I didn’t see it come out this time like I did the previous 2. I ended up backtracking almost 1/4 mile to find the flask. After 3 drops, I might not have minded losing it, but I expected to need its contents before the end of the race. Littering on the trails, intentional or not, isn’t good so I went after it. 3 runners passed me during my backtracking which was rather frustrating but my own fault for deciding the flask might stay put the 3rd time.  Needless to say, I carried the flask the rest of the run. 

It was also in this section of trail where we saw our 3rd major obstacle. I’ve never seen a race where you had to jump over or duck under logs. I’m just glad they showed up in the first half of the race so I didn’t smack into them when doing my trail zombie impersonation later in the race.

After spending way too much time on that tiny little trail, the route turned onto a very commonly run part of the Yellow Trail. The smell of the Stink Plant below on the Arkansas River reinforced that I was finally back in familiar territory.

Seriously, why is that stupid sewage treatment facility there? They’re even expanding it right now which just defies logic. If we’re going to pay to put water in the Arkansas, do we really want a sewage plant right there by all of the recreational activities? I’m sure there are good financial and engineering considerations involved, but from a practical standpoint, it’s ridiculous.

Wait…where was I? Oh, yeah…

So, Yellow Trail. I covered that part of the run at a quicker pace because I know it so well. I was also angry about the backtracking so adrenaline was helping out with my pace. I managed to catch up with a few 50k runners, one of whom was really struggling. She fell badly as I approached, but she refused my assistance so I continued on. Hopefully she started feeling better at the next water stop or stopped because she didn’t seem to be in good shape when I spoke with her. If she didn’t know Turkey Mountain, I can imagine the run taking a much greater toll on her body than she would have expected from running other trails. 

At about 11 miles, we came out of the trails at the Turkey Mountain parking lot and ran down the paved trails toward the Red Trail. I never run the Red Trail as it’s heavily used by cyclists. It was part of the Escape from Turkey Mountain route, but we ran it in the opposite direction. It’s slightly easier running, but you’re rewarded at the end with a trip up Lip Buster, the biggest hill at Turkey Mountain.

Lip Buster was a bit of joke at this point. My lower legs were shot, my breathing was labored, and my hip flexor on the right side was done. I ran maybe half of Lip Buster because it’s so steep it’s actually difficult for me to walk without slipping, but that was the only reason I ran. I stumbled from there into the water stop to begin the final 5k. I made the rather excellent decision at the water stop to request only half of a bottle refill because I could do 5k with half a bottle of water, right? Right? RIGHT????

WRONG! Well, sort of wrong. I finished pathetically. The last 5k was an eternity. Other than the first 1k, I was on trails completely foreign to me. Many of the trails on the West side that descend to the YMCA are pretty easy to run, but they managed to find some new areas that tested my legs’ willingness to do anything much less run a decent pace.

I also started running into 50k runners at this point which I found quite confusing. I was very concerned I had taken a wrong turn until another 25k runner I had passed at mile 3 caught me. I don’t think that guy’s pace changed at all for the entire race. When I passed him, I estimated he was running 10 min pace, and that looked like exactly what he was doing at 13 miles.  It turns out the 50k runners were running the second lap of the course in reverse. That makes sense given the nature of the course, but it required a lot of hopping out of the way when I was so tired I could barely run.

I was also catching some of the 10k runners who started 30 minutes after the 25k race. That would have been fine, but I was so out of it that there was some passing and re-passing due to me having to walk a few times and tie my shoes. And shoes…we’re going to have a talk about that before the next race. How on earth did you manage to pop loose, and why did you wait until 14 miles?

Anyway, I stumbled into the finish at 2:41:04 for 10:23 pace, good for a middle of the pack 17th place finish. 

All I want to know now is when’s the next race? Maybe next time I can try the 50k.

 

Race Report: 2014 Tulsa Run

Tulsa Run 2014 Every so often, the stars align and deliver you a perfect set of circumstances to run your best race. So it was with the 2014 Tulsa Run, albeit I do find myself in the minority.

I do not like the cold, and I’m not talking about snow and ice cold. I’m talking about 58 degrees and overcast cold. In the same way Oklahoma punished me with a subzero marathon at last year’s Route 66, it gifted me a pleasant average of 70 degrees at this year’s Tulsa Run. No shivering, no sore joints, no crazy clothing…just running and sweating.

The race organizers also dramatically changed the route, shifting from a very flat run down Riverside to a route meandering through various parts of the Route 66 Marathon course. That meant hills…and lots of them. Hills tend to boost my confidence as it’s unusual for me not to close on other runners during the uphill sections.

The icing on the cake was the start time: 9:00 am. How often do you get to run a race as late as 9? Not only did it boost the temperatures into my comfortable range, it also allowed me to get a reasonable amount of sleep. I wake up 3 hours before I leave to run, and 5:00 am is so much nicer than 3:00 am. I would still rather run around noon, but I’ll take what I can get. 

Since this was a 15k, a distance I’ve only ever run on the trails, I didn’t know exactly what to expect for pace. Looking at my recent 10k times, I decided 7:30 min/mile would be a great day and set out to stay ahead of the 1:10 pacer. I passed him within the first 2k and tried not to look back. 

Unfortunately, I did have a fueling snafu. My own fluids were giving me reflux, and it’s tough to run with reflux. I decided not to drink anymore than absolutely necessary and just kept churning. Normally I drink about 16 oz. per 10k, but on this day, I found myself at 13k with about 12 oz. remaining. 

I had been struggling during the final 5k, but heading into the last 2k, I got the chills. The lack of fluids caught up with me, and I had to decide between a potential ER trip and a walk break. I walked and consumed as much fluid as I could. It didn’t take long to feel good enough to run some more, and I knew my time would quickly get away from me if I kept walking. 

When a large group caught me, I took off again at their pace. I was suffering, but I was moving. And Mr. Red Hat 1:10 Pacer was nowhere to be seen…or so I thought.  I passed a few runners on the final hills, and turned to run the last 3 blocks down Boston with nothing left. There on my left rounding the corner at a significantly quicker pace was Mr. Red Hat. He was apparently in danger of missing 1:10 which meant I was also in danger. 

I stepped on the gas as best I could, but he pulled away. I crossed the finish line at 1:10:15, a bit bummed out for missing my goal time slightly but still reasonably happy. What hadn’t occurred to me until I saw my results, though, was 1:10:15 was gun time, and Red Hat started far ahead of me. 

I snuck in barely under 1:10 with a 1:09:45 for a 7:32 pace. 

Needless to say, I enjoyed my first Tulsa Run. I’m looking forward to going back next year and very much hoping for just as many hills and even more heat. 

Race Report: 2013 Route 66 Marathon

The marathon gods apparently do not know that the Sloth does not like cold weather. At the 2011 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, this Sloth endured low 40′s, lightning, high wind, rain, and even sleet over the 5 hour and 55 minute slog to the finish line. During last year’s Route 66 Marathon, the temperatures were better (high 40′s), but I still found myself fighting hypothermia when we returned to downtown Tulsa around mile 14. You can imagine my consternation upon seeing the early forecasts for freezing temperatures and snow for November 24, 2013.

Oklahoma did not disappoint. My home state hit us with temperatures in the mid-20′s driving wind chill into the teens, and instead of warming up as the day went on, it actually cooled off. Several times throughout my 4 hour and 22 minute trek, I felt freezing rain on my forehead, but it was light and short-lived. Fortunately, the skies never fully opened up like they did in Southern Oklahoma.

Before we get into the details, here are my stats from the race:

  • Overall:  661st out of 2,034
  • Age Division:  71st out of 181
  • 10k:  52:30
  • 10M: 1:26:45
  • 13.1M:  1:55:42
  • 20M:  3:02:23
  • 26.5 (0.3 mile Center of the Universe Detour):  4:22:37

On the Friday before the race, I dropped by the Route 66 Marathon Expo for packet pickup. With my wife’s help, we drove almost the entire marathon course to get a better idea of what I would encounter on race day. Although very familiar with the 2012 course, the race directors made what I think was a great decision to move the finish line to Downtown Tulsa, specifically Guthrie Green. The move took all participants, half and full marathon alike, under the Route 66 sign for the climb into Downtown, but it also took a few miles of the course away from the nice, flat run down Riverside and replaced it with more time in the hilly neighborhoods around Midtown.

Was I intimidated?  Definitely.

Saturday proved the weather forecasts right on target, and I felt the need to get outside and test clothing options. Could I run with a balaclava?  The answer was not only a resounding yes, but in that 2 mile shakeout run, I realized I had no chance to finish without it.  I also discovered that 2 layers on my upper body were not enough.  The final outfit included:

If you struggle with cold weather like me, it’s probably hard to find good references on what to wear in freezing temperatures for a marathon.  I was concerned this concoction might overheat me, but it was never even close.  I was comfortable for many of the first 12-14 miles, but on the back side of the course, the cold got to me.

If I could make one change to this outfit, it would be including an extra pair of gloves.  My hands were so numb around 3 hours out that I couldn’t tell they were soaked with sweat.  At the end of the race, they were discolored, and I’ve experienced mild numbness and tingling in the fingertips since the race.  If I had stashed an extra pair of gloves in my pack, I think I would have shaved 5-10 minutes off of my finish time not having to worry about keeping them warm.

At the start of the race on Sunday, I was lined up in Corral C near the 11 minute/mile sign.  Needless to say, that wasn’t really where I wanted to start, but the Corral seeding algorithm must have changed from 2012.  They seemed to focus more on my previous marathon finish time than my projected finish time.  As a result, I had to pass everyone ahead of me in Corral C plus the majority of the runners in Corral B.

I knew it would be a challenge, but I never anticipated just how clogged the roads in front of me would be. With my adrenaline far too high at the start, I logged my first mile at 7’59″. Corral C was a distant memory just a few minutes into the race, but that also meant I saw the mass of runners from Corral B before the end of the first mile.  For the next 8 miles, I ran far too much side-to-side, taking way too many outside corners.  My GPS reflected the effort logging a little over 1/2 mile long for the race. Even so, I got through it with the 8’45″/mile pace I wanted, but that kind of running early in the race takes its toll.

With my headphones on, music cranked, and GPS calling out 1/2 miles, I stayed on top of my hydration strategy trying hard not to crash and burn due to dehydration.  In the cold weather, dehydration is much more insidious because the last thing you want to do is consume cold fluids, but dehydration makes hypothermia all the more likely so you have to stick with it.  The only hydration mistake I made was using too much of my EFS drink and not enough water and coconut water.  With frozen hands, it was tough to get the bottles out of the pack and back in so I used the reservoir tube a bit too much.

The race was progressing as well as I could have expected, and I ran continuously through mile 18. Near the end of 18, though, my stomach woke up.  It was the primary culprit in my Okc 2011 death march, and I was immediately concerned it might not only cost me time but possibly even cost me the finish. Months of testing and planning seemed to be unraveling just 7 miles from the finish.

After a fairly long walk and skipping some fluid intake, I did some test running.  My surgically repaired ankle had seized up and was screaming, but my stomach had settled down.  I started using a bit more water as I was concerned going too heavy on electrolytes might have been bothering my system.  I was able to get back to 9’29″ pace through mile 20 for most of the run through the University of Tulsa.

That’s when the impact of the cold really settled in. I had been alternating my face mask on and off of my mouth and nose to stay warm. Without it, I was far too cold, but my lungs were too tired to keep pulling air through it.  Like I said above, the sweat had soaked my gloves, and my hands were not only cold but painfully so.  I walked a lot.  I walked to keep my hands in my pockets, in fists, against my legs, and I walked to let my lungs rest.

The feeling of my lungs was not unlike that first time you get out and run a 5k after taking a couple of months off. The muscles may be willing, but the lungs just won’t do their job. That’s how I felt.  I had legs ready to run 9’00″ pace, but my lungs couldn’t even handle a brisk walk.  So I would walk for a while, usually up hills, and then try to get started running downhill and hold on as long as I could before the next walk.

I never fully recovered, and 4 hours slipped through my fingers. As soon as it did, my motivation dropped significantly. The goal at that point was just to get to the finish line healthy and under 4 hours 30 minutes.

There were a lot of long walks and short runs, and I was helped a lot by a friend of mine running by at mile 23. I tried to stay with him but only made it a little over half a mile before my lungs told me to stop.  When I got to the 25 mile sign, though, I felt a bit of adrenaline hit my system, and I took off again.  All I had to do was run a 10 minute mile, and I would finish well under 4:30.

“And look, there’s the Center of the Universe Detour.  Why don’t I get my my extra medal?  I’ve still got time.”

Marathon brain at its best.  Last year, the Detour was partially flat, but this year it was up, down, up, down with a nice little curb hop.  To add to the difficulty level, I decided to run directly toward a volunteer, realize my error, and jump to the left at the last second. Adrenaline gone…or at least so I thought.

I had to walk quite a bit more when I turned North on Denver as we went under the railroad bridge and back up another short but steep hill.  I also walked a bit in the flats before making the turn toward the finish line.  Once I saw the line, though, I realized I still had my legs even if I didn’t have my lungs.  Sometimes in the pool, you can reach for a few extra strokes without a breath when you know the finish is right there.  And that’s exactly what I did…I held my breath and sprinted to the finish.  This wasn’t an 8’00″ mile.  It was a 100 yard dash.  I felt like I flew past the 10’00″ milers between me and relief.

Maybe I left too much time out on the course.  Maybe I could have slowed my pace early and spared my lungs enough to give me more gas in the final 10k. Maybe slowing my pace on Riverside to spare my legs was a mistake.  Maybe I could have stayed with my friend at mile 23 and ignored my lungs a little longer.

There are a lot of questions, but you know what? If you take away the Detour, I ran the 2013 Route 66 Marathon at approximately 4 hours and 13 minutes.  That’s after a 5:55 two years ago on an easier Oklahoma City course and a DNF last year on nearly the same course.  This was a success.  It’s a success that tells me I can run a sub-4 marathon and possibly work my way down into the mid 3′s before age catches up to me.  The only question is…do I want it enough to go do it?

Note:  The 4:33:20 time in the finish line photo is Corral A gun time, not my chip time.

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.

Taking My Kicks Back to Route 66

Jason

It was about one year ago that I began contemplating running the 2012 Route 66 Marathon. During the previous Summer, I had averaged 2-3 5k training runs per month with some cycling thrown in here and there.  Needless to say, starting late in September left me very much behind the 8 ball trying to prepare for a mid-November marathon.

I felt like I approached the starting line in 2012 prepared to run a solid half marathon. If I had run the half, I would be staring at a finisher’s medal with a 20-30 minute PR over OKC 2011.  Unfortunately, I was there to run the full marathon, and it would have taken a perfect day for that to happen. It didn’t, and I eventually DNF’d due to my foot injury and other health concerns.

My foot is still a challenge, and those “other health concerns” are still there, but I’m heading back to the Route 66 Marathon anyway. Though I’m not as deep into a training program as I should be, I feel like I have a much more solid base than last year.

As for the plan to get to marathon shape:

  • Fuel: Due to food intolerances, I came up with the unusual combination of Zico Coconut Water, a homemade electrolyte mix, Water, Kelp (seriously), and Pirate’s Booty (because why not) for the 2012 race. For the past month, I have experimented with different combinations of fuel to try to find a way to make it past the 2 hour mark in better shape. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m feeling more confident with each run and will detail some of my experiments here on the STS blog.
  • Fuel Transport:  For my last two marathons, I’ve carried all of my fuel in an Ultimate Direction Diablo hydration pack.  This worked well, but had two drawbacks.  1. I’m limited to 2 types of fluid.  2. The majority of the weight of the 12 pound pack is on my back.  Fortunately, Ultimate Direction has released an incredible new pack that solves both problems.  I’ll post a review to the blog sometime soon.
  • Hills: Largely due to construction, I spent most of 2012 training near the Arkansas River where it’s very flat, but Route 66 had a lot of elevation changes. I believe my foot was initially injured on one of the early, long downhill stretches near Brookside.  As a result, I’m taking all of my 5k and 10k training runs to an area of the trails with more hills. I’m also planning to spend some time at Turkey Mountain to give my feet a break from the pavement but still get in some additional hill work.
  • 18-20 Mile Long Runs Aren’t Enough:  I know the experts say a couple of 20 mile runs are sufficient, but due to some of my unique health obstacles, I disagree. I’m planning to go beyond marathon distance at least once during training.
  • Cross Training: Instead of foregoing all other activities during marathon training like last year, my strength training and cycling will continue, and if a workout must be sacrificed, it will be a mid-week run.
  • Shoes:  It’s hard not to look at your shoes if you have a serious foot injury. I’m going to lay most of the blame on insufficient training, but I’m going to look into a shoe with slightly more structure than the Newton Gravity I’ve run with for the last year.
  • More Races:  I’ve only run 3 races in the 3 years I’ve been running. 2 were marathons, and 1 was a 5K just a few weeks ago. A few dress rehearsals with positive outcomes will go a long way toward boosting my confidence at the next marathon.

Last, but certainly not least, the most important part of my training program this year is to begin using the Subdue the Sloth GPS training app.  No, it doesn’t quite exist yet, but it’s getting very close.  With a couple more weekends of work, I should be able to start alpha testing on my runs.  With any luck, I’ll be ready for a marathon by mid-November, and STS GPS will be ready for your training runs around the same time.