Race Report: 2015 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon

OKCMarathon2015Medal

My last blog post was astonishingly prophetic. Looking over it today, I now wish I had reread it the morning of the 2015 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. If I had, maybe I would have made some better decisions on the course. I closed the post with this: “I hope we win.”  We did win….and we lost.

Although not nearly as severe as my first Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, the Oklahoma weather came out to play. The temperature swing from Saturday evening to Sunday morning was 20-30 degrees. The sun hid behind overcast skies, and the wind came up into the teens with gusts into the 20’s and 30’s. Having dressed for sun and less wind, I found myself cold through most of the run, bordering on hypothermia for the mile around Lake Hefner.

But being cold was the least of my problems. The wind was the variable that I think truly unraveled my performance.

If you aren’t familiar with the Oklahoma City Marathon course, it typically starts in front of the Oklahoma City Memorial in downtown Oklahoma City and heads South. There is a quick turn to the East into Bricktown, and then a turn North toward the State Capitol area. At that point, the race continues North toward Lake Hefner with various turns in and out of neighborhoods on its way there.  Once you arrive at Lake Hefner, you turn around and head back to downtown along a slightly different route.

My goal was to run 3:30, and I was hoping to stay near the 3:30 pace group for most of the race, but there was a problem I didn’t discover until I arrived at the starting line. The 3:30 pace group was in Corral A, and I was in Corral B. The 3:45 pace group was the fastest in Corral B. Looking back, I should have tucked into 3:45, but I was focused on 3:30 so I set out at 7:45 pace hoping to catch up with the 3:30 group.

7:45 pace is not too fast for me. I ran my Aquarium Run Half Marathon 2 weeks ago at 7:36 pace, and that was with 3 miles already on my legs and a final mile around 7:10. The problem is that I was adding a stiff headwind and much more significant elevation changes along with an injury. 7:45 was too fast given the conditions.

In the first 2 miles, the pain coming off of my achilles was severe. It was more severe than last year when I ran a 20 mile training run with my left achilles similarly injured. When I saw the 5K turnoff sign, I seriously considered calling it a day. Every push off on my right foot felt like someone was stabbing a knife into my leg, and I couldn’t imagine running the entire marathon that way. All I kept thinking, though, was that the rest of my body could do 3:30 if I could just endure the pain.

Even with the conditions against me, I finally caught sight of the 3:30 pace group around mile 8. I might not have noticed them, but I saw a teenager from the Aquarium Run who I knew was planning to run for 3:30 as well. He had stopped at a water stop and was being called back up into the group by the pacer. They were literally only a block ahead of me, and the kid sprinted past me to catch back up. The problem was I didn’t want to sprint because of the pain it would cause, and I never could quite close the gap to get into their group.

The 3:30 pace group was huge. When I saw them, all I could think about was tucking in behind the wall of runners to stay out of the wind. Maybe I should have sprinted to catch them. It might have been better than trying to close the gap slowly as I had been. I doubt I could have stayed with them all the way to the end anyway, but the wind break might have gotten me further into the race before I blew up. Unfortunately, they got away, and I knew at that point I was in serious trouble.

From that point forward, I was just trying to reel off 8 minute miles on my watch. Every mile I could hold 8 was a victory, but by mile 11, I began slipping. 8:15, 8:16, 8:22, 8:35, 9:00.

The wheels were coming off, and I knew I was going to have to walk a lot to get to the finish. My first walk by Hefner was mainly to switch my Salomon Hydro Park Handsets. The arm where I was carrying my gel was extremely sore, and I was out of water on the other arm so I thought switching for a while would help.

It was at this point that I started having a problem I’ve experienced at every marathon I’ve attempted to run to date. I couldn’t breathe well. It’s a strange problem, one I don’t fully understand yet. Most people that talk about hitting the wall seem to be referring to muscle fatigue, but honestly, I could have kept my muscles going if I could get enough air. I walked because I felt like I couldn’t get a good breath.

In my training during the past year, I thought I had solved the breathing problem. I started adding caffeine to my gel, and the breathing problem seemed to go away. It’s obviously something more complicated, possibly a confluence of factors. I do have a touch of asthma (not medicated) and the usual allergies so maybe the cold, windy day set off a chain reaction.  It’s hard to control the weather, though, so I need to figure out a way to work through the problem, and maybe that just means a higher volume of training in less than ideal conditions.

To add to the fun, whatever compensations I was making to deal with the pain of my achilles started causing serious problems in other parts of my body. To reduce the pain in my right leg, I was staying on the left side of the road where the camber made my right leg feel better. Eventually, that led my left calf to start cramping. As a result, I endured more pain in my right leg and ran near the middle of the road as much as I could.

My left calf seemed to do alright from then on, but my left hamstring flared up around mile 20 forcing more walking.

My arms even locked up on me due to the weight of my handhelds. The weight of my handhelds was one major concern I had going into the race, and it was worse than I expected. It’s hard to run without arms, and cramping forearms made the arm swing a challenge.

Somewhere around mile 22, my right hamstring cramped so severely that I didn’t think finishing was even going to be an option. I could feel with my hand that it was twisted up horribly, and I couldn’t imagine how it was going to let me run again. I saw another runner at the time dealing with calf cramps, and I could see his calf dancing in circles just above his compression socks. Weren’t we quite the pair?

I don’t know how or why, but the cramp worked itself out. I jumped back to the left side of the road to keep from stretching the right hamstring anymore than necessary and completed the marathon as best I could.

My official finish time was 3:55:05, a 27 minute PR over my last marathon. By any rational measure, that is a huge success, but keep in mind that I knew from a training run that I was already capable of a sub-4 hour marathon. This was just confirmation in the most difficult, painful way possible.

Within 24 hours of the marathon, my left leg looked like this:

OKCMarathon2015AchillesInjury

I can barely move my ankle at all and have kept myself in a walking boot and compression anytime I am up and around. It’s very slowly improving, but I’ve probably knocked myself out of running for a few weeks.

I also have some bad swelling and bruising on the other side of my leg near the bottom of my titanium fibula plate. There were some strange pains near the plate during the marathon so I’m hoping nothing major has gone wrong. Anytime strange pains show up in my fibula, I worry about fractures around the plate. Some people have to get rid of their hardware eventually due to complications, but mine has saved my ankle so many times that I would really like to keep it if possible. Hopefully these are all just symptoms of the damaged achilles and nothing more.

The rest of my body, however, was basically fine within a few hours. It’s frustrating, too, because feeling basically fine within 24 hours after a marathon makes me wonder if I didn’t push hard enough. In fact, I felt good enough Monday night to make it out to my Masters swim workout. I had to be extremely careful due to my achilles injury, but I still got in 1600 yards of freestyle swimming.

Moving forward, the next goal is to participate in a Half Ironman in the late Summer or early Fall. Then I’ll turn my attention back to the marathon and try to knock another 30 minutes off of my PR.

Official Results:

  • Overall:  438th out of 2,488
  • Age Division:  36th out of 201
  • 10K:  48:53
  • 15K: 1:13:27
  • 13.1M:  1:44:33
  • 27K:  2:17:08
  • 32K: 2:49:24
  • 26.2:  3:55:05
  • 8:58 mile pace

Believe it or not, I made the news. Several firefighters walk the half marathon with their equipment every year and ran across a half marathon runner struggling a couple of miles from the finish line. They helped her in from there. It was nice finding the story after the fact because it was a confusing scene for the marathoners around me while we were sprinting for the finish.