Tips for Running in the Summer Heat

Tulsa Triathlon 2015 Run

Doing My Impression of Burnt Toast

Yesterday I participated in my first triathlon, a 50 mile race where I crashed and burned in the run. In fact most of the field crashed and burned in the run. It was so hot at Lake Heyburn that the run became more of a survival exercise than a race. The heat index was well over 100, and the course offered absolutely no shade for relief.

Through the 9 mile run, I averaged 13 minute per mile pace consisting of a lot of walking and very little running. My heart was racing when I tried to run, and when it wasn’t racing, I was feeling a strange pain in my flanks that had me somewhat concerned about my kidneys.  Granted, that might have been from the 2000 meters of swimming and 40 hilly miles of cycling causing some muscle soreness, but when it’s that hot outside, I try to err on the side of caution.

At this point, you may be wondering why I would write an article about running in the heat. While I may not have my Hot Weather Running degree from Vermtech, I do have a lot of experience running in hot weather. During the Summer, I typically spend at least 2 days a week running midday in the Oklahoma heat. I routinely run sub-25 minute 5K’s in triple-digit weather, and I’ve been known to throw in 6.2 and 13.1 now and again. With what I learned yesterday, hopefully I can provide some insight beyond just hydrate and be careful.

Hydrate and Be Careful

Whaaaat? I said I would provide insight beyond hydrate and be careful, but I can’t just ignore the basics. If I failed to state the obvious, somebody might go out on a 20 miler without a single sip of water and then blame me when they wound up dead on the side of a trail. So since we’re here, let’s look at hydration and caution in depth.

Before you know how much and what to drink, you need to have a better idea of your sweat rate. While one person may only lose a few ounces in an hour of running, another person might drop a 2 liter with enough salt to supply the local Chinese restaurant for a few weeks. The only way I know to measure your sweat rate is to weigh yourself before and after exercise taking into account any hydration or elimination.

So far this Summer, my sweat rate has been absurd. Through a 30 minute run last week in a 107 degree heat index, I lost 3 pounds taking into account the 16 ounces of fluid I added back through hydration. That’s 6 pounds per hour if I continue at the same rate. In previous years, my sweat rate has been closer to 4 pounds per hour.

Since 1/2 a liter of fluid is around 1 lb, that means I need to drink around 3 liters/hour to replace all of the lost fluid. Needless to say, that’s absurd. My body couldn’t hope to process that much fluid in that short a time. And, that’s alright. Ending your run in a slight fluid deficit (3-4% body weight) is not going to affect your health or performance negatively. The goal is to avoid the level of dehydration that leads to fatigue, dizziness, and potentially other, more severe symptoms.

For a 1 hour run, a single, handheld 1/2 liter bottle would probably suffice. For 2 hours, I probably need 2 bottles. For 3 or more, I have to look at rehydrating at a much higher rate to avoid losing too much fluid.

But YOUR numbers will be different. You need to keep track of your fluid losses, come up with your own numbers, experiment, tweak, and go back out and try again. And when you’re out there running, look for these warning signs of a potential problem:

  • Chills: The first symptom I experience when body temperature and/or hydration have gone off the rails are chills.
  • Pit Stops: I don’t see this anywhere online, but it definitely happens to me. I almost never stop during a race, but when it’s hot and I get behind on fluids, I sometimes have to stop.
  • Swollen Extremities: Did your wedding ring suddenly get really tight? Maybe you’re having trouble making a fist? If it’s hot, chances are you’re dehydrated, but this can also be a sign of hyponatremia so you have to think clearly before you take action. Hyponatremia is deadly so you have to make the right decision in this situation or get medical help.
  • Dizziness: You’re too far gone. Stop running, cool off, and hydrate. Or, if you’re like that guy at my last triathlon, just keep moving forward and miraculously survive. Just don’t blame me if you take that route and end up dead.
  • Cramping: It’s tough to come back from cramping, but as long as you’re not dizzy and not vomiting, you can try to work your way through the cramps.
  • Fainting, Vomiting: Stop and get help.

Any Summer run you finish without a stop in the ER is a win. Check your ego at the door and be careful out there.

Adapt and Conquer

Like any other challenge in running, your body must have time to acclimate to the heat. It’s like running at higher altitude. Your body just needs some time to adapt to the new stress.

The easiest approach is to make sure you’re maintaining your running volume through the Spring warm-up. If it’s gradual, you may be able to adapt without any particularly difficult runs, but if it’s not gradual or you miss some training during the late Spring and early Summer, it may be more challenging.

This year, I’ve struggled to adapt after a cold, soggy May followed by a month off for vacation. When I resumed running in July, heat indexes were North of 100 degrees fahrenheit. My training pace fell from a high-7 average to high-8’s because of being forced to walk. After a month of more consistent training, I’m finally starting to feel better heat tolerance during midday runs.

Protect Your Skin

Unlike my training runs, my triathlon run took place after I had already been out in the sun for 3 hours. Even though I had used sunscreen, the trisuit I wore left part of my back, shoulders, and upper arms exposed. It also exposed more of my legs than normal. The result was a moderate sunburn in all of those areas.

It’s hard to find studies relating sunburn to endurance exercise, but I did manage to find one, Human Thermoregulatory Responses During Heat Exposure After Artificially Induced Sunburn. Unfortunately, the structure of the study did not mimic the kind of situation I experienced so it’s hard to draw too many conclusions, but one issue the study does demonstrate fairly conclusively is that you will produce less sweat from skin that is sunburned. It also demonstrates a higher rate of perceived exertion (RPE), but RPE is obviously completely subjective. I can’t imagine feeling better with a sunburn than without.

My guess is that there is more to sunburn than just sweat rate and RPE, but even if we just look at sweat rate, it’s clearly important to protect your skin. At extreme levels of heat, even a minor adjustment in cooling capacity can make a huge difference. Whether you prefer sunscreen or covering up with clothing, take the appropriate steps not to sunburn.

Delay the Inevitable

There are a variety of effective tactics to delay your body’s need to cope with the heat. It could be something simple like running with a non-insulated handheld filled with ice water. Even in the worst heat, your hand will still get too cold to hold the bottle for more than a few minutes at a time. Eventually, the ice will melt, and the water will warm up, but your body will have benefited from blood being circulated through the hand carrying the bottle.

A similar tactic I’ve used for long runs is filling my hydration pack bladder with ice water. How long it lasts will vary from pack to pack and bladder to bladder, but there’s a good chance you will get 45-60 minutes of cooling over your entire back. I’ve also heard of runners using ice gloves or various other clothing items dipped in ice water and/or filled with ice. If someone hasn’t invented a hat  with a pocket for ice on the back of your neck, then there’s your billion dollar product idea for the day.

At the triathlon, the water stops were offering towels dipped in ice water. On my first lap, I didn’t take one, and I paid dearly for it. Had I taken that towel, I might have been able to run most of the first 5K loop. Instead, I found myself less than a half mile into the first 5K struggling with heat exhaustion. Once you’re in that kind of deficit, it’s hard to get it back, especially on a course with neither shade nor wind. During the 2nd lap, I found a towel and started using it to keep cold water on my neck. The water stops also started giving us cold bottles of water to carry instead of just handing off cups. The net result was a drastic improvement in my heat stress to the point that I ran more in the last lap than I did in the first lap.

Running in heat is hard. Delay the full impact of the heat on your body as long as possible with whatever combination of cooling approaches is suitable for your race or training run.

Dress for Success

When running in the heat, you really have two choices: (1) Cover up (2) Strip down.

If the sun is out with little chance of shade accompanied by high humidity, covering up may be your best option. It’s the approach you see taken by people who work in the heat across the globe, and it’s hard to imagine they’re wrong. The clothing will protect you from sunburn and keep your temperature down by keeping the sun off of your skin. The obvious negative is that clothing will reduce the amount of cooling through sweating and blocks any wind or breeze.

On the subject of clothing, it’s probably good to discuss color. In my own experience, lighter colors will help in extreme heat, but there is considerable debate on the topic. My recommendation is to try both light and dark colors and see which feels better to you. If there’s no difference as shown in some studies, go with what you think looks best. That said, a Google Images search for Badwater Ultramarathon gives a lot of white clothing.  White might be good…

If there is any wind on the course or the humidity isn’t too high, stripping down may be a viable option. The more skin you can expose, the faster your body will cool through evaporating perspiration. That said, please don’t get nekkid and tell the cops I told you it was a good idea. You still need to keep all of the relevant bits appropriately contained.

 

 

 

 

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.

The Highs and Lows of Marathon Preparation

 

Feet Up, Recovery for Marathon SundayIt’s Wednesday before Marathon Sunday. I’m sitting in a chair with my feet up instead of standing at my desk because of shin splints and achilles tendinitis in my right leg. The shin splints are new to me as a runner, but I’ve experienced shin splints several times in my life due to basketball and tennis. I worked through achilles tendinitis in my left leg late last year. It led to a DNS at the 2014 Route 66 Marathon.

It hasn’t even been 2 weeks since the Oklahoma Aquarium Run, arguably the best I’ve ever run in any race. Instead of being the runner blowing up in the last few miles, I was catching runners and accelerating through the final mile. After running just under 1:40 for the Half Marathon, a sub-4 hour Full Marathon was a foregone conclusion. The only question was whether I should aim for 3:45 or 3:30. If the weather was in my favor, 3:30 was the likely answer. Maybe adrenaline and some wind at my back would push me below 3:30. If it was too hot or windy, maybe I would adjust my goals and look to 3:45.

3 weeks ago, I ran a 20 miler with my full hydration pack (extra weight) and a plan to run 9 minute miles to test my endurance without hurting myself. It was the first time a run of that length felt reasonable after 3 weeks battling Influenza B. Other than a minor foot problem due to tying one of my shoes too tight, it went perfectly. I ran an 8:30 mile 20 to finish up in about 2:55. That would have given me 65 minutes to beat 4 hours, and given the way I felt, 65 minutes was more than enough. I couldn’t have run a 45 minute 10K at that point, but I certainly could have gotten in under 65 minutes. A sub-4 hour Full Marathon was a foregone conclusion.

Sub-4 hours is no longer a foregone conclusion. I’m optimistic I might be able to walk without pain by Sunday, but I know from past experience that my achilles will flare up early in the race and continue to hurt throughout even if the pain abates over the next 4 days. And, there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. I will rest, roll, stretch, and strengthen, but a few days won’t be enough. There will be pain. The question is whether my calf will continue to function properly. If it will, I can endure the pain.

Why not go ahead and attempt 3:30? Sub-4 in and of itself might lead to a death march due to injury. The death march might be shorter if I go ahead and attempt 3:30.

It will take a remarkable injury to force a DNF out of me for this one. Looking back at 2012’s Route 66 DNF, I still regret stopping. I don’t want to stop again.

Years ago when my right ankle was in a cast, I used to hop around the house on one foot because it was quicker than crutches. If my achilles goes really bad, can I hop my way to the finish line?

And so it goes with marathon training and racing in my experience. I have had some great success in this training cycle, but I’ve also had injuries, illnesses, and a couple of unexpectedly tough races.

Now the optimistic and pessimistic sides of my personality will do battle until the gun goes off at 6:30 am Sunday morning. In that moment, there will be peace, but somewhere out on the marathon course the pain will begin again. Maybe it will be near Lake Hefner like my 2011 OKC debacle. Maybe it will be somewhere in the final stretch on Classen. Regardless, the battle will begin again. I hope we win.

 

 

 

 

Race Report: 2015 Oklahoma Aquarium Run

OklahomaAquariumRun2015 1

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.

SalomonParkHydraHandset 1

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.

OklahomaAquariumRun2015 2

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: 2015 Post Oak Challenge

The Post Oak Challenge consists of 2 days of trail races at the Post Oak Lodge in Tulsa, Oklahoma. On each day, 3 races take place simultaneously for a total of 6 races for the weekend. On Saturday this year, Post Oak went metric with 10K, 25K, and 50K distances. On Sunday, they ran the slightly less metric Marathon, Half Marathon, and Quarter Marathon. What makes Post Oak a bit unique in my experience is that they allow runners to “double” by running races on both days. Beyond your performance in any one specific race, they also rank all Doublers by their cumulative time.

Coming into 2015, I was still on the fence about the health of my achilles and only planning to run the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon in late April. Near the end of January, though, I had some particularly good training runs culminating with a 1:42 half marathon training run. I was not trying to PR yet there I was at the end of 13.1 with a 10 minute PR for the distance. And what do you do when training goes well? You sign up for too many races.  The day after my training run, I decided to Double at Post Oak with the 25K and 1/4 Marathon.

Post Oak Challenge 2015 Starting Line

I’ve already discussed the 25K a bit on the blog, but let’s get into some more specifics and then talk about the 1/4 Marathon and what it took to get myself ready after my physical challenges during the 25K.

If you just want a quick summary of my thoughts on the Post Oak Challenge, feel free to jump to the end.

Post Oak Challenge 25K

Do I look determined in this picture?

No? That’s strange because that’s my determined face. Clearly my face isn’t psychic. If it was, it would have been more fear than determination. They weren’t kidding when they said Post Oak was hard. Humbled Turkey Mountain runner checking in.

As I always say, I like running in the heat, but I think I finally found some heat that didn’t go my way. The forecast Friday night before the Saturday morning 25K called for mid to upper 30’s at the start of the race.  The highs were supposed to get into the mid-40’s by the time I expected to finish the race. Instead of 40’s, the temperature made it well into the 50’s with the sun out for the duration of the race.

I dressed for the colder temperatures which meant I was running pretty hot by about 30 minutes into the race. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why I was so fatigued, but looking back, I think it had a lot to do with the heat and a failure on my part to realize I needed to adjust my hydration and fuel to accommodate it. If I had it to do over again, I would have stopped and taken off my long sleeve compression undershirt to keep my temperature down.

Unfortunately, there was not quite enough nice weather between Wednesday’s sleet and snow and Saturday’s race to dry the entire course. The weekend weather was great, but the melting snow left a lot of mud on the course. After spending the day navigating a lot of mud, I think I’ve decided I prefer running in the snow. Mud just knocks the stuffing out of you.

All of the races started in front of the lodge every 30 minutes starting at 8:00 am. That meant the 25K gun went off at 8:30 AM. After a brief sprint on the pavement, the race turned onto the trails.

My memory of the course is a little foggy, but what stood out to me from the first few miles was the technicality. Rocks were constant anytime there was single track trail. Some of the rocks even liked to hide under the grass. I witnessed ankles twist in front of me in ways that my ankles just don’t twist without injury, and it was almost always a sneaky rock hiding out in the grass.

It also seemed like we never got more than 4 or 5 strides before having to turn a corner. Those corners also led to confusion as trail markers for multiple paths could be seen and inadvertently followed because the trails are not quite as well defined as public trails like Turkey Mountain. I followed two runners the wrong direction in the first 2 miles, and then somewhere around mile 4, a large group of us thought we were following a volunteer’s instructions but missed turning into the woods. That mistake only cost us about 1/2 a kilometer. One other location near an aid station on a tight loop also caused further confusion, but I believe by around mile 7, things calmed down for me and those around me.

That wasn’t the case for everybody, though. You can see from the map that there are several places in the first half of the course where you could easily cut the course accidentally. Most of the locations had very clear markings and often a volunteer directing traffic, but some runners still managed to get confused.

Post Oak Challenge 10K-25K-50K Map

There was mass confusion through the out and back section. I didn’t get caught up in the mess, but I saw several runners crossing caution tape. Most appeared to be aware they made a mistake and were trying to get back on course. As I emerged from the out and back, the man in charge of the course was headed out to that section presumably to clear up some of the confusion. Whatever he and other volunteers did then and after the races to clear up the course markings must have worked because I didn’t see any of those issues on Sunday. I heard there were still some issues, but the 1/4 Marathon seemed fine, and the marathoners I chatted with weren’t complaining.

I basically ran my goal pace through those sections of the course. I didn’t feel good, but I was essentially on track. The problem was that the cumulative fatigue of carrying extra weight (ankle braces and hydration pack), turning tons of corners, dealing with technical trails, and sliding through the mud took their toll. Around 9-10 miles, my wheels started coming off. My splits went from mid-9 pace to 11’s due to all of the walking I had to do.

One interesting feature on this back half of the course was the zipliners flying around overhead. The volunteers told us to look up, and I heard encouragement coming down. Given where I was physically and mentally, though, I kept my head down and tried to focus. Little did I know I had friends from out of town flying around above me. I wouldn’t have recognized them given they were way up there, but it was an interesting coincidence to learn about after the fact.

How many races can you run that have people flying around overhead? There was also a plane, but I guess if you live somewhere like Dallas, that happens all the time.

The back half of the 25K brings you through Holme’s Peak and the Hill from Hell. Holme’s Peak is a straight but steep incline with reasonably good footing. It was the one I was looking the most forward to running after running it on the training day, but I was worn out when I arrived and didn’t have any energy saved up. After walking about 1/3rd of it behind several other runners, I finally took off.

With the race photographer perched at the crest of the hill, I took some jabs from my fellow runners for mugging for the camera, but like I said, I really just wanted to run the hill. To add to the comedy, I stumbled on a rock near the top, and the photographer managed to catch not only my only smiling race photo ever but also a lovely photo of what I really felt like after the trip.

Holme’s Peak is the highlight of the Post Oak Lodge trails. It’s up above the tree line and allows you to see the entire downtown Tulsa skyline. If I were a good blogger, I would have a picture, but as you can see there is no picture.

Unfortunately, my little outburst on Holme’s took the rest of the wind out of my sails. The cramps got much worse on the Hill from Hell which, unlike the straight climb of Holme’s, was more of a winding climb with a much shorter straight section. Knowing that I had only half a kilometer left, and my kids waiting for me at the finish line, I decided to try to run it the rest of the way in. I made it about 1/4 of a kilometer before my calf locked up. It locked up 2 more times before I finally crossed the finish line.

Post Oak Challenge 2015 25K Finish

After running a 16K at 9:12 in horrible conditions just a week earlier, to say I was disappointed in my performance would be an understatement. I ran 10:46 pace for a time of 2 hours and 47 minutes. Cramping calves aside, the only goal I achieved was coming home without any new injuries.

25K Results:

  • Overall 31st Place
  • Age Group 4th Place
  • 10:46 Pace

Recovering for the 1/4 Marathon

I’ve done my fair share of cumulative training. It was only a few weeks ago that I did a 6 mile run, upper body strength training for 45 minutes, and then swam for 90 minutes on a Monday following a long run weekend. I felt a lot better that Monday than I did last Saturday following the 25K. I might as well have run a road marathon the way I was feeling.

My calves had cramped. I was dehydrated. The scale had me down 3 pounds after I had already downed 24 ounces of soda post-race with 3 liters of water during the race. My left hamstring was on fire, and within a few hours of finishing, I started feeling a twinge of either bursitis or patellar tendonitis in my right knee.

My pre-race diet is designed to minimize potential GI distress and leaves a lot to be desired for endurance racing itself much less recovery. So far, though, my choices are to eat a combination of foods it’s taken me a few years to discover or take a chance of having to run porta-potty intervals. I’ve said too much, haven’t I? Moving on…

My pre-race diet is heavy on lean protein and light on carbohydrates and fats. There was no way I could stick to it exclusively and recover for more running on Sunday.

The first food I added was Ruffles. I realize that sounds terrible, but ruffles are oil, salt, and potatoes. They certainly aren’t an ideal food but they gave me some extra carbs and a bit of fat without much GI danger.

For quality fat,  I turned to coconut oil and green tea. That combination was an idea I derived from Bulletproof Coffee a couple of years ago. I can’t even stand the smell of coffee, but I can tolerate most forms of hot tea. Yes the combination sounds weird, but it tastes pretty good.

Other than that, I hydrated with a combination of soda (yeah, yeah, whatever), water, and coconut water. I also made sure I ate some Energy Bits and took a multivitamin to cover all of the bases.

Beyond nutritional, I first used my Addaday Roller, focusing on my cramped calves. After that, I wore 110% Clutch Tights for about an hour, 30 minutes of which included ice packs in all of the ice pockets. I also did minimal active stretching but mainly laid around the house, caught up with my Chinese studies, and watched some television.

My only concern before going to bed was that I was sore below my right knee. I’m not sure if it was/is runner’s knee or bursitis, but I was concerned it might flare during the 1/4 marathon.

1/4 Marathon

What the hell did I get myself into? I was up at 4:00 am for the second time in as many days only this time it wasn’t actually 4:00 am. My body thought it was 3:00 am due to Daylight Savings Time. Not only am I up ridiculously early, but I can barely walk without a severe limp. My left hamstring has locked up on me, and my right knee is none too happy. Seeing as I was already awake, though, I figured I should just go run the race. Or walk…there’s nothing wrong with walking. So off to the Post Oak Lodge I went for Day #2.

When we lined up, I saw Philip from Tulsa Runner head to the front. That meant the best any of the rest of us could do was 2nd. Philip ended up winning by almost 3 minutes with a time that I would struggle to run on pavement downhill with a 40 mile per hour wind at my back. That might have been an exaggeration, but for him to go out there and run sub-7 minute pace on that terrain was amazing.  Hats off to 2nd and 3rd place as well, both of whom came in under 7:30 pace.

For my part, I got it in my head that I could hang with a couple of runners I met during a training run. During the training run, I could tell they were strong runners, but I didn’t think they would be able to leave me behind. Of course, that day I was fresh and pre-injury whereas on Sunday, I was a shell of myself and tentative on anything remotely technical. Even so, I had it in my head I could stay with them so I tried.

Looking back at my splits, I ran the first mile at 7:46 pace. To put that in perspective, I almost never run under 9:00 for a full mile on trails. I will have bursts down into the 8’s and 7’s, but they’re only bursts. At the point this picture was taken, I was still trying to maintain that early pace.

Now that I see this, it’s clear that kid behind me is cheating. It’s a running race, no flying allowed. Of course, it was the guy behind him and the woman to my left who were truly flying. Both beat me handily.

After going out way too fast, I must have needed a nap because I somehow logged a 10:39 minute mile, and I don’t recall walking at that point in the race . From that point forward, though, my pace was more inline with what I expected. Most of my miles came in with mid-9’s, and I had a couple of slower miles there at the end with the Holme’s Peak, backwards this time, and the Hill from Hell (slightly different route I think than the 25K).

Some of the improvement may have been due to the course, a lot of which seemed familiar from the 25K but run in reverse up until the Hill from Hell.

Post Oak 2015 Quarter Marathon Map

What I really enjoyed about the 1/4 marathon was that we merged with some of the faster marathon runners, and I spent some time chatting with a guy who came all the way in from Wisconsin. I think he ended up taking 4th or 5th, and unlike a lot of us on Saturday, he looked completely relaxed and comfortable.

More like my trail races in the past, he would pull away from me downhill, but I would eventually catch up to him as we went back up. He needed to conserve energy for a second lap so it wasn’t like I was faster or fitter. I was just running a different race with a different strategy.

There was also a guy in his early 20’s who caught up with me on a downhill section, and he looked like he was having a blast every single time I saw him. He got quite a bit ahead of me going into the Hill from Hell, but near the end of the climb, I caught him, Wisconsin, and the marathoner in front of Wisconsin. We all chatted for a second before we crested the hill and began running downhill again. Happy guy beat me, and I was happy for him.

The finish of all of the races loops around the lake in front of the lodge and back onto the drive. I could see the only guy in front of me who I thought was in my age group about 100 yards ahead of me. I had assumed he would have already finished, but seeing him with a couple hundred yards left to run woke me up. I opened up and flew past Wisconsin, but I was too far back to make a serious play for first in my age group. 2nd still gets you a trophy, though…

1/4 Marathon Results

  • Overall 11th Place
  • Age Group 2nd Place
  • 9:27 Pace

The Doubler Results

Like I said, the Post Oak Challenge is a bit unique in that they also combine times for people registered as Doublers. The 25K-1/4 Marathon Doubler was one of the less popular combinations, but 10 of us finished. To my surprise, I WON. I said this on Facebook just the other day, but to emphasize the point with a slight modification for the Doubler:

Sometimes it’s not how fast you run but which races the people faster than you run that matters.

So here’s the tale of the tape:

  • Overall 1st Place
  • Age Group 1st Place
  • Net Time 3:48:54

Things I Liked About the 2015 Post Oak Challenge

  • It is a serious challenge. I expected it to be easier than Turkey Mountain, and it was every bit as hard if not harder.
  • The Post Oak Lodge and the trails that surround it are beautiful.
  • The view of Tulsa from Holme’s Peak is incredible.
  • The PhotographerWatt Design Photography has people out on the course taking extremely high quality photos (note the ones captioned above and not my personal photos with an iPhone) all day, both days. Then, and this is the really crazy part, HE SELLS FULL RESOLUTION DIGITALS AT A REASONABLE PRICE.
  • Hearing out-of-staters say, “I thought Oklahoma was flat.”
  • Meeting out-of-staters. Hopefully I left them with a decent impression of Oklahomans.
  • Water Stops: Seriously, if you’re going to do water stops, this is how you do them.
  • Volunteers: Hats off to all of the incredible volunteers.This wasn’t just a little 5K. There were runners out there for almost 10 hours a day.
  • The Hill from Hell: You’re mine next year. I ran most of you yesterday, but I’m still not satisfied.
  • Swag: Long sleeve technical shirt bright enough to be seen from Mars, huge finisher’s medals, hat, and unique trophies.
  • Tulsa Runner: I’m not a group runner, but Tulsa Runner is where I shop so they’re the only group in town I know personally. It’s a great place to shop with a great owner who knows a lot about everything running and friendly, knowledgeable employees.
  • They Fixed the Problems: I know people got lost last year, and I truly believe they thought they had everything marked clearly. As soon as there were problems, though, I saw them out on the course making adjustments, and Sunday went much better.

Things I Disliked About the 2015 Post Oak Challenge

  • So Many Turns: It was hard to get in a consistent rhythm while constantly looking for the next trail marker those first few miles.
  • I’m Lost! In every trail race, there’s usually at least one point at which you think you’ve goofed. On Saturday, I had 3 legitimate goofs and several minor panics when I lost site of the markers in the woods.
  • Start Time: I know I’ll never win this battle, but between temperature fluctuations the first few hours of the day to the pain of springing forward for day #2, why don’t we just start around 11:00 AM both days. Who’s with me?

 

Post Oak Challenge 2015 Swag