Tulsa, Oklahoma. November 22-23, 2014.
This was my first big race since Ironman Wisconsin about 10 weeks ago. The goal for the weekend was to get a new marathon PR. I did not accomplish that goal, but it was still a fantastic weekend!
I selected Route 66 for a few reasons. First, it has a great reputation. It also gets awards every year for some on the best bling on the planet. Lots of special perks for Marathon Maniacs (like me), and it dings off another state (I should be able to join the 50 Marathons/50 States group next year), and I am starting to select runs based on geography (new and different states). They also had a bunch of other events (5k, fun run) which provided some nice bonus bling. Finally, you could opt to add a 0.3 mile “detour” (to “The Center of the Universe”) to make the total distance 26.5 miles. This gives you the unique distinction of having completed “The World’s Shortest Ultramarathon”! Yeah, this promised to be a lot of fun!
Unfortunately, the logistics of this race was not fun. With Minneapolis being a major hub for Delta, I figured there would be a few flight options to Tulsa. Not so. There was one one non-stop flight daily. Route 66 would not provide same day packet pickup for any of it’s races. The 5k and fun run were on Saturday, and the marathon on Sunday. So, I needed to fly in on Friday at the latest. The flight was too late in the day to make it to the expo on Friday. So, I had to fly in on Thursday and spend an extra night. Uggh. Also, the flight leaving was in the morning, so I could not get out on Friday. Another day in Tulsa. I would also need three days off work. This was getting expensive! Once I got my flights booked, I kept getting e-mail from Delta that they had modified my itinerary. I would now be doing layovers in Atlanta. I was starting to regret the whole trip!
Getting close to race day, I called Delta and looked at my options. There was a non-stop from Tulsa to Minneapolis on Sunday at 4:40. This might be tight. I expected to be done at 12:30 (hoping for earlier, but could be later). The hotel offered free late checkout on race day (cool!) but it was on the far side of downtown from the finish line (and I would be moving slowly). They also offered shuttle busses back to the hotel but I had no idea how often they would be running. Once back at the hotel, I would shower, change, finish packing, check out, drive to the airport, return the rental, check in and get thru security. It was tight, but I had little choice. I just had to hope for the best.
I arrived late on Thursday, got my rental and got down to the hotel and crashed. By the time I got up and ready to go, the expo was about ready to open. The expo was across the street from the hotel, which was very convenient. I was surprised to learn on Facebook that runners would only get one shirt. If registered for a second race, you would get a “double glass” (whatever the heck that was- guess I would find out at the expo).
The expo was small, but had all the essentials. I got my bibs and headed over to shirt pick up. They tore the tags off my bibs and gave me 3 shirts (all the same). Seriously, they gave out the marathon for the 1 mile, untimed fun run…wow! I did not get a glass (I later found a reply to a question on their facebook page that linked a tweet that had a link to an Instagram photo of a pint glass with a generic Route 66 marathon logo…these would be handed out at the finish line…not exactly my top priority!) I then explored the city and tracked down so good BBQ . I eventually carb loaded at the Olive Garden before heading to bed.
Saturday-Race 1: 5k
The Saturday races were not essential and not priorities. They were fun runs and warm ups for the big race on Sunday. The weather was unpredictable this weekend, and Saturday was going to be rainy, cool, and windy. The rain held off for the 5k, but it windy and dreary for sure. I lined up in the middle somewhere and waited for the starting cannon. I went out at my usual training pace and kept it there. The course was a short loop of downtown, which was quite nice. We ended up on a route with markers stating that we were on Route 66, but the map that I looked at afterwards showed that the course was several blocks away from the famous highway…so I am confused. It was enjoyable to run in shorts and a t-shirt again! Before I knew it, I was at the finish line.
Finish Time: 30:04
The finishers medal was great for a 5k run, and almost 3″ wide! I grabbed a little food and headed back to the start…
Saturday-Race 2: 1 mile Fun Run
Between the two events, the rain started pouring down and the wind picked up. I was in shorts and t-shirt and I was getting cold. I had no desire to run hard today, but I wanted to get out of the rain as quick as possible. So, even though it was untimed, I knew that I would be going somewhat faster then planned. The course was a simple out and back. Before I reached the turnaround, I noticed that there were very few people ahead of me (no surprise…lots of families and young kids, and many were walking). But I was very close to the turnaround when I saw the lead runner going the other way. I started counting…only 8 ahead of me. My competative drive started to kick in…and I suddenly wished that I had been going all out from the start. I reelled in two within one city block, then I caught one more. I was in fifth (not that it would matter at all). The front three were way ahead, but there was a young kid not far ahead. He was running fast and didn’t look like he was even trying. The gap closed. Soon, I figured that I could catch him, and would do so well before the finish. I kept pushing. When I pulled up alongside of him, he looked over his shoulder at me…and turned on the gas. I felt like the coyote in those road runner cartoons. “Beep beep” and he was gone. I finished in fifth. Once I retrieved my medal, I made my way (cold and wet) back to the hotel.
Race Day 2: Route 66 Marathon
The weather would be the wild card today. The polar vortex came crashing thru the area a couple of weeks back causing the tempurature to plummet, and it had stayed cold ever since. Last weekend brought below freezing tempuratures and light snow. This past couple of days brought a rain system in from the Gulf of Mexico. This resulted in a lot of rain and wind, but milder tempuratures. Yesterday was a washout. Today was uncertain. The system was clearing out, but there was a wraparound band of showers coming thru before it was all done. That would be followed by another sudden drop in tempuratures. The most optimistic forecasts called for the rain to be gone, and not to start again until after the race with tempuratures in the high fifties. Worst case scenario was low 40’s and rain at the start (possible thunderstorms) and rain at the finish. Bottom line, I had no idea of what to wear.
I decided to go with shorts, t-shirt, and a light full zip running jacket. The optimistic weather forcast prevailed. Not a drop of rain. But it was very windy and very humid. I thought about checking my jacket, but the wind made me decide to keep it. I could always tie it around my waist when I warmed up.
The other wild card was my training. I usually get a few more long runs before race day, but the polar vortex hit us hard. The roads were downright treacherous and I limited myself to treadmill runs. My last long run was 4 weeks earlier. Aside from that, I never even completed a 10 miler.
This race strongly caters to the Marathon Maniac group. They had a VIP area at the starting line and a big group photo. I jumped into that photo and then joined my coral. I was hoping for a PR (sub-4:26). I thought that was very attainable given that a just ran a 1:44 half. I should easily go sub-4 hours, but I always struggle with the second half of the marathon. This was a very hilly course, it was windy and I was undertrained. Nonetheless, my PR is weak compared to my other events, and a new PR should be attainable.
I was in coral “A”. This was overly optimistic. Once I was corralled up, I found that the slowest pace group was 3:50. I started with them but expected to drop back to 4:00 or 4:15. The other thing weighing on my mind was that my flight out of town was at 4:40pm. After the race, I would need to get to the hotel shuttle, get pack to the hotel, shower, change, finish packing, checkout, find a gas station, get back to the airport, return the rental and check in for my flight. This could be very tight and I needed to finish the marathon as fast as possible.
The cannons fired and the confetti flew. We were off and I went out too fast. Even with that, the 3:50 pace group slid away pretty quickly. By mile 2, I was overheating and I took the jacket off. I maintained my pace at sub 9 min/mile for the first half of the marathon. I knew I was in trouble however. My recent half marathon was at sub-8 min/mile. I could not reach that speed, even for a moment. The pace was good, but I would fade. It was all a matter of how quickly that would happen and how hard I would hit the wall. I kept my pace thru the first half.
The half and full marathons started together and looped back to downtown. We separated about a half mile from the finish line. I was happy not to see or hear the finish line at the turnoff as it is always a little demoralizing. A lot of runners were doing the half and the course became a lot more sparsely populated at that point. When we left downtown, we started a different loop. The hills were challenging up until this point, but we seemed to hit an uphill at mile 14 that continued for the rest of the race.
Aside from the hills, the course wound thru some of the more scenic areas of Tulsa. That said, the course was not particularly interesting or memorable. I was running fairly obliviously to my surroundings. Crowd support was enthusiastic (lots of beer and Jell-O shots available) but sparse. Tulsa is a mid-sized city which is very nice, but rather generic. I am sure that the dreary weather conditions contributed to that impression and kept some of the spectators at home.
I hit the wall sooner then I hoped…about mile 17. I calculated that I could run the second half of the race 27 minutes slower then the first half, and still get a PR. It quickly became evident that it would not happen as my splits slowed quickly. Once I was in 12 min/mile territory (and giving it all that I had), I knew that I would miss my PR. We turned onto Route 66 only one time during the race, and that was for only one city block. I was a little surprised by that. We did a lap around the University of Tulsa before heading back downtown. We had the option in the final mile to do a 0.3 mile detour to “The Center of the Universe”. For doing this, we would receive a commemorative coin for our accomplishment of completing the “World’s Shortest Ultramarathon”. I knew that I wanted to do this (even though I consider 50k to be the shortest legitimate ultra). They had fun with this, and had an official beer stand on the detour. After finishing this, I jumped back on the course for the last mile of the race.
26.2 split time: 4:29:46
26.5 finish time: 4:32:38
Overall Position: 622/1682.
Gender Position: 444/929.
Age Group Position: 53/123
Once past the finishers chute, I received my regular finishers medal. There was some confusion about this. I thought that I would receive this medal and a special edition Marathon Maniac finishers medal. I guess you were supposed to get one or the other. I received my regular medal, grabbed some food and headed out to the MM tent. There they checked my bib number on their list and gave me the MM medal. I didn’t realize until I was on the shuttle that I was only supposed to receive one or the other. These medals are absolutely gorgeous and a full 4″ in diameter. They rival the Disney 20th anniversary marathon medal as the nicest and best designed medal I own.
I was apparently supposed to receive a beer glass for completing the double (marathon and 5k) but forgot about it (sounds like many people did and they will be mailing these out). I didn’t have time to enjoy the MM tent (which I heard was awesome) and I quickly found my shuttle and made a mad dash for the airport. Fortunately, this went quite smoothly and made it in plenty of time for the flight home.
Overall, my thoughts about this event are mixed. Tulsa is a medium sized city (just under 1 million residents in the greater metro area). It is not a tourist destination and the city was a little generic. It was nice, and the course showed off the highlights of the city, but there was little to grab my attention as we did multiple laps in the downtown area. The airport was small, and I had to spend one extra night due to the limited number of flights into town. The things that Route 66 chose to focus on, it did really really well. The medals are the best I own (and is why I signed up for this event). The detour allowed me to claim my first ultra marathon finish and gave me a bit of bonus bling. Catering to the MM, HF, and 50 states clubs was wonderful. Maniacs corner at the finish line was apparently excellent, but I did not have time to explore. The shuttles back to the hotel were very welcome. Finally, all official hotels had to allow late checkout of 3pm for marathon participants. Volunteers were awesome!
Everything else was average. The course was dull (but hilly and challenging). The expo had all the essentials, but was somewhat small. You could easily waste an hour in there, but I like large expos where you could waste a day away. The whole event had a disorganized feel to it. You had to use clear plastic bags for gear drop…except nobody knew where to find them when the expo opened. I was supposed to receive one shirt for each race. Then they stated that you would not receive shirts for add on races (so I would only get one) and a glass (not sure if I was to receive one or two for the 2 add on races). They gave me 3 shirts and no glasses (but they are getting mailed..not sure how many). The marathon/half-marathon/relay/5k/fun run shirts are all the same…all gray and with the marathon logo on it. They really need better gear, and different shirts for the different races. The gear in their store was equally bland. The whole theme of the race was “Route 66” with hood ornament and highway sign inspired medals. But, we ran on Route 66 for 1 block and there were 3 classic cars at the expo and none on the course. They could certainly exploit the car/highway theme a lot more. Finally, the crowd support was very enthusiastic, but very sparse. The average pace for this course was also quite slow. I ran a pretty typical finish time for me, and I am usually towards the back of the pack. Here, I was faster then average, even in my age group.
Overall, there is room for improvement, but it does some things better then anyone else. Ultimately, it is a medium sized event (1686 marathon finishers) in a medium sized city. I am used to much bigger events. The only smaller marathon that I have completed was my first marathon (Minneapolis Marathon which is a local race-890 finishers). Aside from that, Ironman Wisconsin had 2336 finishers…but was much grander in scope. Flying Pig was my next to smallest marathon with almost 4000 finishers. I prefer big scale events and was surprised by the small scope here. Given that, it did a good job overall, and an amazing job in some areas. I am probably being a little harsh since my last big event was Ironman Wisconsin which was incredible and I had been building up to that event for 2 years. This race could not compete against that, so my evaluation is likely way too harsh.
But, the bling was the best I own, which is enough for me to recommend this event.