Saturday, March 28, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Wicked Marathon

Today I ran the Wicked Marathon in Wamego, KS.  This is a small race that’s only in its second year.  I had never heard of until I saw it on a race calendar.  I wanted to do another marathon in Kansas, and I was intrigued when I read that the race finishes at a Wizard of Oz museum.

Wamego is a small town.  Most of the lodging for this race was in Manhattan, which is about 15 miles away.  I could have driven there, but it’s an eight hour drive, and I didn’t really feel like driving all day.  There’s a regional airport in Manhattan, but flights were expensive.  Then I discovered I could get a cheap flight to Kansas City.  From there, it was only a two hour drive.

I had an early flight, so I had all day to get to Manhattan.  I took a route that brought me through Wamego.  After a quick lunch stop, I toured the Oz Museum.  They have the largest private collection of Wizard of Oz memorabilia in the world, with over 2,000 artifacts.

First edition of the book

Did you know the Munchkins have a star on the Walk of Fame?

One of 40 rubber flying monkey models used in filming

Did you know the "oil" was actually chocolate syrup


I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Manhattan.  After checking in, I went to Body First Wellness to pick up my race packet.  In addition to my race bib, T-shirt and a few product samples, my packet included this medal.

It’s unusual to get a medal before the race.  This is actually the design from last year’s finisher medal.  They’re going to have new designs each year and wanted to give runners who missed the inaugural race a chance to collect the entire series.

Later, I had dinner with a few friends at AJ’s New York Pizza.  We ate early, so I was able to get to bed early.  I slept great.  It’s the best I’ve slept before a race in a long time, and I woke up feeling refreshed.

I got up early enough to eat a light breakfast at the hotel and then drove to Wamego High School, where they had parking for the race.  They had shuttle buses to take us from the high school to the start.  We were also able to use the bathrooms at the high school.  There aren’t any bathrooms at the start.

At the start of the race, it was about 37 degrees with a light wind.  It was a sunny day, so it was going to warm into the upper 40s during the race.  I wore my cheetah tights and hat with a short sleeved shirt and gloves.  I also started the race wearing a disposable lightweight jacket.

The course is basically out-and-back, with a loop in the middle and some extra stuff at the end.  We started about two miles east of town, which was basically in the middle of nowhere.

When the bus dropped us off, the wind was cold.  Some of us huddled inside the gear bag truck until a few minutes before the start.  Once the race started, I felt comfortable.  Aside from the fact that I was keeping warm by moving, I was also benefiting from a tailwind.

My goal was to break 3:30.  Last week, I was able to run 3:28 on a hilly course. That was encouraging, but I’m not as consistent as I used to be.  My plan was to run an 8:00 per mile pace in the early miles and see how I felt at the halfway mark.

In a small race, it’s harder for me to gauge my pace in the first mile.  A minute or two into the race, I felt like I was running too fast, so I eased up a little.  I wouldn’t know my pace until I saw the first mile marker.

I ran the first mile in 7:24.  That surprised me.  I felt like I might be going a little fast, but not THAT fast.  I eased up a little bit in the next mile, and a few runners passed me.

When I saw the sign for two miles, I checked my watch again.  It read 16:19.  For a moment, I thought I had done a good job of easing back to the right pace.  I thought I ran that mile in 7:55.  Then I realized I was off by a minute.  If that mile marker was correct, I slowed to 8:55.  I knew darn well I didn’t slow down that much.  I didn’t trust the placement of the mile marker, but I picked up my effort a little bit in the next mile.

The first two miles were flat.  As we ran through Wagemo, that changed.  This part of Kansas is called “The Flint Hills.”  As you might guess, it’s hilly.  I noticed while driving through the area on Friday that it was pretty much non-stop rolling hills.  The next 22 miles were going to be rolling.

Having done a hilly race last weekend, I learned to be patient.  Running uphill, I maintained a slow but steady effort.  Running downhill, I let myself speed up, so long as gravity was doing all the work.

My time at the three mile mark was 22:30. That’s an average of 7:30 per mile.  I found it hard to believe I was running that fast.  I missed the four mile sign, but my times at the next few mile markers were all consistent with an average pace of 7:30.  At times, I felt the wind at my back.  That was a reminder that these fast miles were all wind-aided.  It wasn’t a strong wind, but it was enough to make a difference.

There was also a half marathon that started 30 minutes before the marathon.  It was out-and-back, and for the past few miles, I was seeing runners coming back.  A few were dressed as Wizard of Oz characters.  I saw a Dorothy and a Scarecrow.  There were also a couple Dorothy’s in the marathon.  My friend Heather was a Cowardly Lioness.  I wasn’t a Wizard of Oz character, but with my cheetah print hat and tights, I was at least in the cat family.

By eight miles, I was feeling warm.  I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist.  After about a mile, I discarded it at an aid station.  It had warmed up enough that I was comfortable without it.  The wind was still at my back.  Eventually, we would reverse direction, and I would have a headwind.  I was counting on it getting a few degrees warmer by then.

We were running on a two-lane road in the valley of the Kansas River.  Eventually, we moved away from the river, and the hills got steeper.  I conserved my energy running uphill and picked up the pace running downhill.  Overall, I was still averaging 7:30 per mile.

Around 11 miles, we left that road and ran up a short hill to reach Highway 24.  Then we turned right and ran along the shoulder of the highway.  Having driven this highway, I knew it had a series of long hills.  We were on one of the long downhills.  It was downhill as far as I could see.  Since I still had the wind at my back, I could have run fast here.  I continued to run at the same pace.  I used this section as a rest break.  I knew we would eventually have to turn around.

At 13 miles, we made two quick turns, and we were back on the two-lane road, but we were now running in the opposite direction.  I immediately felt the headwind.  The easy part of the race was over.  I also saw a long gradual hill stretching before me.  The next mile would be all uphill and into the wind.

I reached the halfway mark in roughly 1:39.  I knew that was deceptive.  The first half had been wind-aided.  The second half would be into the wind.  To break 3:30, I needed to average roughly 8:30.  I wasn’t sure how much I would slow down in this next mile.

At first, I was running with the same casual effort that I used in the miles that were all downhill.  I reminded myself that this was the hardest mile of the race, so it should feel like I’m working.  I picked up my effort.

I was pleasantly surprised to run that mile in 8:08.  After that, the course went back to rolling.  At first we had short steep hills.  Then we had longer, but more gradual hills.  One only constant was the wind.  We were always running into it.  I felt a bit colder than I did in the first half, but not too cold.

For the rest of the race, my mile times were always close to eight minutes.  Some were a few seconds slower; some were a few seconds faster.  If I didn’t run out of gas, I would break 3:25 – maybe 3:24.

The marathon runners were getting spread out.  For most of the second half, I couldn’t see the runner in front of me.  Once we passed the half marathon turnaround, I could see other runners, but they were the back-of-the-pack runners in the half marathon.

I started to notice a disparity between the marathon mile markers and the half marathon mile markers. When we had five miles to go, they had about two miles to go. I concluded that they would take a direct route to the finish, while we would take a circuitous route.  A mile later, the marathon route turned left.  For the next two miles, we made several turns.  It was nice to have relief from the wind, but I lost track of which direction I was running.

With three miles to go, a runner passed me.  I was tempted to try to stay with him, but then we started up a small hill.  Not wanting to wear myself out on a hill, I let him go.  I felt like I was running out of gas, but I was keeping my mile times under 8:00.  I knew I had 3:30 in the bag.  I still wasn’t sure about 3:24.

With two miles to go, we turned left onto a busy street. It was only as we ran past the high school that I recognized where we were.  We were only a few blocks from the finish line, but we were running away from it.  We still had to do a big loop through the east side of Wamego before returning to the finish.  I was running out of gas, but I had two things going for me.  The last two miles were flat, and very little of it was into the wind.

When I saw my time at 25 miles, I knew I would break 3:24.  I lost sight of the runner who passed me two miles earlier, but I could now see a different runner.  He had been in front of me for the first half of the race.  I lost sight of him around 13 miles.  Suddenly, he was only a quarter mile ahead of me.

I did my best to follow him in.  Finally, I made the last turn onto state highway 99, and I saw the finish line.  I crossed the line in 3:23:30.  That was my fastest marathon since November.

After crossing the line, I received two medals and an Oz Marathon poster.  The medal on the left is this year’s finisher medal.  The medal on the right is an award.  I won the Grand Master division.  This race was designated by the RRCA as the state marathon championship for Kansas.  You don’t have to be a Kansas resident to win a championship.  I’m the 2015 Male Grand Master Marathon Champion for Kansas.

When you cross the finish line, you’re also greeted by Wizard of Oz characters.

The finish line was only a few blocks from the high school, where my car was parked.   I walked to my car to get my camera and some warm clothes.  Then I returned to the finish line to watch other runners finish.  Here’s my friend Heather.

This race was a breakthrough for me.  Lately I’ve been struggling to break 3:30.  Aside from being my fastest marathon this year, this was also the first time this year that I broke 3:30 on consecutive weekends.   Hopefully I can keep that going.

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