Friday, July 3, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Cook Park Marathon

This morning I ran the Cook Park Marathon in Tigard, OR.  This was the first race of the Firecracker Triple.  I ran this same race last year, when it was the final race of the triple. The course was a 4.37 mile loop through Cook Park, which is on the banks of the Tualatin River.

We ran the loop six times.  Most of the loop was paved, but there were two short sections with dirt and wood chips.  There were also two sections that have some small hills.  They’re no big deal the first time through, but by the sixth lap, they get tiring.

The race started at 7:00, but I needed to arrive earlier to pick up my race packet.  T-shirts were optional.  I have lots of race shirts, so I didn’t get one.  There were also T-shirts you could buy for $15 if you were doing the triple.  I did get one of those.  This year’s Firecracker Triple T-shirt was blue.  The two I already have are red and white, so I feel like I have a complete set.

Portland is having a heat wave right now.  Yesterday, it got up to 97 degrees.  It cooled off some overnight, but it was still 71 degrees when I got up.  I expected to get into the 80s before I was done running.  To cope with the heat, I wore a desert-style hat that covers my neck.  I also had an insulated bag full of ice cube that I kept in the start/finish area.  After each lap, I stopped to fill my hat with ice cubes.  As they melted, the cold water filtered down through my hat and into the back of my shirt.

In addition to the aid station in the start/finish area, there were three other aid stations that were self-service.  Only the main aid station had cups.  I don’t like to carry water with me, because the extra weight makes me feel sluggish.  Instead, I ran with a Hydrapouch clipped to my belt.  The Hydrapouch is practically weightless.  It can’t be used to carry water, but I was able to use it to drink at the remote aid stations.

I had no idea how fast I’d be able to run.  My leg has been feeling better for the past few days, but I’m not 100 percent.  I also haven’t done any training at a fast pace since April.  The last time I ran a four hour marathon was April 30.  I haven’t run a single eight minute mile since the Boston Marathon.

I wasn’t expecting any mile markers, so I wore a GPS watch.  I didn’t have a time goal, but I still wanted to have some idea what pace I was running.  As it turns out, there were mile markers, but after the first lap, they’re out of sync with the total distance you’ve run.

There were three races starting at the same time. In addition to the marathon, there was a half marathon and a 5K.  Some of the people doing the shorter races started fast.  I let them go by and started at a pace that felt sustainable.  For the first two miles, I was averaging 8:30.  Then I slowed to nine minute miles.  As it got hotter, I would continue to slow down.

Most of the course is shaded, which really helped.  If we had to contend with the same temperatures plus constant sun exposure, it would have felt 10 degrees hotter.

Expecting to drink a lot, I brought some electrolyte pills.  I took one after each lap.  At the end of my first lap, I was so preoccupied with taking a pill and drinking two cups of water that I forgot to put ice in my hat.  For the time being, I didn’t feel hot.  I made a point of remembering, however, on all my subsequent laps.

Knowing I wasn’t in peak shape, the best I could hope for under these conditions was to break four hours.  I was on pace for three laps.  My halfway split was 1:58.  I knew that pace wouldn’t hold up.  I was already slowing down, and the second half would be much hotter.

The good news is that I wasn’t having any groin discomfort.  There were a lot of turns as we wound through the woods, which made me nervous.  I’m most at risk when I move laterally.

The first time I put ice in my hat, it mostly settled against the back of my head.  It helped a little, but it probably didn’t cool me down as much as having ice melting on top of my head.  After that, I used more ice and made sure it was centered in my hat.  Each time
I resumed running with ice in my hat, it took about a minute to feel the full effect.  Then it was downright painful.  It also caused a short term disruption in blood flow that made me briefly feel short of breath.  I expected that, so I didn’t let it worry me.  The annoying part was that I always got short of breath just as I was about to begin a short but steep hill.

At first, I probably wasn’t drinking enough.  For the first two laps, I only drank twice per lap, although I always drank two cups at the main aid station.  Then I started getting thirsty, so I increased my fluid intake.  In the third and fourth laps, I drank three times.  In the last two, I drank four times.

Although most of the course was shaded, there were a few sections where we were out in the open for a few minutes.  In the last two laps, I got really hot on those sections.

With two laps to go, I was slowing down significantly, but I was confident I would finish well under 4:30.  As I began my last lap, I realized it was going to be close.  In that last lap, I worked hard to keep from slowing down.  I really wanted to break 4:30.

For people who needed extra time, Steve had an early start.  It’s intended only for people who can’t finish within the time limit, but on a hot day, it’s tempting to start earlier. Originally, the race information said that anyone taking the early start would get a finish time of at least five hours.  Later that was changed to 4:30.  I wanted to break 4:30, because if I didn’t, I’d kick myself for not taking the early start.  It still would’ve been hot, but it might have been a few degrees cooler, on average.

Pushing hard in the last few miles, I managed to finish in 4:26:42. More importantly, I finished without any groin pain.  Of course, it remains to be seen how I’ll feel tomorrow.

I came to the park with a large insulated bag filled with ice.  Buried under the ice, I had a half gallon of chocolate milk.  Immediately after a race, I have three priorities: rehydrate, replace carbohydrates, and get some protein.  Conveniently, drinking chocolate milk helps you do all three at once.  I’ve read that the ideal ratio of carbohydrates to protein is 4:1.  Conveniently, chocolate milk has this ratio.  Ideally, it should be fat free milk.  The best I could find at the grocery store was 1%.  I drank several glasses and gave the rest to anyone in the finish area who was interested.

When I got to my car, I turned on my phone and checked the temperature.  It was 87 degrees.  Later, it would get into the 90s.

I survived today’s race, but it was ugly.  Even putting ice in my hat, I was still getting hot, and the heat took a toll on me.  Tomorrow will be tougher.  It will be just as hot, and tomorrow’s course has long sections that are completely exposed to the sun.  It’s one big loop, so I probably won’t be able to put ice in my hat.  It’s possible they’ll have ice at the aid stations, but I can’t count on that.  I’ll probably need to take walking breaks to keep from overheating.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting hungry again.  There’s another pizza restaurant near my hotel that I’d like to try.

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