Monday, November 20, 2023

Race Report: 2023 Route 66 Marathon

On November 19, I ran the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa, OK.  This was the fourth time I’ve run this race.  It’s a popular race among members of the 50 States Marathon Club and Marathon Maniacs.

There aren’t any direct flights from Minneapolis to Tulsa, so I had to change planes in Atlanta.  To make sure I would arrive with plenty of time, I took the first flight to Atlanta.  It’s not the first time I’ve been on a 5:25 AM flight.  Whenever I do that, I regret having to get up early enough to get to the airport on time.  On the bright side, I arrived in Tulsa just after noon,

Having done this race before, I was already familiar with the logistics.  I stayed at the downtown Doubletree, which is connected by skyway to the Cox Business Convention Center, where the expo was held.  Doubletree has an airport shuttle, so I didn’t need a car.

After checking in at Doubletree, I walked over to the convention center to pick up my race packet.  My first stop was the 50 States Marathon Club, where I got my wrist band for the VIP tent in the finish area.  It’s called Maniac Corner, and it’s only available to members of Marathon Maniacs and the 50 States Marathon Club.

Next, I got my race bib.  I had to request a change to my corral assignment.  Corrals are based on your estimated finish time.  I registered for this race so long ago, that I had no idea what shape I would be in now.  At the time, I needed a good race to break four hours.  Now, I’m consistently running times in the 3:40s.  Changing my corral assignment was easy.

I reached two big milestones at this race.  I was finishing my fourth circuit of marathons or ultras in all 50 states, and this was also my 500th lifetime marathon or ultra.  As recently as two weeks ago, I was planning to go at an easy pace and treat this race like a victory lap.  Then I looked at the elevation profile for the course.

This race used to have a hilly course, but they changed the course since the last time I ran it.  It still has some hills, but it’s not as difficult as the course I remembered.  In particular, it’s no any hillier than Baltimore or Mankato, and I was able to break 3:50 in both of those races.  I saw no reason why I couldn’t do it again on this course.

After packet pickup, I had time to do a workout in the hotel’s fitness center.  Then I explored the downtown area.  I started by walking over to the Cyrus Avery Bridge, which is the on the historic Route 66.

Next to the bridge, I saw this bronze statue.  It honors Cyrus Avery, who is considered to be the father of Route 66.  I’ve run right past this statue before, but somehow I never noticed it.

Next, I walked over to the East Village district, which is on the opposite side of downtown.  The East Village is home to several breweries.  I also found a good brick oven pizzeria there.

The race didn’t start until 8:00 AM, so I didn’t have to get up outrageously early.  I set an alarm, but I was awake before it went off.

The temperature was in the 50s.  That would’ve been ideal, but it was raining.  I left the hotel wearing a plastic rain poncho, but I didn’t know if I would need it for the whole race.  I wanted warm something to wear after the race, in case I discarded the rain poncho, so I rolled up my Tyvek jacket and stuffed it into my fanny pack.  It was a tight fit, but that worked.

The starting line was only half a mile from my hotel.  They close the start corrals five minutes before the race, so I left the hotel 20 minutes before the race, to make sure I would have plenty of time to get into my corral and find the 3:50 pace group.

When I got there, I couldn’t find the 3:50 group.  I saw a 3:55 group near the back of the corral, and I saw several other pace groups closer to the front.  I saw a 1:55 pace group for the half marathon, so I lined up next to them.  They were starting at the same pace, and we would run about 12 miles before the two races separated from each other.

I mainly needed help with pacing in the first five miles.  Miles one through five had some hills, and it would be much easier to run at the right pace if I could just stay with a group and let the pace leaders set the correct pace.

The first mile started out downhill.  On my own, I probably would’ve started too fast.  At first, I stayed behind the pace leaders.  At some point, I had to move around a slower runner, and I accidentally got in front of the pace group.  I forced myself to go at a pace that felt easy, so I wouldn’t get too far ahead of them.  I assumed they would eventually catch up to me on an uphill section.

The first time I reached an aid station, I slowed down to grab a cup of Gatorade and drink, and the pace group went by me.  It just happened that we were starting to go up  a hill.  Now that I was behind the group, I found it difficult to catch up to them going up a hill.

The same thing happened again at the next aid station.  After getting ahead of the group on a downhill section, they passed me at an aid station.  Again, we were just starting to go up a hill, and I had to work hard to keep from falling further behind.

The rain poncho caused me to get hot every time we went up a hill.  It was still raining, but I had to get rid of it.  I waited until the road leveled off.  Then I took it off and handed it to a spectator, so I wouldn’t have to just dump on the sidewalk.

By the time we had run four miles, the rain seemed like it was stopping.  It was still mostly cloudy, but I started to notice small patches of blue sky between the clouds.

The next aid station came right near the end of the fifth mile.  This time, I managed to grab a cup and drink it without slowing down.  For once, I went through an aid station without getting passed by the pace group.  That was just before starting a long downhill section.

I had studied the elevation profile before the race, so I knew mile six would be mostly downhill.  I tried to stay relaxed and not work too hard, because I didn’t want to get too far ahead of the group.  Up until now, some miles were a little too fast and others were a little too slow, but on average, we were staying pretty close to out target pace of 8:46 per mile.

About halfway through the seventh mile, we started a 10-mile stretch that was flat.  I was running a little bit ahead of the group, but I was more confident that I could stay on a consistent pace now that it was flat.  I’m much better about holding my pace when I can stick with a consistent rhythm.  I can’t do that going up and down hills.

I started to feel like I was overdressed.  Normally, with temperatures in the 50s, I would wear shorts.  Because of the rain, I opted for tights.  I was starting to wonder if I would regret that decision.  I was about to take off my gloves when it started raining again.  I kept the gloves on.  I wasn’t cold, but I was no longer in any danger of getting too hot.

For the next couple of miles, we ran on a road alongside the Arkansas River.  This section was nice and flat.  I started to see runners going the other direction on a bike path that was closer to the river.

At times, I wondered if I was running away from the pace group.  They were behind me, so I never saw them again.  Then I would hear spectators cheering them, and I would realize they were right behind me.

Between 10 and 11 miles, we turned onto the Cyrus Avery Bridge.  Now we were running on Route 66.  It was here start I started talking to another runner.  His name was Charles, and he used to live in Minneapolis.  We ran together for the next several miles.

After crossing the bridge, we did a short loop and then came back to the bridge from the other side.  This was the point where the marathon and half marathon routes diverged.

Because we were talking, neither of us noticed the sign indicating that marathon runners were supposed to keep to the left of a line of traffic cones.  Charles and I were running in the lane for the half marathon.  If wasn’t a big deal at first, but soon we came to a point where the half marathon would continue across the bridge, but the marathon turned left and went onto a pedestrian bridge instead.

There was a volunteer at this point who saw our race bibs and yelled to us to get over to the other lane and turn left.  It’s a good thing he saw us.  We would’ve continued across the bridge, which would’ve put us on the half marathon course.

The pedestrian bridge was parallel to the road bridge, but it was covered.  I had never run across this bridge before.  After crossing the bridge, we went underneath the road bridge and turned onto the same bike path where I had seen runners going this way before.

By now, Charles and I were talking to another runner who was doing his first marathon.  He was happy to discover that we were on pace for 3:50.  He was hoping to break four hours, but he wasn’t wearing a watch.  Before talking to us, he didn’t know what his pace was.

Soon I learned that Charles also had a goal of breaking four hours.  I wondered how much longer I could run with these two runners.  I might have to choose between staying with them and continuing to pace myself to break 3:50.

At the 12-mile mark, I saw that we had slowed to 8:58.  That was good, because the previous mile had been 8:30, which was too fast.  I decided to wait and see what our pace was in the next mile before making a decision about continuing to run with Charles or going ahead on my own.

Charles and I kept running together and carrying on a conversation.  After a while, I realized that the guy running his first marathon was no longer keeping up with us.  It wasn’t until we finished our next mile that I saw we were speeding up again.  The pace felt somewhat tiring, but I didn’t realize how fast it was until I saw that we ran mile 13 in 8:18.  That was faster than any previous mile.

At the halfway mark, I saw that we were more than a minute and a half ahead of schedule to be on pace for 3:50.  I could afford to relax a little in the next mile.  For now, I could keep running with Charles.

I knew it wasn’t a good idea to keep running at that pace, and I worried the pace would break Charles if he kept up with me.  As we started out next mile, we decided to back off a little.  That didn’t last long.  As we continued talking, we quickly went back to running at a pace that felt tiring.  The next mile was even faster.  It was 8:13.

We managed to back off a bit in the mile 15.  It was still a little fast, but not so fast that it felt tiring.

We were nearing the end of a long flat section of the course, but I knew a long uphill section was coming.  In the middle of the 17th mile, we would start a section that would be mostly uphill for about four miles.  It wouldn’t be steep, but it would be a long grind.  In anticipation of that section, we eased up a bit to conserve energy.

By now, the rain had stopped again.  I didn’t mind the rain.  It was just sprinkling lightly.  It wasn’t enough to make me feel cold or soaking wet.  Without the rain, I most likely would’ve been getting hot.

About halfway through mile 17, we started up a long gradual hill.  I knew we would have an uphill trend for the next four miles, so I ran with an effort that didn’t feel tiring.  We started this section with a cushion of at least two minutes, so we could afford to give back about 30 seconds per mile over the next four miles.

At first, Charles started to fall behind me.  I made a point of slowing down enough that he could keep up on the hills.  Over the next few miles, we averaged about nine minutes per mile.  We could afford that.

This is a race where spectators will set up beer stops, as well as stronger stuff.  I had seen beer stops, mimosa stops, and Jell-O shots.  I also saw spectators giving out donuts.  If I was just going at an easy pace, I would have indulged in a few of these.  Because I had a time goal that would take a good effort, I wasn’t willing to even consider an adult beverage until I was past this long uphill section.  Even then, I would have to be confident that I would have no trouble maintaining my pace.

Midway through the 19th mile, which we were going up a hill, I noticed another beer stop.  Nope.  Too soon, and certainly not on a hill.

I was thinking the uphill section ended at 20 miles.  I was off a bit.  Charles and I were about halfway through the 20th mile when we started up a long hill.  We told ourselves this was the last hill.  We were wrong.  We crested that hill and saw another one.

This next hill came in two parts.  About halfway up the hill, we would go downhill briefly to go under a bridge.  Then we would continue up the hill.  The 20 mile sign was under the bridge.

There was an aid station just before the 20 mile sign.  Charles took a little longer at that aid station, and I was afraid he would fall behind me as I started the last part of the hill.

At the 20 mile sign, I saw that we were still about 50 seconds ahead of schedule.  I continued up the hill at the same pace and hoped Charles could stay with me.

At the top of the hill, we turned a corner.  As I made the turn, I looked back for Charles.  He wasn’t too far behind me.  Looking ahead, I saw that we still had to go slightly uphill for about half a block.  I went slowly enough that Charles was able to catch up.  Then we started a long gradual downhill section.

On our right, I saw spectators offering whiskey shots.  I couldn’t do that so soon after the hill.  I needed time to recover and get us back to our previous pace.  Maybe in a mile or two, but not now.

The next mile was mostly downhill, but as we got closer to 21, we had to go uphill again.  I knew the last six miles had a downhill trend, but it wasn’t all downhill.  The 21 mile sign was right at the top of this hill.  When we got there, we were still on pace, but our cushion was only 24 seconds.

Charles fell behind me at another aid station.  We had the luxury of going a little slower over the previous four miles, but we couldn’t keep doing that.  We had to get back on our previous pace.  My legs were getting heavy, and I knew I would have to work harder now.  I put in the necessary effort and hoped that Charles could keep up.  I knew there was a good chance he would fall behind.  I enjoyed running with him, but I was determined to break 3:50.  Charles had been shooting for anything under four hours.  I couldn’t expect him to run at my pace for the whole race.

In the next mile, I sped up more than I needed to.  That mile was mostly downhill, and I sped up to 8:22.  That was about 24 seconds too fast.  I knew at that point that I wouldn’t see Charles again until the finish.

The aid stations had water and Gatorade.  Some also had gels or other food.  The next time I reached an aid station, there was a volunteer in the middle of the street with Gatorade and another volunteer was next to the table on my right.  I’m right-handed, so I prefer to take a cup with my right hand.  I went by the guy in the middle of the street and then saw that the woman by the table was filling cups with pieces of bananas and oranges.  There were cups on the table, but there were all filled with water.  Having missed my chance to get a cup of Gatorade, I just kept running.  I quickly realized that was probably a mistake.  I worked up a real sweat on that long uphill section.  I should’ve had something to drink, even if it was water.  I prefer Gatorade, so I can get some sugar, but this late in the race, that didn’t matter so much.

Mile 23 wasn’t as fast as mile 22, but it was still faster than my goal pace.  I had dropped Charles, but I was staying on a pace that would easily get me to the finish in less than 3:50.

Most of the aid stations had small cups, and they were usually only half full.  That makes it easier to grab a cup and drink without spilling.  Right at 23 miles, I reached an aid station with larger cups.  I grabbed a cup of Gatorade that was almost full.  Drinking that made up for missing the previous aid station, but I had to slow to a walk for several seconds.  A runner who had been near me for the last two miles was now almost half a block ahead of me.  I was determined to catch up to him.

The runner I was chasing was hard to catch.  I was slowly gaining ground, but he was maintaining a fast pace.  He was passing most of the other runners.  As I chased him, I also passed most of the other runners.  I finally caught him at the end of the 24th mile.  That mile was my fastest in several miles.

At this point, I knew I could just follow this runner for the rest of the race, and he would bring me in under 3:50.  Then it occurred to me that he looked like he could easily be in my age group.  Were we competing for an age group award?  I had to pass him.  Going into the last two miles, I picked up my effort even more.

I was getting close to the downtown area.  I was at least halfway through the 25th mile when I looked ahead of me and saw a bridge.  I could see that coming up to the bridge meant going up a small hill.  Then I thought the bridge looked familiar.  I started to recognize all the businesses I was passing as I approached the bridge.  I knew exactly where I was.  I had walked over this same bridge on Saturday.  I was running through the East Village.

After crossing the bridge, I turned right, and I immediately felt rain.  It felt different this time.  It was coming down in bigger drops, and I immediately felt cold.

I only ran one block in this direction before turning left.  After turning, I ran right past the pizzeria where I had dinner the night before.  As the crow flies, I was getting close to where I would finish, but there were still lots of turns.  My actual route to the finish was still well over a mile.

At the 25 mile sign, I saw that I was at least a minute ahead of schedule.  I ran mile 25 in 8:14.  That was my second fastest mile so far.

In the last mile, there’s a detour you can take to a place in downtown Tulsa called the Center of the Universe.  The Center of the Universe is a circle with interesting acoustics.  When you stand in the center and talk, you can hear your voice echo, but people standing a short distance away can barely hear you.  The detour to the Center of the Universe and back adds three tenths of a mile to the race distance.

Runners who do this detour get a souvenir coin.  In past years, you had to sign up in advance, but this year you could decide when you got there.

If I was just taking it easy, I would’ve taken the detour.  If I was on pace to break 3:50 by a wide margin, I might have taken the detour.  If I couldn’t break 3:50, but I was still on pace to break four hours by a wide margin, I would’ve taken the detour.

I was on pace to break 3:50, but I didn’t think I could afford to go three tenths of a mile out of my way.  I skipped the detour and kept running straight.

When I finally made the next turn, I saw that I was about to do downhill to go under a railroad bridge.  On the other side of the bridge, I would have to go uphill again.  Suddenly, this all looked familiar.  Other parts of the course were different, but the last few turns before the finish were the same.

I fought my way up the hill and made the next turn.  I saw a large digital clock about a block ahead of me.  It was the 25.9 mile mark.

They put that there for the benefit of people who took the Center of the Universe detour.  For them, this was the 26.2 mark.  It’s a marathon split with a timing mat.  Your time there, however, is just for your own information.  Your official time is measured at the finish line, which is still three tenths of a mile away.

As I reached this clock, I looked at my watch and realized I would break 3:50 by at least three minutes.  I actually did have time to take the detour, but I didn’t know that at the time.  That’s assuming, of course, that I didn’t slow down on the detour.  To get to the Center of the Universe, you have to go up and over a hill.  Then you turn around and go over the same hill from the other side.  That probably would’ve slowed me down.

There were still two more turns.  After the first of those turns, I went up the last little hill.  Halfway up that hill, I reached the 26 mile mark.  I ran that mile in 8:09.  That was my fastest mile of the race.

After the last turn, I could see the finish line, but there were patches of mud all over the street.  With the rain, it was getting slick.  I watched my footing carefully as I charged toward the finish line.  I got there in 3:46:48.

Shortly after crossing the line, I stopped to put on my gloves.  I also took the Tyvek jacket out of my fanny pack and put that on.  Then I started watching for Charles.  He came in about three minutes behind me.  He also broke 3:50, but just barely.

This race always has cool finisher medals.  They had special versions for people who also completed a challenge by also running other races.  Mine is their regular marathon medal.

Besides my medal, I also received a much-needed space blanket.  Then I kept moving through the finish area.

As I reached the food tent, I saw people walking away with slices of pizza.  I walked past all the other food without looking.  I just wanted a slice of pizza.

I continued to make my way through the finish area to get to Maniac Corner.  Along the way, I stopped at the beer tent.  I had coupons on my race bib for two free beers, but I could only carry one, and I didn’t want to stand there in the rain long enough to drink one.  I hurried to get to Maniac Corner, where I could sit down under a tent.

Inside the tent, they had two kinds of burritos.  One had chicken, the other had BBQ pork.  The BBQ pork burrito really hit the spot.

I wanted to stay in the tent and talk to other runners, but there was a limit to how long I could stay.  I had to walk more than a mile to get back to my hotel, and I needed to get started before I got too cold.

The walk back to the hotel was cold.  The rain eventually stopped, but the wind picked up.  It was blowing so hard that my space blanket was rattling in the wind.  Along the way, I saw another runner who looked even colder.  I asked him if he was OK.  He was really cold, but his hotel was close.  I stayed with him until I could see that his hotel only a block away.  When I knew he would get there safely, I continued to my own hotel.

When I got there, I couldn’t get my room card out of my fanny pack.  If was in a small zip-lock bag in a compartment that was hard to reach.  My hands were almost numb.  I managed to take off my fanny pack and asked someone at the front desk of the hotel if he could get my room card out for me.  Once I had it in my hand, I was able to go to my room.

I had to run warm water over my hands for a couple minutes before I could use them.  They were still white, and they felt tingly, but now I could continue getting out of my wet clothes.  I took a long hot bath.  Then, finally, my hands had color again.

Some friends from Houston were also in Tulsa for this race.  After changing into dry clothes, I met them for lunch and beers.  We spent the afternoon together trading stories about the race.  When I got back to the hotel, I didn’t feel like going back out again.  I eventually had dinner at the hotel.

I’ve gone all out for Boston-qualifying times in six of my last seven races.  I have a few weeks before my next race.  I plan to take it easy in that one.  Really.

Race statistics:
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  3:46:48  
Average Pace:  8:40 
First Half:  1:53:14
Second Half:  1:53:34
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  500
Boston Qualifiers:  159
Oklahoma Marathons:  4
Circuits of Marathons/Ultras in all 50 States:  4

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