Thursday, February 27, 2014

Post Oak Trail Marathon

The Post Oak Trail Marathon was this past Sunday. The race took place on the grounds of a private lodge and also the Tulsa Botanic Gardens. The course was rolling to hilly, with a max elevation of around 960’ and a minimum elevation of around 750’. In the spirit of trail running, you climb that 200 feet in one final ascent at mile 25, of course. The surface was a little rocky, but nothing like the Dam Full Trail Marathon in Pennsylvania or the Devil’s Lake Trail Marathon in Wisconsin.

Here are Dylan, Joy, and Laney waiting for the start of the race. The morning started out brisk and clear, with a steady 20 mph wind and the temperature around freezing. The start was at eight o’clock, but no one was at the starting line more than two minutes till eight. We all left the lodge and headed out right at eight. No waiting around and freezing. Everything got better as soon as we got moving.

The course was a half-marathon loop, which we would have to do twice. I hadn’t done a set up like that before, but it wasn't that bad. It gets easier mentally (not physically, though) once you are on the second loop. There were some very nice sections through some hilly woods. There were some open, exposed prairie sections that weren’t bad, depending on which way the wind was blowing. It was warm in the woods, but not out in the open. I stuck with my strategy of walking up the hills, which paid off in the end. Most runners walk the hills, it seems.

The course had been altered several times prior to the race, making the maps at best unhelpful and at worst misleading. We had blue flagging to follow. The course was well flagged, but there were several places where different parts of the loop came together. I made a critical mistake at one turn early on when I saw blue flagging heading in two directions. I asked a volunteer at an aid station which way to go, and was pointed in the wrong direction. Actually, it would have been the right direction if I was at mile 9, which I wasn’t. After a couple minutes, I realized what was wrong and turned back around. There was flagging on the ground that would have pointed me in the right direction, if I had seen it. C’est la vie. I made sure to keep my eyes on the flags from then on. I figure I lost about four minutes.

This was the first time I recall actually tripping and falling during a race. Surely I have before, but I don’t recall them now. I was looking at a sign at mile 17 and caught a stump wrong and went down to my hands and knees. Luckily, the ground was forgiving. I think it hurt my abs more than my hands or knees as abs tense to regain balance.

The day warmed up decently. It got to around 50 degrees, but the wind in the open was still strong. I had hot-hands with me, which helped. I had a long sleeve t-shirt on for the first part, but I gave it to Joy after about mile 11. The spectators and aid station volunteers suffered from the cold more than the runners.

The hill in the photo above is the highest point in the race. Its crest was about mile 9.3 and 22.4. The wind was whipping up there, but it did have a nice view of the Tulsa skyline to the south (photo below). There was a steep descent from the hill, followed by a turn and a climb almost back to the top.

In the photo below, at first glance it is hard to tell that this is a steep ascent, until you look at the runner behind me and the angle of the junipers.

I didn't take near as many pictures during the second loop. (Thanks to Andrew for letting me borrow his camera, and Erin and Arty for letting me borrow their running belt.)  One, I had already seen the trail, and two, I was much more focused. The marathoners were widely separated during the second loop, and all of the half-marathoners were done. I only saw a handful of people. In the photo below, you can see a mile marker. This was my first trail marathon that had mile markers.

The tallest hill was a mental fixation for me during the second loop. "Just get to that hill, and you will be almost done." In some ways, uphills are nice, since you get a break. Regan and Dylan even joined me just after mile 25 and accompanied me to the finish. As I mentioned above, this was mostly uphill, so they had no trouble keeping up with me. It was fun to try to break into a sprint together for the finish.

About 57 runners finished the race. (I don't know how many started the race.) I was right in the middle of the pack at 27th. I finished in 5:03:15. I had wanted to beat five hours when I saw how I had done for the first half, but there were three large hills in the last four miles that made it hard to keep the pace fast. I was happy with the time. I didn’t hit the wall, and I finished the race strong. I was very impressed with my fellow runners. Many of them had run 50K the day before as part of the Post Oak Challenge. I know I have room to improve, but I was pleased, given that I hadn't run anything much over 10 miles during the winter.

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