April 15, 2010

Race Report: Olathe Marathon

I arrived in Kansas City after a very smooth nonstop flight from New York, and met up with my new friend and roommate, Morgan. My friend Jackie had organized the room plan for herself, me, Morgan, and another guy Eric, and I was shocked when I found out Morgan was about my age and worked in revenue management for another airline. You mean there are two of us who do marathons? So cool! We had about a 30 minute drive from the airport to Olathe, Kansas, where the marathon was, and we chattered nonstop about the airline industry and various marathon travel related things.

When we got to our hotel, we headed up to the room to drop our stuff and meet up with Jackie and Eric, and then hit the hotel restaurant for dinner. They had a pasta buffet for only $10, which was a great deal, so we filled up pretty heartily before heading to bed. I still had a terrible head cold (made worse by the cabin pressure in flight), so I wanted to get as much rest as I could before the race. As a pacer, I needed to be at the start at 5:55am, and I was not too psyched about getting up at 5, but I kept reminding myself that it was really 6am EST, which wasn’t too horrible. Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep that well (took me a while to fall asleep and then I woke up a few times during the night), and when the alarm went off, I was super groggy. I pulled myself together and got ready in record time, then headed off to the start.

The start was at the Garmin Headquarters, which I thought was kind of cool, and the pacers had been warned to be there at 5:55am sharp – there was a Garmin employee who was going to let us in the heavy iron gates and then key us into the building so we could wait there. I was proud of myself for arriving a few minutes early, but as it turned out, my co-pacer came 20 minutes late and still was able to get in. So much for “you MUST be there at 5:55!” I hate stuff like that… seems like whenever I’m on time, it turns out not to matter, but on the rare occasions I am late, I get in trouble. Ugh.

Anyway, my co-pacer Sarav turned out to be really nice, and a fairly experienced pacer. He told me a lot about the local running group who sponsored the pace team, and gave me some juicy gossip about our pace team leader. I’ve had pre-race communications for pacers run the gamut – from Vermont City last year, where they really told me nothing about what to do, to the upcoming New Jersey Marathon, where they put a profile of me on their website and I’ve had about 20 runners e-mail me to introduce themselves and ask about my strategy. However, Olathe takes the cake for “most micromanagement of the pace teams” – for weeks, we had been getting e-mails reminding us of the exact splits we were supposed to hit for each mile (based on banking a little time and accounting for every hill, change of terrain, bend in the road, and potential wind on the course) as well as telling us what we should be running that week in training. Crazy! I took seriously the splits that we were supposed to hit for each mile (they were giving us pace bands, so that was easy enough), but ignored the instructions for how many miles to run and at what pace. I mean, come on – we were selected as pacers because we know how to run marathons. I don’t want or need to be told what to do when I’m not actually pacing!

Anyway, Sarav told me that he’s worked with this pace organization before, and that this marathon was actually a step down in communications from what’s been done in the past. People had complained previously about all the e-mails/instructions (which used to be weekly for 12-3 months before the race, and then became daily from 3 months on), so the weekly e-mails that we got were already considered bare bones. Wow! Good thing I don’t need to run Kansas again, because I’m not sure all that micromanagement is worth it 🙂

The funny thing was, we were given pace bands with every split we were supposed to hit on there… but Sarav had picked up both of our packets for us, and he lost the pace bands! I was really bummed about that – my pace band is one of my most important tools when I’m pacing a marathon (second only to my Garmin), and if I had known I wouldn’t have one, I would have made one of my super-special personalized ones myself (complete with locations of aid stations, porta potties, and medical aid). To compensate, Sarav had written all the per mile paces and splits on a sheet of paper, but that wasn’t really an elegant solution, as it required digging in my fuel belt every time I wanted to check the time. Not off to a great start so far…

We had been given a very specific order in which to line up our pace signs at the start, and despite all the meticulous planning, the 2:15 half marathon pacer was instructed to line up ahead of us, the 4:20 full marathon pacers. The logic was that due to the splits we had been given, we were supposed to start slower and have a longer warm up before passing the 2:15 group, while they were supposed to hit their race pace faster. However, it just became kind of confusing for runners who were trying to figure out where to place themselves. Silly contrived splits!

When the race started, it turned out to be so crowded that everyone was running at the same pace anyway – you just couldn’t help it. I was surprised it was so crowded, because this was supposed to be a smaller race (only about 800 people, or so I heard). Even with that small crowd, the first water station ran out of pre-poured water (leaving anyone who wanted it to cluster around the tables and wait as volunteers hastily filled cups and thrust them into our hands), and the second water station (at mile 3) was out of water AND cups – they told us mile 5 would be the next stop. We were all a little worried about that – what if they were out of water at mile 5 too? – but it turned out to be okay. I was just surprised they ran out so early, because as I said, it was a small field, plus the weather was pretty cool as expected (i.e. it wasn’t warm enough that runners would take more water than usual).

Though Sarav and I lined up with our pace signs at the start, there wasn’t really any kind of group that formed around us – just various people who lined up near us but may or may not have been intending to run with us. In the first mile, though, we came upon my roommates, and Jackie decided that even though she was doing the double, she wanted to run with me since it worked out so well at National. By mile 4, we had picked up a few other runners as well, including one first timer. Woo hoo! My group was formed.

The first few miles took us around a big shopping mall, and then we headed into some suburban neighborhoods for a little while. The group was pretty quiet, and I tried to spice it up with some conversation, but my cold had sucked a lot out of me, and I just wasn’t feeling quite as bubbly and effervescent as I had been at National. In terms of the actual pace, Sarav was pushing it pretty hard (he was usually hovering around a 9:20/mile pace), while I just kept trying to pull us back to our assigned pace (which was 9:46 after the first few warmup miles). While normally I love having a co-pacer because it takes some of the presure off me, this time I wasn’t thrilled about it, because I felt like we were kind of playing tug-of-war to stay on pace. Sarav would start speeding up, and I’d lag behind until either he slowed to wait for me or I called to him to hold up and that we were ahead. Unfortunately, I usually pace by feel (at least betwen each mile marker), so the changes in speed were making it really tough for me to settle into a comfortable pace. As a result, I was checking my Garmin every few minutes and relying a lot more on what my Garmin said my pace was than normal (I usually only check my watch when I get to the splits at each mile).

Around mile 8, we turned out of the neighborhoods to head out along a main road that was going to take us to the out-and-back for the full marathoners. We said goodbye to the half marathoners at mile 12 (I gave an extra shoutout to a girl I had met at mile 11 who was doing her first half), and turned off onto a paved trail along a creek that was going to be our out-and-back for the rest of the race. Right at the start of it, there was a big permanent mile marker that said mile 19 (obviously not anything to do with the race), and I joked to everyone around me that we only had 7 miles to go 🙂 This reminded me a lot of the Towpath in the Akron Marathon.

Like the Towpath, it was a pretty nice trail, starting out with lush greenery and quiet forests and turning into a sidewalk behind a whole development of houses in Overland Park. I realized as I saw the Overland Park sign that that was where my old blog buddy Topher lived, and I felt bad that I hadn’t tried to get in touch with him to meet up. Since his blog is now defunct, I have no idea what he’s up to these days, but whenever I passed a family with two boys playing in the yard or out cheering, I wondered if I might spot him. Sadly, no luck.

We ran by a lot of parks and recreational facilities on our path, so then this started reminding me of the Sunburst Marathon in South Bend, Indiana. I think it’s funny that after doing so many marathons (this was #46 for me!), all the courses start to seem alike. I’ve often thought this, how sections of one marathon remind me of sections of another… maybe someday I’ll write a race report with a course description that just cites other courses of other marathons 🙂

We lost Jackie after a water stop around mile 16 – only 2 miles left to the turnaround! – and really, lost most of our people around this area. I had tried to use some of the tactics I used at National to keep people going (promising a surprise at mile 20, warning about my drill sergeant attitude at mile 25), but they just didn’t seem to work when the group wasn’t really well-formed or defined. Sarav and I reached the turnaround at mile 18.3 pretty much by ourselves, but spotted a lot of our old group members within a few minutes of us. We encouraged them to catch up, reminding them that our pacing schedule was calling for us to slow down from mile 20 on anyway, but I didn’t expect anyone to really catch up – that’s a tough point in a marathon to make up time.

Well, color me surprised when this guy Scott actually did catch up! Scott had run his first marathon several years ago, and was doing this one with very little training. I’m not sure what made him decide to do it this way, but in 2010, this was actually his first run over 10 miles! Totally crazy, maybe even a little more than I usually am 🙂

At mile 20, I told the half dozen people or so around me that we were now coming into the “music mile,” and gave tem the explanation I had used a few weeks before in National. The first song I put on was Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb,” which always takes me back to a few memorable marathon adventures. The first time I ever heard the song (before I added it to my music collection) was on the radio while driving back to the airport from the Mesa Marathon in Idaho. I was driving down a mountain pass into Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on a gorgeous sunny day when it came on, and I thought it was so perfect for marathoning. I added it to my Marathon Power Songs playlist, and the next strong memory I have of it is in the last few miles of the New Hampshire Marathon, where it was pouring rain and Jackie and I were getting so excited to reach the finish and get warm and dry. The lyrics of the chorus are just really awesome… “There’s always gonna be another mountain/I’m always gonna want to make it move/Always gonna be an uphill battle/Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose/Ain’t about how fast I get there/Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side/It’s the climb.” Now, that’s just the chorus, but there are a lot of other really appropriate lyrics throughout the song, all about giving it your best… the perfect lyrics for a slow marathoner like me 🙂

Sadly, while everyone else was quiet while the song was on, no one really seemed too pumped up by it, and I was kind of bummed. For the next song, I put on Rascal Flatts’ “Stand,” which was a crowd pleaser at the National Marathon, and made sure to point out the best line of the song: “Every time you get up and get back in the race/One more small piece of you starts to fall into place.” And still, not much reaction. That’s no fun! My favorite part about pacing is feeling like I’m really inspiring people, and I just felt like I was sucking bigtime at that. That’s part of why the National Marathon was such a great experience for me, because we had such a tight group and they were all so vocally grateful for my help.

However, while I felt like I wasn’t being much of a cheerleader, I was at least staying right on pace – which is the first goal of a pacer. My philosophy is that average pacers stay on pace, good pacers motivate enough to keep their group with them till thend, great pacers motivate enough to pick up new group members along the way and inspire them to reach a time they never thought possible! Today, I was just doing an average job – but at least I wasn’t doing a poor job.

It didn’t help that the winds had been really strong the whole race. I read on Marathon Guide that this course was known for being windy, and I guess Kansas is known for its tornadoes, but somehow I just wasn’t expecting the winds. My mom looked up the weather and told me after the race that it had been 25mph winds (wow!), but all I knew during the race was that I just felt constantly exhausted, and I could feel the wind pushing me back. I’m sure my cold didn’t help either, as I felt really low-energy right from the moment I woke up. By the time I got to mile 20, I was as relieved as the runners around me that we got to slow down the pace a little bit.

To slow down, though, Sarav and I had very different implicit strategies for achieving it. He was continuing to push the pace throughout while I tried to pull him back (in part because I wanted to be perfectly on pace, and in part because I was tired). His preferred method of achieving the slightly slower pace was to keep the same pace but add in some walk breaks; mine was to just slow the overall pace down at a steady rate, and still only walk through the water stations. It occurred to me that this might be something race directors of large races could use for their pacers: have two groups for each finish time, one that does a pure run/walk method, and one that runs the whole thing at a slightly slower pace (of course, walking through the water stations).

The only problem with being the “pure running” pacer was that I was constantly a bit behind Sarav (until he took his walk break and I caught up). It was kind of demotivating to feel like I was behind. Scott (the “first run over 10 miles” guy) was with me, and I asked him if he’d prefer to go up with Sarav and do the run/walk, but he said that he was happy staying with me at the slower running pace – that made me feel a little better. Still, I hated passing spectators at aid stations who saw that we were both 4:20 pacers and yet I was lagging behind. I wanted to call out, “I’m on pace, I swear! It’s his fault – he’s ahead!” But I held my tongue and just sucked it up 🙂

Finally, we were coming into the last mile, and I was so grateful – I was really tired, and couldn’t imagine keeping that pace up much longer. The wind and my cold had obviously really taken a toll – this was 5 minutes slower than the pace group I had led at National, and I had spent a lot less energy being a cheerleader, but I still only had about 10% of the energy left that I had there. I didn’t have the energy to get all drill sergeant-ish, but with only Scott there, it was easy to just quietly tell him that he should go on ahead and I’d pick him up if I caught up to him again. After doing that, I looked around for more people to join me, but there really weren’t many people around except for Sarav just ahead of me.

Looking at my watch, I realized that now I was even about 20 seconds ahead, so I slowed down even further (yay!). With about 1/2 mile to go, though, Sarav and his lone runner slowed to a walk, and motioned to me to catch up. I tried my best to still keep my steady pace, but when I reached them, they said we should all finish together… and started pushing the pace again. Grr! I tried my best to take it slow, but ultimately, we came across the finish line 23 seconds early. Not my best pacing finish, but not my worst either.

I hugged Sarav and thanked him for pacing with me, and we turned in our pacing signs and went our separate ways. I headed over to the food tent, finding only yogurt with tons of preservatives (look, I’m not an all-organic girl, but is it really hard to get yogurt for runners that’s not full of sugar and red dye #40?), some bagels, and orange slices. I had a few orange slices before getting distracted by something even better: the beer tent.

When I paced St. Louis, one of the pacers invited everyone over to his house the night before for a pasta dinner, and among the drinks was a beer by Boulevard Brewery called “The Sixth Glass.” I thought it was one of the best beers I’d ever had, and I’ve been looking for it ever since but found that it had very limited distribution. Well, lo and behold, who was the brewery that was sponsoring the beer tent here? Boulevard Brewery! I was super psyched, and headed right over to try their wheat beer and wait for my roommates to finish. It turned out to not be nearly as extraordinary as The Sixth Glass (and instead of six glasses, I only had about half a bottle of it), but it was still a lot better than crappy Bud or Michelob like a lot of races serve. Woo hoo for quality post-race beer!

The bottles were interesting too – they were metal, kind of like the way Bud Light Lime (ugh) is. My left hip and thigh had been getting pretty sore during the race, and I found that the empty beer bottle made a fantastic substitute for a foam roller in massaging my leg. Just another reason to drink your post-race beer quickly 🙂

Overall, I wasn’t thrilled with my performance in this race. It wasn’t much fun to be so exhausted throughout, and I was a little disappointed to finish 23 seconds early when I had been pacing myself pretty well the whole time, but at least there were no real problems and everything went fairly smoothly. Kansas down; 8 states left! I am definitely in the final countdown.

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:19:36
Pace: 9:54
Overall place: 179/322
Gender place: 39/100
Age group place: 4/8


4 thoughts on “Race Report: Olathe Marathon”

  1. Sorry to hear that Olathe was such a tough one. I still love to read your pacing stories though! I swear, it’s the best motivation!! Hope you’re feeling better ASAP! 🙂

  2. I remember that when I ran the olathe marathon (it is my KS race) I saw a bunch about the fact that it was the 50 staters preferred race for KS.

    that is so strange how hyper critical they were of the pacers. maybe that is because it is only their 2nd year or something.

    Kansas represent!!!!

  3. Great race report (I always enjoy all your details…)

    quick question: How do you make your custom pace bands? do you laminate paper or use something else. do you tape it around your wrist?


  4. Lisa, I print them on regular paper, cut them into strip shape, and then apply Scotch tape all over them in long strips so that it basically laminates them. Very cheap sweatproofing!

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