Marathon Route #25: Prairie Fire Marathon – Witchita, KS

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Halfway Done! Halfway Done! This run marked the halfway point for my entire quest – I wanted a tickertape parade, dancing in the streets, and fireboats shooting streams of water.  Seriously, I really wanted those fireboats on the river hitting me with full force fire hose spray – it was hot! Runners attempting the official Prairie Fire Marathon will do so almost four months down the road in the second week of October when average highs are around 72 degrees and lows are around 51 degrees.  By comparison, I stepped out of the house at 4:15 am and it was 86 degrees.  It was roughly around 94 degrees when I finished.  This was not including the humidity index which made the real feel around 102! Although I didn’t have anybody running the course with me, I did have a great deal of support from the folks at First Gear Running Company and the organizers of the Praire Fire Marathon.  On Saturday morning, I ran with a group heading out for their first training run for the marathon.  These amazing runners were kind enough to slow down so I could run with them and talk about my quest and they were full of tips about the course and the heat.  At the end of the group run, one of the volunteers with Praire Fire came over, asked me some questions, took my picture, and connected me with the organizers so I left with some amazing swag including a great beach towel and very fancy flame colored racing sleeves (which I will probably not wear until October, but they do look sweet). She also gave me her number for emergencies and her and her son checked in on me during my run to make sure I didn’t pass out, while they were going for their Sunday 10 mile long run. Overall, thanks to the gorgeous last third of this course and the hospitality I receive from this city, I’m really looking forward to officially running this race in the future.

Course Review:

This was one of the hottest days of the summer so I started at 4am. I truly hate starting to run so early. My body doesn’t really feel like it’s woken up. The first hour to two hours which are usually my best running times feel like I am running completely immersed in water. This feeling was exasperated by the high humidity. Leaving the house in the morning it was already 85 with a real feel of 92 degrees. It didn’t get as hot as it was supposed to but I can tell you 94 with a real feel of 101 degrees at 11 am is pretty tough stuff to slog through. I mention this because I didn’t really see the sun until mile 10.

If you have run this course before, there have been some subtle changes to the course. There is a new out and back  along Grove St. that allowed them to cut some chafe in one of the more industrial areas around mile 17. This also allows you more time along the river and in some of the pretier parks. This is one of the flattest courses I have runn all year, with only minor grades and isolatef hill areas. The beginning of the course starts you off with a beautiful view of downtown. You start at the newer WaterWalk area and cross back and forth over the Arkansas river on Lewis St. and then onto Douglas Ave. You run down the main thoroughfare of downtown, past all the high rises and under the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Train line. Around mile 4.5, you leave behind the main artery and start running through nice neighborhoods with the slightest of hills along College Hill Park and Cypress Park. The highlight for me of the first third of this course is along Hampton Rd. and Lakeside Blvd. The homes are nice in this area, but the park that’s been carved between these two streets with its bronze statues and cute little bridges spanning the water way is a great moment for a photo opportunity amidst some mundane neighborhoods.

The next five miles heading towards the halfway point are a bit of suburban khaki, somewhat blah and non descript as you run along outer city streets and neighborhoods, the highlight being a little trail area tucked in around mile 10-11. Surrounded by condos and cookie cutter houses, someone has taken the time and effort to carve out a little enchanting walkway connecting two neighborhoods with decorative trees and flowering shrubs. The mile around the half marathon mark feels a little strip mallish, but within a mile and a half, you are running along the nicely shaded beautiful neighborhoods of 2nd St. As you near the end of the second third of the marathon you get some glimpses of the beautiful brickwork of the revamped Old Town, where some amazing businesses are revitalizing older buildings. The last third of this course is where the scenic tourist views are, so if you have support during the race, you want to make sure they capture you going over one of the Little Arkansas or its big brother and running through one of these final parks. Riverside Park is gorgeous and a bit more accessible to some pretty views than later on by the Botanical Gardens. There are some large noteworthy sculptures by the art museum. The final 5K along the Arkansas River is very tranquil. I loved the sound of the river gently flowing along. One more time crossing over the first bridge and you cross the finish line.

Lessons Learned:

Heat Is Bad, Humidity Is Worse:

This is by far the hottest day I have ever run any distance, much less a marathon. I got some great tips from Marathon Maniacs. I froze the water in the containers on my belt and but two large frozen bars of water in my Camelback.I wore all white.I wore a large brimmed hat (but I need one with a brim all the way around). All the businesses were fine with me stopping in for refills. I did salt tablets. I carried a sweat towel and utilized it as cover for the back of my neck after soaking it in some cold water. There were some other great ideas that I will save for races with some more personal support. The heat itself was not insurmountable. What really drained me was the humidity. It had rained the night before and instead of helping, it just covered everything in water. When the sun did come out, it became a sauna. Especially after 9am, the sun was really beating down and as I was trying to stay in the shade, the trees would radiate dense steam clouds that just robbed the energy from my limbs. I do envy the runners attempting this race in the fall.

Do Not Use A Slushy To Cool Down:

Even with all the added preparation, my body was really beginning to overheat by mile 18 so I stopped at a gas station and got a Slushy to cool down from the inside out. Earlier in the year, a popsicle had really saved my overheated button in Tacoma. The Slushy had 2 downsides. 1. It had a ton more sugar than the popscicle, so although it did give me a boost, I came crashing down hard a couple miles later. The was also a lot more citric acid and it soured my stomach most of the last hour and a half. This was a suggestion from a supporter and I must say for me, it did not work.

 Physical Review:

After a week of intense healing on my feet from running in Revel Rockies, the blisters had healed enough for me the run in Wichita (I’d like to thank Epson salts and Gold Bond foot lotion for that). During the race, every injury I had sustained over the previous 6 months stopped by for a visit, but as I took in water and electrolytes most of the severe aches went away. The largest issue was the draining of energy from the humidity. It became a real challenge to keep going after mile 21 and I was was particularly awash in it around the Botanical Gardens.  Fortunately there was a little breeze along the river, so occasionally relief blew in and quickly blew out. This was my longest street run by far, clocking in at 7:12:02. This was also the first city I started with full ice baths for my lower torso and not only did it refresh my body from the crushing exhaustion, it also made walking the next day much easier than in te past. This will become a regular habit for me.

The heat of this course has helped me make some clear decisions for the summer. The day after this marathon, I rearranged my schedule so that I bounce up and down through the midwest, hopefully giving myself a break every other week or so by going north after a more southern and heated marathon route. It will mean a little more driving, but hopefully it will break up what looks like a dreadfully hot summer. Next week I continue in the center of the nation with an official race in Iowa – Run4Troops. Thank you for reading my journey and as always, I look forward to your comments and questions.



Marathon Route #24: Revel Rockies – Denver, CO

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How do you feel when someone says “It’s all downhill from here!”? Are you elated, thinking about the wind blowing in your face as you effortlessly build momentum and speed or or are you dejected thinking about having just reached a peak and entropy starts to set in as things fall apart and strength begins to wither? An annoying phase that can be used either way and even more difficult to discern when most of your friends are fluent in Sarcasm. I can say this race was a bit of a mixed bag for me including elements of both; smooth, fast, downhill running and a degradation of current levels of strength. Also Revel Rockies is a stunningly gorgeous run!

The Revel Race Series sums up their races in two words – fast and beautiful.  The claim to speed comes from the fact that all of their races are downhill races.  They find a high scenic mountain and you run down it.  Course goals achieved!  This is definitely one of the most consistently beautiful courses I have run. As an organization, they have had some issues in the past with logistics which made me leery, but they seemed to all have been worked out and I had a great race experience. Parking was clear and plentiful, buses were well marked and ran on time, water stations were stocked and stationed by enthusiastic volunteers.  The expo was a little on the lackluster side but that just may be because I wasn’t interested in what the vendors were selling. Logistically, I only had two little problems.  Firstly, as a slow runner, as I was enjoying the finish line festivities I was disappointed to be told that the final buses back to the parking lot were leaving so quickly after I finished. The runner’s guide made it sound like buses would be transporting throughout the day and I would have appreciated a little more time. The buses were quite a ways from the finish line and could have been signed better.  Secondly, the drop bag area was quite far from the finish line and in the opposite direction of the transport busses. These were far out weighed by some of the little niceties that were arranged – excellent sports massages, frozen yogurt, icy cold towels when you crossed the finish line, a great bluegrass band playing in the park, and my favorite race perk – free photographs.  My only complaint is that with so many scenic opportunities, it would be great if they had one photographer stationed in a Runner’s World Rave Runs location.  By design, all the photos are taken with the runner filling up the photograph, but it would be nice to have just one where we are placed it the context of such monumental scenery.

Course Description:

Revel Rockies site talks a lot about the rigors of downhill running.  They offer many tips and corrections for common mistakes and also offer a full training program with an online coach for around $150.  I must admit that I didn’t have much opportunity to do sustained downhill training and I would recommend that for anyone attempting their races.  However, something that is not mentioned is the altitude you need to contend with.  Starting at 10,500 ft, Revel Rockies is the highest starting point in their current roster and even with a 4,700 ft Net Drop, you are still well above a mile high. Do not think that the downhill momentum will automatically balance out any issues you may have with altitude if you usually run at sea level or lower altitudes.

You are up early to catch the buses because they do not allow start line drop off at Echo Mountain due to the singularity of the beginning of the race course.  Once you get up that mountain, they close off the road to general traffic for your safety. You start mostly in darkness.  The sky is lightning, but even when it rises, you are more than likely still on the wrong side of the mountain. It is cold.  It gets warmer, but at 10,000 ft the temperature is about 20 degrees cooled than Denver.  Plenty of  people started off running in heavier disposable gear.  I just just had a pullover that I took off and put in my drop bag.  You warm up quickly once the race begins. Some of the most scenic views of the area are in those first couple miles, but it is tough to get a picture due to the variations in light (The background might be bright, but you are in shadow).  Around miles 3, 6, and 8 you have some of the more dramatic drops in altitude and a fairly even downhill run.  They also come right after short spurts of flattening road that seems like it is almost up hill after so much downward momentum. The curves on this part of the course are broader and for the most part, you have the entire road to navigate and ease your descent. Around mile 10, you start to break from the endless pine trees and get some wonderful valley views with a lake and grazing cattle and picturesque peaks encircling you. Between Miles 11 and 12 you enter the most lackluster part of the course, entering more of a commercial district on a double lane highway.  Still some nice views off to your left until you get to the half marathon mark.  At that point you start encountering two or three larger hills interspersed with a few rolling hills for about the next two miles before turning off on to smaller roads running through some nicer residential areas leading to Bear Creek.  Once you turn on Bear Creek Road, you will be overwhelmed by the phenomenal views, no matter how tired you are.  The gushing river even so late in the spring provides a constant feeling of movement as you continue downhill.  The curves are much tighter on this road and traffic was constant in the opposite lane heading up the mountain. The tighter curves mean that much of the road is beveled so my ankles got a real work out constantly running on an angle and my shoes were slipping in ways I was unused to, creating a multitude of blisters in ways I had not yet experienced.  The further down the canyon you run, the richer the colors get as more iron pervades the cliffs and you get more of the rusty hues that Red Rocks Amphitheater is known for.  Once you pass that landmark, you know you are on your home stretch and it is a fairly steep downhill to the finish line.

Lessons Learned:

Curvy Roads Are Rarely Flat

Around mile 12 I noticed that my shoes were loose and and needed to stop, tighten and retie them (not particularly fun to do after running 12 miles).  It didn’t occur to me that this was happening as my shoes were slipping from side to side as I ran on roads that were curved to accommodate tires, not my feet.  I started to feel the blisters around mile 18 and by mile 20 the pain from multiple blisters were a hindrance. I’ve looked up some better ways of lacing your shoes for these occasions and will be better prepared next time.

Utilize the Drop Bag Option

I feel like I really got it right using a drop bag.  Not only did I have breakfast on the way up the mountain, I had a couple clothing options when I got up there, and for the most part was able to run unencumbered. I also had some fresh clothes to change into after the race so I didn’t stink to high hell on the massage table. (it would have been better if the pick up was a little closer to the finish line – hint, hint).

Physical Review:

I was a little worse for wear after this race.  My feet were covered in blisters, many that stretched up the sides of my foot and made even walking uncomfortable, if not painful.  My knees and hips felt the force of the impact in the days that followed and that could have been avoided with perhaps a little more downhill training and attention to form.  I was a little disappointed in my time and this was exasperated by the fact that I had missed that we had a course deadline of 5:40. 5:36:20 was my finish time.  Between some issues in the second half dealing with the altitude and blisters on my feet, I lost all the time I had gained in the first half and ended close to my usual average. This will be my last race with any cool weather for sometime and I was grateful the sun wasn’t harsher until the final hour.  Next week will be a race that plunges me right into the summer heat wave – Wichita, Kansas. I hope you will continue to join me.