Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Weekend of Opposites - Double Marathon Race Reports

I ran two marathons in one weekend and I didn't completely hate it! There is a lot that can go wrong traveling over 2000 miles and running 52.4 miles in one weekend, so even though it wasn't always pretty, I'm very happy with my first double marathon experience.

I'm calling this "A Weekend of Opposites" because the races ended up being completely different from one another. Nashville on Saturday was hot and sunny, I stuck to my strategy, everything went very smoothly and I easily beat my goal time. Oklahoma City on Sunday was cold and rainy, I went away from my strategy at the beginning and paid for it late in the race, missing my goal time by a few minutes.

Country Music Marathon

The Race:
Race day in Nashville started with my alarms sounding at 3:45am. I hate waking up so early, but I was worried about the parking and shuttle crowds. I forced down my usual coffee, peanut buttered bagel and two banana breakfast, loaded up my usual nutrition items and headed out the door at 4:15. It ended up that my strategy to avoid traffic on the interstate worked even better than I had expected, because I was parked at LP Field by 4:35. Darn, could have stayed in bed a little longer.  The race didn't start until 7:00, so after I took the shuttle to Centennial Park, I had plenty of time to take some pictures, eat a Clif Bar, chat with other runners and enjoy the cool morning before the race.

Getting off the start shuttle, we were greeted by a
view of the Parthenon replica in Centennial Park.

Post-sunrise view of the Parthenon.

The start was extremely well organized, which is always my favorite thing about Competitor/Rock 'n' Roll races. The start corrals stretch for many blocks and are all clearly marked and pre-assigned based on predicted finish times. I lined up in my assigned Corral 2, happy that I wouldn't be weaving around walkers the first few miles. The race started while the weather was still nice and cool, and I felt great.

Miles 1-11:
The 31,000 full and half runners share the course through this portion, but things aren't very crowded because of the corral start. I ran a pace that felt nice and easy and enjoyed the sights of the city. That nice and easy pace ended up being closer to 8:00/mile than 8:30/mile, as I had planned, but I was feeling good so I didn't worry about it too much. The only thing that went wrong was that I had to make a bathroom stop around mile 4, which was annoying but somewhat expected. I had been drinking a bunch up until the start of the race because I knew it was going to get hot.

Miles 11-16:
The marathon split from the half around mile 11, and the marathon went off on a five mile out-and-back with a loop on the end. There wasn't much to see during this portion, but I always like out-and-backs because you get to size up the competition. For me, this consists of feeling slow because so many old people are beating me, then feeling better when I see how many people I'm beating. Fun stuff. It was around mile 11 that I started to notice the heat, but overall I was still feeling good and going faster than planned.

Miles 16-17:
Mile 16 of the marathon ran alongside the half course, separated by a median. I loved this portion, it was fun to run across from the halfers and even run by the finish line at mile 17. I'm sure if I was feeling worse, I would have hated seeing the finish so early, but since things were going well, it was fun to see the big crowds that awaited our eventual arrival.

Miles 17-21:
Boring and hot. I slowed down to about an 8:40 pace through this portion because the heat was starting to get to me. There was no shade in sight and I was cooking. My stomach also started bugging me, which I figured was probably cramps in the heat, so I tried drinking extra water at the water stops and taking my remaining Endurolytes.

Miles 21-24:
This was my favorite portion of the course, even though I wasn't feeling too great.  It was another out-and-back along the Cumberland River and through Shelby Park. Everything was green and beautiful, and the trees finally offered some shade from the sun. My stomach was still hurting so I broke out my medicine stash and took two Rolaids each around miles 21 and 24. Either the Rolaids or the extra water and Endurolytes ended up helping, because my stomach started feeling much better heading into the finish.

Miles 24-26.2:
There isn't much to see during this section of the race, but I was happy to be closing in on the finish. Now that my stomach was back to normal, I felt like I had some extra gas in the tank if I wanted to push the pace for the last few miles.  But, knowing that I had to do it all over again on Sunday, I made myself hold back and stick with an easy pace. There is a nasty, long hill around mile 25 that was causing a lot of people to walk, so I was glad to still feel good enough to run up the whole way.

Miles 26-26.2:
When I see the finish line of a race, I always have to speed up. My last .2 was at a 7:04 pace, a good sign that I still had some energy left for OKC.

Free post-race beer.  Carbo loading for Sunday?

Overall, everything went as well as I could have hoped in this race. It's interesting to see how my pace varied through the race. My goal pace was a comfortable 8:30, so you can see how I was feeling great at the beginning and then slowed down as the day got hotter and my stomach got angry.

Country Music Marathon split paces off my Garmin.
(Splits taken at every mile marker I saw.)

I heard a lot of people after the race complaining about the hills. Not to sound snobby, but I thought the course was pretty flat.  It all depends on where you train, and training in Austin makes most cities seem flat.  I think this could be a great PR course in cooler weather because it has nice rolling hills the whole way to give your legs some variety.

Country Music Marathon elevation off my Garmin.

Not the best schwag from this race. A decent navy blue tech shirt and a decent medal (guitar pick shape is cool, colors are not). Lots of free samples at the expo though, Competitor expos are great. Plus, a free beer at the finish.

The glitter really hurts the coolness factor in my opinion.

Nerdy Statistics:
Garmin Distance - 26.48 miles
Garmin Average Pace - 8:14/mile
Official Splits
MileTimeSplit PaceTotal Pace

Crowd Support - Nashville reminded me of Austin, with lots of people out cheering, handing out their own food and drinks, and giving high fives throughout the course. Several people even set up sprinklers to spray passing runners, which is much appreciated on a hot day.

Start - Extremely well organized corral system with a great National Anthem by Danny Gokey. (Yes, I watch American Idol and know who that is, you got a problem with that?!?)

Course - I don't know much about Nashville and didn't expect much. I ended up liking the course, it was a nice mix of rolling hills without being crazy hilly. There were lots of interesting things to see in the city portions, lots of nice neighborhoods, and the portion through Shelby Park was my favorite.

Bands - I've run quite a few Rock 'n' Roll races and I would vote Nashville as having the best course bands. A good showing for "Music City."

Shirt and Medal - As I said above, boring shirt and so-so medal.

Heat - The start was nice and cool, but it was almost 80 degrees when I finished. This race has been hot or had thunderstorms for the past three or four years, it's tough to have cool weather in late April.

Spray Paint Factory? - Around mile 21 and 24, we ran by a big warehouse looking building that smelled horribly like spray paint. Kind of gross but didn't last long.

Traffic - I avoided the traffic getting to LP Field, but it took me about 45 minutes to get out of the parking lot after I finished. Very frustrating when you just want a shower!

Rental Car - Why do I always get the stupid looking ones?

If the glitter on the medal didn't ruin my coolness factor,
my rental car certainly did.

Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon

The Race:
After the race in Nashville, I flew back to Dallas and drove up to Oklahoma City, eating and drinking as much as possible all along the way to reload for day 2. I didn't end up getting to my hotel until 11:00pm, which really isn't ideal marathon preparation, but I guess running a marathon the day before isn't ideal preparation either. I checked the weather forecast before going to sleep and it said temperatures in the 50s with a 30% chance of rain. That sounds like perfect race weather to me, too bad it was completely wrong.

I woke up the next morning at 4:30am and my stomach did not feel good. I think it was reacting negatively to all of the food I ate the day before, and the lack of sleep. I still forced down my usual breakfast, dressed in warm clothes, and loaded up my usual nutrition items. At 5:15, I headed out the door to make the 1.5 mile walk to the start. The weather felt perfect, temperature in the low 50s and a nice breeze. Once I got to the start area and was checking out the Memorial waiting for the 6:30 start, the weather went downhill quickly. First I noticed flashes of lightning in the distance, then it was sprinkling, then there was some thunder, then the wind picked up, then it was pouring. The announcement was made that the start would be delayed until 7:00. I found a nice bench under a staircase to hide from the rain and waited, drinking water and feeling my stomach slowly start calming down. The lightning and thunder continued, and I honestly thought the race would be canceled.

They kept announcing the 7:00 start, so around 6:30 I headed up to the gear check. This is where I made the biggest mistake of the weekend. In my race preview, I had noted that everyone says to line up in the corrals early because it gets very crowded. I made the decision to wait as long as possible to give up my gear bag and jacket to stay warm. This meant I didn't get into the corral until very late, and it was so crowded I couldn't get any closer than the 4:30 pace group. Big mistake!

The race start was fun, with everyone counting down the last 10 seconds together and laughing that they were playing U2's Beautiful Day during a raging thunderstorm.

Miles 1-4:
I was shocked that I actually felt good at the beginning of the race. I think it was the combination of being so cold in the rain and pissed off at myself for starting so far back in the pack that got me past my stiffness from the day before very quickly. Unfortunately, I also wasted a bunch of energy at the beginning because I was weaving through the crowd trying to get to run my usual pace. I also had to make a bathroom stop around mile 2, probably because I had been drinking a bunch of water to try to calm my stomach, which was very frustrating because then I had to weave through people I had already passed.

Miles 4-14:
The crowd finally thinned out and I settled into a comfortable pace around mile 4. I felt good at this point, averaging 8:00-8:30/mile pace and trying not to feel miserable in the cold rain and wind.

Miles 14-17:
This was my favorite portion of the course, where it winds along a path next to Lake Hefner, by the lighthouse and through the Stars and Stripes Park. I was still feeling good and wasn't too bothered by the cold rain.

Miles 17-23:
Once we left the park, I started to slow down. For some reason, I felt tired. What a wimp! I had to stop for another potty break around mile 18, and then I really started to worry about the cold. I was soaking wet, the bank thermometers were displaying the temperature at 42 degrees, and I hadn't felt my fingers or toes for quite a while. I had heard stories of people running cold marathons that bonk and end up in bad shape with hypothermia because their body isn't working to produce enough heat. So, I slowed down. I wanted to make sure I didn't have to walk, where I would definitely get too cold, so I just slowed down my run and felt sorry for myself.

Miles 23-26.2:
I caught my second wind at mile 23. I realized that I only had 3 miles left to go, and I needed to stop being a wimp. From that point I picked up the pace more and more all the way to the finish. I loved the finish line for this race, because you could see it from about half a mile away. As usual, I picked up the pace at that point and finished strong, very happy to be finished running in the rain.

Very soggy, but happy to be finished
with marathon #2.

After finishing, I knew I had to get back to the hotel fast before I started to feel the cold. I got my picture taken, grabbed a drink and some bites of banana, bagels, and cookies and started walking back to my hotel. By the time I got there 20ish minutes later, I was mostly numb and shivering very badly. After struggling for a while to get my key out of my pocket and into the door, I jumped in the shower for a long long time and finally warmed up.

My final time ended up being 3:49:36. I may have been able to get my goal time of 3:45 if I hadn't started so far back in the pack and wasted so much energy in the first few miles, but with the weather so bad I'm still happy with the performance. My split paces show the story for the day, with a slow start in the crowd, two bathroom breaks, a slow down late in the race, then a burst of energy for the last few miles.

OKC Memorial Marathon split paces off my Garmin.

This is a great marathon course. Again I didn't know much about Oklahoma City before running the race, but I was impressed with how nice everything looked, when I was actually looking and not burying my head to hide from the rain. The elevation consists of small rolling hills, similar to Nashville but a little flatter. I think with good weather, it would be a great PR course. This is definitely a race I will do again in the future, hoping for better weather.

OKC elevation from my Garmin, that first giant hill doesn't really exist,
I think my watch had trouble getting started in the rain.

Awesome medal and finisher's tech shirt. We also were given a cotton shirt in our packet, which is a nice bonus.  I would have been happy with the finisher's shirt alone.

Super classy medal, one of my all-time favorites.

Nerdy Statistics:
Garmin Distance - 26.56 miles
Garmin Average Pace - 8:39/mile
Official Splits
MileTimeSplit PaceTotal Pace

Volunteers - Even though the weather was cold and wet, every aid station was well stocked and well staffed, as was the start and finish. Every stop had Powerade and water, and most stops after mile 16 offered fruit, pretzels and Gu. I gladly took their Gu, because my fingers were too numb to rip mine off my shorts.

Crowd Support - If I lived in Oklahoma City, I would have been in my nice warm house drinking hot coffee and watching on TV.  I was amazed how many people were out in the cold cheering for us.

Organization - Everything about this race was well organized, which can be difficult to pull off in bad weather.  I heard they were even using the church next to the finish for the medical team to get people out of the cold.  This is the same church that offers a free pancake breakfast to runners before the race start.  The organization and community support really fits with the theme of the race, uniting the city to honor the victims of the 1995 bombing.  Speaking of the spirit behind the race, the 168 seconds of silence before the start to honor the victims killed in the bombing was very moving.  A little bad weather is nothing in comparison to what the race is all about.

Scenery - When I did take the time to look around, I was impressed with how pretty the city looked, especially the portion near the lake and through the park.

Weather - So cold, so wet, so windy, so strange to see lightning and hear thunder while running a marathon. I heard there was even some hail after I finished.

Start - The start corrals were too crowded.  I don't think the start location is going to move because it needs to be close to the Memorial, but it would be good to spread out the pace groups and allow the corrals to stretch back a few extra blocks.  Even better would be if they follow Competitor's lead and create more corrals and strictly enforce placement based on predicted finish times.

Race Costs
Race Entry - $167 = $92 (Nashville) + $75 (OKC)
Flights - $330
Hotels - $167 = $85 (Nashville) + $82 (OKC)
Car - $174 = $54 (Nashville rental) + $120 (gas)

Total - $838
Total per Race - $419

18 total marathons
15 states
9 of 16 marathons finished between 10/10/10 and 10/9/11
4 Marathon Maniac stars earned

Wow, do you feel like you just ran two marathons reading through this ridiculously long race report?


  1. WOW! You amaze me! Great race reports. I was laughing and laughing in the part where you said you slowed down and just felt sorry for yourself. So much fun to read! :)

  2. Well done and well written - I totally felt like I was there with you. What an inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. Getting ready to run my 1st marathon in Oct. (IMT Des Moines,IA). Nice reading the events of your day and you put everything in perspective and even add good and bad points at the end. Thanks for your incite an inspiration !! Chris in IOWA

  4. I am training to run 2012 MCM marathon and NYC marathon one week back to back. I found this site very inspiring. Thank you for sharing.