Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Prairie Fire Marathon Review

Miles 22-24 of the Prairie Fire Marathon ...
watching runners fly by me as I walked like a zombie to the finish line
Prairie Fire Marathon
October 14, 2012
Wichita, Kansas
22nd Marathon Completed

Time: 3:48:55
Pace: 8:44/mile
Place: 137th out of 721
          20th out of 63 in 40-44 AG
Temp: 60 degrees
Wind: NW 15-20 mph
Total Experience ... 3 out of 5

Spoiler Alert
     -  Great course through some of the best parts of Wichita & one of the flattest courses I've ran
     -  Small but nice Expo and pre & post race activites
     -  Sparse but nice crowd support for a smaller race
     -  Great SWAG bag and cool, large finisher medal with cotton t-shirt & technical t-shirt at finish line
     -  Hands down my favorite marthon logo of all time!
     -  First class finish line area with names announced as you crossed and good crowd to cheer you in
     -  Got to meet with Jon from 2Slow4Boston again for a while - great guy!
     -  In my opinion, not enough water during the second half of the race
     -  Traffic control could be improved a little - almost was hit by a car at mile 10
     -  Ran the worst race of my life
     -  Overall, I had a great time in Wichita at a great race - I would highly recommend it!

Finisher Medal & T-Shirt
Huge finisher medal and white technical t-shirt, the yellow t-shirt was part of the SWAG bag
The "blazing rabbit" logo is by far my favorite of all the marathons I've ran
Wichita, Kansas
As a life-long Missouri resident, I've always had an admitted skewed view of Kansas.  There's the history ... since the Civil War, the two sides just haven't like each other.   There's the landscape ... there's just nothing there man!  It's one of the most non-eventful drives in the United States.  But then, there's the people ... to be honest, most Kansans I have ever met have been awesome!  Including Wichita residents ... Wichatonians are especially great!

Keeper of The Plains Statue - Wichita, KS
I first started traveling to Wichita regularly about 8 years ago when it became part of my sales territory, and I've always loved the place.  There's a unique small town charm and warmth even though it's the largest city in the Sun Flower State.  Downtown Wichita has been recently renovated and features a clean, first class architectural look.  And one of the most entertaining spots in the city is the Old Town area that has original brick streets, and tons of bars, restaurants, shops, and a movie theater.

Wichita is also known as the "Air Capital of the World", even though the tough economy has riddled employment in the industry.  The city is home to the largest aircraft manufacturing plants in the United States and they continue to be the largest employers in the city and state.

The city also has a great history with minor league baseball.  Until about 5 years ago, Wichita was home to the Wichita Wranglers, the Kansas City Royals Double-A team.  They've since moved to Springdale, AR.  But I watched several games at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium over the years.  The stadium is also  home to the National Baseball Congress World Series each year showcasing amateur teams from all over the country.

One of my favorite spots in Wichita is the 44' tall Keeper Of The Plains Statue located at the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers.  The amazing statue designed by local artist Blackbear Bosin and is adjacent to the Mid-America All-Indian Center that pays tribute to Native Americans.  The beautiful statue and surrounding park is located at mile 25 of the marathon.  So when you see the giant Indian at the river, you're almost home!

Expo & Pre-Race Activities
Michael and I drove to Wichita on Saturday morning before the race.  Michael had been fighting a horrible cold all week that caused her to lose her voice (BONUS!!! No I'm just kidding, but seriously it was nice for a couple of days).  I had been sleeping on the couch since Wednesday in order to not breath in any of her death in the middle of the night - so I was looking forward to sleeping in an actual bed Saturday night, even if it was a hotel version.  During the 3 hour drive to Wichita, she was also on "not allowed to open your mouth in the car" instructions from me so none of her contagious venom would fill the vehicle's cabin.  Can you tell I was a little paranoid about getting sick?

Jon, Michael, and me at the Prairie Fire Marathon Expo
When we got to town we checked in at the Fairfield Inn ... located about 100 yards from the starting line of the race.  There was also a free parking garage right next to the hotel that was almost completely empty.  It made coming and going unbelievably easy. This was probably the best and most convenient marathon set up since my first marathon in Little Rock, AR a few years ago.  It was just so relaxing to not have to hassle with the logistics of getting to and from the starting line.

After that we made our way to the Fit For Life Expo in the Century II Convention Hall, located about a half mile from our hotel.  The marathon only had about 720 runners, so I didn't really expect a large expo ... and it wasn't.  But one of the cool things was a large booth for Run Wichita, the local running group.  That's where we also met Jon from 2Slow4Boston.  I had met and actually ran with Jon previously, last year at the Livestrong Austin Marathon.  We ran about 8 or 9 miles or so together that day.  Jon has always been one of my blog world favorites, and is even better in person - just a great guy.  It was really good to see him again, even though it was brief.

That night we met our friends Richard and Christa and their baby girl Jordan (who entertained us at dinner).  My daughter and son-in-law were also supposed to be there, but had some car trouble and got into town late.  We ate at dinner at River City Brewery Co., a great restaurant/micro brewery that I had been to a couple of times in the past.  It was good food with live music from an older guy covering Johnny Cash tunes - cool!

Later that night, as I was just starting to doze off, I got a call from my daughter telling me they were stuck on the I-35 Turnpike with a flat tire, about 45 minutes from Wichita.  Nate had tried to change the tire, but his tire tool was the wrong size.  I was pretty worried because the shoulder on the Turnpike is pretty narrow, and I've seen people consistently drive 85-90mph on there ... and no one seems to know how to move over to the other lane these days as a matter of common courtesy.  I was starting to get around to go help them out, which would have put me back in bed about midnight the night before a race - but seriously, it was my daughter ... the race was not as important as her.  But just before I was getting around to leave, she called me back and said that a Kansas Trooper had stopped to help them and they were on their way.  Whew!  I didn't make it to bed as early as I wanted, but at least they were okay, which was the most important thing.

Worst Race & One Of The Worst Days Of My Life
I had trained for four months specifically for this race and knew that nothing could keep me from my goal of 3:09.  But that night I had a weird dream that actually woke me up with my heart racing.  I dreamed that I was running the race, and at about mile 7 I suddenly looked around and realized I had wandered off course.  I ran down a couple of different streets but couldn't make my way back into the pack.  In my dream I had blown my big opportunity by running the wrong race.  Really weird.  I never have dreams like that, but I guess the stress of the race made my mind do some strange things.  After that it was tough to get back to sleep, but I eventually did. I told Michael about in the morning and she just laughed and said I was being dramatic.

Michael: relaxed & stretching ... Jim: nerves & doubt starting to build
The day started just like any other marathon morning.  I woke up, went through all my pre-race rituals, and started focusing on pace and running the best race of my life.  The weather was a minor distraction - not the temperature - it was an awesome clear sky 55 degrees.  But the wind had picked up to about 17mph at 6AM.  And looking at the forecast, it was supposed to gust to 20-23mph in the middle of the race.  But I tried to put it out of my mind, even though running against a 20mph wind uses a lot of energy.

Michael and I didn't take our world famous pre-race dance photo before the race.  She told me it was gonna be bad luck - and she was right.  We did snap a couple of random pictures in our room getting ready though.  You can tell I'm pretty nervous in all the ones of me.  There were a lot of nerves and self-doubt starting to bubble up inside me.

At 7:30AM I made my way toward the starting line and began a light stretching and jogging routine that I had practiced over the previous months before my long runs.  I felt great!  My legs felt fresh and strong.  There were no lingering injuries.  And I knew I had my goal time within me.  In the distance, I heard them sing the National Anthem, and then announce 3 minutes until race time.  I had timed it perfectly.  My heart rate was elevated a little, and I was going to basically go get in line and then start running.  I looked across the crowd and made eye contact with Jon a few rows back.  I waved at him, then nudged my way to the front of the line with about one minute to go ... and then the gun went off!

Look at that flag - 17mph winds at 6AM
Mistake #1 - Never disrespect the warm up miles!
It was all very surreal to say the least.  Even though I had ran the course a few times before while in town on business, it just seemed weird to finally be running the race that I had trained so long for.  My adrenaline was at an all-time high and I fought (unsuccessfully) to keep my pace down for the first couple of miles.  I started way too fast, but not so fast that it should have caused me to crash later.  I was planning on running 8:20, 8:10, 8:00, 7:50, 7:40 for the first five miles, but instead ran 7:51, 8:01, 7:50, 7:39, 7:19 ... this was a problem.  After 21 marathons, I am well aware that I'm a slow starter.  It sucks - but it's just who I am.  For some reason I decided to use marathon 22 ... arguably my most important marathon to date ... as a testing ground for that well-established fact.  But I had tricked myself over the previous few weeks into thinking that I was something that I wasn't.  I listened to everyone tell me that I was capable of a sub 3 hour marathon, and watched as my training partner Scott ran a 2:57 the week before.  So I thought I could take a little time off of the clock by rushing my warm up miles.  Note to self ... NEVER EVER RUSH THE WARM UP MILES!!!

Mistake #2 - Listen when your heart's beating out of your chest!
At about mile 2, the pace was easy.  It seemed like I was floating and not even running, and I was fighting hard to slow my pace down.  But when I looked down at my heart rate on my Garmin, I noticed it was about 10-15 bpm higher than it normally was for the speed I was running.  For example, on pretty much every run I did this summer at an 8:00/mile - my heart rate would float around 140-145bpm.  On Sunday at that pace, it was 155-160bpm.  I thought at first it was probably just nerves and adrenaline so I tried to slow down a little.  But it never lowered and just stayed pretty much the same.  As I began to increase the pace a little, my heart rate of course increased too.  At about mile 8 I hit my 7:00/mile pace that I had planned to spend the next 18 miles at, but my heart was racing at 170bpm.  Usually at 7:00/miles I'm at 155-157bpm.  I just couldn't get my heart to relax and beat normally.

I just accepted the high heart rate for as long as I could.  I told myself that if I was going to do something special, it was going to hurt.  But honestly, I expected the heavy breathing and intense focus to happen around mile 22 or so, not mile 10.  At mile 10, I was exhausted ... FREAKING MILE 10!!!  I FREAKING DO 10 MILES ALMOST EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE!!!  Eventually, at mile 14 my heart rate finally hit 180bpm.  180bpm is absolutely my red line area.  I could feel my legs getting heavy and the lactic acid building rapidly.  I knew I would have to take it mile by mile from that point - something that usually happens to me with 2-3 miles left in a race ... not 12!

Michael & me before the race
Why was my heart rate so high?  I really don't know.  As I sit writing this race report, THAT is the single biggest thing weighing on my mind.  It was just so high so early in the race and I could never get it down - and ultimately, that was my downfall on Sunday.  It was most likely just nerves, and my body being a little tense, and starting a little too fast, but I need to get it figured out.  Hind sight being 20/20, I should have just slowed down to an 8:30/mile or so for a couple of early miles and forced it down and then started again - but honestly, who among us would have actually done that in the middle of our PR attempting race?

Mistake #3 - You need to compensate for the wind dummy!
Let me make this very clear ... THE WIND WAS NOT THE REASON THAT I FAILED IN THIS RACE!!!  But let's be honest about it too - a 20mph headwind is not an ideal condition for a PR attempt.  I've read several studies that say for every 10mph of headwind, your body uses 10% more energy to keep the same pace.  So in theory, with a 20mph headwind,  you would use 20% more energy to run the same pace.  The wind was definitely a factor on Sunday.  It was blowing out of the NW, but it seemed to be everywhere you turned.  For about half of the race it was a headwind, and it definitely got your attention.

In retrospect, I should have slowed down a little on the miles when it was directly in my face, but in my infinite wisdom, I decided to pick up the pace at those points.  I didn't pick it up intentionally, but as I pushed against the wind to keep pace, I just pushed a little too much and increased my pace a little more than I wanted.  Probably not a great idea.  I would look down and I was working pretty hard, and suddenly going about 10 seconds faster than I wanted.  Two of my headwind miles were 6:52 & 6:45.  I honestly shouldn't have been going that fast on a calm day - let alone a windy one.

Mistake #4 - "You're going the wrong way ... you're going to kill somebody!"
Remember the dream that I mentioned earlier?  The following is the God's honest truth, I swear it happened ...

We were grouped with the half-marathoners at three different points of the race.  At mile 16, when we were with them for the second time, I forgot that we would split off again at about mile 20 ... for some reason all of the sudden I thought I had missed my turn.  They had signs everywhere telling us when to split off, but I panicked and started reading street signs that didn't look familiar.  So ... at mile 16 ... I actually stopped and started running in the opposite direction looking for the turn I  thought I had missed, but then I looked back the other direction and realized that we were probably supposed to keep going.  Yep, I actually ran the wrong way in a marathon ... what the heck man, I've never done that!

My heart was racing right out of the chute
I didn't wander totally off course like in my dream, but it was just way too weird that I had dreamed about a course mistake and then a few hours later had actually committed one for the first time ever.  Pretty freaky.  I actually only ran about 100 yards or so in the wrong direction, so it probably only cost me about 30 seconds or so, but the point is ... IT WAS THE WRONG FREAKING DIRECTION!!!

As for being mixed in with the half-marathoners, it went pretty smoothly and was organized fairly well.  The only problem was running/traffic lanes they had set up.  For most of the course, local authorities had a clear running lane marked off with cones, and the rest designated for traffic ... which almost no one, even cars ... bothered to follow.  This is one of the only only things about the marathon that could use a little improvement - the lanes didn't seem to be managed very well.  They were mostly manned by teenagers standing or sitting around with volunteer shirts.  In fairness, for a small marathon, it's probably very difficult to get volunteers and they did the best with what they had.  At mile 10, I came upon some ladies walking the half marathon, but they were spread across the whole lane.  There was no curb or sidewalk, so I had to go around them on the traffic side.  I looked over my shoulder quickly, but obviously not good enough because just as my left foot hit the traffic side of the cone, a Jeep blew by me.  I was pissed!  I mean, yeah, I was technically in his lane, but he could clearly see there was a race going on, and there was an empty lane on his left he could have driven in.  It was a little too close - I literally felt the breeze as he flew by.  I've never been that close to a car in training or otherwise and it was a little disheartening.  But unfortunately, if you can't close the street down completely, those things are always potentially there.

Mistake #5 - If it's not your day, it's not your day ... just slow down and finish strong!
At mile 18 in a marathon, I can always tell what kind of finish it's gonna be.  And at mile 18 on Sunday, I was struggling with a 7:18 pace and my heart rate was 178bpm ... way, way too high for that point in the race at that pace.  I knew then that I probably wouldn't be able to hold on.  So I should have slowed down to a nice easy recovery pace and finished with a 3:18 PR or something.  But I didn't.

I kept pushing, just thinking that maybe I would find an extra gear.  I squeaked out a 7:13 at mile 19, but at 20 I began to fade with a 7:29.  Miles 21 and 22 were even slower with an 8:04 and 8:22.  And at mile 22 ... I threw up for the first time in my life from running.  Yep, I had never ever puked in a race or training, but I did on Sunday.  I was able to grind out the walk/run thing for the next two miles to 24, but at 24 I literally didn't know if I would be able to finish - and I've never thought that in a race.  I had hit the wall harder than ever and I had nothing left.  I was devastated.

My daughter made Michael & me signs ... so sweet!
I literally walked every step of the next 2.2 miles.  I had only done that one other time in a race - in Lincoln, NE at my second marathon when I was injured with an IT Band problem.  It took me 2 hours & 42 minutes to run the first 22 miles of the race, but 1 hour & 6 minutes to make it the last 4.2.  I looked for water and Gatorade, but couldn't seem to find any.  That's my only other criticism of the race, there really didn't seem to be enough water stations during the last few miles of the race.  But they might have been there and I maybe I just missed them in my delirious state.  All that kept me going was seeing Michael, my daughter, and son-in-law who were waiting for me at the end.  And when I saw them, I broke down for a minute and told them I was sorry I let them down.  They of course told me that was ridiculous.

After I gathered my finisher medal and shirt, they helped me stumble back to the room.  I was in so much physical and emotional pain that I didn't even notice that Madi had made Michael and me signs.  She's such a sweet girl!  Later at lunch we were laughing because Nate said it was a little awkward for him when I broke down at the end of the race.  I told him, "Yeah, don't ever tell anyone you saw me cry."  Pretty stupid to cry over a marathon I know,  but this wasn't just any race - and had really let myself down.

To say that I was disappointed with the outcome would be an understatement.  I had worked so hard for this one single day and it had all just slipped away.  Nothing had gone like I wanted it to.  The post-race stuff was supposed to be a celebration and one of the best days of my life.  But was exactly the opposite of that.  I've had running frustrations and failures before, but this one was different.  This one felt like someone close to me died or something.  I had invested so much of my life into this race, and I felt emotionally wounded - and still do.  I had poured four months of my life into a goal that I not only didn't achieve, but failed at miserably and it was just hard to get my mind around it.  It's not enough for me to be "The Best Practicer"  or the "Training Champion", I wanted to prove to myself I could do it in a race - but at the end of the day I think I psyched myself out.   Whatever the reason, I never want to be in that place again.

I know the pain from this race will fade, but I hope the mistakes I made stick with me.  After so many marathons, you'd think I'd know better.  But I've read dozens of race reports from folks with a lot more experience than me who still make the same mistakes.  The marathon distance has a way of making people believe they're something they're not.

All in all, the Prairie Fire Marathon is a great race that I would highly recommend.  And Wichita's a great city with great history - I just wish I could have added to my own little personal history there in a different way.  But I did get to mark another State off of the map in my 50 States after the age of 40 journey ... and there'll be other races!
... be great today!


  1. Jim I am so sorry that things didn't work out..but it is what can happen on that one day. It sucks but you are such a strong runner you will nail it. I had the same weird heart rate thing in my last marathon - I actually DNF'ed. I totally think it was nerves/stress for me.

  2. Well crap. Don't feel bad about crying. I cry when I run all the time. I cried three times during the Marine Corp and that was just because I saw stuff that I thought was cool and that made me cry. I also cried at the finish. If it means a lot, you cry. That's how we know what's important. I have a prediction in my head for what I think's gonna happen next but I won't tell you till after it happens. :)

  3. We are so hard on ourselves. Sorry this race completely sucked! Thank goodness there is a next time. Sulk in this for a few days and then brush it aside. It'll make a great story to share with other runners when it happens to them...because it DOES happen to us all!

  4. It is understandable to be down on yourself...temporarily. It does sound like you psyched yourself out for this one. But you know what? We all know you are going to nail the next one and look forward to that day! You are an amazing.

  5. Oh Jim...so sorry your day went down like this. It's I think ougher when there's a huge build up to a giant goal race and there's so much PRESSURE to perform perfectly.

    You will get your goal time. I am sure of it. Probably in a race where you toss out all the expectations and enjoy the run :)

  6. As you alluded, the marathon is a funny thing, I don't know if it can ever be mastered. You've had so many great races, and come so far since we first talked. It was hard to imagine you having such an off day.

    Did you see me run by you? I wish I would have seen you to give you a pat on the back or something. As I was around mile 23, I was thinking about how you were probably finishing with your 3:09.

    Glad you liked Prairie Fire overall. You seem to have a great knowledge of Wichita that I can appreciate.

    Everything you wrote rang true. I know your next marathon will kick ass!!

  7. So sorry you didn't have a better race :(

    I don't wear a heart rate monitor anymore. I normally have a very high rate anyway though.

    The medal is REALLY cool. I bet I could make that race happen next year as I can drive to Kansas.

    Next time :D

  8. Man ... sounds like a really tough day. You're already crunching the numbers, so you're already getting value out of it, which is awesome. Sorry it didn't play out the way you wanted, but it clearly wasn't a function of preparation, it just wasn't meant to be. You know you've got it in you, so next time you should be able to stomp out the self-doubt and get the number you've earned. I don't get after it as often as you and put myself out on a limb, so I haven't had quite as bad a race day yet, but I have not doubt one will come. I've bonked on a smaller scale, and can empathize with how you must be feeling.

  9. Really sorry you had such a tough day. Just sounded like small things were gradually building up to result in a tough race.
    -maybe you caught a hint of Michael's cold and that may have increased your heartrate? I notice that if I'm sick or about to get sick that my HR goes up
    -your mind may not have been able to relax and get to sleep with the Maddy flat tire incident?
    -the wind maybe slowed down your pace a bit?
    -maybe doing your warmup miles too fast raised your HR too

    Also, maybe just general nerves resulted in your HR being too high.

    Props to you for finishing, some people may have just thrown in the towel at mile 24 and DNFd.

    I think your next marathon will go way better, hopefully you can do another one in the next couple weeks or something.

    Lastly, that race medal is one of the best I've ever seen. I agree that the blazing rabbit logo is indeed my favorite of any logo for a race. Great job to whoever designed that.

  10. I feel so bad for you, Jim. This sounds a lot like my experience a year ago at TOU, though it was much less emotionally devastating for me because it was my first marathon in a long time and though I wanted to BQ, I didn't really expect to.

    I do think the training, and your huge base, will pay off in the long run. Remember that's what you're in this for: the long run. You'll get that goal, maybe on a day when you're not expecting to. Be nice to yourself, rest a bit, run easy when you're ready, let the mojo find you.

    And as I said yesterday, at least there's some great baseball to watch. :^)

  11. Jim, I'm no where the runner you are. But at my first marathon this year I experienced the same troubles. It killed me to have finished that way, but it made me more committed to do it again and to finish stronger. I know you will kill it at the next one.

    Don't forget, we are just human. It happens to the best of us. Easier said than done, but just dust it off, put it on the shelf and look forward to the next one.

    Stay strong my friend!

  12. One other random thing I noticed in the pics, do you wear arm warmers often during training? In that pic no one else had arm warmers on, and I think the starting temps were in the 50s right? I guess I'm wondering if it was cold enough to wear arm warmers - and if your body was too hot because of keeping too much heat in?

  13. Glad that you had a good time in Wichita, but sorry about the rough outing. Just chalk it up to being one of those days, and move on to the next challenge with a lot of lessons learned.

  14. Oof. that sucks. Your training was so strong, too. Go sign up for a back up race stat.
    I had a race with crazy wind once and it was so brutal. It just beats you up!

  15. Bugger! That's a tough one to swallow when I know just how hard you've been working for it and how much you wanted it.It's okay too to wallow in misery for a day or so but then it's back to the grindstone for you. You'll get your goal. Just not quite yet.

  16. I'm so sorry you didn't have the race you wanted. Sometimes there's no good explanation for why that happens, but hopefully it does ease the pain a little to know that we have ALL been there. Running is a fickle mistress.

  17. Tough, tough, tough. I felt for you reading that.

    In following your blog for a while and so I know you're a thinker, a planner, and a hard worker. After you get some emotional distance from this race, you'll go over what went well and what went poorly. You'll nail a few races and be on top of the world again.

    You've trained very hard leading up to this race. Please don't think you've wasted it. The A-race didn't go the way you wanted it to, but those workouts aren't lost. When you're emotinally ready to give it another go, you're building on an incredible base.

  18. Oh man, sorry your race fell apart. Been there, done that, and it really sucks when you're at Mile 18 and have nothing left. At the same time, I appreciate your race report and (dare I say it?) laughed until I almost cried because I knew exactly what you were feeling. I had to walk my last marathon (oh, the shame!) and then listen to my partner rave about what a great race he had had. I think that's why I love the marathon--you never know what it's gonna do to you.
    Good luck on your next one, eh?

  19. Sorry the race didn't go as planned. That sucks..but hopefully you can take the lessons from that and take it to your next race...which you will ROCK!

    And...I have taken a wrong turn in a marathon and had people follow me. Yeah. That was embarrassing.

  20. Wow, worst day of your life???? I must say, I wish I lived such a privileged life as you, another over the hill, middle of the packer that takes running to the extreme


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