Monday, June 20, 2011

Oz Marathon Race Report

Since I began running marathons in 2001 it's been my fond desire to run one on my birthday. Unfortunately marathons on my birthday weekend, assuming my birthday even fell on a weekend, were few and far between. I had the poor fortune to be born right around Patriot's Day. As any rabid marathoner could tell you, there's only one marathon that matters on Patriot's Day: Boston Marathon. As I have as much chance of qualifying for Boston as I have of flying to Boston under my own power, I had to scrounge up a second choice.

This year my birthday was finally on a Saturday; next year it'll be Monday because of Leap Year. This was my chance to find a race. Good thing I'm trying for all the states so I had a few choices. I wanted an interesting and relatively "easy" race and ended up picking the newly rebranded Oz Marathon, formerly the plain old Olathe Marathon. I talked Sandy into joining me in collecting Kansas and we made plans for the great birthday marathon of 2011.

Getting there was easy enough. Southwest Airlines flies to Kansas City, MO which is a short drive from Olathe (oh-lay-thuh with the emphasis on 'lay;' Olathe is an Indian word for "beautiful"), KS. We met at the airport, gathered our rental car and headed out on the freeway. In less time than we'd expected we arrived in Olathe and found our hotel, the Fairfield Inn and Suites, and checked in.

We started Friday the best way possible: in a yarn shop! Knit Wit is in a little strip mall (as is everything in Olathe that isn't in a large mall). They had a very large selection of yarns and knitting implements. I managed to walk away with just a couple of skeins of a local yarn. I took pictures but they're so bad I don't want to reflect poorly on the shop which was charming and well stocked. The woman working and the one other customer were very friendly and helpful.

Packet pickup (not an expo) was on Friday only, at the Big Bass Pro Shop. Big shop. Big big big. Selling everything from sun hats to boats. There was a short line of incredibly friendly people from all over. We picked up our bibs and our white cotton tee-shirts, passed by the various tables of local vendors trying to sell assorted services and merchandise and went our merry way.

There was a storm brewing, cold air blowing and rain intermittently dripping down. Very cold, very windy. I had brought all sorts of choices for running attire and it looked like I would need all of it, in layers.

The start was at Garmin World Headquarters (which seemed the total extent of Garmin's involvement in the race). We arrived for the planned 7:00 am start and it was freezing. Literally. Wind chill was 28 degrees; the wind was blowing with 40 mph gusts. All of the signage and postings were blowing around and people walked back and forth, shivering. This was a small race, about 500 marathoners and 500 half marathoners. Possibly there would have been more if the arctic front wasn't present. People seemed to stay in their cars until the last possible moment which overwhelmed the dozen or so porta potties. Many people were still in line when the race started.

I kept moving back through the crowd. The time limit for the course was 6 hours so I knew I'd be one of the back-of-packers. Despite my two long training runs (Napa Marathon and Oakland Marathon) I knew my time wouldn't set any records because of asthma; my two biggest triggers are cold and wind and there was plenty of both. At the back of the pack was the 5:30 pacer (the last pacer) so I decided to stick with that group for a bit, depending on how fast they started. I thought they'd actually keep me from going out too fast and I was correct.

A note about my clothing choice: As I said, I wore everything. I had on running tights with my calf sleeves underneath. I wore a long sleeved tech shirt, a light weight windbreaker jacket and a sweatshirt over that. Gloves, hat, ear warmer and a buff completed my winter-in-April apparel. It was still cold and my toes were numb by the start, despite my Injinji toe socks. I was nicely coordinated in red and black.

There were about a half dozen people running with the 5:30 pace group. I'd never actually run with a pacer before (really, even after all those marathons and half marathons) and it was kinda fun. She told us her philosophy was to walk 1 minute at every mile, start slowly, go slower uphill and faster downhill, and she guaranteed we'd finish within 59 seconds of 5:30. All of that sounded pretty good to me! We picked up Sandy and assimilated her into the group at about mile 2 or 3.

I had my buff over my face to keep the air warmer for breathing, but like always I managed to lower it and smile for the pictures. The funniest part of this picture is my ponytail blowing in the wind; we have a joke that mine is the only pony that never moves when I run. Well, it did on this day.

The first part of the route was very boring. We ran down one of the main streets, looped around a commercial area, then circled the parking lot of the Great Mall of the Great Plains. Apparently back in the '80s this was a hot shopping spot. Now it's a mostly deserted group of buildings that play host to special functions. The almost 2 miles around the parking lot was windy and cold and boring. The street control was very good, the cops and volunteers all friendly and helpful.

The pace group was going along at a slow, then comfortable pace, but at about mile 5 the pacer stopped the walk breaks and picked up the pace to way faster than I was comfortable with. Since I could feel my breath tightening up I let them run ahead and continued at my own pace and started my regular 9:1 run:walk. I managed to amuse myself as I normally do during long runs.

It didn't really warm up but after about 2 hours my sweatshirt was bothering me so I tossed it aside. I still had my long sleeved shirt and windbreaker, and still had my buff covering my face. It would be like this for most of the rest of the race. I finally took off the gloves and the ear coverings at about mile 23. Then I put the gloves back on a little while later. I zipped and unzipped my jacket according to whether we had a head or tail wind.

At about mile 12 we moved onto a multi-use trail that we'd be on for the next 13 miles (6.5 out and back). It was pretty, winding and rolling. In theory the outbound direction was downhill; in fact it was the rollingest downhill I've run. The website map doesn't do all the little ups and downs credit. There was very little that was good old fashioned flat. But it was pretty, scenic and there wasn't any traffic. It was fun for me seeing all the other runners on their way back.

My asthma was very bad and I wasn't even trying to push the pace. I would have liked to run faster, finish faster, but that wasn't going to happen so I just ran and walked when I felt like it. At one low point of the trail, a man and his son were putting hay down to soak up the huge puddle that covered the trail and the surrounding area. Seeing me coming, he threw out pieces of hay as stepping stones. I came to a dead halt, knowing my balance wasn't anywhere near good enough to make it through without going ankle deep in water. The man, wearing high boots, took my hand and walked me across the riverpuddle, his son cheering the entire way. Thank you mister nice man! By the time I returned the hay covered the entire area so I didn't need an escort.

Blah blah running, blah blah asthma, blah blah cold, blah blah relentless wind. The only bright spot of the return journey, and a bright spot indeed, was a Cardinal flying along side of me. I think he was flirting with me, believing my bright red jacket was some lady-bird running along the trail. I saw him on and off for a few miles, tweeting happily from tree to tree.

I walked a lot of those last couple of miles. The sun was starting to come out, the temperature was probably all the way up to the upper 30's, I was tired and I'd already used my inhaler 3 times during the race. Despite how late it was the street control was still there with officers keeping traffic from killing the last runners.

Finally the end was in hearing, then in sight. I ran toward the end, hearing my name over the loud speaker. Sandy was waiting for me, having finished quite a bit before I had. I got my medal and a bottle of water, but she thought the food was all gone. Then we noticed the really big grill with something cookin'. I crossed my fingers that it was something I could eat and yep, it was. We each grabbed a chicken sandwich. The beer table was shutting down and unfortunately they were out of beer. Nope, they were out of the light bottled beer, but still had some of the keg beer, a local brew. We scored!

We sat down at one of the empty tables (they were almost all empty by then, nobody was hanging around in that weather) and consumed our goodies while elevating our legs and watching the final few people finish the race. Once again I was NQL. That's "not quite last" and yes, I did make that up. Three marathons in 6 weeks and NQL at all of them. Nothing like consistency.

There were finishers tech shirts but by the time we got there the women's shirts remaining were small sizes so we took the men's shirts. Bright yellow and a little ugly, but a finisher shirt nonetheless.

Final thoughts: if the weather had been better I would have had a great race and a fun time. For a small local race they did a very good job. The branding of the race wasn't apparent except in the name itself; there weren't any special touches to make it Oz-like. Several runners were in costume but I'm seeing that in lots of marathons, even those without themes. The course support was excellent, the course itself half-nice. The 2 shirts were (ugly, and) the same for all the races. I'd rather have one nicer race-specific shirt but as we know I'm pretty opinionated about my race shirts. The Olathians were almost all friendly and helpful. Olathe has every chain store and restaurant that I've ever seen, plus a few that were new to me. I would recommend this race for any 50-stater or Maniac out there!

Scarecrow Bear


  1. Fun report.

    Bugger..sounds really cold. Funny about the cardinal (once confused bird..not long for the gene pool methinks) and the guy with the hay..such service.

    Big score on the BBQ and draft beer!

    Congrats on KS and 3 NQL in 6 weeks. Very maniacal.

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