This won’t be your typical race report.
I’m not going to blather on about how well my training went, or how badly. There won’t be those moments of triumph or points where I wanted to give up. No PR, no awards, no DNFs.
My fourth year in the Tulsa Run was never going to be any of those things, mostly because I’m not the noob I was four years ago, nor am I in the peak condition that I hit two years ago. Life cut into my training time over the past two fall race seasons, but after more than nine months of not doing much of anything, I decided (and wrote about) my decision not to suck this fall. Just lace ’em up and run as best as I could.
That is what this is about.
The course for the 15K race changed last year. The Tulsa Run was, for a long time, a mostly flat out-and-back guaranteed to give you a fast time if you’re up for it. My PR in this distance came on the old course. But it’s now a very hilly loop, and if last year’s times were any indication, people weren’t going to be as fast battling the inclines as they were chewing up the road on a course that, with the exception of the downhill at the beginning and the climb at the end, was as flat as a board.
I came into this one overweight and undertrained. But I also had no expectations. I did the right thing by tapering. I did the wrong thing by staying up until 3 a.m. at a friend’s birthday party the night before. Many tasty things, both of the solid and liquid variety, were consumed.
I woke up with my head feeling a little swimmy. Might this be a good day to DNS? The thought crossed my mind. And I dismissed it. Nope, you said you were going to do this. You said you were not going to suck. Toe the line and go. Even if it takes you two hours, you run that thing and finish.
And then a strange thing happened. I found a pace, held it, and discovered a rhythm I could sustain over the hills and across the flats for almost the entire race. And that’s exactly what I did.
This is a minor miracle, as I’m not just a crappy runner, but a terribly undisciplined one as well. I always start too fast, then crash and burn at the end. That’s particularly easy to do in these Tulsa races, most of which start downtown (on top of a hill), go down, then finish going back up that hill to somewhere close to the start.
But on that first mile, one blessedly of the downhill variety, I held back. I let everyone else fly by, and kept an even gait before chewing up that first big hill, a half-mile climb to a trendy part of town called Cherry Street, which gave way to yet more hills, though most not as long or as steep. But this is the part of the course that usually separates the wheat from the chaff, if you get my drift.
For me, it was steady as she goes. I ran into a buddy named Ken Childress — normally a trail runner who has a few 100-milers under his belt — chugging along on that first big stretch. I’d recognize that Trail Zombie pace from a mile away. I told him I’d see him later on as I attempted a fist bump passing by. Typical white guys, we didn’t connect. Whiff!
From there on out, it was pretty much me and the road. Me and the hills. Me wondering just when my cardio was going to leave me. But it didn’t, at least not for awhile.
Somewhere on a flat portion of the course, maybe around Mile 7, I ran up on a guy who looked like the second coming of Eddie George, the Ohio State and Tennessee Titans star running back from a few years back. The dude was stacked, but keeping a good clip, running alongside a gazelle-like woman who was making this whole thing look a little too easy.
This was a great time to create an awkward conversation.
“Dude,” I said as I came up to his side, “you really should lift some weights.” Hilarious, because he was hulk-like compared to me. He laughed and went along with the joke.
“I mean, do you even lift, bro?”
Yes, I do this to strangers who look as if they could lift twice as much as me. I don’t know why. Just seems like the right thing to do.
The three of us chatted a bit before I pulled away, or maybe they pulled away. I honestly don’t remember. But the distraction helped kill a mile or two, and before I knew it, there was only a mile to go.
But that last one is, without a doubt, the hardest. Crossing the river, you go uphill to the crest of downtown before turning north on Boston Avenue and the Tulsa Run’s infamous, final uphill climb to the finish. Everyone dreads Boston Avenue, but that first hill climb before you get there is worse. Much worse.
About then, my cardio left me. I tanked. Yes, I moved forward, but at a crawl, giving in to the hill and tossing aside any fantasy of besting my previous year’s time. But just when it was looking a little bleak, one last bit of friendly encouragement.
The running and cycling community is pretty strong in Tulsa, with mountain bikers, road cyclists and trail runners often converging either on the trails or at a downtown bar called The Soundpony. The Soundpony crew is a raucous and fun crowd, single-handedly giving the city the wildest scene of the Tulsa Tough cycling races (Google Cry Baby Hill and you’ll see what I mean) while also coming out in force to support, in a fun way, endurance athletes doing their thing. Many times that means costumes, loud music and bandit beer aid stations.
True to form, there they were, costumed, loudly cheering and passing out cups of PBR to passing runners who cared for it. Someone was waving a huge Soundpony flag, one I’ve seen before not just at Tulsa Tough, but smaller races as well. Seeing that a PR was nowhere in sight, I pulled off to greet my buds. A fist bump here, a chest bump there. And then a cheap brew down the hatch before running those last six blocks to the finish.
I poured it on here, having enough gas in the tank to pick up the pace to some sort of neo-sprint-like-thing that was threatening to eject the beer I just downed.
Would I finish in a decent time? Would I barf at the finish? Both? Neither?
Fortunately, I kept it all down and managed to cross the finish looking like I was somewhat athletic (or maybe not, but let me believe, dangit!). I collected my medal, then headed down to meet The Soundpony crowd, and saw my friend Ken motor on by. Ken is one of those “big oak” figures in the local running scene, and so are a lot of the people at that bandit beer station. Among them I counted many ultra runners (and a few big-race winners). In real life, as in those outside of running and cycling, most of these folks lead pretty involved professional lives. But here, everyone is unified by these little sufferfests.
I live pretty close to the finish, so walking home was no big deal. Upon arrival, there was a protein smoothie and a nap, followed by a double cheeseburger and another nap. One of the best things about the longer races is the license to eat, and the excuse to sleep when it’s over.
Curiosity got the best of me later on. Just how did this race go for me? I knew the time — a pedestrian 1:37:25. Not my slowest, but not even close to my fastest. But when I broke it down into splits, something happened that hadn’t occurred before. Even after gassing out on that last mile, each 5K split was roughly the same, from start to finish.
I had to grin at that one. Too heavy? Yes. Too much pre-race partying? Uh-huh. Too slow? Yup. But I was consistent, and for the second time this fall race season, I made a conscious decision not to suck. Seeing that I had a good time doing it and managed to cross a finish, I’d say “mission accomplished.”
On to this month’s half marathon…