Sunday, January 22, 2006

Race Report-Orlando Xtreme Marathon

Race Report
Orlando Extreme Marathon
Orlando, FL
Sat, Jan 21/06
3:42:45 - 13th OA - 2nd AG

The only reason I considered running this marathon was because I needed to run a long, fast training run as part of my training program to get in peak shape by March 5/06 for the inaugural Sarasota Marathon. I had planned to run the Gulf Coast Marathon in Clearwater, FL on the same date but it was changed to a Half Marathon because of road construction. Thus I searched for an alternative race/marathon that I could drive to and found the Orlando Extreme Marathon – described as an ‘off road’ or trail marathon. I really don’t like trail marathons and was not ready to run another one so soon after Everest but it was the only choice available. The decision was cemented when a running mate – Peter Graham - from the 100 Marathon Club (UK) emailed to say that he was running the Rock & Roll Marathon in Phoenix, AZ on Jan 15 and was looking for a Florida marathon to replace the Gulf Coast Marathon that he had planned to run. Peter is one of many Brits attempting to run all 50 States and wanted to run two states on the same trip. We decided to run the Extreme Marathon together.

Peter arrived in Sarasota on Tue night to spend a few days with us. On Wed I asked a running friend from Siesta Key – Frank (the only other sane person in the world) – to guide us on a 6-mile running tour around Siesta Key including Siesta Beach. Unfortunately we were experiencing a cold front so there were no young hard bods on the beach to enjoy. On Thu Peter and I toured Sarasota before visiting Myakka State Park since he had only seen alligators in a zoo. I tried to convince him to wrestle a wild alligator like Tarzan but he refused? On Fri we drove across the state to Titusville. Our hotel in Titusville was the close to the St Johns National Wildlife Refuge and the Orlando Wetlands Park where the marathon was held. Titusville is also next door to the Kennedy Space Center so Peter and I decided to visit the Space Center for a few hours on Fri afternoon. We didn’t have time to do a lengthy tour but did visit some exhibits and toured a replica of the Space Shuttle. The Shuttle is much bigger than it looks on TV!

The cold front had departed and the weather turned sunny and HOT! The forecast called for temps in the mid 80s on Sat! On Fri afternoon we drove out to Christmas, FL where the Orlando Wetlands Park is located to make sure we knew where the race started and determine how long it would take to get there. The race was scheduled to start at 7:30 am on Sat. We arrived at the Park at 7 am because we still needed to pick up our race packets. We figured it would only take a few minutes since it was a small race? Unfortunately the race was poorly organized and the first of many problems surfaced. There was only one race volunteer handling race day registration and packet pick up so we had to wait in line while people registered for the race! We finally got our race numbers about 7:20 am and had to rush back to the car because the start for the marathon was supposed to be about 1 mile from the finish/registration area. We were in such a rush that we couldn’t prepare properly – I didn’t have time to put enough sun block on – I forgot my sunglasses, etc. We did make it to the start line in time – but the race did not start on time. There were four races – a Marathon, Half, 5K and 10K. All four races used the same course – a 6-mile loop around the Park. The races started simultaneously at four different locations on berms around the Park and many runners could not find their proper start location so the common start was delayed. I was already upset because nobody could tell us when the races would start and if we had time to go back to the car for sunglasses and sunblock. The races finally started at 8 am with the sun already up and a temp of 70 F! That 30-minute delay was very bad news. It meant that I would not have time to drive back to the hotel for a shower because the hotel required that we check out by 12 pm. It also meant that we would be finishing later in the day in and the temps would be hotter!

There were about 50 runners in the Marathon. I started out slowly because my legs were stiff from standing around for so long. As I mentioned the course was a 6-mile loop on sand berms around the wetlands. The trails were mainly two tire ruts on the berms – mostly hard-packed sand and grass - and were much better than expected. There were no rocks or tree roots but the tire ruts were uneven and had lots of holes so we had to be careful not to twist or sprain an ankle. The Marathon was essentially four 6-mile loops with the extra 2.2 miles added on to the first loop. I knew that the trails would slow most runners down but I still figured I should/could run under 4 hours. My strategy was to run the first 20 miles as hard/fast as possible - a 20- mile speed workout - and then try to hang on for the last 10K?

I passed the finish line for the 2nd time at 8.2 miles in 1:01:26. I was running a sub 8-minute pace. There were six water stops – supposedly located at every mile along the 6-mile loop. But they were so inaccurate that they were meaningless! The only accurate distance marker was the finish line at every 6 miles so it was essentially impossible to determine and adjust your pace which really upset me! The course was very boring. I had to concentrate on the trail because of the holes and uneven surface but I did manage to see several alligators along the course – not on the course but in the wetlands beside the course. I passed the finish line for the 3rd time at 14.2 miles in 1:53:58 or 52:32 for 6 miles. I had slowed to an 8:30 pace! I tried to pick up the pace but the temps were already close to 80 F! Between 16 and 17 miles the winner blew by me. I had been lapped which was very discouraging! I looked at my watch – 2:08! I figured he should finish the race about 2:30? (he won in 2:36!) I still had another lap to go!

I passed the finish line for the 4th time at 20.2 miles in 2:47:35 or 53:43 for 6 miles. I had slowed down some more but calculated that even if I ran the final lap in 1 hour I would still break 4 hours. If I could hold my pace I could break 3:45? But the sun was beating down mercilessly and the temps were now 80+ F. At each water stop I started to drink one cup of water and pour one on my head in an effort to cool down. At 23 miles there was no water left at the water stop. No problem - I could wait for the next water stop at mile 24. No water there either! Now I was pissed off! Thankfully I had kept hydrated but I was very HOT! I became discouraged and since I couldn’t see any runners in front or behind me I slowed down. Thankfully the final water stop near mile 25 had water and I poured several glasses on my head to cool down. As I started down the final mile that was straight I saw a runner ahead of me. As motivation to pick up my pace again I decided to catch him even though he was about ¼ mile ahead. I closed within a few hundred yards when he noticed me and picked up his pace. I couldn’t tell what age he was but he looked like a youngster and I decided it wasn’t worth hurting a lot just to pass a younger runner in the final ¼ mile so I followed him across the finish line in 3:42:45.

I was happy with my time until I learned that the runner who beat me by 32 seconds was in fact in my age group! We had both beat the old course record for our age group by more than 2 hours but he now holds the new course record because I didn’t believe 32 seconds was worth “a lot of pain”. Moral of this story: “Never back off or give up until you cross the finish line”! But I was really not disappointed because I had achieved – no surpassed- my initial goals. I had run a long, fast training run and had finished well under my target of 4 hours on a trail marathon. It gave me the confidence and encouragement to race the Miami Marathon next weekend (Jan 29). My goal will be to finish in 3:35 -/+ 5 minutes.

Once I consoled myself for being so foolish there was nothing to do but wait around (hot, sweaty, and smelly since I couldn’t have a shower) for Peter to finish. I found the race director and admonished him for the lack of water on the course and advised him to get water out there for the runners who would be on the course for another one or two hours in the horrendous heat! Peter finished in 5:57:22.

I dropped Peter off in Orlando where he will catch a return flight to London on Sun and drove home for a much-anticipated soak in the hot tub with a few microbrews.
I am looking forward to a good, fast race next weekend in Miami on my type of surface – asphalt!

Stay tuned for the next report!

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