Today was the 4th annual Spirit of Survival Marathon in Lawton, OK. It is actually held about 12 miles northwest of Lawton at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Apparently it is the only marathon that occurs in a national park which is kind of a cool little tidbit. I really wasn't sure what to expect as far as the event goes. I had heard this was a fairly small local race, but one that was unique and a good experience. Plus, I had to run 13 miles for my training this weekend anyway, so I figured I might as well go have some fun.
The morning started VERY early. I went to my parent's house yesterday afternoon and spent a lot of time laying around and watching football. Due to OU and Miami's inability to decide who wanted to win their game, I stayed up a lot later than I wanted to last night, but I wanted to catch the end of the game to see how it affected my Pokes. To tell the truth, it doesn't affect us any really, but if OU had won, it would have helped our schedule down the road. Oh well, the season is long and who knows if OSU will actually show up to play each week.
Anyway, back to the race. I woke up this morning about 4:45 am and hit the road around 5:30 so I could get to the race location in enough time to check-in, stretch, decide on clothing, and just wander around for a bit. It was only about an hour drive so I rolled up to the Fort Sill gate about 6:30 and was at the race site around 6:50 or so. It was still very dark and rainy at this point so I just grabbed my race bag and headed back to my car to stay warm. I decided to just roll the dice and shed the jacket at the car and ran in my OSU tech-tee and my Brooks shorts. I figured once the sun came up it would warm up a bit and running would raise my body temp.
I headed to the start gate about 7:45 and lined up in the 9 minute mile zone because I didn't really want to run much faster than that since this was considered a training run and not a "race". A rough estimate, but I think there were about 1000 runners between the 1/2 and full marathon so it was a decent size crowd. Race started on time and off we went. I got mixed in with a bunch of fellow OKC LandRunners at the start and kept pace with them most of the way the first few miles until they pulled away a bit as I backed off my pace. Races always start out too quick for me. I need a good mile or two to find my pace and I was humming along at 8:30 miles at the start so I backed off to the 8:45/9:00 minute mile pace and started to find my groove.
Little did I know, this course was very hilly. From the start, we were rolling up and down the road and working out every muscle in my leg. I could tell this was going to be quite a workout and I felt a couple of twinges of pain the first few miles. I was a little concerned with the location of the pain, but it was only a few steps and then it would go away. The pain was located in the front part of my left leg, near my hip region. I had noticed a tender area there a few weeks ago, but nothing really came of it so I think it may be one of those nagging injuries that is trying to find an excuse to get worse. As I ran, it didn't bother me much any more, but at the start it was too tender for my liking. I need to pay attention and make sure it doesn't present itself again.
The one thing I found very cool about this race was the friendliness of the runners. Being a smaller race, it seemed to attract the "regulars" on a larger scale than I had ever witnessed. People seemed seasoned and just there running to have a good time. It didn't have a super competitive feel which was nice considering the reason I was there and I met a few people along the course that I am sure I will see at races in the future. One thing I have really tried to do this fall as I have been training, is to get myself used to the fact of running without music. This race was a perfect example of why I wanted to wean myself off the need to have something blaring in my ear the entire run. The conversations I had out on the course really motivated me and helped push me through this race. I met a teacher from Bishop, OK, who was as chatty as any guy I have ever met. He told me about his previous runs. Complimented every runner as they went by and genuinely had a good time out on the course meeting people. I ran with him for a good 15 minutes or so and then pushed off from him as he was wanting to run a bit slower than I liked.
The highlight of the race for me was at mile 7 when I met up with Anitra, a teacher from Texas who was running the half as a training run for the White Rock marathon as well. She was about 30 and was in great shape. She had passed me earlier in the race and I caught up with her about mile 7 and started up a conversation. We shared our backgrounds. We shared stories about our training and talked about our expectations. She told me about her family and I told her about mine. We laughed about the intricacies of the running community and both willingly admitted to the fact that all runners have a little bit of crazy in them. We also pushed each other through the race as we talked and encouraged each other along the way. She was in much better shape than I was, but I enjoyed the conversation so I wanted to keep up and share the rest of the race with her. Hill after hill and mile after mile, we booked along at an 8 minute pace and pushed our bodies to respond. It felt great to find a running mate who had the same goal in mind as me. We were sharing the same path in different cities. Dallas will be her first marathon and together we put in a great training run that will be a building block for the future. I thoroughly enjoyed the company and we finished strong with a sprint to the finish, crossing the finish line together at 1:52:13. We gave each other a high five and off we went our separate ways. It was a ton of fun and I wish Anitra the best of luck in Dallas. Hopefully we run into each other at the race, but with 20K other people running, the chances are slim. Moments like these are why I race. The people you meet along the way all have a story. Running without an iPod in your ear allows you to listen and share yours as well. Give it a shot sometime. I think you will find it enjoyable as well.
Now it's off to do some more stretching and icing. My body is a little sore so I think I will take a legitimate rest day tomorrow and do some cross-training on Tuesday. It will be back to the running trails on Wednesday as I hit a new mileage high this weekend with a 15-miler. Up and up the ladder I climb. Eight weeks down. Ten to go.
Sunday, October 4th - 13.1 miles in 1:52:13 (8:35 pace) - Spirit of Survival 1/2 Marathon