Friday, October 26, 2012

Prairie Fire Marathon Race Review

Last week I wrote about my performance in the Wichita Prairie Fire Marathon, but I intentionally left out many details of the race logistics or course information so that I could write this post.  Actually, I've blogged about this race in previous years, but in looking back, I don't think I did a good enough job describing the event.  Plus, the Prairie Fire has evolved and changed.  Full disclosure, this is my hometown marathon, and I want to see it do well.  However, I'm planning on stating all the facts both good and bad.

The Prairie Fire Wichita Marathon has been in existence for 3 years now replacing the Wichita Marathon which was a point to point course.  The Wichita Marathon was taken over by the Kansas Sports Commission and renamed after the sponsor, the Prairie Fire coffee roasters.  One of the first changes was to the course.  It became a dual loop course, with shared start and finish lines, all within the Wichita city limits.

Prairie Fire Wichita Marathon course as mapped by my Garmin.
Prairie Fire Wichita Marathon elevation as measured by Garmin.
As the map shows, there is a loop running through East Wichita, and a figure-8 loop on the West side of town.  The two are connect by a 3 mile stretch of road which divides the city into the North and South part of town.  The biggest slope around miles 3 and 14 occur while entering and exiting the College Hill neighborhood.  Otherwise, the elevation is very flat and fast.  The geographic center of the course is through the downtown area.  The East part runs through established neighborhoods while a lot of the Western loop run through parks.

Another change was the addition of an expo the day before.  I can't say that there is anything that really stands out about the expo, but it's better than nothing, and you can find some deals there.  Most of the deals might be difficult to take advantage of if you're from out of town since a lot of the vendors are local.  Actually, one nice thing about the expo is that it's only a block from the starting line, so if you're coming in from out of town, you can stay at a hotel within walking distance of both like the Hyatt, Drury, or Fairfield Inn.

Prairie Fire "Fit For Life" Expo

Prairie Fire "Fit For Life" Expo Packet Pickup
Although I'm only trying to address the marathon, the Prairie Fire is also made up of a half marathon, and a 5k.  The half marathon is actually the most popular of the 3 races with over 2100 finishers in 2012 compared to the 723 runners who completed the full marathon.  Meanwhile, the 5k results indicated 979 finishers.  All races start together and eventually split off with the half and full joining up 2 more times along the way.  One valid concern is that the courses are laid out with signs and volunteers so that runners stay on the correct roads, and that is one of the things Prairie Fire has improved upon since its inception.

Arriving to the starting area 45 minutes before the race, one thing became obvious right away that can also be an issue at large races.  A shortage of port-a-potties.  Not that there weren't a lot of them, it's just that everyone tries to use them at the same time before a race.  I found some public bathrooms in a nearby parking garage that most runners didn't know about, and I still had to wait in line over 10 minutes.  The bottom line is, don't show up to the starting line at the last minute.  Despite bathroom lines, and thousands of people at the start, it's still not as congested as a big city marathon, and therefore not as hard to get around or find a parking spot.

While running the marathon, I was pleased with how much shade there was going through the neighborhoods to help keep me cool on a sunny morning.  The bad thing about the shaded streets was there were some turns to navigate.  The turns honestly didn't bother me at all, but I hear other runners complain there are too many of them.  Another thing related to the turns, the course transitions between roads and sidewalks in a few places.  Some transitions happen in a way to slow you down, but they are later in the race where you aren't competing with other runners for position.

The Prairie Fire Marathon uses the Bib Chip timing system which are disposable stickers on the back of your bib to track you.  It's nice not to have to deal with chips on your shoes.  As of this year they expanded the timing equipment to register your 10k, half, and 20 mile splits.  They also allowed you to register your number with social media like Twitter and Facebook to automatically post updates as you crossed the mats.  On the down side, they have yet to post those splits all in one place as part of the final results.

One of the unique aspects of Prairie Fire for my family is that they can park along the course almost anywhere and cheer me on, then along some roads, drive beside me until another car comes up behind them and forces them to speed up.  While in the downtown areas of the course, there are a variety of bands playing tunes to add some energy along the way.  And about mile 25, the runners are taken over a trendy foot bridge that passes the 44 foot tall Keeper Of The Plains statue where the Big and Little Arkansas rivers merge.

Keeper of the Plains
Now that you've gotten this far, maybe you just want to know what schwag you get for your entry fee.  I think I can do one better.  I'll post pics of all the Prairie Fire shirts and medals I've received in the 3 years since it's inception to give an idea.  Interestingly enough, the inaugural year they didn't have the word "Finisher" anywhere on the finisher t-shirts.  The committee remedied that in future years.

2010 Commemorative T-Shirt

2010 Finisher Technical T-Shirt

2010 Finisher Medal

2011 Commemorative T-Shirt

2011 Finisher Technical T-Shirt

2011 Finisher Medal

2012 Commemorative T-Shirt

2012 Finisher Technical T-Shirt

2012 Finisher Medal

2012 Finisher Medal
In my opinion, the Prairie Fire Wichita Marathon has about everything a big city marathon has except overcrowding, traffic congestion, and high entry fees.  In fact, at the finish line awaits free massages, beer, pizza, and Prairie Fire coffee for all the runners, thanks to the sponsors.  Maybe I should just run the half marathon next year so I can spend more time filling up on beer and pizza.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Prairie Fire Wichita Marathon Report

My 20th marathon is in the books.  Sunday I ran the Wichita Prairie Fire Marathon.  I'm pleased to say this turned out to be one of my good performances despite not setting any personal records.  

Before I talk about the race, let me first mention the PF Expo the day before.  I was scheduled to work the last couple hours of the expo in the RunWichita running club's booth.  Before that however, I got to meetup with running bloggers Jim (50 after 40) and Michael (Slowly Tri-ing) who were in town from Missouri to tackle the full and half marathons respectively.  I had met Jim before at the Austin marathon in 2011, but this was my first time getting to meet his wife.  Michael was a bit under the weatherly, but we had a great conversion for probably 20 to 30 minutes about all things running.

Blogger Meet up with Jim and Michael at the Prairie Fire Expo. 
As we were saying our goodbyes, the PF race director walk by and asked me if I'd do an interview for the local news.  I spent about 10 minutes in front of the camera, and thankfully he did lots of nice editing so that when it appeared on the ten o'clock news, I sounded halfway intelligent.

Screen shot of my 2 minutes of (local) fame.  Don't try and press 'play' it's only a picture.
Now, on to the race.

My mindset heading in was to shoot for a 3:30 (8:00 pace) if everything was perfect.  If not, I felt setting a new PR was still in the cards, I just needed to maintain an 8:10 average pace, which my long runs told me was possible.  With the injuries I've had this year, my mileage base was low.  I have literally done one 16 mile, one 17 mile, one 18 mile, and one 20 mile run all year, so I wasn't sure how I would handle the last 10k of the marathon.  With that in mind, my 'C' goal was to average about an 8:20 pace, or finish sub 3:40.

My pace wasn't all I was thinking about.  I had a marathon fail last year when I focused too much on pace when there were early warning signs pointing to it being too fast, I mostly ignored them and I paid the price.  Since then I've dedicated myself to paying attention to my heart rate and not allowing it to go over certain levels.

This time around, my marathon would be based off of my heart rate.  For the first half dozen miles, I planned on a HR around 165 bpm.  For miles 7 - 12, I was prepared for my HR to gradually increase up into the low 170s, and make sure it stayed under 175.  For miles 13 - 20, I was hoping to keep HR between 175 and 180.  If I hit 181 before mile 20, it would be time to slow down.  If those heart rates sound high to you, it might help to know that my max heart rate is over 200, and my lactate threshold heart rate was tested to be 183 over the Summer.  By mile 20, it should be pretty obvious how my race is shaping up, and I can go back to running by feel for the last 10k.

Here is my Wichita Prairie Fire Marathon 2012 race breakdown, courtesy of Garmin:

SplitTimeDistanceElevation GainElevation LossAvg Pace Avg HR Max HR

If you take the time to go over my splits above, you'll notice that I ran a pretty controlled race with my heart rates slowly increasing, and my paces staying fairly consistent as the wind or inclines would allow.

Speaking of wind.  That was the main enemy of this race.  The official wind data reports showed 12.3 mph average wind speeds with sustained winds at 23 mph, and maximum gusts of 31 mph.  That coupled with 58ยบ starting temps, and finishing temps in the mid 60s with sunny skies.  It seemed no matter which direction we ran there was a headwind.  Of course there were some tailwinds to help out including most of the last two or three miles, but the damage was already done.

My official chip time was 3:39:46.  I missed my first two goals, but scored on my third.  When all the above factors are combined with finishing only 5 minutes over my PR, I felt really good about this race.  I'm honestly not sure what I could have done differently that would have given me a faster time.   This might have been my smartest marathon to date.  Compared to the rest of the field, only 13.4% of the runners finished ahead of me whereas last year that percentage was 0.5% higher.

Marathon Pics:

Rate My Ensemble:  Ladies, Fashion Police (and queer eyes for straight guys), do I get extra points
for successfully coordinating different brands of blue shorts and shirt while having an exact color
match?  Or do I look like a box of pastel chalk threw up all over me? 

High five for my 8 year old who's now inspired to run a half marathon.  Is my hair on fire?
Crossing the finish line in 3:39:46 chip time.
Finisher shirt.  Check.  Finisher medal.  Check.  Time to find the beer garden.
It's really hard to smile looking into the sun.  My wife and kids come out to support me at all my marathons.
Note: Wife behind camera.  She's a great race photographer.
My 4 year old daughter had a long morning.  She fell asleep on the car ride home.  But that doesn't stop us
from taking her picture when she pouts.
Update:  If you would like to read more about the race itself and less about me, visit my next post where I review the Prairie Fire Marathon.