Race Report: Garmin Olathe Marathon in the Land of Oz
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….
I was on the phone with Garmin Technical Support.
For which product? I can’t remember now. (Probably a Forerunner device with an altimeter issue.) But somehow, the person at Garmin and I got to talking about training, etc. and I mentioned how I have a goal to complete a race in each of the 50 states. She asked me if I had completed a race in Kansas yet; I answered that I had not. She then told me that Garmin sponsors a race from their World Headquarters in Olathe, Kansas; the Garmin Olathe Marathon in the Land of Oz. (Olathe is pronounced O-LAY-THUH.) She said that it was a fun, great race with a Wizard of Oz theme and that I should consider coming out to do it.
The Wizard of Oz is my all-time favorite movie. My parents tell me that it was their saving grace and secret weapon, as it was the only thing that would cause me to sit still for more than three minutes when I was a kid.
So, a race at Garmin? That is Wizard of Oz-themed? In Kansas? It very clearly became apparent to me that my Kansas race was now a no-brainer. (Get it?)
It took several years, but at the start of 2022, I talked to my coach, Adam Ruszkowski of ARo Sports Coaching, about whether or not training to run a marathon would be a completely ridiculous idea given that I am still managing my Long COVID symptoms. Surprisingly (to me), he told me that he thought I could do it.
So, I signed up for the Garmin Olathe Marathon in the Land of Oz, which was set to take place on Saturday, April 23, 2022. I figured even if I ended up not tolerating marathon training well, I could change my registration to the half marathon and thus still cross Kansas off of my 50 States list.
Coach Adam and I continued to focus on strength training twice per week. Truly, these sessions have become my key training sessions and matter more than anything else I’m able to get in training-wise in a given week. After over a year of working with Coach Adam, the foundation I’ve been able to build in these sessions has set the stage for a successful return to sport post-COVID infection. The gains I’ve made strength training have enabled me to build the durability necessary to tolerate other training goals that are tougher with my Long COVID symptoms, such as long-distance running.
A run/walk strategy continues to be the way that I must train for running; I can’t run longer than 5-8 minutes without needing to give my heart and lungs a break by walking. We honed in on a ratio of five minutes of running followed by 90 seconds of walking that worked well for me. This ratio allowed me to build to longer durations without causing too many adverse symptoms during and after my runs.
Coach Adam kept my long runs relatively short (when compared to a “typical” marathon training plan). We trained on duration, but other than the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Half Marathon, I never hit double-digits in terms of mileage until I was five weeks out from race day. The reason for this is that runs of that duration/distance cause extreme levels of prolonged fatigue for me (compared with my pre-COVID self or even others who don’t have Long COVID). While my body physically can tolerate activity while I’m doing it, it will often take 5-7 days before I feel recovered from the effort of that one single workout.
By the time I ran my final long run in training (which was 3 hours, 30 minutes in duration) two weeks out from race day, we were confident that I was going to be able to handle the 26.2 miles of a marathon course. So, I headed off to Oz, but I opted to fly in an airplane rather than taking a house in a tornado.
In a normal year, the Garmin Olathe Marathon in the Land of Oz is the largest marathon in the state of Kansas. This year, it was one-third of its normal size, which race organizers think is due to the 2021 race being rescheduled from April to November 2021. It had only been five months since the last race, and as such, not too many local folks were interested in running it again so soon. The marathon had 300 registered athletes, which made it the smallest marathon I’ve ever run (the half marathon had 1,000 registered athletes).
I stayed over the border in Kansas City, Missouri, which was such a wonderful city to visit. The people are incredibly friendly, there are parks EVERYWHERE throughout the city, and it’s full of interesting history. My Mimi was born in Kansas City and always talked with such fondness of her childhood there. She met my Boppy at the USO in Kansas (he was actually stationed in Olathe at the time!) in the summer of 1953; they were married six months later in Kansas City. It made me really happy to be able to spend time in a place that meant so much to my family. I wish I could talk to Mimi and Boppy about all the things I saw, ate, and did.
I went to the Race Expo on Thursday to get my packet and check out the vendors that were onsite. The atmosphere was fun and lively. The locals were excited to have this race happening, and the athletes were happy to be there. As I walked out of the Expo, it was raining, and a rainbow appeared. A rainbow? At a Wizard of Oz-themed race expo? I couldn't help but interpret this as a sign of good things to come.
Race day came, and everything was honestly very easy logistically. Since the race starts and ends at Garmin’s World Headquarters, there is plenty of parking and space for all race-related things.
The race started with a BOOM from a cannon (courtesy of Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm) and we were off. The marathon and half marathon ran concurrently for the first six miles, and then the marathoners went off on a different route beyond that.
I started with my trusty strategy of five minutes of running followed by 90 seconds of walking. I ran on effort, keeping things feeling easy. In the later stages of the race, I monitored my heart rate to make sure it wasn’t going too high (higher heart rates cause vertigo symptoms for me). I stuck to a hydration and fueling strategy that I know works well for me, and I was able to maintain all of this throughout the race without any issues. (More detailed notes on all of this are below.)
A lot of the marathon course is on non-motorized paths/recreation trails. This made for some scenic running (spring was in full bloom plus I saw at least a dozen trains riding by!), but it was a bit lonely due to the low number of runners in the race and lack of areas for spectators to cheer. Since there were several out-and-backs on these paths, the runners on the course became each others’ biggest supporters out there.
When the Mile 3 flag came up, there was a lot of confusion, since everyone’s GPS watches were showing 2.69 miles. Miles 1 and 2 had been exactly accurate to the GPS, so we all thought this was strange. I had looked at the map and GPX files made available by the race prior to race day and knew that the course was accurate at 26.2 miles, so I figured that the course was marked incorrectly and that it would sort out at some point.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. The course was short (25.86 miles) due to a mistake in a turnaround placement when they marked the course, which meant that anyone who achieved a Boston Marathon Qualifying Time didn’t actually qualify for the Boston Marathon (per the BAA rules). I give the Olathe Chamber of Commerce (who owns and organizes the race) credit for taking full and public ownership of this mistake.
Fortunately for me, I was there to run a marathon, not achieve a time standard. For me, it was about completing the full 26.2-mile distance, and nothing more. When I got to “Mile 26” (per the markers) and knew for sure that the course was going to be short, I actually turned around to run the distance I would need to be able to cross the finish line with 26.2 miles completed.
For me, even though I had completed six marathons before I toed the start line of the Garmin Olathe Marathon in the Land of Oz, the 26.2 miles mattered.
When I had COVID-19, I was incredibly sick. I was the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. I had a fever for fourteen straight days and I couldn’t do any normal activities of daily living; I couldn’t even move a chair six feet. While I was sick, I watched this same virus wreck havoc on my family and I watched helplessly as it resulted in a worst-case scenario for us.
I (and my wonderful immune system that I love very much) beat COVID-19. Yes, I have Long COVID, but I survived the worst illness I’ve ever had. I was given a wonderful opportunity when that happened, and there is a part of me that feels that I have a responsibility that comes along with it.
The road my family and I were on was rough, but even so, it could have been much worse than it was. I’m lucky. Since being diagnosed with Long COVID, I’ve felt both a responsibility and desire to test the limits of what I can now do. Part of it is curiosity to help myself and others learn about this virus and how it impacts humans (and specifically athletes), and part of it is my own desire to set a goal, work diligently towards achieving it, and sometimes be successful at reaching that goal.
The hardest things have always been the most worthwhile to me. Putting in hard work, even if it’s a struggle, is what makes me feel alive, and well, happy. As Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own, “The hard is what makes it great.”
It is a fact that things don’t look like how they did before. I don’t see the same times on the clock that I used to be able to achieve. But it doesn't mean that what I’m doing now isn’t my best. I’m giving my best effort each day, even if it means that my best effort that day is listening to my body and taking the extra nap that I need due to the fatigue I feel. I can say with certainty that I appreciate the accomplishments I have been able to achieve more now than I did before.
So on Saturday, April 23, 2022, completing a full 26.2 miles mattered. It felt like a milestone and like a representation of a victory of sorts at this stage of the Long COVID game.
I crossed the finish line of the Garmin Olathe Marathon in the Land of Oz feeling tired, but strong. All the memories of the prior 15 months filled my mind as I approached the finish line, and I smiled, elated that I was able to safely and successfully reach this goal.
My Long COVID status and the race day conditions made this the second-hardest thing I’ve ever done physically. As Coach Adam and I expected, it resulted in extreme fatigue for me for a week afterward. I slept 1-2 more hours than my new normal every night. (My new normal is about 9 hours of sleep; prior to having COVID-19, 7-7.5 hours per night was adequate.) In addition to that, I also needed two naps per day to stay alert and focused during my normal daily activities (including work). Attempting to breathe deeply resulted in coughing for a full two days after the race.
One of the things I’ve had to adjust to since developing Long COVID is that I need to pick and choose which things I will engage in that I know will “cost” me in terms of causing fatigue and prolonged symptoms (such as coughing, vertigo, or brain fog). Some things are worth it to me. (Certain races, trips, or workouts.) Some things simply aren’t. (Mowing my lawn is definitely one of these, haha.) This means that I don’t get to do everything I may want to, but that has only made me appreciate the things I am able to do. Even with how I felt after the race, I would make this same choice again. The road to that finish line in Kansas was worth every extra nap, every brain fog episode, and every cough.
When I crossed the finish line, I sent up silent thanks to so many people who helped me get there. My family, who has been walking this path with me since we all got sick. Coach Adam, who has become more than just a coach to me; he’s become a close friend who I value so, so much. My friends, who helped me train for this (whether or not they knew it ;) ) and inspired me to keep pursuing personal goals. I couldn't have done it without all of them.
“You’ve always had the power, my dear; you just had to learn it yourself.”
Weather Conditions: Sunny/Partly Sunny/Cloudy/Intermittent Rain, 74°F, 68% Humidity, 30+ mph sustained winds from the South with gusts of 50+ mph
Surface Conditions: Dry/Wet Asphalt/Concrete
Exciting Things Observed: A runner dressed as the Yellow Brick Road (Get it? Get it? Follow the Yellow Brick Road.)
Hydration Consumed: ~105 ounces of water + ~30 ounces of Gatorade = ~135 ounces total
Nutrition Consumed: Three SIS Energy Gels (66 grams total) + Three HUMA+ Gels (66 grams total) + Three Honey Stinger Gels (73 grams total) + One GU Roctane (21 grams) + Red Gatorade (~55 grams) = 281 grams of carbohydrates total (1,181 calories total)
I drank a few ounces of water every time I walked.
I drank at least two ounces of Gatorade at each Aid Station.
0:30 - HUMA+ Gel (Caffeine) 1:00 - SIS Energy Gel + Electrolytes 1:30 - Honey Stinger Gel (Caffeine) 2:00 - SIS Energy Gel + Electrolytes 2:30 - HUMA+ Gel (Caffeine) 3:00 - SIS Energy Gel + Electrolytes 3:30 - HUMA+ Gel (Caffeine) 4:00 - GU Roctane (Caffeine) 4:30 - Honey Stinger Gel (Caffeine)
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.