May 21—For runners, stress and other factors out of their control can affect performance.
Brandon Payne knew that all too well.
Whether because of work, life or the challenges of raising a sleepless newborn, the 31-year-old from Owasso believed he lacked the adequate training needed to perform at his peak fitness level in the Oklahoma City Memorial Half Marathon.
According to Payne, his five-month-old son Brady struggles to sleep through the night and wakes up every 2-3 hours to eat. He and his wife Calli will occasionally get lucky and score some much-needed rest, but those days are fairly limited.
For a competitive runner like Payne, who ran collegiately for Rogers State University from 2010-2014, that significantly impacts his recovery time during training.
"To be honest, training has not been ideal," Payne said. "Getting the balance between being a new dad and trying to be a good husband while training, it's been a struggle. I'd say the spring training (cycle) hasn't been ideal, but I was still able to get in a decent amount of miles. I would've liked more, but I still averaged about 60 miles per week. But my speed workouts just weren't really where I wanted them to be just with getting woken up throughout the night with the little one, and I've had a lot going on with work, too.
"The balance of everything has been a little different, and I'm trying to get over the hump."
Payne was resigned to a subpar outing based on his standards, which was a disappointing possibility given his recent luck with races.
He aimed for a 10K personal best during the Tulsa Zoo Run 10K on Saturday, March 5, but 20-mph winds kept him from reaching that goal. Less than a week later, the Okie Half in Muskogee, which he planned to use for tune-up purposes, was postponed to a week before OKC because of winter weather, forcing him to forgo the race.
The spring training block was starting to look like a lost cause for the talented runner.
"I told my wife, 'To be honest, I'm not where I wanted to be for this race,'" Payne said. "I just said I'd have fun with it and see what it did. I actually didn't do the pre-race routine I usually do. I was just going to have fun with it and just do whatever."
It turns out that mindset was just the reset he needed.
On Sunday, April 24 in Oklahoma City, Payne clocked a personal-best time of 1 hour, 13 minutes and 39 seconds — a pace of 5:37 per mile — in the 13.1-mile race, placing fifth of 4,814 runners while also coming in as the top finisher from the Rogers County area.
Al Maeder of Oklahoma City won the race with a time of 1:08:34.
"I was not actually expecting to run that well given my training, so it turned out to be a pretty good day for me overall," Payne said. "This race was kind of my 'goal' race for this (cycle). I didn't want to do another full; I have Chicago coming up in October, and that's my big one for the year. So for the spring, I knew Brady was going to be a handful, and I was just looking to get a good PR in the half because I hadn't really PR'd in the half in a while. I knew there was some potential there to knock off some time."
The first 8 miles of the race were run into a tough 13-mph northerly wind, and Payne unfortunately took the brunt of the punishment.
There were some drafting opportunities through the opening 5 kilometers (3.1 miles), but he couldn't quite close the gap between him and the three runners about 10 meters in front of him. Despite that, he managed to run a negative split from the 5K to the 10K mark, dropping his pace from 5:36 to 5:30 during that stretch.
"They were just a little bit ahead of me, and then I found myself by myself and just straight into that wind," Payne said. "I was thinking, 'Oh man, if I'm feeling this bad at Mile 2-3, it might be a long race.' But thankfully I kind of felt better as we progressed, and I'd say they were in my sight — they didn't get over a block ahead of me — but I just couldn't close that gap.
"I was running by myself most of the time, but the fans really helped out," he added. "There was a pretty good turnout. It's a bigger race and it's a good cause that we all run for, but after the storms and everything, it was still pretty good to see everybody come out and support."
Payne's pace slightly slowed from there as he dropped from fifth to sixth place because of a steady incline on the back half of the course, but he regained his position by passing Mackenzie Wahpepah-Harris of Oklahoma City, who clocked in at 1:14:43, with an impressive 3-mile kick to finish the race.
That move wasn't motivated by place, though.
In fact, because of the early race congestion caused by all the marathoners and half marathoners starting together, Payne had no idea where he was in relation to other racers in the half.
He didn't learn of his top-five placement in the state's biggest race until he crossed the finish line.
"I didn't know what place I was in," Payne said. "Later in the race, I kept asking people, like the people patrolling, 'Do you know what place I'm in?' But no one was paying attention, so no one knew. I knew I was up there, but I didn't know if I was like 10th, third or whatever. I couldn't tell if some people ahead of me were in the full.
"It gave me a little bump knowing that there is more in there with better training. If I can PR off the training I did this spring, hopefully there's better days ahead."