Previewing the 2014 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon

Runners take off at the 2013 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. (Oklahoma Sports & Fitness photo)

Runners take off at the 2013 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. (Oklahoma Sports & Fitness photo)

We’re about a week away from Oklahoma’s biggest long-distance event, the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. Whether you’ve never run it or have been in it since the beginning, there is something different about this race. The crowd support is great, the course memorable, and the starting line venue — the Oklahoma City National Memorial — is about as moving as anything you’ll ever see. With 25,000 participants joining you, well, you get the picture. It’s a heck of a big-race experience.

Pre-race: You can pick up your race packets at the Health and Fitness Expo on April 25 and 26 at the Cox Convention Center in downtown OKC. Expect large crowds and long lines, but the crew keeps those lines moving pretty fast. There is no race day packet pickup.

If you’re staying at a hotel downtown, there are plenty of places to eat and things to do in Bricktown, which is the city’s downtown entertainment district. Just keep in mind that a lot of people come down here on the weekends, so some restaurants won’t be easy to get into.

On the morning of the race, there will be parking within walking distance of the start line. Shuttles will also be running from several hotels to the start line. There is a 5:30 a.m. sunrise service at the Memorial, if you’re up to be there that early.

This race is an early starter — 6:30 a.m.

The course: Marathoners and half-marathoners cover a lot of the same ground, but the marathoners continue north for a ways while half marathoners turn west, then back south on the north edge of midtown. There are some things you should know about the course…

First, it starts fast, and downhill. You’ll run through downtown, then east through Bricktown on a flat track before you face your first obstacle, the Walnut Avenue bridge. It’s a bridge that goes over railroad tracks, so you can expect a nice, long incline that goes for a couple of blocks before heading down.

From here, there will be a longer, gentler climb into the Capitol complex. From there, you’ll journey west and north around Edgemere Park, then up into Honor Heights. It’s here that your next big obstacle appears — Gorilla Hill. It’s a steep pitch through a wooded neighborhood, and it definitely has a party atmosphere. A lot of people make a big deal out of this hill, but it’s not that bad. The crowd support here is awesome, and don’t be surprised if you get offered shots or beer.

Just north of here is where the marathoners and half-marathoners split. Folks running the full continue north on Western Avenue while half-marathoners turn west on 50th Street, then south on Classen.

Marathoners continue north through the tony neighborhoods of Nichols Hills, then into The Village before turning west toward Lake Hefner. When you get to the lake, you’ll head north for a short leg, then go south through what is, by all accounts, the crux of the run.

There are a couple of reasons for that. One has to do with the course; the other has to do with spring conditions in Oklahoma. Let’s address the latter first.

Spring weather in Oklahoma is relatively unpredictable, with storms possible. But those usually do not hit until the afternoon. One constant in the spring, however, is the wind. Strong southerly winds often barrel in through the Southern Plains and can be quite stout. Lake Hefner is wide open terrain with no wind blocks to speak of.

From the lake, you’ll go southeast back through Nichols Hills and then south to Classen Boulevard. This section is worth noting, as many runners lament the long incline you face going much of the way back south. The grade is not steep — it just doesn’t let up until somewhere around 23rd Street. So for marathoners, that means a steady upward grade for more than four miles. Half marathoners get to endure it for about two miles. Add to that the likely south winds, and yes, this is a tough stretch coming at a crucial time for full marathon runners — between Mile 19 and Mile 23.

Runners of the half and full share the course again, at least for a time. The course meanders through the Mesta Park neighborhood before eventually heading back downtown and to the finish.

Last notes on the course: It’s not too hilly (certainly not like Tulsa’s Route 66 Marathon), but the weather is often a major factor.

Last year, it wasn’t. Starting time temps were in the low 40s, with light winds present. It was sunny, dry and the highs were never above 60. In other words, perfect.

More likely is strong south winds and higher temperatures — there is a possibility that marathoners could be finishing in the 70s, which is pretty hot for that sort of distance. Course support is good, with frequent aid stations. But staying hydrated takes on an elevated priority of typical spring conditions exist.

I ran this one last year (the half), and it was an amazing experience. The size of the race, the crowd support and the meaning behind the race make this one a bucket list item for many, and for good reason. Be sure to check out the Memorial either before the race or some time after. If you’ve never spent time there, be sure to do it.

Other races: Included in the festivities is a 5K (start time about 6:40) and the popular Kids Marathon at 8:15. Those running the marathon relay will start the same time as the marathon and half marathon races.

Need more information? Check out the event’s website here.

Best of luck April 27!

Bob Doucette

The skull, the trash and the challenges of maintaining urban wild areas

A sunset view of Turkey Mountain. (Tulsa River Parks Authority photo)

A sunset view of Turkey Mountain. (Tulsa River Parks Authority photo)

It was a somewhat eventful weekend at my local trail running haunt. Much more than I let on with Sunday’s post about my long run.

The big news, which came down Friday, was that some hikers on the far north end of the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness found a human skull. Yep. That happened.

The reports I’ve seen have said that so far, the skull is all that has been found. They’re narrowing in on an identity, and they haven’t yet seen any signs of foul play. They also say that the remains have probably been there for a couple of years, which might explain why no other bones have been found yet. There are a lot of critters in those woods, so there’s a pretty good chance that the rest of the deceased is scattered all over the place.

A screen shot of human remains found at the north end of Turkey Mountain. (KJRH photo)

A screen shot of human remains found at the north end of Turkey Mountain. (KJRH photo)

I’ve written enough crime stories to know that what probably happened is that the person involved here was a homeless person who likely died from pre-existing health problems, maybe a drug overdose, or from exposure. There is a good possibility that it could be a combination of all three.

Last year, during a cleanup day at Turkey Mountain, a group of us cleared out a one-tent homeless camp. Folks aren’t allowed to camp there, but people do, and there is new evidence of more camps on the north end of the park. That north end is pretty close to Interstate 44 and is easily accessed on foot from a nearby Pepsi bottling plant parking lot.

So that’s one of the potential hazards of having an open wild space inside a city. Not everyone there is hanging out just to get a run, hike of bike ride in.

Needless to say, that was the biggest news out of Turkey Mountain in quite some time. But later that weekend, a more mundane subject came front-and-center: Litter.

A group of us got together to do a trash cleanup day. As the weather has warmed, the volume of garbage has increased, much to my dismay. Plenty of people walk in with water bottles, sports drinks, soft drinks and beer. And apparently, a good portion of them feel OK with leaving their empties in the woods, not far from the trails.

That's about a dozen trash bags full of garbage we hauled out on Sunday. (Tulsa River Parks Authority photo)

That’s about a dozen trash bags full of garbage we hauled out on Sunday. (Tulsa River Parks Authority photo)

This bothers me, mostly because the bulk of us go to Turkey Mountain to be in a natural setting. Other people’s trash degrades that experience and pollutes the woods.

But there were a couple of finds that disturbed me even more.

First, a discarded Gu packet. Most of you know that Gu is a nutrition product used by endurance athletes to pop in some quick calories and energy while on a run or ride. It’s not something your average person eats as a snack.

I can somewhat understand a lapse of judgment from a newbie dayhiker who carelessly discards some trash. But a regular trail runner or mountain biker, who I assume would appreciate Turkey Mountain’s wild nature, leaving behind an empty Gu packet? Someone needs a good smack upside the head.

Then later on, we found a Whataburger cup thrown into the weeds within 100 yards of the trailhead parking lot, and in plain sight of a garbage can. As much as the Gu packet earned my ire, this particular find got to me.

How lazy is this? Whether this person was 100 yards into their walk, or 100 yards from finishing it, would it really have been such a bad thing to hang on to that empty 44-ouncer for just a few seconds longer and deposit its Styrofoam goodness in the trash? I’m not kidding when I say I’d like to punch that person. Hard.

Looking at the topics at hand – the human remains, the homeless camps, the litter – you’d be hard-pressed to link them all together. Urban homelessness and littering are not related.

But what these things point toward are the burdens that come with maintaining urban wild spaces.

The discovery of the skull sheds light on Tulsa’s homeless, which in turn would, I hope, gets people thinking about how to better help the displaced. Some people will want to stay outside, sleep under bridges or camp in the woods rather than seek help. But I’m sure the person who died at Turkey Mountain did not envision her life ending that way (investigators think this was a woman). Most homeless people would rather not be homeless.

An urban wilderness is no place for people to live. But I can see, given the lack of other decent options, where someone might just want to pitch a tent in a quiet part of the woods and be left alone. Perhaps this might get a few people thinking about who the homeless actually are (long-term jobless, mentally ill, recent war veterans, just to name a few) instead of treating them as out-of-sight, out-of-mind, or worse, as some weird, lazy 1930s-era hobo caricature.

As for the litter, it again goes back to what it means to keeping a slice of the wild within a city. It’s hard work. Just the sheer number of people living around Turkey Mountain, as well as the numbers of people who visit it, mean that there is going to be a few maladies that come when human beings interact with nature. In this respect, people need to be taught – and the earlier in life, the better – that trashing natural places is morally wrong.

In summary, the two lessons from the weekend’s events are 1) it looks like we need to find ways to treat people better, and 2) we need to find ways to treat the land better. Maybe then I won’t find empty Bud Light cans in the grass, and hopefully, no one’s bones in the weeds.

Bob Doucette

Seen on the run: Springtime weekend long run

So far this winter and spring, I’ve been less than faithful to my training goals. It’s amazing how those planned long run days can get cut short at 6 miles because, well, just because. I’ve run a couple of 25Ks the last two months, but aside from those I haven’t done much in terms of “long run” training days.

I was determined to change that this weekend. The plan: Run 13 miles to top off a bigger week of training, three weeks away from doing the Oklahoma City Memorial half marathon at the end of this month.

I could not have picked a better day, and I’ve got the pics to prove it.

The following are a couple of shots from the halfway point, looking across the Arkansas River to its west bank and the wooded ridge known locally as Turkey Mountain.

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long2

It was a cooler winter, but the signs of new life that come with spring are bursting through.

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One thing about warming temperatures is that people get out more. It always warms my heart to see people outside, doing whatever it is they like to do — walking, running, cycling or whatnot. The parks were filled with people.

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Here’s another view I enjoy when I run alongside the Arkansas River: The pedestrian bridge at 29th Street. At this point, I’m almost 11 miles into the run.

long6

This was a big weekend for outdoor events. In south Tulsa and Jenks, there was the Aquarium Run (half marathon, 10K and 5K) as well as the Luchador Run 5K. I’ve run the Luchador Run twice, and it’s a blast. They create a whole series of obstacles, and you try to chase people dressed as Mexican wrestlers (the luchadores). Many runners dress up as luchadores as well.

At the finish line, runners can get into a ring with a pair of luchadores, and there is a block party where luchador fights are staged. I didn’t run it this year because I really needed a run a lot longer than a 5K. But that race was just getting underway as I finished up. So I caught this scene from the Luchador Run after I’d finished up.

long7

Those sights and sounds make the long runs worthwhile, even beyond the training benefit. Saturday was no different. Hopefully your weekend long run was as good as mine.

Bob Doucette

The Weekly Stoke: Trail runner gets very lost, the best running dogs, Boston Marathon tips, and the half marathon selfie gal tells her story

The Grand Canyon. (wikipedia commons photo)

The Grand Canyon. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

April means different things to different people: Late-season turns on the slopes, breaking out the backyard grill, ramping up for all those spring races. And so much more. So in honor of all those possibilities is this rather extensive collection of links. Time for the Weekly Stoke!

This trail runner took a wrong turn and spent a few days lost on the Sierras. The story has a happy ending.

Remember the gal who took a bunch of funny selfies during a half marathon in New York? She elaborates on her story here.

And for those of you getting ready to run the Boston Marathon, this blogger has some helpful race day tips.

If you’re a runner and you like dogs, here’s a list of the 10 best running dogs.

Another good top 10 list: Things you need to have on a river trip.

And finally, a list of some of the best negative Yelp reviews of America’s national parks.

Books: ‘The New American Road Trip Mixtape,’ by Brendan Leonard

roadtripcover

“What is a life?”

That’s the central question driving Brendan Leonard’s first book, “The New American Road Trip Mixtape,” an honest and sometimes raw look at the forces that propelled him out of what he thought would be a comfortable urban existence into something much more untraditional – that of full-time life on the road, working, travelling and bunking down in his car as he piled on the miles across the American West.

You may know Leonard from his semi-rad.com website, posts on the Adventure Journal or articles written for a number of outdoor magazines. In his book, he explains how the latest chapter of his life was born and where it’s taking him.

Like I said, Leonard is quite frank about his past: A failed marriage, followed by what he’d hoped was a better relationship with a woman whose interests matched his. But when that ended, he found a need to clear his head on the road.

Leonard works through the pain of the breakup as well as the observations and lessons he learns visiting friends scattered across the West while also taking us back to his younger years, the time when he became what he is now – a writer, traveler and climber.

The book is loaded with anecdotes of climbing adventures in the grand peaks of the Rockies, but is also takes us to lonelier moments where it’s just him, alone with his thoughts as he tries to get some sleep in the cramped back-end of a Subaru.

The highs and lows of his journeys are pretty well summed up when he writes, “But a true pilgrimage has to have some struggle, right? If there was no pain or suffering on the way there, was there meaning at the end?”

That resonates deeply with anyone connected to the outdoor community – the relishing of the sufferfest, working out your demons on hard treks, spicy routes or long journeys. Interestingly, Leonard surprises himself that the answer to his central question – “What is a life” – is simultaneously found in his observations of his closest friends as well as the realization that he doesn’t necessarily need to emulate them to find what he’s looking for.

Leonard’s storytelling is solid, and the indictments against many of the trappings of modern living are sharp and, honestly, very revealing.

The book is fast read, and with the weather warming up in time for all those dreamed-about road trips, it just might be the type of thing to get you going. You can get it in print for $9.62 on Amazon or on e-reader for $7.99 on Kindle and Nook.

Bob Doucette

A Sunday view: A few of the trails of Turkey Mountain

This will be more of a photographic post, just because sometimes visual elements say a lot more than words. Tulsa has the good fortune of having a nice-sized parcel set aside for wild land, with only trails and a few markers at hand to disrupt an otherwise natural setting typical to what you’d see in northeastern Oklahoma: hills and woods. I’m not sure Turkey Mountain can accurately be called a “mountain,” but the name has stuck and is permanently part of the Tulsa landscape: the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area.

There are loads of trails here, so the photographs here are just a sampling. Spring is here, and the forest is reawakening just now. Little splashes of green, budding flowers and, of course, the accompanying aroma of those blooms. So let’s take a tour…

trail1

This is looking north on the Powerline Trail, the most unnatural of the trails here. But the views are still cool, especially as the downtown skyline comes into view.

trail2

This is another look at the Powerline, this time peering south at the low spot between two pretty big hills. If you do an out-and-back on this trail, it’s equivalent to a 5K, but with somewhere between 500 and 600 feet of elevation gain. Stick that 3 miles in the middle of your run and you’ll be in for quite a workout.

trail3

This is from a mellower stretch overlooking the Arkansas River and Tulsa’s east bank. Part of the appeal of trail running and hiking is the potential for great views, and there are more than a few of those in this trail system.

trail4

Safety first! There aren’t a lot of signs of “civilization” in this place, but the city’s parks authority has placed this and other signs at specific spots to serve as reference points for people who get, hurt, sick or lost and need help. If you know where these markers are before you hit the trails, you can help lead authorities to where you are if you get into trouble. This isn’t a huge park, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to get lost out there. Add something like a bad sprain or heat sickness, and any aids to help rescuers are pretty useful.

Anyway, that’s just a quick tour from the last few days I’ve been out there. I’ve enjoyed the winter — cold weather makes for great running, and the trails are pretty fun when there’s snow. But I’m looking forward to more sunny, windy spring days. Have a great Sunday!

Bob Doucette

The Weekly Stoke: Marathon tips, Utah BASE jumping deaths, interviewing Chris Davenport and why a Grand Canyon theme park is a bad idea

Zion National Park, Utah. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Zion National Park, Utah. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Man, it hit 81 degree here yesterday. So I guess winter really is over. Time to get out there! But first, a collection of links for the Weekly Stoke!

Got a spring marathon or half coming up? Here is a good list of common mistakes to avoid, as well as solutions.

Speaking of things to be careful about, this post has links from bloggers who describe some of their more notable errors they made in the outdoors, and what they learned from it.

There has been a spate of BASE jumping deaths in the desert towers of Utah.

The Adventure Journal posted this op-ed about plans to build a theme park at the Grand Canyon, and I have to agree.

And finally, there is this piece about a conversation with big mountain skier Chris Davenport.