The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon is dubbed as “a run to remember.” Aside from being the state’s biggest race, its main purpose is to memorialize the 168 people who died in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
This year’s race lived up to that. But in more than one way.
At the forefront in people’s minds was the suffering caused by that 1995 attack. But right up there with it were the fresh wounds in Boston, where on April 15 two bombs were set off, killing three people and injuring scores more near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
The police presence was significant. Nearly 25,000 people ran in this year’s marathon, half marathon (me included), relay, 5K and kids marathon events. As far as I know, there were no incidents, just a smooth day in perfect conditions.
For me, any event like this also makes me think of my oldest brother Mike, who died two years ago from cancer. All of these things swirling around, mixed in with the excitement and anticipation of the athletes on the course, makes for a very potent atmosphere.
The night before was spent, in part, visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial. It’s hard to describe how that place feels. A scene of such death, sadness and terror is now so peaceful and idyllic. It’s as close to holy ground as you could see in Oklahoma City.
The next day, at 6 a.m., I spent a few minutes walking to the starting corrals. Me and several thousand other people. We were all trying to get to the chutes and find good place to line up. But then an announcer on the public address system asked people to observe a moment of silence for 168 seconds – one for each person killed in the 1995 bombing. Three more seconds were tacked on for the Boston victims. Everyone stopped in the tracks. Downtown got quiet. Even all these years later, the degree of respect and seriousness around the bombing runs deep in Oklahoma City. It was one of my favorite moments the entire day.
Not too long after, the race started. From where I was, it took almost 7 minutes to finally cross the starting line. To be expected with so many people running. But it came with a cool nod to Boston: “Sweet Caroline” was blasting out of the speakers as we crossed. What a great way to start the day!
One thing where all of us lucked out: The weather was perfect. Fifty-two degrees at the start, and light winds. I was worried that we’d instead get the typical OKC spring conditions: warm, humid, and a 20 mph south wind blasting you in the face for the entire second half of the race. No such problems.
Running downtown was awesome. It was a fast downhill that eventually jogged east through Bricktown, Oklahoma City’s large, vibrant and fairly new entertainment district. And then, the first obstacle of the race, at Mile 2: the Walnut Avenue bridge.
I’d like to leave people a piece of advice when gearing up for races like this: Train on hills. Don’t avoid them. Getting your miles on flat, fast tracks won’t prepare you for long uphill climbs, which this bridge is. I was surprised at how many people stopped to walk it halfway up.
Pushing north, the course went through the state Capitol Complex, then along the northwest side before heading into the Crown Heights neighborhood. This was home of the second and, regarded by most, toughest obstacle of the course: Gorilla Hill. Lots of people in the neighborhood came out to cheer people on as they climbed this hill, which in my estimation wasn’t any tougher than the bridge. It’s just a matter of adjusting your breathing and digging in. With all of the people out there providing encouragement, it’s a fun little stretch.
About five miles north of downtown, the marathoners split off from the rest of us, heading into the well-heeled environs of Nichols Hills, then to Lake Hefner on the northwest side of the city. The rest of us went west, then south as the halfway point passed.
At this point, I was getting hungry, so I stopped to open the wrapper of a Snickers Mini (my go-to hiking and long-run fuel) when I got a surprise. From behind me, longtime friend Carrie Carter tapped me on the shoulder and said hey. I knew a bunch of people in this race, but with so many people there I saw none of them until Carrie popped up. A running buddy sounded pretty good about that time. So at Mile 8, we took off to finish this one out.
We chatted it up for awhile. Carrie was bothered by nagging knee pain, so I decided to stick with her until the end. Years before, she’d been part of a group of women who trained for the SheRox Austin Triathlon, but was victimized by a stomach bug that took out a bunch of her comrades. Years later, at another friend’s urging, she signed up for the Memorial half.
I wasn’t about to break any records in this one (2:22 finish). I found a new purpose in the race as being Carrie’s pacer. This was her first half, and if I had anything to say about it, she was going to finish it. Carrie’s a strong gal in many ways. I’m not sure she really needed my help, but just the same, I played the part of cheerleader on the hoof.
She proved her mettle. That knee was really bothering her (she mentioned something about “childbirth” to describe the pain), but stuck with it. Even on one bum wheel, she was going to finish sub-2:30.
And that she did, 2:23. I was stoked for her, more so than anything I did.
I took a few photos, as did a few others who were watching/cheering us on. Here’s a few…
The line for packet pickup was HUGE. The line made a huge U in the lobby of the Cox Convention Center. But surprisingly, it was also fast.
Even though the hotel room smelled like a chain smoker, the views were good. One shot of downtown, the other of Bricktown.
A shot from the Oklahoma City National Memorial.
The next morning, this is a shot of a very large crowd in the corrals near the start.
Near the finish, I’m chugging home (I’m in the blue cap). I might be slow, but I still got the mondo calves.
This is me and friends Tammy Poyer (center) and Carrie. Tammy is fast (1:54).
Me being the sentimental type, showing off a few things motivating me that day: Representing OKC, Boston, and with the orange “Team Doucette” wristband, my brother Mike.
Post-race, me and my parents looking album-cover cool. They came up from DFW to watch me plod across the finish.
I might add that the organizers of the race offered free entries to people who ran in Boston but who could not finish because of the bombings there. More than a few showed up. One of many reasons why this race is so great. If you haven’t run this race, make some plans to do so, even if you’re not from Oklahoma or the surrounding area. It’s a fast track, a great event and a qualifier for future Boston Marathons.
On Twitter @RMHigh7088