If you’ve ever worked toward a single goal over a period of months, you know how big a deal it is to face the day when that goal is at hand. Eighteen weeks, a boatload of miles and plenty of pain later, the Route 66 Marathon arrived for me on Sunday.
I’ve run a bunch of races over the past couple of years, but nothing over 25K. Training runs went as high as 21 miles, but never 26.2. And yet, when I walked up to the starting line, I’ve never felt more ready for any physical challenge in my life.
I’ll try to recap this one succinctly, because there were a lot of cool things about race day.
I’ve got to hand it to the race organizers: they planned an interesting, challenging course. It was different than last year in that it ended in downtown Tulsa’s Brady Arts District – a whole different feel than the previous finish at lower downtown’s Veterans Park. I like the choice, and it made the half marathon course more challenging as well.
I was surprised by how hilly the early miles were once we left downtown. The route near the Maple Ridge neighborhood, Cascia Hall and Utica Square had plenty of elevation gain and loss. No really big hills, just a lot of them before things flattened out on Riverside Drive and Brookside.
Half marathoners had their last challenge going uphill into downtown while those of us in the full looped back southeast, returning to Utica Square, then up to the University of Tulsa and then the bigger hills in the Cherry Street area before heading back downtown and the finish.
Race organizers hit a home run on the aid stations. They were numerous and well-stocked with water and Gatorade. A few stops had snacks and power gels. Finish line facilities were excellent. You’d think race organizers had been doing this for decades, but this is still a relatively new (and growing) marathon.
I give even more respect to volunteers and police who stood out in the cold for hours to serve runners. This was a late fall race, but in winter conditions: the temperatures were 25 degrees at the start, and 27 by the time I got done. I had the benefit of moving; the volunteers did not. But they were there for us, which I really appreciated.
Overall, the course was great. It was scenic, varied and interesting. The final stretch on First Street was a godsend: a flat last mile after 25 punishing miles, with just one more short hill climb near the end.
I passed the winner going the other way around the 14th mile. James Keilbarth, a former University of Tulsa cross country athlete, crossed the finish line 2:35:34. That’s a great time considering the course difficulty and weather. It was also his first marathon. This marathoning thing might be a good fit for him.
Leading the women was Katie Kramer, who sped across the finish at 3:02:19. She’d been a top 5 finisher on previous tries and didn’t compete two years ago because of a broken bone in her pelvis. What a comeback story!
The men’s half marathon winner, Scott Downard, clocked in at 1:11:45, while Natasha Cockram led the women with 1:19:44.
I have to put a special note in for a friend of mine I first met when he was a college student and I was a Sunday School teacher in our church’s college group. Trace Heavener won his age group (25-29) and placed eighth overall with a smoking 2:53:33 time.
This has been a huge year for Trace. He was among the top finishers in the Tulsa Run 15K in October (sub-hour time), doing so one week after running a 100K at the Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd trail race. Now he has a Boston Qualifier time to boot.
How it went
Like I said earlier, I felt ready. I’d never run 26.2, but no matter. I went through 18 weeks (really, 21) and escaped without injury. During my taper, I gained strength and entered the race feeling fresh and loose. I knew I would not be fast: My longest run (21 miles) was completed in October in 4 hours, 40 minutes. That would have to translate into a 5+ hour marathon. I hoped to have gotten faster than that, but you are what you are.
But there’s something about race day that brings a little more out of me. Such was the case for most of this race.
I started pretty fast, for me, that is. I was under a 10-minute pace for most of the first half, despite the hills and cold. I felt good, and at the halfway point, I’d already shaved 11 minutes off my fastest half marathon time (2:11). And I didn’t feel like I was pushing that hard, So a sub-2 half marathon is pretty realistic for me.
I’m glad I didn’t blow myself out, though. Right around Mile 15, things started getting pretty tough. I dressed perfectly for the conditions, but still sweat through my clothes a little bit. At one point, the pullover top I was wearing froze on the sides, feeling like it was a shirt that had been freshly starched and pressed.
The distance of the marathon and the bitter cold did weird things to people. I was told one guy blacked out and ran into a lightpole. I don’t think he finished. I saw another dude near the finish whose face was bloodied for some reason. At Mile 19, a golf cart used by race officials picked up two forlorn-looking young women, bundled in space blankets. Their race was over, apparently done in by injury, cold or both. A coworker of mine had to drop at Mile 13 from a knee injury.
My pace slowed considerably at Mile 20 near TU. For a while, I was looking good to hit 4:30. But that slipped away at TU, and somewhere just south of downtown, so did 4:45. But I picked it up on the last mile, chugging into the final stretch with a 4:50 finish.
That’s not a great time. It’s actually pretty slow. But here’s the deal: I was in the middle of the pack overall and in my division. A year ago, I was in the bottom quarter of the Tulsa Run 15K. Just to clarify what that means: I ran a faster pace for 26 miles this weekend than I did for 9 miles 13 months ago. Progress, baby!
As I crossed the finish, I did a little Deion Sanders strut, followed by a Ray Lewis finale. Once I stopped, my hamstrings felt like they were going to explode. The cold settled in. No after party for me, man. Just get me to a hot shower and the couch ASAP.
But I did notice a lot of things at the end. There were two finish line marriage proposals (both were accepted). There was a guy dressed as the “leg lamp” from “A Christmas Story.” And one dude hugging his family/friends, sobbing. I felt compelled to walk up to him, pat him on the shoulder and tell him, “Good job, man. Well done.”
Some of us were fast. Most of us were not.
But the thing we all had in common is we were tough. Mentally and physically tough. And I mean that in a more comprehensive way. Yes, it takes a lot of toughness to run 26.2 miles, but it takes much more to train for months just to get to the point where finishing such a race is possible.
One friend of mine, a gal named Brooke, had four marathon finishes under her belt already. She entered the race injured on a couple of fronts, unable to train for the previous two weeks. She said she was ready to drop at Mile 2 because of the weather. But she didn’t stop until there were no more miles to run.
That’s tough. That’s the embodiment of what being a marathoner is all about.
On Twitter @RMHigh7088