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

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