Race recap: the 2014 Tulsa Run

A little hardware, a little football and probably other indulgences laying around somewhere after last week's Tulsa Run.

A little hardware, a little football and probably other indulgences lying around somewhere after last week’s Tulsa Run.

A year ago, this plodding distance runner scored a sweet little 15K PR in the midst of marathon training. Not overly fast, but 12 minutes faster than the previous year.

Three-hundred and sixty-five days later, 10 pounds heavier, 20 degrees warmer and facing a course that was a whole lot hillier, you might think this year’s Tulsa Run was going to be one big, fat fail-fest.

And if you went solely by the numbers, you might be right. But numbers do not always a race make.

No doubt, this course changes in this year’s Tulsa Run made it tougher on everyone. Gone were the long, flat straightaways of years past, replaced by big, long hills through the heart of the city. Temperatures by the race’s end were in the low 70s, which is pretty warm for a race this length.

But while there was more than a bit of groaning about the temps and the hills, most of the people I talked to and ran with loved the changes.

So here’s a recap…

THE WINNERS

Most of the time, the winner of this race is often a professional athlete and usually from out-of-state.

Not this time.

In the men’s open division, Johnny Crain – a grad assistant on the University of Oklahoma’s cross-country team – threw down a 45:32 time. For the women, Jane Murage of Kenya clocked in at 53:38.

The Tulsa Run is in its second year as host of the USATF Masters Championship. Daniel Mutai, a frequent competitor in the Tulsa Run, took the men’s title at 53:39 while Pauline Allen just missed cracking the one-hour mark with a 1:02:27, easily winning the women’s championship.

Let’s go back to that overall winner. Basically what we’re talking about is a dude who is pretty much a college kid winning Oklahoma’s oldest long-distance race. It’s almost like he got up one day, turned to his bros, and said, “Yeah, I can win that.” And then he signs up, shows up, and stuns the field. Followed, of course, by a nonchalant “Halo” tournament with his bros later that day.

I’m sure it didn’t go down quite like that. I’ll bet he takes his racing much more seriously than that. But I kind of like my version. That would be awesome.

THE COURSE

Like I said, it was hilly. The race used to be an out-an-back from downtown Tulsa south alongside the Arkansas River, then back into downtown. So downhill a mile south, flat for seven miles, then uphill for that last mile to the finish.

Not this time. The city is embarking on a huge park project right on the route the race usually runs, that necessitated a change. If last year’s Tulsa run was flat, fast and a little dull, this year’s race was the opposite.

The downhill start is still there, but as the race coursed through Midtown neighborhoods and entertainment districts, there was a constant flow of long, big hills. I’d say the first 9K of the race was just that, and I can tell you from looking at the times that many runners were not ready for it. If anything, the race taught competitors a valuable lesson about incorporating hill training in their workouts. People who ran flat courses during their training runs, well, the Tulsa Run probably ate their lunch.

Thankfully, the course relented once it crossed the river before the final uphill trudge to the finish. On the bad side, that is also the time when the temperatures started to spike. Seventy-two degrees might not seem like a big deal to most people but it’s downright hot for a race of this distance.

HOW IT WENT

Last year, my expectations were to PR. Plain and simple. I was in great shape, light and the conditions at gun-time – right around 40 degrees – were perfect. And PR I did, clocking in at 1:28:06. That’s not really all that fast, but it was a vast improvement from the previous Tulsa Run I entered.

I’ve been doing a lot more hills lately, but that weight gain – when you’re running 25 miles a week instead of 40, you’re going to be heavier – was bound to make a difference. As would all the other factors that made this race different from the last.

I did well through the hills, and if the race ended at 10K, that would have been one thing. But there were another 3 miles to go. I have to say, I was spent. Those last few miles were a bit of a grind, but when the finish line came near I had enough gas in the tank for a final push. The result: 1:32:35, a bit over 4 minutes off last year’s pace. Man, I’ll take it.

A couple of reasons why: First, the course was awesome. I’m all for speed and PRs, but a real challenge like this one is pretty sweet, too. It’s a great prep for the Route 66 Marathon, which has some hills of its own. And frankly, it’s just more interesting. I like loops better than out-and-backs.

Second, I really felt I’d be a lot slower. Somewhere in the 1:40 range. That’s what my training pointed toward, and I figured all the other factors from this year’s race would slow me down significantly. It was nice to know that while I was slowed, it wasn’t by much.

And last, the Tulsa Run is just a special event. It’s been around for almost four decades, and it has become one of those local bucket list items for a lot of people. Running the Tulsa Run is often a gateway for people to take their fitness to another level, and seeing this people on the course and crossing the finish line is pretty awesome.

My hope is that organizers of the race keep this course for a while. It’s harder, but it’s better. I’m not sure if all 9,000 people who ran it agree, but I’ll bet a lot of them will.

So another Tulsa Run is in the books, and a half marathon looms in less than three weeks. So far, so good. Fall race season is off to a pretty fun start.

Bob Doucette

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