Tulsa’s triathlon win: IRONMAN picks T-town for three-year deal, and here’s why

Cyclists race by as crowds cheer – and drink- at the Riverside Criterium of Tulsa Tough on Cry Baby Hill. The success of events like Tulsa Tough is likely one of the reasons IRONMAN picked Tulsa to host its Midwestern race.

When I moved to Tulsa eight years ago, the city surprised me. I was more or less expecting all the stereotypes that go with a metropolitan area smack in the middle of stroke alley: it would be flat, hot, and not much going on in terms of fitness or outdoor recreation.

I was proven wrong. It’s not that my city or state is the healthiest place on the planet, but as it turns out, there’s an active cycling community here, a bunch of road and trail runners and loads of events catering to these crowds that have only grown over time.

So I found myself surprised, yet not that surprised, when the organizers of the IRONMAN triathlon series announced that Tulsa would be the site of its next three Midwestern races.

WHY TULSA

IRONMAN, if you don’t know, is the lead dog when it comes to triathlons. The race includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon road race. The two biggies include one race in Florida, and the premier triathlon event held annually in Kona, Hawaii. IRONMAN has sought to stage races elsewhere in the country and settled on Tulsa as that place.

I was surprised, mostly because of that whole stroke alley image Oklahoma has. We’re talking about one of the most high-profile endurance sports events anywhere is doing its thing right here in T-town. I’m not saying big stuff doesn’t happen here, but when it comes to endurance sports, this is big. Real big.

But why I’m not that surprised takes a little explaining.

As I said, Tulsa has some active endurance sports communities. Folks love their bikes. They love their mountain bikes, too. And both are used frequently inside our city limits and in nearby communities.

The city hosts Tulsa Tough, a three-day racing event that started out as a hopeful endeavor on the cycling circuit that has grown into a must-stop race for cyclists nationally. Upwards of 10,000 people show up to watch that last day’s race (and party a lot) every year now. That kind of support probably meant something to the IRONMAN crew.

In long-distance running, the Route 66 Marathon started out modestly and has grown into one of the finer marathon and half marathon events in the country. People from every state and several countries run in it every year, and it grows yearly. The Tulsa Run, the city’s venerable 15K road race, has been the USTAF Masters 15K championship race for a few years now. And the city hosts another marathon in the spring (Golden Driller) plus numerous other half marathon, marathon and ultramarathon races on both road and trail.

Open water swimming may not be big here, but northeastern Oklahoma has no shortage of lakes, with a big one – Lake Keystone – conveniently within riding distance for all those IRONMAN competitors.

All of these things, plus the amenities the city offers visitors (I had one guy from Texas tell me that Tulsa is being talked about as “the next Austin”) provided just the right mix. In that vein, I can see what IRONMAN chose my city.

BIGGER PICTURE

One thing I’ve told people is that Tulsa is underrated in terms of outdoor recreation. The city’s road and dirt bike paths are plentiful, and we even have some local crags for bouldering enthusiasts. I joked that Outdoor Retailer should have given the city a look back when it was looking for a new home.

But on a more serious note, consider this: There is a nexus between endurance sports and outdoor recreation. Many runners, cyclists and triathletes are also people who enjoy other outdoor activities. Trail runners in particular end up crossing paths with hikers, backpackers and mountaineers. Killian Jornet comes to mind as the most famous of them, but beyond the elites, there are legions of people who, when they’re not racing or training, are making the most of their time outdoors.

The city and the state are in the midst of a big tourism push, focusing in things to do and places to see along Route 66 — the Mother Road of old that stretched from Chicago to California and winds its way through Oklahoma. It’s a good theme, and I’m sure a lot of cities and towns will be able to take advantage of this.

But what I’d say is don’t sleep on the state’s outdoor recreation potential. People are interested in this stuff. The cycling community is active statewide. Trail running is booming, and road running is strong. The same people who run in the Route 66 Marathon, ride in Tulsa Tough or await their shot at IRONMAN will be looking around the state for other ways to get their outdoor fix, which includes plenty of hiking, backpacking, water sports and climbing. The folks looking for such activities include people from outside the state.

IRONMAN gives the city and the state another opportunity to keep that outdoor recreation momentum moving. Frankly, it’s low-hanging fruit and an opportunity to help the region shed its stroke alley reputation. Tell your story. Go get it. If you do, don’t be surprised if the city and the state cash in on another big win.

Bob Doucette

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An appreciation of running: Five ways running has helped me

Ten years ago, I could never have imagined me doing this. So glad I have.

This week gave us Global Running Day. Or International Running Day. Or National Running day. Well, one of those three. I’m pretty sure all three had a hashtag or something, but in any case, it was a day for runners everywhere to say how much they loved it, take a post-run selfie and stick it on the ‘Gram.

I joined the crowd by tweeting/IG’ing a few old race photos, then going out for four hot, humid and hilly miles. Call me a sucker for a trend.

I also read some folks’ thoughts on the day — they varied from “well, every day is a run day” to “they’re just making up a day to sell more shoes” to the more typical “running has changed my life!” messages.

For me, every day is not a run day, and I didn’t buy any shoes or gear. But it did get me thinking about the past nine years, a span in which I picked the habit back up and stuck with it. And I asked myself, “Well, what has running done for me?”

Something to be said for being fit and having fun.

Obviously, I benefited in terms of fitness. Before I started running again, I kept in shape by lifting weights and playing basketball several times a week. I still lift, and I love basketball. But the latter is not something I can do long-term for much longer. It can be rough on the body. So I started running and found different kinds of fitness. Running helped me lose weight, improved my aerobic capacity and showed me new ways to get in shape. Here’s another fun nuance: Learning different kinds of running — long distance, shorter distance, and sprinting — put more tools in my fitness toolbox. I’ll take that!

A whole other level of toughness is needed if you’re going to run for hours at a time. (Clint Green photo)

Running made me mentally tougher. Competing in sports — team sports, combat sports or whatnot — can build mental tenacity. But running does it in a different way. For most of us (the non-elite runners), the competition is with ourselves. Training for a marathon demands toughness. Want to run a 5K as fast as you can? That race will test your will in ways you won’t expect. In either case, the training and the racing tested my limits. Discomfort hangs over you. So does pain. And the nagging voice in the back of your head that tells you to quit. Overcome those things and you will emerge a tougher person.

Running gets me outside, regardless of conditions. And it’s mostly been good.

Running got me outside more. I’m not a treadmill runner. I’ll do it if I have to, but most of the time I’m outside running the streets or kicking up dirt on the trails. Being outside on foot helped me get to know my community better. It got me into the woods, over the hills and into new places I’d never have seen in a gym, on a court or sitting on the couch. I’ve seen, heard and smelled things that will stick with me for as long as I have memory — the sweet scents of spring flowers, the cry of a bald eagle, the swoop of an owl bearing down on its prey. And so much more.

Just a few of the people I grew to know through running. Good folks, y’all.

I met some awesome people through running. One of the smartest things I did when I moved to a new town was joining a trail running group. I also got involved in a run group through my local YMCA. They greatly expanded the number of people I consider friends. One guy is the dean of Tulsa-area trail running. Another is a dude who went on a road trip with me to go backpacking and climbing a couple of peaks. I have two running friends doing big though-hikes — one on the Appalachian Trail, another on the Pacific Crest Trail. This new group of friends got me involved in preserving our local trail running hot spot, which in turn allowed me to befriend folks from other outdoor circles. Without running, I’d know none of these people and would have been poorer for it.

Here is one of the places I can work through the challenges life throws at me.

Running helps quiet my mind. Look, man. Everyone’s got problems. I don’t know anyone who’s lived such a charmed life that they can say they’ve never dealt with some sort of hardship or hurt. But there are events of loss, pain, anger and sadness that can pile up and overwhelm you. Especially if they pile up all at once. That’s where running came along at just the right time. The meditative rhythm of footfalls, the time spent unplugged, the miles in which you could empty your mind, pray, or otherwise work things out — that’s the stuff that helped me deal with difficult times. My life ain’t any harder than most of yours. But it sure would feel harder if not for the miles and hours I spent pounding pavement and devouring trail.

So that’s what went through my head this week, all prompted by that goofy little hashtag. What about you? Holler at me. How has running helped you?

Bob Doucette

Seen on the run: A city and a state suffer from historic floods

The Arkansas River, well above flood stage.

Over the years, I’ve written about what I see when I go run. If you’ve followed along, you’ll have read about wooded hills and rugged singletrack, urban skylines and gritty streets, and sometimes the more mundane parks and neighborhoods where I log a lot of miles. Eagles and armadillos have crossed my paths, as have hipsters and drug dealers. You get the drift.

Today’s entry is going to be a little different, mostly because the places I run have collided with the relentless forces of nature.

I haven’t run or hiked my local dirt trails in over a month. In May alone, we’ve received 18 inches of rain. I know trail runners pride themselves on not shying away from mud, but this is different. When the trails are this waterlogged, foot and bike traffic do damage. I’m trying to give those paths a break. So that’s left me pounding the pavement or riding my road bike.

The river is seen more than 23 feet above its normal levels, and right under the beams of this bridge.

Sadly, a lot of the running and biking paths I like are under water. Floods of historic proportions have plagued northeastern Oklahoma for more than a week, and eventually, those floodwaters from the Arkansas River topped their banks and swamped miles of paths that I use for many of my runs and almost all of my rides. Riverbank erosion guarantees that they will be out of commission for some time, as sinkholes and shoreline collapses have occurred. It will take many months, of not years, to repair the damage.

Over the past week, I’ve ridden my bike and run to the water’s edge to see how high the river was rising. Short answer: It looks bad. Real bad. Bad to the point where on one Saturday, I saw a guy in a lawn chair on the curb outside his home, fishing. Not in the river. But in the street.

And that was before the flooding really got going.

A RIVER’S WRATH

I don’t want you to think I’m crying about my loss of running and riding routes. Far from it. I can run and ride in a lot of places that are on higher ground, so I’m good. For that matter, where I live is also untouched by the flooding. Compared to many, I’m fortunate.

But the areas that are underwater are familiar to me, and seeing them slowly consumed by the murky, brown floodwaters of the Arkansas over the past week has given me perspective on this unfolding disaster.

From the top of Cry Baby Hill, looking down on a flooded Riverside Drive. To the right, paved park trails are covered by water.

Saturday was the day I went on my bike and saw the dude fishing in the street. By then, the water had blocked off about a block or so of Riverside Drive while also flooding the adjacent park trails. Nearby, a homeless man who had a camp under a bridge up the road was standing on a rock, filling a water bottle at a drinking fountain. I know where his camp is, and it was safe for the time being. Other camps across the river are washed out.

That was when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was releasing 256,000 cubic feet of water per second from the upstream Keystone Dam, the structure that basically keeps Tulsa and many downstream communities from flooding on a regular basis. But even Keystone can only do so much, and those big releases (it normally flows at a small fraction of what we’re seeing now) are the only way to keep upstream drainage from overtopping the dam, an event that would magnify the catastrophe.

On the west bank, the flooding’s severity seemed more plain. In some spots, I could see park benches and water fountains that were nearly covered, indicating a floodwater rise of nearly two feet from just a few days prior. Ordinarily, these fixtures were at least ten feet above the water’s edge. In the middle of the river, an island is completely covered, with only a dozen or so green treetops poking out of the water letting you know it’s still there. The “new” shoreline of the river has slowly encroached on a riverside apartment complex, creeping up the banks. I’ve run and ridden by these apartments scores of times. Never in my life would I thought it possible that they’d be close to being flooded.

Another look at Riverside Drive.

By Monday, the problem had only worsened. Heavy rains upstream from the dam forced the Corps to increase Keystone’s outflow to 275,000 cfs, not far from the record set in 1986. That day, I went for a run in my neighborhood, but also to the bridges that span the river west of downtown.

As expected, the waters had risen. What was once a hundred yards of Riverside Drive under water had grown to several city blocks. The floating remains of uprooted trees zipped down the river close to its banks. Elsewhere in the city, evacuations were underway, streets and neighborhoods were inundated, and sewer drains were backing up.

But what grabbed my attention was the river itself.

When it reaches Oklahoma, the Arkansas River is a prairie waterway. In other words, it’s broad, slow and features plenty of sand bars. It’s wide enough southeast of Tulsa that it can be navigated by cargo barges (there’s a port north of Tulsa from a tributary river that empties into the Arkansas), but for much of the year it’s a sleepy, ponderous thing that meanders toward its final destination at the Mississippi.

Looking south from Tulsa’s 11th Street bridge. The current in the river is incredibly strong.

This week, its demeanor is far less benign. The current is fast. If you were to sprint along its banks, it’s doubtful you could outrun it. Where the river meets bridge supports, the roar is loud. The entire channel is full, churning and racing downstream at an urgent pace.

Observing it this week, the imagery looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And then it hit me Sunday. The river doesn’t look like a river at all. It looks like a tsunami. A muddy, quarter-mile wide tsunami that never recedes, but keeps barreling southeast, and I wouldn’t want to be in its way.

THE WIDER PROBLEM

My own observations are fine, but I’ve escaped this flood unscathed. That’s not true for a lot of people. They lost more than a place to run or ride.

Several neighborhoods in low-lying neighborhoods in the city and its suburbs have been flooded. Towns like Blackwell, close to the Kansas border, all the way to Muskogee, Fort Gibson and Webbers Falls near Arkansas are partially or completely swamped. The town of Braggs is basically an island, accessible this week only by boat or rail. Farther east, in Arkansas, cities like Fort Smith and Little Rock are in full-on crisis.

It’s part of a trend this year. In the central and southern Rockies, massive snow dumps have left the mountains with snowpack so deep that it will take at least a month longer than normal to melt out. Earlier in the spring, communities in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas have suffered massive, sustained flooding. The Mississippi River valley is facing the same fate.

These Canada geese would ordinarily be puttering around in a nearby lagoon, but that lagoon has been swallowed by the river. So the birds are hanging out on higher ground, hunting for bugs and worms.

And let’s not forget the tornadoes. It seemed like we went several days straight where there were nightly tornado warnings. One tornado killed two people in the Oklahoma City suburb of El Reno. Others ripped through numerous towns across the state, including here in Tulsa. Across the country, more than 200 tornadoes from the Great Plains to the Great Lakes touched down in the past 12 days. They even had a tornado warning in Staten Island, N.Y.

Earlier this week, someone on Twitter called out the local media for not reporting on this as an example of climate change. I’m not climate change denier. Far from it. But I know that weather is not the same as climate, so I’m slower to make the link.

However, scientists have told us that as climate change deepens, weather extremes will proliferate. Periods of severe drought will be followed by seasons of extreme flooding. Roasting hot temperatures can be followed by record cold. More intense hurricanes and thunderstorms will be more common. Longer and more severe fire seasons will come. You get the drift. Look at last year’s western fire season, or hurricanes named Harvey and Maria, and you could make an argument that the patterns are already emerging.

And if so, a lot more will be lost than a few running routes or bicycle paths.

In the meantime, I’m hoping the waters recede soon, and for the suffering to end. It’s been said that it will take years to come back from this, and I believe it. We’ll all have some adjusting to do for quite some time.

Tulsa’s River Parks have miles and miles of paved trails for runners, walkers and cyclists on both banks of the Arkansas River. But most of those paths are covered in water, and many are heavily damaged. It’ll be awhile before they’re repaired.

Bob Doucette

An Outside magazine writer called trail runners ‘lazy’ and ‘parasites.’ Is he right?

A work detail putting the finishing touches on trail rebuilding at Turkey Mountain in Tulsa. 

Leave it to Outside magazine to cause a stir in the outdoor community. In a piece posted online Wednesday, writer Marc Peruzzi posited that trail runners aren’t pulling their load when it comes to performing trail work.

The thrust of his op-ed is that trail running is exploding in popularity, with millions of runners hitting the dirt every year. The problem is, he says, is that they’re basically no-shows on organized volunteer work days, at least when it compared to mountain bikers.

I can find a few faults with the piece. He takes a few swipes at trail runners’ gear, deriding their “short shorts” and running vests. I’ll admit, seeing a runner in that ultramarathoner getup, topped with a trucker hat, can be a little funny. But it ain’t any more hilarious than seeing someone in full cycling kit. Eighties hair metal bands wore less spandex. Just sayin’.

He also maximizes the damage cause by runners (widening trails by running around muddy/watery parts of the trail) while glossing over the wear and tear caused by bikes. He’s not wrong about the trail widening problem, one that is primarily caused by runners and hikers. But go to any multi-use trail and you can tell where the cyclists have been by that distinct U-shape from bike usage. It’s not fair to lay all the blame on runners for trail damage and erosion. We’re all part of it.

And he admits his observations are based on anecdotal evidence. It’s hard to make solid conclusions without data, but from what he’s seen and heard, it’s the cyclists and not the runners who show up on work days to repair worn-down trail sections.

I don’t want to dwell on superficially nitpicking at his piece. I’ll move past the snark and at-times inflammatory language to get to the heart of it: Is he right?

As you can imagine, the comments section was overwhelmingly negative. Outside and the writer took a few on the chin. But some of the responses were interesting.

“Trail runners are some of the most environmentally conscious people round.”

“I give to conservation causes.”

“A lot of races give to environmental causes.”

“I volunteer to clean up the course after a race.”

“Don’t care. We just want to be out in nature.”

“I pay taxes, and if the trails are on public lands, it’s not my job.”

And so forth, repeatedly, ad nauseum. Good rebuttals, right? Well, not really. Here’s why.

It’s fine to give to causes. But those groups might not do anything to help maintain your trails. Being environmentally conscious is great, but it doesn’t mean anything to the trails you use unless you go out and put your ideals into action on the trails you use. It’s great to enjoy nature. But you and millions like you have an impact on your trails. Cleaning up a race day mess is not the same as trail work. And pulling the taxpayer card is just weak sauce.

Still, hundreds of commenters’ thoughts don’t create solid data points for or against the author’s premise. And because of a lack of data to which he admits, it’s a premise that cannot be proven. At least not yet.

So the best I can do here is offer my own anecdotal observations. Here’s what I’ve seen:

Here in Tulsa, we have an active group that advocates for trail users, organizes work days and promotes conservation. The group is made up of nearly every trail user you can imagine. We do quarterly cleanup days and quarterly trail work/maintenance days, and all of it is done by volunteers.

We’ve done studies on who uses our trails. Hikers, bikers, runners, birders and equestrians are the main users, and to varying degrees, they show up on the work days.

But here’s the thing: Over the past couple of years, it’s the cyclists who are punching above their weight. Although they make up a relatively small percentage of overall users, they routinely are at least half or more of the volunteers who show up on those work days, usually armed with their own tools and trail-building skills learned from groups like the International Mountain Bicycling Association. IMBA is fantastic at this, and I’ve learned a lot just working beside these folks.

It’s not like the runners don’t show up. Some do. I’m one of them. But we’re usually outnumbered by the cyclists by two-to-one or more.

What we have going on here in Tulsa is just one place. I’m sure there are other places where it’s the trail runners who are pulling the bulk of the load. And you can bet that it’s the hikers who are the biggest contributors to volunteer efforts with the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative’s summer trail work projects in that state’s popular alpine trail network. But the existence of groups like IMBA (and local affiliates, like our own Oklahoma Earthbike Fellowship) means that the cyclists already have systems in place to do the work and teach people how. They even have grant programs. I’m not sure that sort of organization is duplicated in the trail running world, at least not to the extent as it is in the cycling community.

So here’s the deal: Does the Outside article make you mad? Did you furiously type your response in the comments section? Threaten to cancel your subscription? Bemoan the writer’s divisiveness? OK. But now what?

Prove him wrong. Find a local group that does trail work and volunteer. Show up in boots and work gloves and turn a shovel for a few hours. Help make your trails more durable and sustainable. Be there for the trash cleanup days. Sacrifice a weekend training run or race and get behind a wheelbarrow. Put some sweat equity in your trails.

So many things about Outside’s piece are wrong. (Trail runners aren’t into brats and beer? Are you kidding me? Has he seen an aid station at a trail race?) But I wonder if some of the indignation is caused by folks getting dinged for what they don’t do and don’t like being called on it.

Bob Doucette

Summer is coming. Here are six tips on how to make hot weather running work for you

Summer is coming. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Yesterday I went out for my weekly Wednesday 5-mile run. When I left the gym, it was sunny, breezy, and 90 degrees. May is sort of the unofficial start of the summer sweaty season for me, when hot showers go away and some really tough outdoor training begins. It will likely persist through mid-October where I live.

I’m not a hot-weather runner, and the last couple of miles of yesterday’s run were miserable. I’m not acclimated for the heat yet, and frankly, I wasn’t ready for it. My bad.

But hot weather training has its merits – it builds toughness and will pay off in terms of overall conditioning. Running in the heat taxes your heart and lungs in unpleasant ways, but if you do it right, it will pay off when the temperatures cool down.

That said, training in the heat does you no good if you end up getting sick or worse from heat exposure. So this Sun Belt guy has a few ideas on this subject.

So here are six tips for training in the heat:

Hydrate. A lot. Before you go to bed, drink some water. When you get up, drink some more. And throughout the day running up to your workout, be drinking more water. Bring some with you (hand-held water bottle, hip belt or hydration pack) or be sure your route has drinking fountains available. Don’t wait till you crash to stop for a water break. Heat-related illnesses and dehydration are no joke. Is a gallon a day excessive? Not if it’s summer and you’re outside training.

Shade your face. A ball cap will help you keep a little shade on your face and direct sun off your head. If it’s a moisture-wicking cap, it will help you stay cool.

If you can, pick routes with trees. I love trail running, and many of my trails are in wooded areas. You’ll lose some of the breeze in the woods, but the shade will help keep you cooler.

Pace yourself. Your body will not be able to maintain the same intensity at 98 degrees as it does at 78 degrees or 58 degrees. But you will still be working hard, and that’s what you’re going for — putting in some hard work. Which leads me to the next point…

Watch your heart rate. Whether it’s just listening to your body or wearing a heart-rate monitor, those beats-per-minute will be very telling in terms of how hard your body is working. In the winter, you burn more calories because your body is trying hard to keep your core temperature up. But in the summer, it’s fighting — and losing — the battle to keep you cool. If your pulse is pounding in your temples at 180 bpm or more, maybe it’s time to slow down and walk a couple of blocks. No shame in that.

And finally, and this might go without saying, pick a cooler time of day to run. This means running pre-dawn or after sunset during the summer, but those hours will be cooler and easier to manage.

This week, I did well on these except for the hydration part, and I paid for it. Guess I should follow my own advice! Enjoy your time out there.

Bob Doucette

Seen on the run: I’ve run my city’s streets for eight years, and the change has been dramatic

I run here.

When I first moved to Tulsa, I used running not only as a way to get in shape, but to get to know the part of the city I lived in. Since I live downtown, that had me running in urban environments, and the mix of residential and industrial areas that exist on the fringes of the city’s core.

At this point, we’re talking nearly eight years ago. Back then, the downtown was what you’d expect: high-rise offices towers, stony buildings built for government business, and a mix of people that included buttoned-down professionals, trendy hipsters and transients.

Change was underway elsewhere. On the north side of downtown was an old warehouse district. It was in the midst of what would be a major transformation. You could see its beginnings – a baseball park, some restaurants, a few clubs and some coffee shops. Mixed in were plenty of those old warehouses, industrial sites and, on the west side, the county jail, the sheriff’s office, a bunch of bail bondsmen’s offices and social service organizations aimed at helping the down-and-out crowd that seem to flock in most cities’ urban centers.

I liked the mix. The new and the old coexisting, sometimes awkwardly, but moving ahead just the same. I’d see signs of new money flowing in, and in the shadows of their enterprises, the lonely desperation of those being left behind. Why did I like this? Because it was unsanitized, a daily reminder that the optimism so many of privilege enjoy is not shared, and that’s something to which we need to pay attention. In the cleaned-up boundaries of the suburb, all you see is the edifice of prosperity. No one really know what’s going on in all those cookie-cutter homes. But on the streets where I run, everything was laid out plainly: People dressed to the nines for a night on the town, stepping around some homeless dude who drank too much, sleeping it off on a corner next to a puddle of puke.

I’ve never felt uncomfortable running in these areas, never felt unsafe. But always engaged. This was raw, unvarnished reality.

Home of what used to be the Downtown Lounge, next door to a tattoo parlor. They’re both gone now, replaced by a craft brewery.

Of course, not all of the contrasts were so drastic or dire. There was this one block I particularly enjoyed, wedged between those tony restaurants on one side and the jail on another. An old two-story brick building housed a dive bar, a tattoo shop, some garage slips and what I assumed to be an apartment. It was a stubborn place, resisting gentrification on one side while trying to make a buck in its own gritty way. I’d zip by this block before turning south and going up and over a bridge back to my gym and a locker room shower.

Well, things have changed. An empty lot is now a small park that is home to food trucks and free concerts. New museums and art centers have sprung up. Apartment buildings were built. More restaurants, more bars, more places to spend your money and have a good time. It’s flourishing.

And that gritty old block? All the old businesses there are gone, the building gutted and transformed into brewery and taproom with an outdoor deck on the roof. As you can imagine, the clientele at the taproom is different than that of the dive bar and the tattoo parlor. It looks nice, and at some point I’ll probably pop in for a beer. But I wish I’d have bought a drink at that dive bar, and maybe even gotten some ink at the neighboring shop.

This is how part of my mid-week route used to look. A lot has changed over the years, as many apartment blocks and homes have been fixed up.

The neighborhoods surrounding downtown have changed, too. It’s part gentrification, part urban renewal, and part inevitable evolution of the city. One of my go-to runs goes east of downtown toward the University of Tulsa. Years ago, this meant going through some neighborhoods that were, generously put, dodgy. Many of the houses and apartments of the Pearl District and the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood were abodes of last resort, often bordered by abandoned properties and more neatly kept homes of people who were stubbornly hanging on. Throw in some manufacturing sites and you have some real grit.

But both the Pearl and Kendall-Whittier are undergoing an upswing similar to what’s happening downtown. Condemned houses are being torn down and replaced with newer homes. Shitty apartment blocks are being renovated, and to be frank, they look pretty good. Derelict factories and warehouses are being reclaimed, many of them turning into, you guessed it, craft breweries and taprooms. At the rate it’s going in Tulsa, the love of the suds might be what saves much of urban America from the wrecking ball.

But every now and then, I get reminders that despite the change, there will always be something shady going on.

A few weeks back, I was running that route east of downtown, maybe half a mile from my turnaround point. A beat-up old import car was stopped in the middle of the street for no real reason, and some random dude walked up to the passenger side. An exchange through the driver’s side window occurred. Random dude then jogged out of the street and into an alley by some apartments and disappeared inside. The car drove off.

And here I am, chugging away at my mid-pack pace, thinking, “I just saw a drug deal go down.”

I’m not gonna applaud this transaction or the maladies that come with it. Having a drug house in any neighborhood makes it a more dangerous place (we had a black tar heroin dealer get busted in my neighborhood awhile back, and once that racket was broken up, the character of my streets changed for the better). But there is a trend among cities that hopes to wipe out the bad (the drug dealers and the crime that comes with them) and replace it with something cleaner and more palatable for the masses. And if you can make a buck or two in the process, so much the better. The result is often a drop in those crimes and the loss of the historic identity of distressed neighborhoods where those crimes used to occur. In a lot of ways, it’s a zero-sum game where few win and a bunch lose.

Downtown as seen from the Tulsa Arts District. The area used to be a rundown warehouse district, but is now home to a number of galleries, restaurants, pubs, music venues and a sweet little park that is home to live music and food trucks. I run here a lot, and there is usually something pretty cool to see.

So in eight years of running Tulsa’s streets, I’ve seen this transformation go down in real-time. A semi-sketchy tract of warehouses is now a vibrant arts district. A decaying section of the inner city is cleaning up, turning around and showing signs of prosperity. Less obvious but just as real is a loss of a former community identity that had seen its high and lows.

Who knows how different it will all be eight years from now. Hopefully I’ll still be running those same streets. And maybe, in some corners, not all of the grit will have been washed away. The shiny and the new get your attention. But the grit is what makes is interesting. The grit is where the history lies.

Bob Doucette

Running, and, er, power hiking, the Post Oak Challenge

Body built by burritos. (Phillip J. Davis/Post Oak Lodge photo)

If you remember, a couple of weeks back I confessed to falling off the wagon as a trail runner. It had been awhile since my feet ran on dirt, and I expected the price for my sins to be high at last month’s Post Oak Challenge. I signed up for the 10K on a course that’s known for being difficult, regardless of distance.

I also mentioned that the forecast for the weekend’s races looked like rubbish – lots of rain, which would make a course known for holding water that much tougher.

Boy, was I right on that one.

It was a rainy January and February – Tulsa is already a couple of inches of rain above normal for the year, and the folks at Post Oak Lodge had to cancel Sunday training runs at the site because the trails were too muddy. And then it rained the week before the races. And then on each of the first two days of the three-day race series, including a nice dump the morning of my race.

Post Oak’s course runs through a series of dirt-and-grass trails that undulate on the sides of hills and in the bottoms of valleys and ravines of the Osage Hills northwest of Tulsa. Toward the end of the race, you make two climbs – one that goes most of the way up Holmes Peak (the highest point in a four-county area), then another that meanders up and down what’s dubbed as the Hill from Hell. We’ll get to that in a bit.

I’ve run here before, so I know how muddy it can get. Well, at least I thought I did.

Things started well enough. Everything was nice and runnable. The route took us downhill, things got muddier, but we all plowed through it. Somewhere down there was a creek crossing. No big deal.

And then it started. For the next couple of miles, the trail consisted of a viscous mix of mud and water that resembled lubricant. It wouldn’t stick to your shoes, but it gave you little to no traction. Suddenly this “run” turned into a hike.

There were briefs moments of respite: a dried-out section here, rockier trails there, even a farm road that drained nicely and actually allowed me to run. But then we’d head uphill, the slop would resume, and it was three feet forward, two feet back. Power-hiking resumed.

This wasn’t true for everyone. Fleet-footed runners ahead of me somehow found a way to keep surging ahead, and one of my coworkers in the race actually won the damn thing while clocking in at an 8:30 pace. How, I don’t know.

I groused to myself every now and then, complaining about what had turned into an $80 hike, but eventually got over it and made the best of things. I ran where I could. I hiked when needed. I chatted up fellow sufferers and kept things moving.

Probably my favorite part of the race started on a long downhill on the side of Holmes Peak. I shortened my steps (some of us call it “logrolling”) and zig-zagged downhill, piecing together a nice, long, enjoyable stretch of technical trail running that made me feel like I wasn’t a lost cause after all. But eventually we bottomed out and the slop-fest resumed.

The Post Oak Challenge pins its reputation on another one of its big hills, the Hill from Hell I mentioned earlier. I vaguely remembered its trials, but I figured the worst of it was behind me.

At the base of the hill was the last aid station, where local trail legend Ken “TZ” Childress was serving up Fireball along with the more traditional water and Gatorade. Usually I don’t slam booze during a race unless I’m tanking hard. Just Gatorade for me, being the serious runner and all.

Anyway, the Fireball was particularly tasty. We clicked plastic cups for a short toast and I rumbled up the hill to tackle the last of it.

What I remember of the Hill from Hell is that you meander uphill a ways, then go downhill, and regain all that precious lost elevation one more time before you end the race. The reality is you go up the hill, back down some, up a little, down some more, back up, top out, then do down, circle its upper flanks and finally emerge from the woods to go run in the grass, around a pond and across the finish line.

Making things more fun was the trail was about as slick and treacherous as anywhere else in the race. I bit it hard once, landing on my butt with a heavy splat before regaining my feet and sliding my way forward. Running/hiking in conditions like this looks hilarious because your body is twisted one way while your feet are going somewhere else. It’s a great core workout for sure. But utterly absent of grace or any other appearance of athleticism. Or maybe that’s just me.

When I left the horrors of the hill behind and started the last grassy loop toward the finish, I surmised that now I’d finally be able to run again, but was somewhat disappointed to find that the grass was mostly a shoe-sucking bog that, again, undermined any attempt at speed.

The race ended with 80-something people finishing ahead of me, 60-something folks behind. In my age group, I finished 19th out of 22.

Ouch.

It could have been worse. I had one friend who fell hard enough that she thought she may have busted her jaw. And I did accomplish both of my goals: to finish and not finish last.

Success!

I look like someone who just got away with something.

Post-race, we all gathered for free grub and a couple of beers while talking about the race, the trail conditions, and the strategies used to cope with it all. I was informed by perennial Post Oak competitors that the course conditions were actually worse the year before.

So I suppose the trail gods did show me a little mercy. My long absence required penance, but it could have been more severe.

And I got the last laugh. Despite the conditions, my miserable finish time, the over-abundance of power hiking, the mud caked in all the wrong crevices, I had fun. You heard me right. This was a good time. I embraced the suck and was rewarded not with hardware, glory or any sense of achievement, but with something simpler – a grin on my face akin to a little kid who did something wrong and got away with it.

Bob Doucette