Previewing the 2016 Route 66 Marathon, Tulsa

Marathon starting line stoke: It's real, man. (Kirk Wells/Route 66 marathon photo)

Route 66 Marathon starting line stoke: It’s real, man. (Kirk Wells/Route 66 marathon photo)

I haven’t raced a bunch this year, but it’s hard not to get excited about running in the Route 66 Marathon. Organizers do a great job in setting up an interesting and challenging course through midtown and downtown Tulsa, with good course support and a sweet finish line party to boot. Not to mention the race’s always-epic medals.

The race weekend starts off with a 5K event on Saturday, and the half and full marathons are on Sunday.

Before I get too far into it, one special note about one of the race’s longtime organizers, Chris Lieberman.

Chris made this race become a reality for Tulsa. Before Route 66 was born, there was no major marathon here. Chris, along with Kimi Hann, changed that in a big way, growing the event into what it is today, one of the state’s most-loved long-distance running events.

Chris has also been instrumental in bringing in other big-time events to Tulsa that have nothing to do with running. Case in point: The Center of the Universe Festival, where great national and local music acts converged on the city for three days of rock ‘n’ roll.

In March, Chris suffered a traumatic brain injury after taking a 10-foot fall off a ladder. It’s left him in a lengthy recovery process, one in which he’s making progress, but it’s a tough deal nonetheless.

Those close to Chris are asking that if you can, honor him by signing up to be a volunteer for the race. You can do that here. If you want to know more about Chris’s situation, check out this site. You can also follow his progress on Facebook: Just do a search for “Chris Lieberman Updates” and “like” the page.

Chris has been an amazing supporter of all things Tulsa, as well as to runners here and in many cities and states. It would be good to send him some love, through volunteering, or prayers, or good vibes. You can also donate to help with his recovery.

OK, on to the details of the race…

First off: the packet pickup and expo. The expo takes place at the Cox Business Center in downtown Tulsa. You can pick up packets for your race from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 18 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 19. At the expo, there are going to be a ton of vendors, speakers and a bloggers’ forum. If you’ve got time, check ’em all out.

Second: Let’s talk about the course. It’s the same as it was when the race changed its format to finish in the Brady Arts District downtown, right by Guthrie Green.

Courtesy Route 66 Marathon

Courtesy Route 66 Marathon

The marathon and half marathon follow the same initial loop right up into the 13th mile, when marathoners head out of downtown for their second loop. So here are some things you need to know…

Don’t be fooled by that first mile. It’s mostly downhill, so it’s fast, and the excitement of the race will amp up a lot of people’s paces. Soon after reaching 15th Street, you will meet a really big hill, and the hilliness of the course won’t stop for while. Running through the neighborhoods of Maple Ridge and near Woodward Park is really scenic, but there is a lot of up-and-down between Mile 2 and Mile 7. Pace yourself accordingly.

The hills will relent as you go through Brookside, then turn west on 41st Street. Turning north on Riverside will remain flat, but the course ducks back east, then north again on Cincinnati Avenue and into a neighborhood. Mild elevation gains and losses prevail from Mile 8 to Mile 10. After that, it’s a good, flat section of Riverside Drive into Mile 11. And then it gets real.

At Southwest Boulevard, you will begin the climb back into downtown, and it’s not small, lasting the better part of a mile. Just past Mile 12, you’ll turn north at Denver Avenue and start heading north and downhill toward the Brady District. Marathoners will turn back east at Second Street to begin their second loop while those doing the half will continue north on the last mile — one more climb, then a mostly flat finish.

For those going the full 26.2, it’s another trip out to midtown, but in different areas. You get to avoid the hills of 15th Street to start, instead eventually making your way south on Peoria between Mile 13 and Mile 15. Here, you’ll turn back east on a familiar road, south past Utica Square, but then farther east into different neighborhoods. I’ve found these areas not as hilly as Maple Ridge, but that will change soon enough. The mellower grades continue from Mile 15 through Mile 18 as you head north toward the University of Tulsa.

You hit one small but steep climb on 21st Street, then a long, gradual uphill slog toward the school between Mile 18 and Mile 20. The uphill continue through the school, then relents a bit as you leave and go back south on Delaware.

And then, my friends, comes the biggest mental test of the full, at least in my estimation. Just before Mile 22 begins, you hit 15th Street (also known as Cherry Street), and its sizable hills. Between Delaware and Peoria, they are big and somewhat steep.

Just when you think another huge hill awaits, you turn north back on Peoria (between Mile 23 and Mile 24) to start the trek back downtown. Fortunately, the hills of Midtown are behind you. If you have any gas left in the tank, you can make some time here. If you don’t, at least gravity won’t be devouring you the entire way there. A slight grade up take you from Mile 24 to Mile 25, then a gradual downhill on First Street to Denver Avenue lets you coast.

If you want to do the Center of the Universe Detour, it pulls off the course in the middle of the First Street stretch. It’s a party up there, and they give you a commemorative coin for your trouble. Back on the main course, you go downhill fast on Denver Avenue, under a bridge, then one last, short uphill climb to the Brady District and the final, mostly flat portion of the course to the finish.

Last few observations…

First, I hope you did some hill training. Though only a few of the hills are big and there are some sizable flat spots, this is not a flat course. At all.

Second, expect good course support. Organizers have lots of aid stations along the way, well-stocked and well-manned.

Third, watch the weather forecasts. So far, it looks really good. A cool start in the upper 30s, and a high in the mid to upper 50s. Dress accordingly, and keep watching the forecast. Weather in this state can be fickle.

Last, enjoy it! I’ve run this one a couple of times, and it stacks up really well with any race I’ve done. The course is scenic and challenging, which always makes for a good time.

Bob Doucette

Previewing the 2015 Williams Route 66 Marathon

It's gonna be a party! (Route 66 Marathon photo)

It’s gonna be a party! (Route 66 Marathon photo)

A lot of folks are thinking about Thanksgiving feasts, Black Friday and red Starbucks cups. But for a bunch of us, one event in particular has out attention this time of year: The Williams Route 66 Marathon.

This is Tulsa’s biggest race, with organizers telling me that somewhere over 16,000 people may be in this year’s marathon, half marathon, relay and 5K on Nov. 21-22. It will be the biggest this race has ever been, and the timing is good, seeing it’s Route 66’s 10th anniversary.

If you’re doing the marathon, you should be in the midst of your taper now. For those of us doing the half, we’ll let off the gas after this weekend. And then it’s go time.

The 5K is happening Nov. 21. The marathon and the half take place Nov. 22. I figured you’d like to know a few things about the race before that starting gun sounds.

First off: the packet pickup and expo. The expo takes place at the Cox Business Center in downtown Tulsa. You can pick up packets for your race from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 20 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 21. At the expo, there are going to be a ton of vendors, speakers and a bloggers’ forum. If you’ve got time, check ’em all out.

Second: Let’s talk about the course. It’s pretty much the same as last year’s, with the twist being that it avoids a large construction zone on Riverside Drive by ducking into a nearby neighborhood. Other than that, it’s the same as it was when the race changed its format to finish in the Brady Arts District downtown, right by Guthrie Green.

rt66map

The marathon and half marathon follow the same initial loop right up into the 13th mile, when marathoners head out of downtown for their second loop. So here are some things you need to know…

Don’t be fooled by that first mile. It’s mostly downhill, so it’s fast, and the excitement of the race will amp up a lot of people’s paces. Soon after reaching 15th Street, you will meet a really big hill, and the hilliness of the course won’t stop for while. Running through the neighborhoods of Maple Ridge and near Woodward Park is really scenic, but there is a lot of up-and-down between Mile 2 and Mile 7. Pace yourself accordingly.

The hills will relent as you go through Brookside, then turn west on 41st Street. Turning north on Riverside will remain flat, but the course ducks back east, then north again on Cincinnati Avenue and into a neighborhood. Mild elevation gains and losses prevail from Mile 8 to Mile 10. After that, it’s a good, flat section of Riverside Drive into Mile 11. And then it gets real.

At Southwest Boulevard, you will begin the climb back into downtown, and it’s not small, lasting the better part of a mile. Just past Mile 12, you’ll turn north at Denver Avenue and start heading north and downhill toward the Brady District. Marathoners will turn back east at Second Street to begin their second loop while those doing the half will continue north on the last mile — one more climb, then a mostly flat finish.

For those going the full 26.2, it’s another trip out to Midtown, but in different areas. You get to avoid the hills of 15th Street to start, instead eventually making your way south on Peoria between Mile 13 and Mile 15. Here, you’ll turn back east on a familiar road, south past Utica Square, but then farther east into different neighborhoods. I’ve found these areas not as hilly as Maple Ridge, but that will change soon enough. The mellower grades continue from Mile 15 through Mile 18 as you head north toward the University of Tulsa.

You hit one small but steep climb on 21st Street, then a long, gradual uphill slog toward the school between Mile 18 and Mile 20. The uphill continue through the school, then relents a bit as you leave and go back south on Delaware.

And then, my friends, comes the biggest mental test of the full, at least in my estimation. Just before Mile 22 begins, you hit 15th Street (also known as Cherry Street), and its sizable hills. Between Delaware and Peoria, they are big and somewhat steep.

Just when you think another huge hill awaits, you turn north back on Peoria (between Mile 23 and Mile 24) to start the trek back downtown. Fortunately, the hills of Midtown are behind you. If you have any gas left in the tank, you can make some time here. If you don’t, at least gravity won’t be devouring you the entire way there. A slight grade up take you from Mile 24 to Mile 25, then a gradual downhill on First Street to Denver Avenue lets you coast.

If you want to do the Center of the Universe Detour, it pulls off the course in the middle of the First Street stretch. It’s a party up there, and they give you a commemorative coin for your trouble. Back on the main course, you go downhill fast on Denver Avenue, under a bridge, then one last, short uphill climb to the Brady District and the final, mostly flat portion of the course to the finish.

Last few observations…

First, I hope you did some hill training. Though only a few of the hills are big and there are some sizable flat spots, this is not a flat course. At all.

Second, expect good course support. Organizers have lots of aid stations along the way, well-stocked and well-manned.

Third, watch the weather forecasts. Late November in Oklahoma can mean anything from cool and sunny, to balmy and bright, to winter-like conditions. Watch the weather and have an appropriate clothing strategy in place. A cold race can be a great race if you’re prepared.

Last, enjoy it! I’ve run this one a couple of times, and it stacks up really well with any race I’ve done. The course is scenic and challenging, which always makes for a good time.

For more details on the course, the 5K, the expo and everything else about the race, check out this site.

Bob Doucette

Race recap: 2014 Route 66 half marathon

Dan and I after our shake-out run the day before the race, in front of the start line. WARNING: More mean-mugging to come.

Dan and I after our shake-out run the day before the race, in front of the start line. WARNING: More mean-mugging to come.

Oftentimes, running is a process. You use different ways to measure progress or success. One of the ways I do that is through races. A good road race or trail race can teach you a lot about where you’re going, what you’re doing right and wrong, and just how far you can push yourself. And it’s not just the race itself, but also the weeks and months of training that come before the big day.

There’s only one problem with that: A lot of things can happen from the beginning of a training cycle to race day.

I’d set a more ambitious goal for this fall, hoping to break the two-hour barrier in the half marathon. My fastest time for 13.1 miles is 2:11, recorded at the halfway point of last year’s Route 66 Marathon in my hometown of Tulsa. I didn’t have a lot of interest in running another full marathon just yet, but I was looking forward to charging hard in that event’s half marathon this fall.

A rough spring and summer meant that I was close to starting from scratch last August. Things were going well, though. I stayed healthy, increased my miles, added some really good strength training and started to see my times come down. After pulling off a 1:32 at the Tulsa Run 15K a month ago, I seemed to be poised to take my half marathon to the next level this past Sunday.

Then I got sick. More than a week of being knocked out of training, right at peak training time. Other obligations consumed training time to the point there was really not much more I could do except stay healthy and run the best I could on race day.

It’s at this point where I realized I needed to reset my goals. That two-hour barrier would have to wait for another day. Was a PR possible? Maybe. But realistically, here’s what I didn’t want to do: Repeat my lackluster performance at last spring’s Oklahoma City Memorial half marathon.

In that one, I came in a little out of shape and posted a nearly identical 2:22 that I’d done the year before. That was fine for a first-time effort, but to do that again a year later was a disappointment. If I did that a third time, or, even worse, came in slower, that would be wholly unacceptable.

The race

This was the ninth annual Route 66 Marathon, and it holds a special place in my heart – it’s where I ran my first marathon. The course is awesome – scenic, hilly and challenging. Just like in the past, the course support was outstanding, and fan support was good. An estimated 11,000 people ran it, showing how the race is growing in popularity.

Route 66 challenges a lot of local runners, and others from nearby cities and towns. I had friends from the Oklahoma City area who said after the race that they weren’t ready for the hills. There are some big ones on 15th Street and 21st Street, and as the course winds its way through the neighborhoods of midtown, a steady diet of smaller, rolling hills that eat you up if you’re not ready.

I knew what was coming, having run it last year. And with the course change at the Tulsa Run (lots of big hills this time), I had a good gauge of how I’d perform when the hill portions came up.

We lucked out on the weather, for the most part. Instead of breezy conditions with temps in the mid-20s like we had last year, we had overcast skies, high humidity and 57 degrees at gun time this year. The humidity was a factor, but overall, really good conditions for a long-distance event.

Runners line up in the B corral for the race. An estimated 11,000 people ran the Route 66 marathon and half marathon races.

Runners line up in the B corral for the race. An estimated 11,000 people ran the Route 66 marathon and half marathon races.

The winners

There must be something in the water in Norman, Okla. October’s winner of the Tulsa Run resides there, and the overall winner of the marathon on Sunday, Jason Cook, is also a Norman resident. He clocked in with a 2:37:16, four minutes faster than the second-place finisher. A truly dominant performance.

Among the women, a hometown gal, Melissa Truitt, took top honors with a time of 3:10:38.

Among the half marathon competitors, Edmond’s Mark Thompson breezed in with a 1:10:34 while the women’s winner, also a Tulsan, clocked in at 1:22:09.

How it went

As I said earlier, I had to reset my expectations. In addition to the illness issues that hit me a few weeks ago, I’ve been hitting the weights a little harder, running fewer miles and putting on a little weight. As of race day, I was about 10 pounds heavier this fall than I was last year.

Obviously, coming in heavy for a race isn’t a good thing. If you want to run fast, you want to come in light.

However, there were benefits to my slight change of physique. I’ve been working hard on my lower body and back. In doing so, I’ve also been doing a good deal of speed and hill work while also concentrating on engaging my glutes more when I run. That means a slight change of gait, but it also means using those big muscles to keep things cranking. It takes some getting used to. However, it definitely does make a difference in terms of speed.

My friend Dan came up from Oklahoma City to run this one, so we did a shakeout run the day before the race. Dan is a strong runner. He’s tall, too. I knew that I wouldn’t be running with him for very long. But it was cool to have him up there to talk a little shop, then compare notes when the race was over.

My biggest struggle is I hadn’t done a double-digit-mileage run in well over a month. Between the Tulsa Run and race day, my longest run was just 5 miles. And now I was going to do 13.1. The prospect of a third straight 2:22 was very real.

So there were a few things I decided to do during the race that I believed would help make up for all the deficiencies I’d be battling along the way.

First, to just go with the flow during the beginning of the race. I often get impatient with slower runners during that first mile and spend the first 10 minutes or so busily picking them off so I can get into a clearer area where I can set my pace. That usually makes for a fast start. Sometimes too fast. So I made a conscious decision not to do that. Instead, I just let the flow of the crowd carry me until things opened up more naturally.

Second, I allowed myself to change my gait on the hills. A good strategy is to conserve energy on the uphills (don’t blast through them unless you’re just a stud) and bomb the downhills when gravity is your friend. I did that, but with a twist – on the downhills, I lengthened my stride and really just tried to relax. A lower cadence (fewer footfalls per minute) means even less energy expended, and my legs were strong enough to take the punishment downhill running brings. On the flats, I shortened my stride, and on the uphills, shortened them even more. It was all about conserving energy and finding places to bank time (on the downhills) where I could also rest a bit.

Lastly, I decided to make sure that my rest stops were utilized to the minimum. Now that doesn’t mean I ran by them. I used them nearly every time, but instead of gulping a whole cup of water, I’d drink a half and dump the rest. Same with Gatorade. I alternated between water and Gatorade, but made sure to sip a half cup and go rather than drink in the whole thing. The result: almost no cramps, and no need for a bathroom stop. I also did not eat anything during the race. I’ve learned that it’s OK to run slightly dehydrated, especially if you’re used to it, which I am. And really, midrace fueling is something you need only for full marathons or ultras. No need to eat during a half.

From mile 4-7, my legs and glutes felt like lead. Part of that was the hilly nature of the middle of the course. Part of that was being heavier and a little more muscly. But my hydration strategy worked, and by the time I hit mile 8, I was good.

Me and Dan post-race, mean-muggin. And since this is Oklahoma, every day is a good day for a gun show.

Me and Dan post-race, mean-muggin. And since this is Oklahoma, every day is a good day for a gun show.

My conditioning bit me a bit after mile 10, just before the uphill climb into downtown began. But I had enough in the tank to sprint out the home stretch and cross the finish with a 2:17. Not a PR, but way better than my last half marathon showing. I’m totally good with that.

Dan blasted out a 2:13, despite being challenged by the hills and a wonky knee that announced its presence after mile 10. He’s a tough dude.

So what’s the lesson? It’s good to set goals with your running. But it’s also OK to reset those goals. If you come in stronger than you thought, raise the bar. But if circumstances work against you, you don’t have to give in to failure and disappointment. You just need to be realistic and find a new way to triumph.

As I write this, I can feel soreness in my joints, but also in those muscle groups I’ve been working so hard to strengthen. That tells me a couple of things: It tells me that I’ve learned to better use my body when I run, and it tells me that all that strength training paid off in terms of improving a race time when I had no business expecting anything good.

That’s a small victory, to be sure, especially when my initial goal was so much higher. But it’s also something to build on. I’ve got other races planned, and I know that despite the bumps in the road, what I am doing terms of training hasn’t been in vain.

Totally the opposite. What I’m doing is working.

Bob Doucette

Previewing Tulsa’s Route 66 Marathon

The big day is almost here! (Williams Route 66 Marathon photo)

The big day is almost here! (Williams Route 66 Marathon photo)

We’re a little more than a week away from one of the two biggest races in Oklahoma: the Route 66 Marathon.

Thousands of runners will be racing in the 5K, half marathon and marathon on the weekend of Nov. 23-24. The race is fairly new, but it has already grown as a lot of local runners – as well as many more from surrounding states – use this is their capstone event of the fall racing season.

What’s in store? A meandering course that tours the east bank of the Arkansas River, downtown Tulsa, some cool midtown neighborhoods and a quick turn through the University of Tulsa campus.

Here’s a few things to know before you crowd the starting line…

Expo and packet pickup

You can go to the Cox Business Center in downtown Tulsa (6th and Houston) from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday Nov. 22 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday Nov. 23. You can expect fast packet pickup (the Cox Center is pretty big and well suited for quick service) and plenty of time to browse the Health, Fitness and Sustainability Expo. A ton of vendors will be there with lots of running gear and other goodies.

There are some cool presentations planned for Nov. 23. The list:

– Noon: Injury prevention and how to access medical care if you need it.

– 12:45 p.m.: Using video for gait analysis/shoe selection.

– 1:30 p.m.: Primary care for endurance athletes.

– 2:15 p.m.: Breathing issues in runners, and how to improve lung function.

– 3 p.m.: Medical experts roundtable.

Other good programs will be offered throughout the weekend at the expo, so be sure to check it out after you pick up your packet.

Route 66 Marathon bling, which the race has become famous for. (Williams Route 66 Marathon photo)

Route 66 Marathon bling, for which the race has become famous. (Williams Route 66 Marathon photo)

Saturday races

The Route 66 Marathon is actually a full weekend event, with the shorter races planned for Saturday, Nov. 23. On tap are the 5K (8 a.m. start), one-mile fun run/walk (9 a.m. start) and the Mascot Dash (9:30 a.m. start). All Saturday races start at Archer and Elgin on the east side of the Brady Arts District north of downtown. The races will finish at Guthrie Green, a downtown park that will also be the scene of Sunday’s finish line.

What I like about this is that you’ll be able to enjoy the park at Guthrie Green, and be sure to check out Reconciliation Park just west of ONEOK Field. Two cool parks, and plenty of places to enjoy a good lunch when you’re done.

If you’re racing in the 5K, expect a fast start, then a quick uphill over the Boulder Avenue bridge. Once off the bridge, you’ll go up toward the crest of downtown, then a long, gradual downhill to the east side of downtown before heading south, then back west on 6th. There will be a slight climb, then downhill until you get to Denver Avenue. You’ll pick up speed as you go under a railroad underpass, then uphill again before turning back east toward the finish. This is a good, challenging 5K course with some interesting scenery; be sure to take advantage of those downhills if you’re looking for a PR.

rt66map

Sunday races

The big daddies are on Sunday, Nov. 24: the half marathon and the marathon, both starting at 8 a.m. at 7th and Main Street downtown. The course is different this year, and is particularly noteworthy on the half marathon course. If you did the Route 66 half last year, you’ll notice that the course will be harder: No net elevation loss this time.

The race starts on Main Street downtown and heads south, a gradual downhill that will eventually take you to 15th Street (expect some hills here), and then southeast through some of Tulsa’s Midtown neighborhoods and scenic Woodward Park. This section of the course will undulate some before flattening out as it heads to the Brookside area, one of Midtown’s hip entertainment districts.

The course goes west toward Riverside Drive, then takes a long turn north back toward downtown. The Riverside stretch is flat, and stays that way until you get close to downtown. At Southwest Avenue, you’ll climb toward the crest of downtown (you’re near Mile 12 at this point), then hit Denver Avenue. You’ll dip down below the railroad tracks by the BOK Center, then uphill before hitting Archer Avenue.

For half marathoners, the final stretch is nice and flat, but only after those two hill climbs. So yeah, a little different from last year’s half, which mercifully ended on a flat stretch by Veterans Park. This time, you’ll finish at Guthrie Green in the Brady Arts District.

Marathoners will turn east at Second Street by the BOK Center, through downtown, then downhill southeast toward Peoria Avenue. The course from here is similar to what the first leg looks like, with runners turning east near 21st Street. A quick turn through the Utica Square area is next before going southeast through more of Midtown’s older neighborhoods, then north at mile 18 for the long march toward the University of Tulsa.

The TU campus, and the streets leading west out of campus are mercifully flat for a time, but then you’ll head back west on 15th Street – a notoriously hilly stretch which goes through another nightlife hotspot between Mile 22 and 23, the Cherry Street district.

The course then goes north on Peoria through a mostly level stretch to 6th Street, then through downtown on First Street. Near the end, you’re back at the BOK Center on the west side of downtown. You’ll go north on Denver Avenue from there, under the tracks, then gradually (and mercifully flat) through the Brady Arts District and the finish.

None of the hills on this course are overly huge, but there are plenty of them scattered throughout the course (aside from Riverside Drive). Don’t let that psyche you out; just trust your training.

If you’re not too tired and up for a distraction toward the end of the race, take the 0.3-mile Center of the Universe detour, which occurs within the last mile on 1st Street. It’s a mini party within the party at one of Tulsa’s quirky points of interest.

There is a lot to like about the course. It meanders through sort of a greatest hits tour of Tulsa’s most interesting places, and there are bound to be plenty of people along the way cheering you on. And remember, an interesting course will distract you from the punishment of 13.1/26.2. Lastly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to finish. The Brady Arts District is one of the coolest places in the city, and it’s home to some of the great Tulsa Tough cycling races. By finishing, you’ll only be adding to the district’s athletic heritage!

If you haven’t signed up, do it now. Registration closes this Sunday (Nov. 17), and the marathon and half marathon are near capacity. There is still some room for marathon relay and 5K as well.

Need to know more? Download the event guide here.

So, folks, enjoy your taper. Get ready. And be sure to revel in the race. If you’re like me, this event is the culmination of months of training and preparation. All that’s left is to get to the starting line healthy and ready. See you there!

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Looking back on the 2013 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)

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.

line

Even though the hotel room smelled like a chain smoker, the views were good. One shot of downtown, the other of Bricktown.

downtown

brick

A shot from the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

gate1

The next morning, this is a shot of a very large crowd in the corrals near the start.

starting

Near the finish, I’m chugging home (I’m in the blue cap). I might be slow, but I still got the mondo calves.

mondo

This is me and friends Tammy Poyer (center) and Carrie. Tammy is fast (1:54).

friends

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.

remember

Post-race, me and my parents looking album-cover cool. They came up from DFW to watch me plod across the finish.

fam

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.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088