Chris Lieberman made a race for us. Here’s a chance for us to give back.

Chris Lieberman and his hard-charging Route 66 Marathon crew. Chris ran a marathon in Dallas and decided Tulsa needed a similar race. A few years later, he made it happen, much to the benefit of tens of thousands of people. (Chris Lieberman Updates photo)

I remember my first interaction with a real-life marathon. I learned about it because its starting line was on the street right by my front door.

So on a cool November morning, I went to the top floor of my apartment building at watched as the race started. Music was pumping, crowds were cheering, and with each new flight of runners, a gun was fired to start them off on their 13.1- or 26.2-mile journey through the streets of Tulsa.

I remember thinking, “One day, I want to be down there.”

A couple of years later, I was. My playlist was churning out “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden as my group got started on an icy fall day. The memories of that race are vivid, and I’ve either run the half or full course at the Route 66 Marathon five years straight.

Me finishing up at the Route 66 Marathon’s half marathon last year.

The guy I have to thank for it is Chris Lieberman who, many years before, ran the Dallas Marathon and concluded that Tulsa needed its own 26.2-mile event.

“I was like, ‘Tulsa needs this.’ I thought, ‘This can’t be too hard to do,’” Chris said from his midtown Tulsa home.

Creating the Route 66 Marathon proved to be a challenge, but more than a decade later, the race has become an integral part of Tulsa running community as well as growing into a nationally known event – all things he felt Tulsa needed and deserved.

Filling a need in his hometown has been a pattern in Chris’s life. But now he faces a need of his own, something we can all take part in fulfilling.

In 2016, Chris suffered an injury that left him with a severe case of traumatic brain injury. More than two years later, he’s partially recovered from the worst of the injury. But there is still a long way to go.

“Right now, I can’t work,” he said matter-of-factly. “And I want to work.”

THE INJURY

The accident was something that could have happened to any of us. He was on an extension ladder in his company’s warehouse when the ladder slipped. He fell 10 feet, with the of impact absorbed by his skull. Brain swelling ensued, and physicians had to put him into a medically induced coma to help alleviate the trauma.

When Chris regained consciousness, he was unable to move. “Zero mobility,” as he put it. It would be some time before he could speak.

Since then, Chris has undergone more than a dozen surgeries and spent countless hours at different rehabilitation centers in Oklahoma, Texas, and elsewhere.

The good news is that he’s conversational now. He can walk with assistance. But he’s nowhere near where he wants to be, that is, back to running his company, walking without assistance or fear of falling, and maybe taking a few strides on the marathon course he created years ago. He wants to leave his wheelchair behind.

A NEW OPPORTUNITY

Current rehab facilities have taken Chris about as far as they can. Chris and his longtime partner, Kim Hann, learned of another place called REACT Nuero Rehab, a Dallas-based organization founded by Kendell Hall, who had worked herself out of near paralysis going back to a 2009 car accident that damaged her spine.

In speaking to Hall, both Chris and Kim felt they found the place that could help him make the next step toward full recovery.

“She knew all my questions, and it just seemed like the right place,” Chris said.

In a post on a Facebook page designed to keep people up to date on Chris’ recovery, it was summed up like this:

“Chris is now ready for intensive rehab, he took it upon himself to do some research and found REACT in Dallas. We believe this is exactly what he needs to walk unassisted again! They are well known for helping people in wheelchairs to be able to walk again. We toured the facility and met with the staff at REACT. They believe Chris will be able to leave their program having achieved his goals. That being said, we have been exploring options to get him to React in Dallas. With your support, Chris will attend for a minimum of 3 days a week and will have to commute back and forth between Dallas and Tulsa each week. This is going to be a HUGE undertaking for Kim to travel back and forth and find housing and she will also need your and support during this time!”

The challenge, however, is this: This type of rehab isn’t covered by insurance. So that means the cost is completely out-of-pocket, and as we all know, medical care isn’t cheap. For that reason, Chris, Kim and their family are asking for help.

WHAT WE OWE

I watched a video Chris put out, and in the back of my mind, I kept thinking that I was looking at a guy who had done so much for the Tulsa running community, and the city in general.

Before the Route 66 Marathon was created, we just didn’t do marathons in this city. Now, the race attracts about 15,000 runners for its marathon, half marathon, marathon relay and 5K events. In terms of gear sold, hotel rooms booked, meals eaten and other commerce associated with the race, that’s about a $10 million annual impact that was created from scratch.

The success of the race propelled Tulsa running to another level. Where there used to be no local marathons, now there are several. Running stores now have new customers for their gear, and new clients for training programs. Road and trail races leading up to Route 66 benefit from having more runners using their events as tune-ups for November’s big event. Trail and ultramarathon events benefit from people who use the marathon as a gateway to longer races. Thousands of people – maybe tens of thousands – realize fitness goals never dreamed of before, and personal achievements that build confidence for greater endeavors. Chris likes to call Route 66 “the people’s race,” meaning that he wanted it to be an event for everyone, regardless of speed, athleticism or competitiveness.

That hit home with me, because that’s who I am. I’m a midpack runner who used to never run. Years later, I’ve got a marathon under my belt and six half marathons, three 25Ks and a bunch of shorter races that never would have happened had I not set Route 66 as a target. And I’ve got a running habit that has introduced me to new friends, new experiences and a sustainable form of exercise that will benefit me for years to come.

All of this was made possible by a guy who refused to take a salary from his own event until just a few years ago. I’m grateful for that, and I know a lot of other people are, too.

WHAT WE CAN DO

Chris and Kim hope to raise $20,000 to get this new round of rehab started. It sounds like a lot of money, but I figured there is a way to break it down that makes this very doable.

Like I mentioned earlier, thousands of people have run Route 66. If a thousand of these folks donated $20, that goal is met. Basically, if enough is us forgo the cost of a decent large pizza just this once, we get them there.

Want to help? Here’s some information from Chris’ site that gives you a couple of tax-deductible ways you can literally help Chris get back on his feet for good:

You can donate to Chris’ therapy below. Your donations will go 100% directly to Chris’ recovery fund.

  1. You can click this link to donate online.
  2. You can mail a check to Chris’ REACT Therapy Account.

Make checks payable to REACT.

(In the memo, please write “Chris Lieberman’s Recovery Fund”)

REACT

15046 Beltway Drive

Addison, Texas 75001

Chris at the Route 66 Marathon start line. (Chris Lieberman Updates photo)

LET’S DO THIS

This week, I started my training for what will be my seventh half marathon, and my fifth with Route 66. I’ve got my eyes on some goals for this race.

Chris has some goals, too. To walk unassisted. To get back to working full-time in the hard-charging, energetic manner that has been his hallmark. And maybe starting yet another new endeavor, such as creating a foundation to help others like himself who have suffered similar injuries on the job, at home, or overseas in the military. The need is there (some 19,000 Oklahoma veterans have some form of TBI). And in the same way he saw that Tulsa needed a bigger race, he knows Oklahoma needs what he’s seeking now.

Bob Doucette

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Previewing the 2017 Route 66 Marathon

The start of the 2015 Route 66 Marathon. (Route 66 Marathon photo)

It’s mid-November, and that means we’re in the heart of fall race season. Where I live, it also means the Route 66 Marathon is upon us.

This is one of the biggest races in the state and region, and it’s one I’ve been running every year since 2013. A lot of people in the Tulsa area and beyond are going to be in this one – several thousand, in fact – and the race is shaping up to be a good one.

If you’re running this one, listen up. I’ve got some information about the event you’ll want to see, and a detailed course description for all of you running the full and half marathon races. So, here goes…

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. 17 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 18. 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 Tulsa Arts District downtown, right by Guthrie Green.

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. 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. You’ll climb part of it, then turn off into a neighborhood by Maple Park. Then it’s back east on 21st and a sizable hill. It will be the biggest incline you face until you hit Mile 11.

The hill gives way just before Utica Avenue, but the hilliness of the course won’t stop for a while. Running through the neighborhoods of near Woodward Park is 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 Tulsa Arts 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 continues 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 takes 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 Tulsa Arts 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 good. A cool start in the mid-40s, and a high in the 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 few times, and it stacks up well with any race I’ve done. The course is scenic and challenging, which always makes for a good time.

Bob Doucette

Choosing not to suck, part 3: The Route 66 Marathon half

The start of the 2015 Route 66 Marathon on Sunday. More than 15,800 runners were a part of the 5K, half marathon and full marathon races this year, a record for the event. (Route 66 Marathon photo)

The start of the 2015 Route 66 Marathon on Sunday. More than 15,800 runners were a part of the 5K, half marathon and full marathon races this year, a record for the event. (Route 66 Marathon photo)

Sometime during the summer, I came to a realization. Maybe it was the snug fit of the jeans, or the jowly look of my face. Or perhaps it was my inability to handle hills of any kind when I was out running. My thinking was, “How did I get here?”

Last year about this time, I ran a half marathon with an OK time. Then I ran hard the rest of the week, which is always a swell idea after doing a race. Once that week passed, I let off the gas. For months.

What this means: I kept eating the same amounts I did when I was training hard and put on about 10 pounds, maybe more, and very little of that was good weight.

The result: Not only did I lose what running base I had (running 10 miles a week is not going to keep you in shape for things like half marathons), but I also got pudgy and out of shape.

Late in the summer, I resolved to do something about it, gradually adding miles, hill work and speed work to drag myself out of this morass of sloth, and I signed myself up for three races in the fall: The Fleet Feet Quarter Marathon in September, the Tulsa Run 15K in October, and the Route 66 Marathon half in November. Signing up for races (and the money involved in entry fees) has a way of holding you accountable.

Back in September, I called this “my decision not to suck.” Bear in mind, you do not suck if you don’t do these things. But for me, I had made a quiet decision to suck by wasting the hard-earned fitness I’d achieved going back to 2013.

Running back then became fluid, fast (-ish) and natural. Two years later, it had become laborious and frustrating, and it was my own fault. This crept into other areas of my life, most notably anything I tried to do in the mountains, or missing out on the opportunity to run with friends who had definitely decided not to suck and kept themselves in shape.

My fall race season concluded this past weekend, with some plusses and minuses. On the positive side: I did drop about 5 pounds, and successfully got to a point where I could run and finish another half marathon. On the negative: I sure wish I’d been faster. A 2:20 is not the slowest I’ve run (there are two 2:22 finishes out there), but far from my fastest (2:11) and behind last year’s 2:17. So I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I came, I saw and I conquered. Let’s just say I got what I trained for and got the job done.

But in this case, not sucking is going to be a choice to keep the gains — meager as they may be — from fading again. I’m not where I was in 2013, or even 2014. But I’m not where I was four months ago. Going forward, it would seem that my nine-month period of sloth can be reversed, and a new foundation laid that can be built upon. I’ve got some goals in mind, though we’ll see about all that.

Two things about this pic. First, the medal and the jacket were pretty sweet swag. Second, I take terrible selfies and really don't like doing it.

Two things about this pic. First, the medal and the jacket were pretty sweet swag. Second, I take terrible selfies and really don’t like doing it.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THAT RACE?

As for the race itself, it was about what I expected, but with a few twists.

First, the race is top-notch. I know one of the main organizers, Kim Hann, and she and her team always do a great job. This year was no different. Well-stocked and manned aid stations, a great (and challenging) course, and some of the coolest finisher medals around. That’s what you get with the Route 66 Marathon.

The weather was great: About 30 degrees at the start, but sunny with calm winds. Perfect for a long-distance event, and it was in the upper 40s by the time I finished.

But there were some differences between this year and races past. For starters, the size of the race was much larger. Nearly 16,000 people signed up, so the course itself was quite a bit more dense in terms of other runners.

And for me, since I didn’t sign up until September, that meant being pinned in the D corral.

Here’s the thing about the D: There are two types of runners here — those whose predicted finish times were on the slower end, or those who, like me, who signed up late. The D corral was the biggest of the four, and being packed toward the back of that one meant that the normal dodging and passing of runners at the start was turned up to 11. Lots of love to my fellow D-corral runners (y’all rock!), but the sheer mass of people made for slow going those first couple of miles. I’ve been spoiled by starting in the B corral the previous two years.

Having to stop for a restroom break at Mile 4 didn’t help, either. That’s another minute or more down the drain.

But I kept a fairly even pace throughout, predictably cratered on Mile 11 (the big hill going back into downtown), but gutted out the last mile with a little juice left over.

Lots of friends hit PRs for both the full and the half marathon races. Even more snagged their first-ever 13.1. It’s fun watching social media feeds as race day unfolds, and seeing the pics of tired but happy runners on what has become the biggest day of running in northeastern Oklahoma.

Being a part of that is cool. I guess that’s why I keep signing up. Partly it’s to stay motivated (and trying not to suck), but also reveling in what all of us can do when we push our limits on a bright Sunday morning.

On to the next big day.

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

Four reasons why you should run a marathon

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

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

So the fall race season has come to an end, and a whole slew of people finished their journey to 26.2, as in crossing that finish line for their first marathon. When you hear this news, you are one of three types of people: You appreciate having more member of the marathon tribe, as you’ve been there and done that; you shake your head, as there ain’t no way you’d do that; or you are curious about trying it out.

This post is all about those second two types. I’ll try to change your mind, or in the case of the curious, I’ll give you the nudge you need to sign up for that next big race.

Here are four reasons why you should run a marathon:

The challenge. When it comes to feats of physical prowess, there aren’t a lot of tests out there more serious and difficult than gearing up for your first marathon. It takes a few months minimum to train up for one, and the level of commitment to run all those miles for weeks on end is big. And so is the race. Can you do it? Do you have what it takes? Only one way to find out!

The fitness benefits. By the time I’d wrapped up marathon training, I was leaner and faster than I’d ever been (my fastest 5K, 10K, 15K and half marathon times all came within my first marathon training season). My cardiovascular strength was through the roof. If you can stay healthy, eat right and push on through training, you very well could end up in the best shape of your life.

The mental benefits. This is two-fold. First, long distance running has a meditative quality that is great for clearing your mind and emptying stress from everyday life. Second, by the time you get to where you’re running 20 miles on your weekly long runs, you’re going to have a sky-high level of mental toughness. Build that up and there’s no telling what you’ll be able to do.

Is it possible to feel this good as you cross the marathon finish line? Only one way to find out. (Chris Barnes/Route 66 Marathon photo)

Is it possible to feel this good as you cross the marathon finish line? Only one way to find out. (Chris Barnes/Route 66 Marathon photo)

The bragging rights. Unless you hang out with a pack of marathoners, there is a very good chance that only a rare few of your friends or family members will able to say they’ve done what you’ve done. Whether you finish 26.2 in three hours or six, crossing that finish line is a rare act of willpower. After your first, you might even amaze yourself with what you’ve done. Feeling the crowd support, crossing that finish and collecting that medal will feel pretty sweet. Once a marathoner, always a marathoner. No one can take that away.

So are you feeling the stoke? Find a good training program. Look for a goal race. Sign up.

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

Checking out the new course for the Route 66 Marathon

About a month ago, I posted something about the new route for the 2014 Tulsa Run. A huge park and road reconstruction project forced race organizers to make a dramatic change to that race’s course.

So what would that mean for the Route 66 Marathon? Both races have a couple things in common: They both start and end in downtown Tulsa, and they both have traditionally utilized Riverside Drive (the road that is going to see a big closure pretty soon) for a significant portion of their respective courses.

The re-routing of the Tulsa Run was significant. But for Route 66? Not nearly as much. Below is a map of the marathon and half marathon courses for Route 66:

rt66

The major change is how the race bypasses the construction area on Riverside. The route goes east a bit to a residential street (Cincinnati Avenue) before going back to Riverside Drive and into downtown. This is the home stretch for the half marathoners, and about 40 percent of the way for the full marathon crew.

The rest of the course is basically the same.

OVERVIEW

So for those of you running the half and the full, here’s an preview:

Expect a fast start. The race begins downtown, which is at the top of a hill overlooking the Arkansas River. So your run from downtown to midtown will be mostly downhill to flat.

The course gets hilly in midtown. Once you hit 21st Street and into those glorious old midtown neighborhoods, you’re going to be going up and down a series of small hills that will zap you if you’re not properly pacing yourself. It flattens out once you hit Peoria and the Brookside area, and remains that way as you make your next turn.

Bank some time on Riverside and Cincinnati. This part of the course is a good place to set a decent pace before heading back into downtown.

There is a hilly climb back into downtown. This is important to remember if you’re running the half. Make sure you’ve got enough gas in the tank to tackle that uphill climb into downtown. Half marathoners will then take a fast downhill on Denver Avenue before one more uphill stretch that takes your into the Brady Arts District and the finish line.

Marathoners will veer back east and start heading out of downtown again, back toward midtown. The hills return on Peoria and keep going on 21st Street and into the neighborhoods on the eastern portion of the course.

The fun begins as you head north toward the University of Tulsa. There’s nothing steep, but it’s a mostly steady uphill grade until you get there. A circle through campus will then take you to what I consider the crux of the full marathon.

So you know, 15th Street is not kind. Just before Mile 22 (right around the time when the wheels have started to fall off for a lot of runners), you hit the biggest hills of the race on 15th Street. Past Mile 23, you turn back north on Peoria and into downtown.

Once you dogleg into downtown, the course mercifully takes a flat to downhill pitch on First Street. On this stretch, you’ll have the option to take the Center of the Universe detour where you can pick up a prize and add a few tenths of a mile to your race. You can also pick up some suds and listen to a band while you’re there. And then you can call your race a baby ultra, right?

The homestretch puts you back on Denver Avenue, with a downhill pitch under some railroad tracks, then a short, steep incline into the Brady District and then the finish line.

Some things I learned…

Every race for the past three years that I’ve lived here have been cool to cold. Last year, it did not get above 28 degrees. Just watch the forecasts and be ready for a cool- to cold-weather run.

Expect excellent course support. Water/sports drink stops are frequent. Personally, I’d skip bringing your own water.

The course will challenge you. It’s not like you’re climbing giant hills. There are just a lot of them. Be sure you’re training on hills, even a little on your weekend long runs. If you don’t, well, you’ll find out.

While challenging, it’s also pretty awesome. You get two trips into downtown, long stretches through scenic neighborhoods, and a finish in the hippest, coolest place in Tulsa. The finish line party is worth the pain.

We’re less than two months away. Personally, I can’t wait for this one. Route 66 is a special race.

Bob Doucette