Common sense can prevent a pedestrian ban on Oklahoma City trails

Runners and hikers can coexist with these guys. I promise.

Runners and hikers can coexist with these guys. I promise.

There’s some good news and some bad news coming out of Oklahoma City.

The good news: Much like many communities across the country (including my hometown of Tulsa), more people are spending time on trails to hike, run or ride bikes. This is a good trend for urban and suburban communities, which for decades have been zoned and sectioned to death, leaving residents stuck with seas of rooftops with the occasional park thrown in. Trail systems in our cities are getting more people back in touch with the natural world, as opposed to the more sanitized version of the outdoors that we normally see.

Now the bad news: Friction between different trail users has caused city officials in Oklahoma City to propose banning pedestrians from Bluff Creek Park, as popular place for local trail users. In doing so, they’re hoping to avoid accidents between people on foot and those on bikes.

According to this recent report, no one is happy with this. Runners and hikers feel like they’re being unfairly targeted, and cyclists feel like they’re being turned into a public safety scapegoat. All sides believe the proposal was rushed, without getting input on solutions from people who use the trails. The matter is being brought up at an Oklahoma City Parks Commission meeting on Wednesday.

When I look at this, I do it from the vantage point of someone who uses a busy urban trail system regularly. Here in Tulsa, we have a couple: Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area in south Tulsa, and the trails on the west side of Chandler Park, in west Tulsa. In the former, our users are runners, hikers, cyclists and equestrians. In the latter, a lot of hikers, runners and in one area, rock climbers.

I’m most often at Turkey Mountain, and it is by far the busier of the two trail systems. It’s also become more popular every year. And yet its users manage to get by just fine without one specific group being told to stay away. (One small counterpoint, however – Turkey Mountain is a much larger trail system than Bluff Creek Park.)

So, when I look at the proposal floating around Oklahoma City, it seems like the solution was long on overreach and short on common sense. When it comes to common sense, execution is in the hands of the trail users. So here are some suggestions:

First, people need to keep their ears and eyes open. Be listening and looking for the sounds of bikes or pedestrians and don’t get too lost in the moment in what you’re doing.

Second, it’s far easier for the person on foot to give way to a rider. Do that and avoid a lot of confusion, and take care to give way to the person going downhill.

Third, if you have dogs, keep them leashed. I know it’s more fun for the pups to be off-leash, and maybe they’re trained to obey voice commands very well. But you have more control with they’re leashed, especially when a cyclist is rounding a corner.

Fourth, if you’re on a bike, verbally announce yourself if you’re coming up behind people on foot and slow down.

Fifth, lose the earbuds. In tighter spaces with trees obstructing views, you need to be able to hear what’s going on around you. This applies whether you’re on foot or on the saddle. A compromise might be having an earbud in only one ear, keeping the other free to hear outside noises. But I’d say it’s better to go without.

It should be noted that the proposal to make the trail system for mountain bikers only came as a result of a user survey, one in which less than a third of respondents wanted to ban pedestrians, and less than 2 percent had reported an accident with another user. And yet, the pedestrian ban is what’s being floated as a result of the survey.

Oklahoma City parks planners would do well to avoid discouraging trail usage from its residents, which is exactly what this proposal would do. We need more people getting outside and moving, not less. It sounds like what is needed here is a strong effort from the city and trail user groups to educate people on how to be safe when they’re on the trails, and to learn a little trail etiquette. Banning entire groups of trail users is overkill.

Bob Doucette

A river, an election and a game-changer for Tulsa

The Arkansas River, just south of downtown Tulsa.

The Arkansas River, just south of downtown Tulsa.

Elections on Tuesday night may have been a game-changer for the city of Tulsa.

A number of things were on the ballot, but one issue in particular — more than $500 million for economic development — has the possibility of putting Tulsa on the national map of outdoor recreation.

The proposition, which earned more than 60 percent approval from voters, does a number of things. Two of those really stand out.

The first — two dams on the Arkansas River to “put water in the river,” or basically create a couple of small reservoirs that should provide consistent bodies of water.

The second — $7.6 million to acquire land for the expansion of the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area.

Let’s start with the dams. As it stands, water flowing in the river through Tulsa is at the mercy of how much is released from the upstream Keystone Dam. Keystone provides flood control while creating a large lake for recreation and water supply. Keystone also has a hydroelectric power station. All of these purposes affect how much water is released downstream. Sometimes the river is full, sometimes it’s mostly sand bars. The latter is more common than not, and aside from fishing, there isn’t much you can do with a partially drained river.

Creating larger bodies of water on the river offers a number of possibilities. To see what that looks like, all you have to do is drive 90 minutes down the turnpike to Oklahoma City and observe what has happened there.

A smaller river — the North Canadian — flows by downtown Oklahoma City. OKC is drier than Tulsa, and in its natural state, the Canadian is more of a prairie trickle than anything else. But as part of a large sales tax package passed in the 1990s, a dam system was built that turned the dusty Canadian — dubbed the Oklahoma River — into an inviting stretch of calm, flat water within walking distance of Oklahoma City’s downtown entertainment district.

The Oklahoma River project created an entirely new outdoor recreation culture out of nothing. A couple of universities started rowing teams. A number of boathouses were built. Rowing, kayaking and other water sports began to flourish. An Olympic training center was established in what is now called the Boathouse District. Regional and national competitions happen in Oklahoma City. And very soon, an addition to the river project — a whitewater kayaking course — will open. The Boathouse District has turned into the next hot draw for Oklahoma City. Most importantly, it’s exposing people to a new form of outdoor recreation that should help future generations of Oklahomans lead active, healthier lives.

These are the types of things that happen in mountain communities or seaside cities, not in the middle of the Southern Plains. And yet there it is.

The potential for something similar — or even greater — happening in Tulsa is very real. The Arkansas River is considerably larger than the Canadian, and the prospect of a couple of large flatwater sections of the in town creates the possibility of all sorts of water sports taking off.

Outdoor recreation as a focus of Arkansas River development is the city’s best bet. We’ve seen what’s happened in Oklahoma City. Farther east, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, leaders there took advantage of their river and the surrounding hills and mountains to create a vibrant outdoor culture that has become a huge part of that city’s economy. Chattanooga has been so successful that it earned Outside Magazine’s top city in the U.S. in 2015, the second time it’s won that honor.

Oklahoma lacks the topography of the Smokies, but Tulsa is in a position to compete. The dams would be anchored by A Gathering Place for Tulsa — the huge, $350 million park now being constructed along the river — and Turkey Mountain, widely recognized as one of the best mountain biking  destinations in the country. All of it will be connected via an extensive River Parks trail system that already exists on both sides of the river. The southernmost dam will be close to the Oklahoma Aquarium, a substantial facility that is a good-sized draw in its own right.

The city would be wise to focus on outdoor recreation and resist the temptation to line the banks of a newly full river with box stores, apartment complexes and subdivisions. Those would be the easy things, but would lack the pull that the river could have as a quality of life asset focused on outdoor recreation. The opportunity is huge.

This vista was once destined to be a shopping center parking lot. It's now going to be protected, wild park land.

This vista was once destined to be a shopping center parking lot. It’s now going to be protected, wild park land.

A second, smaller portion of this project — the $7.6 million for Turkey Mountain — dovetails nicely with the river dam projects. It closes the circle on a drama that began in 2014 when outlet mall developer Simon Properties announced it would build a shopping center a Turkey Mountain’s western edge. The plan faced stiff community opposition, so much so that it moved on to another location.

The land in question was still in limbo, so two community benefactors — the George Kaiser Family Foundation and QuikTrip Corp. — plunked down the money to take the acreage in question off the market. Passage of Tuesday’s proposal will pay back those benefactors (their purchase was basically a loan) and fold that land into the River Parks system. There will be enough money left over for more improvements at Turkey Mountain, and perhaps (this is speculation on my part) the purchase of more, adjacent land.

This  is great news for outdoor enthusiasts in the Tulsa area. Turkey Mountain has long been a favorite place to go for mountain bikers, trail runners, hikers, equestrians and nature lovers. Its popularity has grown over the years and is increasingly a destination for families. Its expansion is a public commitment to maintaining and growing the value of urban green spaces, a forward-thinking concept that is at the root of why the mall plan was rejected and why, now, Turkey Mountain’s trail system has become a priority. (Future prospects for Chandler Park, with all the trail amenities of Turkey Mountain, plus rock climbing and bouldering areas, look good as well.)

Tulsa’s current economy shows that dependence on the energy industry can be risky. Economic diversification should be a priority going forward. By adopting an outdoor recreation strategy that involves the river, the dams, and Turkey Mountain, Tulsa can transform itself into a draw for visitors, and even a place where people and companies want to be.

Was Tuesday’s election really a game-changer? It depends how the river corridor is managed from this point forward. But if the city plays its cards right, maybe Outside Magazine looks at us for its top cities list.

Bob Doucette

How outdoor recreation gives reasons for hope in Red State America

Turkey Mountain and the Arkansas River in Tulsa. Two natural resources that people are starting to value more.

Turkey Mountain and the Arkansas River in Tulsa. Two natural resources that people are starting to value more.

If you want to know how important something is to people, just check out how much time, energy and money they spend on it. The upper end of that time/effort/money spectrum is of high importance. If something is out-of-sight and out-of-mind, you can bet on a bad case of no-one-cares.

This is important to consider when it comes to the outdoors, and how people relate to it. A population that spends a good amount of time outside is going to be a healthier one, and more in tune with their world. Conversely, people who languish too long inside don’t know their world, and often sink into illnesses ranging from heart disease to cancer to depression.

And an entire community caught on the wrong end of this scale is going to see those problems magnified.

I use the term “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” often when it comes to issues of conservation, and I don’t think it’s any accident that places where conservationism is an afterthought are some of the country’s unhealthiest. I see that here in my home state. Oklahoma is smack in the middle of stroke alley, with some of the highest rates of obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes in the U.S. Stoking the indoor life are our brutally hot summers. Networks of highways, huge subdivisions and a spiderweb of streets are designed to take us from one place to the next, planted in an office chair, the driver’s seat or on the couch, marinating in the same climate-controlled temperatures. Oklahoma’s metropolitan areas are some of the least walkable and most cyclist-unfriendly you’ll find.

A few green spaces are set aside, mostly for ball fields and playgrounds, but most of what used to be grasslands and forests gets cleared for housing developments and parking lots. Losing those wild lands means fewer trees and grasses to absorb potential floods, clean up polluted air and keep temperatures down. And so you get more heat, crappier air and more excuses to stay firmly rooted inside, away from the distressed rivers and creeks and dwindling woodlands that are seen as obstacles to progress and impediments to commerce. By design, we’re isolated from the outdoors, and by default, the environment. All the while, a community’s health keeps deteriorating.

This is a pretty grim picture, and it’s not unique to my home state. This is the case just about everywhere else, too. But even here, in Urban Sprawl America, there are signs of hope. And maybe of changing minds.

I’ve got some friends who, a few years ago, put together this audacious idea to have a weekend campout at the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness in Tulsa. Turkey Mountain is an island of intact woodlands surrounded by a sea of suburban sprawl in south Tulsa. It’s a favorite destination for mountain bikers, trail runners, hikers and nature enthusiasts, and a real gem for the city. You’re not allowed to camp there, though.

But in getting a special permit from the city to hold this campout, organizers figured they could lure a decent crowd of people to show up, pitch a tent, grill up some food and enjoy live music. And maybe hike or bike a few miles on the trails.

The success of the event – it’s grown every year so far – served as a reminder to me. I think when people make a conscious effort to make the outdoors visible and appealing, people will value it more. And in so doing, help their communities and even their own health.

TAKING THE INITIATIVE

Like I mentioned earlier, a few of my friends – Tyler Hanes, Ryan Howell and Matt Carver – came up with this campout idea. It eventually morphed into an annual fall event called BaseCamp, initially attracting a few hundred participants, but now growing into nearly 1,200.

Folks run, bike and hike during the day, or just hang out and listen to music at the tent sites, eat some grub and crack open a few cold ones. Families make a weekend of it. It’s a good time, capped off at night by a “glow hike” where campers head into the woods, glow sticks in hand, and form a long neon conga line that snakes through Turkey Mountain’s winding, rugged trails.

A group yoga session at this year's BaseCamp festival at Turkey Mountain. Organizers said up to 1,200 people attended this year's campout event. (BaseCamp Facebook page photo)

A group yoga session at this year’s BaseCamp festival at Turkey Mountain. Organizers said up to 1,200 people attended this year’s campout event. (BaseCamp Facebook page photo)

A reporter and a photographer from the local newspaper went there to check it out last weekend. I was taken aback by what one guy had to say.

“Anything that helps improve the general awareness of the environment is going to be a good thing for Oklahoma,” Isaac Rutel told the Tulsa World. Rutel and his family came up from the Oklahoma City suburb of Choctaw to enjoy the weekend at Turkey Mountain, about 90 minutes or so from their home.

Isaac gets it. By being out there, he can appreciate Turkey Mountain’s value, despite it being devoid of houses that generate property taxes and home sales, or strip malls that crank out service jobs and sales tax earnings.

My friend Ryan, an avid mountain biker, summed it up like this:

“It’s a great way to be introduced to the mountain — coming out and sleeping under the stars, hearing some bands, going for a hike in the afternoon,” he told the Tulsa World. “We want to keep Turkey (Mountain) preserved the way it is, and the more people we can get passionate about this place and the more people we can get to say, ‘I know Turkey and I love it,’ then the more, hopefully, we can help… get funding and keep this place alive.”

Keep in mind that none of these guys are the well-heeled, politically connected or otherwise high profile personalities you’d expect to launch something like this. They’re just a few guys who had an idea, tried it out, and made it work. They provided a good time, and the event has grown despite being planned on the second Saturday of the college football season, where most Okies are on the sofa channel-surfing through the games. Beyond a bit of fun, they’re also opening eyes. Ordinary guys, taking the initiative, and showing people the value of getting outside, getting moving, and preserving what little bit of real nature we have left in the city.

BEING HEARD

Turkey Mountain’s popularity has surged in recent years, going from a place infrequently visited to one of Tulsa’s most popular draws. Hundreds and even thousands go there every week, and it’s host to a number of trail running and mountain bike races.

But over the past year or so, it was also a source of controversy.

Last year, shopping mall developer Simon Property Group announced plans to build an outlet mall on what, to them, appeared to be a promising piece of real estate near U.S. 75.

But it also happened to be on Turkey Mountain’s western edge, and just south of a YMCA kids’ camp. The plan would have wiped out a chunk of trails and several acres of woodlands, to be replaced by low-slung buildings and concrete. The “in nature” experience at the kids camp would have been blunted severely with a mall looming overhead at the top of a hill.

One of the trails at Turkey Mountain. Enjoying time outside and in nature is growing in its appeal for Tulsa residents, part of the reason why opposition to an outlet mall on the western edge of Turkey Mountain drew so much opposition.

One of the trails at Turkey Mountain. Enjoying time outside and in nature is growing in its appeal for Tulsa residents, part of the reason why opposition to an outlet mall on the western edge of Turkey Mountain drew so much opposition.

The land was privately owned, but its proximity to the rest of Turkey Mountain drew the ire of a big chunk of the city. A grassroots group – the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition – started, with its initial goal of at least forming a voice to prevent further encroachment into the woods.

But within weeks, it became clear that the group would go further, and actively lobbied against approval of the project. An online petition gained more than 8,000 signatures, and “town hall” events to discuss the mall proposal were packed houses, with most in attendance voicing opposition to the developer’s plan.

The mall was something the city and Simon, a multi-billion-dollar corporation, wanted. But prompted by the TUWC, the people flatly said “no.” Simon pulled out of its deal on that parcel of land and is building elsewhere in the metro area, and for now, the land that had been pegged for development remains as it was.

The bigger benefit, however, is manifold. The community received an organization that promoted the value of wild green space, and with that, volunteer efforts to clean up the forest, repair trails and scour the creeks. Plans are underway to do more, including purchasing land to protect what’s there for the future.

Conservationist advocacy, it would seem, has allowed the community to learn more about what it has, and now that it’s finally on the radar, people suddenly care. Turkey Mountain is no longer out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

CIVIC LEADERSHIP

The beginnings of Turkey Mountain go back a few decades. City leaders back then decided to set aside that patch of land for recreational purposes, and in doing so intentionally tried to keep it as wild as possible. That sort of foresight has led to what it’s become now, a premier outdoor recreation destination not only for locals, but also for people from far outside the city.

But a more recent example of community leadership – and a stunning one at that – comes from down the turnpike.

If you go to Oklahoma City, you’re going to notice a couple of things. First, it’s flat. Very flat. That’s not a knock, it’s just a fact of building a community in the heart of the Southern Plains.

And second, aside from a few manmade lakes, it’s fairly dry. The further west you go in Oklahoma, the skinnier the rivers get.

Now for the stunner: Oklahoma City is home to the U.S. Olympic Rowing Training Center.

How does this happen in a town with a river that city crews used to mow during the summer?

In the early 1990s, city leaders proposed and voters approved a sales tax program to fund a number of projects. A new baseball stadium, an indoor arena, a canal through downtown and a collection of other projects were part of the mix, helping fuel an ongoing renaissance in that city.

But also part of the plan was a series of dams that put more water in the North Canadian River just south of downtown. Now instead of a muddy trickle, a long, broad stretch of water – dubbed the Oklahoma River – flows by, inviting water sports enthusiasts to its shores.

The Boathouse District near downtown Oklahoma City. (Boathouse District Facebook page photo)

The Boathouse District near downtown Oklahoma City. (Boathouse District Facebook page photo)

The response was almost immediate. A couple Oklahoma colleges created rowing teams, holding their practices and competitions there. Boathouses were built, as were bike trails. A triathlon was held. And ultimately, the city was able to recruit the U.S. Olympic program to plant its rowing training center in the middle of Oklahoma.

Where none existed, civic leaders created a water sports culture, one that is growing in popularity. People rent flatwater kayaks. Recreational rowing teams have formed. OKC has even become the scene of annual dragon boat races. The Boathouse District has become one of Oklahoma City’s best outdoor recreation assets.

I won’t say every Oklahoma City resident is now a rowing fanatic, but there are more people being active on the water now then there were before the river project was completed, and demand seems to be rising. Up next for the river is another man-made water feature, a $45.2 million whitewater kayak and rafting course.

Whitewater kayaking? In Oklahoma City? It’s going to happen. The project is under construction, and if past success is any indicator of future results you might see another improbable water sports story unfold in Oklahoma’s capital city.

An artist's rendering of the whitewater park being built near downtown Oklahoma City. (Boathouse District Facebook page photo)

An artist’s rendering of the whitewater park being built near downtown Oklahoma City. (Boathouse District Facebook page photo)

The lesson here is clear: When government takes the health of its people seriously, good things can happen. I’m not sure anyone outside of Oklahoma City would have pegged that community as a burgeoning hub for rowing and paddling sports. I’m sure there were plenty of doubters in Oklahoma City itself. But there it is. City leaders committed to an idea, and more of its people are getting outside and active as a result.

And who knows? Maybe some of these OKC kayakers and rowers will search for wilder places to ply their skills, and in so doing, learn more about the value and importance of healthy waterways.

LOOKING AHEAD

It would be a stark reversal of culture if Oklahoma boating enthusiasts became advocates for protecting America’s wild streams and rivers, but stranger things have happened. I can only point to my own life, having been exposed to nature at a young age and frequently since then, and how those experiences have shaped my views on conservation and health.

In my mind, they’re linked.

I’m under no illusion that places like Oklahoma, or Texas, or anywhere else in Red State country are going to become hotbeds for conservationism. And I don’t expect these states’ health woes to correct themselves overnight.

But think on this: In Tulsa, you have an asset that is widely regarded as one of the premier mountain biking destinations in the country, a highly regarded trail running haunt, and a shining example of what an urban green space can be.

In Oklahoma City, you have a relatively new but nationally known center for human-powered water sports that is growing.

These are things you’d expect in the mountain communities of the Appalachians, the Rockies, the Sierras or the Cascades. Certainly not in the flatlands. And yet here they are.

These are reasons for optimism. People care enough to speak up for the outdoors and outdoor recreation, even to the extent of paying a little extra in terms of tax dollars. Tens of thousands of people are taking charge of their health outside, on their feet, on a bike or in a boat.

And most importantly is this: The more time folks spend outdoors, the more they’ll appreciate the outdoors, as what was once more of an abstract concept becomes front-and-center in their lives. However we can make that happen – as individuals, as advocates, or as elected leaders – is crucial not only for the people we live with, but for the health of the land itself.

Learn more about the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition, including how to donate, here. To learn more about Turkey Mountain, go here. And to find information about the Oklahoma City Boathouse District, go here.

Bob Doucette

The Weekly Stoke: Dan’s inspiring words about his first half marathon

There are a lot of great stories that come out of big races. People take up running, struggling to make it a half-mile without having to stop. Months later, they’re crossing the finish line with a bunch of mile behind their backs, a finish line under their feet and then a medal around their neck.

A friend of mine named Dan is one of those guys. He is a classic story of a guy who was a committed non-runner who made a total about-face.

Usually this space on Fridays is reserved for the Weekly Stoke, but we’ll do a different version of that now. The following is taken from a Facebook post he made Friday, five days after pounding out 13.1 miles at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. His words speak for themselves, so I’ll let Dan do the talking now.

***

Dan (left) and his brother-in-law Corey after finishing the half marathon at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.

Dan (left) and his brother-in-law Corey after finishing the half marathon at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.

We have all seen them, those obnoxious little white ovals stuck to the back of other people’s cars proudly displaying their accomplishments…13.1, 26.2, 5k,10k or whatever. Until Sunday I looked at those stickers as a symbol of signs of a superiority complex or as an outright plea for affirmation and frankly I saw them as just that…until Sunday.

As I was plodding along on my own 13.1 mile journey I had time for some self-evaluation (what else can you do when running?) I thought about the events that had brought me to that place, to mile number 8 of 13.1 and I realized that the 13.1 on that sticker was WAY more than a just an arrogant advertisement of accomplishment, sure it is all about bragging rights but it is also about so much more.

For me it is about the day in August that I decided that I needed to get off the couch and it is about the fact that I had to walk for the first few days because I was too out of shape to run. It is about getting up at 5:30 in the morning to run one block and walk two, telling myself “just do more today than you did yesterday, even if it is only running one block further.” It is about the 150 or so miles that I ran before I decided that I might be in good enough shape to train for a half marathon, and for sure it is about the 280ish miles that I ran during training.

For me that stupid little sticker represents me basically running from Wichita, KS to Dallas, TX in this process (not all at once), and forcing myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other even when I did not want to, but it also represents something else. It represents the support I had from friends and family, Craig my running buddy who got up and went with me even though he did not run in the race. Corey and Eliya Bolgrin my brother-in-law and sister, even though we did not get to run together as much as we wanted to it was still fun when we did and you are both great encouragers (and Corey it was fun to get to run the race with you, thanks man!) Bob Doucette, always encouraging me to get out and run in spite of the cynicism that I had toward running for so long. 

So will I have one of those stickers on my car, maybe but only because I now understand how much work goes into earning that sticker. Even if you have always been a long distance runner all of your life, you don’t just wake up one day and run that far (I’m sure there are a few who do, but EVERYONE hates them…right?) And to my friends who are just now getting into running or are thinking about getting into running I just have this to say…I was the guy who “ran only when being chased, and that was negotiable” and now it doesn’t totally suck and it is even kind of enjoyable (some days still suck) but stick with it. You don’t have to run like the wind or run from here to the moon in the first month, just keep putting one foot in front of the other at whatever pace you find yourself at and keep telling yourself to do more today than you did yesterday and who knows, we may pass each other in a race one day.

***

Well said, Dan.

Bob Doucette

Race recap: The 2014 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon

A stormy start to the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. (Dave Morris photo)

A stormy start to the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. (Dave Morris photo)

From the word go, I could tell that this year’s Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon was going to be a dicey proposition. Severe weather was predicted the morning of the event, and like that family relative who no one likes, it made a timely  appearance.

But for me, the race – in which I did the half marathon – was screwed a long time ago not by storms, but my own, shall we say, omissions. We’ll get to that in a minute.

The race

Like I said, a storm clouds formed and a squall line hit downtown Oklahoma City right at race time. It had been scheduled to start at 6:30 a.m., presumably (and wisely) to avoid the warm temperatures that often hit Oklahoma in late April. A comfortable high of 84 is great to most people, but people who run long know that is really hot for a race like this.

High winds, rain and lightning showed up just before 6 a.m., forcing several delays. The race organizers nearly pulled the plug on everything, citing safety concerns, but we got our window to run at 8:15 a.m., much to the relief of 26,000 antsy runners.

At 8 a.m., I jogged to my car, got hailed on, then found my corral. I was ready to go.

The winners

I’d almost like to believe that times were a bit slower this year than in the past, mostly because of the weather conditions that prevailed later in the race. But there were still some good showings by this year’s champions.

Jason Cook, of Norman, Okla., won the men’s marathon with a time of 2:42.

For the women, Camille Herron, of Warr Acres, Okla., clocked a 2:51 time to capture the win.

He men’s half marathon event went to Arya Bahreini (1:10), while the women’s title was won by Brianne Robbins (1:28).

At the finish line. I'm the guy in black waving to the crowd.

At the finish line. I’m the guy in black waving to the crowd.

How it went

Despite the predictions of severe weather, the storms that came through Oklahoma City were not that bad. It was humid as all get-out, but the temperatures were mild, even a little cool and the winds were pretty tame. That was a huge relief.

The sun peeked out of the clouds sometime after 9:15 or so, and it was about then that the temps started to rise. I began to feel a little warm with around four miles to go, but for those behind me and for the marathoners, rising temps would haunt them badly. Oh, and that south wind kicked up too, just as marathoners would start making the long, uphill trek toward the finish line around mile 17 or so. One friend of mine, who is far faster than me, got bogged down by the heat and wind so bad that he didn’t finish his 26.2 until he’d been out there for six hours.

As for me, I have to say that I earned what I got. Last year, I ran the half in 2:22. This year, 2:22. A repeat performance when I’d been gunning for two hours or less this spring.

This was a disappointment to me. That’s 12 minutes slower than my previous 13.1 PR, and really, I just slogged this one out. I could blame the late start, the lack of sleep the night before, or even the rising temps toward the end. But I’m not going to because those weren’t factors.

The real reason behind this year’s results was I winged it on my training. Plus, I allowed myself to gain about eight pounds from my marathon race weight. So while I was able to get some big runs in this winter and spring (two 25K races, a 13-mile training run and a couple of 10-milers), it was all the other training I did not do that did me in.

Lesson learned.

My guess is that I rebelled against the rigidity of last fall’s training schedule. Well, there’s a reason people do training programs. They work. Winging it does not. Sticking to a training schedule helped me finish a marathon and set new PRs in the half, 15K and 5K. Winging it got me 2:22.

If I want to just run and have a good time, I could do it like this again. If I want to get faster, I’ll need to buckle down.

At the National Memorial, post race. I didn't get the time I wanted, but being a part of this race is always pretty special.

At the National Memorial, post race. I didn’t get the time I wanted, but being a part of this race is always pretty special.

This is not to say that there weren’t some awesome things that happened in this race. I had three friends who ran their first half marathons, one of them with her older sister (who just happens to be a marathoning machine). It was great to see their satisfaction of having accomplished such a big goal.

And there is a reason why this race has been named one of 12 in the country that should be on every runner’s bucket list. The atmosphere is incredible, starting off in the shadow of the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

The marathon, the Memorial, and the community support surrounding this event are testaments to the city’s resiliency. Oklahoma City has come such a long way since April 19, 1995. In the days after the federal building bombing, people saw what the city and the state were made of, and it is admirable.

In the years since, the city has boomed. A beautiful memorial was built. And a marathon was born. Being a part of that story, even with a less-than-ideal finish, is still an awesome thing.

Bob Doucette

Previewing the 2014 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon

Runners take off at the 2013 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. (Oklahoma Sports & Fitness photo)

Runners take off at the 2013 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. (Oklahoma Sports & Fitness photo)

We’re about a week away from Oklahoma’s biggest long-distance event, the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. Whether you’ve never run it or have been in it since the beginning, there is something different about this race. The crowd support is great, the course memorable, and the starting line venue — the Oklahoma City National Memorial — is about as moving as anything you’ll ever see. With 25,000 participants joining you, well, you get the picture. It’s a heck of a big-race experience.

Pre-race: You can pick up your race packets at the Health and Fitness Expo on April 25 and 26 at the Cox Convention Center in downtown OKC. Expect large crowds and long lines, but the crew keeps those lines moving pretty fast. There is no race day packet pickup.

If you’re staying at a hotel downtown, there are plenty of places to eat and things to do in Bricktown, which is the city’s downtown entertainment district. Just keep in mind that a lot of people come down here on the weekends, so some restaurants won’t be easy to get into.

On the morning of the race, there will be parking within walking distance of the start line. Shuttles will also be running from several hotels to the start line. There is a 5:30 a.m. sunrise service at the Memorial, if you’re up to be there that early.

This race is an early starter — 6:30 a.m.

The course: Marathoners and half-marathoners cover a lot of the same ground, but the marathoners continue north for a ways while half marathoners turn west, then back south on the north edge of midtown. There are some things you should know about the course…

First, it starts fast, and downhill. You’ll run through downtown, then east through Bricktown on a flat track before you face your first obstacle, the Walnut Avenue bridge. It’s a bridge that goes over railroad tracks, so you can expect a nice, long incline that goes for a couple of blocks before heading down.

From here, there will be a longer, gentler climb into the Capitol complex. From there, you’ll journey west and north around Edgemere Park, then up into Honor Heights. It’s here that your next big obstacle appears — Gorilla Hill. It’s a steep pitch through a wooded neighborhood, and it definitely has a party atmosphere. A lot of people make a big deal out of this hill, but it’s not that bad. The crowd support here is awesome, and don’t be surprised if you get offered shots or beer.

Just north of here is where the marathoners and half-marathoners split. Folks running the full continue north on Western Avenue while half-marathoners turn west on 50th Street, then south on Classen.

Marathoners continue north through the tony neighborhoods of Nichols Hills, then into The Village before turning west toward Lake Hefner. When you get to the lake, you’ll head north for a short leg, then go south through what is, by all accounts, the crux of the run.

There are a couple of reasons for that. One has to do with the course; the other has to do with spring conditions in Oklahoma. Let’s address the latter first.

Spring weather in Oklahoma is relatively unpredictable, with storms possible. But those usually do not hit until the afternoon. One constant in the spring, however, is the wind. Strong southerly winds often barrel in through the Southern Plains and can be quite stout. Lake Hefner is wide open terrain with no wind blocks to speak of.

From the lake, you’ll go southeast back through Nichols Hills and then south to Classen Boulevard. This section is worth noting, as many runners lament the long incline you face going much of the way back south. The grade is not steep — it just doesn’t let up until somewhere around 23rd Street. So for marathoners, that means a steady upward grade for more than four miles. Half marathoners get to endure it for about two miles. Add to that the likely south winds, and yes, this is a tough stretch coming at a crucial time for full marathon runners — between Mile 19 and Mile 23.

Runners of the half and full share the course again, at least for a time. The course meanders through the Mesta Park neighborhood before eventually heading back downtown and to the finish.

Last notes on the course: It’s not too hilly (certainly not like Tulsa’s Route 66 Marathon), but the weather is often a major factor.

Last year, it wasn’t. Starting time temps were in the low 40s, with light winds present. It was sunny, dry and the highs were never above 60. In other words, perfect.

More likely is strong south winds and higher temperatures — there is a possibility that marathoners could be finishing in the 70s, which is pretty hot for that sort of distance. Course support is good, with frequent aid stations. But staying hydrated takes on an elevated priority of typical spring conditions exist.

I ran this one last year (the half), and it was an amazing experience. The size of the race, the crowd support and the meaning behind the race make this one a bucket list item for many, and for good reason. Be sure to check out the Memorial either before the race or some time after. If you’ve never spent time there, be sure to do it.

Other races: Included in the festivities is a 5K (start time about 6:40) and the popular Kids Marathon at 8:15. Those running the marathon relay will start the same time as the marathon and half marathon races.

Need more information? Check out the event’s website here.

Best of luck April 27!

Bob Doucette

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