Race recap: Running the 2018 Route 66 half marathon

Cruising along, wondering, “What’s over there? Tacos?”

At the end of last year’s fall race season, I was not in a great place. I’d worked hard to train for the Route 66 Marathon’s half marathon race, hoping to substantially improve my time. I was on my way to doing that, but an illness two weeks before the race left residual junk in my lungs that made it a fight just to shave 30 seconds off my previous year’s effort.

After that, my head was not in a good place when it came to running. I’d drive by places where my long runs would go and think to myself, “Glad I’m not doing that anymore.” Months passed by and still no itch to run more than a few miles at a time. Between that and a bout of plantar fasciitis in the spring, I was wondering if maybe this was the year I’d sit out of all fall races and do something else.

But around that time, a friend of mine from Colorado started asking questions about good races in the Tulsa area. After a few online chats, he decided he was going to run the Route 66 half and wondered if he could couch surf at my place.

Man, I could hardly host a guy from out-of-town for a race and not at least try to get ready for it myself. So once again, as August drew to a close, I drew up a plan and got to work on half marathon No. 7.

TRAINING

I used the same plan as last year, but with a few tweaks. First, I took my rest day when the plan said so: on Thursdays. Weird, but yeah. And it worked. I’d ride a bike for a specific amount of time on Sundays, run a short route on Mondays, a medium-length run on Tuesdays and then do speed work (either 400-meter intervals or 3-mile negative split runs) on Wednesdays. But the time that was all done, the Thursday break was a blessing. I’d chill at the house or go for a short hike in the woods. I looked forward to those Thursdays.

Fridays would include a shorter route, and then Saturdays would be the weekly long run.

I continued to lift weights, but backed off considerably from years past. I did three full-body workouts a week (Monday/Wednesday/Friday), and no lift lasted longer than 30 minutes. I knew I’d lose some strength, but that happens every time I jack up the miles anyway.

The plan itself was a modified version of the Hal Higdon Intermediate 1 half marathon program. You can check it out here.

To be frank, August and September sucked. It wasn’t blast-furnace hot, but still hot enough and unusually humid. Heat indexes were regularly over 100 degrees, and those mid-length to long run days were brutal. It was a major downer to slog along at slow paces and see very little improvement.

October started getting better, and the last Saturday or the month is the day of the annual Tulsa Run. It’s a great tune-up race for Route 66, which is held on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I feared this would be my slowest 15K (based on long run times), but in fact, it was surprisingly better than expected. Nowhere near a PR, but not too bad.

And then, the switch got flipped. Every training run after that race saw better times, stronger running and a general feeling that my conditioning was coming around. It was the same last year (I peaked at the Tulsa Run last year, running my second-fastest 15K before that cold bug got me), so my hope is that my fitness arc would peak on race day Nov. 18. And hope no one would get me sick before then.

Cool part of the race where we’re actually running on old Route 66. And is it just me, or is the guy to the left stalking me? He looks fishy to me.

THE RACE

Weather is always a key variable at Route 66. November in Oklahoma can hit you with 70- to 80-degree days. It can also hit you with 18-degree days. Rain, snow and ice — or bright sunshine — are all possible. What we got were temps in the lower 30s, a little drizzle and a stiff north wind. It was the kind of cold that goes right through you, but not the worst I’ve seen on race day and totally fine once you get moving.

The course was changed slightly, too. Construction at a new park forced race organizers to reroute a portion of the course through a neighborhood that included a long, low-grade climb that can wear you out. Now that the park is open, the course went back to Riverside Drive, a long, flat stretch between Mile 7 and Mile 10 that’s a welcome relief after facing a hilly section from Mile 2 through 6.

If I were to give advice to anyone running this race, I’d tell them to not blow yourself out running that early stretch. The Maple Ridge neighborhood is scenic and interesting, but it’s full of hills. If you’re not careful, you’ll wind up gassed by the time you get to Woodward Park 5 miles in. Not good when you’re not even half done (and if you’re doing the full and feel bad at this point, good luck to ya. It’s gonna be a long day).

Last year, I knew 3 miles in I was in trouble. This time, I took it in stride. It was tough once again, but I was careful to breathe deep on the downhills and slow my heart rate down before the next incline showed up.

Once you get through Mile 6, the course mellows considerably. Last year, I hoped to recover here, but never did. This year I felt great cruising through Brookside, then getting ready to make the northward turn back toward downtown.

But boy, did we get a fun surprise making that northbound turn: a biting wind right in our faces. The trees in the neighborhood shielded us for those first six miles, as did our southbound trip through Brookside. But now we got a good 4 miles of running into the teeth of it.

Surprisingly, it didn’t bother me that much. The miles ticked by, and then we took a quick out-and-back on the Southwest Boulevard bridge before going back into downtown.

For the half marathoners, this is the crux of the race. You get two good-sized hills back-to-back as you gain elevation into downtown (Tulsa’s central business district is on top of a long ridge overlooking the Arkansas River), and this is the place that always bites me. It did again this time. I was gassed, slowed for a brief walk break, then got going again. One of these days I’m going to blast all the hills. Just not this time.

At the top of that second hill is a sweet, blessed, oh-so-needed downhill pitch that goes for about seven blocks. It’s here where the full-marathoners turn east to start their second loop while the rest of us head into the Tulsa Arts District toward the finish line. It’s here I always ask myself if I regret not doing the full. So far, four straight years of “nope.”

Earlier in the race, I was just behind the 2:10 pacer, but I consciously decided not to make a thing of it. “Just run your race,” I told myself. If I saw her close to the end of the race, I’d catch her with a final sprint to the end. If not, no biggie.

Yeah, I was not anywhere close enough for that. So I just cruised into the Arts District, rounded the corner and sprinted the last three blocks toward the end.

Checking the clock as I ran in, I knew I’d run faster than I had the previous year. And I was right: 2:13:41, just shy of 50 seconds better than a year ago. No PR (I still need to trim 2 minutes off that time to get there), and I’m far from my gold-medal goal of breaking 2 hours. But my thinking is I was faster than the previous year, that’s a success, even if just a modest one.

Sprinting it in to the finish.

POST SCRIPT

I’d say I’m satisfied, overall. Had I not let my conditioning slide over the summer, I could have done much better. But the training program worked. This is now three years in a row that I’ve been faster. Not a bad thing to get faster as I get older.

There was also something else that worked for me. During that first month, I was griping to myself that I wasn’t as mentally tough as I used to me. It became too easy to bag it. Sure, I’d get all the miles as prescribed. But in terms of performance, pretty meh.

To combat this, I’d play mental games. I’d say “Go this far before you slow down” or “see if you can skip that water break coming up and push through to the next one.” Little things that were a tiny bit harder than what I did the week before, or the day before.

That helped me on race day. I got out of the aid stations much faster than in past years, and even though my 10K and 10-mile splits were slower than last year, the final 3.1 miles to the finish was considerably faster.

But here’s the best part: Unlike last year, I don’t hate the idea of going for 60- to 90-minute runs. I don’t feel the need to back off my training. I look forward to upcoming races. Mentally, I’m in a much better place.

It’ll take a lot (keeping my base, trimming some weight) to get my sub-2 hour goal — shaving a full minute per mile from my current pace. But it seems doable with time, effort and planning. In late 2017, such thoughts were far from me.

Now I’m looking forward to more weight training, but also getting in “mountain shape.” I want to show up in the Rockies in great shape and not suffer at altitude. When next fall rolls around, maybe my base will be strong enough that I can blow past this year’s time, crush my PR and maybe even crack that 2-hour mark. And then see what happens from there.

Bob Doucette

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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

Race recap: Fighting through the 2017 Route 66 half marathon

Wrapping up a tough Route 66 half marathon. At least there was enough left to sprint it in.

I walked into the starting corral at the Route 66 Marathon in perfect conditions. It was 38 degrees, with slight breezes and sunny skies. After a good, hard 12 weeks of training, this should have been the best half marathon I ever ran.

But strange things happen.

Instead of relishing the newfound conditioning I’d developed and soaking in another great race, I found myself in a fight. Just a few miles in, my body was saying, “Not today, dude. Not today.”

At the finish, the sprint at the end belied how I really felt, like I’d been beat up and denied what I’d trained so hard for.

But that’s not the whole lesson, and it’s not that one-sided.

THE RUNUP TO ROUTE 66

Over the summer, I’d set a goal time that I wanted to hit for this year’s race. Last year, I had a mellow training program that gave me a better-than-expected time of just over 2:15 (I’m not that fast, folks). I was happy with that, coming in a bit heavy and just four minutes off the best 13.1-mile time I’ve ever run, and five minutes under the previous year’s disappointment.

Surely with a more serious training schedule, I’d crush that PR and maybe get past that two-hour barrier. So I set out to make a more aggressive program that had me running more weekly miles than I’d done since I trained for a marathon back in 2013.

The training schedule. I was religious about following the plan, and if not for unforeseen circumstances, it would have paid off in spades..

Dude. I was religious about it. Aside from skipping one weekend 5K and doing a treadmill speed workout on a day when it was pouring rain, I nailed it every day. The weight peeled off, my cardio returned, and by the time I ran the Tulsa Run 15K eight weeks in, I was hitting mile paces I hadn’t seen in four years. Breaking two hours was probably not in the cards, but that PR seemed in the bag. During the Tulsa Run, my 5K splits were even, I crushed the hills and I had cardio for days. With three weeks of hard training left, it seemed inevitable that I’d smash a half marathon course of which I was intimately familiar.

UH OH…

Fast forward a couple of weeks. I’d just finished running an 11-miler on a warm day, capping off a 34-mile week. Not bad for me. But something felt off that night, and by the next day, when I was scheduled to do an hour-long bike ride (my standard cross-training workout), something was amiss. That night, I was sick as a dog.

The next day, it was worse. And worse again the day after that. Congestion, sore throat, drainage and junk in my chest. It knocked me out for a few days, killing off three runs. Later in the week, I felt good enough to get back to it, and to my surprise, a 3-miler went well. The next day, 12 miles were on tap, the first 6 of which were spirited, but the last 6 very meh. I headed into my taper, hoping the nagging cough and chest gunk would be gone by race day.

Too bad, sucka.

THE RACE

I paced myself fairly well in the first couple of miles, but about three miles in, I knew something was up. My lungs were working too hard, and my legs told me they didn’t want anymore. This was a bad sign, with 10 miles to go, and plenty of hills in front of me before the course flattened out about midway through. I told myself that I could catch my breath then, with the hills of midtown Tulsa behind me, and regroup before things got gnarly again at Mile 8.

I never recovered. Every mile was work. Hitting the mild but long incline at Cincinnati Avenue, the kick wasn’t there. I smashed this hill last year, but suffered this time around. Back down on the flat mile at Riverside Drive, I again hoped to recover just a little before the two big hills leading back into downtown.

And that didn’t happen, either. Facing the big inclines of Miles 11 and 12, the challenge was to not give in and peter out, but instead to run these things hard.

One of the things I made sure to do all season long was to run hills. Route 66 is a hilly course, and if all you run are flat sections, you’re going to suffer. The climbs up Southwest Boulevard, then Seventh Street nail me every time on this race, so I purposely created training routes that finished with long, steep hills. Practice makes perfect, and it sure made a difference at the Tulsa Run. It was a matter of pride to conquer these things.

Thankfully, I did. Not fast, but good enough to keep some sort of pace and not slow to a defeated walk. But there wasn’t much left in the tank after that, now that my legs and lungs had betrayed me.

Heading into the Tulsa Arts District, I plodded slowly until the finish was in sight. Just enough reserve was left to quicken the pace and sprint in.

But being nowhere close to a PR seemed inevitable. I wasn’t even sure I’d be faster than the year before, when I trained in a much more leisurely fashion.

THE RESULTS

Not sure it tastes like victory, but it does taste like getting it done.

Being in the B Corral, and well off the start line, it was hard to gauge my chip time finish. I don’t often run with tech, choosing instead to track my progress on the clocks set up on the course.

Instead of beaming in the post-race sun, I hunched down, deliberated what happened and guzzled a Gatorade. No point in lingering, I headed to the shuttle bus to take me back to the start line area.

While on the bus, I dared to look up the times. Punched in my name, then viewed the results. It popped up on my phone: 2:14:30.

Frankly, I was surprised. I was actually faster than last year. Even though I felt like hell, my body wasn’t cooperating and I ran with no fluidity to speak of, I’d somehow performed, well, better. Suddenly this result was now my new second-best half marathon time.

But it was a small consolation. I worked very hard for a mere 31 seconds. That’s the equivalent of walking through one extra aid station. It was also a good 3 minutes off my 13.1 PR. Oy. No two-hour mark, no PR. But faster than 2016. Call it a personal bronze medal.

THE TAKEAWAY

I could have been bummed by this. In some ways, I am. It’s not what I worked for. But I understand it.

When you have a bunch of gunk in your chest, you won’t have your normal cardio. And with that, there goes your breathing and your legs.

But there is something else. A tougher training season made me mentally stronger. There was a lot to fight through in this one, and it was a lengthy battle to keep going at a pace that eventually got me across the finish in a way that did not prove embarrassing. In the last couple of miles, I was wondering if the race might end up being one of my slowest half marathons. So seeing the chip time on my phone during the bus ride downtown showed me that even though I didn’t come close to my goals, I worked hard enough to make progress.

Silver linings, man. You take ‘em where you can.

Bob Doucette

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

Recapping the 2016 Route 66 half marathon

Pre-race running stoke. Me and my nasty beard.

Pre-race running stoke. Me and my nasty beard.

It’s been a funky year in running for me. The beginning of the year saw me get pretty lazy on that front as I spent most of the first seven or so months working on strength. I did work on some speed, ran for six hours on trails in March and did a few 5Ks in search of a PR (to no avail). Even during the fall race season, I didn’t enter much.

So going into the Route 66 half marathon, I didn’t have very high expectations. I spent the bulk of my time building up a base, working my long runs into double-digit miles and trying to get my body used to running on pavement for a couple of hours. Considering where I was starting from, I felt good about being as strong at the end of my long runs, in terms of pace, as I did in the beginning. I also made sure to run plenty of hills, remembering hilliness that the Route 66 course presents every year.

The problem, however, came from this fall’s weather. When the fall training cycle starts up, I’m mentally ready for lots of hot-weather runs. It’s part of the deal in the Southern Plains. But I expect that by October, things should be cooling down enough to really work on pushing the pace throughout the week. Unfortunately, Oklahoma went through its warmest October on record, with only a couple of days where highs didn’t reach the 80s. Often, those highs were near 90.

To race faster, you must be able to train faster. Throughout the fall, that didn’t happen for me. Throw in a couple of interruptions in my training schedule, and I went into my fifth half marathon with low expectations. I was heavier than I needed to be and slow. While my workouts were ahead of where they were a year ago, I had a feeling that this race might be my slowest half to date.

THE COURSE

If you’ve done this race before, you know that it fools a lot of people. Oklahoma is a relatively flat state, and newcomers arrive thinking this will be a fast, flat course.

And a good chunk of it is. Just not the majority of it.

You run downhill for most of the first mile, then spend the next four battling a series of rolling hills through a residential area. It’s scenic — the old neighborhoods of midtown are filled with big trees and stately homes, and the fall foliage was in its full glory. It was gorgeous to view with a bright sun and blue skies on what started out as a crisp, cool day.

After five miles, runners spill out into Brookside to begin about three miles of flat ground. The course ducks back into a neighborhood for a couple of miles and a long, deceptive uphill that can zap the unwary. It then goes back out onto the flats of Riverside Drive before taking the long uphill slog back into downtown.

HOW IT WENT DOWN

I made sure to start out at a measured pace, and for those first four miles, I was fairly slow. It looked like I might match or exceed the previous year’s 2:20 finish.

One thing that worked in my favor (besides the cooler temps): All that hill training. Every Monday, I’d run three miles on one of the hilliest streets in Tulsa. That, combined with plenty of strength training in my glutes and hamstrings, really helped me feel fresh by the time I hit the flat part of the course at Mile 6.

It was here where I noticed that my mile times were getting faster. After nine miles, I was only a couple of minutes off my 15K personal record. By Mile 10, I passed the pacer who was holding a 2:15 pace.

Let me say, first off, that I am not fast. At all. But around this time, I knew I was starting to close in on my half marathon PR, a 2:11 split I hit in 2013 when doing Route 66’s full marathon. Back then, I was running 20 more miles per week and weighed about 13 pounds less. I didn’t foresee breaking that mark, but of one thing I was sure: I wouldn’t bomb like I had the previous year.

And then came the race’s great equalizer. Once you’re 11 miles in, you must go back into downtown, which is atop a hill. Southwest Boulevard is what takes you there, and it’s the biggest hill on the course. My cardio to that point had been taxed but was solid. That is, until that hill.

That’s where I cratered. The hill got me again, just like it had in here previous races. The 2:15 gal breezed by. No shot at a PR.

But getting past that, I recovered. And the last mile flew by. I sprinted the last hundred yards, and crossed the finish at 2:15:04, my second-fastest half.

Race bling.

Race bling.

WHAT TO MAKE OF IT

I see a lot of what-ifs. What if I’d been a little more disciplined on the diet? What if I had pushed my training a little harder? And so on.

That’s my nature. I tend to look at what I could have done better, and achieved better results. A lot of the reasons I do this (and I know it’s true for many of you) is to test myself, to see if I can improve my fitness and performance, to see what this ole body can do.

And that’s all fine. But some of the things I did worked, and I do believe that training in warm to hot weather for most of the season paid off in November.

But most of all, it’s always nice to exceed your expectations. Putting up a 2:15 in a half marathon isn’t the pinnacle of long-distance running, but I didn’t believe it would happen this year. And then it did. It’s a sweet reward, almost as sweet as the post-run feast, which is really the best part of race day.

How did you do in your last race? Gimme a shout in the comments.

Bob Doucette

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