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

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Training update: Signs of progress at the Tulsa Run 15K

For a short burst, I was actually fast. But really, this race went pretty well.

I set out in late summer to create a new challenge for myself. Knowing that the cooler temperatures of fall were approaching (and fall race season), it seemed like a good time to see what I could if I trained harder for a specific goal race.

For me, that’s the Route 66 Marathon’s half-marathon event. Last year, I surprised myself with my second-fastest half marathon time. I learned a lot from that and wanted to take those lessons into this fall to see what might happen. I snagged a more aggressive training schedule and got to work.

It’s important to follow your training plan. While it’s fine to have a plan, it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t follow it. So I’ve been strict about that. Since late August, I’ve missed one workout (I went hiking in Arkansas instead of competing in a 5K, per the schedule) and modified one other (speed work on a treadmill during a downpour instead of running four miles outside). On everything else, I’ve done the work, even when I didn’t feel like it.

What’s also important is measuring the results. If you’re not making progress, it means you’re either going through the motions to check a box or something else is wrong (illness, injury, etc.). I think I’ve been making progress. But they only way to know for sure is to test myself and see.

I had a good opportunity to do that last weekend. The Tulsa Run is a classic local race, and this was the 40th annual version of it. The main event is a 15K road race through some of the hillier portions in and around downtown Tulsa, a course layout that is a change from the race’s traditional out-and-back, mostly flat aspects. My training schedule called for a 15K race last weekend, so instead of a slow-go long run, it would be a more energetic effort on a race day.

I’ve run the Tulsa Run five times, including three times on the newer, tougher course. So how did it go?

Gratefully, the weather was perfect: 34 degrees at start time, sunny and light winds. There would be no overheating, so I’d be able to push myself.

The race starts out with about a mile leading out of downtown downhill. From there, it’s a roller-coaster of hills, some big, some small. I feel bad for the runners who didn’t train on hills. They suffered.

This lasted from Mile 2 through Mile 6. After that, there is a flat section that goes on for two more miles before the course winds its way back up the hill to downtown and the finish. In my opinion, that last mile is the toughest part, a series of rolling hills that goes ever up until you cross the finish line.

My expectations weren’t that high, seeing that I’m still weighing at or near 190 pounds (I do love me some barbecue and tacos). But during training, I’ve made sure to include hill climbs. Weekly mileage volume is in the 30s now.

All of that paid off. All my 5K splits were nearly identical. Yes, the hills were hard. But on the downhills, I could lengthen my stride, control my breathing and regain my wind while making up time lost on the inclines; running on hills is good practice for the real thing, and experience counts.

Oddly similar splits. Not bad.

I finished at 1:31:23, my second-fastest 15K and the fastest since the course change a few years ago. The 9:48 pace is not far from my goal pace for Route 66. Much closer than I thought it would be. These aren’t barnburner times by any stretch, but for a guy who has been slow for several years, it’s not too bad. And a sign of progress.

The Tulsa Run is a good test for people running Route 66, as the characteristics of the courses are very similar. I always fail that final hill climb on Route 66’s half, just like I used to do on the Tulsa Run’s last mile. This time was different, so I’m hoping I can make more progress these next few weeks, smash the remaining workouts and maybe hit that goal. And PR, of course. Either way, I’ll let you know.

Bob Doucette

Seen on the run: Reminders from the past of why I run

We have these, right here in town. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

I remember the first time I saw an eagle in the wild.

No, it wasn’t on some adventure deep in the Rockies, or some other rugged mountain landscape. It was about six miles from home, in the middle of a city, and not far from the river that splits my community two.

Not 30 feet from the paved path I was running on, and overlooking the Arkansas River, there it was: A big, bald eagle, surveying the waters flowing by and likely looking for lunch swimming under the surface. It was one of the coolest and most random things I’d ever seen on a run, and to see it smack in the middle of Tulsa’s southern reaches made it that much more unreal. And yet there it was, in all of its regal glory, presiding over its domain. As it turns out, bald eagles have become a fixture along the river. You just have to know where to look.

More importantly, you have to be out there in the first place. If I hadn’t been on my weekly long run, I’d never have seen it at all.

***

I remember when I first started running more seriously, and how enamored I became with the little details I saw during even the shortest, simplest runs. I made a point to take my phone with me not to provide music or capture my pace, but to snap photos of how the downtown Tulsa skyline looked from a certain angle, or the way the glow of a sunset bathed the buildings in warm, fading light.

I’d come home and write notes about interesting people I saw, weird things I smelled and small epiphanies I had while I ran. I learned a lot about my city. One park I run through commemorates the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, something that for many Tulsans was left out of their history lessons despite being the scene of the single worst outburst of racial violence in American history. Years later, I still run through that park, reminded that we’ve yet to get past racial divides.

Night running scene.

There were other details of the city to be gleaned from these runs, too. On a couple of occasions, I’d run at night. An urban landscape has an entirely different feel at night than it does during the day. Light from street lamps catches broken glass on the pavement and in alleys, making them glisten in a harsh sort of way. It’s harder to see people’s faces, thus more difficult to discern intent. But no one ever bothered me. A smoky bar served up whiskey shots next door to a private workshop where a bearded, tattooed fella in a plain white tank tinkered under the hood of a classic car. Nighttime in the city, away from the “safer” venues, is just as alive as it is in the day. It just feels more mysterious, if not risky.

And many times, I’d notice people. The suits and the slackers mixed at different paces, and transients often barely budged. On one street, I’d spot someone talking to himself while walking briskly, totally focused on whatever conversation was happening via Bluetooth. Around the corner, someone else, slumped against a wall, might be wallowing in his own puke, having drank too much bourbon the hour before. Down the street, a tattooed pizzeria worker sat out by the curb, getting one last smoke in before his break was over.

I see scenes like this every day when I run. It fascinated me for a long time, me being a guy who until that time had spent a lifetime living in suburbs and small towns, far from anything one might define as urban.

As the years have gone by, however, all of this has become normal. I still see cool stuff, but more often any run is more of me and the run itself, battling through fatigue, the elements, injuries and whatever else is motivating me or telling me to stop. And as I age, the chorus of inner voices telling me to bag it seems to get bigger. And louder.

***

Last week was one of the lousiest weeks of training I’ve had in a while. Fall is here, but Oklahoma rarely pays attention to the calendar. It was just another hot, humid week, and if you run much you know that heat and humidity sucks all the fun out of running. If I didn’t have a couple of races to train for, I’m not sure I’d even have bothered.

But we got a break this week. On Monday, cloud cover. Blessed cloud cover. Eighty-eight degrees in direct sun (plus humidity) is one thing. But 88 and cloudy is another. As in better.

I was out on a simple four-mile out-and-back run through a neighborhood that might be generously classified as “working class.” It’s on the upswing, but there is plenty of industrial desperation still waiting to be remedied here. Not that it bothers me – that sort of environment is way more interesting than any suburban scene I’ve ever trodden.

Anyway, I ran by a house where a fella was on the porch, working on some sort of machine, and he had his tunes on full blast: ‘80s funk and R&B. I ran past, reached my turnaround place and headed back. I’d pass his house again, this time from the same side of the street. On deck: Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching me,” featuring none other than the King of Pop. I’m not sure why, but when I got in earshot, it gave me an extra bounce, and I made sure to let the dude know that I wish I had his tunes with me the rest of the way. We both got a laugh out of that.

Getting some miles on the trails. I see cool stuff out here. (Clint Green photo)

A day later, on a six-miler, I was on trails close to the Arkansas River again. I didn’t see them, but I heard them: eagles. Somewhere close by, the master raptors were calling out, and would likely be on the hunt for more fish soon. It got me thinking about all the other wildlife I’ve seen, usually when trail running through nearby wooded hills. Squirrels and rabbits, hurrying away from the path. An armadillo ambling along, rooting through the leaves for bugs. And on one blessed run, a massive owl that was silently gliding below the canopy, then extending its wings to make a full stop just a few feet away from where I ran. One of the most majestic things I’ve ever seen.

That’s when I was reminded why I still do this. Races are fun, and great motivation to get in shape. But for me, there’s no finish line or medal worth the weeks and months of training that it takes to finish a long-distance race. Instead, it’s the things I encounter along the way.

The random faces that make a city live and breathe.

The myriad of colors of a cool evening sunset.

The smell of fall from decaying foliage on the forest floor.

And timely reminders from the past, be it the cry of a regal bird of prey, or the music pumping from the speakers owned by someone getting their funk on during a warm autumn afternoon. Any finish line glory is gravy after that.

Bob Doucette

Three things on running, goals, and a plan to go with it

Chugging my way toward a goal.

I think there are generally two types of runners. The first kind encompasses those whose fitness revolves around the run. Training for races is a year-round endeavor. Their social lives might be centered on running, races and other runners. In terms of fitness, everything else is secondary, and there really is no offseason. These people could be anything from 5K speed-burners, habitual marathoners, ultramarathoners, or execisers who have found their “community” in running.

The second type of runner is the person who incorporates running into a larger fitness regimen. These people mostly enjoy it, but the intensity of their running workouts varies on the goals. Under this sizable umbrella will be recreational runners who race occasionally, exercise generalists (think Crossfiters, beginning exercisers or recreational athletes) or those who look to use endurance training for specific goals (professional athletes, adventure racers, mountaineers and so on). Rather than being the central focus of training, these people use running as one of many tools for conditioning.

I’m in the second camp, more or less. I don’t race year-round, and frankly, I don’t race much at all. Running is a means to an end, but it’s also something that clears my head and gets me outside. It doesn’t matter to me if that time is spent running two miles or 20. I run more when it’s cooler, and I definitely have an offseason where I’m running fewer than 15 miles a week.

That said, when the fall rolls around I look forward to packing on the miles and training toward a goal. And that goal would be a race or two. I’m not racing for a spot on a podium; I’m not that fast. But I like challenging myself, finding ways to make the body God gave me push past old barriers. The cooler temps of fall make this season the ideal time to do just that.

Last year, I’d come off a so-so period of training that gave me some mediocre results at the finish line. I’m getting older, and it would be easier (maybe expected?) to attribute eroding times to the inevitable progress of time. I know that will be true one day, but I refuse to give in now. So in the fall, I worked on a few things and earned an unexpected finish: my second-fastest half marathon time. It was cool seeing a training plan produce results.

This fall, I’m turning it up a notch. Once again, I’ve signed up for the Route 66 half marathon in Tulsa (this will be my fourth time to run it). I picked out a tougher training program (Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 1 half marathon plan), dialed back the lifting and plugged in some more time on the bike. I’m three weeks into it now, and a few things have become apparent.

Lean and mean back when I was in race shape. Maybe by November I’ll be in this form again.

First, it sure feels good to regain my conditioning. I had fun with the weights, and there is a different kind of conditioning that comes with strength training, but there is a beauty to seeing your endurance return. As the miles pile up, so does the sense of accomplishment. I’m not there yet. But I’m getting back into race shape.

This piece of paper is partially running my life. But that’s not a bad thing.

Second, a structured program is a good thing. You can make stuff up on a day-to-day basis, and there’s a place for keeping things unstructured. No one wants to be on a training program for 365 days a year. But following a training program works. When you stick to the program, results will follow. It’s a great metaphor on life: get the information you need to succeed and put in the work. Success often follows.

Cross-training on this guy FTW.

Third, it’s good to have one workout a week that’s just fun. It’s important to have something to look forward to that’s not a rest day or a burger binge. For me, it’s the weekly cross-training workout on my bike. These workouts never exceed 60 minutes, which is a modest bike ride by most people’s standards. I’m not a “cyclist,” but I enjoy my time in the saddle. Sunday rides are the best.

It’s going to get harder, and balancing work, life and this training program will get tougher as November rolls around. But I’m cool with that. The hard things are usually worthwhile, and I know if I can stay healthy and stick to the plan I should see improvement over races past.

Are you running in the Route 66 Marathon of the half? Or are you doing any other fall races? If so, let me know how it’s going in the comments. You can also follow my progress on the training program daily on Twitter by searching the #rt66run hashtag.

Bob Doucette

Six hot-weather training tips for runners

This guy will make your outdoor training a little tougher in the summer. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Summer is rapidly approaching, and it’s a time when a lot of us are thinking about vacations, backyard cookouts and time at the pool.

But for the running crowd, it’s also an opportunity to take advantage of extra daylight hours to get in our miles.

One problem: The heat. Most places will begin seeing temperatures rise significantly within the next couple of weeks, and things really get cooking in July and August. Fun in the sun is great and all, but when you’re training, heat can wreck you. It can beat you and your workouts into submission, and if you’re not careful, cause serious health problems.

But if we only went out in perfect conditions, there is a good chance we’d achieve almost nothing. So my advice is to make peace with summer and learn a few things about hot-weather training to get by, at least until things cool off in the fall.

So here are six tips for training in the heat:

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

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

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

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

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

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

So there you have it. Use these ideas during the hot months. Or succumb to the treadmill. Your choice.

Bob Doucette

When life was falling apart, it was running that put me back together

Me and Mike on Mount Elbert. I miss this dude.

I got into an online discussion with a friend who was trying to weigh her desire to join her running buddies in a longer road race versus the time commitment needed to train for it. She’s a busy gal, with a full-time job, lots of family around and plenty of things to worry about.

Something she said struck me. She said that when she runs, it clears her head. And that over the past year, it may have saved her. “I think I would have fallen apart without it,” she admitted.

That resonated with me. I’ve had similar thoughts, sometimes recently, and it became even more clear as a dreaded anniversary crept near.

Six years ago, my oldest brother died. And when everything settled down and I was left to my own thoughts, it was the alone time pounding the pavement or coursing through wooded trails that pulled me from an abyss.

Running may have saved me, too.

***

Mike and I were close. Some of it had to do with the fact that we shared a number of interests. We loved the mountains. Fishing for trout was a favorite, and later on, I got hooked on climbing Colorado’s high peaks after hearing his tales of high mountain summits. We climbed a few peaks together, including my first three 14,000-footers, and made a thing of it with all the brothers – Mike, Steve, and myself – are few years back.

From left, Mike, me and Steve on the summit of Quandary Peak, Colo.

Mike and I were also gym rats. I bumbled around the weight room with a little success while he mastered the art of weight training and bodybuilding. Naturally, we’d talk about all things lifting, and more often than not I’d be the one doing the listening as he offered tips and told of his experiences. Years later, I still can’t sniff the PRs he managed on the big lifts.

But I keep plugging away, and sometimes I’ll learn something new or set my own PR. Instinctively, I look around for my phone, thinking about shooting him a text or a phone call to talk about it. But that gets shot down pretty quick.

Shit. I can’t call Mike. I can’t call him because he’s gone.

***

Around the time when Mike was diagnosed with cancer (it was a blood disease similar to leukemia), other crises were afoot. My job was going down the crapper, and as he got sicker, my own prospects worsened. In January of 2011, I flew to Denver to visit him, not knowing if he’d make it for the next few days or if he’d pull through. A couple days after arriving, Mike grew stronger.

But then I got a call. My employer had a layoff, and I was caught in it. Twelve mostly good years there were over. It’s a hell of a thing to learn you’re on the street via a long-distance phone call from a hospital hallway.

The silver lining was being able to spend more time with Mike. I hoped he’d pull out of it, recover and then we’d be back at it, hiking up mountains and traveling the West. But it was not to be.

Mike’s condition eventually won. His death was slow – agonizingly so – and from everything I saw, miserable. Cruel, even. The whole family was there when he passed. The final moments unleashed our sorrows in a flood of tears and hugs, all of us hating the fact that he was gone yet glad he wasn’t suffering anymore. In the hours and days following Mike’s passing, we shuffled from here to there, buying clothes for the funeral, heading to the church to say our last good-byes, and then settling into the finality of it all.

A few days later, after being out of work for four months, I got a call. The guy who is now my boss, Tim, wondered if I’d like to interview for a job in Tulsa. I said yes, and we arranged for an interview time. I got the job, which necessitated a move. So I moved up to Tulsa while my wife Becca stayed in our soon-to-be ex-hometown east of Oklahoma City to get our house ready for sale. I’d come back on the weekends, then drive back to Tulsa before my Monday shift began.

During the week, I stayed at my sister-in-law’s house in a Tulsa suburb. She and her family had moved to Texas and were trying to sell their Oklahoma home, and they kindly let me stay there until we found a place of our own. The house, somewhere short of 3,000 square feet, was empty – no furniture, no TV, nothing. I made my home in the master bedroom, a cavernous space where I occupied a tiny sliver, sleeping on an air mattress and playing Angry Birds on my phone or reading a book when I got home from work. Aside from the job, I had a lot of alone time, time to worry about the future and mourn Mike’s death.

Before work, I’d head to the gym, and then two miles down the road I’d go to a local park that had a gravel trail a little over a mile long. Work was a great distraction, but my demons were there in that empty house on those long nights after work. I fought back on the trails. Running, it seemed, drove them away.

***

Running became a sorely needed habit — and refuge — during one of the more challenging periods of my life.

I’d gotten into a running habit before Mike got sick, but things took off once I moved to Tulsa. It was cheap – the price of shoes, socks and some tech clothes. It turned out to be a great way to explore my new hometown. Every slow, lumbering run was interesting. I’d see something new, work up my miles and get a little faster.

Not long after, I discovered a park that had a huge network of trails that ran wild through wooded hills that were left as close as possible to their natural state. I’d run plenty on pavement, but this trail running thing was brand new. I learned that trail runners were different. Most runners obsess over mile times, distances and splits. Trail runners get into vertical gain a little, but mostly run hard, have fun and replace all the calories they burned with burritos and beer. This was something I could get into.

For a brief period, I ran with a weekly run group, but most times I explored the trails by myself – in the furnace of the Oklahoma summer, in the rain and mud, and even in the snow. I’d run myself ragged on big hills, trip over tree roots and rocks and go through the painstaking process of tick-checks. I spied snakes, lizards, deer and hawks. Squirrels and rabbits, too. I watched sunsets through the trees, breathed in the scents of fresh redbud blooms and listened to cicadas blast their noisy calls on sweltering summer days. I loved running with friends, but these were experiences I mostly had on my own.

These were the times I’d think. Sometimes pray. I’d rage at God for how Mike died, then calm down and express gratitude that I was still healthy, and able to enjoy these runs on the trails when so many others couldn’t or wouldn’t.

I’d like to tell you that I found peace and healing inside the folds of a new church congregation, but it never worked out that way for me. Too many places of worship were too busy fighting the culture wars for my taste. But I found God anyway. God was in those woods, tolerating my griping, reminding me of my blessings, and listening in. Being there when I was unlovable. That sort of thing matters when you reach a point of being a jerk, something I can testify to rather well. Sometimes I’m not the easiest person to be around, prone to poor judgment and selfishness. Things that Mike wasn’t but I was.

Over time, running became bigger. Slow two-mile jaunts around the neighborhood turned into five-milers. And then 10. Or 12. Within a few years, I was knocking out half marathons, 25Ks, and on a bitterly cold November day, my first marathon. The process was one that required some mental toughening, sharpening your mind in the middle of 20-mile training runs, and the day-long recovery periods that followed.

But I found something out there. I found a rhythm, a meditative cadence that cleared my busy mind of the stresses and insecurities that confronted me daily. I’m not one of those crazies who pounds out 80 or more miles a week, or runs insanely long races, or any of that. But I miss it when I stop. Normally I come back from a run feeling spent, and in a good way, like I went to war with my demons, beat them back and stood atop a hill looking at the battlefield when it’s over, me still alive and my foes in retreat. I’m not one to make easy war metaphors; that dishonors real warriors. But when negativity and grief and self-loathing and worry rage at your gates, it feels like a fight. You use the tools at your disposal in order to win.

***

Sunset in the woods at the end of a fun trail run.

Mike wasn’t much of a runner, at least not in his final years. More of a cyclist, a hiker and a lifter. But I think he could appreciate it just the same, like he would after a long day in the mountains or right after coming off the saddle after a 30-mile ride through Denver. He’d get it. He battled through plenty of his own struggles and won them all except for the one that finally claimed him.

I was thinking of Mike at the end of my last trail run. It was a short trip, just a few miles on mostly empty trails near dusk. When I got through and reached the trailhead, the sun was dipping into the horizon, setting the skies and their clouds afire with hues of yellow, orange and red. I snapped a photo with my phone and suddenly got the urge to text it to Mike. Look how beautiful it is out here, dude! And then I’d remember.

But I grinned anyway. I knew that Mike would understand, that he knew running for me was a gift from God, the salve I needed – and still need – in this stage of life. I was sweaty, dirty and spent and more content than I’d ever be, even if only for a few minutes. I was at peace.

I hope my friend decides to do that longer race, mostly because I know where she’s at, and have felt that calming, inner-warmth that comes from a good run.

Bob Doucette

Race report: ‘Experimenting’ at the 10th annual Snake Run

I’m still a trail runner, dangit! (Clint Green photo)

Leave it to me to play the stupid card.

Sometimes I try things just because I can. You know, that whole “I do what I want” attitude that all the kids playfully throw around when they do something they know is kinda dumb but still get away with it.

I’m no kid, so I don’t get away with it, at least not very often.

I spent the winter focusing on strength and dialing back my running. Gaining strength and keeping up a high volume of miles don’t mix well. Most of us must choose one or the other. So for this winter, strength won out, with decent results. It also made it to where I was running nine or 10 miles a week.

Going back a year ago, my running volume was higher, but still not high. On a lark, I decided to enter the six-hour event at the annual Snake Run in Tulsa. No real goal, just get out there and run some trails for awhile to see how many miles I could log before the gun went off. Keep in mind, I hadn’t trained to run that long on my feet or for any significant distance for months. Even when hiking the last big loop, I still logged 25 miles, just short of a marathon. Not that impressive by that race’s standards, but hey, a little extra effort would be a pretty easy way to snag another 26.2 without having to bother with 18-21 weeks of training. My kinda plan!

It got me to thinking about things. I hiked the last loop of that race, chatting it up with another runner who was also done running but wanted to finish one last lap before calling it a day. When we finished, I managed to have plenty of energy to do a few short loops to get my total mileage to 25. Had I not shown up late and maybe ran at least a part of that last loop, a marathon and change was in the bag, right? So that was my plan for this year.

Or more like my experiment. Knowing the course, the event and a few tricks of slow distance racing, I figured it might be possible to get that distance or more with minimal training. Never mind that I am also about 10 pounds heavier than last year (gotta eat to get those gains!) and was running less.

The event

The Snake Run had been going on in Tulsa for 10 years now. It has two events: The 3-hour race and the 6-hour. The race director designed a course on the easiest trails of Turkey Mountain, meaning that the course is built for speed. Runners try to get as many miles as they can by running on a 3.75-mile loop, and if time is almost up, they can switch to a half-mile loop to finish up.

Course map.

The catch: If you don’t finish a loop before the final gun, that lap doesn’t count, even if you were within sight of the finish line. So there’s a lot of strategy in this one, banking miles and knowing when to peel off the big loop and start doing laps on the short course.

I did my first 25K distance on this race a few years ago in the 3-hour event and improved slightly the next year. Last year was my first shot at the 6-hour event, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. What would happen if I pushed it a little harder?

I knew that no matter what, I wouldn’t be anywhere near the leaders. The top male runner logged 40 miles. The top female, 36.

Uh oh

The starting gun sounded and I took my place in the back of the pack. No sense feigning greatness here. I was experimenting, and my weird goals didn’t need to get in everyone else’s way. The first lap went OK, the temps in the mid-50s and plenty of sun.

But there were some early problems. I found myself tripping a bunch, which is stupid, because I know these trails. “Keep your feet!” I yelled at myself more than once.

Normally, that’s not a big deal because trips and falls happen when you run trails. But a couple of weeks ago, I hurt my back twice in one week: Mid-back doing cleans and a few days later, lower back doing deadlifts. It’s been twitchy ever since. Stumbling forward to catch myself before face-planting got my back angry. Not good when you’re less than four miles into something projected to go much longer.

Also around that time, the familiar burn of a blister started making its presence known on the arch of my left foot. And maybe about 10 miles after that, my right knee was barking at me. I think the two may have been related.

The temps began to climb, my body ached and griped and moaned and pitched a world-class fit after the third lap was done. I popped some ibuprofen and decided to break things up between speedier running and power-hiking.

The fourth lap went like a charm, and I finished it with two hours and 45 minutes left on the clock. I told myself that if I could finish Lap 5 by the 4:10 mark, I’d have a marathon in the bag. Score one for the lazy runners!

Sadly, things started falling apart. My body wasn’t used to going this long and this far. Those pleasant temps raced through the 50s, the 60s and the 70s – pretty hot for a long-distance event. Every muscle around my hips was screaming. And by the time Lap 5 was done, the clock read 4:20. The race director, Ken “TZ” Childress, told me jokingly, “I’ve got bad news: You’re probably not going to win today.”

Best quote of the day, and great humor to take the edge off the facts.

I was trashed and getting slower by the minute. My left foot was barking loudly. So was my right knee. The temps had crossed 80 degrees, and the trees were still too bare to provide any meaningful shade to blunt the sun’s rays. Seven laps weren’t happening. No 26.2 that day.

Yes, even back-of-the-pack, untrained runners get a little bling when it’s over.

I finished my sixth lap, ate some barbecue, and with some time still left on the clock did one last half-mile loop to finish things off at 22.5 miles. Squarely back of the pack. They gave me a medal anyway and didn’t make fun of me, which was awful sporting of them.

Silver linings

That’s not to say the day was a bust. After all, this was an experiment. And the results showed me that no, you can’t run marathon-length races without a passing attempt at training. Your body needs the pounding of miles and time on your feet to perform, something no amount of squats, deadlifts and cleans will give you.

Additionally, I got to see a bunch of running buds. My friends Tyler and Miranda were there, with Tyler cheering on his bride as she gutted out her first-ever half-marathon in the 3-hour event.

Another running couple, Steve and Brooke, were slaying miles together, also on the 3-hour race. Both did well, fighting off the heat and running strong. Runners I don’t know, whether they were fast or slow, would say “good job!” or “great work, keep it up!” when we passed. Lots of high-fives were shared.

Clint took photos of all of us while helping Ken and the gang with the logistics of the race. Bryan and a bunch of local trail runners kept track of people’s loops and times.

And those aid stations. One of the best things about this race is they don’t mess around with the aid stations. They do them right, stocking them with plenty of drinks and food.

I met some new faces, and even got a lift to the parking lot when it was over so I didn’t have to stumble down the hill to my car. Good souls, these trail runner types.

Oh, and I got a sweet dirt tan line.

The dirt tan line. And if you look close, you’ll see the mondo blister I ran with for about 19 miles.

Lessons learned

So what do I make of this?

Well, if you’re going to run long distances, you should prepare accordingly.

Running in the heat sucks.

And as I write this, I’m a hurtin’ unit.

But it’s tough to beat a day running around in the woods. The fact that I can do that is more than a lot of people can say, given health problems, time constraints or something else.

And you can’t top the crowd at a trail race, or a group run, or even just a couple of friends who decide to go pound out some miles in the dirt. I’m gimpy today, but I’m good.

Next year, though, I should actually train.

Bob Doucette