Welcome to the neighborhood: Cyclists, racing and a city’s biggest block party on Cry Baby Hill

Cyclists race by as crowds cheer – and drink – at the Riverside Criterium of Tulsa Tough on Cry Baby Hill.

When I got up Sunday morning, the parade was already started. Out my window, lines of people were strolling down the hill, coolers and lawn chairs in hand. Some were in costume. Most were dressed for the heat. Some were already half-tanked.

A typical Sunday morning for the third day of Tulsa Tough, an annual cycling race series and festival that has bike enthusiasts from across the country descend on T-town with all the spandex anyone could ever want. Crowds gather for all three days of Tulsa Tough, but it’s the third day, on Cry Baby Hill, that folks really get revved up.

And it happens in my neighborhood.

A little about my ‘hood: it’s tough to define. It’s older, right on the edge of downtown Tulsa, and built on the banks of the Arkansas River. It’s a mix of people, from bohemian to bums, families and retirees, living in stately older homes, shotgun houses, or in open fields not yet developed. It’s a place where you can watch incredible sunsets from your porch, or view transients stumbling down an alley. I feel perfectly safe here, but sometimes there are police helicopters and searchlights. Typical urban neighborhood, I suppose, and the site for the Riverside Criterium of Tulsa Tough.

So let’s talk about Tulsa Tough. This was the 13th year for the event, which attracts top cyclists from across the country and the world. For three days, they race through different courses downtown, and as the years have gone by the crowds have grown. There’s also a gran fondo ride that goes well outside the city and a townie ride where anyone with a set of wheels can take a more leisurely trek.

The climax of Tulsa Tough is the Riverside Criterium. It’s the toughest course, with steep inclines on every lap. I’m sure that’s something cyclists can appreciate and dread, but for most people, the Riverside Criterium is all about the scene that is Cry Baby Hill. It draws the biggest, most raucous crowds of the entire weekend, and I’d say most people are there more for the party than the races. Folks show up by the thousands.

It wasn’t always that way. When Tulsa Tough started, people in the neighborhood gathered at a house or two to watch the races, guzzle some beer and cheer them on. One legend has it that regulars at the Sound Pony, a downtown dive bar frequented by cyclists and other endurance athletes, started making the Sunday Tulsa Tough races a thing. However it started, someone built this party scene, and man, did it grow.

Today, the Riverview neighborhood is choked with Tulsa Tough spectators and revelers. There’s lots of skin, vats of beer, weird costumes and creepy baby-doll heads on sticks. There are a bunch of whistles and people in referee uniforms helping the crowds “mind the gap” so cyclists can actually freely race without fear of running into errant fans. It’s grown so big that the food truck cabal decided to come, and live music on a stage popped up. Debauchery of all sorts happens, though most people keep it in check. I think. Anyway, I tell people that Cry Baby Hill is an annual excuse to get drunk on a Sunday morning, and I think that’s mostly true.

Some of the cyclists get into it. If they’re not concentrated on actually winning, they’ll slow down and take a brew from the crowd before continuing. Cops are there in droves, as are paramedic crews. It’s hot out there, and sometimes the combination of a 12-pack of Natty Light and high heat/humidity doesn’t work out too well.

You might think the description of my neighborhood, the event, and the crowd is negative, but let me shut that down right now: I dig this scene. Endurance sports don’t get a lot of love, so when the hordes arrive to cheer on the competitors, I’m all for it. Come on down, invade the ‘hood for a few hours and have a good time. Too many parts of town (any town, really) are too buttoned down, becoming regimented to the point of lifelessness. My neighborhood is a trip pretty much every day, and I guess it’s fitting that Day Three of Tulsa Tough is sort of a holiday of weirdness for my weird little place.

That all of it surrounds cycling hits home, too. I don’t race, but I spend a decent amount of time in the saddle these days. I chose where I live so I could bike to work. It’s also close to a paved trail system that’s great for longer rides. I’m not a racer, but I get these people even if my ride costs less than the accessories they attach to theirs.

So how did all this go down for me? Well, as the crowds clogged my streets, I mowed my yard. Picked up a half-empty can of Coors Light kindly donated to my lawn. I dumped the rest out, recycled the can, then jumped on my bike and rode to the center of the action.

While recording part of the race from a more “family friendly” part of the course, a half-baked spectator noticed by Denver Broncos ballcap and proceeded to talk smack. Turns out, he was a Chiefs fan. They got us twice last year, but I reminded him that the Broncos have three Lombardis in the case to Kansas City’s one. He was forceful at first (I was hoping that this wouldn’t turn into a real fight), but chilled out long enough to have a more nuanced discussion about how the AFC West was going to play out. His girlfriend got bored, so we bro-hugged and they left.

I rode to a few more spots, taking pics and taking in the scene. Everywhere I went, the streets were lined with people, sometimes ten deep. Whistles would blow, a chase vehicle would zip by, and then a couple of cyclists would follow. Behind them, the whirring gears of a few dozen more cyclists, bunched up in the peloton, breezed by. The crowd cheered, yelled, rang their cowbells and took a swig from coozy-lined cans and red Solo cups.

This scene repeated itself for several hours until the last pro races were done. Podiums were mounted and trophies awarded. Fans eventually stumbled back into their houses, or toward their cars, and not a small number of them took the next day off.

What does this all mean? I’m not sure about the origins of Tulsa Tough. There’s a healthy cycling community in Tulsa, but not more than any other mid-sized city. Even so, Tulsa Tough is a huge success, an international draw, seemingly getting bigger every year. That an obscure endurance sport can become so huge here is encouraging, even if half the appeal is just showing up for the party. It’s a weird, geared-up and beer-soaked thread in a community tapestry that might otherwise be mildly bland.

Come next June, we’ll do it all over again. See ya next time for Year 14 of Tulsa Tough. Cry Baby Hill awaits.

Bob Doucette

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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

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

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