Tulsa’s triathlon win: IRONMAN picks T-town for three-year deal, and here’s why

Cyclists race by as crowds cheer – and drink- at the Riverside Criterium of Tulsa Tough on Cry Baby Hill. The success of events like Tulsa Tough is likely one of the reasons IRONMAN picked Tulsa to host its Midwestern race.

When I moved to Tulsa eight years ago, the city surprised me. I was more or less expecting all the stereotypes that go with a metropolitan area smack in the middle of stroke alley: it would be flat, hot, and not much going on in terms of fitness or outdoor recreation.

I was proven wrong. It’s not that my city or state is the healthiest place on the planet, but as it turns out, there’s an active cycling community here, a bunch of road and trail runners and loads of events catering to these crowds that have only grown over time.

So I found myself surprised, yet not that surprised, when the organizers of the IRONMAN triathlon series announced that Tulsa would be the site of its next three Midwestern races.

WHY TULSA

IRONMAN, if you don’t know, is the lead dog when it comes to triathlons. The race includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon road race. The two biggies include one race in Florida, and the premier triathlon event held annually in Kona, Hawaii. IRONMAN has sought to stage races elsewhere in the country and settled on Tulsa as that place.

I was surprised, mostly because of that whole stroke alley image Oklahoma has. We’re talking about one of the most high-profile endurance sports events anywhere is doing its thing right here in T-town. I’m not saying big stuff doesn’t happen here, but when it comes to endurance sports, this is big. Real big.

But why I’m not that surprised takes a little explaining.

As I said, Tulsa has some active endurance sports communities. Folks love their bikes. They love their mountain bikes, too. And both are used frequently inside our city limits and in nearby communities.

The city hosts Tulsa Tough, a three-day racing event that started out as a hopeful endeavor on the cycling circuit that has grown into a must-stop race for cyclists nationally. Upwards of 10,000 people show up to watch that last day’s race (and party a lot) every year now. That kind of support probably meant something to the IRONMAN crew.

In long-distance running, the Route 66 Marathon started out modestly and has grown into one of the finer marathon and half marathon events in the country. People from every state and several countries run in it every year, and it grows yearly. The Tulsa Run, the city’s venerable 15K road race, has been the USTAF Masters 15K championship race for a few years now. And the city hosts another marathon in the spring (Golden Driller) plus numerous other half marathon, marathon and ultramarathon races on both road and trail.

Open water swimming may not be big here, but northeastern Oklahoma has no shortage of lakes, with a big one – Lake Keystone – conveniently within riding distance for all those IRONMAN competitors.

All of these things, plus the amenities the city offers visitors (I had one guy from Texas tell me that Tulsa is being talked about as “the next Austin”) provided just the right mix. In that vein, I can see what IRONMAN chose my city.

BIGGER PICTURE

One thing I’ve told people is that Tulsa is underrated in terms of outdoor recreation. The city’s road and dirt bike paths are plentiful, and we even have some local crags for bouldering enthusiasts. I joked that Outdoor Retailer should have given the city a look back when it was looking for a new home.

But on a more serious note, consider this: There is a nexus between endurance sports and outdoor recreation. Many runners, cyclists and triathletes are also people who enjoy other outdoor activities. Trail runners in particular end up crossing paths with hikers, backpackers and mountaineers. Killian Jornet comes to mind as the most famous of them, but beyond the elites, there are legions of people who, when they’re not racing or training, are making the most of their time outdoors.

The city and the state are in the midst of a big tourism push, focusing in things to do and places to see along Route 66 — the Mother Road of old that stretched from Chicago to California and winds its way through Oklahoma. It’s a good theme, and I’m sure a lot of cities and towns will be able to take advantage of this.

But what I’d say is don’t sleep on the state’s outdoor recreation potential. People are interested in this stuff. The cycling community is active statewide. Trail running is booming, and road running is strong. The same people who run in the Route 66 Marathon, ride in Tulsa Tough or await their shot at IRONMAN will be looking around the state for other ways to get their outdoor fix, which includes plenty of hiking, backpacking, water sports and climbing. The folks looking for such activities include people from outside the state.

IRONMAN gives the city and the state another opportunity to keep that outdoor recreation momentum moving. Frankly, it’s low-hanging fruit and an opportunity to help the region shed its stroke alley reputation. Tell your story. Go get it. If you do, don’t be surprised if the city and the state cash in on another big win.

Bob Doucette

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Seen on the run: A city and a state suffer from historic floods

The Arkansas River, well above flood stage.

Over the years, I’ve written about what I see when I go run. If you’ve followed along, you’ll have read about wooded hills and rugged singletrack, urban skylines and gritty streets, and sometimes the more mundane parks and neighborhoods where I log a lot of miles. Eagles and armadillos have crossed my paths, as have hipsters and drug dealers. You get the drift.

Today’s entry is going to be a little different, mostly because the places I run have collided with the relentless forces of nature.

I haven’t run or hiked my local dirt trails in over a month. In May alone, we’ve received 18 inches of rain. I know trail runners pride themselves on not shying away from mud, but this is different. When the trails are this waterlogged, foot and bike traffic do damage. I’m trying to give those paths a break. So that’s left me pounding the pavement or riding my road bike.

The river is seen more than 23 feet above its normal levels, and right under the beams of this bridge.

Sadly, a lot of the running and biking paths I like are under water. Floods of historic proportions have plagued northeastern Oklahoma for more than a week, and eventually, those floodwaters from the Arkansas River topped their banks and swamped miles of paths that I use for many of my runs and almost all of my rides. Riverbank erosion guarantees that they will be out of commission for some time, as sinkholes and shoreline collapses have occurred. It will take many months, of not years, to repair the damage.

Over the past week, I’ve ridden my bike and run to the water’s edge to see how high the river was rising. Short answer: It looks bad. Real bad. Bad to the point where on one Saturday, I saw a guy in a lawn chair on the curb outside his home, fishing. Not in the river. But in the street.

And that was before the flooding really got going.

A RIVER’S WRATH

I don’t want you to think I’m crying about my loss of running and riding routes. Far from it. I can run and ride in a lot of places that are on higher ground, so I’m good. For that matter, where I live is also untouched by the flooding. Compared to many, I’m fortunate.

But the areas that are underwater are familiar to me, and seeing them slowly consumed by the murky, brown floodwaters of the Arkansas over the past week has given me perspective on this unfolding disaster.

From the top of Cry Baby Hill, looking down on a flooded Riverside Drive. To the right, paved park trails are covered by water.

Saturday was the day I went on my bike and saw the dude fishing in the street. By then, the water had blocked off about a block or so of Riverside Drive while also flooding the adjacent park trails. Nearby, a homeless man who had a camp under a bridge up the road was standing on a rock, filling a water bottle at a drinking fountain. I know where his camp is, and it was safe for the time being. Other camps across the river are washed out.

That was when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was releasing 256,000 cubic feet of water per second from the upstream Keystone Dam, the structure that basically keeps Tulsa and many downstream communities from flooding on a regular basis. But even Keystone can only do so much, and those big releases (it normally flows at a small fraction of what we’re seeing now) are the only way to keep upstream drainage from overtopping the dam, an event that would magnify the catastrophe.

On the west bank, the flooding’s severity seemed more plain. In some spots, I could see park benches and water fountains that were nearly covered, indicating a floodwater rise of nearly two feet from just a few days prior. Ordinarily, these fixtures were at least ten feet above the water’s edge. In the middle of the river, an island is completely covered, with only a dozen or so green treetops poking out of the water letting you know it’s still there. The “new” shoreline of the river has slowly encroached on a riverside apartment complex, creeping up the banks. I’ve run and ridden by these apartments scores of times. Never in my life would I thought it possible that they’d be close to being flooded.

Another look at Riverside Drive.

By Monday, the problem had only worsened. Heavy rains upstream from the dam forced the Corps to increase Keystone’s outflow to 275,000 cfs, not far from the record set in 1986. That day, I went for a run in my neighborhood, but also to the bridges that span the river west of downtown.

As expected, the waters had risen. What was once a hundred yards of Riverside Drive under water had grown to several city blocks. The floating remains of uprooted trees zipped down the river close to its banks. Elsewhere in the city, evacuations were underway, streets and neighborhoods were inundated, and sewer drains were backing up.

But what grabbed my attention was the river itself.

When it reaches Oklahoma, the Arkansas River is a prairie waterway. In other words, it’s broad, slow and features plenty of sand bars. It’s wide enough southeast of Tulsa that it can be navigated by cargo barges (there’s a port north of Tulsa from a tributary river that empties into the Arkansas), but for much of the year it’s a sleepy, ponderous thing that meanders toward its final destination at the Mississippi.

Looking south from Tulsa’s 11th Street bridge. The current in the river is incredibly strong.

This week, its demeanor is far less benign. The current is fast. If you were to sprint along its banks, it’s doubtful you could outrun it. Where the river meets bridge supports, the roar is loud. The entire channel is full, churning and racing downstream at an urgent pace.

Observing it this week, the imagery looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And then it hit me Sunday. The river doesn’t look like a river at all. It looks like a tsunami. A muddy, quarter-mile wide tsunami that never recedes, but keeps barreling southeast, and I wouldn’t want to be in its way.

THE WIDER PROBLEM

My own observations are fine, but I’ve escaped this flood unscathed. That’s not true for a lot of people. They lost more than a place to run or ride.

Several neighborhoods in low-lying neighborhoods in the city and its suburbs have been flooded. Towns like Blackwell, close to the Kansas border, all the way to Muskogee, Fort Gibson and Webbers Falls near Arkansas are partially or completely swamped. The town of Braggs is basically an island, accessible this week only by boat or rail. Farther east, in Arkansas, cities like Fort Smith and Little Rock are in full-on crisis.

It’s part of a trend this year. In the central and southern Rockies, massive snow dumps have left the mountains with snowpack so deep that it will take at least a month longer than normal to melt out. Earlier in the spring, communities in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas have suffered massive, sustained flooding. The Mississippi River valley is facing the same fate.

These Canada geese would ordinarily be puttering around in a nearby lagoon, but that lagoon has been swallowed by the river. So the birds are hanging out on higher ground, hunting for bugs and worms.

And let’s not forget the tornadoes. It seemed like we went several days straight where there were nightly tornado warnings. One tornado killed two people in the Oklahoma City suburb of El Reno. Others ripped through numerous towns across the state, including here in Tulsa. Across the country, more than 200 tornadoes from the Great Plains to the Great Lakes touched down in the past 12 days. They even had a tornado warning in Staten Island, N.Y.

Earlier this week, someone on Twitter called out the local media for not reporting on this as an example of climate change. I’m not climate change denier. Far from it. But I know that weather is not the same as climate, so I’m slower to make the link.

However, scientists have told us that as climate change deepens, weather extremes will proliferate. Periods of severe drought will be followed by seasons of extreme flooding. Roasting hot temperatures can be followed by record cold. More intense hurricanes and thunderstorms will be more common. Longer and more severe fire seasons will come. You get the drift. Look at last year’s western fire season, or hurricanes named Harvey and Maria, and you could make an argument that the patterns are already emerging.

And if so, a lot more will be lost than a few running routes or bicycle paths.

In the meantime, I’m hoping the waters recede soon, and for the suffering to end. It’s been said that it will take years to come back from this, and I believe it. We’ll all have some adjusting to do for quite some time.

Tulsa’s River Parks have miles and miles of paved trails for runners, walkers and cyclists on both banks of the Arkansas River. But most of those paths are covered in water, and many are heavily damaged. It’ll be awhile before they’re repaired.

Bob Doucette

Seen on the run: I’ve run my city’s streets for eight years, and the change has been dramatic

I run here.

When I first moved to Tulsa, I used running not only as a way to get in shape, but to get to know the part of the city I lived in. Since I live downtown, that had me running in urban environments, and the mix of residential and industrial areas that exist on the fringes of the city’s core.

At this point, we’re talking nearly eight years ago. Back then, the downtown was what you’d expect: high-rise offices towers, stony buildings built for government business, and a mix of people that included buttoned-down professionals, trendy hipsters and transients.

Change was underway elsewhere. On the north side of downtown was an old warehouse district. It was in the midst of what would be a major transformation. You could see its beginnings – a baseball park, some restaurants, a few clubs and some coffee shops. Mixed in were plenty of those old warehouses, industrial sites and, on the west side, the county jail, the sheriff’s office, a bunch of bail bondsmen’s offices and social service organizations aimed at helping the down-and-out crowd that seem to flock in most cities’ urban centers.

I liked the mix. The new and the old coexisting, sometimes awkwardly, but moving ahead just the same. I’d see signs of new money flowing in, and in the shadows of their enterprises, the lonely desperation of those being left behind. Why did I like this? Because it was unsanitized, a daily reminder that the optimism so many of privilege enjoy is not shared, and that’s something to which we need to pay attention. In the cleaned-up boundaries of the suburb, all you see is the edifice of prosperity. No one really know what’s going on in all those cookie-cutter homes. But on the streets where I run, everything was laid out plainly: People dressed to the nines for a night on the town, stepping around some homeless dude who drank too much, sleeping it off on a corner next to a puddle of puke.

I’ve never felt uncomfortable running in these areas, never felt unsafe. But always engaged. This was raw, unvarnished reality.

Home of what used to be the Downtown Lounge, next door to a tattoo parlor. They’re both gone now, replaced by a craft brewery.

Of course, not all of the contrasts were so drastic or dire. There was this one block I particularly enjoyed, wedged between those tony restaurants on one side and the jail on another. An old two-story brick building housed a dive bar, a tattoo shop, some garage slips and what I assumed to be an apartment. It was a stubborn place, resisting gentrification on one side while trying to make a buck in its own gritty way. I’d zip by this block before turning south and going up and over a bridge back to my gym and a locker room shower.

Well, things have changed. An empty lot is now a small park that is home to food trucks and free concerts. New museums and art centers have sprung up. Apartment buildings were built. More restaurants, more bars, more places to spend your money and have a good time. It’s flourishing.

And that gritty old block? All the old businesses there are gone, the building gutted and transformed into brewery and taproom with an outdoor deck on the roof. As you can imagine, the clientele at the taproom is different than that of the dive bar and the tattoo parlor. It looks nice, and at some point I’ll probably pop in for a beer. But I wish I’d have bought a drink at that dive bar, and maybe even gotten some ink at the neighboring shop.

This is how part of my mid-week route used to look. A lot has changed over the years, as many apartment blocks and homes have been fixed up.

The neighborhoods surrounding downtown have changed, too. It’s part gentrification, part urban renewal, and part inevitable evolution of the city. One of my go-to runs goes east of downtown toward the University of Tulsa. Years ago, this meant going through some neighborhoods that were, generously put, dodgy. Many of the houses and apartments of the Pearl District and the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood were abodes of last resort, often bordered by abandoned properties and more neatly kept homes of people who were stubbornly hanging on. Throw in some manufacturing sites and you have some real grit.

But both the Pearl and Kendall-Whittier are undergoing an upswing similar to what’s happening downtown. Condemned houses are being torn down and replaced with newer homes. Shitty apartment blocks are being renovated, and to be frank, they look pretty good. Derelict factories and warehouses are being reclaimed, many of them turning into, you guessed it, craft breweries and taprooms. At the rate it’s going in Tulsa, the love of the suds might be what saves much of urban America from the wrecking ball.

But every now and then, I get reminders that despite the change, there will always be something shady going on.

A few weeks back, I was running that route east of downtown, maybe half a mile from my turnaround point. A beat-up old import car was stopped in the middle of the street for no real reason, and some random dude walked up to the passenger side. An exchange through the driver’s side window occurred. Random dude then jogged out of the street and into an alley by some apartments and disappeared inside. The car drove off.

And here I am, chugging away at my mid-pack pace, thinking, “I just saw a drug deal go down.”

I’m not gonna applaud this transaction or the maladies that come with it. Having a drug house in any neighborhood makes it a more dangerous place (we had a black tar heroin dealer get busted in my neighborhood awhile back, and once that racket was broken up, the character of my streets changed for the better). But there is a trend among cities that hopes to wipe out the bad (the drug dealers and the crime that comes with them) and replace it with something cleaner and more palatable for the masses. And if you can make a buck or two in the process, so much the better. The result is often a drop in those crimes and the loss of the historic identity of distressed neighborhoods where those crimes used to occur. In a lot of ways, it’s a zero-sum game where few win and a bunch lose.

Downtown as seen from the Tulsa Arts District. The area used to be a rundown warehouse district, but is now home to a number of galleries, restaurants, pubs, music venues and a sweet little park that is home to live music and food trucks. I run here a lot, and there is usually something pretty cool to see.

So in eight years of running Tulsa’s streets, I’ve seen this transformation go down in real-time. A semi-sketchy tract of warehouses is now a vibrant arts district. A decaying section of the inner city is cleaning up, turning around and showing signs of prosperity. Less obvious but just as real is a loss of a former community identity that had seen its high and lows.

Who knows how different it will all be eight years from now. Hopefully I’ll still be running those same streets. And maybe, in some corners, not all of the grit will have been washed away. The shiny and the new get your attention. But the grit is what makes is interesting. The grit is where the history lies.

Bob Doucette

Ales for Trails: Have a brew, eat some ‘cue, listen to tunes and support our trails

Here’s one for the local gang, and especially for those who care about taking care of our trails. We’ve got a shindig coming up in a week, and this will be something you’ll want to attend.

I’m talking about Ales for Trails, a fundraiser for the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition. We’re doing this from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 18 at Dead Armadillo Brewery, 1004 E. Fourth Street in Tulsa.

Here’s what’s on tap:

Mmmmm. Tasty.

First up, your ticket gets you a couple of fine brews from the brewery. I’ve sampled more than a few of their offerings, and I can tell you that they do good work here, whatever your favored flavor of beer might be. Dead Armadillo is a great example of Tulsa’s growing craft beer scene.

You’re also going to be fed. Eagleton BBQ has fed TUWC volunteers at some of our trail work days, and once again, you’re talking about the good stuff here. Great food and drink? Count me in.

Live music and a silent auction will also be on hand, and the list of auction items is solid. A lot of friends from the area wanted to pitch in for this one, so there is a good chance you can walk away from some great swag while supporting a good cause.

So why are we doing this? As it turns out, a lot of the work we do comes with a cost. The TUWC carries insurance for our trail work days and cleanup days, and it’s not free. Other costs incurred to keep this organization going are also an ongoing need. Out membership dues are super cheap (just $5 for an individual membership), so it’s not like we’re floating in a sea of money.

The TUWC serves an important function in northeast Oklahoma. We’re the main go-between for the public and the government entities that maintain trail systems where people hike, bike, run and ride. We’re the group that organizes volunteers to repair damaged trail sections and clean up litter that creeps up in places like Turkey Mountain. We help with conservation education efforts. And through the TUWC website and social media sites, we keep trail enthusiasts up to date on issues that are important to them. We got our start by fighting a proposed outlet mall on Turkey Mountain’s west side, and even though that threat has passed, we’re still active in advocating for trail users across the area.

A view from the outside of Dead Armadillo Brewery. (Dead Armadillo Brewery photo)

That said, Ales for Trails is going to be a good time, and a chance to meet up with old friends and meet new ones. It’s a chance for the trail user community to come together for a fun night. Tickets ($40 each ) are still available, and if you haven’t bought yours yet, there’s still time. Click this link to get yours, and I hope to see you there!

Bob Doucette

Some thoughts about a master plan for Turkey Mountain

Turkey Mountain, as seen from the east bank of the Arkansas River.

Turning back to my home front, there is some news. Tulsa’s River Parks Authority held the first of several public input meetings to discuss what people would like to see in a master plan for the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area, a go-to place for hiking, biking and trail running right in the middle of the city.

The effort also includes an online survey for people to give their views. Between that and the discussions at these meeting, RPA will have an idea of what the public wants to see.

This is a long way from where we were just a few years ago. We had one rich fella tell us that God told him to build an amusement park on the banks of the Arkansas River, and to cut into acreage on Turkey Mountain’s southeastern flanks. That went nowhere, but in 2014, Simon Properties wanted to build an outlet mall on the far west side of Turkey Mountain’s woodlands. That was a closer call, but intense public pressure against the move eventually sent Simon looking for space elsewhere. What followed by a rapid, concerted effort from public and private entities to secure the land and fold it into a unified parcel that now represents a much larger wild green space than what RPA originally managed.

That leads us to the present. It seems from the first meeting, the consensus is to keep Turkey Mountain as wild as possible. At least, that’s what I gathered from reading this story from the Tulsa World.

I figure I have this electronic space for a reason, if nothing else than to spout off on whatever outdoorsy subject suits me at the time. So you can take my opinions how you see fit. But also keep in mind that I’ve been a regular visitor of its trails for the past eight years, have hiked or ran almost all of its trails and invested no small amount of time cleaning up trails, repairing damaged trail sections and generally advocating for Turkey Mountain’s wellbeing. So while these are just my thoughts, they are informed by some depth of experience as a user and stakeholder. So here ya go, my thoughts on what should guide the creation of a Turkey Mountain master plan…

Hi Chi Trail, Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness, Tulsa.

Generally speaking, Turkey Mountain should be left alone. What makes the park special are not all the bells, whistles and amenities that other  parks have. It is the lack of these man-made add-ons that attract people to its earthen paths. Where else in the middle of the city can you experience woodlands in their natural state? Nowhere, really. Aside from the trails, some trail blazes and four signs tacked up for safety reasons, Turkey Mountain is devoid of artificial enhancement. You are forced to slow down and take it in at its own pace, or at least at a pace powered by you alone. It’s not climate-controlled, there are no handrails, and if you want to see a specific place, you have to walk/run/bike/ride there yourself. That has an appeal to a lot of people, to the tune of 20,000 to 25,000 visitors a month. If you’re looking for a park with swing sets and ball fields, they exist elsewhere, all over the city. Want a cup of coffee in a lodge setting? Go to Gathering Place. Zip lines? I hear Post Oak Lodge is great. None of that stuff, as great as it is, is needed at Turkey Mountain. It’s a unique place that offers something the rest of the parks cannot – mostly unsullied nature.

Most trails at Turkey Mountain, like this one, are in decent shape. Others plagued by erosion need to be rerouted or closed altogether.

Some trails need to be rerouted, and maybe even closed for good. The trail system was created by mountain bikers decades ago, mostly with the idea of what would be fun to ride. Little thought was given to how well these rough-hewn paths would hold up under human usage and weather-induced erosion. All these trails will need to be looked at with an eye toward sustainability, and that will mean altering their path so they don’t wash out. If that’s not possible, some might have to be closed off for good. I know that might chap some folks, but we want these trails to hold up without washing out a chunk of a hillside. That almost happened on the steep portion going up the Yellow Trail. It’s been mitigated for now, but that and other problem areas remain. Expert trail management will need to be consulted here.

Wintry sunset scene on the west-side trails at Turkey Mountain.

Speaking of expertise, it would be a good idea if Turkey Mountain had its own superintendent. RPA has a decent sized inventory of park land outside of Turkey Mountain, and much of its attention is focused on paved trails and festivals at River Parks Festival West. The needs at Turkey Mountain are much more about land management (forestry, wildlife conservation, trail user safety, etc.) than any other park in town. Having someone in charge of the place – a face that stakeholders could interact with – could help with a number of things, such as coordinating races, conservation efforts, public safety and volunteer work. Yeah, it’s an extra expense for RPA. But I think it would be worth it.

A glorious view on lands recently reclaimed from commercial development for natural preservation purposes. Setting aside this acreage for wild green space was a case of Tulsa doing things right.

Thoughts should be given toward potential expansion of the park, or finding similar places in the city and county where wild spaces can be preserved. Turkey Mountain is being hemmed in by development. Thinking of wildlife, those critters need room to move. Their habitats have a range that is a little bigger than most folks realize. When it gets surrounded by development, those creatures can be living in something akin to a slow-burning siege. Likewise, lots of people love Turkey Mountain, and in some ways, it’s being loved to death. Multiple wild green spaces would alleviate some of that crowding, and given the proven community value Turkey Mountain has shown, more would indeed be better. Green spaces are an increasingly important quality of life factor for people and employers looking for a place to put down roots. Economic diversity is sorely needed here; giving people reasons to give us a look needs to include quality of life amenities that are crucial for community development.

Pedal power? Sure. Motorized? Never.

Lastly, no credibility should be given to making any part of Turkey Mountain open to motorcycle or ATV usage. It’s not safe, it’s bad for the trails, harmful to wildlife and would detract from the user experience. Motor sports aren’t allowed there now, and that’s a prohibition that needs to be maintained permanently.

I’m sure I could think of other ideas, and in time, I might jot those down. But I think these make for a good start. I care about this place. In many ways, I wouldn’t be the same person today if not for Turkey Mountain, and there is a large number of people who can say the same thing. Let’s go about this master plan wisely, remembering what makes Turkey Mountain the great place that it is.

Bob Doucette

Running, and, er, power hiking, the Post Oak Challenge

Body built by burritos. (Phillip J. Davis/Post Oak Lodge photo)

If you remember, a couple of weeks back I confessed to falling off the wagon as a trail runner. It had been awhile since my feet ran on dirt, and I expected the price for my sins to be high at last month’s Post Oak Challenge. I signed up for the 10K on a course that’s known for being difficult, regardless of distance.

I also mentioned that the forecast for the weekend’s races looked like rubbish – lots of rain, which would make a course known for holding water that much tougher.

Boy, was I right on that one.

It was a rainy January and February – Tulsa is already a couple of inches of rain above normal for the year, and the folks at Post Oak Lodge had to cancel Sunday training runs at the site because the trails were too muddy. And then it rained the week before the races. And then on each of the first two days of the three-day race series, including a nice dump the morning of my race.

Post Oak’s course runs through a series of dirt-and-grass trails that undulate on the sides of hills and in the bottoms of valleys and ravines of the Osage Hills northwest of Tulsa. Toward the end of the race, you make two climbs – one that goes most of the way up Holmes Peak (the highest point in a four-county area), then another that meanders up and down what’s dubbed as the Hill from Hell. We’ll get to that in a bit.

I’ve run here before, so I know how muddy it can get. Well, at least I thought I did.

Things started well enough. Everything was nice and runnable. The route took us downhill, things got muddier, but we all plowed through it. Somewhere down there was a creek crossing. No big deal.

And then it started. For the next couple of miles, the trail consisted of a viscous mix of mud and water that resembled lubricant. It wouldn’t stick to your shoes, but it gave you little to no traction. Suddenly this “run” turned into a hike.

There were briefs moments of respite: a dried-out section here, rockier trails there, even a farm road that drained nicely and actually allowed me to run. But then we’d head uphill, the slop would resume, and it was three feet forward, two feet back. Power-hiking resumed.

This wasn’t true for everyone. Fleet-footed runners ahead of me somehow found a way to keep surging ahead, and one of my coworkers in the race actually won the damn thing while clocking in at an 8:30 pace. How, I don’t know.

I groused to myself every now and then, complaining about what had turned into an $80 hike, but eventually got over it and made the best of things. I ran where I could. I hiked when needed. I chatted up fellow sufferers and kept things moving.

Probably my favorite part of the race started on a long downhill on the side of Holmes Peak. I shortened my steps (some of us call it “logrolling”) and zig-zagged downhill, piecing together a nice, long, enjoyable stretch of technical trail running that made me feel like I wasn’t a lost cause after all. But eventually we bottomed out and the slop-fest resumed.

The Post Oak Challenge pins its reputation on another one of its big hills, the Hill from Hell I mentioned earlier. I vaguely remembered its trials, but I figured the worst of it was behind me.

At the base of the hill was the last aid station, where local trail legend Ken “TZ” Childress was serving up Fireball along with the more traditional water and Gatorade. Usually I don’t slam booze during a race unless I’m tanking hard. Just Gatorade for me, being the serious runner and all.

Anyway, the Fireball was particularly tasty. We clicked plastic cups for a short toast and I rumbled up the hill to tackle the last of it.

What I remember of the Hill from Hell is that you meander uphill a ways, then go downhill, and regain all that precious lost elevation one more time before you end the race. The reality is you go up the hill, back down some, up a little, down some more, back up, top out, then do down, circle its upper flanks and finally emerge from the woods to go run in the grass, around a pond and across the finish line.

Making things more fun was the trail was about as slick and treacherous as anywhere else in the race. I bit it hard once, landing on my butt with a heavy splat before regaining my feet and sliding my way forward. Running/hiking in conditions like this looks hilarious because your body is twisted one way while your feet are going somewhere else. It’s a great core workout for sure. But utterly absent of grace or any other appearance of athleticism. Or maybe that’s just me.

When I left the horrors of the hill behind and started the last grassy loop toward the finish, I surmised that now I’d finally be able to run again, but was somewhat disappointed to find that the grass was mostly a shoe-sucking bog that, again, undermined any attempt at speed.

The race ended with 80-something people finishing ahead of me, 60-something folks behind. In my age group, I finished 19th out of 22.

Ouch.

It could have been worse. I had one friend who fell hard enough that she thought she may have busted her jaw. And I did accomplish both of my goals: to finish and not finish last.

Success!

I look like someone who just got away with something.

Post-race, we all gathered for free grub and a couple of beers while talking about the race, the trail conditions, and the strategies used to cope with it all. I was informed by perennial Post Oak competitors that the course conditions were actually worse the year before.

So I suppose the trail gods did show me a little mercy. My long absence required penance, but it could have been more severe.

And I got the last laugh. Despite the conditions, my miserable finish time, the over-abundance of power hiking, the mud caked in all the wrong crevices, I had fun. You heard me right. This was a good time. I embraced the suck and was rewarded not with hardware, glory or any sense of achievement, but with something simpler – a grin on my face akin to a little kid who did something wrong and got away with it.

Bob Doucette

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