2014 Oklahoma City Marathon
Jessica and I made our third trip out for the Oklahoma City Marathon and Half Marathon. Things were stacked up to make this one a little tougher than other ones, but perhaps no less memorable. Because this is a really great race with great citywide support, I always like to share a bit about it.
It's not an easy, PR-type course anyway, but my initial plans back in January were to improve upon previous times. My training and workout/race results weren't suggesting this was possible, so I had to dial that back. I figured I might be good for around a 3 hour effort, so of course that was the goal, which I missed, but I also planned on letting things play out as they may and then try to race for position at the end. That part ended up working out alright.
This particular race was even more bittersweet, because my parents (who live near OKC) had decided a month earlier to move back to Wisconsin. This meant the end of running races in Oklahoma with some regularity, and certainly the ability to run as a "hometown" race where we can hang out at home peacefully before and after. It was nice, however, to know this information ahead of time so we could really appreciate the race itself one more time and let it all soak in.
And soak, we did:
It was obvious throughout the week that the race weather was going to be fairly dreadful, mostly with wind, rain, and high humidity. The worst part, though, was intense storms that threatened tornadoes, in addition to lightning and hail: a distinct line of a dark red dry line on the radar, scheduled to hit right at race start, in addition to storms that may occur earlier the previous evening, which could impact some of the earlier equipment setup. And any lightning strikes that occur anywhere near the course -- probably more than 25 square miles -- cancels the whole race, understandably.
The only hope was that it would move out quickly. It looked very likely that it would be delayed, but we had no idea how much leeway they had. Remember, volunteers are scheduled for a block of time, as are road closures and police/fire/emergency resources. Truncating the race would cause consternation among the participants who would take longer on the course. With the overwhelming majority of runners doing the half marathon, I actually wondered if they'd cut the marathon in half was well.
With all this uncertainty, we were still up by 4AM, and out to the start line before 6. We met our friend Andrea, up visiting from Texas to run the half marathon as well, and headed to the start line, with dark clouds overhead, sticky but cool weather, but not much precipitation yet. Andrea and I made our way quickly to Corral A (listed on the bibs), which is always a little stressful but not too bad. Other than a few people mingling right in front of the corral entrance with headphones on, it was easy to make it through toward the front. (If a fast runner made it closer to the start time, keep in mind that the wheelchairs start 5 minutes early, but other than that it's possible to jog in a few blocks from the front of the course).
I knew there was no chance we were going to start at 6:30, but decided to loosen up with some strides anyway, figuring that any delayed start would be more compact and after a quick weather break. Plus, it was nice to get out for a jog. A few other folks taking strides but not too many, people were just waiting for an update.
Then we got the announcement of a half-hour delay, so we had almost an hour to get ready.
Since Andrea hadn't been to Oklahoma City before, I led her off the course and onto the grounds of the National Memorial. This is a poignant tribute to the victims of the 1995 bombing, and although I've seen it at dusk and during the daytime, it was even more humbling to walk through the grounds at dusk, right before a race.
The race really is a testament to the community spirit of overcoming a tragedy. Think about it: we often memorialize tragedies with statues and monuments, which are our best attempt at superseding our own mortality, but isn't it even better to have a yearly renewal of blood, sweat, and spirit? This is a marathon with a purpose.
And up until now, it hadn't ever been canceled.
Well before 7 o'clock, we heard of another delay. I don't remember the sequences of delays vs. the heavens letting loose, but eventually it was obvious for everyone to take shelter.
We had been warned of different parking garages in the case of storms. Andrea and I headed out vaguely in search of Jessica, among tens of thousands of people, slowly moving under different buildings and awnings and through a few parking garages.
By blind luck, we found her, and huddled inside the garage. Some minutes later, my parents, who were walking the 5k, also found us. Lots of iPhones around us were either on a weather radar page or Facebook. As the wind picked up and heavy rain came down, I poked my head out to see boiling, churning clouds moving swiftly across the sky.
Rumour was that 8AM was the absolute cutoff. 8AM was approaching fast and we had no further delays, so the word was to line up. I got up and out of there quickly, but the storms were no less menacing.
And then more lightning, rain, and thunder. I jogged up ahead to another "unofficial" parking garage I spotted in front of the start line, which had a few dozen other runners in it. I also realized I had totally ditched Andrea in the corral in my hurry to get back to the start line.
And then, behind speeding clouds, were small patches of blue sky. We were right on the edge of the storm...but also right on the edge of a possible start. Indeed, we lined up for an 8:20 start -- which would have been quite a gentlemanly option from the off. But by hanging around for a couple hours, this meant I hadn't eaten anything for 4 hours, and was also thirsty. I was looking forward to the first aid station just to get something to drink!
At 8:15, the wheelchair racers started. This was really going to happen.
I found Andrea again and we lined up several rows back.
And then we were off.
My vague plan was 6:20's, 1:25 out, in a cross-wind/tailwind, before getting smacked with a headwind and higher temps on the return.
I spotted course-record holder/female winner Camille Herron at the front. I jogged up to her at Mile 1 -- right at 6:20 -- wished her luck and then backed off.
Even with all the half-marathoners, and relay runners, we were spread out pretty quickly. I'd occasionally draft or lightly greet another runner side-by-side, but soon enough we were even more spread out.
The race is great with lots of aid stations and a clock at every mile. The cheering at each of these points helps keep a steady, honest pace.
There's a "hill" on the course called "Gorilla Hill", which isn't that much of a climb, but is a pretty fun experience, with a giant inflatable gorilla and people dressed as bananas.
The best part of this is that it's just some private citizens in a neighbourhood that decided to do this -- the guy owns the giant inflatable gorilla! And they hand out bananas to runners.
I think I was "too serious" last time to take a banana, but this time I gave a finger wave and nod, and someone lobbed a banana into the air in front of me to grab mid-stride.
Not long after this, we split from the half-marathoners, in a lonely stretch of road where I had to pay attention to see if I was really on course. Then the crowds picked up a little, and then waned on what really is the biggest/hardest hill on the course: a climb on a bridge before descending to the lake.
I hit the halfway point right at 1:25, then turned into the brutal wind and watched my pace drop into the 7's. Couldn't get my wet singlet to stay around my waste, so I wore it on my head. Felt like I was really sluggish and expected to get caught by some people but we were all in the same situation. Pace was slowly fading as full sun came out, so I figured I'd be around 3 hours and just decided to enjoy the rest of it. One guy told me I was in 13th place.
In the last 4-5 miles, we re-merge with the half marathoners. Up until this year, it was a nightmare for running twice as fast through crowds, and even harder to get over to the aid stations. Several of us shared feedback on this and the race addressed this by having a separate lane for marathoners. Bravo! This was great and much easier than weaving, ducking, and warning.
There was still a few hitches, though, as the second marathon aid station was walking across and giving extra support to the half marathoners, so nobody on the marathon side had any Powerade. Occasionally, half-marathoners or spectators would also walk back-and-forth across the lane to visit friends or get a water bottle, invariably with headphones in the ears (more of a frustrating etiquette issue than anything), but by and large half-marathoners would kindly cheer and I was happy to do so as well. One of the most enjoyable things about a race like this is seeing so many people taking on a monumental personal challenge for themselves and their health. Sure, that happens in Colorado races as well, but I feel like the majority of Colorado runners are quite into running and competition at some level, which can be daunting for an average non-runner. OKC presents an inspiring picture of what's possible for anybody.
Somehow I still passed 2 guys, with nobody up ahead in sight. With a couple miles left, I saw I could run low 6's -- basically my starting pace -- and still break 3 hours. Doing this into the wind was a painful proposition and my legs didn't want to go any faster. I checked behind me a couple of times, and my calf cramped up if I did anything other than run in a perfectly straight line, so now I had to hope it held on.
Without any ability to kick at all, I jogged in, about 10 minutes slower than 2 years ago. I fought my way through slow-moving crowds, past the cheeseburgers and bagels and what-not, before finally reaching simple bottles of water, of which I was able to drink 2 immediately, despite drinking at every single aid station. Not used to the heat yet. But I started feeling much better.
J found me right away and she had a great run, pretty much the same as last time in harder conditions. Andrea ended up blowing past her PR and finishing in the top 5W for the half. Camille won again, in her 2nd-worst marathon time and about 6 minutes slower than her course record, suggesting to me how tough the conditions were compared to 2 years ago.
I was happy to run another OKC marathon, and also pleased to find out I made it in the top 10. I also learned that I wasn't even the fastest guy from Colorado...or even from Golden (Josh Vaughn)!
If I hadn't done it last time, the extra 100 seconds over 3 hours would have tormented me. Instead, it got me excited about putting the training, timing, and right course together for another go at a faster time -- but the window is short.
Also proud of my parents, who walked the 5k again.
|Mom doesn't get lost in races like her son does...|
One that includes a post-race Mexican feast:
The OKC Marathon is a great race for everyone. We're really going to miss it as a sort of adopted hometown.