It was a somber morning over Oklahoma City. The city was strangely silent. The stars were still brilliant in the early morning indigo twilight heralding the dawn. If you ever have the chance to visit The Oklahoma City Memorial, I highly recommend doing so at night. The general design, so spare and dominating during the day, becomes so haunting and morose when seen with its nighttime lighting. The imposing, dark, time stamped monoliths, the lit chairs of those died that day (smaller chairs for the 19 children who perished), the Survivor Tree clawing at the heavens, impart forever the loss and heartache of a city and a nation. Bitter winds tore at my back as I ran away from the starting area of this marathon route and I felt like I carried at least one of the huge gates with me for the first couple of miles. I cannot imagine the impact of starting this race surrounded by thousands directly impacted by this tragedy.
This week was a bit of a triumph for me personally. After straining/microtearing/shredding my left calf the week before in Memphis, I spent most of the beginning of the week in my medical compression socks, applying ice, and keeping my leg elevated. Little stretches, self massage, and light walking seemed to do the trick. On Wednesday, I could comfortably walk and lightly run, so I ran the Dam Bridge in Little Rock, AR (the only sightseeing I really did in that gorgeous city). Thursday, as I got into Oklahoma City, I called Red Coyote Running and Fitness, recently voted the number one running store in America, and asked about running groups. They invited me to their free run that evening. Whether it was the energy or the sheer size of the their amazing run group, I pushed myself a little more than I should have, but that ended up paying off in dividends. I met some wonderful ladies who were very supportive and I felt very confident going into the weekend. Knowing I had two official races coming up in the next two weeks, I decided to take it easy, downshift to one minute running and one minute walking and enjoy the city.
We have already discussed the Memorial and the impact that has to start the course. The first mile finds you cutting through the towering downtown landscape, past the Botanical Gardens and the Chesapeake Energy Arena, and into Bricktown, the former warehouse district cum entertainment center. There is a lot going on in that first mile, while you are still getting your bearings, stretching your legs, and finding a comfortable pace. If only the race director could find an extra mile to run in that part of downtown by weaving through some of those areas less directly, they could cut a mile out of some of the boring later miles. As you approach the three mile mark, you get a beautiful approach to the Capitol Building, with functioning oil derricks decorating the park and causeway in front of it. Miles five, six, and seven take you through some beautiful, lightly hilly neighborhoods with gorgeous centralized parks. After that we get into some boring miles taking us to the northern leg of the route. This was combination of some industrial wastelands out by old rail tracks and urban sprawl of shopping plaza after shopping plaza.
Although the roads were in pretty good condition throughout the city, this is also where the roads were at their worst for cracking and heaving. The intersections also have some odd dips that seem built in, perhaps to slow down traffic. I totally misgauged one of those dips and ended up taking a digger, hitting hard on my knee and flat on my face in the middle of an intersection. Fortunately, nothing too drastic, I brushed myself off and kept moving. I would like to thank a car that was at that light that followed me to the next plaza to make sure I was alright. I’m afraid I rudely brushed them off at the time, as I was still a little stunned and trying to figure out if I had done any greater damage. I feel bad and I really appreciated their gesture. If I had been injured seriously, I would have been very glad for their assistance.
Just after the half marathon mark, just as you are thinking I can’t take another plaza with their discount no name stores and various fast food chains and Chinese buffets, there is a slight rise to the road. There is a little bridge that crosses a highway and as you reach the peak, you have the breathtaking Lake Hefner appearing like a oasis in the desert. Miles fourteen through seventeen take you on a well heeled path along the lake and into Stars and Stripes Park and around the edge of Lake Hefner Park. This is one of the highlights of the course. Just as you think you are about to plunge back into boring city sprawl, the run along Grand Boulevard has a lush and cool park where many people start hitting the wall at miles nineteen and twenty. Even as you do get back onto the more city block grind of Classen Boulevard, you have the skyline in front of you and start to pass some classic city landmarks like the Buckminster Fuller inspired Gold Dome and The Milk Bottle Building. A little loop through one last neighborhood then you are cruising up Broadway to the finish line.
Park Near Finish Line Not The Start Line
You would think this is simple and self evident by now. Sometimes it is a matter of necessity to be by the start line, but especially on these lone races, I do not need to be walking an extra mile or two to get a refill on water, or electrolytes, or change out of a stinky, salt coated shirt. Please learn this lesson now before you learn it the hard way.
Reach Out To Running Groups & Stores Sooner Than Later
This was the first city since Fort Lauderdale where I had support on the trail for one of my lonely marathons. Why? Because I stuck to my plan and ran with a local running group in the city I was running in. When I ran with the group from Red Coyote Running and Fitness on Thursday night, I introduced myself to Gayle Sturdivant and let her know that I really didn’t know where I was running on the group run. Not only did she end up being my guide, she also helped push me to speed train that evening. Gayle in turn introduced me to Brandi Wilkins and Laura Chouinard at the Apres Run held at Red Coyote. A picture of us and our huge cans of Negative Split (a locally brewed beer inspired by their running group) made it on to the local training site. When I struggled over a bridge around mile 18 and went to beg some ladies to fill my water bottle at their massive jugs, as I explained I had 9 more miles to go, they said “Oh we know who you are! Your picture was on our training page. You’re running 50 marathons in 50 weeks this year. Fill your bottle, take a breath, and you can RUN WITH US!” These ladies only had a couple miles to go, but for most of them, this was the furthest they had ever run. What a boon and a gift. To put the icing on the cake, Gayle had missed the early morning run, so she contacted me on marathon day, while I was running, to ask if she could join me. How could I say no? She caught up with our little group and ended up escorting me all the way to the finish line. If I can get even a couple more folks to join me on future runs, I know this mission will be that much easier.
I feel great! Really! I know many of you were concerned after I strained myself in Memphis, but taking the extra day off from running, icing the leg regularly, and keeping it elevated really did the trick. My feet are hurting a little on the bones on the outside of my feet, but blisters are under control this week. Ankles are good. Even though I hit my right knee pretty hard on the asphalt, it seems to be holding up well with just some pain from superficial road rash (It’s just a flesh wound). Hips, back, and shoulders all seem to be doing well. I am very pleased with my time, if not my finish. The finish for this race is 6:08:00, not a bad time for taking it easy. First time running at a 1:1 pace for a long distance, but early on as I tried to speed up, it didn’t really seem to effect my overall mile time. Although I crossed the half marathon mark under three hours, I was surprised not to do a negative split for the second half. I had a good couple miles with my surprise running group and then by mile twenty three started to tire. The last three miles were weak even with the minute of rest. I will not be attempting 1:1 timing again unless absolutely necessary.
The week coming up is still a little messy for my travel itinerary. I am now doubling back to the Arkansas/Mississippi border for the Mississippi River Marathon. I plan on counting this as an Arkansas Marathon. I will be stopping in Hot Springs, AR for a much needed soak in National Park Baths and hopefully get that massage I have been promising myself. Thank you as always for following along and I love feedback so please let me know what you think. Until then, finish strong, my friends.