Around this time a week ago today, I was salivating over a massive order of chips, salsa, and queso from Ted’s, a locals’ favorite Mexican restaurant in Oklahoma City. The place was packed so instead of waiting for a table, Nick and I grabbed this scrumptulescent snack to go and headed to the park to meet up with friends and drink cold beer in the sun.
After all, we’d earned excessive amounts of salt, fluids, and kick-back time. We’d just completed our second 26.2 mile run ever: Oklahoma City’s Memorial Marathon.
The race was established 13 years ago in memorial to the Oklahoma City bombing that took 168 lives. The event this year was especially moving considering another senseless tragedy, the Boston Marathon bombings, happened just two weeks before, wounding hundreds of bystanders and killing three people.
To honor the lost, 168 seconds of silence followed by an extra three set the tone at the starting line around 6:30 on the morning of April 28th, 2013. I looked up during the quiet to see snipers lining the rooftops of downtown buildings and helicopters clipping above the grid-locked streets crowded with over 50,000 people.
After the sobering silence, the nervous chatter of cold runners buzzed through the starting corral. Nick, Braz, and I were stoked to be running together again, considering we ran our first marathon in Borneo last May. We did some last-minute shoelace adjustments, Braz slipped Goo shots up his hi-tech running sleeves, and Nick’s mom snapped photos from the sidelines. The starting gun went off and 25,000 runners set off into the early morning light rising over the city.
The hail, thunder, lightening, and buckets of rain that poured the day before the race had passed, and the weather was absolutely perfect for running: upper 50’s and gloriously sunny. Music pumped at every mile, as did lively aid stations and a slew of eager volunteers offering Powerade, water, and pretzels. Lining the neighborhood sidewalks were people clapping and hooting, generously handing out high fives and shots of Jagermeister, which Braz mistakenly took thinking it might be Guinness… I didn’t think either of those sounded revitalizing, but the shameless effort definitely made the first seven miles fly by.
After Mile 7, reality set in and we began to rely heavily on outside encouragement. Colorful posters painted with inspirational words, names of bombing victims, and clever quips kept the pain in our feet and aging knees and out of our minds so we could be only positive and thankful for the experience.
At least that’s what I tried to focus on. I saw many who would probably punch the Pollyanna-sentimentality off of my silly, smiling face. Especially around mile 14. The human body seems to unleash a full-on interrogation of the sanity of whoever’s moving the parts. “Really?” it says. “Do you really think you’re gonna get off easy breaking yourself against asphalt? Not on my watch, you foolish nutcase.”
Lucky for us, Nick’s family met us at Mile 16 with coconut water and sympathy.
Another big catalyst for continuing and not collapsing on the alluring green grass just off the course was the gentleman who passed us around Mile 17. He had the special bib number showing he was a Boston Marathon runner going for a finish. The race coordinators had invited Boston Marathon participants who didn’t complete the race before the bombs went off to finish in Oklahoma for free. Ten runners took up the invitation.
At Mile 19, we saw our friends holding their two-year old, who was fervently yelling at everyone who passed, “Go! Go! Go!”
Why don’t you go, I thought to myself in a weak moment of jealousy. I wanted someone to hold me and hand me Goldfish crackers or something that wasn’t a banana or a pretzel.
But I didn’t say that. I smiled, waved excitedly, and thanked them for their cheers, treasuring this last boost of things to look forward to before the Finish Line.
We lost Braz here, who was on pace to shave off an hour from his Borneo marathon time. Since his recovery from blood poisoning right before last years’ race, Braz has kind of devoted his life to running and is now the manager of a running store in Dallas. He also finished a 50-mile ultramarathon a couple of months before the Oklahoma race. He stopped at Mile 19 to nurse some knots in his overworked calf muscles.
Nick and I were in pain, too, but ignored it and kept going at our fairly-consistent 8:50 mile pace. Others weren’t so fortunate. We passed a few runners crying or grabbing their hamstrings, making that wincing face that makes you involuntarily wince back. Around Mile 20, you become accustomed to passing the hurt, patting them on the back, even though you know they kind of want to trip you for being okay still.
But there was no foul play at this event, thankfully.
Miles 22 through 25.9 were character builders, and I spent the time reflecting on why I signed us up for this masochistic activity. After Borneo, we swore we’d never do another marathon. Nick, however, had casually mentioned he’d like to someday run the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. I took this ‘casual’ suggestion seriously and registered us in January – like a cruel Christmas present that came from a pure place. Oklahoma City is, after all, home for him. He grew up there and remembers hearing the explosion from his wood shop classroom on the morning of the bombing downtown back in 1995.
Between thoughts, I heard Nick saying, “Come on, baby, come on!” so I did, and we stayed together for the remaining stretch. Finally, the Finish Line came in sight. My heart skipped a beat at the sight of the thousands of people lining the end and we kicked into a sprint crossing the last chip marker at the exact same second: 3:51:27.
Security was tight in the finish corral, so it took us awhile to reach Nick’s family. We walked past booths of free oranges, bagels, cookies, and Carl’s Junior hamburgers, which never sound good to me in the real world, and much, much less after a marathon. What was delicious was the cold, creamy chocolate milk Nick’s mom handed me to drink while we waited for Braz to show. He came in just under four hours, making his goal and simultaneously deciding he’s never running a marathon again.
Me neither. Potentially.
Top 11 Marathon Notes:
11. Number of Bananas Consumed by Nick: seven halves
10. Number of Times I Saw Someone Slip on a Tossed Banana Peel: zero – unfortunately…
9. Most Painful Joint in my Body: right hip flexor
8. Best Crowd Pleaser: a gentleman clad in white suit, tilted bowler cap, sipping a martini in a lawn chair
7. Worst Crowd Pleaser: three dudes in thongs
6. Best Post-Race Refreshment: chocolate milk
5. Worst Post-Race Refreshment: Carl’s Junior hamburgers
4. Best Race Poster: “WORST PARADE EVER”
3. Number of Times Someone Yelled a Comment about Nick’s Mustache: four
2. Number of Times Braz Tried to Pick Up a Chick Along the Course: two
1. Number of Times That Didn’t Work: two (*Note to Self: Bring bits of crumpled paper with your phone number written on it to throw at prospects if you really want something to pan out)