Yesterday afternoon I visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial again, this time to meet with a focus group all about the annual race events. A local consulting firm, together with the Memorial folks, had extended an open invitation for runners to come share their thoughts about our experiences overall, and I was thrilled to participate. About thirty people showed up for our afternoon meeting, and I suspect as many were there for the evening session.
I am so glad I went. Not only was it fun to relive the memories from April one more time, but I also got to meet lots more happy Oklahomans and hear perspectives from other (more experienced) running vets. You might say this made me want to travel to more destination races. Chicago, Kansas City, Austin… OKC may be ranked as among the top 12 globally, and I am so proud of that; but it has whetted my appetite to see what other events are out there. Somebody warn Handsome.
Also, they had snacks. I ate two giant chocolate-chip cookies. A rumor was floating around the room that macadamia nut cookies were available, but I could never find them. This haunted me for hours afterward.
I met Mollie Coats, Memorial Marathon Coordinator, who is as warm and friendly as any one person has the right to be. She went far out of her way to thank us all for participating. I also got to hear Kari Watkins, Executive Director of the Memorial, give a quick speech. She mostly addressed the gravity issues of planning such a mammoth event in a large city, those things which are largely out of anyone’s control and require lots of working around and teeth gritting. For example, clearing and protecting the streets for so many square miles and for so many hours. And… Oklahoma weather. Everyone laughed because no one will ever forget the sketchy thunderstorm morning and two-hour race delay of 2014.
One issue on which Kari touched was the ongoing Oklahoma City renaissance and how it impacts the race. It’s a mixed blessing, of course. As our beautiful city continues to grow and expand, deepening in local culture everywhere you look, the traffic thickens exponentially. The challenges of finding ideal race routes and keeping them both safe and cooperative with the rest of life are very real. So my hat is off to the people in charge of this. I can barely decide whether growing seed potatoes is economically viable, or shouldn’t I just stick with the 10-pound bag of Russets from Crest?
We were seated in assigned places among several round tables. After some fun introductions, the lovely ladies in charge of the study, Sarah and Amber, asked us to designate a scribe and speaker for our smaller groups. Then they guided us through a series of thought-provoking questions about specific aspects of the Memorial event, starting with the website and online registration and continuing through the Expo and all the way up to our experiences at the finish line.
I was so happy to get to voice the specific things I loved about the experience overall. The balloons, the encouraging emails, the feelings of suspense, the rhythm of the race especially after Lake Hefner, the Voice of The Thunder sounding off announcements, all of it. My friends and family hear from me about running ALL. THE. TIME. but yesterday I got to express how much certain little things meant to me last April, and every other runner in the room got it.
We didn’t all agree on everything (I personally have no need of free beer, for example, LOL, but why not?) but that part of the process was fun too. I was surprised that other races are apparently conducted quite differently. For example, one change I hope the Memorial Marathon folks take into serious consideration is a wave start. That would be amazing. Even with potential weather complications (Oklahoma will always be at particular risk for this) it sounds like this would be a great improvement.
Another improvement that seemed popular around the room, particularly with the women, was shopping discounts at the Expo for registered runners. And free massages, taping, and other interactive features.
I suggested that they ask the Wonderbread bakery to NOT bake bread that morning since we run right past it and it made me sad this year to smell bread and yeast, but some runners actually liked it. My guess is that Wonderbread does not care if they make me sad for five minutes once a year.
The ninety scheduled minutes flew right by in a chattery, productive whirlwind. I do wish we had more time. I am so thankful for the invitation to give feedback and really thankful for the appreciation they showed us for attending. (Am I allowed to say what the parting gift was? It was pretty awesome.)
My favorite question all afternoon was actually offered to me by Sarah at the beginning. I had arrived early and for several minutes was the only participant in the room. She asked which race I ran and would I do it again next year, then why? Why do you run this particular race, and why will you do it again? Well, I choked back tears and opened my mouth to answer, then the double doors to the conference room parted with a whoosh of air conditioned freshness, and a flood of smiling people walked in. Our conversation was gently put on pause, and she asked me to please email my answer. They want to understand people’s different motivations.
I’ll email her. And I’ll tell you guys too, because I love you. I so appreciate you stopping to read and follow the adventures here.
Why This Race? Why the Full?
I run the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon because this is my home town.
Because what happened here in 1995 needs to be remembered.
Because we have the opportunity to maintain beautiful traditions and memories
instead of closing up around wounds from an evil day.
This event is an outward expression of Oklahoma’s resilience and loving energy.
I run to honor the victims and also
to pay ongoing respect to the first responders,
especially my parents-in-law, Harvey and Judy Wreath.
I choose to run the full marathon because it presents the best challenge.
Because for 26.2 miles you see more of this beautiful city
and feel more of the outpouring of love from its citizens.
On the full marathon course you feel more emptiness as you go,
depleting your mind and body in new ways.
Then you are washed in more joy and relief
than you ever dreamed possible.
Just like life.
I run the full marathon because it touches something primal inside me,
and I want to feel that over and over again for as long as I live.
The challenge of the course reminds me of how the first responders
had to do far more than they thought was possible.
They gave of themselves beyond what they thought they could.
They stayed. They discovered new depths within themselves.
Four or five hours of fun for me is nothing compared to three horrific weeks.
They worked for three weeks to recover, protect, honor, rescue, identify,
and love in every possible way every person who was affected.
Running this fun, rewarding, exhilarating race is the very least
and the most selfish thing I can do to honor Harvey, Judy,
and all the hundreds of first responders.
So thank you, Kari, Mollie, Amber, and Sarah. Thank you to all the people who organized this focus group fun and especially to everyone who makes the Memorial events so incredible. Next spring will mark the twentieth anniversary of the Murrah Building Bombing, and I know you all are intent on making the commemoration extra special. Thank you ahead of time. I wish you all the best and cannot wait to register!