Hahaha, just kidding! The torture only came in a few little bursts. Most of the race was truly incredible. A pleasure. Smooth sailing that gave me glorious memories. Today I’ll do the super cliché thing and just outline those amazing miles the way so many runner-writers do, mostly for posterity. I hope you enjoy it too.
Before the Race: Handsome dropped M and me off around the Myriad Gardens, and we walked giddily toward the Memorial intersection. It was still very dark outside, and I was eating a banana and trying not to think of how tight my pants were (very). Cold, fat droplets of rain started pelting us, and lightning occasionally cracked open the sky. M and I stuck together until it was time for her to find her two sisters-in-law with whom she was running the 5-k.
Handsome, now driving to his nearby office to watch the festivity on the news and plot his city-wide drive plan to see me run, texted me a love note which I will remember for the rest of my life. And I was excited. Bouncy excited. I talked to anyone who would stop and talk to me. That would make a great book, by the way: Marathoners and their Motives: Why People Run. Everyone is different and so interesting! I met people who had competed in Boston, in New York City, at Disney, all around the world. This race in my own hometown, after all, is rated in the top twelve globally. 26,000 runners, 60% women, all Oklahoma Standard.
After spending four months preparing, it was unthinkable that the race might not happen. But within minutes of arriving downtown, we heard the announcement that due to severe weather heading our way, the 6:30 a.m. start time was being delayed until 7. Then 7:30. Then 8:15, etcetera. More than just rain, officials were concerned about dangerous lightning and large hail. Because, OKLAHOMA. It turned into a long morning of waiting out the cold and damp, tightly wound nerves, and quickly draining cell phone batteries. Because of the draining battery, I left my phone off for a long time, so no running music for several miles. I hope I never forget the masses of runners singing happy birthday to one woman and then the silence that fell over us when we heard the national anthem begin.
Miles 1-3: The starting corral was even more congested than I remember last year being, and there was no such thing as finding your pace group. I wrote this off eagerly. Then along with everyone else I started the race shuffling through the wet, silent downtown streets bedecked with Thunder playoff banners. GO THUNDER! We ran through Bricktown, up and over that ancient, steep, concrete bridge that is so much fun, and towards the interstate overpass. The warm up was slow. I was still rain-soaked and shivering by the time we reached Handsome at his Commish parking lot. He had made a sign that said, “Even hail can’t stop #R2R!” I love him so much. My muscles were not yet convinced we were doing this, but I was so happy. As we ran north on Lincoln I smelled fire smoke but quickly realized it was from the group of firefighters jogging in full gear, holding a big, gleaming American flag. Chattering runners fell quiet when passing the firefighters. All the tension of being delayed melted away, and I remembered the reasons we were running. I thought of Harvey and Judy, of all the first responders who gave themselves fully to our City nineteen years ago. Barely three miles in, and I was already holding back tears.
After the State Capitol: The weather was still pretty dark and humid. Still no music to listen to, just the thunderous footfall around me which was more mesmerizing than I had expected. Lots of emotions were still flooding me, too: Relief that the race wasn’t cancelled. A speck of anxiety about sustaining my energy level after waiting so long. And plain old trembling excitement. We ran near the Wonderbread factory, where they were clearly baking cinnamon-raisin bread that morning. Bastards. Even if you’re not very hungry, this is the most intoxicating and distracting aroma. It’s magical, especially on a rainy day. I watched everybody in their neon running headbands and polarized sunglasses swivel their heads towards the place in one motion, like zombies catching a whiff of human meat. You could almost hear the mass of runners murmur, “Mmmm, carbs…”
Around this spot I also started smelling chicken Ramen noodles whenever I passed someone or someone passed me. Runners were wafting the weird, spicy odor, and it was not pleasant. I was embarrassed for them.
Gorilla Hill (mile 7?): By the time I reached this iconic neighborhood refreshment and entertainment stop, the rain had long since stopped falling but the streets were still plenty wet. As even costume gorillas are wont to do, I suppose, they had flung banana peels everywhere. And I mean everywhere you guys. Scads of them. Probably the runners had done so, too, like we do those paper Gatorade cups. Let me just say that the combination of overlapping banana peels with slick asphalt was not making me feel overly steady on my feet. But I was still having a lot of fun, running easily, amazed by the day.
Near McGuinness high school: Around northwest 50th and Western, just past the French Cowgirl shop that I love so much, the half-marathoners split off from the group and ran west. This is when it got real for me that I was running the full, and I felt a deep, powerful rush of pure thrill. Like cold, sweet well water springing up from my belly into my mouth. It is so weird how energy comes from different places in your body. I started thinking of chakras and mystical things. Then I switched my phone on to indulge in music. This is when I heard Eminem, and I got myself lost in the music. And it was roughly at the 8 Mile mark. And I laughed.
I had accidentally spotted my pace group by now and more or less stayed with them, and they too smelled like chicken Ramen noodles. Crazy!
Near Chesapeake campus (Mile 8.5): Here, I took my first pee break, mostly out of obligation. (You’re welcome for that.) Handsome was waiting for me not far after this, just past a big, crowded relay stop. I was so happy here. My energy was high, I had zero pain, and my spirits were absolutely soaring. He texted that I had run past him, LOL, so I ran back and got some smooches. Then my spirits were even higher and I ran really fast for the next few miles.
North OKC, nearing El Chico (Mile 13): My left knee was beginning to ache a little, and I felt Pavlovian hunger when we passed El Chico there on Britton Road. I had the very hilarious idea of using my phone to start “checking in” at random places along the race route, knowing it would end up on Facebook. Things like “Marie is at El Chico for chips and queso” or “Marie is at a cool north side antique shop for treasure hunting” or maybe “Marie is at Home Depot buying hydrangeas and basil,” etcetera. Either fortunately or unfortunately, wifi was having none of it. So I stuck with music, grateful my phone was holding juice, and chuckled privately with myself at this great joke potential. It would have been really funny, you guys. Extra funny because I learned much later that all morning long both Chronotrack and Handsome had been posting really detailed race progress updates on Facebook. So the contradiction of where I really was, anyway… They’ll never know which is true. I think it would have been hilarious.
Lake Hefner, aka “the Loop of Despair” (Miles 14-18): This is the only part of the run that was truly difficult. At other times I felt deeply moved emotionally; but here, just for about twenty minutes, I was not sure I could finish. It was just past the halfway mark. My left knee was burning like molten lava. The headwind was about one million miles per hour. I felt lonely and sad and impossibly slow. And I was embarrassed to have fallen behind my pace group while wrestling with a stupid Gatorade chew wrapper. Also, Why does everyone smell like chicken Ramen noodles again? That is disgusting. It’s called deodorant, you guys. I have really judgy thoughts when I’m in a bad place with my run.
Just After the Lake: After finally rounding the lake, I saw a couple sitting on the curb with a very simple hand drawn sign that said, “168 reasons to keep going.” I felt ashamed and motivated all at once. Then I texted Handsome that my knee was really hurting. I just needed to make contact with him for a second. He encouraged me then said I had a surprise guest waiting at the finish line. Who could it be? Please god not the creepy-gross inflatable Cox Communications mascot. I will die. More running, happy to be back in the city-scape and away from the Hefner Loop of Despair.
Not long after, I saw a trio of smiling, very happy people waving at me. It was Handsome (for the fourth time that hectic morning!) along with M, who was long since done with her event, and Erin, an old friend of my husband’s and a new friend of mine. I was so completely surprised! I stuttered hellos and traded hugs, and they all three prevented me from stopping to chat. But I had so many things to tell them! My energy was back with a vengeance. 168 reasons to keep going and the love and encouragement of friends. Who could stop after that?
Classen Circle: I felt yet another wave of energy here and was grateful for it. I continued enjoying the motivational signs held up by all kinds of spectators, and I was comforted by the fact that perfectly athletic looking men and women were still running at exactly my pace. I was finally okay with just finishing, no matter how slow. Next year, though, next year I will be fast. Red Coyote, a local running shop, was distributing beer instead of water or Gatorade and I realized I have so much to learn about the sport. I passed a girl wearing only tiny black shorts and a sports bra. I resisted all negative self talk and enjoyed the sun. Ramen again, wow!
Classen Stretch: This is near my childhood home, and my sweet Mama, little brother Phil (who almost refused to hug me because I was gross-sweaty), and my two toe-headed angel nieces were waiting in the grassy median to cheer me on. Chloe and Kenzie ran with me a block or two but wanted to run more. I totally see them doing races from now on!
Handsome and M were here too, holding more cool signs. I felt so LOVED. So I ran harder and happier.
Then down the road I saw even more friends, Bruce and Serena. They were in the grassy median further south on Classen, catching my attention with a sign they’d made with my name on it, plus happy screaming! I stopped for more hugs, which are better fuel than Gatorade gels.
Near the Gold Dome (Mile 22?): Further down Classen boulevard, where I spent so much of my youth and teen years, I approached the Gold Dome. Locals know this spot. Seriously, what is that smell? I was feeling really good, enjoying the shade, just running and listening to music. Then I saw them. MY BOOK CLUB.
You guys, my heart jumped out of my ribs! I threw my arms up and screamed and pretty much wanted to stop and hang out for a while. Handsome and M had coordinated with a handful of our bibliophile girls to meet on this picturesque sidewalk, armed with handmade signs and more heaping helpings of that love that is better than Gatorade. I hugged each of them tight, and we laughed and cheered.
An older gentleman running by saw the fun. He said, “Maybe I should have gotten in that line!”
To which I replied, “That’s my book club and my husband! They will totally hug you if you need it!” I am so weird.
To which he replied by asking and glancing at my BIB, “Is this your first full?”
And I said, “Yes! I am having so much fun! How many have you run?” He was clearly a seasoned athlete. He had a strap of several three-ounce yellow drinks fastened around his back like Rambo. He was lean and tanned and clipping along evenly, looking perfectly happy just running.
You guys. His answer was, and I will never forget this, “In about two and a half miles it will be marathon number forty-four.” I didn’t even answer him, except for my facial expression. He registered what I meant, and we just exploded together in laughter and kept running. I nearly passed out from the adrenaline rush. We ran and ran. My first and his forty-fourth. My mind was teeming with ideas for the future, and my heart was brimming with love from Handsome and my friends.
St. Anthony’s Roundabout (Final Two and also the Longest Miles): Okay. By this time I had the idea that we were done. I mean, like, really done. Mister Forty Four way back there had convinced me we were only a couple of miles away from the finish, remember? Well, he was a bit off but I didn’t know it yet. I thought could estimate how many minutes stood between me and the finish line, and I got really excited. I mean, like really excited. I was so tired.
Then out of nowhere we all turned north, QUITE AWAY from the finish line!! I was like, “What the WHAT!!” I was fairly upset. But I kept running. Thankfully this is an old neighborhood filled with ancient, shade-providing trees and homeowners only too happy to spray us down with garden hoses. I stopped for one friendly resident and scooped the water into my hands for a drink. It tasted like warm Caribbean shallows because my hands and my face were so crusted with dried sweat, but actually this salty gulp was refreshing. So for the next mile all I could think about was whether I was going mad, like a castaway who thinks the saltwater is wine. I wisely avoided eye contact with all stray volley balls.
Good grief, chicken Ramen again!
I was running smoothly but long since separated from my pace group and in fact running alone for small stretches. Then it hits me out of nowhere.
Oh my god, it’s me! I am the one who smells like chicken Ramen noodles! Suddenly I couldn’t wait to take a shower and was fantasizing about massive bars of Ivory soap. This became my new reason for finishing the race.
Final Stretch: Also around this vicinity I saw a tall vinyl mile-marker flag, the sort that had dotted the race route all day, this time announcing “40 km” and I freaked. The heck. Out. My brain was much fuzzier than normal (shut it M) and I interpreted this as 40 miles. I was like, “I didn’t sign up for this!! What the holy granola?!? I wanna go home!!” I very nearly stopped and called Handsome to come and get me. He would understand. He thought 26.2 miles was crazy; surely he would write a terse email to someone over tricking us into 40. But I kept running and eventually forgot about the whole thing. Oh well, I actually thought Let’s just do it.
Then I went a few more blocks, and a guy wearing wire rimmed sunglasses and an overly starched pink button up was yelling encouragements at the runners. He said, “Keep going! Just one more turn! This is the closest you’ve been to the finish line all day!”
And so I replied weakly, “Yes, that’s true,” (because it was true) and everyone laughed and I turned right and saw the finish line. Just a few more blocks running south on Broadway (where was my posse?) and it would be done.
Finish Line: I’ll tell you where my posse was. They were at the finish line, waiting with open arms and gifts and a loving welcome I can barely relay to you. They were also on my phone, texting me encouragements and love that make a person feel invincible. (Thank you Marci!) Crossing that barrier was a happier feeling than the last day of school combined with your sixteenth birthday combined with the first hours of vacation and Christmas morning, all of it. I almost didn’t believe it was over, and I started giggling. Then I cried. Then I giggled some more. Then I couldn’t stop talking. I had so many things to tell my people! I desperately wanted everyone to feel what I was feeling in those moments. I wanted everyone to promise me they would run the marathon with me next year. And you know what? A few people have done exactly that.
After the Race, the Life Metaphor: I am incredibly grateful to my husband for putting up with me this spring while training. He is not a runner, so his constant river of enthusiasm took a lot of selflessness. I am also thankful that my good friend M came to town for the race, bringing at least three other participants into the enthusiastic fold with her. Having the support of friends and family leading up to the race and especially warming the sidelines made the experience a fun, loving one.
That’s the metaphor, really. Running this or any race is a one-person job. It’s all in your own head and it’s all depending on your own body. Except that it isn’t. So often, what kept me going was caring what my loved ones would think if I gave up or how they might feel inspired if I didn’t. And so often, when I was depleted in some way, I fed off of the positive energy around me, and just like that I was running fast again. Floating on Love, no joke. It’s incredibly powerful stuff.
I sincerely hope that if you are even lightly considering a distance race of any kind that you just dive in and start training. Start first thing tomorrow. Start tonight! The preparation is as enriching as the event itself, and then the event is something you will never forget. I am already wondering what will be next. This was such an excellent start.