A few weeks ago, I made the snap decision to head back to Tulsa this year for my 3rd consecutive Route 66 race weekend. The decision was born out of a combination of my intense homesickness (can that be a thing if I don’t live in Tulsa but wish I did?), really not wanting to miss out on one of my favorite races, and a serendipitous drop in flight prices right before race weekend. So I bought my flight, not knowing which race I was going to do.
I ended up deciding to run the full marathon on the basis of needing to do 20 miles anyway in preparation for the Rehoboth Beach Marathon on December 6th. It seemed silly to do the half and then pretend like I was going to do 7 more miles afterwards while all my friends were running the full (please). So I figured I would do the full, stay with Patty and her running group as long as I could, and just see what happened. As you know, I’ve been training hard and putting in plenty of speedwork, so I felt confident I could keep up with the 4:30 pace she was anticipating for her group, at least for most of the race.
But before we got to the race, I got to do two really fun things – a special Marathon Maniacs shakeout run with Bart Yasso and speaking at the expo in the Blogger’s Forum for the second year in a row! The shakeout run started in the rain, but we had a fun group of dedicated runners, including the three founding members of the Maniacs, some familiar faces, and some new ones! Here’s a picture from afterwards – I’m the white hat behind Bart’s head. Fail.
Later in the day, I spoke at the Blogger’s Forum at the expo. This year, I was joined by my friends Sarah from Run Ginger Run and Angie from Keeping Pace, as well as a fellow alum from last year, Becky from Running Jacksons! We spent about half an hour answering questions about blogging, running, and life! I’ll be back again next year, so definitely consider checking out the forum if you are in town.
Race morning began bright and early with our usual late arrival and missing of the RunnersWorld Tulsa group picture. Aaron, Patty and I never seem to make this one. We were able to get a picture with the running group that Patty co-leads (and the one I trained with this summer), the Dom-n-8rz!
This race was particularly special because we were celebrating the comeback of Patty’s co-leader, Terry. Terry was diagnosed with cancer this spring and went through chemo and radiation treatments while continuing to run as much as he could. In October, he finally received word that he was clear of cancer. Through the whole thing, he has been a constant source of inspiration to the Domz for his strength and positivity – he certainly was to me this summer! So to celebrate his remission, Patty, Aaron, Gary, Randall, and I planned to run the entire race with him. When I talked to Patty about this plan, she said that she didn’t know how fast we would be going. Terry finished Route 66 in 3:55 last year, but hasn’t trained as much as usual, of course. Meanwhile, Aaron and Gary haven’t been running much at all due to other obligations, but both were determined to cross the finish line with Terry. Whether that would happen in 4 hours of 6, we had no idea!
But first, we had to take the obligatory Maniacs photo. Except Aaron and I didn’t. We got in line for the bathrooms while everyone else was taking the picture. Let’s be honest – it’s not like you can tell who anyone is in it anyway.
As we got ready to start the race, I found my friend Nathan, a reader who I met at last year’s Route 66. When I spoke to him the day before at the expo, I invited him to run with us, and he did! So starting the race, we had a group of 9 (including 2 half marathoners) ready to set out on the course. It was much (thankfully) warmer than last year’s 19 degree starting temps at around 60 degrees, and I guess it was a little humid, but I didn’t notice very much. The starting line of this race is so much fun and full of excitement!
The first few miles of Route 66 always seem almost comically hilly to me. I think it’s because the first year I did this race, I truly believed Tulsa was super flat, as the rest of Oklahoma is, right? Wrong. There are some serious rolling hills! But we took the pace easy, walked through the water stops, and joked around. Terry would pull us back with a gentle “Getting a little fast, guys” and we’d snap out of it and slow down. I can honestly say I never looked at my watch at a mile marker because it didn’t matter. We had joked at the start of the race that our only goal was to have fun and stop for all the jello shots, but I quickly realized that was not a joke. We were stopping at every jello, beer, or other alcohol stop. This is Route 66, y’all – there are a LOT of them. It quickly became the 11th commandment: Thou shalt leave no jello shot behind! I’m sure leaving this out of the first set of commandments was a simple oversight on God’s part.
It’s not very often that I am tempted to eat something with gluten in it now that I know how it makes me feel, but I tell you, it was a struggle not to drink beer at all the stops like everyone else. Here I am, just trying to get my buzz on while running a marathon, and stupid gluten is screwing it up. Le sigh.
We decided to continue me and Patty’s new tradition of high fiving at every mile marker, and people, I have got to tell you: if you are not already doing this, please start. It is seriously so much fun. Also kind of dangerous because we almost tripped all over each other trying to get around to everyone for a high five, but really fun. It made the miles go by fast! At every marker, Terry would yell “MILE WHAT?!?!?!” and we would all yell out the number. The people around us thought we were possessed and/or drunk. Half right.
We also continuously did head counts at each water stop to make sure we hadn’t lost anyone in the group. It was very comforting to know that no one was forgotten about and we were all in it together. I have no idea what the pace was, but I know I was really comfortable. We stopped for several more jello and beer stops before the halfway point – I think I had 4 jello shots before mile 14! That might be more than I took in all of college, but then again, I was a whiskey girl.
There was only one point during the race where I felt remotely uncomfortable, and that was along Riverside, where the wind was blowing from behind so it felt like there was no breeze. We just felt the humidity at that point. It also probably didn’t help that we were coming off a jello shot/music/cheer squad high from the Brookside section of town, and everything seemed very quiet. Nonetheless, if I only felt uncomfortable for two miles of a marathon, I can’t really complain.
We said goodbye to Sara and Karen at the half, and then there were 7 of us. The next few miles have a tough gradual uphill climb, and Nathan’s calves were bothering him. I harassed, cajoled, and generally annoyed him by running backwards and not letting him drop out of sight, and he pepped up a bit when one of the many Red Bull stops on the course came about. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen Red Bull on the course as a sponsored beverage, and I was slightly horrified, as the smell of that stuff just makes me gag. Gary, Aaron, and Nathan were all super into it though – hey, anything to deaden the pain of undertraining, amiright?
The miles honestly seemed to fly by for me. I was having so much fun, and at this point, pretty much everyone else was too. Nathan started hurting really bad, and there wasn’t much I could say that encouraged him. Probably because I am bad at encouragement. Terry dropped back and ran with him for a bit, and then I did, but ultimately we parted ways around mile 16. And then there were 6.
The latter half of the race saw a lot of walking as everyone started to get fatigued, the hills took their toll, and the training situation became noticeable. Personally, I felt great and knew I could have kept going, but I was having way too much fun with our group. Around mile 19, we passed another group of people cheering and I yelled “alcohol?” A guy holding a cup said “this is alcohol!” and handed it to me, which is I think the only time in life when it is acceptable to take drinks that a strange man hands you. The tally was now something like 5 jello shots, a mimosa, and a rather strong screwdriver. The crowd went wild!
Last year, Route 66 was Patty’s 50th marathon, and the Domz had made a banner for her that hung over an overpass at mile 25.5. Terry, didn’t know it, but the group had made one for him, too. We all knew what was coming, but he had no idea. As we turned the corner, he was overcome with emotion and started to cry – and so did pretty much everyone else in our group. Even I got a tickle in my throat. It was one of the most special marathon moments I have ever had the privilege of being a part of, and he deserved it.
I hung back for a second and watched this amazing group run under the banner. These people have taken me in as one of their own, an honorary Dom-n-8r. And as someone who rarely feels like I belong anywhere or with anyone, I can honestly say that being in Tulsa with them makes me feel like I belong. If you’re ever lucky enough to go to Tulsa, I hope you get the chance to meet them.
It’s not very often that I don’t want a marathon to end, but this was one of those times. The Domz still had one more surprise for Terry, though. Just before the finish line, a huge group of them were waiting to greet Terry and congratulate him.
There were just a few hundred feet left to go. I just tried to soak up every second.
And despite the lack of training for some, and the hills and the humidity and the fact that a marathon is still 26.2 miles long, we all agreed – we wouldn’t change a thing. Every year, Route 66 is one of my standout races, and this year was no exception. For almost 5 and a half hours, I got to celebrate life and running with an incredibly inspiring group of people who have so generously made me one of their own. I’ll raise a jello shot to that.