Fair warning: this might be my longest blog post ever. Sorry, not sorry. After an emotional few days contemplating whether or not I was going to run the Route 66 Marathon this past weekend, you guys inspired me to press onward. While I knew that I was probably capable of completing the race, if I’m being honest, knowing how horribly uncomfortable and painful it might be led me to second guess whether or not I should run. But you were right – there was no way I would be ok stopping at #49 if I didn’t at least give it the old college try. I never considered not traveling to Tulsa, because I have so many friends there and I would never miss spectating, but running? That was a different story.
I arrived late on Friday night and was picked up by Patty, one of my closest friends and my second mom. I always stay with her when I go to Tulsa – I even have my “own” room, which I have successfully usurped from her youngest adult son, who now lives in Oklahoma City. I like to taunt him by texting him pictures from his room, which is either really amusing or entirely creepy, but I’ll let you be the judge. Patty’s sister, my “aunt” Donna, was also flying in late and we all headed back to Patty’s house, where we stayed up entirely too late gossiping. Who needs sleep anyway?
The next morning dawned way too early, as we headed out to see the Mascot Dash and meet up with our friend Sami (we were way too tired to get up and watch the 5k). It was freezing with gusting 30 mph winds, and with all due respect to the 5k crowd, we were glad that weather happened on Saturday instead of Sunday! We still got a few pictures with the Main Maniacs (founders of the Marathon Maniacs) and the new Maniac mascot, which was pretty excellent, if not slightly terrifying.
Next it was time for breakfast and to hit the expo. Now, I can get pretty bored with race expos these days. I’ve been to my fair share and most are the same old stuff. I have to say, I thoroughly enjoy ALL of the Route 66 expo, and I think it is because there are so many race booths there in addition to the standard merchandise. It is cool seeing the shirts and medals from different events! The expo is also massive and there are lots of fun photo opportunities there.
Before we knew it, it was time to head to dinner with my Tulsa running group, the Dom-N-8rz. I’ve know this group since my first Route 66 Marathon back in 2012 and I’ve traveled to a bunch of races with many members of the group, but when I lived in Tulsa in summer 2014, I really became a part of it. I did my training runs each week with them and although I don’t live there anymore, they still feel like my family. I haven’t missed a Dom-N-8rz dinner since 2012, so no need to start now!
Race day dawned bright and early. I woke up to a text from my friend Halbert, who said he was about to send me an email, which seemed a little weird, but long story short, he sent me an absolutely lovely message saying there was no way he was letting me run alone. Although several people had offered to run with me, deep down, I felt very self conscious. I knew I might feel really bad and take forever to finish and be grumpy in the process (although I vowed to try not to be) and I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s race day. The thing about Halbert is, I’ve been with him through many bad and slow races for him, and I knew he had no qualms about being out there for as long as it took. I also knew he would talk enough to make sure I didn’t have time to think about being grumpy! So it looked like I was getting a reprieve from my solitude after all. Little did I realize just how many people would end up joining our group!
Anyway, race day once again featured our annual Route 66 Marathon tradition of arriving too late, sprinting to attempt to make it to the Dom-N-8rz group picture, and literally joining the group as the picture is being taken.
We totally missed the Maniacs picture (what else is new) but I did get to see a bunch of my friends and wish them luck before we started. There were just a few Maniacs, Half Fanatics, and 50 Staters there.
We headed over to our corral, and all I felt was excitement. I had taken some of my ultra strong pain pills for my back, as well as a double dose of anti-reflux and anti-nausea medicine, plus I had some with me for the road. While I would not normally advocate using medication to mask a problem(s) and run a marathon, I figured it was ok just this once. This race is incredibly well organized and started right on time with a cannon burst of confetti, and we were off! I was quickly reminded of how hilly Tulsa is – the hills grab you in the first mile and hold on for the rest of the race. I was running with Halbert as well as my friends JC and Charlotte. Although we started with Patty, I knew she would be pulling away soon enough as she was out to run her fastest Route 66 ever.
The course changes a little bit each year, so we found ourselves running through Cascia Hall, a beautiful private school that reminds me of Hogwarts, around mile 3. Their mascot was cheering us on at one of the water stops, so I jumped up to take a picture with him, as I had promised to Instagram my progress throughout the race. From that point on, I decided that taking pictures every three miles was a good compromise. I hadn’t seen Halbert, JC and Charlotte in a while, so we were catching up and chatting and the miles were flying by. I have no idea what pace we were running, but I felt great and my heart rate was steady. Things were off to a great start!
It wasn’t very long before we came across the first of about a million beer/mimosa/jello shot stops. I remember being wowed by the number of them the first year I ran the race back in 2012, but the legend has only grown from there. From mile 6 on, it seemed like there was at least one stop every mile! If you are looking to get blackout drunk while running a marathon (and obviously, who isn’t?) this is your race. Although I normally would be all about it, I didn’t want to push my luck with my stomach, so I only took small sips of mimosas at a few stops, the first being mile 6. We took a group shot about 10 feet before we saw the mimosa station, so mile 6 got a few pictures, including one with the ever-popular and ever-famous Dave Mari!
RunnersWorld, the store that is associated with my running group, the Dom-N-8rz, is located right near mile 7, and they always provide jello shots. Being my home store, I couldn’t resist, of course! This part of the course runs through an area called Brookside which is full of cute shops, restaurants, and bars and always has a good crowd for the race. Lululemon is there with giant speakers and tons of signs and energy, so this is one of my favorite parts of the course. Since Charlotte had never run Route 66 before, I gave her a play by play as we ran through each part of Tulsa. It was around this time that we saw my friend Jennie! She runs with the Dom-N-8rz and hadn’t done a marathon in a while, so we picked her up along the course and convinced her to run with us because we knew we would be having a blast. Spoiler alert: it was her most fun marathon ever, obviously. We also saw my friend Colleen!
The hills and beer stops continued, and soon we found ourselves at a giant balloon arch on Cincinnati Ave. This massive beer stop even had a picture frame set up where you could get your picture taken! This type of thing is just one more reason why this race is so special. Not only do the race directors go above and beyond to make sure there is plenty of on course entertainment, great swag, awesome medals, etc., the Tulsa community is so supportive. The race runs through many neighborhoods throughout the city, and there is no shortage of people tailgating on their lawns with plenty of food and drinks for all the runners! No, it’s not like the crowds of Chicago, but you’re pretty much guaranteed to see spectators at every corner and tons of great signs and enthusiasm. The police officers are also the best and the most friendly and excited to see runners out there. Every time we thanked them for being out there to protect us, they said “Thank you for running!” Bless.
There are a lot of points along the course where you are actually running on the real live Route 66, which is pretty cool! The best place for a photo opp, though (in my opinion) is when you’re running under a bridge with the Route 66 logo on it, so we made sure to grab a picture because we were closing in on mile 12. I have taken a picture in front of this sign every year that I have run this race, so I plan on continuing that tradition.
At around mile 12.5, the half and the full marathon split off from each other. This is significant because a little bit after mile 12, we found my friend Christy, who was significantly undertrained and not sure whether she was going to do the full or stop at the half. I hadn’t seen her in a while so we pulled her into our group and began chatting away, and soon enough, she was on the full course with us! Running through the streets of downtown Tulsa, there is no shortage of hills, so it’s understandable if you hit this section of the course and find yourself thinking that you should have turned off at the half! I was feeling great, though, and powered up every hill. I told Halbert to make sure I took my other pain pill for my back somewhere between miles 13-15 as a preemptive strike. Although I didn’t need it at that point, I knew I would regret it if I got to mile 21 and was in searing pain! We powered through mile 15 all smiles, though.
By this point, we had lost Charlotte and JC was hovering around somewhere. He is super fast, so although he often dropped off and out of pictures to talk to someone, he would inevitably end up in front of us, standing off to the side and waiting for us to catch up – yes, this happened more than once. Before we knew it, we were at mile 18, now having lost Christy, who had stopped to talk to a friend. I could not believe how fast the race was flying by OR how good I felt, but I was sobered by the memory of what happened at Spinx, where I felt great at mile 18 and then promptly crashed and burned. I tried not to focus on that and instead just take it one mile at a time. I truly was having the time of my life, even though I hadn’t had any mimosas in a while (the others drank my share to make up for it).
I did start to feel a bit sick to my stomach and told Halbert I might need the Tums he had so thoughtfully brought (thank goodness all my friends are more prepared for my life than me), but I tried not to focus on it. I distracted myself by chatting with everyone around me because I knew if I took some Tums, I would start to obsess about how my stomach was feeling. Nope, no time for that today! We were heading into Tulsa University (home of the questionably named Golden Hurricanes), which is a really beautiful campus. The only thing about it is that you’d expect a ton of fraternities and sororities to be out cheering (or maybe you wouldn’t on a Sunday morning, who knows) but everyone has gone home for Thanksgiving break by that point, so it is kind of quiet. Nonetheless, there were a couple of water stops and before we knew it, we were at mile 21. JC was back and we had permanently picked up Andrea, who had been running in our general vicinity for a few miles. I was excited because I knew I was coming up to mile 22, home of the famous beer stop where reader Jeanne would be (and has been every year)!
I had saved up my stomach’s tolerance for the stop at 22, and it did not disappoint. Beer, jello shots, mimosas, pickles, candy, fruit – truly anything you could possibly crave was available! This is probably my favorite neighborhood of the entire race because there are so many people out and about cheering. You’re nearly at the end of the race and there are still a ton of hills left to go, but the community cheers you through! Somehow, I was still feeling awesome. OK, I know how – medicine, obviously – but still, 22 miles is a long way to run, medicated or not. We made our way out of the neighborhoods and at this point, Halbert, JC, and Andrea were starting to slow it down a bit. As we approached mile 24 (up another big hill, obviously), it was just me, Jennie, and Halbert. I knew Halbert was flagging, but Jennie and I were still running pretty strong, and I looked ahead to the mile marker. There was nothing to take a picture of that was terribly exciting. Then I looked down at my watch and realized that maybe, just maybe, I could hit a post-back surgery PR if I kicked it into high gear. I made the snap decision to forego the mile 24 picture, but I wasn’t sure if I could hit the PR. I told Jennie what was going on and that I was worried about kicking too soon – after all, 2.2 miles is not that far, but it’s not that close, either. She told me that she couldn’t go any faster but that I looked strong and that I should go for it. I thought about it for a second – should I leave the people who had run the whole race with me behind? Did I want to finish my 50th marathon by myself? Did I have enough left in the tank to move faster?
I decided that I had to try. What did I have to lose? Barring some type of complete breakdown, I was definitely going to finish under 5 hours, and if I faltered at the end, I could run it in with everyone. “GO!” Jennie shouted. I went.
I lengthened my stride and took off as fast as I could go without totally losing control of my breath and heart rate. A smile spread across my face because I couldn’t believe it – I FELT SO GOOD. I passed tons of people and headed towards downtown. Now, here is where I have a confession to make. Patty and the Dom-N-8rz had made me an incredible banner that was hanging at mile 25.5 on an overpass that we ran under. It was supposed to be a surprise, but the official marathon Instagram page and taken a picture of it the day before and tagged me in it, so I knew it was there. Patty was not very happy about that, but I actually think it worked out for the best, because I had my camera out and was ready to take a picture of it as I ran underneath! Also, since it was going to be super close for a PR, it worked out well that I didn’t get surprised by it and stop. No, I did not cry when I saw it. I’m not much of a crier in general, and I’m definitely not much of a crier when I’m running! To be honest, I’m not even sure I would have noticed it because I was focusing so hard at that point and my heart rate was soaring and my breathing was labored, but it definitely made me smile and be so grateful for the wonderful people I have in my life who care about me enough to do something like that for me. Just 7/10 of a mile to the finish now!
It occurred to me at this point that I didn’t actually know what my official post-surgery PR actually was. I knew it was a 4:54:SOMETHING from Rehoboth, but I didn’t know the exact seconds. I was going to be cutting it super, super close, but as I made the final turn to the finish, I knew it didn’t matter. I had given it my all and had one of the best races of my life, so who cared whether I missed it by a few seconds? It sure wasn’t going to stop me from trying, though!
I crossed the finish line in 4:54:40, listening to the cheers of my friends who had finished before me. I lifted my hands in victory and smiled as I crossed. I didn’t cry or tear up. I felt nothing but happy and proud.
I waited in the finish line area for Jennie and figured Halbert and JC wouldn’t be too far behind. While I was waiting, reader Meghan introduced herself and (unfortunately for her) got a super sweaty hug from me. I was in a pretty euphoric state! I’m not much for hugging in general but I saw a first time marathoner crying and I went over and hugged her too. What the hell, hugs for everyone! I just ran my 50th marathon! I also saw my friend Lygea, who has been battling a hamstring injury and didn’t know if she would make it to the finish. Lygea, Jennie and I headed to grab our medals and find Patty, then head to Maniac Corner, where we could exchange our finisher medals for the special club medals we had registered for.
The Maniac Corner was bustling with tons of people, and it was great to see everyone and hear about their races! For once, I didn’t have to leave right after the race to fly out since I was planning on staying until Monday night, so I was able to just hang out and relax with everyone. There were lots of big milestones that day – my friend Pascal’s 200th, another Maniac’s Titanium race, and my 50th! Lots of cheers to go around.
When we got back to the house that night (after an excellent post-race dinner celebrating me and Jennie’s 30th birthdays!) I finally got around to checking my official time and figuring out if I had accomplished my post-surgery PR or not. And you guys?
I got that post-surgery PR by 17 sweet seconds. And I negative split the race – my first negative marathon split EVER – by nearly 5 MINUTES.
If that isn’t the perfect way to finish my marathon career, I don’t know what is.