Homecoming – 2016 Route 66 Half Marathon Race Report

There is only one race that I have done more than twice: the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I did the marathon in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, where I completed my 50th and maybe/probably my final marathon. There was never any question that I’d be headed back to Tulsa again for race weekend this year, but for the first time, I’d be running the half marathon.

Tulsa is one of those places that, had you asked me back in 2011 before I had ever even heard of Route 66, I would have said I had no desire to visit. I mean, what’s in Tulsa, right? It’s Oklahoma. It’s a flyover state. Well, my visit for the 2012 race quickly proved that I was incredibly ignorant. In addition to the fact that I had no idea that Tulsa isn’t flat at all and actually has a ton of hills, it’s actually an incredible, thriving city with a vibrant downtown, 40-mile long multi-use path, and maybe the nicest people on the planet. Tulsa is no longer just a stop on my marathon journey – it’s now probably my favorite city in the U.S., and Route 66 Marathon weekend is my favorite weekend of the year. That’s not an exaggeration. Tulsa feels like home. The weekend before Thanksgiving is now my Super Bowl, without the terrible halftime show.

As always, race weekend was a busy one. Each year, I take part in the Route 66 Marathon Blogger’s Forum, which invites bloggers participating in the race to answer questions about running, blogging, and life! We had one of the most lively discussions this year that we’ve ever had. It was a blast and it’s always fun to think about how my blog has evolved over the years.

cxlzgt8uuaajwiz-1024x768-1-2 From left: Stormy of Go Run Tulsa, me, Felisha of She Ran Herself Fit, Colin of Canapeel, Lynn of Funatical Runner, and Cheryl, the Route 66 Marathon Social Media Coordinator

Saturday included more time at the expo, a great shakeout run with Patty, and then dinner with my Tulsa running group, the Dom-N-8rz! They welcomed me with open arms when I lived in Tulsa during the summer of 2014, and getting to run with them is one of the many things that makes this race so special to me. It was fitting that every person I saw at our group dinner greeted me with an enthusiastic “Welcome home!!” and a big hug. It definitely felt like I was home, for sure.

After seeing everyone at dinner and the expo, I was feeling really down about not running the marathon. There have definitely been some races where it is more tempting than others,  I knew this would be the hardest one to turn down. I’ve done it four years in a row, and I could run with so many of my favorite people. That said…obviously I am not delusional enough to think I am in marathon shape. I’ve run 20 miles twice this year (during and after other races) and the last time I did that was May. The longest run I’ve done since then is a mediocre half marathon, the most recent of which was in September. I obviously, however, am delusional enough to not really care about what kind of shape I’m in, because I seriously considered just taking a ton of pain meds and doing the race anyway. Fortunately, Patty talked me off the ledge and convinced me, correctly, that this was a terrible idea that could only end in me probably setting myself on fire to rid myself of my own misery around mile 20.

After a fitful night’s sleep, it was time for race morning. I’d like to say that for once, Patty and our friend Aaron and I were on time to the pre-race pictures, but that would be grossly inaccurate. As usual, we found ourselves sprinting to run into the picture as it was being taken, but this is rapidly becoming one of my favorite traditions of race weekend, so I didn’t mind. It’s a good warmup, after all.

unnamed-2 Below freezing at the pre-race photo!

The race started with its usual fanfare and confetti, and we were off! I started the race with Patty, Aaron, Kendall, Mike, and Lygea, and our happy group made our way through the streets of downtown Tulsa. The early miles of Route 66 are deceptively hilly. You barely notice because of the crowds of people and the cheering spectators, but it can take its toll if you aren’t careful. Take the early portion out slow and save some for later – this is a tough course!

img_8442-1024x1024-1-2 Waiting in Corral B at the start in lots of layers

I wasn’t really sure what I could expect from this race. I knew that running has started to become fun again for me, and my runs have felt really great since coming back from Nepal. Apparently, 2 weeks of non-stop hiking at altitude is good for the legs and lungs! That said, I have not done any long runs since the Nevis Half Marathon back in September, so I was fully prepared to be sort of miserable. I resolved to have fun and take lots of pictures (what else is new, really) and decided to Instagram live from the course. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried!

img_8443-1024x768-1-2 Running through some of Tulsa’s beautiful neighborhoods around mile 3

I couldn’t believe how quickly the race was flying by! I was having a blast talking with everyone in our group and getting to know Kendall, who was running her first marathon. I made sure to instill my favorite tradition of high-fiving at every mile marker – and seriously, if you guys aren’t doing this, please start immediately. It gives you such a huge boost at every mile and people around you will join in, too! High five whoever happens to be near you – I guarantee they will smile.

img_8450-1024x1024-1-2 All smiles at mile 5! Patty and I bought our latest matching shirts – the Oklahoma state flag – and we are just a little obsessed.

My favorite part about Route 66 is probably all of the support from the beautiful neighborhoods of Tulsa. Clearly I am Tulsa-obsessed (and no, AJ will not move there – I ask him at least once a month), but the people really come out to cheer for this race and make it special for runners. Lots of houses do parties in their driveways with beer, mimosas, and candy, and of course, we stopped for all of them. One of the best spots on the course is Mile 9, where there is a huge station with over 5,000 JELLO SHOTS. 5,000, you guys!! Last year they made 2,000 and people liked them so much that they made more than double this year. They’re strong, too, and I say that as a person that likes the taste of alcohol. I had a jello shot and vodka-soaked gummy bears – MAGIC.

img_8453-1024x1024-1-2 #CheersOnCincinnati, indeed! They have a ready-made selfie station and someone standing there waiting to take your picture. COME ON.

I couldn’t believe how fast the race was going by and I found myself really dreading splitting off from the full marathoners. Although in other races this year I would have been hurting and ready for the race to be over, I was feeling pretty great. I know that 90 percent of that has to do with the fact that I was having so much fun running with my friends, but I like to think all that hiking in Nepal didn’t hurt, either. Still, as we approached the split near mile 12, I knew there was no way I was capable of running an enjoyable marathon. It was time to quit while I was ahead. Since I wasn’t wearing a Garmin, I had no idea at all what my pace might be and I didn’t care. It had been the best race of the year – as usual.

img_8456-1024x1024-1-2 I took two seconds to take a finish line shot for Instagram and then made a mad dash to the car

I was bound and determined to make it to a specific aid station around mile 22 of the course – or wherever I thought it was. My very first Route 66, I remember there being this incredible aid station in the neighborhoods around Tulsa University that had beer and mimosas and the most supportive spectators ever. One of my readers ran the half marathon and then went to the station, and I met her there that year and several years after that. However, the course has changed and I couldn’t remember exactly where the station was. I put out a plea on social media and thought I found it, but it turned out to be different than the one I was thinking of. Patty and I further narrowed it down and I decided to just randomly show up around mile 21.5 and hope for the best. The aid station I was thinking of wasn’t there (and I still don’t know where it actually is – if this sounds familiar, comment or email me!), but there was an awesome station hosted by the local chapter of the Hash House Harriers!

img_8460-1024x768-1-2 My new Tulsa BFFs

I walked up, explained the situation, and was immediately welcomed in with open arms! They had apple cider and pumpkin rum (a delicious combination, by the way), as well as beer, a bag of wine, and bourbon. Someone even brought bacon and freshly made gluten free double chocolate chipotle cookies! Everyone was so shocked that I come from South Carolina for the race every year, and I had a great time getting to know everyone while cheering my face off for all the runners. One of the women at the stand is even a reader of my blog and recognized me! The faster runners weren’t so into drinking beer while on the run, but as the estimated finish times creep up, people are more and more excited about the reprieve. A few people, including my friend Halbert, even took shots of bourbon!

15151193_10155463542529554_1493194454_n-2 Me, Halbert, and the Maker’s Mark. Yup, they brought the good stuff.

Race spectating is unbelievably entertaining to me, especially when I have a slight buzz going, as I did on this occasion. It mostly involved screaming “FREE BEER HERE! AND BOURBON! AND BAGGED WINE! AND BACON! AND GLUTEN FREE COOKIES FOR THOSE WITH DIETARY CONCERNS!” I probably need to work on my spectator/elevator pitch, but whatever. I was able to see all the Dom-N-8rz as they ran by, and ran with each of them for a couple of blocks to encourage them, especially Kendall, since she was looking so strong in her first marathon! I made it back to the finish line with less than five seconds – no exaggeration – before Patty and Aaron finished and managed to cheer them in, too. All in a day’s work!

img_8461-1024x1024-1-2 Medal, KUHL gear, and spiked cider – what more does a person need?

After celebrating at the special Marathon Maniac/50 State Marathon Club/Half Fanatics area at the finish line, Patty and I headed back to get ready for the annual Maniacs bowling party. I have never been able to go before since I usually go home Sunday night or have other plans, but this year, we were able to make it! It was great to be able to hang out with the three “Main Maniacs” (the guys who started the club) as well as the esteemed Bart Yasso and other Maniac friends!

15178146_10153945600377633_8493880192990796556_n-2 We were supposed to do a crazy face but I guess I heard the word “obscene” and went with that instead

I told Patty after the race this year that even if one day I have to stop running (not on the agenda anytime soon, don’t worry!) I would still come to Tulsa every year for Route 66. This race is truly something special – it grabs you and won’t let go. There’s no better homecoming celebration than a marathon-sized party. Only 360 days until I get to do it again!

LEAVE A COMMENT: What is your favorite race? Why do you love it so much? Who is coming to Tulsa for Route 66 next year?!