For “Throwback Thursday,” here’s my recap of the Route 66 Marathon from the fall of 2011 (my 6th marathon). This was written well before I started this blog and at a time when I could apparently run a marathon over an hour faster than I can now. Sigh.
Surprise! Yesterday I ran the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I didn’t really tell anybody I was doing it, partially because I didn’t want them to feel obligated to cheer me on in any way, or worry about me, and partially because I think you all think I’m crazy for doing marathons anyway, especially so close together (I didn’t really train for this one, just tacked on a couple long runs and did a taper, aka did not run), and somehow it’s less crazy if it’s something I’ve already run.
I flew out on Saturday morning, arriving in Tulsa about 17 hours before the marathon. The moment I stepped off the plane I was struck by how warm it was – sunny and in the 70s.
I hopped in a cab for a short ride downtown. I had booked a room at one of the downtown “host” hotels (the Hyatt Regency) that was a few blocks from the start, had free marathon shuttle service over the weekend, and was only a hundred bucks a night. Right after checking in I headed straight to the expo to pick up my packet and goodies. The expo was surprisingly large, and I definitely walked around too much for my own good. I walked back to the hotel to rest a bit before catching the shuttle to the pasta dinner held in a large, old concert venue. The food was pretty terrible but the music was great (the guy playing did a great acoustic cover of Pumped Up Kicks, which again I took as a good sign since it’s my current favorite song), and the company was good. I mostly chatted with two guys I met on the shuttle bus – one who was doing his 37th marathon, and one who was doing his first (he supplied the volunteer software for the event). I told the guy who was doing his 37th that I hoped to someday join the 50 States Club like him, but that it seemed like an eternity away.
The guy running his first warned me that the course was hilly. “In Oklahoma?” I scoffed. “Yeah,” he said. “I drove the course today.”
“Uh-oh,” I thought. I had kept myself blissfully unaware of the course, except for the fact that there was a “center of the universe” detour sponsored by Michelob Ultra (“Live life to the ultra!”), where around mile 17 you could run a quarter mile more than the marathon and get a commemorative coin (and glory) for your troubles. I was totally doing the detour.
I went back to the hotel, bought candy and pins at the gift store, and was hoping to stay awake long enough to catch some of the Stanford v Cal football game, but I fell asleep before the 10 pm kickoff. (Stanford beat the weenies 31-28.)
When I woke up I could tell the weather had changed drastically, just from standing near the closed window and feeling the cold seep through the glass. I had been obsessively checking the weather forecast, thinking I might need to wear a short-sleeved shirt for the first time in a marathon. Instead, the temperature had dropped into the 30s. Multiple forecasts said it would reach the 50s by mid-morning (perfect running weather for me) but they were wrong – it never got out of the 30s.
I ate a bagel I had brought from NYC with free peanut butter that was in my expo pack, plus some more candy, and went down to the start. It wasn’t more than three blocks from my hotel to my starting corral, but I was instantly cold, even with my “throwaway” layer. The sky was overcast and the air was misty with what seemed like suspended particles of ice. I was prepared with a buff that covered my ears plus one for my neck, and thin little gloves (the kind you buy in Chinatown for a dollar), and I was glad it was cold rather than too hot.
The race started in waves. I think I was in the third wave, but I was almost toeing the starting line so it felt like an elite start. They shot a gun and multiple confetti cannons for each wave, so it was beautiful and festive. The wave start also kept the course almost totally congestion-free. I’ve never dodged so little in a race before.
I tossed my throwaway jacket at mile 2 because I was starting to sweat a tiny bit and didn’t want to get wet in such cold weather. I also thought it would warm up, but again, it never did. The wind was pretty fierce, too. The other bummer was that I had to pee, but didn’t want to stop and wait in line.
I kept a pretty steady 10-minute mile pace except for a mistaken 8-minute mile around mile 7. The course was like a snake, weaving back and forth and across itself many times. I thought most of the runners were halfers, and at the 13-mile mark my suspicions were confirmed. When the full runners split off, I felt alone.
Then I looked up and who did I see but my buddy from the night before, the 37-marathon guy. “I can’t believe I’m running into you,” he said. “Well, since it’s just us and about ten other people now, it makes sense,” I said. We ran together for several miles, chatting about nothing much. When we hit about 16.5 miles I said, “isn’t the detour coming up soon?” We spotted the sign moments later. “You’re doing it with me, right?” I said. “This better be worth it,” he said. We both split off the course and ran under the Ultra sign, then up another hill. A guy running the other way shouted, “there’s beer up there!” and I knew I had made the right decision. We got our little cups of beer and our (larger than expected) commemorative coins, and were back on our way. To be honest, the biggest challenge of the detour was what to do with that big coin for 9 more miles. I stuffed it into my little shorts pocket and could feel the icy cold metal through the thin fabric. Fun times.
I decided to stop bothering the nice man and told him I was going to let him pace himself without worrying about me, and I took off. At mile 19 I still had to pee, and since I estimated I had at least another 1 hour, 10 minutes more of bouncing up and down, I made a pit stop, hoping I could make up time with comfort. Shortly after, I caught up to my friend again. “Where did you come from? I thought you had finished,” he said. “Pit stop,” I said. “Well, go get ’em!” he said, and I ran off again.
At this point, I had been cold and tired for many miles. Although I had been fueling well and didn’t feel like I had hit the wall, most of the course was on concrete (not asphalt, which is surprisingly more forgiving), and the cold was making my muscles tense. My legs just felt shot. I struggled with miles 19 through 23, not walking much but struggling to maintain an even pace. At mile 23, spectators were handing out more free beer in cups, and thinking I had nothing to lose at this point, and that it might even help, I had some. Shortly thereafter, at the next water station, my friend caught up to me. “I saw you take a beer back there!” he said. “I know! I’ve never drunk so much in a race before.” “Well, come on, let’s go,” he said, and started running. I took off after him. “I knew I shouldn’t have talked to you last night. I could have been happily, anonymously walking at this point, but instead you make me finish strong,” I said.
We ran the next two miles faster than I would ever had been able to alone. When we hit mile 25 we celebrated and took off even faster, until we reached the crest of yet another hill and gasped – the course in front of us went up and down more than a roller coaster. It was a brutal final mile. The worst part for me was the steep downhills – my legs could barely take it after 25 other rolling concrete miles. But we pushed through, shot down the final hill, and into the finishing shoot. I high-fived the announcer and as I crossed the finish line all by myself, I heard him say my name and hometown and my friend’s name and hometown right after (I made sure to give him space so he’d have a nice finish photo all to himself). We high-fived and thanked each other at the end, saying we never would have run those last few miles like that without each other.
I gratefully accepted a heat sheet from a volunteer, my neat hood-ornament medal, and a short-sleeved finishers shirt, which I promptly put on for warmth. I felt obligated to have a free beer at the beer tent afterwards, but couldn’t finish much since the last thing I wanted was cold beer at that point. (The waste of beer killed me, but what killed me even more was that our bib had TWO free beer tickets attached and I only used one.) I hopped on a shuttle bus back to the hotel, and had the longest, hottest shower I’ve had in a long time. Hot water has never felt so good. Nor has a room service cheeseburger with salty sweet potato fries tasted so good.
I fly home early tomorrow (today, Monday) morning – a quick in and out with just a tiny duffle as luggage. It was a very fun weekend, and even though I know I’m going to be crazy sore tomorrow, I’m even more hooked on running the 50 States. Again, don’t know if I’ll ever make it, but it sure will be fun trying.
I finished in a little under 4:30, not bad for an ultra with a pit stop…
Funniest overheard conversation:
Man: “At mile ten, it’s all downhill.”
Man: “Yeah, just gotta reach ten.”
Woman: “Wait… do you mean literally downhill or psychologically downhill?”
Woman: (disappointed) “Oh.”
Me: (miles later, thinking to myself, also disappointed) “Oh, those were halfers.”
Thinking of Running Tulsa?
Even though Tulsa seems remote, this is a surprisingly accessible race. The airport is only about 15 minutes from downtown, and the three host hotels are all within walking distance of both the expo and the start, meaning no rental car is necessary. It’s well-organized and the volunteers were great, but the lack of food at the finish was astonishing (only Gatorade, Muscle Milk, orange wedges, and tiny cubes of dry bagel – literally that was it, besides the free cold beer in 30-degree weather). The course was fine – rolling hills were ok, but the concrete was rough. Some parts were scenic (fancy neighborhoods, cute shops and restaurants, the university) but other long stretches (highway, out and backs) were not. You get two short-sleeved shirts plus a nice medal for finishing. You get a large coin, beer, and bragging rights for detouring. You get more beer from spectators, free beer at the pasta dinner, and two free beers at the finish. Lots and lots of beer. Overall, I thought it was a good race, and worthwhile doing once, but I wouldn’t clamor to do it again.
All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.
- Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 9/10 – It’s in the middle of the country, so it can’t be all that far from you, plus no rental car necessary – you can taxi to hotel, walk to expo, walk to start, and there are shuttles to the pasta dinner & back from the finish.
- Staying There – 9/10 – Hotel was perfectly nice and relatively inexpensive at about $100/night.
- Cost & Registration – 8/10 – I can’t remember the process or the price, but it was easy to register (no lottery, plus I think I only registered about a month before the race) and I don’t think the price was bad for what you get.
- Organization – 8/10 – It was fine, and the wave start was really great, but definitely needed more food options at the end (even for sale would have been nice).
- Course – 5/10 – Too much concrete, not super-scenic, but not horrible – it just was the least interesting thing about this race.
- Crowd – 6/10 – I can’t remember the crowd very well, except for the free beer table.
- Other Factors – 7/10 – It was a really simple race to add at the relatively last minute for me, and very easy to get to/navigate, and a painless way to knock off Oklahoma.
- Overall Rating – 7/10 – High marks for hotels near the start and the ease of travel, plus the wave start, but the course itself is just blah.
Have you run Route 66? Ever visited Oklahoma? Share in the comments!