Thursday, August 15, 2019

Race Report: Route 66 Marathon

Showing off the bibs I created
Two challenges, roughly three and four years in the making - respectively, a 50 states finish for national anthems sung all over the country and one for marathons.  In November of 2017, I made the decision to make the 2018 edition of the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa, Oklahoma my 50th state for both challenges, building a schedule over the next year to complete the rest of my states remaining. Scheduling the marathons was easy - it was booking the anthem gigs that took a little more time and strategy. By February, the calendar was complete, and I had everything set up for my 50th state for both challenges to occur in Oklahoma in November.

I flew out after work on Friday, getting on a flight from JFK to Atlanta on a repositioning 767; this meant that a flight had arrived in New York from an international or transcontinental destination but needed to be in Atlanta for another flight, so this plane was transporting passengers between the two major hubs on a non-traditional airplane.  For me, as I was upgraded to First Class nearly a week earlier, it meant being able to sit in lie-flat Delta One seats for the two hour flight.  We had an hour-long delay due to residuals from the freak snowstorm NYC experienced the day before (it was stupid, the plane had been there for nearly a full day, and ground operations didn't think to siphon out the excess fuel that was unnecessary for the short-haul trip to Atlanta.  Sigh...) and landed in Atlanta about 40 minutes late, but luckily had originally scheduled a two hour long layover, so I didn't have to rush getting to the connecting flight to Tulsa.  At the gate, I met my friends Winnie and Kent; we boarded the plane shortly, and on the plane met my friend Gaby's friends Georges and Jonathan from Tampa, and ran into my friends Karen and Bob from Syracuse.  The less than two hour flight was quick, and we landed in Tulsa just before 11pm, where I was met by my friend Brian, who was housing me for the first night.

Running the 5K with Winnie
I woke up at 6:30 on Saturday morning, and Brian drove me downtown to Guthrie Green for the start of the 5K race.  I met back up with Kent and Winnie, and got to see my friends Ray and Janice (and Janice's daughter Holly) who had picked up our bibs for us the day before. As the 8am start of the 5K came closer, more and more friends began to show up, ready to take on the first race of the weekend. It was an absolutely beautiful morning, with the sun out and shining, the temperatures at a very comfortable 43°. Winnie and I ran the 5K at a leisurely pace, making our way around the downtown course in 35 minutes, before I headed back over to get ready for the 1 mile Fun Run. It started a roughly 15 minutes late, but once we were off, I sprinted.  The temps had risen slightly to 50° at this point, and the course was just the first half mile of the 5K course, with a turnaround point along Archer Street behind Guthrie Green.  There were only some four or five runners ahead of me, two of them middle school age boys (maybe even younger... spritely legs, lol!), and the others an older gentleman and a young woman.  If it were timed, I would've come in in 7:54 - it had been quite some time since I've done a mile that fast!

Interviewed by KOTV's Amy Slanchik
After retrieving my medal, I found Ally Lightle, my PR/Media contact with the marathon, who had arranged for me to be interviewed with Amy Slanchik from KOTV/News on 6, the CBS affiliate in Tulsa.  In addition to footage they'd capture of me from the marathon start and finish on Sunday, they were interviewing me for a special feature on their post marathon telecast on Sunday evening.

On stage at the Run Influencer Panel
I met back up with Ray, Janice, and Holly, and we drove over to grab lunch at the Tulsa location of Torchy's Tacos, a brand made famous in Austin, Texas. Afterward, they drove me to the Health and Fitness Expo at the Cox Business Center downtown.  My parents had left Wichita earlier that morning and drove to Tulsa, arriving in the early afternoon in time to see me participate in the Run Influencer Panel on the expo's Mainstage with other running social media figures and bloggers to talk about our experiences.  We then retired to our hotel, the Marriott south of downtown near Southern Hills Country Club (which I booked for us using Marriott Rewards Points), where I also picked up a package that was delivered directly to the hotel - a bag of custom-made buttons that I had made to celebrate my 50th state, to give out to friends!  We got to relax for a bit before we headed back into downtown Tulsa to make our way to Ti Amo Ristorante Italiano, where we had made arrangements for a big party that evening.

Watching the slideshow at the dinner
Back in January 2018 while at the airport after the Mississippi Blues Marathon, I had found out that my friend Ray was planning a big milestone at Route 66 as well - it would be his 50th state for half marathons as well as his 100th half marathon.  So we decided to plan a big pre-race party get together to celebrate both of our milestones with all of our friends.  I created a Facebook event for us shortly thereafter to gauge interest in coming to our party, of course knowing that it was still over nine months away. Over the summer, with the assistance of friends (and incredible dinner planners Jennifer and David from Mississippi), we booked Ti Amo, who had a special catered menu option available for our party, based on a prescribed dollar amount per person with a $200 deposit.  We pre-booked for 80 people, based on the Facebook event, and then I set up a PayPal money pool account for people to send me money to digitally to reserve their "ticket" for the dinner.  By the week before the party, we had 74 "tickets" paid for, with the restaurant setting out 80 chairs just in case.  David threw together a quick slide show video for both of us with photos of both of our journeys getting to our milestones.
The amazing slide show put together by David Clark!

The custom button I had made!
We got to Ti Amo at around 5:30 to meet with the manager Jason, and our guests began trickling in starting at 6pm. It was a fun evening getting to reconnect with so many friends, as well as making new ones.  The videos were well received, as was the delicious dinner - two great pasta dishes (penne with olive oil, fresh garlic, Italian herbs, garden vegetables and shrimp; and tortelloni with marinara sauce and parmesan cheese) and a grilled chicken dish with fresh garlic, olives, toasted almonds and roasted peppers over gluten free pasta; plus bruschetta, house salad, breadsticks, and a choice of soda, tea, or coffee.  Runners from all over the US joined us for an evening of great conversation and fellowship. Our guests also got custom backbibs from Ray and custom buttons from me (pictured) to wear for the next morning's race.  As the night ended, I threw the balance of the meal cost on my credit card - yay for points! We headed back to the hotel for a good night's sleep, as we were waking up SUPER early the next morning in order to be out the door by 6:15am to get into downtown, find parking, and be at the startline for a scheduled interview with the KOTV once again.
An amazing board of photos put together by friends!
At 5:45am and I was up, getting myself dressed for the day ahead. My parents had gotten up a little earlier, fully bundled up to prepare for the weather. The temps were going to be notably colder, with temps just above freezing, but a biting wind that could only mean the real feel going below the freezing mark.  We easily found parking downtown, within a couple blocks of the startline.  When I got there, the KOTV cameramen were beginning to set up, with 98.5 KVOO radio personalities Sunny Leigh and Marty Young, doing some TV work that day, preparing for their live shots from the startline.  Amy rolled up with her cameraman as well, and just before 7am, Sunny and Marty interviewed me for a quick one-minute segment that aired live on TV!
 The one minute segment that aired live race morning on KOTV!

Parents and I posing in front of the start before I sang
Over the course of the next hour, runners would trickle in to prepare for the 8am start, and I got myself readied for the national anthem just before the race start. My parents were right there to watch, and took a deep breath as Bart Yasso announced me to sing the anthem. It was an exhilarating 85 seconds, and with a smile on my face as I sang the final strains of the song, I had finished the first of my two goals - national anthems in all 50 states!
National Anthem State #50, check!  One milestone completed... now time to run the marathon!

My parents held up the most perfect signs for me :)
Front and center after starting the race!
I jumped into the corrals, and before long, we were off into the cold Oklahoma air.  While the start and finish remained in roughly the same area as in years past, the 2018 edition of the race featured a  new course that took runners on an approximately 3 mile long stretch of Riverside Drive alongside the Arkansas River, taking participants past Tulsa’s newly opened $465 million, 66.5-acre park, The Gathering Place.  Since the fall of 2014, a large section of Riverside Drive had been closed due to construction on the park, requiring changes to the marathon course, taking runners instead through the Maple Ridge neighborhood once again - this area was notable for the neighborhood "block party" that sprung up near mile 9, complete with jello shots, snacks, photo ops and more. The change in course made annual runners of this race wonder how that would be affected.

Within the first mile, through Midtown
We took off from 5th and Main Street, then proceeded through Midtown, as we went up and down the rolling hills of the city.  I maintained a pretty solid pace over the first four miles, managing to keep my splits below 10 minutes per mile, even as low as 9 1/2 minutes per mile.  Somewhere as we passed through here, my friend Mitch caught up to me, and we would run together over the next several miles. We ran down a couple of Midtown's major streets over the first 2.5 miles, traversing through the affluent historic district of Maple Ridge, a residential area with beautiful mansions dating from approximately 1912; and Swan Lake, a historic, more middle class residential area, before reaching Cascia Hall Preparatory School, a Catholic college-prep day school and the Philbrook Museum of Art, a private collection containing art from all over the world spanning various artistic media and styles housed in a 1920s Italian Renaissance style villa.
Running through Cascia Hall Prep School
Past the Philbrook Museum
Near Woodward Park
If I had my concerns with how the party atmosphere would dissipate with the change in course, particularly with the block party, it was gone by then, because this year, it seemed like the jello shots popular with mile 9 were spread throughout these early miles of the course!  At one point, an enterprising resident even set up a "winter wonderland" themed display in the front yard of their home, encouraging runners to come by for an Instagram-worthy photoshoot complete with fake snow, and of course... bevvies. After mile 5, we continued to run through the residential areas of Maple Ridge, Terwilleger Heights, and Woodward Park; and the Brookside District along Peoria Avenue, home to quaint boutiques, art galleries, antique shops and trendy restaurants.  We even passed by Torchy's Tacos, where I had lunch the day before with the Constantines. We were having a lot of fun as we came through -- it seemed that by the time I got to the 10K mark of the race at around 63 minutes in, I had taken a shot at every mile marker!  Mitch stuck by with me, and we maintained a fairly solid clip, staying between 10 and 11 minute miles over this whole area before we finally reached Riverside Drive just before the 8 mile marker.
Riverside Drive
Running alongside the Mississippi River and Tulsa's brand new park, The Gathering Place!
Riverside Drive's iconic tunnels
Instead of turning back into Maple Ridge half a mile in like the last time I ran this race, we continued over the next three miles through the newly renovated section of course.  The Gathering Place had just opened its first phase only two months earlier, and while we wouldn't get to run through the actual park, we would be running through the new 400-foot wide tunnels that act as land bridges to access the Arkansas River by park users.  Each bridge has 98 precast concrete arches, weighing 25 tons apiece, which were maneuvered and strategically placed with cranes. The only pair of structures like this in the world, the bridges were erected in the hollowed-out earth, extensively waterproofed, and then  soundproofed with berms. Anywhere from 15 to 25 feet of backfill was dumped on top of and around the completed structures, which was then planted with lush grass and vegetation.

An out and back on THE Route 66!
While we ran down this fairly flat section of the course, I also started to notice the temps dipping just enough the form ice crystals on fellow runners' beanies.  Those wearing black, perspiring through cotton caps, were the most noticeable.  Mitch and I had separated somewhere along the way, but I continued on, logging in a few more consistent mile splits, hitting the 10 mile mark in 1:42:31, putting me in a good place to finish my first half under 2:15, which was where I wanted to be.  Soon the course began to ascend slightly as we made our way to the short out-and-back section where we got to run across the Arkansas River on Southwest Boulevard, and across part of the old Route 66. I maintained my same pace as I reached mile 11, and continued on, as the course moved back through Downtown Tulsa.
We're running on Route 66!
Passing through Downtown Tulsa
Southwest Boulevard turned into 7th Street and 6th Street, and we passed the Cox Business Center at mile 12.  We veered left onto Denver Avenue, and soon we would be turning right as the half marathoners continued straight onto their finish. At 2nd Street, in front of the BOK Center, we turned right, and were now on our own. After passing underneath the Hyatt Regency's skybridge, I peeked over at the Hyatt itself, where there seemed to still be some fire department activity after an electrical fire due to an aging escalator occurred on Friday, forcing hotel guests and staff members to evacuate, and displacing guests in town for the race and for other conferences.  It was quite a bit quieter as we traversed through downtown into the Blue Dome District, but I took advantage of the relative flatness as I registered a 9:50 13th mile, and after turning onto Frankfort Avenue, crossed the halfway point in 2:14:47.

Running by the BOK Center
We turned left onto 6th Street as the route took us through the East Village District of downtown Tulsa, an area being developed to connect the downtown's existing entertainment districts.  We ran past Centennial Park, an area with great views of the downtown skyline, and the home of the VFW Post 577, housed in a former National Guard armory built in 1920. While only 13.5 miles into the race now, the route would take us past this area once again later on in the race, roughly two hours later.  We curved around toward Peoria Avenue through the Pearl District to head south, running past Oaklawn Cemetery, the oldest existing cemetery in the city, and would start to see the lead runners coming up in our direction with only a couple miles left for them to go - while we still had just under half our race still to run.  At mile 15, we turned left onto 19th Street, then began to pass by familiar sights we saw early on in the race in the Swan Lake neighborhood; it was like déjà vu when I saw the Tuscan-reminiscent Utica Place Tower building for a second time as we ran down 22nd Place. This time, though, we continued eastward as the course wound its way through the largely residential area of Bryn Mawr southeast of downtown. These were probably the least interesting miles of the race, as the terrain rolled slightly, but trending uphill - for that half hour from miles 16 to 18.75, it was just a matter of grinding out the miles and pushing through!
Running down Florence Avenue
The University of Tulsa
We emerged out of residential monotony as we briefly ran along 21st Street underneath the Broken Arrow Expressway and onto Florence Avenue, where we ran due north through the neighborhood of Florence Park for approximately a mile to the 11th Street, and the first glimpse of the campus of the University of Tulsa.  We turned left onto 11th, then made our way through the grand "front door" to the university into the big grassy space known as Chapman Common, via Tucker Drive.  This is where tailgate parties happen during football season during the school year. We ran along the western edge of the common to 8th Street, where we passed Collins Hall, the university's administrative offices, and our 20 mile marker, in approximately 3:30.  Continuing along 8th, we passed by H.A. Chapman Stadium, where the Golden Hurricanes football team plays their home games. We made our way all around campus passing by the Lorton Performance Center, TU’s showcase facility for the musical and performance arts completed in 2011; as well as facilities for the university's college of engineering and natural sciences (Stephenson and Keplinger Halls) and college of law. From the campus' northern boundary of 4th Place, we then proceeded southward along its western boundary at Delaware Avenue (past the "U" at Dietler Commons and the campus' most notable landmark, McFarlin Library), with less than 10K of the race left to go.

Cherry Street District
As we exited campus and returned to the residential areas just outside of campus, my focus turned to keeping my pace steady over the remaining miles, as the course elevation continued to rise and fall gradually. We turned right onto 15th Street, sending us right through the Cherry Street District, a hotspot of trendy local businesses that had originally been developed in the 1920s to serve affluent neighborhood residents, declined in the 1970s like many urban areas in the US, and then experienced a rebirth with reinvestment in the 1980s to its popularity today.  At mile 23.5, we returned back to Peoria Street, turning right as we traced our footsteps back to the downtown for our final miles.

The Center of the Universe detour!
A mile later, as we passed the DFW building we ran by two hours earlier, we turned right onto Norfolk Avenue, to take us on the slightly zig-zagged route through the East Village and Blue Dome Districts to the finish at Guthrie Green.  We found ourselves on 1st Avenue, then I eventually made my way toward the 0.3 mile detour along Boston Avenue that marathoners could take in order to complete the "world's shortest ultra."  The detour allowed us to run past the Center of the Universe, a unique landmark where vistiors who stand at the center of the brick circle and talk will hear themselves echo, but others outside the circle will not hear the echo.  After grabbing a beer at the turnaround point and retrieving my special coin for completing the detour, I continued back along 1st Avenue, dipping under the railroad tracks along Denver Avenue.
Passing by mile 25!  Almost done...
Rumchata to celebrate! Thanks Jamie!
With a half mile left to go, I spotted my friend Jamie, who was waiting for me with glittery confetti and a small bottle of Rumchata, which I promised I would celebrate with once I passed the finish line.  My legs were heavy, but we finally reached Tulsa's Brady Arts District, where the finish line was located, and I ran through the finish to the cheers of spectators all around - including my parents - thrilled to see me complete my 50 states, as Bart announced my name crossing the line in 4:46:48.  I would later see that my time if I took out the Center of the Universe detour (where we crossed over a timing mat as we entered and exited), would be 4:43:15 for an even 26.2.

Victory Headstand!
Amy was there with her cameraman to capture me cross the finish line, and after passing through the finish chute (and documenting my finish with the Rumchata shot), I found my parents, who met up with me to give me their congratulations in person.  We proceeded to the Maniacs/Fanatics tent to warm up, where I got a quick bite to eat (another beer to drink) and got to see some friends who had finished their races.  I was able to get my headstand photo before we left the area, fittingly in front of a building-sized mural of Woody Guthrie with the words "This Land Is Your Land" emblazoned at the top outside his namesake center, a work completed by local artist Aaron Whisner in 2013.  A fitting finish to 50 states of marathons from “California to the New York island.”  We found our way to the shuttles nearby to get ourselves back to the start where we had parked our car, and got back to the hotel, where the Marriott had kindly given us late checkout.  I cleaned up and packed our stuff up before heading back downtown to celebrate with Ray and a small group of friends (and eat some much needed late lunch!) at Soul City Gastropub.

My bling haul!
After lunch, we picked up Winnie, who had made her way back to her Airbnb to get showered up and pack up her things after finishing her marathon. My parents drove us to the Tulsa airport for our flight to Atlanta, before they headed back home to Wichita.  At the airport, we were joined by my friend Jim, who was flying back to Atlanta as well.  I stayed the night in Atlanta with Winnie, and had booked a flight early the next morning from there back to New York in order to maximize my time post race in Tulsa with friends and family - only to return back to Atlanta a few days later for an epic Thanksgiving weekend that began there, ultimately to go to Panama for my second to last race of the season.

That weekend was such a fun, whirlwind weekend - and the culmination of a goal that I had set out to do only a few short years earlier.  A couple days after the race, Runner's World published an article on my journey, written by Taylor Dutch, who had been put in contact with me via one of my race director contacts over the years.  This wonderful article ended with a couple great quotes:

"For Diego, these races provide a unique opportunity to meet people from all over the world, and as a result, he has created a network of runners that spans over five continents. Like Diego, many of them also travel to far off places in order to compete in these marathons. It’s a community that is constantly expanding and encouraging him to explore further

“The running community is the big draw, it feels like a family. Sometimes I see these runners, especially in the U.S., that I haven’t seen for months at a time and we just reunite and it’s almost like a family reunion,” Diego said. “We all have the same sense of craziness of being able to travel the world and add a marathon to it too.”"
Officially a 50 States Certified Marathon finisher!

1 comment:

  1. You are an inspiration and Jennifer and I are glad and honored to call you "friend!!