State 28: Oklahoma (2012 Williams Route 66 Marathon)

1. Injury Paranoia

A normal person would say that there are many things wrong with signing up for five marathons in five months.  However, my biggest problem with it is the constant danger of injury.  One slip and it can jeopardize your training and throw your peak fitness into a tailspin, ruining good performances at all of your races.  It wouldn’t be such a big deal if injuring yourself meant falling down an elevator shaft or getting hit in the face with a wrecking ball.  If that were the case, few people would ever hobble their way to the starting line.  Instead, injuries happen from tiny changes, like putting just 1% more power into your left foot when you run or tilting your hips by a miniscule amount because new shorts make you chafe in odd places.

But this fall season, I was doing alright.  I was lucky to be churning through my training while avoiding all injuries, serious or trivial.  But not everyone was blessed with such providential good fortune a statistical outlier.  In fact, a lot of my running compatriots were getting injured.  Glenn started feeling pains in his foot right before the Marine Corps Marathon; Otter became acquainted with some dastardly IT issues after Chicago; even ultrarunner Jeff, an otherwise fast, sturdy and prolific runner, was sidelined with pains.  It was like walking down your street and seeing everyone’s house randomly catching fire, knowing it was just a matter of time before yours ignited.

Though I haven’t had a real, painful detour in my training regimen since after last year’s Chicago Marathon, I have spent most of this year battling tiny, nagging discomforts.  In late spring, my left arch was acting up, but that eventually went away.  A few months later, it was my second toe that was giving me grief.  But once I switched over to the lightweight Saucony Kinvaras, it all seemed to magically go away.  I don’t like believing in magic bullets, but for the time, it seemed like I had found one.  No matter how far or how fast I ran in those shoes, I always felt completely invincible.  Crazy Horse could have crippled me, but it didn’t.  Three weeks later, I ran a huge PR in Des Moines and kept going without a single issue.  I felt like nothing could stop me.

So it was clearly frustrating when I strained my lower back painting our apartment the weekend before the Williams Route 66 Marathon.

Painting the apartment.  Standing against a wall, rolling up, rolling down.  Maybe if I had done this while parkouring a jagged cliff face or street fighting a drug cartel, I’d be a little less upset.  Or not.  But the point is, I got injured doing an activity that nobody would call exercise (except maybe for your palms).

It’s not the first time this has happened.  I first strained it during the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon in 2010 and most recently five days before this year’s Grandma’s Marathon.  It’s a perpetual tightness in my lumbars that makes every waking moment uncomfortable.  Straight leg lifts cause intense pain, lying down involves constant fidgeting, never quite comfortable, and if sitting for 9 hours a day at a workstation is bad, then standing up afterward is the worst.  And that’s how I found myself the week before this race.

2. A Sneaky Compatriot

Sometime in September I received an email from Nolan, my friend from middle school with whom I ran the 2011 Georgia Half Marathon and the 2012 Mercedes-Benz Half Marathon, telling me he was “trying to decide if running a marathon a week before Thanksgiving is a good idea.”  I obviously told him it was a great idea and that I was running the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa.  Given that Tulsa isn’t exactly the most exotic city, I was shocked when he signed up.  To date I’m not entirely sure what motivated him (because in the interest of full disclosure, what drew me to the race was the medal), but I’m glad he decided to tag along.

We both landed at the exact same time on Saturday and hopped into our rental car, which was a beige Ford Crown Victoria straight from an 80s cop movie.  Easily the most old-fashioned rental I’ve ever been given.  It tilted slightly when I turned the key, the CD player was definitely twenty years old and you could smell the grandfather in the leather seats.  We were about to leave the parking lot when my phone rang.  It was Otter.

“Hey buddy, where are you?” he asked.
“In Tulsa, pulling out of the rental lot.”
I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a car behind me, a much nicer one.
“Uh, I can’t.  There’s a car behind me.”
“Dude, I’m in Tulsa.”
“What?” I said looking at Nolan, who was not entire sure what was going on.  “No you’re not.”
“That’s a nice striped sweater you’re wearing.”

I instantly burst into laughter.  At first I thought he was in the car behind me, trailing me like a spy.  He wasn’t.  He had been sitting near the terminal exit, waiting for me to come out.  However, his espionage skills were as rusty as my rental’s exhaust, so he lost me very quickly.  He had planned several different ways of surprising me but instead was relegated to a phone call.  All those times he had told me how jealous he was that I was running Route 66 were all lies.  Lies!

“So,” he started, sheepishly, “can you come pick me up?”

I turned the car around and circled the airport.  He was at the departures dropoff with two bags.  After the requisite introductions and general what-the-hell questions, I asked him where he was staying.

“With you guys.”

I guess I was the only tool who didn’t write anything clever on his bib.

Very sneaky, Otter.  So what was once a solo trip out to Oklahoma to tackle a quirky marathon had become a dudes weekend.  I say “quirky” because there were several components to this race that stood out from the hundreds of other marathons out there.  For one, they give extra perks to serial marathoners – the Marathon Maniacs, the Half Fanatics and 50-States Club.  Second, they have an official, race-sanctioned 0.3-mile optional detour to an underwhelming architectural landmark called the “Center of the Universe.”  It’s basically a circular plaza where you can hear your echo if you stand right in the middle.  Lastly, this race gives out amazing medals, all inspired by American vintage cars.  There’s a website hosted by a serial marathoner named Paul Gentry called “26.2 Medals” that puts out a yearly list of the best marathon medals, selected by a committee of running veterans.  Route 66 has made the top 3 spots in the last three years.  This year’s medals, in the organizers’ words, “honor the strength and beauty of the 1936 Dodge pickup truck.”

As someone who runs for the hardware, I had no choice but to run this one.

(left to right): Otter, Danielle (T-Rex), Me, Amanda, Nolan

After getting lunch at Café Elote and hitting up the Expo, we checked into our hotel, which was right next to the starting line.  Later that night we went to Olive Garden for a dinner that had been co-organized by the one and only T-Rex Runner.  Once there we met several Marathon Maniacs and like-minded long-distance enthusiasts.  It was a fun gathering because it gave us a glimpse into the Maniacs culture, even for just a couple of hours.  Most everyone was wearing a SWAG shirt of some kind, showing off the races they’ve finished and talking about their most recent exploit.  Some members stood up and gave short speeches, others detailed the rest of the year’s race schedule, inside jokes were said, people called out.  It was like bearing witness to the “minutes” of a secret club.  All in all, it was a very fun night and I’m glad we decided to be part of it.

3.  Race Day

We were in our corrals by 7:50, ready to make it happen.  Nolan had just one marathon under his belt and despite a great training season, came down with congestion and a headcold the week before.  This wasn’t helping his confidence, so he said he’d play it safe.  Otter was still battling a knee injury, so he decided to run with T-Rex at a slower pace.  I however, was feeling awesome.  My back was at around 80%, I was feeling fresh, and it was in the low 40s much to my delight.  After a Native American prayer and the National Anthem, we were off, released into downtown Tulsa.

Nolan has three poses. This is one of them.

But not for long.  The course started south on Main Street before making a left onto 15th and taking us away from the downtown area.  Only a mile into the race, we were already climbing the first of many hills.  Slow up, fast down.  That’s always been my strategy and I started using it from the very beginning.  I had to focus on my legs, breathing and back because the course wasn’t giving me much else to admire for those first miles.  There was a nice detour around a residential pond, but it wasn’t until mile 3 that we entered Cascia Hall’s campus (go Commandos!).  This Catholic preparatory institution, as it turns out, is where my friend Jayne went to school.  However, when I first saw the multistory building, which looked like a Mediterranean Luxury Hotel or a Tuscan Fortress, I would have never guessed that it was a high school.

A trip through Cascia’s Campus, aka, a vacation in Italy

Regardless, for the next four miles we would run through gorgeous neighborhoods with enormous houses made of stone.  I was keeping a steady pace, just under 8 minutes per mile, enjoying the pristine lawns and occasional pockets of spectators.  This beautiful strip of race ended as we hit the Arkansas River around mile 7.  The next six consisted of an out-and-back with a slight detour into a commercial strip, which I did not like at all.  I love running through downtown urban centers and neighborhoods – but hate strip malls for some reason.  I was happy to be back alongside the river, despite the insistent headwinds we were facing.  After the U-turn, the wind was at my back and the half marathoners could feel the end approaching.

I thought it was going to sting to see the half marathoners jut out and gleefully finish their race, right as we marathon warriors come to the realization that we are only halfway done.  But fueled by my success four weeks ago in Des Moines, I told myself that the true race had just begun.  I crossed the half mat in 1:44:33, the fastest first half I’ve ever run.  That could have frightened me a little – I wasn’t running as conservatively as I had planned.  But instead, I saw it as a sign that I’m just faster now.  Something happened in the last four months to turn me into a faster marathoner (that “something” by the way, was summer ending).  So I pressed on, speeding up and passing runners.

Otter at the Center of the Universe. Nolan is unimpressed.

Though it was easy to keep up a fast pace in the second half of the race in Des Moines, Tulsa was proving much harder.  Not only were some significant winds pushing me back, but the worst of the hills were all in the second 13.1 miles.  On more than one occasion, I found myself analyzing my energy levels pessimistically and I had to repress them, convincing myself that anyone would be tired after running 16 miles.  Right?

After passing several domes, hospitals and parking lots, we were in a depressed area of town that we had seen the day before when we visited the Center of the Universe.  I recognized Archer Street, where the detour takes place, and saw a banner up ahead for it.  However, I messed up.  A volunteer told the runner ahead of me to “just go ahead” in a dismissive tone, which I interpreted to mean “if you go this way, you’ll avoid the detour.”  So I turned left onto a bridge on Cincinnati Avenue.  At the top, I looked right and saw the rusty tower that overlooks the Center of the Universe one street down, knowing I had goofed.  I guess that meant I wasn’t running “the world’s shortest ultra marathon” anymore.  For some reason, I felt determined to PR now.  I hadn’t skipped that gimmicky detour for nothing – it was my obligation to run my fastest marathon now.

But goddamn these hills weren’t going to make that easy.  And the worst was yet to come.

A stroll through the University of Tulsa

After rounding Centennial Park at mile 18, the course heads south on Peoria Avenue, where for the next two miles we would climb with the winds pushing down against us, as if sliding down the road.  To make matters worse, we were running through more commercial strips, devoid of any scenery.  In fact, it wouldn’t be until around mile 21 that we would enter the University of Tulsa’s campus for a nice break from the monotony.  By that point, keeping a 7:40 pace was a chore.  I wanted to slow down but my PR was quite literally at my heels.  Slowing down wasn’t an option, so the kick continued, my feet slipping into prickly numbness for minutes at a time only to come back to life at the next turn.  I thought of Jeff “RunFactory” Lung’s advice about pushing through the pain, almost embracing it, and kept moving forward.

Finish Line!  Is … is that building sinking?

But I soon learned that the mantra only works on flat terrain.  By mile 24, even the downhills were killing me, so you can imagine how bad it was to climb.  More than one cruel hill at mile 25 made me slow down back into the 8s.  It was then that I did the sad math: I wouldn’t be PRing today, but not by a large margin.

The last two miles were one straight shot down 21st street, heading west towards the river, where the finish line and post-race party were waiting for me.  “Straight” doesn’t mean “flat” so my pace was erratic.  Although my PR ghost had passed me, I was still feeling relatively good.  My legs were tired and my feet felt like ground beef, but my lungs were doing alright and my back hadn’t made a single complaint.  Plus, I was practically replicating my PR time from four weeks ago on a considerably tougher course.  By any measurable standard, I was thrilled.  So when I turned into Veteran’s Park for the last 0.2 miles, I couldn’t help but be happy.  I churned out a hard effort with very little recovery time and still managed to stop the clock at just over 3:27.  While I had suspected that Des Moines could have been a fluke, this race seemed to suggest that this was my new normal.  Awesome.

However, not everyone would share my enthusiasm.  Nolan was doing well until mile 19.8, where he went through a devastating bonk that kept him from running more than a third of a mile at a time.  Otter’s knee didn’t cooperate either, but he still managed to get through the entire course without being dragged away on a stretcher.  The good news for him is that his race schedule has ended for the year (or so he says) so he can dedicate more time to recovery and less to eeking out respectable times on a gimp knee.  As for Nolan, he has future dates set with the marathon, so his redemptive run is also on the horizon.  But we all finished the same race, climbed the same hills, and earned the beautiful 2012 medal (which Otter described appropriately as “a flying guitar pick”).

Regular chump medal (left), Special Marathon Maniacs medal (right)

After a few celebratory beers in the post-race party, we hopped on the shuttles and went back to shower at the hotel.  Not long after, we were at McNellie’s, where we stuffed our faces with hefty burgers and craft brews.  I opted for an open-faced chili cheeseburger and a sampler of dark ales, all of which hit the spot quite perfectly.  We paid the tab and made our way to the airport, where we dropped off our “casket on wheels” as the Budget attendant so eloquently put it.  Otter and I were on the same flight back to Chicago and Nolan would share his flight with T-Rex and her friend Amanda.


All in all, a very successful weekend (for me anyway).  I ran my 300th race mile for the year, finished my 11th marathon, 9th marathon state and 28th overall state towards my half marathon goal.  And I confirmed that yes, the Route 66 Marathon is unique.  The organizers go beyond the typical expectations for a large race and give serial marathoners extra perks to really stand out.  In addition to the unique medals for Maniacs, Fanatics and 50-Staters, first time finishers get a “My First Marathon” medal to proudly hang on their wall.  Because as long as we’re being honest, it’s a hard sell to get anyone to run Tulsa specifically.  No offense to locals, but it’s not exactly the most cosmopolitan city (though I can’t say you won’t be offended if you asked Nolan for his opinion).  But despite that, I had fun and hope I can say the same for my friends.

Now it’s time to recover and slowly build back up for the Hoover Dam Marathon in four weeks.  Maybe Otter will show up unannounced to that one too.

About Dan
Running a marathon in all 50 states because there's no better way to explore the world around you than on your own two feet, for as long as you can, until you hate yourself and everything around you. Then you stop, get a medal, and start over.

25 Responses to State 28: Oklahoma (2012 Williams Route 66 Marathon)

  1. trexrunner says:

    Even the locals don’t think the scenery is much to look at, so don’t worry. I asked them. It was great seeing you this weekend! Maybe now that you see what sweet medals the Maniacs get, you’ll send in your stuff and join our club and finally be cool.

    • Dan says:

      I wonder if there’s another random race encounter in the future. Do you have a 2013 schedule lined up or is it all a haze until after Columbia?

      • trexrunner says:

        Psht, of course I do. I probably have to get stomach surgery sometime at the beginning of the year, so not sure how many of these will actually happen, but I’ve got Mississippi Blues on Jan 5, then a 50 miler in Florida on February 9, then Columbia on March 9. April will probably be the Southern Indiana Classic Marathon on April 7 (ish). Then I’ve got the Wisconsin/Kalamazoo double the first weekend in May. After that, I’m not sure with the exception of the ET Martian Marathon near Vegas in August (it’s at night) and the Bass Pro Shops marathon in Missouri the first weekend in November.

  2. I loved seeing an outsiders account of the race. If you’re ever in Oklahoma for a marathon again, you should try the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.

  3. Sean M says:

    You should definitely do the Okc Memorial. I ran Route 66 yesterday and it was pathetic compared to the even OCMM puts on in April.

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  5. glenn says:

    Another nice recap, Mr. Solera! Congrats on a great finish on what sounded like a difficult course. Whenever I think about Tulsa, the first thing that comes to mind is that the mascot of the University of Tulsa is the Golden Hurricane and how that makes absolutely no sense.

    I won’t lie, though. My favorite part was when Otter showed up unannounced. That’s pretty…awesome?

    You’re getting consistently fast, man. Very, very fast. That bodes well for your upcoming schedule. Here’s to Hoover Dam!

    • Dan says:

      I believe I made the same comment to Otter (re: golden hurricanes). It’s bad enough that I’m not into American sports, but can they at least come up with some decent mascots? Or at least perceptible ones?

      Thanks for reading, sir Goodman. I remembered the other day that you’re signed up for the Flying Pig and it got me pretty jealous.

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  8. Ahhhhh snap! Someone found his permanent fast legs… AGAIN! I feel like there are so many cool races out there I want to do, especially after reading all your great reports. I have to get in better condition so I can try MORE! Also, Otter’s beard is fierce!! And who knows, maybe after seeing NOMOFOSHO on a bib, the spectators thought that “Dan Solera” was some crazy young person slang 😉

    • Dan says:

      You’re the rabbit, Jeff. With any luck (or, better put, with a ton of training and measured increases) I’ll be able to catch up to your times. I just need to run a flat, cool marathon on fresh legs to see what my actual time ceiling is for now. And that won’t happen for a while.

      Thanks for reading — get back to fixing the cogs.

  9. MedalSlut says:

    I threw my back out picking up a cereal bowl I was about to wash, so that should make you feel slightly less pathetic about painting. Well done on another awesome race. I used to live in Ponca City, OK but back then I was bagging swimming medals. Maybe one day I’ll make a return for some more metal!

    • Dan says:

      Thanks for reading. I just turned 30 this month, so maybe that’s the root cause of my back woes. “Aging.” Alas.

      • bobbi says:

        oh man, I hate to say this, but it gets worse. I am 49 and these last coupla years have been recovering from something or another. Getting old is not for the faint of heart..go to physical therapy and have them show you the best exercises…that’s what I finally did..:)

  10. I had that race marked on my calendar but decided against it due to injury and finances! Nice job!!!

  11. Laszlo says:

    Congratulations on finding your new “normal”. Look forward to read about your new PR in your next race recap… 🙂 Keep it up!

  12. avianrunner says:

    Congratulations on completing your kicks with a respectable time! I changed my name recently and re-subscribed to your blog. You have a way with words and it adds to my enjoyment of running and racing. Thanks for sharing and good luck out west!

  13. Mike says:

    Great recap! And all that time growing up in Texas, I thought Oklahoma was just our hat (or “upper Texas”). You’re not only getting faster, but your recaps may be getting even better. Although recalling your earlier statement about shorts chafing in odd places, I was relieved to see your cry of “go Commandos!” was plural….

    Sounds like you’re subtly transitioning over into the “all marathons, all the time” club… and when you’re running like you are, why the heck not? Nice job, Dan. And Nolan. And Otter.

    • Dan says:

      You’re right about transitioning into only marathons. As of this writing, my ratio of half-to-full registrations is 1:5, which is the opposite of what it has traditionally been for the last three years or so. I suppose escalation is natural though, given that 13.1 miles are no longer a challenge (footnote: flat, low-lying and in normal temperatures, of course).

      Thanks for reading, Mike. Look forward to more NorCal adventures from you.

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  15. Kimi Hann says:

    Dan, Love the blog! Thanks for sharing!

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  18. tootallfritz says:

    I’m running this one on Sunday. I’ve heard a lot about those hills. You know hills and I aren’t friends so I’m “interested” to see how this goes. I’m planning to take the detour, then if my time sucks really bad, I’ll just say it was cuz I ran an “ultra”. HaHaHa!

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