I can be kind off a weird guy sometimes, but if you’ve been reading this blog, then you knew that by now.
I do weird things sometimes. When I started typing this entry back in November (I know, I know), I was halfway through filling my roommate Cash’s room from floor to ceiling with balloons while he was home for Thanksgiving, for no real reason in particular. I like to take vacations by myself every few months, just to be completely alone for a couple days. I grew a terrible beard for two months just to see what it would look like, which I only shaved in late November. For the record, it looked like this:
And then, I shaved it so that it would look like THIS for the last 2 days of Movember:
So yeah, I’m a little unbalanced. It’s all harmless stuff, for the most part; as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody, I like to do things that I find amusing, no matter how oddball or irreverent other people may find them to be.
Then, every once in a while, I’ll do something like sign up for a marathon 4.5 months in advance, keep it a secret from literally everyone in my close circle of friends (including my roommates), then fly out to Tulsa a day in advance so I can freak out a good buddy at the airport after his plane lands, all the while lying to my friends back home about my whereabouts for the weekend.
You know, regular stuff. Some background is in order, so here it is:
My good friend Dan Solera (a recurring character in this blog) had been trying to convince me for some time to run a marathon with him in bloody Tulsa of all places, and by the end of June, he’d succeeded. The Route 66 Marathon is known for epic medals and really catering to the long-distance crowd, and as I was also feeling a little guilty about probably having to miss Dan’s bachelor party in August, I registered for the marathon back on June 29th. I meant to tell Dan that I’d registered, and then I forgot to tell him for a couple days, and then I just…didn’t tell him.
At some point, the tiny devil with a permanent seat on my shoulder suggested to me that it would be funny if i just showed up in Tulsa unannounced, and I thought this was a mighty fine idea. In Dan’s bid to get me down to Tulsa, he had given me his flight & hotel itinerary — I knew when he’d be flying down, and I knew that he’d have a hotel room that I could crash when I got down there. The hardest part would be keeping it all a secret from him, so I decided that I wouldn’t tell ANYONE in Chicago — not Dan, not his fiancee, not my friends, not even my roommates. One of the few reliable confidants I had available to me was Danielle, aka The T-Rex Runner, who immediately approved of my plan. Danielle lives in South Carolina, but she knows both Dan and myself, and as luck would have it, she’d be running Route 66 as well. The fates were starting to align.
To ensure that I could be at the airport bright and early on Saturday morning to meet Dan incognito, I flew into Tulsa on Friday night and met up with Danielle and her friend Amanda at a bar, who were in turn meeting up with their hosts for the weekend, Patty and Patty’s (very fast) husband Steve. Patty would be pacing the 4:30 group for the marathon, and Patty and Steve had agreed to host Danielle and Amanda for the weekend.
We stayed out until close to midnight debating various ways I could surprise Dan at the airport, and came down to a list of 3 scenarios:
- I could greet Dan as soon as he came out of security, laughing at his bewildered expression and giving him a hearty handshake while saying something cheesy like, “Man, what TOOK you so long?!”
- I could use my phone to take a picture of Dan in the airport as he emerged from security, then text it to him, and wait for him to stop and look around while wondering how I got that picture. This seemed extremely creepy, which gave it high marks in my opinion.
- I could follow Dan through the airport for as long as possible while remaining in the shadows, tailing him out to his rental car, until I finally knocked on his window and asked for a ride (or even better, I could just open the car door and hop in without saying a word). This idea felt like it would have the most startling results on my intended target, which gave it the highest marks of all.
I went to sleep around 1am, and woke up early the next morning to watch a soccer game and get in my daily mile on the hotel’s treadmill. I killed time until Dan’s flight landed by attending the Route 66 Mascot Dash (featuring Danielle), which exceeded my wildest expectations. After confirming that Dan’s flight from Chicago departed on-time, I bade Danielle adieu and returned to the airport to drop off my rental car and wait for Dan, making sure that I was in position a full 30 minutes before his flight landed.
Everything was going according to plan.
AND AFTER ALL THAT…
I blew the surprise at the airport.
I dressed in a “disguise” of sorts, wearing a ballcap and glasses in addition to my beard. Dan walked right past me without taking a moment’s pause — you’ll have to take my word that this is him:
However, it was shortly after I took this picture that my plan started to fall apart. As I tailed him, Dan stopped, so I stopped, too. Then Dan started walking, only to stop again and look around. At this point, I ducked behind a tree. Yes, I HID BEHIND A POTTED TREE IN THE AIRPORT.
I would be the shittiest spy ever.
I followed Dan to the rental car line, where I saw him meet his friend Nolan, who had flown in from Georgia to run this marathon as well. It was somewhere at this point that I realized just how astoundingly suspicious I looked as I tried to follow Dan’s stop-start movements from a distance, and I was starting to worry about an impromptu interview request from the TSA. With this in mind, I dropped back and pulled up a seat at a table near an escalator, waiting for just the right moment to reveal my presence. I looked down to grab something out of my backpack.
And when I looked up, Dan and Nolan were gone.
I’d lost them.
A knot formed in my stomach — this wasn’t supposed to happen! I had planned this moment for months! I dashed to the rental car lot adjacent to the airport and frantically looked around for any sign of my marks. Shit, I thought to myself, after flying in A FULL DAY before Dan, I’m gonna have to do the reveal over the phone. And so I sheepishly pulled out my cell phone, and I had the following conversation:
- Otter: “Hey buuuuuuddy, what are you up to right now?”
- Dan: “I’m in Tulsa. I just picked up my rental car, and me and Nolan are pulling out of the parking lot.”
- Otter: “STOP. DO NOT LEAVE THE PARKING LOT.”
- Dan: “…Um, what? There’s a car behind me, I can’t back up. What…what’s wrong?”
- Otter: “Shit, I don’t know how I lost you…funny story, I’m in Tulsa. Can you pull around to the Arrivals area to pick me up?”
- Dan: “…Fuck you. No you’re not.”
- Otter: “Yes, I’m in Tulsa. I followed you through the airport, and I lost you.”
- Dan: “No, you’re not.”
- Otter: “Dan, I really didn’t expect you to go with the long-sleeved striped shirt today.”
- Dan: *Silence* *Consternation* *Realization*
- Dan: *UPROARIOUS LAUGHTER*
- Dan: “Okay, we’ll be there in a second. You should see the car they gave us.”
And so that’s how it went down. I could have simply walked up to Dan after he came through security and totally freaked him out, but instead I opted for the more elaborate route….and completely bombed. This has so far been my biggest regret of 2012.
After the morning’s Mascot Dash and The Airport Incident, the rest of the day was pretty vanilla by comparison — Dan, Nolan, and I ate some Mexican food for lunch, we went to the expo to pick up our race packets (it was a nice expo with a good number of vendors for the space), and we drove around Tulsa for a bit. We visited Tulsa’s appropriately-whelming Center Of The Universe tourist trap (more on that later), and then we met up with Danielle, Amanda, and a slew of local Tulsa runners at the Olive Garden for a pre-race dinner. We three bros then all went to sleep quite early at our hotel that was literally steps from the starting line, and we were up early the following morning for the marathon.
Oh, and my right knee was still injured to the point where I could barely run, as I continued to deal with patellofemoral pain syndrome. I might have left that part out.
After dropping my gear off in the
ultra- semi-exclusive Marathon Maniacs Corner of the gear check area, I positioned myself as far to the rear of Corral A as possible, and I waited for the gun to go off. I’d qualified for the ‘A’ corral based off of previous finishing times (though who knows if they actually checked them), but there was no way in hell that this was going to be an ‘A’ race from me on this day. Still, my knee felt okay-ish when I did a quick 200-meter jog before the start, so I was hoping for a productive first few miles.
Within the first twenty steps of breaking into a trot, I was ready to saw my leg off. It was going to be that kind of race. Less than 1/4-mile into the FULL MARATHON, I was walking. If you had handed me a gun and a promise of free medical attention and prosthetic limbs for life, I would have shot my leg off. I just didn’t want to hurt anymore. 5 minutes after I started, I was as sure as anyone could be that I would be running the half-marathon instead of the full, as walking provided my only relief.
Less than half a mile into the race, I was all by myself, walking on the sidewalk so as not to draw too much attention to myself. I kept asking myself, Where the hell is the ‘B’ Corral? Danielle, Amanda, and Patty would all be starting in the ‘B’ corral, and I desperately longed for other runners around me, to help draw away the spotlight of shame that I felt shining down on me. I hung all of my hopes on the idea that if I saw Danielle and Amanda, then maybe I could hang with them long enough to at least hate life a little less. But would I see them?
I saw them, but they didn’t see me. I stealthily positioned myself behind the girls and made a cheesy comment about Danielle’s resplendent ponytail to announce my arrival, and I winced a bit as I tried to keep pace. I had the misfortune of joining them as we approached an extended downhill, which made my knee howl with each heavy right heel-strike. Danielle picked up on this immediately, and she didn’t waste much time in saying, “Wow, you’re limping pretty bad. You don’t look like you’re doing so well.” She wasn’t wrong.
My mind was racing, thinking of what to do. I thought back to the Disney race, where my knee didn’t start to feel comfortable until I kicked it into gear and ran fast for a couple miles. Could the same thing happen here? I was about to wave my friends goodbye barely 3 miles into the race, and I had to do something. Coming up with a new strategy on the fly, I announced to the girls that I was going to run ahead for a bit, to see how that felt.
And the damnedest thing? It worked. Running fast didn’t hurt. Walking didn’t hurt. It was the slow plod in-between those two extremes that was making me cry uncle.
After running my first 3 miles in a combined 37 minutes, I ran my 4th mile in 09:37…I’m a little embarrassed to say that I did a mini fist-pump after this sub-10:00 mile, because I didn’t think there was a snowball’s chance in hell that I’d hit single-digit splits during this race. As I hit the Mile 4 marker, I walked for about a minute until Danielle and Amanda caught up, and then I jogged with them for a bit. When the pain became too much to bear at their steady pace, I took off again, this time running my 6th mile in 08:37. It didn’t make sense as to why I could run (mostly) pain-free at a faster clip, but I wasn’t going to question it. At the Mile 6 marker, I slowed to a walk again. Within a minute or two, Danielle and Amanda were right beside me.
It went on like this for many miles: I would jog with the girls for stretches at somewhere between a 10:00-11:00/mile pace, then I would surge ahead for a bit and go off on my own to loosen up my leg, and then I would walk for a spell until I was back with my friends again. Meanwhile, Danielle and Amanda were having a jolly old time, and it was impossible not to get caught up in Danielle’s irreverent enthusiasm for marathoning. At one point, while waiting for Danielle’s friend to retrieve Sprite from her car to help settle Danielle’s upset stomach, we all took turns holding a sign and cheering on very confused-looking marathoners that were running in the same race as we were.
We stopped to take pictures; we stopped to drink beer. A benevolent spectator handed me a Bloody Mary somewhere around Mile 7, which I drank down with gusto. During an out-and-back portion that lasted maybe 3 miles, I believe that Danielle cheered for quite literally every other person wearing a Marathon Maniacs singlet as if they were members of her family (and as I would come to find out later, they kind of are all family). Before I knew it, 11 miles had gone by, and my knee was fairly (and inexplicably) pain-free at this point. I decided then that I would be running the full marathon instead of the half.
I like to think that health concerns would have won out over vanity if I hadn’t been feeling great at the halfway point, but continuing on with the full marathon meant that I got to experience one of the draws to running the Route 66 Marathon in the first place — the Center Of The Universe Detour. Any runner who opted to take this voluntary detour would add 0.3 miles to their race, turning the race into one of the shortest ultramarathons in existence. I’ll let you read about this acoustic anomaly yourself, and you may draw your own conclusions as to the noteworthiness of this “tourist attraction.”
Anyway, this “ultra” detour was sponsored by Michelob Ultra, because of course it was, because that shitty water-flavored hooch pusher sponsors every fucking marathon these days. The nice thing about this, though, was that every runner got a free cup of beer (I made sure to have 5 cups, or the equivalent of ONE NORMAL BEER) and a pretty ballerriffic coin/medallion to commemorate the experience.
Naturally, we had to document our detour:
Coming out of the Center of the Universe, I felt great — I surged ahead again and ran a 10:44 split for my 18th mile (which was pure lightning for me at this stage of my knee rehab, mind you), and then I carried on another 0.3 miles to stop right at the Mile 18 marker. And then I look around and saw….nothing. I’d lost Danielle and Amanda.
I was losing track of everybody this weekend.
After an extended walk break, they caught up to me again. Danielle hadn’t turned mean, but she was decidedly less chipper than when we all started. Amanda wasn’t complaining openly; rather, she opted for a silent protest, extending walk breaks for the group when the opportunity presented itself. As we stopped at a port-o-potty so that one member of our merry band could take a bathroom break, I had a question to ask of myself — should I ditch the dead weight (sorry, Danielle!) and go alone, or should I stick with the people who had gotten me this far?
In the end, the decision was easy — I knew in my heart of hearts that I would have dropped out at Mile 13.1 if it weren’t for the girls, and so I felt a duty to stay with them as long as possible, if that makes any sense. I didn’t give a shit about my time, since this certainly wouldn’t be a PR. At the same time, something would have to go DRASTICALLY wrong for me to match my PW of 5:42:59, which was set during my very first marathon in 2007. I wasn’t going to break 5 hours in Tulsa, but I was pretty sure I could break 5:30.
I spared a thought for Dan and Nolan, who would almost certainly have been done by the time I was mulling this decision, when I was still only 19 miles into my race. I felt like an asshole for making them wait.
And so I stayed with Danielle and Amanda or another 30 minutes or so, until I couldn’t continue at that pace; the pain was too much to bear. I tried to take off for good just before the 21-mile mark, only for my knee to bark out in anguish….I found that running fast no longer cured what ailed me, as my muscles surrounding that fickle patella of mine were all so tight that everything was pulled out of alignment. I looked back and saw the girls maybe 200 meters behind me, so I stopped at an aid station to wait for them. If I was going to be miserable, I at least wanted company.
We strolled through the University of Tulsa campus for another mile (don’t even talk to me about the name of their mascot), until I finally had enough of walking — I bade Danielle and Amanda goodbye one last time at Mile 22, thinking in the nicest way possible that I really didn’t want to see them again during the race. And after an extremely painful half-mile of full-on running, I built enough separation where I never again saw them over my shoulder.
I don’t remember the last 3-4 miles. I really don’t. They happened, but I don’t remember specifics about them. I’ve gleaned from other recaps that I must have run through a nice neighborhood at one point, and I think those are the nice people that gave me gummy worms and more beer. I remember the final miles being hilly. I didn’t like the hills, but then again, I didn’t like a lot of things at that point in the race.
With a 1/4-mile to go, I scraped my dignity up off the pavement and ran the rest of the way in, compling my 26.5 miles in a final time of 5 hours, 28 minutes, and 52 seconds. I avoided a new PW, I thought with relief, and I hobbled toward the Marathon Maniacs tent to grab a beer.
At the special Maniacs Corner, whose mere existence brings in scores of out-of-state runners to run Route 66 every year, I picked up my special medal and wearily grabbed my backpack from the Gear Check area. The Route 66 organizers provided unique medals to members of the Marathon Maniacs club, which were different from the regular medals, and I remember thinking that this was pretty great:
I grabbed a beer, but didn’t have time to drink it before I was called away — to my horror and embarrassment, Dan and Nolan had been patiently waiting at the post-race party for me to finish. In Dan’s case, he had been waiting two hours, and Nolan had been waiting for over an hour. I had hoped that they would have gone to the hotel to shower and then returned to see my hobbled ass limp across the finish line, but they had gamely stuck it out until the end.
To their credit, neither of them voiced even the slightest complaint about waiting around for such a long time…I don’t know how they held back, but I was extremely grateful that they didn’t add to my shame. However, their mannerisms left no doubt that we needed to get moving — it was 1:30pm when I crossed the finish line, and almost 1:45pm by the time they tracked me down. Our hotel had offered us an insanely late checkout time of 3pm, but my grandfatherly pace meant that we would still be arriving back at the hotel with less than an hour for all 3 of us to shower and pack our things.
In the end, we made it in and out just fine, and we checked out of the Holiday Innnnnn with 15 minutes to spare. With hours until our respective flights, we even had time to LEISURELY enjoy a post-race burger and some beers at a local watering hole before heading to the airport. Nolan got on a plane to Atlanta, Dan and I boarded a plane to Chicago, and our unconventional weekend finally ended for good.
THOUGHTS ON THE RACE
Despite running through an extremely painful injury, I had a lot of fun running this race for reasons completely unrelated to the marathon itself. With that in mind, I’ll try and keep this as objective as possible:
- GOOD: Well-organized; Excellent gear-check and start corrals; Excellent medals & souvenir bibs (which were personalized, to boot); Catered well to out-of-staters and national running clubs; Adequate amount of aid stations; More aid stations with GU & food than advertised; Ran through many different Tulsa neighborhoods (including a college campus); Plenty of free beer at the finish; Sufficiently nutty field of fellow runners (comes from catering so well to the out-of-staters); Live music on the course; Challenging course at parts, but not TOO hilly; Excellent race-related events all weekend; Fantastic hotel partnerships (with shuttles & late check-outs); Finally, it has its own calling card with the Center Of The Universe “ultramarathon” detour.
- BAD: Pretty sparse crowd support (and NO CROWDS AT ALL on the college campus, which was weird); Inconsistent flavors of sports drink at aid stations (some had lemon-lime or orange, some had only grape, ugh); Boring, see-through white race shirt that I’ll never wear; Not the prettiest course for long stretches; Ran next to vehicle traffic during too many stretches; I received more e-mail spam from this race than I received from all of my other 2012 races combined.
Would I recommend this race to others? Yes, with that caveat that the Route 66 Marathon is generally a small-time race that tries really hard at providing the amenities of a big-time race. For the record, they mostly succeed. It’s worth mentioning that I’ve heard that the OKC Memorial Marathon is another Oklahoma race worth looking into, but you could do much worse than the Route 66. I wish that I could have lingered a bit longer at the post-race party to take it all in, but that’s 100% my own damn fault.
I won’t be back to run this race again, but I am indeed glad that I flew to Tulsa this one time to get my kicks… *puts on sunglasses* …on Route 66.