I had been home for two days after the trip to San Juan, so naturally it made sense to get in the car and depart again for Tulsa. I had been hoping to do the Route 66 Marathon for quite some time, in part because it was a Marathon Maniac signature race, but also because I had not yet crossed a finish line in Oklahoma. I had heard nothing but great things about the race itself, as well as the people organizing it, so I began recruiting friends early this year. I was hoping that I could convince a few folks to run the half or the full so I wouldn’t end up driving down by myself. In true Vardo style, we ended up with a group of 10 people heading down to Tulsa for an extended weekend of running, food, and friends!
It’s about a 9 hour drive, so we decided to leave on Friday morning, which gave us all day on Saturday to pick up our packets, relax, and get ready for the Sunday morning start. The drive down was relatively uneventful, aside from the enjoyable banter that always seems to happen when many of us find ourselves in a car together. Numerous previous relay events have made us all quite comfortable travel companions, so I knew it would be a great trip.
Saturday was a relaxed day, and the weather seemed to agree with us so we had few complaints. We found a few solid coffee shops, and hit up the expo late morning. It was a good sized showing from a wide variety of vendors, for which I was pleasantly surprised. One of my friends and I decided we needed to make a “fashion statement” during the race, so we found the shortest pair of shorts in the expo, and prepared to rock them the next morning. The race committee elected not to load all of the race bags with the usual samples, but instead allow folks to walk around and pick up what they were interested. I have no doubt that this cut down on waste quite a bit. Before we left, we made sure to make our way back to meet Bart Yasso, which was certainly a running highlight for this race and beyond.
One of our group had family in Tulsa, so she made reservations for us Saturday night at an excellent Italian restaurant. What more could you ask for the night before a race, right? We enjoyed a lovely dinner together, and then headed back to the hotel rooms to get some rest. Sunday morning came far to quickly, but the race didn’t start until 8AM and we were within walking distance of the start, so we were able to sleep in a bit more. I donned my 1970’s short shorts and my Maniac singlet, and headed over to the starting line with everyone else. The temps were a bit brisk, but a pair of arm warmers, coupled with my compression socks, kept me plenty comfortable as we waiting for the gun.
Eric and I had decided much earlier that this was going to be a fun race, without any significant time goals to haunt us. We lined up around the 9:00/mile pace group, and headed out comfortably. Once the crowd spread out a bit more, we were able to pick up the pace and “comfortable” became sub-8:00 minute miles. We could both tell we were pushing it a bit, but it felt good and we were enjoying ourselves so we kept ticking away the miles. We made sure to high-five as many children as possible, and we vowed not to turn down any impromptu beer stops along the route.
The miles kept flying by, and the hills began to add up. I had looked at the elevation map prior to the race, and it didn’t look like anything to be concerned about. However, the constantly rising and descending terrain began to add up, and we found ourselves cursing these hills, which would have looked far less impressive before the race. We never encountered an daunting hills. We simply forgot what flat pavement looked like.
We hit the half-marathon mark around 1:45, and were still feeling really good. The first half of the race is run with the half-marathoners, and the crowd support was excellent. We wound our way through plenty of great neighborhoods, and fed off of the energy. We left the half-marathoners near the end of their race, and headed out on a second loop. This portion of the course proved to be far less energetic, and not quite as scenic. We found ourselves drawing on our own energy stores quite a bit more. As you can imagine, we also started to do the math and realize we were moving at a good clip and might be able to set some time goals for ourselves. This was probably a bad idea, but I tend to be overly optimistic so I should have seen it coming. We came across a friend with cramping issues around mile 17, offered some words of encouragement, and kept pressing on.
Our pace began to fall off a bit around mile 19, but we kept making good progress. By this time, we had passed two groups of people passing out Jell-O shots, which we obviously had to take, and they brought a smile to our faces J Around mile 20, we passed a perfectly timed beer stop and did our carbo-loading duty. Any race where the supporters set up their own beer and Jell-O shot stops moves up the ladder in my book.
The miles became a bit more of a struggle after mile 22, but we were near the end and enjoying ourselves and looking forward to crossing the finish line. The hills continued to torment us, but we fought back with salt tabs and honey stinger chews, along with the well-staffed aid stations every few miles.
At around mile 25.5, we came up on the “detour”. One of the selling points for the Route 66 Marathon is that they bill themselves as the world’s shortest ultra. They offer a .3 mile detour to a natural acoustic phenomenon in the center of the city, complete with a beer cart. We received an extra medallion as we got back on the course, and we pushed ahead towards the finish. In the end, we crossed the marathon mark in 3:56, and the finish line in 4:01.
I was still feeling really good at the end, and happy to have pushed through and crossed another state off of my 50 States quest. The race offered separate medals for Maniacs, which was a nice little perk, but proved awkward because they didn’t have them at the finish line and I had to wind my way through the food areas to collect my medal. Eric and I found one of our friends who had already finished, and we had a seat, drank our free beer, and waited for others to finish. Everyone else came in one-by-one, complete with smiles and smirks of varying degrees. Everyone felt the same way about the surprise hills, but we were all in good spirits and pleased with our accomplishments!
We walked the three quarters of a mile back to the hotel, and had a built-in 3pm checkout because we were staying at one of the race hotels. This was a nice perk and gave us all a chance to get showered and packed up without rushing. None of us were keen on driving back to Ames after running, so we decided we would travel up to Kansas City and stay the night there, relax, and enjoy a much easier drive home on Monday morning. The weather became rainy and windy on the drive up and there were some white knuckle moments, but we made it into K.C., found a sports bar, and enjoyed a well-earned meal.
I’ve said before the it’s the friends that make the race, and I was once again reminded of just how lucky I am to have such an amazing group of friends that share not only a passion for running, but are just plain interesting people. It was a fantastic race weekend with a great group of friends, and I’m already thinking about the next trip I can begin recruiting for…road trip, anyone?