Sunday, April 29, 2001
I HUG MY WIFE, Lucie, and search for my starting position within a huge throng of runners lining up near 6th and Robinson, downtown Oklahoma City. I'm amazed at the number of people participating in this momentous event: The Inaugural Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.
"Okay, line up according to your estimated completion times," a voice booms over the loudspeaker.
I spy a card with the time 3:30 clearly stamped on it; waving like a flag in the clutches of an attendant's fingers standing near. I say to myself, "That's my time." Excitement from crowds of people crushing in on us from both sides of the street is contagious. I stretch my quads and calves, then run in place for a few minutes. The first rays of the morning sun poke through the spaces between majestic skyscrapers just east of us.
A tribute to the 168 slain on April 19, 1995, the event starts with The National Anthem. I hold my hand over my heart as the singer revels the words over a loudspeaker. The song is heartfelt and moving. We then pray for those who lost their lives in that tragic bombing, for the living souls who'll carry on the memories of those lost loved ones, and for ourselves. Following this a short announcement and then a last minute pep talk. Finally a gun fires and we're off, hundreds and hundreds of pairs of tennis shoes plopping against the pavement, heading south on Robinson. In about half a mile we're heading east and welcomed by a beautiful sunrise. When we reach the one-mile mark, we're heading north on Walnut. Twenty-five miles, three hundred and eighty five yards to go!
"Water, water, water," shout the attendants at the two-mile mark, holding out paper cups filled with the refreshing, life-sustaining liquid. I hold out an open hand as I run close to the long line of smiling, cheering people with outstretched arms and clutching paper cups filled to the brim. I gulp down part of the contents and douse my head with the rest. More words of inspiration. More handclaps. I'm instantly amazed at the fervor and positive support these wonderful people display. From then on; every time I pass an aid station; I thank the people handing me water or a sports drink. You people are great, I think. I hope you realize how important and crucial your jobs really are and how we truly appreciate you for your outstanding support.
Lots of Encouragement
I don't know how many people watching from their yards and the sides of city streets yell out "Way to go runners!" or "You can do it!" and handclap us on as we pass by. Several of us reply, "Thank you!" in return. The yells and cheers are a tremendous source of reassurance that helps keep me moving. I'm sure other runners feel the same boost as I do. There are so many people at the street corners and out in their yards that I refer to them as our fans. Our fans have turned out to greet us, to help us finish this long arduous trek.
The Sounds of Music
Six miles out I hear a popular song from the 70s. I turn to a near runner who simultaneously smiles and looks at me. "Beach Boys," we say in unison. As we pass through neighborhoods, stereo systems blare with popular rock tunes or the famous piece that often accompanies Olympic events. Live music from musicians singing, playing guitars, or other musical instruments fill the air as we pass. Never have I heard such a joyful cacophony of encouragement-a far cry from my dull runs in the country. It's exciting and my skin tingles. I thank each of these individuals who are so thoughtful, so kind to urge us along.
Road Runner from Minnesota
At the eight-mile mark, I approach a runner in white shorts, wearing a matching t-shirt with Minnesota appliquéd on the back. Keeping my pace, he says to me: "When I finish this, I'm gonna find me a place that serves good beer and kick back and relax. Know where they serve Bach beer?" I tell him about the Bricktown Brewery. "I'll check it out," he says. We talk about fine eateries, cuisine, and where a person can go in Oklahoma City to have a "good night on the town." Funny how you meet people at a marathon and can converse about things you wouldn't ordinarily talk about to people you hardly know.
As we head down a hill, he moves toward the curb. Two kids standing alongside whom I perceive is their mother beam up at him. "Hi, kids," he says. They give him high fives for a brief instant and we pass them by.
A Familiar Face in the Crowd
Thirteen-mile mark. I hit another aid station. Suddenly I see a familiar face. She yells, "Hi, Derle." It's Carol, a coworker friend. Instantly I'm amazed. People you never thought you'd see popping up out of nowhere. This greatly helps me keep going. Onward I trod, keeping an even pace. Hill up ahead. As I top the steep grade, Lake Hefner jumps into view, a panorama of blue water stretching for several miles. I feel a refreshing gust of southerly wind that soothes and cools my skin.
Andrea from Austin, TX
Twenty miles out I catch up to a young woman wearing orange running gear who is moving at nearly my pace.
I tell her, "You know, we must be crazy. Give me one good reason why anyone in their right mind would be out here doing this."
She smiles up at me and says, "Because it's awesome!"
"You from around here?" I ask.
"No," she says. "I'm from Austin. Oh; by the way, Andrea."
"Derle, nice to meet you," I say.
We plop along, talk about jobs, her friends, my wife who is also from Texas, and other running events. It's clearly apparent to me that Andrea is excited about taking part in this marathon. She rattles on about a Motorola event she recently ran. At once a sharp pain in my right side. I moan.
"What's wrong?" she asks.
"Darned side stitch," I say. "Been drinking too many fluids."
"You know, if you'll cough, it might help," she says.
I start exhaling through pursed lips and massage the area beneath my ribcage with my fingers.
"I find this usually helps," I say. "I'm gonna slow my pace a little, try to get this thing to go away."
"So long, and good luck," she says, smiling and waving.
It doesn't take long for my stitch to subside and I pick back up my pace in short order. Again I spot the familiar orange running ensemble not far ahead; now nearing the twenty-three-mile marker. I quickly catch up and say:
"So Andrea, are we having fun yet?"
"Hey, you're back," she says.
We chat for about another half mile and then my real troubles begin. At once sharp pains and my muscles knot up behind each of my thighs.
"Oh no," I say in agony. "Charley horses in both legs." Again we part and I slow to a crawl. I try to keep a jogging pace. No use. The pain is unbearable. The next thing I know I'm walking and massaging huge knots protruding behind both legs. I refuse to go out like this. I glance at my watch: 10:18 a.m.
After a few tenths of a mile I attempt to pick up my pace. I run for nearly half a mile. Again I slow my pace and walk because of the searing, shooting pain from my thighs. I see other runners walking and stretching beside the roadway. Hmm, I think, must be the proverbial "wall."
I pass by spectators yelling, "Come on, you can do it! Come on runners, let's go!" I massage my aching muscles and walk at a fast pace. Then for some unknown reason-undoubtedly the hand of God-I discover the strength to pick up my pace again. I pay close attention to my legs and keep my pace steady. The pain is gone and I'm moving on.
I can do this!
Climbing a hill, I hear a runner just ahead say, "I can do this." Again she says, "I can do this."
I plop up beside her and say, "Sure you can." I then introduce myself.
"Hello, Derle, Donna," she says, gasping for breath.
I mention a few pointers to her as we approach another hill: "Now, change your cadence, small stride, take it easy, and watch your pace."
"I can do this," she says again. She then looks at me and smiles, "We can do this."
"You bet we can," I say encouragingly. "Say, I write an online newsletter." I tell her my URL and mention some of the things I write about. "The name of the newsletter is The Healthy Marathoner."
"You've run a marathon before?" she asks.
"No," I say. "This is my first."
She smiles. "Mine too."
I follow a pace or two behind those last three miles, being especially attentive to any more problems from my thighs. People on the sidelines yell at us, "The finish line's just ahead! You're almost there! Keep it up runners!"
Donna starts falling behind. I turn to her and say: "Unless something's hurting, keep moving." I then tell her to keep up her pace and don't forget to stretch after she crosses the line. In a flash she's moving up.
"I can do this," she says.
Nothing can equal the synergism I feel from these other runners. I call out to a small cluster of runners following close behind us: "We can all do this!"
"Yeah, we can do this!" one replies.
Whew, 26.2 Miles, at Last!
I'm right beside Donna. "I can do this," she says between breaths.
I urge her on. "Go for it, Donna. Finish Line's dead ahead." She crosses the timing mat a fraction of a second ahead of me. I'm glad for both of us. "Don't forget your stretches," I say.
"I won't," she says gleefully.
"You okay?" an attendant says, tossing a worrisome look at me as I wind down.
"Okay," I say, breathing deeply. "I'm fine."
The Race is over but Six Blocks to Go
I find a rail and use it as a prop to hold onto while I stretch my calves and quads. Behind me an attendant yells: "This is it! Final round of refreshments!" I wrench around. A table lined with paper cups filled with Sports Aid. In less than a minute I down three of them.
A gallery of glinting golden medals hanging from green cloth straps dangle in the wind from a near framework stand. I approach the frame to get a better look. An attendant meets me and asks: "Have you turned in your Champion-Chip?" A Champion-Chip is an electronic device worn on a runner's shoe used to gage a speed and time. I look down at my left shoe. The chip is still secured to the eyelets with nylon straps. "Over there," she says, nodding to another attendant with a pair of dikes.
After the chip is carefully removed, I'm handed one of the gold medallions. One side reads: April 29, 2001, Inaugural Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. I turn it over and say under my breath, "Celebrate life. Honor their memory. Reach for the future." I look for Lucie in the reception area. It's too crowded and she's nowhere to be found. Maybe she's gone back to the car. I begin the painful trek to the lot six blocks away. My calves ache and my thighs are screaming at me, ready to shut down at any minute.
I limp toward the Oklahoma City National Memorial. The muscles in my legs are writhing in pain. A thin layer of salt cakes my shins and stains my running shorts. I feel my eyes try to well up, but I'm too dehydrated for them to tear. I gaze at the Memorial. I hold up the medallion and read the inscriptions once again. Suddenly it dawns on me what running the Inaugural Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon was really all about. I glance at the medal again and then gaze out across the monument complex. Thinking about those who perished six short years ago, I whisper to myself, "To commemorate life, honor you and your memory, and to boldly seize the future."
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