Commemorating the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon (+ Half-Marathon/Relay/5K) is known as one of the most inspirational road races in the country. The 2005 running will have special meaning as it caps a week of activities marking the 10th anniversary of the tragedy and the 5th running of the race. This article is by the founder of the marathon.
The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon
by Thomas Hill III
The Memorial Marathon began as a discussion between two friends on a long run early one April morning in 2000. As they talked about OKC needing a marathon, one said to the other, "If we are going to do a marathon, let's do it for the Memorial." That simple statement galvanized all the random thoughts and ideas and by the end of the run, the plan was in place. Organized to "honor the memory, celebrate life, reach for the future and unite the world in hope," this event is not about running, but about life.
In the early years, we were committed to the purpose of the event and the look and feel we knew it had to have. That focus and a small army of dedicated volunteers were able to overcome our inexperience in event management, and the first years were hailed as huge successes. Today, the Run to Remember has grown to 10,000 participants and the marathon called one of the "12 Must Run Marathons" in the world.
As part of the original plan, 168 banners were created, one for each victim. Those banners serve to remind us as we run that we have been given the gift of life and that it is too precious to waste. An early addition to the race was a booth at the expo where participants could sign up to run in honor of a particular victim. Every year every name is carried by at least one, but often several, runners. In recent years we have seen runners memorializing and honoring others not connected to the Oklahoma City Memorial. This shared experience continues to provide healing and comfort, as well as hope and passion for the future as we Run to Remember.
The race start program has developed as we have learned how to mix celebration with remembrance. A sunrise service at the Survivor Tree, 168 seconds of silence, and emotion charged throngs can bring a tear as one contemplates the tragedy and loss the Memorial represents. Each person carries their own memories of pain and loss that combine with the common experience, and the result can be overwhelming. However, we do not want to stay in the past. The Memorial is not an anchor that binds us to some tragic past, but it is a springboard that propels us into an open and promising future.
As the race start approaches, the music builds, the crowd begins to anticipate the start, and when the horn sounds, the cheers drown out all sadness. As the crowd surges, we are each carried forward not only in body, but in mind and spirit as well. You can stand on a starting line with more people. You might be able to find a starting line with faster people, but you will never start a race with this level of emotion and connection. It is truly a Run to Remember!
The race course itself has only seen one change in five years. A slight variation near the end took out a major hill in the last mile, much to the delight of the returning participants. The early years saw us adjusting the race day plan several times each cycle as we found what worked and what didn't. However, the goal never changed. We wanted the Memorial Marathon to be the best marathon in the world. We want the experience on the course to be a great one and we work hard to make that happen. Anywhere you turn there is someone waiting to help you in any way they can. Again, focus on the purpose gives us an incredible level of dedication and energy that translates into this run being a Run to Remember.
We are committed to keeping this event focused on the Oklahoma City National Memorial and all that it means and teaches us. We are committed to making this event a celebration of the gift of life and our individual effort to invest in others. We are committed to making this a Run to Remember because the way we remember our past shapes the way we face our future.
More About the OKC Memorial Marathon
Thomas Hill is the co-founder of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, co-founder of TRI-OKC (Triathlon Club of Oklahoma City) and co-founder of the Redman Triathlon. Hill has run 14 marathons (including all four Memorial Marathons) and will be running the 2005 Memorial Marathon as well. He is currently training for the Florida Ironman Triathlon in November.
Hill received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Oklahoma State University. He is vice president of manufacturing for Kimray, Inc. in Oklahoma City. Hill is married and has six children (5 boys and 1 girl), ages 8 months to 10 years.
Excerpted from an article printed in Oklahoma Runner & Triathlete Magazine (www.okcrunner.com). Used with permission.