I’ve been running anywhere and everywhere I could this year. For the most part, it didn’t matter as long as I was running. Whenever possible I’ve been racing so I could be surrounded by more of the running community I’m proud to call my family. But only one date was circled on my calendar: that of the Boston Marathon. That much was non-negotiable. Come hell or high water, I’d be there.
As April approached, another date got circled: April 29. I stumbled upon the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, and knew immediately this was somewhere I had to be. Around the five year anniversary of the tragedy that changed me, and the 23 year anniversary of the tragedy there… I would definitely Run to Remember! Every step I take, every race I run…I have five reasons that I cannot stop: For Dennis, For Sean, For Krystle, For Lu, For Martin. Five souls who were taken too soon. Well that weekend, I’d have 168 more reasons. That weekend I would honor the 168 lost in the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, and the 5 lost nearly 20 years later in Boston. 173 powerful reasons why this would be a most memorable race.
Originally, I’d hoped to run another half the day before in nearby Tulsa. That one wasn’t meant to be. Perhaps that was a good thing, as now my focus for the weekend was 100% in OKC. I wouldn’t just “Run to Remember”… I’d race! I’d run like the wind to honor their memories! This one event would exhibit all that is good in humanity:
The resilience and strength of the individual spirit as athletes of all abilities pushed themselves to their limits
The communal spirit as all came together to honor and remember those lost over 20 years ago
The camaraderie of competitors, volunteers and the greater community who’d come out in support of the athletes and cause
The Oklahoma Standard that drove their healing then, and still caries forward to this day, much like Boston Strong drives my own journey
Everyone of us has strength untold, and together that power only magnifies. Here it would be on display at both the individual and community levels. This is the kind of thing we need more of in our world!
So, Saturday around noon I showed up at the Cox Convention Center. I was pumped. This was going to be an amazing weekend! I picked up my bib and ventured into the expo. I stopped by the National Parks Service booth for a bit, as the great outdoors has been my medication and physical healing these past few years. Across the way I met some great folks from Willow Brain Harmony and Monk Chiropractic. I ended up spending over a half hour there for a brain training session. Like Boston a few weeks ago, I knew I’d be pushing my neurological capacity – my brain is still far from fully healed. Also like Boston a few weeks ago, this cause it was worth it. The emotional, spiritual and mental health benefits of this exertion far outweighed the negative physical effects I knew would follow. This NeurOptimal session seemed like exactly what I needed. Incredibly, despite the busy external environment, I was able to get some much needed relaxation. Unsurprisingly I was even more pumped for the race to follow.
I spent the entire afternoon at the expo. Stopped by to visit with my friends at Roo Sport, and made new friends elsewhere. Normally, one of the first things I do when I go a new place is type in “Running store” on Google Maps. It’s an easy way meet some great people who share my passion for running. With a race expo of this size, it was even easier – everyone was right on site! Local running stores also tend to be model members of the community – often hosting free or cheap group runs, workouts and coaching and other social and fitness events. At home in Miami, it’s the iRun Army for me. Here in Oklahoma City, OK Runner made me feel right at home, a feeling that was reinforced on race day seeing team members celebrate their accomplishments on the course. I hadn’t planned on it, but I ended up bringing home a new pair of Brooks shoes, as my current ones had covered way too many miles.
I stopped by the “Why We Run” booth and prepared myself an “In Honor of…” bib to wear during the race. No hesitation: 168 + 5! I would run for them all! I was humbled to be featured by the races social media and expo teams! As the hall closed, I was mentally exhausted… but oh so motivated! Tomorrow would be an amazing race. I called it an early night – my brain was fried.
The following morning, two minutes before my alarm, my body woke on its own. I was ready for this! As I ran down to the starting line at the Memorial, I knew my injuries were going to be bothering me all day… but I didn’t care. This was worth it! I would push myself to the brink for 173 great reasons! Once there…surrounded by 25,000 others… I could feel the blood coursing through my veins… I could feel the energy. This was the kind of environment I thrive in. I feed off that energy, and then reflect it back stronger than before. This was going to be a great race!
We paused in remembrance for 168 seconds. In front of the Memorial, nearly three minutes of powerful silence passed for those whom I’d be running for momentarily. 25,000 strong we honored their passing, we honored our flag, and in their memory we began our race! Despite the pain, I started out exactly where I wanted to be for the first mile or so. Unfortunately it got much tougher from there. At the first real hill, my legs went tingly (but not quite numb). My back flared up… this was going to be a painful run. Even so, I would not stop. I had 173 reasons to keep on moving, 173 reasons that were more powerful than any pain!
I had to be smart though: no one race is worth sacrificing a lifetime of running! I’d balance exactly on that discomfort/destructive line like I’ve done many times before. I’d still thrive off of the crowd energy and put in a solid performance, but it didn’t look like a PR was going to happen today! The crowd was impressive. It was still dark when we started, but they were there cheering us on. As the sun rose, we raced by the state capitol and a field of flags, through parks and beautiful neighborhoods. And the city was out there supporting us the whole way. There were plenty of aid stations stocked with electrolytes, water and gels, and they were teeming with energy! All the support you could need! As the forecast had predicted it was warming up fast. That part didn’t bother me much though. The hills were what got to me. I’m used to flat, so although these hills weren’t monstrous, I definitely felt them. Despite the pain, for 173 reasons I powered up the hills. The crowd roared. The support out here was great! Plenty of high fives and cheering spectators. Thousands of extremely enthusiastic water station volunteers. Even a giant blue gorilla and lots of bananas supported us along the way.
As the miles wound down the banners came into sight: running by 168 of them, each bearing the name of someone who was killed in the bombing. 168 names I didn’t recognize, but all the same… today I ran for them! I was just a high school kid when it happened. I remember bits and pieces of it on the news, but over time the world moved on. Oklahoma City moved forward as well, but would never be the same. While I will never fully understand their journey (as I wasn’t there), my own experience in Boston many years later gave me a much deeper respect and understanding. I’ve called it Boston Strong… years earlier they called it the Oklahoma Standard. You never fully heal from something like this. Life is forever changed. But as they did over 20 years ago, I have also chosen: it is not the darkness that will define me, but rather the light. We are stronger together, and it is in those periods of darkness that we discover the inner strength that often lies dormant within ourselves and our community. Today, again, that strength was on display. 25,000 of us ran in their memory, and thousands more embraced their role in this event, and the ongoing healing of the community. Today we were all here helping and healing one another, in remembrance of 168 souls I never had the privilege of meeting, but whose memories I would honor on this day. For them, and the five we lost in Boston… I powered through. Down the Oklahoma Standard Stretch, around a few more corners and the finish was in sight. I gave a bit of a kick, and powered through that finish as Bart Yasso commented about my “man shirt” (AKA no shirt). For Boston, for OKC, and for the goodness inherent to our human race – today was a beautiful day!
Much like I do in Boston, I stayed in that finish chute for a bit, basking in the energy! Munched on the type of post race chow I’m used to, and then some… cheeseburgers definitely hit the spot after those miles! I made sure to collect my finishers shirt, as this will be one that gets a lot of wear. Next up, a nice relaxing massage! Yes this was a good day. My race was done, but the day had just began. I found my way to the grandstands, it was time to cheer on the thousands still on the course! I would stay there as long as I could: My brain felt like it was going to explode, I still struggle with these loud environments. But sometimes its worth it. I would spend some time this afternoon reflecting at the memorial and museum, but first I would celebrate the healing, the strength and the love here at the finish line. I’ve always admired the stories you hear when you ask a runner “why?”. Today I knew 168 answers to that question, and it was my privilege to cheer on some of those runners as they honored loved ones they lost 23 years ago. The finish line is such a powerful place. Seeing the facial expressions as first timers cross that line never gets old. Cheering as athletes finish their race, relays teams cross together, and sideline support crews go crazy for their loved ones makes my day. Parents carry their excited children across that line, celebrating the behind the scene sacrifices they’ve made for each other. A few runners took a fall as they approached… the heat got pretty intense as the afternoon wore on. But just as the city did 23 years ago, they got back up. A struggle though it may be, they got to that finish line, on their own strength and surrounded by the strength, support and compassion of their community. For it is when we struggle most that we learn a very important lesson: Within all of us lies a hero. Within all of us lies a strength beyond our wildest dreams. And while our inner strength is powerful beyond belief… our strength together is immeasurable.