By Amy Lawrence
Sunday, April 24th, in Oklahoma City wasn’t just my first half-marathon in more than a decade. It was also a moving tribute to those who lost their lives in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in April 1995. From pre-dawn opening ceremonies at the Survivor Tree to 168 seconds of silence for the victims, the Memorial Marathon marked the anniversary of a tragedy that forever changed a city, a state, and the people of Oklahoma. Hearing thousands of people across several city blocks grow quiet and stay quiet for nearly three minutes created a powerful memory. And then it was time: #RunToRemember
When the emcee announced the number of participants in this year’s event, I was stunned to hear 24,818! You can’t help but feel a major adrenaline surge when that many people join forces to tackle a challenge. We all came together for the marathon, half-marathon, 5K, relays, and wheelchair races. A staggered start put the fastest runners at the front, while the rest of us were herded forward in “corrals,” so I had time to stretch, send final texts, and take pictures of the burgeoning purple sky stretching in front of us. More than one experienced runner cautioned me to go out slowly and resist the urge to take off. With that advice in mind, my friend Kelli and I passed under the banner hanging over the starting line and began our 13.1 mile trek!
The marathon route first wound through the downtown streets of Oklahoma City. With every block we ran, I had flashbacks to my life as an “Okie” from 1999-2003. There were basketball games at the Ford Center (now the Chesapeake Energy Arena) before the Thunder moved in, baseball games and dinners in Bricktown, and press conferences at the state capitol complex. I was always so nervous about finding a parking spot near the capitol since I was usually running late! I vividly remember hosting my radio show in the shadow of the Memorial on the morning it was dedicated in 2000 and then covering 9/11 as a reporter the next year. The bombing gave Oklahomans a unique perspective that most of America couldn’t comprehend before that tragic September day.
I was blown away by the number of firefighters running and walking the marathon in full gear. They represented companies in and around Oklahoma City that responded to the Murrah Federal Building on the morning of the attack; and they navigated the course in their fire suits, coats, hats, and boots. Some of them even carried their oxygen tanks. I tried to run alongside to thank as many of them as I could. I wonder if they got tired of responding since dozens of other runners had the same idea. Some even took selfies with the firemen, ha.
I’m glad I decided not to run with headphones. I didn’t want to miss any of the sights and sounds along the marathon course, and it was worth going without music. Fans and supporters lined the way. In some areas, it was a handful of people who held up funny signs or shouted words of encouragement. Kids waited to give us high-fives or fist bumps. But in other locations like Gorilla Hill and Irish Alley, we passed through party-like atmospheres. It’s apparently much easier to party when you aren’t running up a long slope. Along Gorilla Hill, marathon enthusiasts dressed up like monkeys or bananas to hand out bananas. We literally ran through streets covered by peels which is disaster waiting to happen for me! Raucous water stops, high school marching bands, tables with alcohol shots and donuts (what?!?), radio stations blaring music from mobile units, even a bouncing Tigger–they all made us laugh, propelled us forward, and provided energy boosts when they were desperately needed.
The running itself wasn’t terrible through the first 7 miles, but that changed in a BIG way once we made the turn back toward downtown, directly into a stiff wind. The next 3+ miles were a major challenge. I used so much energy to combat the wind and still felt like I was running in place along Classen Avenue. Kelli was kind enough to slow down, too, so we wouldn’t get separated. I’m beyond grateful for her because it would have been harder to press forward alone. Good old Oklahoma with its crazy winds. I should have expected nothing less! By the time we turned off Classen, we were within a couple miles of the finish line. Thankfully, I found a little extra energy toward the end.
The final mile-and-a-half was nothing short of amazing! Even though I was tired and felt every step in my heavy legs, I lifted my head up to look around and soak in the atmosphere. Thicker groups of people lined the streets, and they cheered with a greater sense of urgency. One of my favorite signs indicated we only had eight blocks to go! As we made our way down the last sloping hill, the emcee whipped the crowd into a frenzy by announcing the first marathoner was approaching the finish line. A MARATHONER!! He was still trucking along at his incredible pace, feeling no pain, and we cheered with everyone else as he swept past us under the banner. The huge wave of excitement was so much fun to witness. I managed a final sprint and crossed the finish line at 2:26:31. I didn’t meet my time goal of 2:10 (the wind tunnel took so much out of me), but I’m extremely proud of myself for running the entire way.
Upon completing the course, we entered the finisher’s corral to collect bottles of water, beautiful medals, special t-shirts, and snacks. What did I consume after running a half-marathon? Two Oreos, a banana, and a carton of chocolate milk. I couldn’t stomach the cheeseburgers they were handing out, yikes! Even though my legs were wobbly, I was thrilled to snap pictures and meet up with friends who came to support me. How exhilarating to make it all the way through 13 miles and realize I did it. I actually finished the race! And now I can’t wait for next year.
Thank you, Oklahoma City! Just another reason you will always own a piece of my heart. XO