Sunday, May 3, 2009

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - Memorial Marathon

Getting to the start line of this marathon took some time - it was almost a year in the making. An unfortunate backpacking injury from the Coyote Gulch trip last Memorial Day was the beginning of the end for running in 2008. I started increasing the running miles in June and July for a potential fall marathon, but the same spot in my leg that made the Coyote Gulch trip so painful started to hurt again. My first significant long run in early August was my last - I barely made it home. After a couple months I tried running again and managed about 2 miles before the pain returned. MRIs and mostly useless doctors visits seemed to indicate a vertical fracture up through my tibia, probably from the jump I made from a ledge with a heavy pack of water on that backpacking trip. No more running for the rest of the year.

I tried running again after the holidays and my first run in early January felt great. Always fearful of injuring my leg again, I took it easy for the first month. Things went relatively well for 4 months and by the end of April I was ready to marathon again. I decided to run the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon because I read so many great reviews from runners who had completed the marathon in previous years.

The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon is a tribute to the victims and survivors of the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. 168 people lost their lives, and many others were severely injured. In pre-9/11 America, this act of terrorism was unthinkable, especially in a place like Oklahoma City. I still remember watching the news the day it happened and seeing the front of the building bombed out and collapsed.

I visited the memorial and the memorial museum the day before the marathon. It's clear that the tragedy is still painful for the people of Oklahoma City, but they are proud of how they reacted and how they have recovered. "May all who leave here know the impact of violence" The memorial inspires hope for a more peaceful future.

We come here to remember...

Field of Empty Chairs - 168 for each victim

Gates of time 9:01 - the moment before the bombing

Field of Empty Chairs and the reflecting pool

A portion of the building that survived

From the day of the bombing

The Survivor Tree - survived the bombing

19,000 people participated in the Memorial Marathon events, including about 2,500 full distance marathoners. The run took us through downtown Oklahoma City past the Memorial, through Bricktown, the State Capitol building, Nichols Hills, along the shore of Lake Hefner, and through some nice neighborhoods before returning to the Memorial. It seemed like everyone in the city was either participating or cheering the runners on - the support was amazing. The weather was warm and humid, and the headwind for the last 6 miles was gusting to over 40mph, making for a really tough race. I was a little disappointed in my finish time and how roughed up I felt at the end, but overall it was a great event.

The starting line - 6.30am
A few miles in
Mile 15 near Lake Hefner

The marathon gives you a lot of time to think. I thought a lot about how fortunate I was to be able to run at all, after months of an injury that didn't seem to want to go away. I thought about how much this event means to the people of Oklahoma City, as evidenced by the huge numbers of people out to support the race, including the 6,000 volunteers - many of them family members of the victims! I got the strong impression while visiting the Memorial and seeing the crowds cheering for the runners that this city doesn't want to dwell on the sadness of the past or be remembered as a victim. After a somber 168 seconds of silence before the race began, there was nothing but smiles, excitement, and happiness. At first I found it strange that they held the post-race events with rock bands and partying inside the Memorial itself. I quickly realized, however, that the Memorial was the perfect place to celebrate.
"April 19, 1995 - A great wrong was done in Oklahoma City. However, on this day in April the forces of fear and hate were beaten by love and compassion.
The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon is a race that is not about running—it is about life.

168 banners line the marathon course, 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.

This is what the Memorial Marathon is about: realizing the preciousness of time, valuing one another, taking life as it comes and making something magic from it. Celebrating Life.

You don’t have to be a runner to participate in the Memorial Marathon. All you have to do is change the world you live in one moment, one opportunity, one person at a time. It is not about running—it is about living.