Getting My Kicks on Route 66

img_6870In my quest to run an endurance race in all 50 States, I often ask other runners for race recommendations.  When it came to Oklahoma, the universal opinion was that the Route 66 Marathon/Half Marathon in Tulsa was THE race to run.  Two weeks ago I ran the Route 66 Half Marathon.  I have to agree – it is a terrific race.

img_6912I didn’t know much about Tulsa or US Route 66 before I went there.  I knew there was a television series in the 1960s called “Route 66” and a song in the 1940s titled “Get Your Kicks on Route 66”.  I did a little research and learned US Route 66, also referred to as the Mother Road, was established in 1926 as one of the first highways in the US.  It spans over 2,400 miles from Chicago, IL to Santa Monica, CA.  In the early days of automobile travel, if you wanted to head west to California, either as a tourist or to seek new opportunities, you’d travel on Route 66.  Tulsa has the longest stretches of Route 66 that pass through a metropolitan area.  It seems fitting that a marathon in Tulsa should be inspired by and named for Route 66.

img_6913I wandered around Tulsa looking for the quirky sights that make my race travels fun.  I wasn’t disappointed.   I found a life-sized bronze sculpture of a Model-T nearly colliding with a horse-drawn wagon titled “East Meets West”.  The sculpture reflects the changes that accompanied the advent of  the automobile with horses startled by the new fangled motor car.  The detail on the sculptures was incredible – right down to the dead bug on the car’s radiator. img_6915 Downtown Tulsa is home to one of the largest collections of Art Deco architecture in the country.  Lots of eye candy for architecture enthusiasts like me.  To top it off, there is a local attraction called “the Center of the Universe”, known for the strange acoustic phenomenon that visitors experience.   According to what I have read, if a person in the center makes noise, they will hear it echoed back louder, yet people standing outside of the circle won’t hear anything.  I was alone so I don’t know if people outside the circle heard me when I spoke but I certainly heard the echo.  (The marathon course passed by the Center of the Universe and runners were given the opportunity to make a quick detour to experience it for themselves.)

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Standing at the Center of the Universe!

The Route 66 Marathon/Half Marathon Expo had a few unique features.  Instead of handing runners a bag filled with a few samples, we were given reusable shopping bags and directed to tables filled with all sorts of things.  I was able to pick from a wide variety of products – cashews, dried cherries, detergents, snack bars, and tissues to name just a few.  The volunteers encouraged me to take as many of each as I wanted.  It felt like adult trick-or-treat!

A runner getting cryotherapy at the Expo

A runner getting cryotherapy at the Expo

Like most Expos there were people giving massages and applying sports tape to runners in preparation for race day.    But this Expo also had a therapist offering alternative treatments like cupping and whole body cryotherapy, a procedure where the body is exposed to temperatures below negative 200 degrees F for 2-3 minutes.  Yes, I said minus 200 degrees!  The purpose of cryotherapy is to reduce muscular and skeletal pain and inflammation – think of a super sized ice bath.  I was amazed at the number of people lining up to step into the cryotherapy machine.   I was not in pain before the race so I didn’t need to give it a try.  For anyone who didn’t find the therapy they needed at the Expo, the local Methodist church hosted a pasta dinner and blessing of the shoes.  Given how I fall during training runs, blessing my shoes might have been a good idea.

The Route 66 race attracted runners from all 50 states and 10 countries.  In fact over 60% of the runners came from outside the Tulsa area.  Many of them were repeat runners too.  The loyalty runners have to this race is in part due to Chris Lieberman, the race’s Executive Director and visionary who started the race 11 years ago.  Chris was determined to create a race that showcased Tulsa, gave runners a memorable racing experience while generating revenue for area businesses and charities.  In 2015 the race yielded $8 Million in revenue to the city plus nearly $500,000 for area charities.   Without Chris, there never would have been a Route 66 race weekend.

img_7055This year’s race meant even more because Chris fell in March and suffered a traumatic brain injury.  Chris wasn’t able to help organize this year’s race.  To ensure the race went off without a hitch, race directors from other cities stepped in to lend a hand.  The 50 States Marathon Club sold buttons at the Expo with proceeds being donated to help pay Chris’s medical bills.  Although Chris was watching the race from his hospital room, he was acknowledged by cheering runners as each corral took off.

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Can’t say I have ever run past Boozer’s Bend before!

Around town I had seen signs claiming the Route 66 Marathon/Half Marathon was a “Marathon-Sized Party.”  They weren’t kidding either.  Residents who live along the course were encouraged to host block parties during the race to cheer on the runners.   A local foundation even gave free block party kits to communities who wanted to participate.  I have written in the past about how challenging it must be to live along a race course.  You are trapped in your house until the police open up the roads.  Well, instead of hiding out inside their homes, Tulsa residents welcomed the runners with beer, mimosas, and jello shots.  I have never seen so much alcohol along a race course.  (And how do you calculate how much alcohol to have on hand for over 12,000 runners?)

Posing for a photo greeting for Chris Lieberman

Posing for a photo greeting for Chris Lieberman

One community even changed their name from Cincinnati to “Sin-cinnati” for the day.  It was fun to see the neighborhoods cheering the runners.  My favorite part of the course was Brookside, an upscale area of shops and restaurants.  The cheering spectators there were definitely the loudest and most enthusiastic that I have seen in any race.

For many runners a race is all about the bling and the medals from this race were impressive.  In keeping with the automobile theme, the race medal resembles the hood ornament from a Route 66-era car.   There were also special medals for runners completing their first marathon or half marathon – another special touch that I have not seen at any other race.

Chris should be proud of his “baby”.   The Route 66 Marathon/Half Marathon is a terrific race.  I hope that he recovers and is able to be at the start line again soon.img_7025

At the Expo I participated on a panel discussion of bloggers who blog about running.   Each blogger had a unique story about how they got started running, why they blog, and things they have learned along the way.  In case you are interested in checking out some other running blogs, here are the bloggers who participated on the panels:

Stormy Phillips IG @FindUltra http://Goruntulsa.blogspot.com (Stormy like ultra marathons.)

Steve Ford Twitter @OkieTorchbearer xltriathlete.blogspot.com (interesting blog for triathletes)

Colin Wright  Twitter @ColinWright http://canapeel.us 

Danielle Cemprolo Twitter & IG @TheTrexRunner www.trexrunner.com

Felisha Mims IG @SheRanHerselffit http://www.sheranherselffit.com/

Paula Harris Twitter @Neveradullbling neveradullbling.com

James Harris Twitter @50in50marathon www.50in50marathonquest.com

Katrina Steffenson @Akatrinas whatssociallyacceptable.com

Angie Whitworth Pace @AngieRunsSLC http://angiepaceruns50.blogspot.com/

Gratitude

This is a good time to bring back a post from 2 years ago (and give an update).

...and to run. :-)

…and to run. 🙂

Thanksgiving is this week, a time when people give thanks for many things – a home, food to eat, a job, their family and friends.  For me, and probably for Kayla Montgomery, the thing I am the most grateful for is the ability to move, and especially to run.  Most people probably don’t even think about the ability to move as a gift.  But for Kayla and me, it is something that we do not take for granted because both of us have neurological conditions that could result in losing the ability to move.

At 14, following a soccer injury, Kayla was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).   It was a devastating diagnosis for an active teenage girl.  For 8 months following her diagnosis, she did nothing but sit in her room.  Then she decided if she couldn’t play soccer, she would run.  And boy did she.  Kayla became the fastest female runner in North Carolina while competing in the 3200 meter event for her high school track team.

Kayla’s MS creates challenges for her when she runs because she loses feeling in her legs.  It begins in her toes and moves up her legs to her waist.  The loss of feeling is triggered by the increased body temperature as she runs.  Kayla can run very fast because she can’t feel her legs, can’t feel the pain from over exertion.  But because she can’t feel her legs, she collapsed every time she crossed the finish line.  Kayla’s coach had to stand at the finish line to catch her.

Immediately following a race, they had to cool her body down as fast as possible so that her symptoms would subside.  For Kayla that is just the cost of competing.  I have to admire how tough this young woman is.  As she lay on the ground being iced down after a race, she could be heard asking “Do you know what my time was?”  A true runner through and through.

I was stunned when Kayla said in an interview that some consider her condition an unfair advantage in a race.  Who in their right mind would want that kind of advantage?  Anyone who says that is incredibly insensitive.  I can guarantee you that Kayla would prefer to not have MS.

You may think that Kayla is taking a big risk by running.  But running makes her feel whole again.  There is no guarantee that she will be able to run in a few years.  Kayla wants to get every moment of movement out of her legs as she can.

I understand exactly how Kayla feels.  I have Transverse Myelitis (TM), another inflammatory disorder of the central nervous system where the immune system attacks the nervous system.  Although TM is often a one-time illness, for some people, TM is an early symptom of MS.  Similar to Kayla, I get tingling sensations in my legs when I run (known as Uhthoff’s phenomenon).  Running in hot weather is a challenge for me because those symptoms become more pronounced.  I have learned ways to keep my core cool during warm weather races such as putting bags of ice inside my shirt or wrapping ice in a bandana around my neck.

Sometimes I feel like I am a bit fanatical about running in marathons and half marathons.  But like Kayla, I don’t know if/when I will lose the ability to run.  When my doctor told me last year to go run every race I want to do, I took that as a warning sign.  I don’t want to regret not taking advantage of every chance to get out there and race.  I want to have lots of great memories of being part of the excitement as I cross a finish line.

On Thursday, when I sit down for our Thanksgiving feast, I will pause to say thanks, thanks for the ability to move.  Because it is a gift that none of us should take for granted.

Update:  Kayla is in her sophomore year at Lipscomb University where she is a member of the track and field team.  Sadly, Kayla suffered two relapses of her MS a year ago.  That and injuries to her hips prevented her from competing in the last year.   But she has no plans to stop running.   Kayla is a fighter.  I wish her many more years of movement. 

Here is a video about Kayla’s high school running career.  It includes video of her last run for her high school team.   If you enjoy nail-biter finishes, you won’t want to miss this!

Why We Run

I remember when I first started running many people questioned why I wanted to do something they thought was a waste of time.  From their perspective a marathoner runs for hours and hours and the only reward they receive at the end is a piece of medal on some ribbon, a banana or bagel, and very sore muscles.  I guess when you put it in that context, running seems a bit silly.  As someone pointed out to me, that is why they invented fossil fuels – so we didn’t have to run everywhere.

I was reading the obituaries one day and one caught my eye.  It was for Wendy Bailey, a woman who passed away from breast cancer at the young age of 47.  In her photo she had a beautiful smile, the kind that would welcome anyone she would meet.  As I read about her life, I realized she was the kind of warm friendly person you would love to know.  There was a quote in her obituary that struck a chord with me.  “When you constantly challenge yourself, you discover a lot about who you are.”  Marathon runners understand how true that is.
screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-10-11-41-pmI can tell you from my own experience there is something that happens to you when you finish your first marathon.  You are not the same person who started the race.  Crossing the finish line transforms you like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon.  Before my first marathon, I was intimidated by many things.   I was not an athlete and the thought of running a marathon was frightening.   But after I crossed the finish line of my first marathon, I was never afraid of anything again.  Along with my medal came a big dose of self-confidence.  Hey, if I can run 26.2 miles and not die, I must be much stronger than I thought.

There are plenty of reasons why people decide to take on the marathon.   They may be running to raise awareness and funds for a cause that holds deep meaning for them.   People run to fund research to find cures for diseases like breast cancer, Crohn’s disease, or neuroblastoma, or for social causes like clean water in Africa.  I ran my first marathon in honor of a friend who was battling an incurable form of lymphoma, fundraising in the process.

Other people may be striking back at something that has taken away their own ability to move such as wounded warriors.  They prove to themselves the strength they still have.  In some cases, people are striking back at abilities that they never had.  A good example is Tatyana McFadden who was born with spina bifida and has not known anything other than a wheelchair.  Tatyana has won 11 marathons.  I have watched Tatyana compete and she is an amazing young athlete.

As for me, I was healthy when I started running until Transverse Myelitis changed my life five years ago.  While I started running to show support for my friend, now I run for myself.  I don’t know what the future holds for me.  If the music is going to stop some day, I want to make sure I cram in everything I want to do while I can do it.  I won’t let TM run my life.

Kathrine Switzer said once “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”  Running a marathon takes courage, determination and strength (both mental and physical).  When you watch a marathon, you will see all kinds of people.  They all have one thing in common – they had the courage to show up at the start line and challenge themselves.  And at the finish line, as Wendy said, they will have discovered much more about who they are.

Preconceived Notions

Preconceived notions.  We all have them about something.  We form opinions without adequate knowledge.  The funny thing about life is something always comes along to shatter whatever preconceived notions we may have.

I discovered this on my last trip. It was a long flight so I took advantage of the in-flight entertainment.  One program caught my eye – “The Autistic Gardner” – a British documentary television series hosted by Alan Gardner, a gardner who has Asperger syndrome.  Alan works with a team of young gardeners who also have autistic disorders to transform overgrown and neglected yards into magnificent gardens.

At the time I had a limited understanding of people with autism.  What little I knew lead me to believe people with autism are generally unable to lead productive lives.  This program totally changed any preconceived notions I may have had.  Watching the team develop and implement the new garden design gave me insight into how autistic people process information.  The end result was a creative space that incorporated features I would never have imagined – a sleeping giant, a wildlife hotel, and a sculpture from a tree stump.  Alan has a mission – to prove to the world that autistic people are “not mad… we just see things in a different way.”  I applaud Alan and hope he and his team continue to create beautiful gardens while changing our understanding of autistic people.  Alan certainly changed mine.

I think people have preconceived notions about what marathoners look like.  There appears to be a belief that only people who are tall and slender are marathoners.  Anyone else need not apply.  But marathoners come in all shapes, sizes, and capabilities.  They are tall, short, thin, heavy.  They have two legs, one leg, no legs.

One of the marathoners participating in the Portland Marathon this year was about as far from that preconceived notion of marathoners as you can get.  Adam Gorlitsky has been paralyzed since 2006.  Using a robotic exoskeleton machine, Adam was able to complete the last 6.2 miles of the race.  It is like science fiction brought to life or as Adam describes it, “Iron Man meets Avatar”.

screen-shot-2016-11-05-at-9-07-11-pmAdam has started a non-profit, I Got Legs, whose mission is to “bridge the gap between what it means to be disabled and abled body.”  With the Portland Marathon he kicked off the “1 Million Steps to a Cure” campaign.  Adam has participated in several races including the Marine Corps Marathon, logging 54,316 steps towards his 1 Million goal.  Talk about shattering preconceived notions of what paralyzed people can do!

Both Alan and Adam challenge us to think beyond our preconceived notions to see possibilities.  I think that is pretty exciting.  Are there any preconceived notions that you would like to see shattered?

Want to learn more about the Autistic Gardner?  Visit their website:  https://theautisticgardener.wordpress.com

Check out the I Got Legs web site to learn more about Adam’s story.           http://www.igotlegs.org

Here is a video of Adam in his first race.  Just amazing!