MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Features

May 14, 2013

At OKC memorial marathon, love trumps sadness

— This is a bit of a love note to Oklahoma City and all the people who participated in one way or another in the 2013 OKC Run to Remember Memorial Marathon on April 28.

The annual run began in 2001 to honor the lives lost and the families and friends still mourning the tragic bombing of the Alfred P. Murrow Federal Building on April 19, 1995. Proceeds from the run support the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

According to the race web site, “The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon is not about running, it is about life, honoring the memory of life lost through tragedy, celebrating the gift of life given equally to each person, and reaching forward into the future to life yet to be lived.”

I signed up for the 2013 OKC half-marathon last year, even though I’d never run anything longer than a 5K. After an ankle injury sidelined me for a couple of months, I tried talking myself out of it.

Then, two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon in April. That was all the extra motivation I needed. My stubborn side came out. I would show up and I would finish.

While picking up my race packet the day before, I ran into Gordon Wallace, a veteran runner from Muskogee, and asked whether he had any advice for a newbie.

“Set your own pace. Walk when you need to. Don’t worry about time. Focus on finishing.”

His words and encouragement stuck with me throughout the run. Strangely, like the race itself, his advice seemed to have as much to do with life as it did with running.

My goal was simple. Finish. And, preferably finish with enough time to get back to the hotel and shower before checking out.

Given the purpose of the run, and the fact that lives were recently lost in Boston, I expected a somber experience. I expected this to be a 13-mile moving meditation, an attempt to clear out the mental and emotional debris of the past.

I was so wrong.

As crazy as this sounds, after the 168 seconds of silence to remember the lives lost in 1995, and an extra three seconds to honor those lost in Boston, it was 13 miles of fun. It was a festive atmosphere, with upbeat music, hilarious signs and cheering crowds.

I may have shown up at the race solo, but I was never alone. We were all in it together — participants, volunteers, security teams and spectators, alike.

I particularly appreciated the dancing gorilla and kids dressed in banana costumes at the Gorilla Hill fuel stop near mile 7, the random yard parties for encouragement, and the upbeat music (a special thanks to the crew blasting Guns N’ Roses) that created a fun, supportive experience.

Although I expected it would be my feet, ankles or knees that hurt by the end of the race, it turned out that my cheeks got as much of a workout from all the smiling along the way.

Sure, there were some tears. But, they were inspired by the love, courage and service of others.

Participants ran in honor of loved ones they lost to the OKC bombing whose names were written on their race bibs, many of whom would later lay their finisher’s medal on the memorial chairs that bear those names.

Hundreds of runners sported red socks in support of those touched by the tragedy at the Boston Marathon.

A blind runner kept pace with his sighted guide, demonstrating faith in himself and complete trust in another.

Firefighters in full gear completed the half-marathon together, receiving words of thanks and encouragement along the way.

On that morning, people from all walks of life, in all stages of their personal journey, at all levels of health and fitness, assembled with their own motivations for participating.

Some ran in honor of those lost in the bombing. Some ran to celebrate life. Some ran because they could. Some ran to push themselves to new personal bests. Some ran to heal. With 25,000 runners, and nearly 40 from Muskogee, there may have been 25,000 different reasons to show up that morning.

Although I may never know what motivates the super athletes at the front of the pack, I do know that the feeling toward the back was one of mutual support and encouragement. We may have been strangers, but we rooted for each other as if we were friends.

Here are a few observations I made along the way:

• There’s no shame in walking the hills. Heck, there’s no shame in walking, period.

• The people on the sidelines are as much a part of the experience as those on the course. They keep the energy up and the atmosphere festive. Appreciate them.

• Our minds can come up with a thousand excuses to quit, or to never start. It’s something in the heart that pushes us to finish. That something matters.

• Lack of perfect training shouldn’t stand in the way of progress. Sometimes you have to jump in with both feet even if you don’t feel ready.

• The porta-potty lines are a lot shorter after mile six. Going the distance has unexpected benefits.

• Courage, compassion and the good in the human spirit are stronger than fear. We choose whether to let them shine in ourselves and to support them in others.

• Attitude counts. Whether in a long run, or in life, the miles are a lot more enjoyable with a smile.

I was neither fast nor graceful. I walked at least as much as I ran. But, I finished, happy and smiling, just in time to get that much-needed shower.

The OKC Memorial Marathon offered a reminder to love life. The 13.1-mile smile was a testament to the supportive, encouraging village it took to make this enormous event possible. To everyone involved, you did indeed make it a Run to Remember. Thank you.

Lisa Wade Raasch coordinates the Muskogee Wellness Initiative, Muskogee Difference Healthcare Scholarship and the EOK Health Care Coalition. Learn more about area wellness events at www.

MuskogeeWellness.org or www.Facebook.com/MuskogeeWellness

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