By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
The Muskogee Run returned to its traditional roots last year while coining a new name.
On Saturday, about 200 runners are expected at Honor Heights Park for 5K and 15K runs.
The 2012 race went through downtown and, on the 15K, extended to the running trail that loops Love-Hatbox Sports Complex. Last year the race returned to where the former Flower Power 5K took place, keeping both the 5K and the 15K that began with the 2012 event.
The tweak to the course this year is a simple one: a 100-meter move to make both the 15K and 5K start and finish by the tennis court entrance to Honor Heights (the northeast side).
The 5K will start at the park, go out 48th to West Shawnee and right on 54th for a short stint before coming back on the same streets. The 15K continues on 54th and additional streets west of the park, including “Chicken Wing Hill,” a winding hill that rises the equivalent of 12 stories about 5K into the course.
“It’s the highest point of the course,” said Martin Updike, the Muskogee Running Club president and co-organizer of the event along with Joel Everett, the director of Muskogee Parks and Recreation. “It’s early in the course so you still have some energy left. There’s a water station at the top of the hill and a huge downhill once you make it to that point.”
What has also changed from the original Muskogee Run are the numbers. The first one in 2012 had 846 participants in the three races. Last year’s total was just less than 150. The difference was attributed to the absence last year of WINGS, the Cherokee Nation running club that pays for tribal members’ entries as part of a tribal health initative.
Randy Gibson, a program liaison for the Cherokee Nation Public Health system that coordinates WINGS, said the demand over a 14-county jurisdiction and an increase of 5Ks in those areas stretch funds for races, and the Muskogee Run had to be cut in favor of helping to establish other runs. He said the group still pays entries for the Garden of Lights 5K during Christmastime.
Updike said it’s made the Muskogee Run have to work a little harder, but he had no hard feelings.
“We’ve had to work harder promoting it to get the people we have,” Updike said. “This isn’t intended to say anything bad about the WINGS organization, but we feel like the people out here spending their own money on this makes it a great race in itself and we appreciate the support of those people. This is a community event; a lot of people come to see their friends, run with their friends, and enjoy the azaleas at Honor Heights.”
According to Updike, at least two defending champions will be back — Pauline Marks, who won the women’s 15K last year in 1 hour, 15.05 minutes, and Jeffrey Pratt of Evergreen, Colo.
Whether defending overall champion Travis Wickliffe of Tahlequah shows up is not known.
Marks, who said she runs two 15Ks, two half-marathons and 20 to 30 5Ks in a year, ran both 15K courses in this race and prefers this one.
“The whole course is hilly, but it’s out in the country where you’re in the open instead of on the trails,” she said. “It’s definitely more of a challenge. Winning really depends on who’s out there, but I look forward to running it.”