Oklahoma City definitely hosts Run to Remember

I had the privilege of running the Oklahoma City Run to Remember half marathon with family and friends last Sunday. The event drew 24,000 runners from across the country and around the world to run full or half marathons, as well as shorter races and relays.

The annual event memorializes the 168 people — including 19 children — who were killed when terrorist dirt bags disemboweled the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building with a fertilizer bomb on April 19, 1995. Each year Oklahoma City pulls out all the stops to welcome runners with grand aplomb.

With the Boston Marathon attack still so raw, this year's OKC marathon was particularly powerful, in a city that completely understands the impact of deranged men's violence. Runners were encouraged to wear green shoelaces to honor the OKC victims, and red socks to honor Boston's. Race organizers invited Boston runners who were stopped short of finishing their race to join the OKC runners free of charge. Community members threw open their doors to provide housing, as well — a shining example of Southern hospitality for which Oklahomans are famous.

The race's staging area is adjacent to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, and when the horn sounded at 6:30 a.m., runners passed by the Memorial's West Gate that bears the glowing numbers 9:03 — the moment the world changed forever — and an inscription that reads "We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever."

Indeed, it's an event that can leave a person forever changed. Banners bearing victims' names lined the course, and runners galore wore and carried signs with names of relatives, friends, or complete strangers who died that fateful day. "Remember the reason" flashed everywhere you looked.

Images seared into my brain, like firemen in full gear walking in formation to honor first responders who were killed, as well as those who died in the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. Helicopters zigzagged overhead, part of a heavy police presence that constantly patrolled the crowd for signs of Boston-esque trouble. But in a crowd that size, it became painfully obvious that ensuring safety is a grand illusion.

But the most enduring image I took away from that day was the broad-shouldered Marine barking out a crisp military running cadence as he deftly passed me by. "M - Motivation! A - Ability! R - Recon! I - Initiative! N - Note Worthy! E - Endurance! C - Courage! O - Obstacle! R - Reality! P - Pride! S - Shoot to Kill! What's that spell? Marine Corps! Your Corps! My Corps! Marine Corps!"

Runners thanked him for his service, and he shouted "You're welcome!" without missing a beat. Something tells me the man had no problem calling cadence through the entire course.

There's so much more I could tell you — about the lung-busting Gorilla Hill, with its huge inflated gorilla and spectators dressed like bananas, or how the blocks before the finish line were crammed with a crowd cheering so loud you'd swear it was possible to sail across the finish line on a breeze. I wish I could show you the enormous First Church that hosted a "blessing of the shoes" pre-race service, and a hearty breakfast served with a smile. I wish you could see beautiful downtown Oklahoma City, which was completely revitalized after the bombing — proof of a community that banded together as "One City — One Nation — One Resolve," determined to honor all those affected with something positive and lasting. I wish you could tour the museum, which will shake you to the core, or the chairs upon the grassy hill where the Murrah Building once stood. They will make you cry.

There's so much more I missed — the 168 seconds of silence before the race began, the Sunrise Service at the Survivor Tree, and a National Anthem sung so sweet it left people in tears.

I guess I'll have to go back for another run to remember.

Tamera Schlueter

Tam Schlueter adopts a "strike-fast-and-keep-them-laughing" approach to writing. Her column appears every Thursday in the Hastings Tribune, and showcases the wonder of family, dogs, muscle cars, and folks with blue collars and no-nonsense attitudes.

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