by Patrick B. McGuigan
Despite a sometimes driving rainstorm, runners of varied skill ran in the eleventh annual Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, commemorating the 1995 bombing of the A.P. Murrah Building. The race attracted top competitors from around the world, but also thousands of women and men who ran to remember a loved one or a colleague, someone killed or injured that day. Or, simply to remember.
At about the 5 mile mark of every year’s race lies that high spot in the historic Crown Heights neighborhood. As the route winds from alongside the National Memorial and into north central Oklahoma City, racers travel west along 38th Street north of the park. At the corner of 38th and Shartel, they turn north, to mount what was formerly deemed “Suicide Hill.”
That four block stretch is now known as “Gorilla Hill.” A large inflatable gorilla stands every year at 40th, seeming to jump to cheer the runners. Along the street gathered youngsters dressed as bananas who cheer for all runners, especially those wearing yellow. A water station awaited a few yards away. Fatigue seemed to melt away as runners moved up the hill, applauded by residents who, this year, stood in the pouring rain. You had to be there.
Tom Hill III, president of the board that organized the 2011 Marathon, wrote recently, “In the beginning the paths all looked very different. We each have our own way of training, our own way of motivating ourselves before and during each successively longer run, and our own way of preparing mentally for the race. However, as we each pursued our own path, we were actually becoming very similar. … Our muscles got stronger, our circulation improved and our fuel use became more efficient. At some point we all turned into runners.
“Life is like that. We are each on our own path – individual and unique. And yet as the journey progresses, we find that we are all somewhat alike. Shared experience, common goals and a need for fellowship find us more alike than different. The longer we live, the stronger these bonds become – like our collective muscles – enabling us to attain together what we could never achieve alone.”
For a certain time and place, there was no loneliness for these long distance runners.