I have never considered running a marathon. And until our time in OKC, I hadn’t thought it to be an event to experience as an onlooker. But the OKC Marathon has changed my attitude. That weekend in OKC is my favorite.
What distinguishes OKC’s run is its purpose. The OKC bombing on April 19, 1995 was American’s worst domestic terrorism episode until 9-11. It shook the city, the state, and the country. OKC remembered it in a stunning memorial that moves anyone who visits to tears. But they needed to support the Memorial Museum and the marathon was born. The date is always the last Sunday in April.
When Cliff and Sherry Scott visited, we stopped at the beautifully lit Memorial the evening before. Streets were empty and barriers up. Standing in the quiet space where the Run would begin, imagining the coming morning’s chaos, and recalling the Marathon’s motto of “we run to remember,” was chilling even in the warm night.
We experienced the start of the run on a different visit. In the early morning darkness, runners began to congregate according to their assigned sections in the line-up. Wheelchair participants are first, then the speedy bunch with fast times at previous marathons, and down the line to the shortest runs. Despite the twenty-five thousand participating, all seemed to know where to go.
Before the start of the Run, OKC has a special tradition. A quiet settles over all the runners for not just a moment or a minute but for 168 seconds, almost three minutes, each second in memory of a lost life in the bombing. The silence was honored by all despite its length.
When the hush lifted, the streets came alive as the announcer counted down to the start of the Run. Touchingly, wheelchairs pushed by family members began the Run. Next followed the gunners and then waves and waves of runners.
When we bought a house in OKC, we were told the Marathon ran in front. That had to be experienced to appreciate. Barriers were set up on our street to prevent traffic, placed the night before. We were advised to move cars to the side streets in case we needed to get out. By 7:30 a.m., the fastest half-marathon runner was already passing by with his police escort. We were just three miles from the end of the race. Runners would continue for the next 5 hours.
In those five hours, much happens. Crowds line the streets to cheer everyone on. This year, a cow bell rang out for hours, held by a couple at the corner. Signs are held by family members encouraging their people to keep up their spirits. An occasional runner will hold a picture of a loved one lost in the bombing. Our niece, Brooke Ziel, is a committed Marathon runner and she thought this run was one of her most memorable races because of the “amazing crowd support through the historical neighborhoods and the miles with banners of the faces of those lost in the bombing.”
When Paris friends, Plug and Toni Clem, visited this year, we used our front porch as a viewing stand, shouting to occasional runners to carry on. We also enjoyed coffee and mimosas and later a brunch. When our son-in-law and boys came to join us for brunch, they had already visited two houses who were having Marathon parties and had another to attend after ours. It’s a great neighborhood mingling time.
The week of the Marathon also hosts the largest art fair in OKC. The Festival of the Arts began in 1967 and now fills blocks in front of the downtown Art Deco Music Hall. Money raised supports the arts in neighborhoods, schools, and provides summer classes. The organizers for the original Art Fair had to beg artists to participate. But today its reputation is well established and artists from all over the United States give buyers choices that include oil paintings, wood carvings, ceramics, outdoor art, jewelry, and textiles. Music from local musicians play all day and night. We have enjoyed this festival for years and have the art to prove it.
When you add two of the city’s biggest events to the array of options already available to enjoy in OKC, the week-end becomes full. The Clems wanted to see the new Contemporary Arts Museum. The Scotts were interested in the new First American Museum. And we provided both couples tours of the city that included its two beautiful urban parks.
Because of the OKC Marathon, I now understand the excitement of those events, even when you are not a runner. I love art fairs and OKC has one of the best. It’s no wonder I call it my favorite week-end in OKC.
Photos of OKC Memorial by Sherry Scott