A few years back, I did a CRM implementation for a large retail company that had a call center in Norman Oklahoma, which is about a half hour south of Oklahoma City. I traveled there for a couple weeks during go-live and at one point when we had some extra time some co-workers and I went to see the Oklahoma City Memorial.
If you’re ever in Oklahoma City, make sure you take the time to stop at the memorial. It’s beautiful and touching and the museum has a lot of great information about the victims and their families as well as the events leading up to and after the bombing.
While we were there, I found out that there’s a marathon held every year to remember the victims and whose proceeds go towards maintaining memorial. Since I hadn’t done a race in Oklahoma yet, I knew right away that this was going to be the one I wanted to do. It wasn’t until this past April that I finally got a chance to sign up and do it, but I had been looking forward to it for quite a while…..
When I was finally able to make plans for the trip, I decided to fly into Dallas a couple days early and take a side trip to Zero Gravity. Zero Gravity is probably one of the best kept secret attractions in the entire DFW area. It’s out in the middle of nowhere and basically consists of a handful of bare bones steel towers that are built for thrill rides (bungee jumping, etc…). The one I interested in the most is called Nothin’ But Net, where you’re taken up to the top of a 16 story structure, suspended in mid air over a safety net and then dropped…. no bungee cord…. no parachute…. just a 16 story free fall. And on top of that, they record the whole experience and give you the video on a DVD to take home. So I booked my flight and flew into Love Field in Dallas….. Unfortunately, when I got to Zero Gravity, I found out that the Nothin But Net structure was closed for repairs. Since I had already bought my ticket online, they gave me a rain check that’s good for a year so I’ll find a race to do in the Dallas area sometime before April of 2015 and try again…..
In the meantime though, after flying into Love Field, I needed a rental car to drive to Oklahoma in. Throughout my years of traveling for work, races, and just for a general love of checking out different places that I’ve never been to before, I’ve picked up a few pretty good travel tips…. one of which I’ll share here, which is the fact that you can haggle with rental car agents…. and here’s the best way to do it: when you’re planning your trip, go online and book the cheapest possible car that’s offered at whatever airport you’re flying into – $15 per day economy car that looks like a go-cart? Perfect! Next, when you get to the rental car agency, they’ll give you the option to upgrade and give you a whole speech about how driving conditions in the area really warrant a bigger car (no matter where you are, there’s always some reason why a bigger car is more suitable). At this point you should take them up on the upgrade offer, but in exchange, make them throw in free gas…. or free insurance… or make them knock some money off of the price of the upgrade…. if you’re a good enough negotiator and you happen to get an agent who can’t do calculations in their head quickly enough, you might be able to get more than one of those things or maybe even all three. On this particular trip, I was able to talk the agent into letting me rent a brand new black Camaro for four days with free gas and insurance for a grand total of $81 (and you’ll see where this comes in handy later).
As bummed as I was about Zero Gravity, checking out the Fort Worth Stockyards and going to the rodeo later that evening made up for it. Texas is one of my favorite states to travel to – every city has something different and I think that if I had to pick anywhere else to live besides Chicago, it would be somewhere in Texas.
The next morning, I headed Northbound on I-35 towards Oklahoma City. The drive takes about 3 1/2 hours and the scenery consists mostly of open farmland and cows. You have to be careful not to fall asleep on this drive – luckily the rental car also had satellite radio.
Race weekend is a pretty big deal in Oklahoma City – since the race is associated with the memorial, a lot of the bombing victims’ families and friends come out and so do local police officers and firemen and other public servants. Some participate in the race and some line up alongside the course to cheer the runners on. Besides the fitness expo and race, there’s also a big art fair in the middle of the city and the crowds were actually a lot bigger than I was expecting. The weather was beautiful too – a little on the warm side in the afternoon but it looked like the next morning would be nice and mild for the race….
It seems like every time I think the weather is going to work out in my favor for a race, it does the exact opposite and this one was no exception. The race was scheduled to start at 6:30am, so I got up at about 5am, put on my running gear, hopped on the shuttle bus and headed towards the start line…. that’s when the lightning started. As soon as I got off the bus, I was already hearing murmurings from other runners about the starting time of the race being delayed because of the weather. By 6:00, the race announcers were telling everyone to leave their corrals and seek shelter in the nearby parking garages. By 6:15, anyone who didn’t take cover in a parking garage (me) was being pelted with rain and by 6:30, the rain had turned to hail. Every time it seemed like the weather was starting to clear up, the sky would get dark again and the wind would kick back up….
Finally, just before 8:30, almost two hours after the scheduled start time for the race, the race announcers told the runners that it was safe to return to the start corrals. Apparently if the race was delayed any longer, it would have had to be canceled because the roads around the city could only be shut down for so long….
Weather aside, this race was a lot of fun. It starts and finishes at the memorial and the course goes past the Oklahoma City Capitol Building and a few other points of interest around the city and I felt a great sense of pride while running it too because at various points along the course I was running next to some of the first responders from the bombing and I also saw some of the people who were actually there when it happened being cheered on by their friends while they ran and I knew that by doing the race I was supporting a great cause. There’s one huge hill around mile 6 but the rest of the course isn’t too bad as far as elevation is concerned. The hardest part about the race was that after the weather finally cleared up, the clouds went away too and it got really sunny, really hot, and really humid (this is why the start time is usually so early – even in April, it can get pretty hot in OKC).
My other concern with the delayed start time was that I had a 5pm flight out of Dallas that I had to catch. I was lucky I scheduled the flight as late as I did – my original plan was to hang out at the memorial for a while and then have lunch and take my time heading back to the airport…. but by the time I finished the race, got on the shuttle bus, made it back to the hotel, showered, checked out, and got on the highway, I had 4 hours before my flight and a 3 1/2 hour drive back to the airport….
This is where having a sports car came in handy….. not only was it a Camaro, but it was also a rental car with full coverage insurance that I didn’t have to pay for. The nice thing about heading Southbound on I-35 through Oklahoma is that the highway is pretty much wide open….. So after I got a decent distance away from the city, I turned up the stereo, hopped on the gas, and decided to see just how fast this car would go. At about 120mph the tachometer started to approach the red area so I eased off a little….. there’s no denying though – driving that fast is a hell of a good time…..
Once I got into Texas, I had to slow down because there was construction and the traffic increased significantly (I’m not sure where all these people were going on a Sunday afternoon but there they were). I kept checking my GPS and with all of the traffic, even though I was getting closer to Love Field distance wise, the estimated arrival time seemed to be getting later and later. When there was an hour and a half left before the flight and I was still 50 miles out, I started checking Southwest’s website to see if any later flights still had open seats…. somehow I managed to get there in time though and when I pulled into the rental car lot, the car was literally running on fumes. When the rental car agent checked us in, she made a comment about how I really took advantage of the free gas….. From there I managed to make it through security and get to the gate just in time…….. just in time to find out that the flight had been delayed…… Apparently those same storms that went through Oklahoma City earlier that day were now somewhere in the flight path and were picking up steam and it wasn’t going to be safe to fly through them for a while. It worked out good in the end though because that also happened to be the same day that the Blackhawks eliminated the St. Louis Blues from the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the delay gave us just enough time to watch the end of the game at the airport bar.
In the end, it was a great weekend. The weather wasn’t ideal on race day but the race itself was great and I got another good story to write about. I definitely won’t complain about that….