“Tonight I’ll run five miles through my neighborhood, a task that at one time seemed Herculean and has almost begun to feel downright routine. I’ve been intentional about weaving running into my life, it has become almost irreplaceable as a source of sanity for me.”
Nathan Gunter wrote these words in his blog just last month. Starting in late January, Gunter planned out a three-and-a-half month training program for first-time runners.
“Basically what it starts with is short runs during the week and on Sunday you do a long run and that long run starts off at 3 miles and gets longer and longer each Sunday.” said Gunter.
On a Sunday morning he leans against his blue jeep stretching, facing the Oklahoma City National Memorial. It’s a comfortable 65 degrees.
“Today is my longest one, my last one before the half marathon and it’s 10 miles!” Gunter says.
This final training run came a week before the Oklahoma City Memorial half-marathon. He’s nervous, but takes pride in embracing this new goal.
“I’m only in my 30s, in my early thirties, but I’ve even noticed in myself you stop thinking of life in new things you can try and start thinking in terms of your life and your rituals and doing things the same way,” says Gunter. “So it’s been really good to open up a new door for myself and try something new and find that I love.”
He opened that door, and challenged himself to run the Oklahoma City Memorial Half Marathon on April 28th.
“I have a lot of friends who run, friends that run for fun and friends that run the Boston Marathon, like regularly run the Boston Marathon.” Gunter says. “26 miles sounded a little daunting to me, but I thought 13, I bet I could do 13. Just curiosity, I wanted to see if I could do it.
It wasn’t easy at first. A few weeks in, he took about 10 days off with a minor foot injury. On March 16th, he competed in the Shamrock the Ville 5K in Bartlesville. He’d been running about 6 miles on those weekly long runs by that point, so there was no reason he should’ve been tired as he neared the end of a 3.1 mile course.
“I got up right to where I could see the finish line and these three, 9-year-old girls in green tutus just blow past me, I mean going a ton faster than I am!” said Gunter. “And I’m thinking there’s no way I’m going to catch up to them, right as one of them passes me she goes ‘See ya!’ and I was like ‘What!? I was just passed by three 9-year-old girls?” (which,as a 33 year old guy who runs regularly is a little like oh my goodness). I was like, you are so lucky I did not just push you down!”
Despite a few mishaps, Gunter followed his training plan almost to the letter, and eagerly awaited April 28th, and the half-marathon’s 6:30 in the morning start in downtown Oklahoma City.
“It’s going to be hard,” said Gunter. “It’s going to be really hard but I’m really excited about it, much more excited than I thought I would be. Before this, I thought that I would get to the week before and I would be terrified and afraid I’m going to think you know what I’ve come this far and I can just call it quits and no one would have to know, but I can’t wait. I really can’t wait to cross that finish line. It’s just so exciting!”
Nearly 25,000 runners gathered before dawn on the west side of the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Marathoners (many of them wearing red socks in honor of the tragedy in Boston) were packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the staging corral along Harvey Avenue in the shadow of the memorial’s 9:03 gate. Like sitting at a stoplight that just turned green, it took a little bit of time to get moving. Gunter didn’t cross the starting line until about 6:45.
Two-and-a-half hours later, the final stretch of the course along Automobile Alley is packed with supporters cheering on runners. As they cross the finish line at Broadway and Northwest 7th Street, many marathoners fell to their knees, put their hands over their heads, rubbed their joints and shared emotional hugs of congratulations with their running partners and supporters.
“I cannot believe I just did that, I cannot believe it!” said Gunter. “I cannot believe all the people that were there to slap our hands and cheer us on. I just cannot even describe that feeling, it’s so good. That this town is here to cheer on complete strangers, I’m just in love with this city right now.”