We pulled into Stillwater, Oklahoma 2 weeks prior to the Land Run 100 wanting to do some running and riding on the local red dirt roads. What we got was so much more. We left with new friends, full hearts and memories to last a lifetime.
After a brief visit to District Bicycles, we promptly headed out to Lake McMurtry. We had stayed out at the lake when we were in town for the registration party, running on the trails and knew that we wanted to go back. We pulled in and met Jared and the rest of the staff that help keep this park beautiful for all of us to enjoy. They were so welcoming and so excited that we had come to Stillwater to enjoy the area, the community and the race. We spent 2 nights at Lake McMurtry and had the place to ourselves. It was peaceful at night and trails were empty during the day; it was cold and sunny with snow and mud but absolutely beautiful.
After 2 nights out at the lake we decided we wanted to stay closer to town. We found the empty gravel lot right around the corner from District, a porta-potty in the corner and right in the middle of town. This is where we would spend almost all the rest of our nights, it was safe, convenient and surprisingly quiet.
Within the first 2 days we also visited the local Stillwater YMCA. Since we were staying in town for a few weeks we decided to join short term. Once again, we found the people there so welcoming and generous and for a very nominal fee we had memberships for 2 weeks. We would spend quite a bit of time there, when the days were cold or windy or rainy. We met so many people who shared the best places to go, to eat and to play!
We weren’t even in town for 48 hours when we got a message from Anthony. We had met Anthony and Alexis last summer in Kansas (Dirty Kanza) and again at the LR 100 registration party. They are fairly new residents to Stillwater but are fully immersed in the gravel biking scene. They welcomed us with open arms, invited us into their home for showers, laundry, and really just to hang out. We had great conversations over dinner (they are both amazing cooks) and David and Anthony would spend time out on the gravel roads. It was all meant to be. As David approached mile 85-90 of the LR 100 he caught Anthony who was struggling a bit. They would ultimately ride the remainder of the 103 miles and cross the finish-line together. They are caring, genuine, salt of the earth people and we are lucky to call them friends.
One of the other things I always do when we pull into a new town, and are staying for a while, is find out about the local running scene. I sent a few messages on Facebook and before I knew it we were running with the local group for the Wednesday pub run and meeting up with a British gal named Ruthie for coffee. Our coffee date with Ruthie was all about running and races, where we have traveled, where she has lived and before we knew it an amazing friendship had formed. Little did I know that day that Ruthie would become someone that I now consider a friend who is family. Ultimately we spent quite a bit of time with her and we can’t wait to see her again soon.
We frequented District Bicycles many times over the course of the 2 weeks in Stillwater. It is owned by Bobby and Crystal Wintle and they are the brains and the heart behind the LR 100. We first met Bobby at a breakfast gathering in Kansas (Dirty Kanza) and then again at the LR 100 registration party. He has more energy then anyone I have ever met and he pours his heart and soul into this event. He was genuinely excited that we were in Stillwater for a few weeks prior to the race and whenever he would see us he would make sure we didn’t need anything. His energy is infectious and you can’t help but smile when you are around him.
We had some really cold, windy. gloomy days throughout our stay and one of those days we decided to take a drive to Tulsa. We were advised by several Stillwater locals that the Gathering Place was a must when visiting the area. It is a 100 acre park on the waterfront of the Arkansas River in Tulsa, Oklahoma that was made possible by $400 million dollars in donations from private companies and individuals and $65 million from the city of Tulsa. There is a beautiful visitors center, walking paths, sports courts, skate park, adventure playground, pond, water park and swings. It is a mini Disney with no lines and no fees. We were told that there was enough money donated to sustain the park for 100 years so that anyone and everyone can enjoy it for free. We took advantage of all the attractions with the exception of the water parks (they were not open and it was cold outside). Although dogs are not allowed in the playground areas they are allowed along the walking paths. We walked Mira several miles and then explored the rest of the park by ourselves. It is an absolutely incredible park, for kids and adults. We had a blast climbing, swinging, crawling and sliding. This place is a must if you are ever in or around Tulsa.
After almost 2 full weeks in Stillwater it was getting close to race day. Wednesday evening (prior to the race) we met up with our friend and owner of Orange Mud, Josh. We chatted all things Land Run and racing over dinner with a little business thrown in. He was going to be racing the Land Run double (50K run on Friday, 100 mile gravel bike on Saturday) so I had been offered the opportunity to oversee the Orange Mud booth for the day on Friday. We originally met Josh and were introduced to Orange Mud at Dirty Kanza (do you see a pattern here). I fell in love with the endurance pack and became an ambassador. We kept in touch with Josh throughout our travels and we were looking forward to hanging out with him and of course talking about OM and racing!
Even more folks rolled into town on Thursday, including Amber and Quincy whom we met at the Land Run registration party. Although we didnt get to spend much face to face time with Amber and Quincy we became fast friends through text messages and followed each others training via Facebook and Instagram. It is amazing to me, in this day and age of social media, how you can really connect with people even though you have not had significant in person interaction. Some people would say that they were not “real” friends but I completely disagree. We met them at Fuzzy’s Taco on Thursday afternoon, while having lunch with Josh and Ruthie, and it was like we were lifelong friends that had not seen each other in a while. We exchanged hugs and chatted as if we had known each other forever. They are such a wonderful couple who are passionate about running and biking and the outdoors and are instilling those traits in their daughter Ava. We went our separate ways for the afternoon but met up at an Italian restaurant for dinner. Amber, Quincy and David were all doing the 50K the next day so it was early dinner and early to bed.
We went to packet pick up as soon as it opened and met up with our Emporia friends. We were so excited to see them after so many months. We met all of them in Emporia when we were there for Dirty Kanza (see there is that race again). This is a group of people that are so passionate about gravel biking that it is almost infectious, I said almost. They are down to earth folks who are amazing support and cheerleaders. They lift you up, encourage you, support you and would give you the shirt off their backs. Lyn, Scott, Kristi, Tim, Treva, Michael, Cassie, Jason, Rick, Tina, Adam, Jessica, just to name a few. We would spend some time with them but it was a bit hectic and it certainly didn’t seem like enough time. They were even willing to watch Mira for us while we both raced on Saturday.
David had come down with a cold and congestion earlier in the week and Thursday was the worst of it. He had a low grade fever and body aches and I was questioning if he should be running the next day. He rested all afternoon, ate some hearty soup for dinner and went to bed. He woke Friday morning feeling a bit better and of course there was no question about it, he was going to race. We got up early, met Josh at the OM tent for a brief set up and then to the start line. It was cold, sunny and a bit windy but at least it was dry and the forecast was for a warming trend over the next 24 hours. David took off on his 50K and I went to breakfast with the Emporia gang. It was a quick bite to eat and then off to set up the Orange Mud tent for the day. I was lucky to have some help from some other OM ambassadors, Jolene, Shannon and Ruthie. It was so much fun, meeting people from all over, chatting about OM and racing and watching the 50K runners finish.
Orange Mud is a huge sponsor of the Land Run and because of this and Josh’s encouragement and heckling, there was a huge group of OM ambassadors at the race. It was so cool actually meeting all the people we had “met” through social media, training and racing in OM gear. Everyone was so encouraging and supportive of one another. It is amazing to me how a company could bring people together in such a positive way. Thank you Josh and OM for creating an incredible community of like minded individuals.
I was able to step away from the booth long enough to watch David finish the 50K, give him a big hug and a kiss, help him a bit and get back to the booth. We were both hanging out at the booth when other OM ambassadors rolled in (some finished before David) and we were super excited to be able to cheer Amber and Quincy into the finish. It was a spectacular day of racing, supporting, spectating and representing Orange Mud and Saturday was looking to be just as good.
We were anxiously waiting the arrival of some other friends from Emporia, Jacob, Lyndsey and baby Henry. Jacob was running the Land Run 50K, just like me. They rolled into town Friday afternoon and we were able to spend some time with them catching up on Friday evening. Jacob is a runner in Emporia, in a town dominated by gravel cyclists. So, of course I made sure to meet him when we were in Emporia for Dirty Kanza and we went running. Well mostly he and David ran together as I was way too slow for either of them, especially Jacob. We had the pleasure to be around town when Henry was born and got to meet him when he was only a few days old. It was so much fun seeing them again, seeing how Henry has grown and chatting about strategies and race plans for Leadville 100. You see David originally asked Jacob to be on our crew for Leadville and then Jacob got into the race by lottery!! We are super excited for him and can’t wait to see them again in Colorado!!
Saturday we woke early and it was 29 degrees and sunny. The winds had died down and it was looking to be a beautiful day for racing. The bike race was set to start at 8AM. David lined up, we took some pictures, said our goodbyes for the day and I headed into District Bicycles to keep warm. I bumped into some fellow OM ambassadors and Jacob and Lyndsey who were all trying to stay warm as our race was a bit delayed. The gun went off and I was right with Ruthie for a bit. I told her to have a great race and we parted ways. She caught me at the first aid station and again at aid stations 2 and 3. I was feeling good and was running my own race. I wasn’t concerned about where I was in the pack or my time. I was running for feel, power walking the hills and running the downhill and flats. I was playing leap frog with several other runners, they would pass me on the up hills and I would pass them on the down. Eventually I would pass some of them and never get passed again. That is always a confidence booster. The weather had warmed significantly and it was a beautiful day to be racing. The terrain was challenging yet all runnable, lots and lots of rolling hills and no real mud to speak of. Right before the race started Lyndsey asked me if I had a goal in mind. I wasn’t really sure but felt that 5:30 was a reasonable goal considering I had not been training much speed work, mostly distance. As the miles clicked by I was feeling good about my 5:30 goal. My hydration and nutrition were good, my legs felt good and in the last 5 miles I passed 5 people, all men (not really sure what the significance of that is but its always fun to pass guys in a race!). As I entered into town I could feel the excitement of the finish line build. I knew that David wouldn’t be there but Bobby would be, ready with open arms to welcome me home and congratulate me on my finish. As I ran down 7th Avenue in downtown Stillwater there were people cheering and screaming, all for me. I got the finish chute to myself, got a big Bobby hug, a smile on my face and a finish time of 5:23:59.
I went back to the van to find Mira waiting anxiously for my return. I changed my clothes, drank some recovery drink, called my parents and Ruthie came by to chat. We talked about the race and made plans to meet up again before we left town. I wandered over to the finish line and got a text from David that he was at mile 85 or so. I knew I had some time to kill so I went into the local coffee shop and ran into Alexis. She was tracking Anthony and it seemed that he and David must have been riding close to one another. Another text from David and he was at mile 90 with Anthony. They were going to stay together for the remainder of the race. So, Alexis and her crew and I headed to the finish line to wait. It seemed like the last 5 miles took forever and all I could do was ask Alexis, “where are they now”. As they approached the finish line there was Bobby waiting with open arms and a big high five, giving David and Anthony his famous Bobby hug!
I ran to meet David past the finish chute, congratulated Anthony and off we went to get David some recovery drink and warm, dry clothes. We quickly drove to get some food and return to the finish line as we didn’t want to miss Amber and Quincy cross. We planted ourselves at the finish chute and as they came into the finish they had huge smiles on their faces. We were screaming and yelling and carrying on, it was so much fun to see them accomplish the double together and be a part of it.
We were tired and hungry and in desperate need of showers. We, along with all the OM ambassadors, were invited to hang out at Josh’s rental house. We headed over there after getting some food, hung out with our fellow ambassadors, took showers and slept in the driveway. We chatted with Josh briefly that morning and knew that we would see him again soon, likely in Colorado for one/some of the Leadville races.
We went into town, had breakfast with the Emporia crew, bumped into Amber, Quincy and Ava, chatted with them for a while and said our goodbyes, well really “until next time”. We asked them to come to Leadville and be a part of our crew for the Leadville 100 and we are super excited they said yes! Off to Ruthie’s house to visit with her one last time before we head out of town. We spent the remainder of that day relaxing and enjoying a nice dinner with Anthony and Alexis. Again, not saying goodbye but “until next time”.
David went on one last gravel ride with the Monday Funday group and we spent one more morning running the trails of Lake McMurtry before we got on the road to Emporia. As we pull away I couldn’t help but refelct on our time in Stillwater. We went for a race and what we got was so much more. We left with new friends, full hearts and memories to last a lifetime.
“Good friends are hard to find, harder to leave and impossible to forget” -unknown