Missouri runners claim cowbells at Bedlam Run

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Jacob Jennings is back. After taking a year away from running, Jennings hit the roads again this summer and punctuated his comeback with an age-group victory at the Bedlam Run 10K in Tulsa on Saturday. He finished third overall in the field of 330 runners with a time of 41:01.

Seth Black, 29, of Tulsa, was the men's champion, running 38:49. Amy Leach, 31, of Collinsville won the women's race in 45:50. The 5K champions were Taylor Moult, 19, of Tulsa in 16:555 and Cindy Saliba, 19, of Tulsa in 20:13.

Rob Williams, of Owasso, was the oldest runner, covering the 5K course in 34:54 at the age of 86.

Christian Sellars, of Seligman, took second in the male 16-19 age group behind Jennings and placed ninth overall with a 44:07 effort.

I won the male 55-59 age group in 44:46 and was tenth overall.

This was the last scheduled road race of the summer for our little running group. Both Jacob and Cristian will be heading off to college shortly, and they wanted one last race to finish off their summer training. I promised them not just a race, but something different.

This was the third year for the Bedlam Run, a 5K/10K/Fun Run in downtown Tulsa sponsored by Fleet Feet to benefit both the OU and OSU alumni associations. Participation has skyrocketed in the brief history of the event. Besides the 330 athletes in the 10K division, 540 ran in the 5K, with over 200 in the Fun Run.

Urban racing is different than the typical road races we see in Springfield and the surrounding small towns of southwest Missouri. Racing through the streets amidst the towering office buildings with huge crowds lining the streets is both exhilarating and a little nerve wracking.

The weather was not conducive to great performances. Tulsa saw a high of 106 degrees on Friday afternoon, with a forecast of 107 for Saturday. The acres of concrete in the downtown business sector radiated heat even at 6 AM on Saturday. When the sun popped out, the temperature rose rapidly.

Along with the major heat warning, the National Weather Service issued an ozone alert for Tulsa that morning. Ozone warnings are issued when conditions are right for sunlight to act on pollutants in the air to form "photochemical smog." This visible haze includes the form of oxygen known as ozone. It can irritate lung tissue and can be especially harmful to people with various kinds of illness or who are under cardiovascular stress.

The course itself proved difficult. Early in the week, I "ran" the course virtually using Google's street view feature and saw nothing unusual. But in real life, the hills were more prominent. The killer section was the railroad overpass on Detroit Street just south of I-244. The out and back 5K course required the 10K runners to navigate this steep man-made hill four times.

In deference to the oppressive heat conditions, Fleet Feet provided eight water stations along the course.

With over 800 runners at the line for the combined 5K/10K start, the early pace was fast as we fought to avoid being crushed in the crowd. Jennings and Sellars shot out with the 5K leaders, and I settled in behind the front group of 25-30 runners.

The first trip up the railroad overpass dampened the pace for all. I purposely eased up on the ascent and saw a dozen or more runners trudge past me. But I immediately caught them back on the downhill section, as we turned left onto Archer. I passed the first mile marker in 6:28.

No one could really tell what position they held in their respective race division until the first switchback out on John Hope Franklin Boulevard. The 5K runners wore race bibs with orange bars, and the bibs for the 10K runners had red. A little mental sorting told me that Sellars and Jennings were second and fourth overall at the two-mile mark. I was cruising in 24th overall and 12th among the 10K competitors.

The line of runners, led by a police escort on twin motorcycles, wound back over the tracks and headed for the finish line on 2nd Street. The 5K runners sprinted to the line while the 10Kers funneled to the left for another trip around the course.

The third ascent of the railroad overpass was a system overload for many runners. Sellars came apart as Black, Cooper Harrison, and Jennings pulled away from the field. The pack of young men I was pacing with suddenly slowed on the uphill and I found myself alone. I could see Sellars ahead in ninth place, but there was almost a minute gap between us.

With two miles to go, we started lapping the slower runners and walkers on the course. Finding an open running lane was a challenge. Black had the police escort to clear a path for him, but the rest of us were left to our own devices. The crowd was so dense at the five-mile mark that I couldn't get to the water station to snag a cup.

One more trip up the overpass and we headed into the final half-mile. The roar of the crowd helped bring tiring legs back to life for one more surge as runners charged through the finish chute in search of ice and water bottles.

It was a great event. Cowbells were awarded to the top three runners in each age group to commemorate the intense rivalry between the Sooners and the Cowboys in the football game they refer to simply as "bedlam."

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