Jake Buhler of Edmond won last year's Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. He ran the last six miles of the race without taking a drink of water.
Not because he wasn't thirsty. It was just too difficult to reach the water stop because of the crowd of people running and walking in the half-marathon who were blocking his path.
“The last five or six miles it was just a mass of people,” said Buhler, a dental student at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. “It was pretty hard to get over and get some water, so I just went without.”
By the end of the race, Buhler felt dehydrated. That's just one of the reasons race organizers have made course changes this year to separate those running the full marathon from the rest of the field.
The most notable change is that the running lanes for the full marathon runners and the half marathon groups will be divided by cones for the last 5½ miles of the race, from 50th Street and Classen to the finish line.
“That is going to be good,” said Tim Thompson, owner of the OK Runner retail store in Edmond.
Thompson said it's been difficult for runners in the full marathon over the last few miles of the race when they must rejoin the thousands of other runners and walkers on the course.
“You have to weave in and weave back out through a lot of half-marathoners to get to a water stop,” Thompson said. “You are wasting a lot of energy. It's hard mentally.”
Thompson, who was the finish line announcer for six years, also said the split at Classen will make it less confusing for officials to identify the winners.
“Sometimes (runners) went down the wrong side and as the finish line announcer you miss who finished first and who finished second and who finished third,” Thompson said.
In past years, the wrong person even has been initially identified as the winner.
“Before it was everybody and their brother coming through there,” said Jon Hulsey, course director. “Now the halves will be on the left side of the roadway and the fulls on the right side. We will be able to spot the winners real easy.”
There are other changes along the course designed to lessen the congestion such as adding more running lanes, moving some relay exchanges and placing water stops on both sides of Classen.
“There have been bottlenecks in the past on different areas of the course,” Hulsey said. “We are trying to eliminate those bottlenecks.”
Hulsey knows firsthand the issues on the course. He ran the marathon for eight years before becoming the course director last year.
The course changes were necessary because the number of participants in the event is getting so large, he said.
Had the cones been in place on the course in 2010, Thompson said there might have been a different winner in the women's marathon.
Jenny Graef of Norman led for most of the race but was caught at the tape by former University of Oklahoma track All-American Catherine Lisle and lost by one-hundredth of a second.
Graef was caught in the traffic and had to waste a lot of energy navigating the crowd down the stretch, Thompson said. She also didn't know Lisle was so close behind her, he said.
“Kat kind of got lost in all the runners,” Thompson said. “Jenny had no idea she was behind her because of all the runners blocking her view.”