It was far from beginner's luck. Nonetheless, rookies reigned Sunday at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. Despite never having run a marathon, Nathan Adams and Jennifer Graef, winners of the men's and women's divisions, each broke the tape on a cold and blustery morning in downtown Oklahoma City. Both former college track and cross country runners, Adams was running for a heart-wrenching cause, while Graef found cause to run with heart. For the 27-year old Adams, the decision to enter his first marathon came by way of tragedy. A retail manager for a running supply store in Orlando, Fla., Adams was running 15K and half-marathons in the Sunshine State but turned to training specifically for the OKC Memorial Marathon in January. "I knew this marathon was about honoring people and about celebrating the lives of people, so it made sense that I should run in this one,” he said. Although Adams has never lived in Oklahoma, he knew of the OKC event because his father, Lawrence, had been stationed at Fort Sill and moved the family to Cache. Last November, Adams' 19-year-old brother, Caleb, was killed in a chemical explosion while working for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Caleb, who at the time was a sophomore at Cameron University in Lawton, was a stellar football and basketball player at Cache High School. "It was all for him,” said Adams. "I was mainly wanting to run in his honor. But my brother was very athletic and very competitive and I know he would have wanted to win anything he competed in, so to win makes it even more special to me.” The former Florida State runner won going away. In fact, he was all alone for almost the entire morning. By the 14-mile mark, Adams had already built a 10-minute lead over the closest competitor. He finished in 2 hours, 36 minutes and 43 seconds. "I was expecting to have a little more company there,” Adams said. "It would have been nice to have someone close to push me, but I wanted to come in under 2:40 and I was able to do that.” Lawrence Adams, who waited just beyond the finish line, felt pride in two sons as he hugged Nathan when he broke the tape. "You always want to do your best at whatever you do,” the father said. "Caleb always had that attitude and Nathan does, too. To see your children be that way, it makes a parent proud.” Nathan Adams plans to get his time down in the 2:25 range and compete in the Chicago Marathon next year. Working toward a better time and bigger marathon is also on Graef's agenda after Sunday's victory. The 22-year-old Wisconsin native had already signed up for the San Francisco Marathon in August, but after winning in OKC and coming within seconds of breaking the women's record, she has a new outlook. "That one I planned on being just for fun,” Graef said of San Francisco. "Now, who knows? After this, I might need to take it more serious.” Indeed. Graef went into training knowing she could handle a 7:30-per-mile-pace, but in the weeks leading up to her first marathon, training was going so well she was planning on a 7:15 pace. But Sunday, everything clicked and Graef found herself running a 7:00 pace. The result was a 3:02:15, barely missing the women's record of 3:02:07, set by two-time champion Sara Pizzochero. "I just went by feel and until mile 21, the seven-minute pace was working great,” said Graef, a standout basketball player in high school who ran track and cross country at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Graef came to Oklahoma to enter the master's program in exercise physiology. She expects to obtain a doctorate degree in that field from OU as well. However, her future, and Adams', also includes more marathons. Both burned up their beginner status Sunday. Nice trade, though. They're both in the rarer category of marathon winner.
Nathan Adams waves to the crowd after winning the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon on Sunday. The race was Adams' first marathon. BY BRYAN TERRY, THE OKLAHOMAN
Women's marathon winner Jennifer Graef crosses the finish line Sunday. Graef, a first-time marathon runner, came within seconds of breaking the women's record. BY BRYAN TERRY, THE OKLAHOMAN