The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon honors those who lost their lives and were affected by the domestic terrorist attack in 1995. The race is also the primary fundraiser for the city’s National Memorial and Museum

168 seconds of silence. One for each victim of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City on April 18, 1995. That’s how the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon starts – with the runners standing on the line quietly, thinking of people who lost their lives.

“This race stands for so many things – courage, resilience, perseverance. All symbolic of how our community has chosen to come together,” says Kari Watkins, race director and executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. The race began in 2001.

The marathon is the Memorial and Museum’s largest fundraiser, so it’s a fitting tribute to honor the lost, injured, and affected. “By registering for the race, runners are helping to maintain and operate this important and historic site. It also allows the Memorial Museum to teach all generations the senselessness of violence and terrorism – lessons that are as relevant today as ever,” says Watkins.

With this year’s event coming up on Sunday, April 29, it’s a fitting time to meet the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.

RUSA: Your race is coming up in a few weeks! What is new and exciting at the 2018 OKC Memorial Marathon?

Watkins: New this year, we created Why We Run, a 16 week curriculum for students, educators and parents. These lesson plans share the story of why the Memorial Marathon is a living remembrance, linking the accounts of what happened on April 19, 1995, and the Marathon. Each of the 16 units has three instructional parts including The Story, Get Fit and Got Character. The Story provides an understanding of the bombing, creation of the Memorial and Museum and the efforts to maintain this important and historic site. Get Fit prepares students for the Kids Marathon and encourages them to lead a healthy lifestyle. Got Character focuses on developing good character habits in our daily lives. America’s Got Talent winner, Darci Lynne Farmer, recorded character Words of the Week that teachers and parents can share with their students and children.

The response is overwhelmingly positive. Here is what one parent said about the lesson plans being taught in her daughter’s school, “I love how educational it has been on her level. She has been coming home and telling us about the bombing, asking us questions about where we were, etc. It is obvious to me they have done such a great job of explaining to the kids why we are running and the historic events that took place that day.”

RUSA: You introduced a VIP Runner Experience this year. Tell us a little about that – why you decided to offer it, what it entails and how it has been received?

Watkins: Every year more than 25,000 runners from all 50 states and a dozen countries choose to run the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon – many come back year after year. The overwhelming reason they return is because it’s a Run to Remember. We also introduce new features every year to make their experience even better than their last race. New this year, we are introducing our VIP Runner Experience Package. This bundle of comforts and convenience provides runners a pre-race gathering, continental breakfast, gear check and restrooms – all indoors. Heritage Trust, located next door to the OKC National Memorial Museum, built a new multi-story parking garage this year that allowed them to “loan it to us” for a day and reap the benefits from runners buying the VIP package. It is a gorgeous new garage located right between the start and finish line. We are offering this premium for the first of what we hope is many years to come. Race participants also have a special entrance to the Start Line corral and can celebrate their success at the 26.2 Mile Finish Line Tent. 100 percent of the net proceeds from this package benefit the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. The package allows runners who have run the race several years something new and different and makes it easy to jump in and be taken care of as they prepare for race day.

RUSA: What was one process improvement you made to your race ramp-up this year, and why?

Watkins: Targeted social media blitzes have helped our numbers and we are feeling good about our advertising to specific markets through the use of social and mainstream media. We are fortunate enough to have media partners in KFOR TV, Tyler Media and The Oklahoman. This is critically important. One of our race sponsors is a popular convenience store chain and they provide billboards, radio, and store promotions that are up for one month. These combined together give us an edge in our market.

RUSA: What entices out of town runners to come to your event?

Watkins: Oklahoma City celebrates the runners and their family and friends all weekend long! For many, this is their first visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, TripAdvisor’s #1 Destination in Oklahoma. The Health & Fitness Expo, open to the public, has something for everyone including yoga classes, CPR training, world class running and motivational speakers and products geared toward health-minded consumers. We partner with museums and other attractions to provide special admission and offers for participants. Runners always talk about the amazing course support throughout the neighborhoods on race day. We celebrate life on this day and runners appreciate seeing the banners along the course of those who were killed. They speak of the inspiration and motivation this brings them as they run 26.2 miles. And the 50 States Marathon Club is holding a meet up at the Memorial Marathon, allowing us the opportunity to register even more out of state runners. Oklahomans couldn’t be more proud to inspire and cheer on perfect strangers, encourage runners with funny homemade signs or hand out bananas on Gorilla Hill. We’ve even seen an increase in people who want to participate in the “cheer zones” along the course this year.