Virtual reality: Norman runners help fill void during race season with virtual marathon

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Carlee Daub, left, and Christie Thomas, both of Norman, helped fill the void of canceled races during running's busiest season with the WAHOO! Running Lemonade Marathon, a virtual race.

This year would have marked Christie Thomas’ sixth year running the Boston Marathon. Carlee Daub was preparing for her first.

It’s the world’s oldest marathon, and organizers aren’t giving up easy. They’re eyeing a rescheduled race in September, but neither Thomas nor Daub are holding their breath at this point.

There are more than 30,000 runners expected to compete, making social distancing virtually impossible.

Thomas and Daub have already pivoted. They chose to help runners find another way to compete during the pandemic, which hit during race season.

They made lemonade out of lemons — almost — literally.

Thomas and Daub’s WAHOO! Running team needed a place to land when the Boston Marathon was canceled. Thirteen athletes in their group were set to compete after qualifying.

With no marathon to run on April 20, Daub and Thomas organized the WAHOO! Running Lemonade Marathon, offering antsy runners a a half-marathon, 10k and 5k over the weekend leading up to the Boston Marathon’s original date.

Virtual events have helped fill the void with many races canceled over the past two months. Runners can generally download an app with GPS capability, sign up for a certain distance, choose where to begin and upload their finishing times.

More than 100 runners per race signed up for Daub and Thomas’ event. Two racers, one from Oklahoma City and one from Eugene, Oregon used the opportunity to raise money for separate causes.

It served the active community well.

“We just wanted to give people something,” Thomas said. “We knew we’d drop off as far as the intensity was concerned, but it was really hard to let go of a marathon on Marathon Monday.”

It was another chapter in their running careers and friendship. Both met in Norman after moving from out of state.

Thomas, now a 30-year runner, was bit by the endurance bug in 1994 when she ran her first marathon in Houston.

Eight years later, she was getting noticeably faster. Someone suggested she aim for the Boston Marathon, which sounded crazy. She thought the qualifying times were out of her range.

“At that time if you were 18-35 years old the qualifying time was 3:40. I thought, oh gosh, I could never do that,” Thomas said. “Then my next marathon I broke four hours and it became a reality. Like, you know, maybe I could shave 10 minutes off.”

Her first Boston experience came in 2000. Five more followed; her last race she crossed the finish line while pregnant but didn’t know it at the time.

Shortly after moving from Houston to Norman, Thomas started WAHOO! Running, which was initially for kids. She dedicated the name to a running buddy who was killed in a lightning strike.

“That was something we used to do, yelling, ‘Wahoo!’ to fire up the crowd during races,” Thomas said.

Running helped introduce Thomas to Daub, who grew up in the Seattle area. Before her husband was hired by OU, they were living in the running mecca of Eugene.

The two became fast friends and training partners despite a big age gap between them. Thomas helped Daub prepare for the Fort Worth Marathon, which was a key point in their friendship.

Daub’s background was in strength training and Thomas’ in endurance.

“Throughout our training we thought, gosh, we’ve got something special here. Let’s put it together and start coaching people,” Daub said. “We’ve been able to reach out to a lot of Norman men and women who’ve been bit by the running bug.”

WAHOO! Running expanded to offer adults coaching, training plans, nutritional advice, and a sense of community. This year Daub and Thomas had a group with hopes of qualifying for Boston through the Jack & Jill’s Downhill Marathon in Washington state.

“It was one of those magical days in running where everybody succeeded, everybody met their goal,” Thomas said. “It was one ‘Wahoo!’ after another crossing the finish line.”

There was no Boston race to run. But the virtual event served its purpose.

It affirmed how well Daub and Thomas work together and helped the endurance community scratch an itch.

“She’s an introvert, I’m an extrovert,” Daub said. “It’s just been a really cool thing because you have opposites there, but we jive so well together. We have a lot of the same values. It’s been a cool thing to be a part of. I haven’t had a friendship like this ever.”

Tyler Palmateer


Follow me @Tpalmateer83

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