Happy Trails for OKC
Running and Riding in the 405
Photos by Shannon Cornman
Sunrise is a great time to put in a few miles at Lake Hefner.
It’s become abundantly clear: People who exercise constantly are really calm and really happy, and they look fantastic. Most of them also regularly hit the trails, as in the plethora of running, biking and hiking trails that have cropped up throughout the 405, which make it easier and safer than ever to get your endorphins on.
Adi McCasland is an ultra-marathoner, yoga instructor and freelance writer who has laid tread on most of the trails around Oklahoma City. She varies her routes, but lately often finds herself running along the Bluff Creek trails immediately north of Lake Hefner. She shifted her focus to trail running about a year ago. She also glows and smiles almost constantly as we chat about her avocation over coffee early one morning.
On this particular day, McCasland already has run for a couple of hours and taught a 6 a.m. yoga class. “I am an early runner,” she explains. “I wake up at 3:30 and am running by 4. Sometimes I run at Lake Arcadia, or Draper. They both have really nice trails.
“I generally run between 40-75 miles a week,” she says. “I ran my first marathon in 2006, and I thought, ‘Well, that was fun but it wasn’t long enough.’ So I decided to move into ultra-marathons, which are anything longer than the 26.2 miles in a marathon.”
McCasland usually runs with one of her two favorite running buddies, Golden Retriever-Collie mix Murray or human Nick Shelton, who has been her distance-training partner since September.
Oklahoma City has 81 miles of multi-purpose trails, said Jennifer McClintock, City of Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department spokeswoman and newly minted marathoner. She says those include Bert Cooper Trails at Lake Hefner, the Hefner-Overholser Trail, which connects the two lakes, the Overholser Trail, the new West River Trail, Oklahoma River Trails (on either side of the Oklahoma River), the South Grand Trail, Earlywine Trail, Lightning Creek Trail, Katy Trail and Tinker-Draper Trail.
“As for Martin Park,” McClintock says, “We have 2.5 miles of natural woodland trail in that park, although we consider that a walking-path or in-park trail and not a multi-purpose trail, since bicycles are not allowed. Approximately one mile of that trail is now considered ‘universal’ and accessible for individuals in wheelchairs or with other mobility limitations, thanks to the generous work of Wilderness Matters, a local nonprofit organization whose mission is to create opportunities for people with limited mobility to experience nature and the outdoors.”
Even more trails are in the works for Oklahoma City. “The I-44 Trail, which will parallel I-74, or Hefner Parkway, and I-44 down to the Oklahoma River has been funded and a plan accepted. The MAPS office is in the preliminary stages of getting the needed land acquired so they can break ground,” McClintock says.
IT’S NOT THE AGE, IT’S THE AGE GROUP
If you’re out enjoying the trails, particularly the River Trails, keep your eyes peeled. There’s a strong possibility that you’ll see a blur with pigtails on a bike zip past you, and that’s Desiree White, who at 53 looks 30, and who fellow cyclists refer to as the godmother of mountain bike racing in Oklahoma.
White just clinched an impressive win: third place overall for females at the recent Ouachita Challenge. She is so entrenched in racing that she doesn’t think in terms of age, she thinks in age groups. “I have been racing since I was in the 25-29 age group,” she says. “I taught aerobics at the International Fitness Center, which tells you how old I am, and some of the guys in the class were into cycling. It sounded like fun, so I went to Al’s Bicycles and bought a bike and rode in the Redbud Classic. Then I was hooked.”
White hasn’t limited herself to cycling and loves other sports, too. “I have always embraced all aspects of cycling, but I love the outdoors, and so I’ve done marathons, triathlons including Iron Man distance, X-TERRA off-road triathlons. You name it, I’ve probably tried it.”
She and her husband, fellow cyclist and Tour de Dirt race organizer Corey White, are perfectly suited and each nurtures and supports the other’s competitive drive. “He understands me,” she says, with a mixture of gratitude and wonder, and a big smile on her face. The Whites have a home in Hobart, where Corey and his children have always lived, and an apartment in Oklahoma City, where Desiree lives during the week because her job is at the OU College of Dentistry. “My children are my bikes, and Corey understands that. I have five: two mountain bikes, two cross bikes and a road bike.”
These days it’s gravel races, which she embraced in 2012. “Back then, there weren’t as many people doing it.” Her first race was the Land Run 100, Stillwater’s adrenaline-inducing annual behemoth of a race. “It’s a hundred miles and 6,000 feet of climbing. My first year, my rear derailleur broke at mile 97. My second year, I got second place. Last year, I won it.”
Like the other athletes you’ll meet in this story, White radiates a calm happiness so intense it creates an almost-visible aura around her. That calm evaporates the minute she’s racing, and becomes a steely resolve. This woman races as many ways as she can, as often as possible. To call her competitive is a vast understatement, so it’s no surprise to learn that she’s also ranked eighth in the nation in cyclocross. “Cyclocross happens on a closed course in a park. It’s like a steeplechase on bikes,” she says. “There are obstacles like stairs. It’s a much more popular sport in Europe. The oldest age group in women’s cyclocross is 75-79, and make no mistake: I. Will. Get. That. Jersey.”
MAKING IT HAPPEN
White rides and runs hundreds of miles each week, but when it comes to nutrition, she and many of her contemporaries have ditched the conventional plan of carb-loading before a big event in favor of constantly eating clean, with lots of organic vegetables, eggs, lean meats and salads.
Brandon Melott, who just broke the course record at Oklahoma’s Ouachita Challenge, eats the same way, except he adds a sizeable dose of healthy fats to his calorie intake, which is generally between 4,000 and 5,000 a day. He rides every day and puts upward of 12,000 miles on his bike a year. “I eat clean, so that means cooking all of my own food, which gets exhausting. I eat a lot of baked chicken. We eat chicken every day, and a lot of fish, and a lot of vegetables,” Melott says.
Like White, he rides in multiple disciplines, including mountain biking, road biking and cyclocross, and he is also one of the owners of Charlie’s Bicycle Lab. He loves sharing his passion for all things bicyclic with others. “The whole point is fun,” he says. “Of course I want to be the fastest, but if I’m not having fun, what is the point? Fun. That is the whole point.”
Melott incorporates a bit of cross-training into his regimen, and a little bit of almost-yoga. His wife, Lindsay, is a talented and much-sought-after yoga instructor in Oklahoma City, and she created a routine for him. “I would call it cycling-specific, extended stretching,” Melott says, laughing. “It’s not quite yoga, because yoga is really hard. I cannot tell you how much it has helped me feel stronger and ride better.”
He encourages anyone thinking of getting a bike and hitting the trails, “Just do it. There are people out there who want to help. Lots of people who would love nothing more to share the joys of cycling with people. So make a commitment to yourself, find a shop and go.”
Charlie’s Bicycle Lab hosts multiple group rides each week, for all skill levels. There is a beginner-level ride every Monday at 6 p.m. In this context, “beginner” means the ride is 14 miles long and the average speed is 14 miles per hour. Tuesday nights, also at 6 p.m., are for more advanced riders. The distance is 35 miles, and the speed averages in the low 20s. Thursday nights at 6:30 at Bluff Creek are less formal mountain bike meet-ups.
“There are tons of places to ride now. There has never been a better day than today to start riding,” Melott says.
TWO WHEELS AND A DREAM
Steve Schlegel couldn’t agree more. The man behind Automobile Alley’s Schlegel Bicycles Pro and Multisport shops has been in the bike business since he was 12, and riding competitively almost as long. He puts in about 9,000 miles a year, and is a regular competitor in Iron Man triathlons. Like Melott, he’s seen development in the local bike culture.
“There has been a significant shift in the culture of central Oklahoma, and Oklahoma City specifically, which has enabled the city to embark on projects like the new trail that connects the River Trails to the Trails at Overholser,” Schlegel says. “That six-mile stretch of trail opened a huge opportunity.”
Schlegel points out that, more and more, people are using their bikes for actual transportation, not just sport and recreation. He’s an active proponent of that, and he doesn’t just talk the talk. He serves on the boards of multiple cycling and trails organizations and works with the city of Oklahoma City on initiatives that will strengthen our bike culture by incorporating bike lanes and amenities for cyclists throughout the city.
“We’ve been working with the city to add cycle aid stations, which are freestanding work stands with pumps, a rack and tools. We’ve got 12 so far: one outside the Kayak Café at Lake Overholser, four or five on the River Trails, one outside Elemental Coffee, one outside Schlegel and two at Lake Hefner.”
He credits Mayor Mick Cornett for much of the progress. “The momentum is great and it’s growing. I feel very positive about it,” he says. “Although it’s great for us, this is not just for our current population. It’s an economic draw. These are things that are important to the newer work force, the millennials. Dallas has seen a 50-time return on the funds spent on building a bike infrastructure, according to a study they’ve done.”
He encourages new riders to make sure their bikes are properly fitted and mechanically sound, and that they learn cycling etiquette and rules of the road before embarking on their own personal cyclical odyssey.
“We offer workshops on safety, and on how to change your tire,” he says. “We’ve got different rides that start at Schlegel, for different skill levels, and we’ve been recognized as one of the top 100 bike retailers six years in a row and as one of America’s best bike shops for two. A lot of that comes from our advocacy, and the level of service we offer the cycling community, no matter what their level.”
Upcoming workshops and events at Schlegel include Steve Schlegel’s birthday ride, at 6:30 p.m. May 5, and a free class, Tube Changing 101, 8:30 a.m. May 21 or 6 p.m. June 16.
A FITTER FUTURE, SOONER
Normanites, you have a lot to envy! But you also have a solid trails game going on and it’s only getting better. According to James Briggs, park planner for Norman, there are some 18 miles of multi-use, off-street trails within Norman’s city parks and at Lake Thunderbird. There are also 15 miles of single track, off-road biking trails and about 22 miles of hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Add to that 13 miles of walking trails, and plenty of bike lanes, and Norman’s looking pretty spiffy.
“The Norman Forward plan includes several miles of multi-use paved trails and neighborhood park walking trails,” Briggs says. “I am awarding bids for a multi-use trail in Saxon Park this month. Our park development plan for Ruby Grant Park includes a few more miles of unpaved running and multi-use paved trails. We are also working on a plan to locate a single-track bike skills course in a city park. All told, I would estimate there are over 20 miles of new trails planned on the books and funded over the next five years.”
Norman Mayor Cindy Rosenthal is equally committed. “We know that walking, biking and running are some of the most popular forms of exercise in Norman, and it makes good sense for health and community-building,” she says. “Early in my tenure as mayor, we hosted ‘Walks with the Mayor’ to promote fitness and awareness of Norman’s many recreational assets. The side benefit was not only good health but also new friendships and community partnerships.
“We know that trails do more than promote health benefits,” she continues. “Norman is competing to attract new businesses and talented entrepreneurs. We know that millennials are picking communities that offer an active lifestyle. Norman fares very well in this competition, but we need to continue to invest in these amenities.”
In the final analysis, having an inviting and safe venue for outdoor exercise is a good thing for the city as well as the individuals who use it. And here in the 405, the opportunities aren’t too shabby – Mayor Mick Cornett muses, ““We continue to explore the idea that civic design can nudge people toward healthier and more active lifestyles. What’s most amazing about the MAPS 3 trails and our existing trail infrastructure is the wide variety of environments you can explore. Our trail system includes urban settings, parks, beautiful rural settings, lakes and rivers, to Riversport Rapids at the Boathouse District. I don’t know if there is a trail system in the country with such diverse experiences.”
► Courtesy is Contagious and Etiquette is Everything
Ground rules for trail use
From Captain Obvious
• Wear a helmet and make sure it fits. Put helmets on your kids.
• If your kids can’t yet ride in a straight line or obey verbal commands, rethink being on a busy trail.
• Weapons and fires of any kind are prohibited.
• Leash and pick up after your dogs. Don’t let the expanding leash stretch across the trail. That’s rude and dangerous.
• Don’t litter.
• Do not use trails while under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs.
• Don’t ride your moped, motorcycle or anything else with a motor on the trails.
• Stay on the designated trails. It’s better for you, the animals and the plants.
• Glass breaks, so use plastic bottles.
From Captain Slightly Less Obvious
• Keep to the right, except when you’re passing.
• Use your voice when passing. Pass on the left, and shout something like “On your left!” When the person acknowledges, shout “Thank you!”
• You are in charge of not crashing into the person in front of you. The person behind you is in charge of not crashing into you. That being said, there’s no need to challenge anyone’s reflexes with sudden turns or stops.
• Don’t block the trail, even if a gnat flies into your eye or mouth. Freak out on the side of the trail.
•Be extra safe. Go overboard on safety. Use proper lights on bicycles, front and rear, and/or light-colored clothing at night.
►Off the Beaten Track
Trails you may not know
Clear Bay Trail, Norman
These trails on the south side of Norman’s Lake Thunderbird boast 18.5 miles of trails for hikers and mountain bikers of all skill levels. All five trails interconnect, and they also can be hiked on their own as loops. Beginners, try the 1.5-mile Green Loop or the 1-mile Yellow Loop. Feeling your oats? Go for the 1.25-mile Red Loop or the 4.75-mile Blue Loop. For superstars only: The Gold Loop’s 10 miles of switchbacks. From Highway 9, turn into the Clear Bay area and immediately turn right.
Airport Trail, Shawnee
Head east on I-40 to Shawnee and check out the dual-use path that surrounds most of the airport. This trail is for running and cycling. One complete lap is 3.21 miles. Cool factor: The north side of the trail goes right under the runway! There is also a workout station. Parking is on the southeast side of the airport at the intersection of Legacy and Airport Drive; just look for the pump jack.
A few great organizations
• Bicycle League of Norman | 405.360.8970 (evening) | bicycleleague.com
• Bike Edmond | bikeedmond.org
• Chandler Bicycle Club | 405.258.2922
• Edmond Running Club | 405.348.9661 | edmondrunningclub.com
• OKC Velo Club | 405.721.5934 | okcvelo.org
• Oklahoma Bicycle Society | 405.354.2301 | oklahomabicyclesociety.com
• Oklahoma City Landrunners & OKC Running Club | 405.818.9745 | okcrunning.org
• Oklahoma Earthbike Fellowship | okearthbike.com
• Pot County Pedalers | 405.275.4980
• Red Dirt Pedalers | 405.372.2525 | reddirtpedalers.org
• Riverside Track Club | 405.247.8000 x299
• Run Norman | 330.631.2972 | freewebs.com/run-norman
• Seminole Area Running Club | 405.382.7241
• Stillwater Running Club | 405.372.5578