This Saturday morning, while most of us are still warm and dreaming in our beds, serious runners, walkers and zoo enthusiasts of all ages, shapes and sizes will begin their weekend before dawn with gusto and a vigorous morning workout.
But it's not too late to join them.
October 7 marks the 37th Annual ZooRun at the Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum. The highly anticipated event is the 2nd oldest in Oklahoma and has grown to become the 6th largest running event in the state.
The program began in 1969 with scarcely more than a handful of runners and has evolved over the years into an event that boasts three different lengths of race and expects to host more than 3,000 runners.
Saturday there will be a 1K FunRun entirely within the zoo, as well as 5K and 10K runs that coil through Mohawk Park and finish on the zoo grounds. All funds raised from the ZooRun directly benefit Zoo Care, a fund used for constant improvements on animal habitats at the Tulsa Zoo, and Tulsa Public Schools Physical Education programs.
In 2003, the annual event experienced an unexpected boost when directors began to actively seek more sponsorship, and the growth snowballed when Tulsa Public Schools got involved with the run. Thanks to Barbara Marshall, TPS Resource Teacher for Health and Physical Education, Tulsa Public Schools students are some of the most involved and excited runners who participate.
Official sponsors for this year's Zoo Run include New Balance Shoes, Urban Tulsa Weekly, and Resource One.
In the mid-'90s, Marshall and co-worker Wally Maurer founded the Triple Crown for Tulsa Public Schools, a program that encourages students of all ages to participate in three of five Tulsa runs, both in the fall and the spring. For example, in the fall semester, students may choose to run three runs out of the following: Race for the Cure, Tulsa ZooRun, Tulsa Run, Red Ribbon Run and Hurricane Run. If they take part, they receive a certificate, a crown-shaped lapel pin and recognition within their school for being committed to personal fitness.
Marshall says that most of the schools who participate are elementary schools but that the program is trying to recruit more involvement from area middle and high schools.
The Tulsa Zoo gives cash prizes to the top three schools who have the most participants, a number configured by adding the number of students running to the number of participants they have recruited to join the cause for their school team.
The first place school receives $500, second prize is $300 and the third place team gets $250. The money helps provide Physical Education programs with extras that their otherwise tight budgets do not generally afford.
Marshall's plan has helped thousands of students get involved in their community and their health choices, but she is not just a fitness fan--she also is wild about the Zoo. She believes that families thrive on these sorts of events and exclaimed,
"The incredible thing about the ZooRun is to be able to run right alongside the animals. It's an event for the whole family. It helps support our zoo, which, in turn, supports our community," said Marshall.
Apparently, Marshall isn't the only one who believes that incorporating running and animals is a fun and fresh idea.
Heather Heck, now a 9th grader at Booker T., has participated in the ZooRun since she was a 2nd grader at Lee Elementary, and she too thinks the atmosphere is the coolest part of the run. She asserts that the distinguishing factor of the ZooRun is that it's not just a run.
"Once you've finished the race, there's all sorts of fun things to do. There's always food and drinks and music and people to talk to and give you massages. Plus, you're already at the zoo! It's an entire day of fun, not just running in the cold and then going home," Heck said.
The four-time Triple Crown runner says that other things that make the ZooRun so great include seeing other ZooRun devotees year after year, the sense of accomplishment it gives her and, in elementary school, raising money to build a running track for Lee Elementary, a school which has placed in the top 3 several times.
The final thing Heck lauded about the Triple Crown and ZooRun is that running in the races gave her a sense of sportsmanship and camaraderie. Since she has always been a part of the Lee team, even as she has gotten older, she is often running with some of the same people.
She said, "We always do really well in the run and stay energetic because we're all there to cheer each other on. My dad is always there to support me too, if not beside me then in my head, telling me to push harder. I like that."
Incidentally, this is the first year that the Tulsa ZooRun is offering open team categories. In previous years, only schools could register as teams. Now, any organization or business with 5 or more participants and a captain may register as one team in the run.
By doing this, the zoo hopes to encourage health, fitness and team spirit within organizations and businesses all over Green Country. Also, the more people they can draw to the zoo, the better, Marshall said.
If you're interested in joining the festivities of ZooRun 2006, it's not too late to register. You can pre-register through Fri., Oct. 6 by visiting www.tulsazoo.org or at the New Balance Store in Utica Square. The store will be open from 10am-7pm, except on Friday, when the store will remain open until 8pm for a ZooRun kick-off party with music, animals and food for runners to enjoy.
Pre-registration is $18 for adults and $12 for kids under 12. Each participant will receive a ZooRun 2006 T-shirt. If you're really a person who races at your own pace, you can even register at the gate, beginning at 7am on October 7. Prices go up just a bit for late registration, bringing the costs to $23 for adults and $17 for children under 12. For more questions about registration, call 669-6608 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The FunRun begins at 8:15am, the 5K kicks off at 8:45, and the 10K runners starts at 9am. Families and friends wishing to cheer on their ZooRunners may enter the zoo before 9am and enjoy the facility free for the day, provided they don't exit the park. For the safety of the runners and the visitors, Mohawk Park will not open to the general public until 10am.
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