Whit Raymond has become an OKC Memorial Marathon fixture
Whit Raymond has been coming to the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon for more than a decade, and after each race, he feels the same way.
"I'm shot," he said. "Emotionally. Physically."
"It takes days to recover."
Thing is, he's never run the Memorial Marathon.
Raymond is the race announcer, and while that job title might make it sound like he sits around with a microphone in his hand all day, there is absolutely no sitting with this guy. He sprints up and down and all around the finish line. He high fives. Fist pumps. Dances. He even plays the occasional air guitar.
Runners and spectators may not know his name, but because of his energy and exuberance, Raymond has become a finish-line fixture at the Memorial Marathon.
"I want people to experience a party," he said, "and I'm hoping I can be part of that."
In endurance racing, there's no more sought after announcer than Whit Raymond. This year, he's already done a marathon in Houston, a half marathon in Mexico and an Ironman in Taiwan. After Oklahoma City, there'll be races in Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan and Thailand.
It's a life Raymond never expected.
While living in Japan in the mid-1980s — he had been a Japanese major in college — he discovered triathlon. The sport was in its infancy in those days, but Raymond started competing and loved the challenge. The different disciplines. Swimming. Biking. Running. It tested him in every way.
He became an accomplished triathlete over the next few years. He finished seven Ironman triathlons and won two triathlons in Hawaii, where he eventually moved.
In 1993, he was at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. He'd decided not to race that year, but event organizers asked him to help with Japanese athletes and media. Because Raymond could speak the language, he could translate race briefings to the participants and act as a liaison for the reporters.
A couples days before the race, the PR director asked Raymond what he planned to do on race day.
"I'm just gonna watch," Raymond said.
"Do you think you could help us?" the official asked. "Could you be part of the announce team?"
Raymond had never done anything like race announcing. Because he had done the race and knew the athletes, though, the official knew Raymond could provide insight and knowledge few others could.
"So they ... handed me the microphone, and literally, I was left on my own for a good portion of the day just to talk about Ironman," Raymond said. "And I loved it."
Raymond knew he'd found a calling. He loved sharing his passion for endurance racing with spectators and racers. In the early days, Raymond spoke from personal experience about many of the races he announced, but as his career expanded and he started working races he never ran, he had to do homework on the events.
A few weeks ago, he started gathering information on the Memorial Marathon. Because he's announced the race before, he already has a thick binder of facts and details. But with year-to-year changes such as portions of the course and competitors who may contend, he still has to dig into as much information as possible.
That type of attention to detail is a must, but it's Raymond's energy that people notice most. Trim and tan, he puts untold miles on his running shoes during race day. He interacts with the crowd. He encourages the runners.
He has fun.
That's what Jeffrey Kidder noticed about Raymond at the Houston marathon in the mid-2000s. Kidder was then Memorial Marathon vice president, and he approached Raymond about coming to OKC.
A year later — Raymond believes it was 2008 — he first worked the Memorial Marathon, and he's been back every year since.
"I'm telling you, I love going to Oklahoma City," he said. "I was blown away the first time. I just wanted to keep coming back."
It isn't the most exotic place on Raymond's schedule, but the marathon's tie to the bombing, the victims, the memorial and the spirit that permeates the race has endeared him. Because of that, he wants to make sure his part of the race is as good as it can possibly be.
So, he goes all out from the announcements he makes before the race until the finish line shuts down.
Whit Raymond knows the runners may not remember him, but he hopes they always remember how amazing they felt when they cross the finish line. If he can have some small part in that experience, he considers it a job well done.
"I’ve always said if there’s an extra ounce of energy or positivity that I can give to somebody … ," he said, "then that comes back to me and makes me feel good."
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.
OKLAHOMA CITY MEMORIAL MARATHON
When: 6:30 a.m., Sunday
Where: Downtown Oklahoma City
Weather: 20 percent chance of showers, high of 75.
To register: OKCMarathon.com
To volunteer: OKCMarathon.com/volunteer