The announcement was sudden but the decision behind it wasn’t. The organizers of Stillwater’s home-grown Land Run 100 gravel cycling race have renamed the event.
When riders from across the nation and around the world converge on Stillwater this March 13-14 and in future years, they will be welcomed to The Mid South.
The announcement was released Monday with the simple statement “Land Run has come to an end. Welcome to The Mid South.”
Race founder Bobby Wintle says the idea of changing the name has been under discussion for a couple of years and it wasn’t an easy decision. Until it was.
“We tried to avoid changing it … all of a sudden it just hit me hard,” he said.
Wintle said he wants the race to move forward with a name that it can truly own, without any negative connotations.
As for the new name, Wintle said when he thinks about Oklahoma it isn’t really the Midwest but it’s also not the South. It’s something in-between.
There’s also already an association between the race and the new name. Wintle says he actually used #midsouthgravel years ago when posting about the race on social media and for the past two years Iron Monk brewery has called the beer it brews in honor of the race “Midsouth IPA.”
The people who have been making the race happen since 2013 have gradually become more aware over the past few years of the full implications of Oklahoma’s land runs.
Listening to the “This Land” podcast by journalist Rebecca Nagle and its explanation of Native American treaty rights and land ownership in Oklahoma was eye-opening, Wintle and Event Manager Sally Turner said.
Wintle says they didn’t get a lot of complaints or criticism of the bike race’s old name. Most people didn’t seem to be offended, but a few people did point out that they found it problematic to seemingly glorify Oklahoma’s land runs.
“It was very few, very respectful, very intelligent conversations with people we really respect,” he said.
Turner said she grew up hearing about the Oklahoma Land Run as a thing to be celebrated, with no mention of the Native Americans who lost out in the rush to settle a new territory and create a state.
Wintle is from Kansas, and says when he started the race, the Land Run just seemed like a quintessentially Oklahoma thing, especially in the Stillwater area, which was part of 2 million acres known as “The Unassigned Lands” that were opened to non-Indian settlers in the 1889 Land Run. The Unassigned Lands would eventually become Payne, Logan, Kingfisher, Cleveland, and Canadian counties.
Stillwater refers to itself as “Where Oklahoma Began” because of the Land Run of 1889.
“It was never the goal for the event to be tied directly to the actual Land Run that opened settlement to non-Native Americans in Oklahoma,” Wintle wrote in a statement on the new website. “The goal was never to celebrate or reenact those happenings from the late 19th century. Naming our event Land Run 100 did immediately correlate us with the past, however, and that was never my intention.”
But a complicated history, whose telling often glosses over the cost to Native people who were repeatedly removed from land where they had been promised they would be left in peace, isn’t something Wintle and the other race organizers felt they could overlook any longer.
Wintle and Turner say the decision wasn’t political. It was human.
“In October of 2012 a handful of us from District Bicycles ... put together a 100-mile route and invited our friends to come ride. It seemed as if no one had been riding these roads. It felt like we had stumbled onto a secret and we wanted to share this red dirt with anyone willing to come ... What happened over the next few years felt nearly impossible. This event has grown into a 3-4 day festival ... All of us have built relationships around this dirt road riding that will last a lifetime or longer,” Wintle wrote. “In all reality, I wanted this event to bring people together and to push them past the place in their mind they thought was the end of their abilities. Now, in 2020 close to 3,000 people are coming to experience these wild roads on foot and by bike together. I think about this event every single day. I want every person that comes here to feel a positive energy that is hard to describe. I want zero barriers to exist for a person to want to be a part of this experience. As we’ve grown, a barrier has come to our attention and the time to remove it is now.”
Wintle and Turner say they’ve received some criticism from people who accuse them of making a political stand or being too “politically correct,” but even more people who were bothered by the name but hadn’t said anything have reached out to thank them and say they will be back.
A name isn’t a simple thing, the organizers realize.
“Names give definition to people, place, time and events. The meaning and depth within a name can be simple and to the point, or full of references from the past and information not easily recognized by many. The way a name brings meaning to an individual depends on that person and their experience or relationship with said name. It’s easy to overlook the meaning of any name and possibly assume it’s something a person created without a lot of time and thought. It’s even easier to not be aware of how certain words or names may make others feel especially if their association with a name is different from ours,” they wrote. “Understanding. We must all strive to understand and to begin to see things through a lens other than our own. To stand underneath an object, to feel it’s weight, to see it from all sides and angles is to truly know what it is made of. Allowing ourselves to be immersed in the perception of others is difficult. It is incredibly important for us to realize that our perception is shaped by our experiences and is not the only reality that matters or exists. It is beautiful when we learn and when we are vulnerable enough to listen.
“The time has come for change. Land Run 100 has come to an end. Welcome to The Mid South.”