Monday, February 16, 2009

Austin Half Marathon: Race Report

I got in the car at 5:45 am; the moon was a perfect half circle very high and smallish in the still-dark sky. I had arranged everything on the couch the night before, so getting ready only took a moment. I had my peanut butter english muffin and half a banana and hit the road.

Part of my ritual is singing on the way to a race. Granted, I sing in the car pretty much constantly, but on race day I sing LOUD.

Pay no mind to what they say,
Doesn't matter anyway!
Our lips are sealed--
Our lips are sealed!

Who's dumb idea was an endurance race the morning after Valentine's Day, anyway? I couldn't drink much wine, I couldn't over indulge in much of anything. As it was, I still didn't get to bed until close to one in the morning. Luckily, I had gotten a bunch of sleep Friday night. For once, I had done what the coaches said regarding sleep and eating. They said to do our carb loading on Friday as well. The Huevos met up at Cannoli Joes... I don't know the last time I ate so much. My stomach actually hurt from pasta and pizza. But what a good hurt!

The drive from my house only lasted on Go-go's song. I pulled into the Rogue parking lot at the exact moment Jen did. We had pre-planned to meet here and walk to Congress to meet the other Huevos. We took the opportunity to snap a pre-race shot.

2 huevos, over easy

I don't remember much of the walk to the start, I was still waking up. Jen and I talked while we warmed up our cold muscles. With each block we were surrounded by more and more runners. The half marathoners had green numbers, the full distance runners wore blue and yellow. We would be running together until just after mile ten. While Jen and I waited for our team mates, I aggressively stretched my calves. I was trying to feel confident in my feet, not worried about them.

We found the other Huevos before too long and took a requisite cell phone team shot.

Huevos Rancheros in the house!

We lined up with the 4:45 group--that's the full marathon time, and works out to less than an 11 minute per mile pace, which was way too fast for me, but I figured I would hang with my team mates as long as I could.

At one point, everyone except me saw a helicopter nosing in between the buildings downtown, looking very surreal and like maybe Godzilla would be walking by any moment. It was a bit surreal. The sheer mass of runners was staggering.

After a bit of discussion, we all agreed we were less stressed this second go around. Jen was committed to enjoying the race more than the last time, Kate and Joe seemed to be in it to win it, and Laura and Q were gonna finish together. My goal was to finish in less than 3 hours.

In retrospect this makes me think I really need to work on my confidence levels, but I had some good reasons to be so pessimistic.

Reasons this race might have sucked:
  1. Hills. Including the entire first mile and a half, and a short but steep climb at the beginning of mile 11 and a longer and steeper climb at the end of mile 11.
  2. Plantar Fasciitis. I was worried. While I had been going to my appointments, I hadn't done absolutely ALL of my exercises. Maintenance is very tough business for a procrastinator.
  3. Coughing. The entire week I had started each morning with an invisible ten pound weight on my chest and coughing up goop. I had worried it was the flu, but it was the worst in the morning and late at night. And everyone "caught" it, seemingly overnight. Rumor had it as allergies. I have never had allergies... why this week of all weeks?
I focused on my calves and ankles and we got ready to go. A friend of mine was staying at a hotel on the race route, and I texted him just as we took off. Laura was sad that we hadn't heard Eye of the Tiger, but joy of joys, it was blasting from a truck just before we crossed the start line. We were approximately 13,000 runners strong. And the race, as they say, was on.

The first mile and a half was straight south on Congress, the Capitol at our back, a long steady climb before us. The runners filled the giant street to the edges. We started slow, letting the hill be our warm up. As we got closer to the hotel, I could see my friend looking sleepy while searching the sea of people. I ran up to him and surprised him with a big smooch before dashing back to the group. It was a bit dramatic and funny and bolstered me to the top of the hill.

The other Huevos were gone before we summited and turned right. They have been doing a much better job of keeping up with the runs (especially during what I considered the crucial month of November--the real building part of the training) and everyone was so much faster than when we started. But I had slacked, and while I was faster (and proud of that) I wasn't about to kill myself to keep up this day. I let them go, and just sort of floated with the group.

Near the top of the hill I saw coach Lorrie and hollered. I was a dorky cheerleader the whole damn race, yelling out to the clapping spectators, rooting for the bands along the way (there were a lot of bands along the entire route, it was very cool)... It made me feel connected since I was without running partners for nearly all of the race. A friend recently said that he couldn't tell if I was more cool or more nerdy. That day, I definitely felt nerdy, but I was ok with it. My mother would say, "Doesn't that make you cool, then?"

When I saw the 2 mile marker I looked down at my watch to check my pace... And realized I had never started the timer. Doh. I started it at mile two and waited for three. The hill had me huffing and puffing, but my heartrate was still below 190--that number is high for me to maintain for any serious distance, and is my "slow the hell down" indicator.

I drifted with the sea of people until I was running with the 5:00 pace group--still a bit fast, but a more reasonable goal. The last race, I ran an average of 12 and a half minute miles... this group was running over a minute per mile faster, but I was able to keep up while we rounded the second right turn down 1st street.

At the four mile marker, I looked down and saw that I had run the last two miles in 22:20. Huh.
About this time, I passed the 5:00 sign-bearer and wouldn't see her again until mile 8. (For race newbies: there are volunteers who run carrying these tall signs with the pace on them, so you can position yourself near them, thus marking your approximate pace.)

[Image from Rogue Running.]

The run down First street was pretty scenic. Someone had put up Burma Shave style banners all the way down the hill. The one that caught my eye was



There was actually a fair bit of jockeying in the crowd after that one. I was passed by a woman on my left while I was passing a jogging couple on my right.

I saw Coaches Amy and Lorrie (who had cut through the blocks to catch back up with the stream of people) and again yelled my fool head off at them. There were also several bands on the way down the hill, including a rather morbid and emo looking set playing "Volcano" by Damien Rice, which was excellent.

At the bottom of the hill, just before crossing Lady Bird Lake back into downtown, I saw a spectator holding up a white signboard that said in big green markered letters:

Your feet hurt because
you're kicking so much ASS!!!

It was such a beautiful day. Not too cold, the sun was still behind some clouds. There were substantially more spectators as the pack crossed the lake and made it down Cesar Chavez headed west. Somewhere around there was mile six, I looked down at my watch: 44:40. I was dead on an 11:10 mile, four miles in a row. Crazy! I looked back and could just barely catch site of the 5 hour pace sign.

Lots of spectators down Chavez... The people look serious, searching the sea of numbers, their eyes slide past me. I am not their runner. Then suddenly, the squinting, searching look splits open into a grin. The serious watcher starts jumping up and down, waving their sign, screaming for their runner. "WOOO! Amy! You Rock! Oh my god! You are doing it!" In the pack, the runner jumps in the air, waves their arms and their smile can be seen from space. Some runners stop while family members take their pictures. A pair of runners take pictures of each other at the 15k marker. There is much jubilation on the route. So many runners in my part of the pack are doing this for the first time. Twice I see a minivan on the route, three young girls on the roof look through the crowd, until they find the one person who matters.

"Go! Daddy! Run! Go go go! DaddyDaddyDaddy!!!" His wife is jumping up and down next to the car, cheering him on with a smile and waving arms. I catch his tears a little in my own throat.

We all keep running, past other non-racers who are running the Lady Bird Lake trail. How could you run today, and not Run today? When I pass under Mopac, I see the band that is set up to serenade us is one I know. I yell out the leader singer's name as I run past. The whole band whoops into the mics back at me then pounds into their next song. The pack I am in snakes up the hill onto Lake Austin Blvd and continues west. I used to run this neighborhood the first year I tried half marathon training. I know there are some hills coming up.

Another sign encourages us.

Run Like U Stole Something

When I passed the mile 7 marker, I eat a caffeinated chew, and check my watch, 55:59. Still on track, but I feel my limbs getting heavier. Gravity seems stronger, and I know I am slowing down. For some reason, I miss the mile 8 marker again, and by the time I get to 9 (after a long straight and a short climb) I have added 3 minutes to my per-mile time. The 5 hour pace sign flies past me and into the distance. I am vaguely worried about bonking. I work through two more chews slowly.

At mile nine point something I see a former coworker out in a folding chair, cheering on the runners. She yells out that she can't believe she actually saw me. It bolsters me through to mile ten.

Mile ten is where the two groups diverge. The marathoners head north, while the half marathoners bear to the right, headed back toward downtown. We shout to each other at the intersection, cheering on our respective runs. It occurs to me that I only have 3.1 miles left all of a sudden. Only a 5k to go! Is it even possible that the time has flown by?

It is still hard for me to talk about mile eleven. Wow, did eleven suck! There was a short steep hill at the beginning, I looked to my right and there was a woman next to me. Her look mirrored the way I felt. "It's not as bad as it looks." I tried to reassure us both. She said, "I know it's not. I know it's not." She tried to reassure us both back.

And it wasn't. There were more folks at the top of the hill, and even a kid trying to get runners to take his old TV off the side of the road. "Free, you just have to carry it home!" Several runners laughed and cheered him back. We wound east along Enfield. There was still the 15th street hill coming up. It was hard not to rally, but I knew I had to wait until after that hill. Suddenly behind me, I heard someone calling my name.

Laura and Q came running up from behind me. I have no idea how I passed them. Maybe at a water or bathroom stop... But it was a great break from my worry about the damn hill. We chatted, they looked strong, encouraging. We confirmed our meet-up spot... And then there it was. Looming. I slowed down and said my goodbyes. They powered up the hill and were gone.

That goddamn hill was steep. In reality, it's not that wildly steep or long of a hill, but it came at a point in my run that just hit me like a ton of bricks. I was running so slow, it felt like I was moving in slow motion through hot tar. I looked down, and it felt like the grade was so sharp that I would slide backward if I paused for even a moment. There were people cheering us on from the sidewalk and center divide. We were moving so slowly, they could read our names on our race bibs. Two or three people called me by name, told me to keep going. All my energy was focused on not throwing up. What a terrible way to end the eleventh mile! I was nearly at the top when one of my calves twitched, threatening to cramp up. My feet hadn't hurt the whole race, and now? No way. I checked my heart rate. 196. I kept runnng.

"You're almost there!"
"Chelsea, you look good, you're still running!"
"Great job runners, the top is so close!"

Finally, queasy and aching, I crested, and saw more of 15th slowly sloping down and flat in front of me. The 12 mile marker was such a welcomed site! Only a mile to go? I checked my watch for the thousandth time and tried to do the math. It was an impossible equation since I didn't know what the first two miles were like, but it seemed that I was pretty close to a two and a half hour time. How wild would that be? To beat my time by nearly a minute a mile? I wasn't sure I should be harboring such nutty notions with a mile still to go. There is no way I can sprint a mile at all, let alone 12 miles into a race. Plus that damn hill had really kicked my ass.

There were a couple more gradual slopes, the last mile (as they say) was the longest. The Beastie Boys assured me via iPod.

Cause you can't you won't and you don't stop
You can't you won't and you don't stop
You can't you won't and you don't stop

Finally, there was a marker showing only 800 meters left. I felt a twinge in my calf again. I snubbed it. Ignored it completely--if I don't see you, you just might not be there. Just two laps around the track. I promised my legs that I wasn't going to sprint until the last 100 meters.

As I rounded the corner onto Congress the now thick crowd erupted into cheers as a marathoner streamed past us on the other side of the barricade. He had run twice the distance in my time!

400 meters left. The crowd was cheering. My leg was twitching more. Steady as she goes. I was trying to decide when and if I could sprint it in. I was so beat.

200. The finish arch is right in front of me, the once-thick pack has thinned front and back to a handful of us coming in together.

100. I pick up the pace and my calf ripples threateningly. I have a split second vision of me falling down with a crippling charlie horse, barely able to crawl across the finish line. Luckily, in the time it takes to think about it, 50 meters have passed and then... I step across the line.

The announcer reads our names as we cross, I hear people cheering all around me. A volunteer hands me my medal.

13.1 again!

My official time: 2:36:11
Average: 11:54/mile
Overall: kick ass

My feet started to cramp up almost immediately after the finish line. By the time I walked back to my car, I was aching all over. Some breakfast tacos, a hot bath, and a long nap later, and I was back in business. When I see the official times, I see that I beat the last race by six minutes, almost exactly 30 seconds faster per mile. With the extra hills, that feels pretty ok.

Thirteen point one, take two: Done and done.

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