I ran my third Austin Marathon yesterday, and it was good.
My alarm went off at 5.30am, and I quickly dressed in the gear I had laid out the day before. I made tea and ate my oatmeal and faffed around with my water bottles and extra clothing and electronic gadgetry and waited for Elizabeth and Nora to show up. They arrived shortly after 6am and by 6.10am we were on the road, headed for the start line. We found a place to park not too far from the start and wandered around looking for a final potty stop before deciding to head into the Doubletree Hotel and avail ourselves of their facilities. Nothing so luxurious as an actual bathroom with toilet paper and access to soap and water on race day!
As we headed out from the hotel back, we heard the announcer count down to the race start, and the crowd off in the distance began to move forward. We hovered on the edge of the sea of runners, looking for a suitable pace group to jump in behind. Meanwhile, as we scanned the crowds, I went to start my Garmin, so it would begin the sometimes-lengthy process of identifying our location via GPS….and found that my Gamin had stopped dead at 6:30.24am and was not in the mood to be revived. Eek! I was depending on my Garmin to keep me on pace! And it wasn’t working at all – not even the stopwatch function. I had nothing! Fortunately, Elizabeth had a watch and Nora had her iPhone with MapMyRun on it, so we quickly decided to use those instead. I fished out a pace band I had picked up on a whim at the expo and had stashed in my racebelt as a ‘just in case’. Elizabeth put the pace band on, and was appointed as official timekeeper. We still hadn’t seen any suitable pace groups go by, but I was a flurry of nerves in the wake of the non-working-watch, and was anxious to start running before anything else went wrong, so after umming and ahhing for a few more moments, Nora and Elizabeth dived in and started moving towards the starting line, and I followed them into the fray, still holding a banana that I had been planning to eat but hadn’t gotten around to consuming yet.
We crossed the starting line at a jog and picked up pace to align with the surrounding crowds. I pressed my banana into the clapping hands of a random spectator who was standing along the fence a few meters away from the starting line, saying something eloquent like “Here. Please take this. I don’t know what to do with it.”. Once free from my banana, I glanced back to look at the official start time so I’d have some sort of reference point, pressed my green Galloway beeper to switch it on, and we were off.
The couple of miles passed quickly, as they often do in these situations. We didn’t take the first few walk breaks because there were too many people crowded around us for us to slow to a walk without getting in the way. The crowds thinned out a little as we streamed down onto South Congress and we were able to follow our race plan of running 4 mins, walking 1 min.
As we ran across the bridge and onto South Congress, I watched the stream of runners filling the street ahead of me, as far as I could see. I looked out at the water and up at the clear, empty sky. And I thought, “What a nice day for a run. How much further do I have to go?”. Ummm, about 24 miles.
We made our way steadily up the incline from the bridge all the way to Ben White, trying to make sure we didn’t go too fast and yet also stayed on or slightly ahead of our goal pace. There were a few bands along the way, and some early morning spectators standing by the side of the road, bundled in hats and coats, cradling cups of coffee. I spotted a few good signs in the early miles. A standout for me was the Grumpy Cat meme sign that read “I went for a run once. It was horrible.”. I also got a big kick out of the Why You No meme sign too, even though I can’t actually remember what it said. And of course I loved the “Ain’t Nobody Got Time Fo That!” signs, for example “Stopping? Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That!”. There were a few “Hey Girl!” Ryan Gosling signs, but I think we can all agree that those are so 2012. *Sigh* I think what we just learned from this paragraph is that I am an interweb nerd. Moving on…
We made it to the top of South Congress in good time, and settled in to enjoy the downhill run back down South 1st street. The weather really was lovely, and for the most part, I was feeling good. My left ankle was giving me the occasional twinge, and I was still silently fretting about my stupid Garmin dying on me, but overall, it was smooth sailing.
I had a little something to eat at around mile 8 and refilled my water bottles at the aid station on the 1st Street bridge. As we headed into mile 9, I started thinking about the upcoming hills. The marathon course has 3 distinct sections in my mind. (1) Pre-hills, miles 0-10 (2) Hills, miles 10-18 (3) Make it to the finish, miles 18-26.2. Fortunately, the biggest, loudest, most fun aid station is right at mile 9, and by the time I’d run through all that cheering and high-fiving and come out the other side to Salt’n'Pepa’s “Push It!” booming from the loudspeakers, I wasn’t thinking about the hills at all.
In an effort to keep the happy thoughts going, I turned to chat with Nora and Elizabeth, only to find them deep in what seemed to be a heated discussion about politics and immigration. Um. No. So I started talking with the only random person near me who wasn’t wearing ear buds. My new found friend was a cello playing marathon runner. He told me about running the Chicago marathon and how it compared to the Austin course.
As we turned up Winstead at mile 10, I thought back to last year’s marathon and remembered how tired I already felt at that point in the course. And even though my legs still felt relatively fresh, I felt a little pang of longing as the half marathoners turned off and headed for home, knowing that they were almost done whereas I still had 15+ miles to go. As we veered left onto Enfield, some guy beside me on the course turned to me and said “Time to weed out the weak! Only the strong go on!”, which made me laugh.
Our time check at mile 11 showed we had worked up a 2 minute cushion going into the most challenging section of hills. I realised that I just had to make it to the top of Exposition and then the terrain would flatten out somewhat. Just 2 miles. I could handle 2 miles of hills. “You are my hills and I will eat you!”, I said to myself. Except, I actually said it out loud. I don’t think anyone heard me though.
Then Nora and I had a little conversation in Spanish with an old guy from Mexico who was apparently running his 88th marathon. Nora did all the talking and translating. There were spectators giving out gummy bears and pretzels and other goodies by the side of the road along this stretch. I took a couple of handfuls gummy bears and they were delicious. Yes. I took candy from strangers. I think this is also the stretch where I saw another great race sign, which read “Run, Random Stranger, Run!”.
Victor and Penelope were stationed by the side of the road just before we turned off onto 35th street. I handed them my lifeless Garmin in the hope that not wearing it would stop me from glancing down at it periodically and feeling irritated all over again that it wasn’t working. Then just a little bit further up the road, waiting at the top of the hill, was Mark, Alexander, Suzanna and Rosie! Yay for family! They cheered me on with high fives and hugs and wags.
We ran on and hit the half way point in a respectable 2.25.44, still on track to manage a sub-5 hour marathon, and I was feeling strong.
I don’t remember many specifics about miles 14 – 15. We ran, we walked, I ate candy and snacks and drank water and Gatorade. Mile 16 was s l o w. I was falling off the pace slightly. I was getting tired. Yeuch.
And then, like an angel, Katie appeared! She ran alongside me, chattering away about how she’d come back from Houston late the night before to be there to see me run and how the rest of the gang was waiting for me on Great Northern. Yay! Partway up Great Northern, Matt jumped in with me and Katie and ran alongside us holding a mug of coffee and with big Sam (German Shepherd) at his side, straining at the leash. Seeing the Karli clan, Mark and the kids, and other friendly faces cheering for me on Great Northern was a real treat. A little further up the road, Mum and Billie were waiting to snap photos and offer words of encouragement. Katie took me all the way to mile 18 and filled up my water bottles like a good little sherpa before sending me on my way.
I rejoined Elizabeth, and as we hit the 19 mile marker, she let me know that we were about 30 seconds behind pace according to the 4.55 pace band. We still had some cushion to come in sub-5 hours, but I needed to stay on pace. Gah. Time to dig in. Meanwhile, Nora had dropped back for a portapotty stop.
I pushed on into mile 20. Run, walk, eat, drink, run, walk, run, walk. It was sunny and windy. My ankle hurt. We went past the AWDAT crew cheering in the front yard of a house along Woodrow at around mile 21. Cherie and Barb offered to go find Nora and make sure she was OK, and I felt better for knowing that someone was watching out for her as I chased down my time goal.
Elizabeth was running just ahead of me, keeping an eye on the time and my pace and our mile splits. She also kept me distracted by reciting some haiku. They were funny.
By mile 23 I didn’t give a crap about my time anymore. I just wanted to be done, so I could stop running and sit down. Fortunately, the stretch from mile 23 to mile 25 had several redeeming features. Firstly, it’s downhill. Downhill, good. Secondly, it had Amy (and Matt, but I didn’t really see Matt). Amy jumped in and jogged along side me, chattering away and taking pictures and saying nice, encouraging things. I figured I’d better keep running.
At the mile 25 marker, Elizabeth announced that as long as I ran sub-13 min miles for the last 2.2 miles, I would finish in under 5 hours. I realised that even if I didn’t do that, no matter what, I was definitely on track for a PR. I cheered! Hooray! PR! Just 1.2 miles to go!
Oof, still 1.2 miles to go.
Run, walk, run, walk. No, keep running!
Oh look, there’s Cindy! On a bike! Hello Cindy! Talk to me Cindy! Distract me from this final mile! Cindy obliged with a quick summary of how the women’s elite marathon played out.
Big hill right before the finishing chute. Walk.
I felt sick. Ugh. Elizabeth was up ahead, cheering me on. I kept going.
And then there I was, in the finishing chute, barreling towards the finish line, grinning like a maniac.
I crossed the line in 4:58.31.