About 10 months ago, I decided that I was ready for a new challenge. It has been about 3 1/2 years since I had run a marathon, and now seemed like a good time to try again. This time, I wasn’t just going to finish the race. I wanted to race the marathon. Of course, that required me actually taking the time to train. I picked 3 different marathons. The first one, I would use to evaluate my fitness level. The second one, I would push myself and try for a huge PR (personal record). For the third, I wanted to run some place exotic, some place I had never been before, some place scenic. For the third race, my time would not matter. That one would be all about the journey.
After a little research and a lot “best of” lists, I decided the Austin Marathon would be my first race of 2017. This race was known for fast times due to nearly perfect running temperatures. Plus, it was early in the year, giving me plenty of time to adjust my training for marathons 2 and 3. And, I do LOVE Austin! I told the Man Child of my intention to run, and as usual, he was supportive. He even said he would run the race with me!
The next day, I pulled up the Austin Marathon website. This race looked great. Might as well register now! After submitting my registration, I started to register the Man Child. Maybe I should ask him again before I commit him to this… Nah. He’ll run it. He’ll complain, but he’ll run it… Then again, I should ask him:
Me (via text): So, I just signed up for the Austin marathon. You still want to run it?
The Man Child (via text with his usual lack of punctuation): Ill run the half I heard Austin has good beer
Good thing I asked him! I had a feeling he would want to run the half marathon. That’s fine. At least now he won’t complain the whole time! Now, time to work on my training plan…
Fast forward to last month, I checked my calendar and realized the marathon was in less than one month. I still had not even started my marathon training. My longest run in the past year was 14 miles and that was 8 months ago. Other than that, my last run over 13.1 miles was in 2013. Oh. Crap. Eh. Well. It can’t be that bad, right?
When race morning arrived, I was ready. Sure, my training did not go according to plan, but I was feeling strong (both physically and mentally). The Man Child and I stayed close to the starting line, and we had just a quick 5minute walk before we entered the corral. I quickly scanned the crowd and headed toward the 4 hour pace group. My strategy was to start off slowly, and gradually descend my miles. I did not want to go out too hard and suffer through the last half of the race. The 4 hour pacers would be running a 9 minute mile, which should have been a nice, easy pace for me.
Twenty minutes later, and we were off. The Man Child decided that he would run the first 10 miles of the race with me. With 18,000 runners all starting at the same time, the first mile was really crowded. That was perfect because it kept me from going out to fast. As We hit the 1 mile mark right at 9 minutes. Perfect. I should be able to keep this up for a while.
Mile 2 – The course was still really crowded, and I already felt the humidity. With the humidity hitting 95% at the start of the race, hydration and pacing were incredibly important. The Man Child was running directly in front of me, and I could see that his shirt was already soaking wet with sweat. It’s going to be a long morning!
By mile 4, I began to struggle. I was still running 9 minute miles, but they hurt. It was way too early in the race to feel this bad. I could barely breathe. Each breath felt as if I was gasping for air through a wet cloth. And, I was having occasional heart palpitations. Was this from race-day anxiety? Why did this feel so bad? I’ve been running so well lately. Maybe today just is not my day. The four hour pace group started to creep out of my sight. Maybe I should shut it down. No. Keep going.
Right around mile 5, I found my stride and things started feeling better. We were heading towards downtown, and the crowds energized me. My pace quickened to about 8:30 per mile, and by mile 6, I had passed the 4 hour pace group and had my sights set on the 3:55 group.
The next few miles flew by. The Man Child and I were holding a steady pace, though I slowed back to the 9 minute mile. I still had 16 miles to go, and this humidity was no joke. Right around mile 10.5, the half marathons were routed toward the finish line, and the marathoners began their long journey on the back half of the course. I turned to say goodbye to the Man Child, but I couldn’t find him in the crowed. I slowed, waited for about 30 seconds, then decided to just go on my way.
The moment I made that turn, the turn away from downtown, away from the direction of the finish line, away from the half marathoners who already had the end in sight, that’s when things really started to get bad. In my mind, I was already half way through the race; however, I was really only 10.5 miles through the race. Talk about mind games! “Now I remember why I never run marathons.” “What made me think this was a good idea?!” “I really should’ve trained for this.” “I’m never running another marathon again.” “Why didn’t I sign up for the half?!” To make things worse, as soon as I made that turn, we hit a huge hill. Followed by another hill. Then another hill. This continued for the next few miles. My pace slowed again. When I stopped to wait for the Man Child, the 4 hour pace group passed me, and I did not have the energy to push myself to catch them. That destroyed me mentally. I thought about walking, but I knew people were tracking me live. I couldn’t stop now. Plus, even if I fell behind the 4 hour group, I did not want that to turn into me falling back to the 4:30 group. I knew how easily that could happen with so much of the race still in front of me. I just kept moving.
When I reached the halfway mark, I started counting the miles backwards and just tackling the miles one at a time. I received a few text messages (yes, I run with my phone) with words of encouragement from friends. I wanted to stop, text back, and let them know how miserable I was. But, I didn’t. I just kept moving. The longer I kept moving, the sooner I would be out of hell.
The next few miles are a blur. I “woke up” around mile 17, and I realized that I felt pretty good (considering). Mentally, I felt as if I was almost there. My pace quickened, and I started passing people. I hurt, but I found a comfortable rhythm. We ran by a neighborhood where several spectators were out in their driveways passing out free bacon. I didn’t really want bacon at that moment. I really wanted sugar. Where the hell was the Cliff shot block aid station?!? I hadn’t seen one since mile 9, and I had already blown through those samples. But, I need something, and there were these cute, little kids passing out the bacon. I watched how excited they got when one of the runners accepted their bacon offering, and I just couldn’t pass it up. I took a small bite of bacon. I immediately regretted it. While my body needed the salt, my stomach wanted nothing to do with it. I waited until I turned the corner (so the kids couldn’t see me), and I tossed the rest of the bacon into a trash can.
By mile 18, I really needed some sort of fuel. I always avoid sugar during my training and my races if possible. I have spent a lot of time studying nutrition and experimenting with my nutrition for endurance events. Ideally, I would have been able to tap into fat as my fuel source, and I could’ve run the entire race without bonking. Unfortunately, with my lack of training and having to travel to the event, my nutrition game was off. I knew that to sustain my energy levels, I needed pure sugar. And, once I started with the sugar, I would have to continue to take it until I finished the race. The best I could do was grab a handful of gummy bears from some of the spectators. I stuffed them into my shorts, and hoped they would get me through.
At exactly mile 18.5, I passed some spectators who were handing out beer with their gummy bears. I took an entire 12oz can of Lone Star. All the spectators cheered! I drank about half of it before I tossed it in a random recycling bin in someone’s driveway. For those of you who don’t run, you may find it hard to believe, but beer works really well as fuel source in a long race. The carbonation helps settle your stomach as well. That was exactly what I needed!
When I reached mile 19, I saw these huge, red inflatable arches in the distance. I finally found my Cliff station! I quickly grabbed two gels. I downed the first one and stuffed the second one in my shorts. I would use that with 3 miles to go. The end was in sight!
At this point, I remembered the Man Child asked me to text him with 3 miles to go so that he could be waiting at the finish line. I wanted to text him now. I was so close! (Yes, when you run a marathon, 7 miles to go seems like you’re almost done). No. I had to wait to text him. It would be that much better when I really did only have 3 miles to go! I hurt, but I was still holding a steady pace. I knew I could keep this pace for the rest of the race. So, I settled in and kept running.
The next few miles went by fairly quickly. At mile 22.5, my bluetooth headphones stopped communicating with my phone, and I lost my music. Ugh. The music was helping to distract me from the pain. I tried to fix it while I was running, but I didn’t have any luck, and, it was slowing my pace. I just wanted to finish this thing! My joints were really starting to ache. Thankfully, I often run without music, and I only had just over 3 miles to go. I tucked my headphones into my sports bra and kept moving forward. By the time I secured my headphones, I was passing mile 23. Time to text the Man Child. Three miles to go!!
With less than 3 miles to go, I picked up my pace. Everything hurt, but I had to keep moving. It was still insanely hot, and the humidity had not let up. There were so many people walking. I wanted to yell at them, “Come on! You’re so close! Stop walking!” But, I kept that to myself. No need to waste any energy.
As I came up to the 1 mile to go marker, we started our final climb up toward the Austin Capitol Building. What kind of sick person puts a giant hill at the finish of a marathon?!?! The crowd support here was incredible. I was so close. I still had not caught up with the 4 hour pace group, but I also hadn’t been passed by the 4:05 pace group. That means that I’d at least held a steady pace for the last 13.1 miles. With the lack of training, I couldn’t be disappointed with that. I picked up my pace. Barely. I was almost there. As I reached the top of the hill, I could see the finish line. I took advantage of the short descent and just let myself “fall” toward the finish line. About 50 yards out from the finish, I heard the Man Child calling my name. I turned, smiled, and waived at the camera. By the time I turned back, I was running under the finish line arch. I was done! My second marathon (not counting the Ironman) was in the books. 4:02.33. Not what I was hoping for, but not bad considering the conditions. I would never do that again!
By the next day, I was already thinking about which marathon I would sign up for next. I always love a good challenge!
Closing thoughts on the Austin Marathon: For those of you looking for a destination race, the Austin Marathon is great. Everything about it (besides the course) was easy. It was well-organized, there was really good crowd support, there were plenty of aid stations along the course. The city of Austin was incredibly welcoming as well. More about the city in an upcoming post!