Today I’m going to start posting a few race reports from running races from several years ago. I have some brief notes from most races and some ingrained memories about a few aspects as well. However, it is sort of difficult to piece together a proper race report up to six years later, so these will likely end up being a bit more fragmented.
Gather round everyone, today I’m going to tell you a little bit about my first marathon, The 2011 Livestrong Austin Marathon on February 20th. My first marathon seems like it was a long time ago at this point. I guess maybe it was; Lance Armstrong retired for good from cycling just 4 days before the race and his fall from grace was just beginning. Anyway, it was a simpler time back then and the title sponsor Livestrong put on an awesome race!
The first things that is apparent from reading my race notes is that I was super nervous about the race! Not only was this going to be my first marathon, but I sprained my ankle pretty badly playing soccer about a month and a half out from the race and my mileage was very light. I was feeling hesitant about the whole race, so I even signed up for the San Francisco Marathon later that year to make it easier to drop out if I needed (somehow this seemed to relieve some pressure). I got a few long runs in, but my weekly mileage the for final six weeks were: 24, 13, 5, 8, 0, 8. For some context, Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 Training Plan recommends: 29, 36, 33, 40, 29, 21. Only about 31% of the target miles for those of you scoring at home. On a side note, (yeah, I’m big on side notes (in fact, here is a double-nested side note!)) I think Hal Higdon’s plans are great if you are a beginning marathoner or are looking for ideas!
Only a few paragraphs of tangents and we’ve made it to race day morning! I finally gave up on trying to sleep a little before 5am and then meandered the mile over to the start at the capitol building. I’d never run an organized race before in my life, so it was a little overwhelming to see the masses of people engulfing the building (I think there were about 6,000 marathoners & 13,000 half marathoners). It was awesome and inspiring to see the throngs of people who decided to spend their Sunday running a marathon. It is sort of bizarre that I was even at the start of a marathon given for utter lack of familiarity with such nonsense.
I anxiously milled over to the 4:15 pace group and tried to stretch out a little bit. As I looked around, there was a lot of nervous energy in the area. Finally, I found a few people that looked confident and calm, so I decided to ask them what was about to happen. It turned out they were both Austin natives who had run the marathon each of the past five years. They warned me about deceptively difficult hills and not going out too fast. “Oh, you’re from Colorado never mind you probably won’t even notice our hills!”
The national anthem ended and it was time to run; well, after the 15 minutes it took for my corral to reach the start. I remember thinking, ‘Holy shit, I can’t believe I’m about to run this far’ as I crossed the line, but I kept moving for fear of being trampled. The first few miles were packed with people; a problem acerbated by a sharp right angle turn at the bottom of the first hill. I remember trying to weave my way through people and hitting a wall of soccer moms casually walking and chatting about their kids. We were less than a mile into the course, so I was a little confused and annoyed since there were several slower corral options behind me. I skipped the mob scene at the first few water stations and the crowd dispersed quickly as we went along.
The race itself is sort of a fuzzy to me, but here are a few highlights. First of all, the Austin Marathon had tremendous crowd support and was well-equipped with water/aid stations every mile, which were much appreciated by a rookie marathoner. I especially enjoyed the mass of kids at mile 8 screaming, “You’re almost there!”. I think that was right around the split off point for the full and the half, so I made a point of drifting far to the left to avoid the temptation of just being done! Another highlight was the Livestrong mile (mile 13?), which was full of people cheering with inspirational signs and was packed with American flags. The energy packed in that mile was palpable and bone-chillingly awesome.
My race day strategy? Well, I didn’t really know anything about running a marathon, but I was very focused on my GU gel regiment. I carried three gels with caffeine in my left pocket and three without in my right pocket. My plan was to take one every four miles and I was even obsessive enough to schedule certain flavors for certain miles. For example, the mandarin orange flavor was my favorite, so I made a point of saving it for mile 22.
Unfortunately, mile 22 was a little too late for me to care about what flavor my gel was. I remember having to walk a brief stretch around mile 18 on a frontage road on the outskirts of town and feeling awful. The 85% humidity saran-wrapped my shirt to my body and the heat felt overwhelming. In actuality, the temperature was probably only in the high 60’s or low 70’s; but running in humidity was a new experience for me. Around the same time, there was an incredibly shady looking man holding a silver baking tray of some very suspicious looking cookies. He basically looked like a stereotypically disheveled ultrarunner; obviously bad news. So, all my fellow runners drifted to the other side of the road as he yelled at us to eat his cookies. Keep Austin Weird. I was raised not to take cookies from strangers along the side of the road, so I resisted (thanks Mom!).
I was a little light headed for the final five miles of the race and at mile 23 I thought I was losing it. As the course winded through the University of Texas campus and past Longhorn stadium, I was handed a cup of water from a girl I dated very briefly when I lived in Arizona about a year before. I knew she was planning to move to Texas, but it was still a bizarre coincidence as I was slowly drifting away.
It was a very fortunate coincidence as well though, as it reminded me how far I had come in the year since moving from Arizona. I drank way too much in Arizona and was stuck in a deep depression, but running was a key in helping me turn that all around. I started forcing myself to run in the dying months of my time in Arizona and I could hardly make it a mile without throwing up, but I kept at it and slowly got better. It soon became clear that my steady diet of alcohol, fast food, and junk food needed to change as well. Maybe I’ll write another post to go into this further later, but let’s finish the marathon first.
After running for so long, it was shocking to me to find that a finish line actually existed. Coming down the final shoot was truly surreal and unbelievable. I hobbled around after finishing in genuine confusion and profoundly exhausted, but I did it! My sister, Chrissy, joined me on the trip down to Austin and I almost started crying when I saw her; in fact, I might have if I hadn’t been so dehydrated. The last thing I remember about the race is sitting on the street curb enjoying a milkshake with my sister as my legs frantically twitched. It was an incredible day and I was hooked on running.
So, would I recommend the Austin Marathon? Of course! Austin is a really cool city and the community really supported this race. Austin has great food, tons of fun bars, and its live music scene is awesome as well. I had a great weekend hanging out with my sister down there and the race itself was very well organized too. 2011 was the 20th running of the Austin Marathon, so it is obviously well-established. I have no idea if the marathon has changed much over the past 6 years (wow, has it really been that long?), but I would fully expect that it has remained a tremendous event.