Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Austin Marathon 2010 Race Report

Just a few steps from the finish line.

Short version:

We did it! 4:46:21 was my time. I'm proud of us!

Long version:

Ever since our first attempt at the Austin marathon (any marathon) last year, Shelly and I have been haunted by the results (or lack thereof). That might sound dramatic, but it's true; failing to meet our goal last year has been in the back of my mind for a year. On Sunday, Shelly and I were able to put the past away and celebrate a new triumph. We finished the marathon running, smiling, and (most importantly) in a respectable amount of time.

We came into the race after following the same training plan as last year (Hal Higdon's Novice program). The difference was that at the start of our training this winter, Shelly and I had just wrapped up an amazing first triathlon season and lost 15 pounds. We entered winter marathon training with mental toughness and determination that we didn't have last year. We had something to prove.

Throughout our winter marathon training, Shelly and I kept up our bike and swim skills as much as we could. We tried to bike twice a week and swim once a week. I think that the extra cross training helped maintain our core strength as we transitioned into the higher-mileage running weeks.

On our long runs, we did our best to simulate the Austin marathon course: up 3 miles of hill, down 3 miles of hill. Hills in the middle. Downhill to the end. We ran in all kinds of weather: warm, humid, cold, really cold, sleet, rain, fog, wind, bright hot sun. When race day came, we were sure that we had done everything to prepare. But I was still unsure about the mental stamina that it would take to finish the last 6 miles.

Race Report
Race morning came and the weather was perfect: 42 degrees. Because we were in line for porta potties when the race started, we ended up starting the race 10 minutes after the gun went off. We took off at an 11 minute/mile, and vowed to follow our strict race plan to the end (don't go out too fast, be conservative, don't change anything until after mile 20).

The first 10 miles felt really, really good. We laughed and joked with each other, chatted with other runners, high-fived spectators, and generally had a jolly time. We saw Shelly's family at mile 2 and Robert and Angel at mile 6. We ran past a guy holding a sign that said, "Dear running, thank you for giving my fiancee a great ass. Love, me." We passed a group of college students who were beyond drunk and singing karaoke ("Wake Me Up Before You Go Go") in their driveway. We saw a woman in a cow costume who said, "Keep on mooooovin'!" as we ran by. We saw a guy in a gorilla suit. We heard "Eye of the Tiger" 3 times.

Dad had given us a strategy that paid off: start late, and you'll get to pass a bunch of other runners, which will give you a mental boost. I don't know how many people we passed, but the results show that in the first 10 miles, we passed 500 marathoners.

After the course split at mile 10.5, Shelly had an emotional moment as we moved into "Marathon only" territory. It was the same feeling I had last year, but this year she was passing the course split and feeling good instead of sick. We celebrated as we ran up the hill at mile 11 and saw my parents for the first time, which provided another boost.

Up the hill at mile 11. Still smiling.

We were on track with our pace and our fueling. We both felt good as we passed the half-marathon mark. I knew we'd have to stop to use the bathroom at some point, and we started to look for a porta potty with a short line. We found one at mile 15. As we ran on after the bathroom, we both were feeling tired, but okay.

Around mile 16, my left foot started to hurt. I found out later that I had 3 big blisters, but at the time I didn't know what the problem was. I just knew that I wanted the race to be over, and we still had 10 miles left. We carried on to mile 20, passing my parents again at 18. At this point, I started to notice that a lot of people were walking. I thought, "That was us last year!" Throughout the race, people had been on the sides of the road stretching, walking, and even throwing up, but around mile 20, the majority of people were walking, not running. We stopped twice to fill our water bottles, but each time we stepped back on the course and continued running.

Mile 18. At this point, most people around us were walking.

I knew the last 6 miles would be tough, but I didn't know how tough. Shelly and I had been checking our Garmins to make sure we were on pace. At mile 20, we were supposed to reevaluate, and we'd be allowed to run 10:15 if we wanted to. After mile 21, I called out our pace, "10:19, it's okay to run that now" to Shelly. She replied, "I don't want to." She told me that she was starting to feel sick. I was happy to back off the pace and settle back in around 10:30-10:45.

The things that go through your mind in the last 6 miles of a marathon are not good. What if I hit the wall? What does that feel like? What if I fail again? What if I have to walk the last 2 miles? What if I get hurt? What if they have to carry me off the course? What if my quad muscles pop out and I'm in excruciating pain on the side of the road? What if I have a stress fracture and running these next few miles breaks my leg? My shin hurts. Why does my shin hurt? What does that mean? What if I get hurt and can't run for 2 months? What if I'm supposed to stop now and if I don't it will ruin my whole tri season ahead?

I started chanting in my head, "Pain for an hour, pride for a year. Pain for an hour, pride is forever." I thought, if I am going to have to think about this race for a year, it better be with no regrets. Even with that kind of thought process going on, it was impossible to stop myself from walking 3 times, for a total of about 2 minutes.

The other thing that happened in the last 6 miles is that Shelly and I stopped talking to each other. We ran side by side in silence for an hour. We were both just too exhausted to speak. At one point, another runner came up behind us and asked to join us. She said she'd been latching onto runners just to help her complete the race. Just having her next to me was exhausting. It was hard enough to carry myself to the finish line. We eventually left her behind. At some point, it seemed that everyone around us was walking. The race results show that to be correct - we passed another 500 people in the last 10 miles of the race.

On the last hill of the race, I stopped to walk and Shelly kept running. I started running again, but we ran the last half mile separately. She was just ahead of me, and I tried to catch up with her, but we ended up finishing 3 seconds apart. She said that she didn't know I was right behind her, and that she wishes she had waited so we could cross the line together, but I think it's better the way that it happened. This way, both of us know that we did our very best on race day.

Seeing the crowds at the finish was a boost. People were yelling my name and telling me to go, and and I kicked it in to the finish. Passing the Capitol was cool. Seeing Shelly in the chute was emotional. We hugged and had our picture taken and felt the greatest overwhelming pride.

My chip time was 4:46:21. The Garmin says that we had spent 5 of those minutes in the bathroom or refilling water bottles. Finishing this marathon strong was amazing and one of the best feelings of my life. I'm still high from it 3 days later. And I can't wait to go back next year and do it again! Always learning, always striving to do better. I love running.