Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Austin Marathon 2009
Going in to the Austin Marathon, all I really cared about was beating three particular people. Or at least not letting them beat me by enough to overtake me in the Austin Distance Challenge. I was in second place overall, 15 minutes behind the leader, who had beaten me in every race. I didn't expect to make up the difference, so I'd be happy to stay in second. Three other runners were 3, 5, and 6 minutes back. Those amounts can be made up in a marathon. If I had a bad race, or if they had a really good one, they could beat me. All three of them had already beaten me in at least one race in the Austin Distance Challenge.
Woke up at 4:30 AM, two and a half hours before gun time. Immediately put down a banana and a Clif bar. Gotta get food down and settled before the run starts. Checked the weather. Looked like near-perfect conditions. Put on my running stuff and woke up Peyton to take me down to the start line. Before I left, downed a glass of sport drink.
This was my third attempt at the Austin Marathon, where I had never done well. The first time, I was grossly underprepared, and stopped for the bathroom three times during the race. I finished in 3:50, which isn't bad, but I could do a lot better. The next time, I was injured, and shouldn't have run the race at all. As a result, I walked almost half of it and finished in 4:45. I was prepared and injury-free this time, but still a little nervous. Was there something about the Austin Marathon that didn't agree with me? Or am I cursed?
Got down near the start line at 5:45. Took a 15-minute nap in the car. Got outside and started walking towards Congress. 50 degrees isn't bad when you're running, but when you're standing around, that's cold. Waited in line for a port-o-potty and used it with success. Stretched. By now it was almost time to start already.
The start was delayed by 10 minutes. I waited until about 10 minutes before the new start time and stripped off my warm-ups and handed them to Peyton. She wished me luck and I moseyed over to join the fast crowd. A few familiar faces and a few new ones. I noticed that of the three people I needed to beat, two were wearing their "Age Group Leader" jerseys. That's like wearing a bull's eye on your back. Now I know who to not let pass me.
Took off and ran easy for the first mile. Not as much jockeying for position when you're already towards the front. Some little kid wearing a half marathon bib was right up there with the fast crowd. Wasn't sure if he knew what he was up against. Weather conditions were perfect. Finished the first mile in 6:21. Right about where I wanted to be. Heard someone to my left say "We're dead on." Looked over to see two guys pacing well. Decided I'd follow them.
Ran down Congress and back for the first 6 miles or so, just following these two guys. Ran each mile in 6:20-6:25. Again, right where I wanted to be. First three miles were uphill and downwind, next three were downhill and against the wind. Fair trade I guess. Right around mile 6 we crossed the 1st street bridge and got on Cesar Chavez. There was a huuuge crowd there. I went ahead and played to them a little, waving my arms to get them to get louder. Pumped me up. I moved to the right and passed the guy I was pacing off of.
Ran at a good clip down Cesar Chavez, and later, Lake Austin Blvd. Passed a few people slowly along the way. Eventually took the right turn up a short, steep hill towards Exposition. The guys I was pacing off of earlier passed me there. Told me to stay with them. OK, I will. I started to notice that I might need the bathroom later.
Running up Exposition was basically the toughest part of the course, from a technical standpoint. Started at mile 10, so you're already a little tired. Into the wind. Hilly as hell, and most all of them are uphills. I managed to stay on pace with those guys through here.
Miles 8-18 are basically all uphill. A lot of it is just inclines, or looks flat, but you're still running uphill just a bit. And where there are down-and-up hills, the ups are bigger and more frequent. It started smoothing out at around mile 12, but it's still a little bit uphill. Normally wouldn't be hard at all to handle, but when you're coming out of the toughest, hilliest part of the course, you feel it.
At the halfway point, I saw a port-o-potty and ran for it. I have to admit it felt weird to RUN for the port-o-potty and RUN out. Cost me a couple minutes, but I felt rejuvenated afterwards.
My pace was still pretty good, but slowing down slightly. The constant incline and headwind was starting to wear on me. On Shoal Creek, we had a good 1.5-mile stretch straight into the wind, slightly uphill. I could feel myself consistently slowing down through there.
At the top of Shoal Creek is a right-hand turn that at least gets you out of the headwind. My pace actually picked up over the next couple miles. That rarely if ever happens in the second half of a marathon, but getting out of the wind made a difference.
At around mile 18, there's another right turn that sends you downhill and with the wind. My pace picked up MORE. I was now nearly running the same pace as I did in the first 10. Nice! Kept my head up and tried to hold on.
Mile 20 is where most runners, myself included, usually hit the wall. Mile 20 came and went without me hardly noticing. I was overwhelmingly pleased with how good I felt running right through mile 20, and again at 21. Tired for sure, but not losing a step. Mile 22 came and there was a left turn.
We were now headed back uphill and into the wind. AHHHH!!!!! All of a sudden I could feel how tired I was and I slowed to a crawl. We only had to head that direction for less than half a mile, but it took it out of me.
A few more right turns and I was on Duval, running downhill and with the wind towards campus. Despite the downhill and favorable wind, I couldn't get myself back on pace. That half mile uphill whipped me. I held steady as best I could and chugged along to campus. By the time I got to the end of Duval, I was feeling pretty good again.
We got to Dean Keaton at around mile 24 and took a right. OK, whose idea was it to make this hill part of the course?!? I started a slow half-mile trudge up the Dean Keaton hill towards Guadalupe. Didn't care about speed anymore. I just wanted to get through this hill. Runners passed me. Spectators encouraged me to keep going. I informed them that I hated this hill.
We turned left onto the drag and my legs started working again, downhill and with the wind once more. I looked around and sorta laughed to myself at the sight. When will I ever be running right down the middle of the drag again? For that matter, when will the drag ever be completely car-less again? It was just a weird feeling. I looked at my watch. Ten minutes to go. I can handle that. I looked to my left and saw the tower. Awesome. I'm on campus! This is MY campus! My old stomping grounds! Where I first got into running! I went into a "defend my home court" thing, or something like it. I had to run hard on campus.
I kicked it up and ran through the downhill to MLK, passing a few of the people that passed me on the Dean Keaton hill. Rounded the corner there and saw the mile 25 marker. "UNO MAAAAAASS!!!" about as loud as my weak lungs would allow. Ran up the hill by Player's without noticing it and turned it on for the ensuing downhill. Turned onto San Jacinto and kept going.
I knew I had an outside shot at beating my personal best, which I set in Dallas two months ago. I tried running the last mile hard. Caught up with a bunch of half-marathoners in the last mile, seperated by a chain link fence. Ran over a few hills downtown and saw the crowd start to thicken. This was it!
Saw Congress ahead and rounded the corner hard. Finish line in sight. Waved my arms again to get the crowd to make some noise, then found something inside me to sprint to the finish. Finished one second better than my Dallas time, wrapping it up in 2:53:58. Nice!
What I'm proudest of is that I never truly hit the wall. I did in Dallas, but I paced better today and really ran my race. If it hadn't been for having to stop in the port-o-potty, I would've beaten my Dallas time. On a hillier course. But I credit the perfect weather conditions and a course where the last 8 miles are pretty easy for helping me through it.
The rest of the day was lazy. Ate a good lunch. Took a nap. Ate a deep-fried, meat-filled, cheese-covered dinner. Went to bed.
In the Austin Marathon, I placed 2nd in my age division and 24th overall. Apparently I'll be mailed some award for being 2nd in my age division. Unfortunately, they don't give you a free hat or anything for being in the top 100 like Dallas does.
The winner was American! That's pretty rare for any marathon. Some guy from Chicago. Austin's own Gilbert Tuhabonye came in second by something like a minute and a half. The female winner (the only woman that beat me) was only 23 (most marathon winners are around 30), and she looked like a total sorority girl! I mean, Nike shorts and everything! She only beat me by a minute and a half.
As far as the Austin Distance Challenge, I did about as well as I could've hoped. I won my age division by over an hour and came in second overall. The guy in first was over half an hour in front of me, and the guy in third was only six minutes back. Going into this thing, my goal was just to make it on the podium for my age division. As it turned out, I dominated my age division and wound up on the overall podium! I am pleased.
So what's next? There's still Boston in April. Completing that will pretty much wrap up every goal I've had involving running for my entire life. Of course, I'll be gunning for a PR.
To those that have been following me through my journey with the Austin Distance Challenge, thanks for reading! May the downhills be many, may the wind be at your back. Run hard, run strong, and run when it's not convenient. But most of all, just keep running.
And special thanks to Peyton, for being so supportive and patient for the last four months, and for driving me to all of my races.