Texas Hill Country
Plano, Texas, United States
Nov 26, 2019
Arose at 4:30. Attempted to down a bowl of oatmeal, nuts, and a sliced banana. Felt full by the end of it. I’d probably eaten too much the night before. Scraped a few spoonfuls into the trash, even though I hate wasting food. Got in the car.
It was only a little chilly, considerably warmer than the day before, and windy. This time my mom came along, as well as my dad. Went through some pre-race rituals (stretching, toilet). Disrobed and made my way into corral 1. Did a little more stretching.
Didn’t have to wait too long before the race began. Right away, I was going faster than I’d planned for the race, but we were going with the wind, and I felt good at this pace. Most of the people around me were in the half. I tended to move past people anytime there was a hill, whether that was up or down. Running somewhere like Wimberley has that effect.
By far, my favorite part of the course came about 10 km in, when we ran through the Historical Ft. Worth Stockyards. I’d never been before, and it legitimately looked like a scene right out of the wild west. While Dallas is an international, commercial city, Ft. Worth has retained its blue collar heritage and still feels like “Where the West begins”.
Immediately after leaving the Stockyard District, the route turned south and we were running into the wind, full-blast, with little cover. My strategy was simple: get behind a tall guy. And it worked! My pace stayed nearly the same.
About a third of the way into the race, you get the biggest hill of the course: nearly 1 km long, on a bridge across the Trinity River, leading up to the Tarrant County Courthouse, which puts several state capitols to shame. A couple guys around me tried charging up the hill when it started, but I’d passed them by the time it ended.
After getting around the courthouse, the course leads through the heart of downtown. Towards the end of that section, the half marathon splits off to close their loop. It got considerably less crowded after that. I had my own personal bike escort most of the time.
After I passed another guy, and saw one more half a block ahead of me, I wondered something. I turned to the bike escort nearest me and asked,
“Do you know what place I’m in?”
“Third, I think!”
“Well, I mean, that guy’s in third, I think. So I guess that makes you fourth.”
Third place wins prize money! I stared at the guy in front of me. He’d been part of the elite field at the start line. I watched him run past a cone, then counted the seconds until I passed it. 24. He wasn’t that far ahead. I might be able to outpace him. We’ll see. I made a small effort to run a little faster.
For the next 2 km, I slowly closed the gap, occasionally counting the seconds between us. It shrank to 20, then 16, then 11, then 8, then 6. It was now simply a matter of how to pass him. I don’t think he’d noticed me all this time.
The guy didn’t have a shirt on, so his bib was pinned to one of the legs of his shorts. He had long blond hair on top, tied in a hair band, but was shaved to the skin on the sides and back of his head. He looked young.
When I caught up, he took a glance and saw my red bib right away.
“Oh shit, marathon!” he exclaimed. “I thought you were a wheelchair!”
He probably knew he was in third and saw dollar signs vanishing in front of him. There’s a lot of camaraderie in distance running, but for the next hour, we’d view each other as competition.
He moved to the side, struck up a conversation while we ran side-by-side, then let me take the inside of a corner and got behind me. Then stayed there for 2 km. He knows what he’s doing. If he hadn’t, I’d’ve done the same thing.
At one point, a guy came out of the crowd and Blond called out to him, “You got it? Awesome, thanks!” Blond took a gel from his buddy.
If only. There were supposed to be three gel stations by now, and I haven’t seen any!
I’d been counting on gels as my fuel during the race, and even wrote on my hands the mile markers at which they were supposed to be found. But after eating a somewhat large dinner, and a little breakfast, I wasn’t terribly disappointed. And I hadn’t been drinking that much either, even though it was a little warm for a race.
About a block later, one of the bike escorts came over and informed Blond that accepting aid from a non-volunteer was against the rules.
“Yeah, but he’s handing them out to everyone.”
I didn’t get one.
But would that disqualify Blond? It’s not uncommon for runners to have a buddy hand them something in a marathon, so they probably wouldn’t toss out his results entirely, but would that prevent him from winning an award? I couldn’t count on it.
At one point, I could hear Blond breathing harder than I was. I took the inside of a turn, got a step ahead, and then opened it up. If I put some distance between us, he couldn’t draft off me anymore, and maybe that would mean he couldn’t keep up my pace. And it worked! I was running alone again.
I managed to hold pace throughout the end of the headwind, and was overjoyed when the course turned around and started running with the wind again. Only 10k to go, and it should be easier! On top of that, the course ran through a park, on trails. This is my kind of running!
After making it through the park, the course moved onto a wide, well-shaded residential boulevard. Still a picturesque setting, and the crowd support started getting good again. But I started slowing down. And I looked at my watch more and more often. When is this thing going to be over?
After only training in earnest for about nine weeks, I hadn’t had time to finish enough long runs, so I knew the last 10k would be a crapshoot. And it looked like it wasn’t in my favor. My lower legs were tightening and my stomach was turning on me. After barely drinking during the race, it was possible I was somewhat dehydrated.
I heard footsteps behind. Crap! Blond smelled blood in the water, and he was making a comeback. At one point, I looked over my shoulder, and he was only 10 seconds back. And he noticed.
“Oh, I’m coming!” he shouted.
A few minutes later, he caught up, and I simply let him pass. I didn’t have enough gas in the tank to chase him. Oh well. 4th place was a lot better than I thought I’d do! My stomach got even worse. And what was this salty liquid pouring out of my face? Oh yeah, it was warm out. While running into the wind, you got blown dry, so you didn’t notice.
If I’d started training a few weeks earlier. If I’d gotten a few more long runs in. If I’d eaten a little less last night. If I’d drank more water today. If I hadn’t run a 5k yesterday!
But everyone can “what if”.
I passed a cop directing traffic.
“Do you know where a toilet is?”
Wow. I wasn’t expecting an answer.
Mile marker 23 arrived, and she was 100% right! I ran into the port-o-potty and tried to make it quick. It had just been serviced, so the toilet paper roll still had wrapping on it. Seconds counted. I tore it off in a frenzy. Then I couldn’t get the roll started.
I ripped a chunk, about eight layers deep, out of the roll. We’re doing it this way. No time for hand sanitizer. I flung open the door and ran back onto the course.
After the pit stop, I felt good again! My pace still wasn’t as good as it had been for most of the race, but I was moving. Only 5k to go. 20 minutes, maybe even less. How many times have you run a 5k? It’s not hard.
This was the part of the race I should’ve enjoyed the most, but things went downhill again. A run through a city park, along a river, with a stiff tailwind. Folks cheering me on. I could barely keep my head up. My calves were tight and nothing was responsive. My pace sagged by about 0:30/km, which for me, is a lot.
Here and there, a spectator called out, “You’re in 3rd place! Keep it up! You got this!”
Did they miscount? Or was 1st place so far ahead they didn’t notice? Or did that bike escort have it wrong the whole time?
Then came the last 2 km, which were uphill. My pace sagged by another 0:45/km, which for me, is pathetic. The marathon and half marathon courses were rejoined (separated by cones). These people were finishing 21.1 km in the same time it took me to run literally twice as far, but now, I was down to almost the same pace.
The finish line mercifully came into view. As it did, I heard over the loudspeaker, “Annnd, we’ve got our official 3rd place finisher in the marathon, Robert Landauer of Wimberley, Texas!”
So I was in 3rd? I managed a smile. Third! That’s freaking awesome! I’ve never even finished in the top 10 of a big race!
I must’ve looked a wreck, because as soon as I crossed the finish line, two volunteers asked if I was OK. Then they directed me to one guy in particular, who congratulated me and said, “C’mon, we’re going to the VIP tent.”
Inside, Blond was nowhere to be found. Lots of volunteers, and two skinny guys in black cowboy hats. Had Blond been disqualified for that gel? It was the only explanation I had.
I mostly talked with the 2nd place finisher, Eric from Oklahoma City. He was 39, and this was his first marathon. Holy crap! I got outdone by a rookie, and on top of that, he’s older! Yesterday, 4th place was enough to easily win my age division, but today I came in 3rd, and then here’s this friggin’ guy who takes 2nd on his first try, and I don’t even win my age division. Color me impressed!
The winner was a professor from TCU. I like it when hometown heroes win. Evidently he ran right past his office, though I gotta add, while the course goes past TCU, it could do a much better job showing off the campus, and could also do a better job getting the campus community involved.
As for the black hats, that’s the trophy you get for placing! That’s awesome. Adds a local flair to the festivity.
I started thinking I should ask a volunteer to find my parents and tell them where I was, but within minutes, my parents were in the tent too. I forgot I was sweaty and gave them a big hug.
“Third place! Can you believe it?!? I didn’t know if I’d be in the top ten!”
They were all smiles.
About 30 minutes after I finished, Blond entered the tent and was presented with the 1st place trophy for the ultramarathon.
Somehow, I’d completely forgotten there was also a 50k! In the last leg of the race, it splits off and does an out-and-back. That happened somewhere after I’d stopped for the toilet, so I never saw him turn off the marathon course, and I never noticed his bib either, since it was pinned to the side of his shorts.
Blond’s feet were completely torn up and bleeding badly. Evidently, he mostly does trail running in minimalist shoes, and today, he tried not only a new pair, but it’s basically an entirely different type of shoe. And it hadn’t gone well. But somehow, he ran through it for 50 km, and at a faster pace than I did.
Inside the tent, there was beer, champagne, bloody marys, sausage, eggs, salads, sandwiches, and cheesecake. These guys know what’s up! I stayed a while.
Even outside the VIP tent, the goodies for all runners in the finish area are impressive! Beer, Blue Bell ice cream, and a huge spread of snacks. I took a few for the road.
In all, I went home with four shirts, three medals, a VIP badge, and a hat. And from what I understand, a couple more awards and a $500 check will come in the mail. Well, probably $370 or so, after taxes (I had to sign a tax form before leaving). First time I’ve won prize money for running!
If UltraExpeditions had provided shirts for their brand representatives (including a singlet) instead of making us pay for them, I would’ve been in the paper sporting their gear. Too bad for them. But ironically, being part of their program is what first got me excited to start training for real again. Not anything they did, of course, but the idea of what they should be was my inspiration.
Now I have the idea to organize a marathon here in Hill Country. Always looking for a new challenge!