“What are we doing?!!”, my friend Jessica said Sunday morning at 5 AM at her place in Austin. “I know,” I answered. “Wouldn’t it be great if we were normal and didn’t do this sh*t?”
I was running the half marathon in Austin, and Miss Jess was running the full 26.2 miles on a very hilly course in her new hometown. We spent the prior evening with some of her friends and friends of her friends at their condo in downtown Austin dining on homemade spaghetti and turbo-charged chocolate brownies. After spending months of training and overcoming injuries and illnesses, today was the big day. Any of you non-runners that think we love getting up to do this, let me advise you that there are moments that we know we are mildly insane for choosing the sport we play.
We left her apartment, decorated in true twenty-something college student style – read cute…cute…cute…- at about 6 AM and drove quietly to her friend Erin’s place to walk down to the race together. One of the young ladies was lacing the timing chip on her shoe. OMG…..I forgot my timing chip! A lot of races have them attached to the bib now, so I don’t really think about it, and, if truth be told, I’m a little out of sorts when I’m not in my home environment. My choice was to run the race without an official time or drive back to Jessica’s place 45 minutes before the race start to get the chip. My first thought was to run without a time and just time it on my watch. But, I keep track of all of my race times on www.athlinks.com, and I didn’t want to have a race that was not listed, especially one as challenging as Austin. I struggled with my decision for a moment. Then, wise Jessica – fellow blogger – said, “The story will be so much better if you do it.” DONE!! Give me your keys and directions.
So, I take off in a strange city at 6:15 AM in a strange car headed to a strange apartment. The roads were blocked off because of the race, so I kept having to change course, and the GPS kept re-routing me. I easily got to her apartment building, but I couldn’t remember where the apartment was. So, I’m running up and down stair wells trying to find the one that looks familiar. Luckily, after about 10 minutes, I heard the dogs barking that barked all night the night before. This is it! I grabbed my chip and ran back to the car. I passed a Starbucks, and for some stupid reason, I realized I hadn’t had enough caffeine, so I stopped in to get a cup of green tea. I was quickly back on the road. The race start time was 7 AM. I still had enough time to park and get over for the last participants to leave the start corral. In these big races, it usually takes 30-45 minutes for everybody to get started.
I got downtown, but I was scrambling for parking. Every available space was taken, and I didn’t even know how to get to the start line. I drove around and around…7 AM….and around. I finally parked in a lot. I got out and couldn’t find the place to pay. Never mind…I needed to get to the race. A few steps later I realized that my dilemma would not be so funny post-event when we are both hurting, and we have to deal with the expense and hassle of a towed car. Back to the car I ran. I drove some more, and eventually found one space where I could park.
I took off running in the direction of where I thought the start was located. I knew it was west of where I parked. I started running…not a good move when you have to run 13.5 miles AFTER you get to the starting line. I ran about 2 blocks, and I spotted the race field coming at me. So, I’m racing down the sidewalk with my race number in the opposite direction of all the runners. People were staring at me like I was crazy. I asked a few people if they knew where the start line was located. I got either vague answers that only an Austin native could interpret like “over by the capitol”, “on Congress, I think.” I just kept running in the opposite direction of the runners, and I eventually heard the announcers for the start. As I came running up on the start line, the volunteers were looking at me incredulously and saying, “Save it for the race!” I realized those lined up were for the 5K, so I grabbed a volunteer, and they told me to go ahead. So, I take off, all by myself to run a half marathon. I got a dose of what an elite runner must feel like as they start alone. Except that I knew I wasn’t in any jeopardy of winning.
I caught up with the back of the pack runners in about 5 minutes, and it was actually pretty motivating because I was passing people right and left. I suddenly got the thought that, at this pace, I could win this thing! Just kidding. But, I did have to slow myself down. Even though I had been running fast for at least 1.5 miles, I had 13.1 more to go, and I HAD to pace myself. It was hard to pace in this race. The entire first 5 miles was a gradual stair step of hills moving in an upward incline. I kept my planned pace pretty well, but I was getting a little tired. Memphis is flat, and I was beginning to feel the challenge of the hills. Luckily, the race course turned downhill to follow the same course back, so it was a slow downward slide for about 3 miles. I was clipping along at a great pace and feeling awesome.
About mile 8, my “ring finger” right toe went numb. It does this in races if my laces are too tight. So, I stopped to loosen my laces and stretch out my quads. When I bent over, I all of a sudden started coughing and got congested. I’ve been fighting a chest cold for 2 1/2 weeks, and I was feeling a little bit of the fatigue and breathing difficulty from that cold. I lost momentum after stopping. I knew it was happening, so I just decided to focus on running my best race. So, I interspersed a little walking with my running, especially up the more challenging hills. There were some biggies, too. But, there were some great downhills, too. I felt good other than the breathing, and I was getting sore in my calves. That never happens.
I finished in 2:34 which was 4 minutes slower than I dreamed. But, given the fact that I had been really sick and had not run for almost two weeks, I felt good about my time. Austin is a cool city. It was fun to run through it and see the different restaurants and food trucks scattered about. Later this week, I will blog about the food here. But, Jessica tells me that we’re not done eating yet, so I have to wait on that one.
Jessica’s friends Erin and Stephanie ran their first marathons yesterday. This was Jessica’s third full marathon. 13.1 miles is a challenge. 26.2 miles is an almost unbelievable act even though thousands do it all the time. The reality is that only 1% of people have ever run a full marathon. At least that’s the figure I hear quoted. The race itself is a real physical challenge and comes with a lot of pain and mental anguish. But, the training that leads up to it are just as challenging in a different way. It takes time, energy, healthy living and a mind that stays focused on the goal. Congratulations to all of the runners in Austin over the weekend. As I watch young Jessica hobble around today swallowing Advils, and I feel the stabbing pain of my own aching calves, I’m reminded that we are not “normal.” And, that’s exactly how I like it. Normal would be pretty dull.