If the Marathon was easy, it would
be called “Yo Mama”
This clever sign I saw on the course of the Austin Marathon captures much. It is easy to forget when doing marathons regularly just what a physical strain it is to cover 26.2 miles on foot.
I really enjoyed this race AND it was tough as well. The plan worked well until mile 24, when some odd wonkiness in my left knee slowed my pace to the end. Nevertheless, this was indeed the best race conditions allowed. Time with my wife and friends made the entire outing extremely enjoyable.
The Gory Details
Gretchen and I flew to Austin the day before the race and soon met up with Darrell and his wife. This whole event started with Darrell’s invitation to meet up with him as he knocked Texas off of his 50 states list. We walked from the hotel to the finish line, under the watchful eye of the Texas State Capitol Building. We also got a good look at the final mile of the course, which always helps me to know what to anticipate at the end.
Finish line, Saturday
Saturday night led to some creative resturaunteering to carbo load. We had a great Italian meal, then hit a food truck cupcake outlet for a wonderfully sweet ending to the day. It was terrific, in its own way, for these two Hoosiers to sit outside, comfortably, on a February evening, watching a small business prosper.
Race day dawned early, given the 7:00am gun time. Darrell and I met up at 5am in the hotel lobby, persuading a desk clerk to nuke our bowls of oatmeal in the employee microwave. We were out the hotel door just before 6am to join in a pre-arranged Marathon Maniac meet-up and photo op. Out of the inky darkness did Maniacs appear from near and far. Did Steve Yee ever imagine this running club would get this big??
Maniac Meet Up
In the pre-dawn darkness, the Texas statehouse truly loomed large, perhaps larger than life over all of us. I had amazing thoughts of Lyndon Johnson, of all people, as we walked around the capitol building to queue up and start on it’s north driveways. Darrell moved up to start near the 4 hour folks, while I lingered around the 4:45 pace. I was stretched, leaning against the mighty cornerstones of this building, then got out of the wind by hunkering into one of the many corners at its base. It was kind of moving, in a political sort of way.
With 12,000 half marathoners and 6,000 marathoners all queuing in the same space, the start took a while. We shuffled forward and I eventually crossed the start line 17 minutes after the gun sounded. We wound through the heart of Austin, across the river and up a long, 5 mile pull, which we then promptly ran back down in a mirror image. I quickly chucked my cotton shirt and was sweating well in the 68F start temps, with humidity.
An unusual treat awaited me as we crossed the river again, around mile 8. Gretchen walked over from the hotel and was waiting for me with a banana in hand. Boy, what a treat that was!! It has never worked out for her to join me at a race and it is hard to express what a lift it was to see her and have her walk a ways with me on the course. We confirmed a meet-up place at the finish and off I went again.
Joe at mile 8
So far, the plan for the day was going well. I ran my now-comfortable 4/1 run/walk ratio. I was drinking water at the pace of 10 oz/half hour, with an electolyte tab in each 10 oz bottle. My mile splits were consistent in the 10:45 to 11:00/mile range (when I wasn’t in search of a porta-potty... the flip side of my hydration strategy and my 57 year-old bladder :-) ). We wound back up and headed out on the backside of the course. The half marathoners split off during mile 12 and we soldiered on. The miles from 12 to 24 just went smoothly. Keep it moving, keep hydrating, eat a banana every 5 miles, lather, rinse, repeat. I enjoyed it a lot.
From mile 21, we were clearly heading back towards downtown. The crowds were really nice and supportive. Most of the drivers were too, though a few were clearly irate at the stoppages we runners caused at so many cross streets. Using my Universal Time Predictor Chart, I realized I was on track for a 4:58 finish and perhaps a couple of minutes better. I was quite encouraged, even turning in a 11:17 during mile 22...very unusual for me, especially on a day with the temps now well over 70.
Just past the mile 24 marker, I felt it. A twinge in my left knee. I’ve felt this before. It’s not the ITB nor the patella...it’s just a twinge. Not debilitating but annoying. And painful, if I don’t respond. I threw in a couple of short walk breaks, which always help. But, it became obvious I had to slow down. So, I shifted gears on my watch and dialed back to a 2 minute run, 1 minute walk ratio. After a couple of cycles, this seemed to work. I could run for 2 minutes without much pain and the walk break was just enough.
At this point, we were running through the University of Texas campus, but we were clearly no where near the student residence area. It was quiet as could be. I was impressed to run by the Texas football stadium...oh my, what a colossal structure, a veritable cathedral to college football. It would swallow Purdue’s stadium two times over, it would seem. I guess everything really IS bigger in Texas.
Plodding along, we did the last uphill climb which Darrell and I had espyed the previous day and made a right turn onto 11th, where I anticipated seeing Gretchen. She was there, beaming, and what a treat to see her!! I gave her a sweaty kiss, then made the last left turn down Congress street and my 20th marathon was in the books.
It was immediately encouraging to realize I had no cramping, no nausea and my usual sense of humor. A volunteer gave me my medal and, as I often like to do, I asked her to put it over my head as I sang the Olympic Theme song. “This is as close as I’ll ever get to winning Gold” and she had a big laugh. After getting the medal I told her “If I was Italian, I’d now give you a kiss on both cheeks!” She paused and said “But, I’m Italian!!!” So, she got the official air-kiss, as if this was an Olympic moment...we both had a huge laugh.
In short order, Gretchen found me and it was great to see her, give her a hug and a real kiss and thank her for being there. She pulled out the camera and a fellow marathoner snapped this photo of us, three minutes after I crossed the line.
J, G, post race
This is a keeper photograph...it captures so much. I’m a very blessed man to have such a wonderful wife.
As the crowd was thinning out, I invited Gretchen to come inside the runner’s area and we walked together down the rest of the finishing area, getting some food, my drop bag and my finisher’s T Shirt. It is always fun to see folks you ran with for all those hours and congratulate them at the end...it was even better to have G along with me.
We walked the mile or so back to the hotel and it felt good. It was even better to get into a cool tub and soak for a while, better yet to then have a hot shower and really, really good to listen to my college basketball-loving wife whooping it up in the room as she watched Purdue pull away from Ohio State to win by 12 points. No wonky knees for the Boilermakers on that day.
We met up with Darell and Lisa and found an authentic Texas BBQ place to eat. Sorry, Michelle, but not a vegetarian place...the options surrounded which type of meat and which kind of sauce. It was fun.
An interesting postlude...the day after the race, we drove to San Antonio, staying there on the famous Riverwalk. While walking on Monday afternoon, Gretchen spotted a guy wearing an Austin Marathon finisher's T shirt. I started up a conversation and learned this was none other than Lyle Clugg, who was the very first Race Director of the Marathon! He ran the race for many years, then retired and moved to Colorado. The organizers invited him to return for the 20th running of the race, which he did. We talked for about 15 minutes about the early days of the race, how it has changed, how they did timing before chips and on and on. He was interested in my experience in the race and it was a wonderful conversation.
Joe, Lyle in SA
This was once more a reminder that no good event happens without incredible dedication by volunteers who enjoy running and helping their communities.
There’s a lot more I could say but this captures it. In summary, I was pleased with the race. It showed me, importantly, the adjustments to pace which work in a warm race. I was pleased with using my heart rate as a primary guide to pace. In fact, since most miles have my average HR at 120-125, I realize I could have pushed the pace a bit more and still been OK, since the top end of my Zone 2 is around 135 bpm. I was very pleased with the performance of the Camelbak Elixr tabs...I never did have a hint of cramping all day. I also like bananas...did I mention that?? I figured a way to carry two with me in my Nathan Belt, I got a third from Gretchen and managed to score two more from friendly people on the back part of the course. I had four Gus with me just in case but didn’t need a one of them.
And did I say I was pleased with the people?? Wow, it was great to spend time again with Darrell and a treat to be with his wife Lisa this time. Gretchen and I met up with some old college friends (did I mention I went to Purdue?) on Sunday night and again at lunch on Monday which triggered much wonderful thought. And, most of all, it was so great to share the race weekend and then a week on the Gulf coast with Gretchen. Take all the races you want, folks, it is people who will truly last.
Thanks for listening. Persevere.