When it all goes wrong on race morning, it can still go very, very right.
I don’t drive around downtown unless I have to. I live in a small town on the outskirts, and if I had it my way I’d live even farther, well…out. I am not a city girl. Never have been, never will be. I’m uncomfortable rockin’ skirts (unless it’s a running skirt, then I can totally pull it off), and I never really learned to walk in high heels (I can fake it but I look like a drunk penguin trying to do the truffle shuffle) and I have a rule about never wearing heels when I drink, because the damn things are hard enough to wear sober. Give me flip-flops and jeans, and I can do anything!
My distaste for downtown driving was reinforced very early Sunday morning. If you follow my training logs at all, you’ve realized by now that I am not a high volume runner. Twenty five miles is a high volume week for me, and I’m okay with that. I seem to have avoided overtraining, and I rarely have a run that I’m not looking forward to. After the 30K race two weeks ago, and last weekend’s 20 mile long run, I was ready for a nice 13.1; it seemed like a break. So I was in a good mood when I left the house at 4:45 Sunday morning, and I was still in a good mood an hour later when I was getting close to the race venue.
The handy dandy GPS on my phone told me what exit to take, and indicated that my destination would be on the other side of the highway. I cruised through the U-turn and continued to follow the sweet and innocent sounding voice issuing from the map, my guiding light in times of misdirection (which is most of the time, for my geographically challenged self). Take the on ramp, she suggested. I dutifully obeyed, and proceeded to drive right past my destination. She had played a trick on me, and gotten me back on the highway when my destination was clearly off the frontage road. I took the next exit, much to her disappointment, did another U-turn so that I was facing the wrong away again, and drove up far enough to turn back around and get back on the correct side of the road. This time when she told me to take the on ramp I just laughed. I guess I showed her!
Most frontage roads continue along the side of the highway, with ramps here and there to allow the good people of the world to get on and off as they please. This particular frontage road, however, had conspired with the little brat inside of my GPS to not only not continue along the highway, but also to not offer a single point of egress, the only option being to follow it around – under the highway – back to the other side. What. The. Hell. I was on the wrong side of the road again. I was supposed to arrive between 5:45 and 6:00; it was now 6:08 and I was on this never-ending loop de loop, my destination shimmering in and out of reality like the 13th floor.
I breathed deeply and continued toward the turnaround. I took the U-turn, again. We were becoming old pals. I cringed when the mal intentioned vindictive manipulator inside my phone spoke up and urged me to take the on ramp, but I obeyed, feeling like maybe I had just sold my soul. She didn’t say anything else (lucky for me; I can’t afford a new phone right now!), but I took the next exit and managed to find my way to the parking garage that had been reserved for the race. It was getting late and I had to drive around three levels before finding an open space. It was just past 6:30. I followed a few other late arrivals toward the starting line.
If you’ve ever run a race then you know exactly where I went from there. The porta potty line, of course! I set up my RunKeeper as I waited, and realized I had forgotten my headphones. Seriously? Did I just not bother with this race at all? No matter, folks around me would just have to deal with hearing the distance and average pace every half mile. It wasn’t that loud anyway, and most of them had probably remembered their headphones. I went to reset the chronometer on my watch and realized I had also forgotten my watch. And my RoadID. I’d be running practically naked! My nerves were shot and the lines were long. I heard the starting gun go off while I was (finally) taking my turn. Lucky for me this was a huge, well attended race, so by the time I got to the starting chute there were still a few hundred people moving through it.
The weather was simply perfect. It was in the mid 5os, low humidity, with a slight tail wind. The course was as straight as a city course could be, and headed from downtown toward the river. Those with any knowledge of topography will realize what that means…it was a net downhill course! This was the perfect recipe for a PR.
I had intended to find and stay with the 1:50 pace group. Those intentions promptly fell into the portalet when the gun went off and I wasn’t at the starting line. Instead, I started near the 2:15 pace group. I stuck to the left lane, uttered “excuse me” several times, and wove through the pack. I knew I couldn’t sustain passing people at this pace, which didn’t feel very fast but I figured that was just the adrenaline. I hadn’t made it out of the pack yet when RunKeeper informed me that I had gone 0.5 miles at an average pace of 8:46. I actually told it “unh uh” out loud, and continued to weave through the pack.
My average pace steadily decreased, and I felt comfortable. The pace I was holding was akin to that of a tempo run, so I suppose comfortably hard would be a more appropriate description of my perceived effort. I passed the 2:10 pace group after about a mile, and finally wound my way through the crowd to the 2:05 group at around mile 3.
The aid stations were set up backwards, and I ended up with a cup full of gatorade instead of water at the first stop. Isn’t water usually first, with gatorade at the end? Regardless, in my mind, that’s how it should be. I took a swig and tossed the rest along with my cup. I was cruising along at about an 8:10 average pace, but still feeling good, so I kicked it up a teensy bit.
It’s funny, but while I was standing in the potty line pre-race I was reflecting on how this was probably the second-best attended race I would be doing this year, and on just how many people were gathered in such a small area. Parts of my background that make up who I am cause me to dislike being part of a crowd, because I obsess over how vulnerable of a target a crowd is. Boston didn’t help (I wasn’t there, like some of the Salty bloggers were, but it brings the point home). Let’s just say spending a year in a Middle Eastern country will condition anyone to think this way. All that said, I’ve never felt threatened at any point during a race. Until about halfway through this one.
I make it a point to thank the police officers along the race course. Not all of them, mind you, but at least a few. I was approaching an overhead bridge (another thing that makes me nervous) with some spectators on top. They had a large vinyl sign that they were unfurling. I grinned hugely as I watched them, thinking how awesome it was that they were there supporting the race, a team, or even an individual runner. Then the sign finished unrolling, my grin disappeared, and my eyes immediately landed on the police officer stationed under the bridge. The sign had big, bold block letters in black. There was a picture of a tractor and a chainsaw. Even the pictures were in grey and black, and the message was neither supportive or friendly.
You better RUN — 3M kills forests
I sucked in my breath and grabbed hold of my nanosecond of panic, ran just a little bit faster, and listened hard around me. The mood of the race changed, right there. There were no cheers, and the chattering of my fellow runners seemed to die down. In slow motion I watched a spectator on the road turn toward the sign and hold up her cell phone to take a picture of it. I stared at the officer on my way by, and wondered what he could possibly do, and then I turned my head forward and kept going.
It was a good mile before the chatter started back up, and the spectators became cheerful and thick again. A lot of that may have been due to a huge Clif tent where gels were being handed off on the way by, and the mood was festive again. I took a gel and focused on choking it down (I don’t like them very much) because it gave me something to do.
I passed the 1:55 pace group somewhere around mile 8. I was still loving the course, and something about forward progress, sunshine and sugar makes you forget all about feelings of impending doom and threatening signs. My average pace was down to 8:06. It was officially the farthest distance I had ever been able to sustain such a respectable pace, and I was pretty pleased so far. The rest of the course took us by some iconic Austin scenes, and around mile 12 we passed the place where my husband and I had our wedding reception so many years ago. I craned my head as I went by, and visualized my friends and family milling around, looking fancy, margaritas in hand. It was just the boost I needed at mile 12 to stay strong. Another half mile and I finally saw the 1:50 pace group.
I pushed up to them, passed them, just barely, at about 12.75, and kicked in the last few steps to the finish. 1:46:49
Oh, and here’s a race photo: