Yes, you did read that title correctly, the following race report is for a race that five days ago I had no knowledge of its existence! Last week I was in Austin, Texas for a conference with a friend from work. Along with plans to see the sights, soak in some warmth, and eat LOTS of good food, I was also incredibly excited to begin my first week of half marathon training for Fargo Half Marathon.
What better way to begin a training cycle than in a new location where for just a few days I could enjoy a reprieve from subzero temperatures and break out the shorts and short sleeves again?
And what better way to start training for a half marathon by running a half marathon I hadn’t trained for at all?
The first morning we were there, I hit up a popular trail along Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin. There were runners everywhere, and overall just a great vibe. I had plans the next few days for the remainder of my training runs, the last of which would be a six mile easy run on Sunday, my first “long” run of training.
Later on Thursday afternoon, I was doing some browsing online for different things to do in Austin while we were there, and saw something about road closures in downtown on Sunday morning… for the 3M Half Marathon. WHAT?? I thought. How did I not know about this? Typically the first thing I do when I plan a trip is to find out if any races are happening while I’m there. I must have dropped the ball, because this was new information.
I momentarily dismissed it, reminding myself that I haven’t run more than 6 miles at once since May and I had just started training. But as quickly as I dismissed it, I gave it a second thought. I told my friend in a joking tone “Hey, there’s a half marathon here on Sunday morning. Maybe I should do it, haha!” She replied with “OOOOH you totally should!” Less than one minute later, my debit card was in hand and I was typing in my registration for the race.
At this point all I knew about the race was that it was on Sunday morning and I would be done in time to get back to the hotel to shower before checkout. As I researched the race later, I found out that it’s a well-established, well-known race – AND it’s a downhill course. The starting line was about 10 miles from my hotel, so I made sure to schedule my ride with one of Austin’s ride hailing services ahead of time so there would be no headaches on race morning.
The race expo took place across the street from my conference, which was very convenient! For once, I was really grateful for the products being sold at the expo, because although I had brought plenty of running clothes, I didn’t plan for a race. I was able to purchase some nutrition and something to hold my phone and money. Success! The race shirts were cut nicely and the swag bag was stocked with 3M products. While most swag bags have coupons and maybe a granola bar, this one had Post-It Notes, super glue, command hooks, a sponge, and several other handy items. I’ve never been so excited for free Post-It Notes in my life!
Friday night, I started to develop a bit of a cough and congestion (thanks, airplane and hotel air), but it wasn’t terrible, more of an annoyance than anything. I bought myself some ‘Quil, both the Day and Night varieties to keep the symptoms at bay, and tried to stay well hydrated.
Saturday was the last day of my conference, and it ended mid-morning. My friend and I were able to walk over to the Texas State Capitol, which is just a mile from the hotel, and participate in the Women’s March. It was an incredible event with over 40,000 in attendance. It was also very warm and I spent a lot of time on my feet. Afterwards we had to get across downtown quickly to make it in time for a scheduled kayak tour we had already paid for. I kept telling myself that at least I wouldn’t be running the race on my arms, because those were going to be pretty tired on race day! I wasn’t setting myself up well for this half marathon by spending so much time running around, squeezing in activities, being in the hot sun, and generally eating terribly.
The great news is that none of those things really mattered to me! The moment I hit “submit” on my race registration, I told myself that this was going to be a zero expectation race. It wasn’t even going to be a race for me because of course I was in no shape to push myself in that way. My only goal was to have fun and see the city of Austin- nothing else! Since I had no performance goals, I didn’t stress about all of the little things I normally stress about. Sometimes, when pairing travel with racing, there can be a tendency to cut down on some of the fun because of wanting to preserve myself for the race. Not so this time around. I wasn’t going to dampen my Austin experience to accommodate the race!
My alarm sounded at 4:45am and I zombied my way down to the hotel lobby to get some coffee and slowly got dressed and ready to go. My ride was scheduled for 6am, so I made my way back downstairs to sip more coffee and wait for my ride. 6:00 and I don’t see any car outside the hotel…. 6:03… still nothing. I attempted to both text AND call the driver who was scheduled and no response. 6:10 and I was very nervous, standing outside in the hotel valet area.
Just then, I look to my right and a woman walks out wearing a race bib. I’m not normally so bold to ask for help, but I knew this might be my only option. She graciously offered to let me ride over to the race with her which was a HUGE relief! I got to chat with my new friend Kandy and was happy to have someone to hang out with until the race started. In the car I started to eat my Clif Bar, but it was not sitting well with me. It was a flavor I don’t usually eat, and I could only stomach eating half of it.
We got over to the starting line around 6:45, which gave us ample time for a porta-potty trip and getting situated before the 7:30 start. It was 59° with 20-mph winds that were forecast to get stronger as the day went on. For me, this was still really warm weather. I wore shorts and a short sleeves and felt comfortable. As I stood in the corral, I saw plenty of other people who didn’t agree with my assessment of the weather. I saw people in down vests, long pants, several layers of shirts, and winter hats. Texas, ha! I took a gel at the last minute when my stomach started growling. I knew that half a Clif Bar wasn’t going to cut it.
And then we were off! The first mile was directly into the wind, and I saw more than a couple of hats fly off of people’s heads. I’ve never felt so calm and happy to begin a race. I had not had any race day jitters all morning, which is new for me. Like I said, I had no plans other than to run easy and enjoy myself. I already knew I was going to need to do quite a bit of walking later in the race and was perfectly fine with that. Since my scheduled training run was six miles, I planned on not taking any walk breaks until after the first six miles, but after that I was free to do whatever I wanted or needed to do.
And that’s exactly what I did. Some of the miles we had a strong tail wind, some with a strong cross wind, and some straight into the wind. I could tell that the wind was really bothering other runners, but lucky for me, wind is almost constant where I live, so I’m no stranger to it. The course is downhill, most of which is gradual. There were a couple of uphills, and a couple of nice downhills, but otherwise the elevation change was gradual.
There were over 6500 runners, so even though I ran a slow pace and took walk breaks, it never felt like I was in the back of the pack. There was always a large crowd of runners surrounding me and for the most part, everyone seemed to be having fun. The sun was strong and the wind was fierce though, so I was glad that walk breaks were part of the plan.
I drank a lot at water stations and around mile eight just started to run by HR. I didn’t have my pace displayed on my watch, and only had my HR displayed. When my heart rate started to climb too high, I walked until it came back down and I did this for the remainder of the race. I didn’t want to injure myself just because I ran a race on a whim. My travel cold was still bothering me too, so I got to listen to my lungs whistle and wheeze for the last few miles.
I finished the race with a smile on my face. The time didn’t matter, but I did find it telling that my finish time was actually faster than the last two half marathons I had trained for and then completely fell apart on race day. I ran two epically disastrous half marathons in 2015 that shook my confidence big time.
Because I threw out all of the rules and expectations, I was free to just sit back and enjoy myself. I laughed at spectator signs, sang along to my music, gave a few high fives, and took in the sights of Austin. At no point did I feel terrible or disappointed or in pain. My body was actually holding up really well in spite of my not-so-wise decision to jump into this untrained. Walk breaks or not, it’s still 13.1 miles, and a little risky to do at the beginning of a training cycle. I think the risk payed off though.
Because it’s been so long since I’ve run a half, it was a good reminder to experience that distance again. It was a great way to put a positive half marathon experience back in my head, and let the let-downs of the past fade away. It was also a terrific benchmark for this training. I was able to do a race under the worst possible circumstances (illness, sun, wind, undertrained, tired from travel) and still have fun.
It will be fun to compare my improvement from the beginning of my training cycle to what will hopefully be a terrific race this May! I’m ready!
Have you ever run an impromptu race?