Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Five in a row, baby!

February 17, 2013...5 years to the day after my very first race (the Austin Half Marathon)....and my 5th consecutive full marathon in Austin. Bound to be an exciting day!

In the few weeks leading up to this race, I have to admit I wasn't all that excited about it. Going into the training season, my "A" race was going to be Bryan-College Station in December, and Austin was going to be "fun" (yes I used the word "fun" to describe running 26.2 miles). Although BCS didn't pan out like I wanted (read my report here), I still wasn't planning on going crazy in Austin. "Fun" still sounded like a good plan. I thought it might be possible to PR, however (under 4:26).

Race day weather was looking good, although it was going to be getting pretty warm after 11am. After BCS, however, I could handle "a little warm." I was happy that start temps were going to be in the 40s. I planned out my Team Luke's race gear and was getting nervous and excited. No matter how many marathons I run, my nerves are ridiculous. I know it's going to hurt and sometimes those thoughts outweigh the memory of how it feels to cross that finish line.

Race morning was awesome. A fun carpool to the race, hanging out with Round Rock Fit and Luke's Locker folks, peeing 3 times in the span of 15 minutes....yep...race morning!

I decided awhile ago I didn't want to run anymore marathons by myself, so I had friends with me.

Karen, me, Tony, and Kalynn
Karen was turning off to finish the half, while Tony, Kalynn, and I were running the full. Kalynn was coming off an injury but our pace was much slower than her normal pace and we hoped it would be perfect to keep her with us. And our first half pace was exactly aligned with Karen's plan...I love running with my friends!

By race morning our plan had evolved into running about a 4:15, or getting as close as possible to that. That would be a 9:45 average, something that on a good running day was very reasonable. It would be a PR for Tony and me and push Kalynn a bit more than her last 2 marathons (the girl was running her THIRD in 2 months!)...sounded good to us! We still planned to run the first half in about a 2:09, so it would require a negative split to hit that 4:15 but we've done it before and could do it again.

Just like most races, this one started off uneventful. Our first mile was a very conservative 10:50, exactly what we were aiming for. After the first couple miles we could settle in to a 10 min pace and then drop to under 10 minutes after 5 or 6. From miles 2-5 there is a slight incline as you cruise down Congress Avenue so you have to play those miles smart. As you run north again from miles 5-8 you have a nice downhill, but overdoing it there will kill your legs unless you've done a lot of downhill training. We definitely played it smart and kept just over a 10 minute overall pace through that first third of the race.

I got to see the family at Mile 9 on Cesar Chavez Blvd, just like always, and it is always a mental boost.

Heather, Yvi, Amber, and Daniella - the best cheerleaders!

But now it was time to pick it up. Only we didn't really have any pick up in us. Running much faster than that just felt "off." At least for me it did. Tony kept urging me to slow it down, so I think he was feeling it, too. Or he has some freaky sixth sense about how I feel.

This is also the part where I start getting pissed about all the hills. Texas is flat as a pancake because they put every damn hill in Austin, and the Conley Sports picks the hilliest race course possible.

Click on the pic to see it in all its evil glory

Okay, it's a great course. Really it is. Austin is beautiful and we get to see so much of it. But holy hell, the hills. After a particularly steep hill during mile 13 (thankfully it's short), I always feel a bit better. Once that one is out of the way, it's more of a slow incline over several miles before you get to the net downhill final 7 miles. At the top of that hill we saw the family again. Always a joy!

I totally love this pic...I'm happy!! 

Heather standing at the top of The Hill
We had become separated from Kalynn during these middle miles and hoped she would be catching up with us before long. I wanted to make sure she made it through this race happy and healthy. Karen had long ago taken the turn to finish the half (which she did in 2:10!!).

The next several miles is where the marathon distance can really test you. You know you're only halfway through and that can seem daunting. But you have to just keep plugging along. We hit the halfway point at 2:12, which isn't where we wanted to be, but still on target for a good marathon time, at least an Austin course PR for both of us (under 4:24) and an overall PR for me. If we could just hold steady and not let the wall get to us, we had it in the bag.

We sped up a bit through a few miles, dropping the pace to just under 10 minutes per mile overall. But when we got through 16 miles, Tony asked if we could slow it down just a bit until we hit Mile 19 and started the downhill. His hip was bugging him and things just felt sluggish. I was fine with that. A 10 minute pace still got us one of our goals.

We passed up the 4:25 pacers during Mile 17 and that was a really good feeling. One of them, James, was in our RRCA coaching class a couple of weeks ago (he called himself "Sexy") so we chatted for just a bit and then kept going at a faster pace than them. If we could stay ahead of them we were golden. We saw the support crew at Mile 19, got Tony some Advil (the conversation is on video, too..."Do you have Advil? He's hurting.") Ha! (Aw, poor Coach)

Why do I keep smiling??

Now we're in the home stretch...a net downhill, although there are a few uphills. Only 7 more miles, another hour or so of running. We just weren't feeling great, but not horrible, so we kept going. The miles were not clicking by quickly, however. We actually did walk for a little stretch after we saw the family at Mile 19, our first walk break of the race. I wanted to see some sub-10 minute miles, but I we just couldn't get our legs moving well again. Mile 20 came at 3 hours, 21 minutes, so still just over 10 minute overall pace. This may have been my best Mile 20 split in a marathon. A quick mental calculation told me we needed a 1:03 final 10K for an Austin PR for Tony, a final 1:05 exactly for a PR for me, and less than a 1:08 to beat last year's time and give me an Austin PR. Totally doable if we could just keep moving.

The wheels fell off at Mile 22.

At seemingly the same time, our bodies just wanted to STOP. We willed them to keep moving for 90% of every mile, but it was getting tough. At this point we saw 11 minute miles clicking by and slowly, our goals slipped away as well. Neither of us really cared, however. I kept remembering that we were almost done and barring something catastrophic we were still going to finish the race with a very respectable time. Perhaps it was the sun that was hurting us, perhaps it was the south winds that seemingly came out of nowhere, perhaps we just let our training slip off too much in those final weeks leading up to the race. This was most certainly the Wall....and it royally sucked.

As we ran through the Mile 23 sign I just about lost it. I became tearful as I said to Tony "Why does this hurt so bad?!?" He became even more frustrated with any incline we encountered, stopping to walk just a bit while I slowly jogged and waited for him to catch back up. We spent the final miles of the race doing this. Our worst mile came in a 11:38, which seems surprisingly good considering how bad we felt. The suckiest part I think was when the 4:25 pacers passed us up for good. Such a huge bummer.

At one point around Mile 24, I think I definitely was losing it and decided that I didn't want to hold my water bottle anymore, so I actually threw it away at a water stop. 2 miles to go and I tossed over $20 worth of running equipment into the trash. But I couldn't handle the thought of drinking anything else or holding anything, and it just seemed like the thing to do. The final marathon miles can certainly make you crazy.

With one mile to go we could see the San Jacinto Hill in the distance. We needed about a 10:30 mile to break last year's time and get me an Austin PR (4:29:01). Just a 10:30...surely we could do that, right? I started feeling a bit better and was letting the thought of there only being one more mile left carry my legs, but Tony was still hurting so badly and getting very discouraged about that final hill. I told him I had never walked that hill in the 6 years I've raced that course, and I wasn't about to walk it this time. Something tells me he didn't appreciate that. Haha.

One final little walk before tackling the big hill and seeing the family one last time before the finish.

You can see just how crazy windy it was by looking at the "600 meters to go" sign

There I am smiling again!

Heather and Daniella cheering us on

Funny enough, just like last year, I grabbed Tony's hand on this hill. Last year it was for moral support...this year I literally did drag him up that hill! Talk about role reversal for the second year in a row! I think I also chanted "4:29" a couple times to keep him moving.

Getting to the top of the hill is glorious. 200 meters to go and it's all downhill. Only a minute of running left.

We crossed the finish line at 4:29:40...39 seconds slower than last year. We just missed that Austin PR for me, but it makes no difference. Seeing a 4:29 instead of a 4:30 was a relief to me.

I danced around in a circle right after the finish. Such an incredible feeling! And let me tell you...finishing with a friend is infinitely better than crossing that finish line alone.

As we walked to get our medals, I found Bart Yasso...RUNNING LEGEND! I've been wanting to meet him for years and finally I could! I didn't let this opportunity pass me up and I introduced myself and got a picture with him.

I think this is one of my favorite pictures ever

After making our way through the finish area, we stopped to wait for Kalynn, who had never caught up to us. I checked her splits on my phone and saw that she was actually over 20 minutes behind us at the 20 mile mark, so she still had a ways to go in the race. I hoped she was okay.

A slow, painful walk the few blocks back to the Round Rock Fit tent felt like miles, but we finally made it and saw some friendly faces waiting for us. Greg and the kids had our beer ready and waiting. I think this is my favorite part of any race! Kalynn did end up finishing the marathon...the last half was just very difficult for her. But she finished her third in 10 weeks, qualifying for Marathons of Texas and Marathon Maniacs - incredible!


Round Rock Fit Director Kat Misiti...love her!


So now Marathon #8 is in the books. In the last 364 days I ran 4 marathons, with an average time of 4:30:50. I'm still chasing that elusive sub 4 hour marathon, but on the right race day I know I'll accomplish it. 

Oh, and you know why I felt so sluggish?  I AM SICK. I came down with a full blown cold right after the marathon. So there you have it!

It wasn't exactly a perfect marathon but I'm going to think about all the positives:

1. I finished my EIGHTH marathon. EIGHT!!!

2. Still finished around the top 40 percent of women. That's typical marathon placing for me.

3. I got cheered all along the course for being a member of Team Luke's. That was AWESOME.

4. I saw tons of friendly faces along the course...friends, Round Rock Fit members, and all those wonderful spectators cheering my name even if they didn't know me.

5. I was in Austin, the best city in the country!

6. So many of the guys I coach finished strong and happy and I'm so proud of them.

7. I had one of my best running friends with me the whole time and we didn't drag each other down, but rather kept each other going through the hard parts.

8. It wasn't 80 degrees at the finish like in College Station.

9. I didn't feel like an asthmatic during any part of this race.

10. Did I mention I've now done EIGHT MARATHONS???

Now onto the next one...