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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Marathon #2: Livestrong Marathon, Austin, Texas

I have never been more excited to hear my alarm go off at 5:00am.

I'll take some time in the next week to detail the expo and what I did on Saturday, but for today's post, I think I'll focus entirely on the Austin Marathon and everything that goes with it.

For maybe the first time in my training, I was up with the first alarm, though I'm sure it helped to know that I also had alarms set for 5:02, 5:08 and 5:15, and I didn't want to keep hearing it go off, so I was out of bed on time at 5:01am.

Last night, I had set out all of my things in anticipation of this morning's craziness. I had the shorts, t-shirt, socks, shoes, hat, Spi-Belt, and my number (with safety pins) all laid out in the bathroom, ready to put on. I started getting dressed, and had a protein bar, to make sure that I had something in my stomach. I also had some water. I spent a good portion of yesterday hydrating and carbo-loading, so I felt confident in what was in me.

I double-checked all my gear, and attached my chip, which I still think is a really, really cool technology. Once dressed, I checked in on my online world, and then closed the computer. It was time to stop thinking of anything else. I put together a bag of post-race possible necessities, including extra clothing, band-aids and some food, and my wife (generously) agreed to bring it down to me. She would be coming down and brining the pup with her, so she could add a little weight to what she was bringing.

Then, it was out the door. My brother-in-law and a friend of his were running the half marathon today, so he offered me a ride, which I gratefully accepted. I climbed in, and we parked downtown.

We walked the last few blocks, and I split with the other two and headed straight to the start line. History has taught me that waiting too long to get up to the start results in being stuck well behind my desired pace group. I walked up right as they announced the opening of the starting gate, so I headed straight in.

Now it was a matter of where I lined up. My goal of qualifying for Boston led me to the 3:10 group. My goal for this marathon was actually to finish in 3:30, but I have learned something about myself during this training season - with enough motivation, I can surprise myself. At least, I felt, if I started with the faster group, then when my legs began to get tired, I could slow down and hopefully fall in with a slight slower pace group.

After a brief conversation with a man doing his umpteenth marathon, I began to sink into my own focus. I had my energy gels and turned my attention to the countdown clock. Thanks to my positioning, I wasn't too far back from the start line, and there was not too long of a difference for me between the start of the race and when I crossed the line.

Per the course recommendations that I'd read, I started on the left, being careful not to get pinched by the three early right turns. However, I figured out pretty quickly that the crowd wasn't thick enough to really risk that. After the first turn, I made my way to the inside.

I got in right behind the pace group and settled in. I knew that the wife and pup would be waiting at mile 2, so I got over to our agreed-upon side of the street and kept my eyes open. I saw her and hurried over to give a quick high-five. It helped that this moment was on a downhill, so I didn't lose any energy by ducking across the street. When I rejoined the group, I had passed the pace group. No worries, I thought. They'll catch up soon. I kept in my pace and moved ahead.

I felt great. Even up the unbelievable hill that starts the course, I felt strong and very in control. Of course, this was the adrenaline doing most of the work, but still I was thrilled to be feeling that well. The crowd support was fantastic, and I couldn't have been happier.

As Ben While loomed ahead, I knew today was going to be a good day. I was still well ahead of my desired pace, and the course was about to take a downhill turn. Using advice that the pace setters had given (lots of advice, today) I took it easy on the downhill. I didn't try to push my pace at all, choosing to  stride out and maintain, which probably picked me up some time. Crossing back over the bridge, I was still feeling good, and even played to the crowd a little bit. The adrenaline rush was unbelievable. And, I got to see the wife and the pup again. I was 1/3 done, and feeling good.

Then I got into the part of the course that I hadn't seen before, and things started to go wrong. I was still well ahead of my pace, but the hills started coming more frequently. While I'd been training on long, grueling uphills, I had not counted on lots of ups and downs repeated. Guess I didn't look at the elevation chart quite close enough. I wasn't quite out of breath yet, but as I turned toward the 13-mile mark, I hit the wind, and I hit the wall.

I'd developed a cramp, so I figured I might as well take an energy gel. The only bad thing it could have done was give me a cramp, and I already had that, so I figured it was worth the shot. It was about this time that the pacing group finally caught up with me, because I was right on their pace. At 13.1 mile, I was at 1:34.

For a while I had felt myself slowing down, and when the group passed me, I tried to keep up, but it wasn't happening. I slowed back to my pace and settled in again. About mile 15, I felt all the muscles in my legs start to weaken, and something else happened. I had to go to the bathroom.

I've been asked several times how one avoids this issue, and the only real chance is to go right before the race, and hope for the best. I did not have the best today. I ducked into one of the many porto-potties on the course (really well supported race, by the way) for no more than two minutes.

And when I started again, my legs were ANGRY. It took a few minutes to run the kinks out of my legs and get back into my pace. Thus began the unhappy part of my race. Basically, it consisted of pain, having to walk a few times, and some level of frustration. However, I did stop and take stock of my situation. I hurt, but I wasn't exhausted. I had ten more miles in me. I was sure of it. I wouldn't make a qualifying time, and I might not make 3:30, but as I have said, this race was about finishing and learning.

At mile 18, I had a major problem. (This part may not be for the faint of heart.) We saw a t-shirt the other day that said, "You're not a road runner if you still have all your toenails." Two of mine (one on each foot) have been black for a couple weeks. This is because of blood blisters that develop beneath the nail and appear to change the nail's color. A few feet shy of the 18 mile marker, I felt a surge of pain in my left foot, on my bad toe.

Having never felt this sensation before, I came to one conclusion: I had just lost a toenail.

It stung unbelievably, and I had to walk for a bit, but after a mini pep-talk to myself, and a water stop, I told myself that I had no other choice but to start running again. What was I going to do? Walk the last 8 miles? Absolutely not. So I started again.

Once I got over 20 miles, I knew that the end was approaching. There was only a 10K left. I could do a 10K. Time tended, by this point, to blur into itself. The next thing I really remember was mile 22, where I felt the nail on the other foot go. I let myself suffer for a block or two, and then I started running again.

The last four miles involved a fair amount of walking, I'm sorry to say, but they did contain a few great moments. First was the gentleman who, with roughly 3.5 miles to go, came up to me as I was walking, slowed, and said, "Let's go." I smiled and did. With about a mile left, I was walking again when a man on a bike smiled at me and yelled, "There's no walking! This race is in your head. There's no walking there!" Again, I smiled and started running. I did not walk again.

Up the final hill, with 800 yards to go, I came up on a man who did not look like he was going to finish. He was doing the leg wobble that we've all seen on hard-to-watch race videos. I waved for someone from the sidelines to come and I put my arms under him. We tried to get him to the sidewalk, but he turned to me and yelled, "Keep running!" The guy from the sidelines took him, and I finished the hill, which led into the final turn.

I started clapping, and I could not stop smiling. The clapping made my watch band break, and someone from the crowd ran out and grabbed it from the ground. I got it from him, thanked him, and turned back toward the finish. One last little moment of hilarity on this journey.

With a cheer from my wife, I made the final turn and sped into the finish. I raised my arms and crossed the line in victory.

From there, here are the CliffsNotes for the rest of the afternoon: I got my medal and my finisher shirt, though I actually liked the half marathon finisher shirt better. It's fine though, because the medal is awesome. I couldn't walk home, so my brother-in-law gave us a ride back. I had some food and, most importantly, I had a nice, long shower. Getting ready for the shower, I was slow to take off my socks, scared of what I was going to find. And here's the really good news: I still have all my toenails. Apparently the blisters beneath the nails just burst, but the nails are alive and well.

Well, I think this post is long enough at this point. I'll be taking about a week off running, though I'll do some biking and walking to help the muscles recover, so I'll give more information about the time around the race soon. For now, I sit happy to have finished, if not quite at my goal time. I have a lot to work for next time, and I am sure that there will be a next time.

Life is good. So is pasta. I'm going to eat some more.

Today's Race:
Livestrong Marathon
Austin, Texas
63-72 Degrees, Mostly Cloudy
3 Hours, 36 Minutes, 34 Seconds (unofficial time)


  1. Can't begin to tell you how proud we are. (sniff)

  2. good work man. thanks for sharing. your story inspires me to get off my bum and start running again.