Sunday marked race number two in the 2010 Austin Distance Challenge, the Run for the Water 10-Mile road race. The event which is now in its fourth year is organized by the Gazelle foundation who helps fund clean water sources for people in Burundi, Africa.
Additionally here in Austin, the Gazelle Foundation gives back to the local community by enabling children’s participation in local running events. The Foundation was founded by runners seeking to encourage the entire community to support victims of adversity and local youth through running-related programs.
According to the Gazelle Foundation, my registration fee made a significant difference. Each runner alone provided enough funding to ensure there would be fresh drinking water for one child in Burundi for their lifetime. This would be my first time running the Run for the Water course, which has a reputation for being a very difficult, hilly course with a lot of significant climbing beginning in the late stages of mile two, stretching all the way through mile seven.
After picking up my bib for the race, I thought it would be a good idea to drive the course so there were no surprises on race morning.
This “course preview” is something I started doing last year and has proven to be very valuable as I look to put together my race plan. It allows me to understand the terrain, what side of the road I will want to stay on approaching turns and generally calms my nerves.
This particular “course preview” was very beneficial from a tactical standpoint as I was able to see the hills first hand and “see” the challenges that were waiting for me on Sunday morning.
The analytical side of my brain downloaded the information and was very grateful for the data.
The emotional side of me however wished I had never made the drive. The hills were rolling, frequent and fierce. Between the 2.75 mile and 7 mile mark, there literally was not a flat spot on the course. The only truly “flat” part of the course came over mile 9, where I began to question just how much I may have left in my tank after all of the climbing.
I tried to psyche myself up, telling myself that the more than 200 hill repeats we had run over the past three months would show up huge for me on race day. The reality of course was that I had no idea how much those hill repeats would help me. I struggled trying to develop a sound pacing strategy as I just could not anticipate just how difficult the various stages of the race would prove to be.As I lay awake on Saturday night, I kept playing the scenes from my drive-by over and over in my mind. The course was beautiful, of that there was no question – traveling through Tarrytown and along Lake Austin. Climbing and falling up and down streets canopied with large oaks and beautiful views.
But the hills.
Man, were there ever some hills.
I woke up 3 hours before the starter’s gun at 4:00 a.m. as I have been doing on race mornings this year. Breakfast of a bagel and peanut butter, a banana, a water and Gatorade had me feeling fully hydrated and full enough for the 10-mile race course.
I left the house at 5:30 a.m. – pulling into the parking lot outside of Run Tex Riverside one hour before the start. Being a 7:00 a.m. race, the sun was still a long way from rising. I walked up to the starting line and greeted a few of the race volunteers.
I had kicked around the idea of running “topless” once again as the temperature was supposed to climb near 58 prior to the start – but in the early morning darkness and with the wind kicking up off of Town Lake, I settled on running with just a singlet and shorts.
I dropped my sweatshirt back at the truck and ran a quick warm-up of about ½ of a mile to get the legs moving and get ready to roll. Still not 100% sure of my pace strategy, I decided I would fall into a comfortably hard pace that I believed I could “sustain” for 10 miles and would adjust if I needed to as I hit the first climb at mile 3.
Go out too fast and I risked dying on the hills up in Tarrytown. Go out too slow and I would not be able to make up the time on tired legs heading back along Cesar Chavez over miles 8-10.
After a rousing Star Spangled Banner followed by children singing a tribal song from Africa it was time to get the race underway.
7:00 a.m., sun still down, fingers a bit chilled – but all in all I felt really strong. I felt like I was tapping into my nervous energy over the course in a positive way. I looked around the starting corral for my friend Andy – who I knew would be pacing 2 minutes +/- ahead of me, but I could not find him. Just like that we toed the line and we were traveling down the South 1st Street Bridge into downtown Austin.
Miles 1-2: The first mile ticked by in the blink of an eye. It was too dark to really catch my time on my GPS watch, so I just went with it. I felt like I was going out a bit fast, but my legs seemed to like the pace.
At the beep I saw the first mile come in at 6:12. Perhaps a bit too quick, but as my legs turned free and easy I just relaxed a bit and settled in. About that time I saw Andy pass me on my right. We said a quick good morning, I asked him how he felt and with a smile and a nod of his head I knew he was “feeling it”.
I let Andy go ahead of me and settled in over mile 2. There was a little bit of climbing at the end of the second mile and at the beep my GPS showed a split of 6:31. All good I thought, let’s see just how tough these hills really are.
Miles 3-7: As the runners ahead of me made the right turn up onto Exposition I knew that it was time to go up. I was running somewhere within the first 40-50 runners out of 1,200. As we hit the first 100 Meters of Exposition I saw runners “coming back to me”. I put my head down, kept my legs churning and maybe even dug in just a touch harder. Still free and easy I passed the first runner, then another, then a third, mile 3 clicked by and I decided that I would not glance down at my watch.
I was running 100% by feel, and knew I was well ahead of my goal pace of 1:07:00. No need to change anything, just keep pushing I told myself.
Mile 4 came and went quickly with a few rolling hills. Still feeling strong I reeled in another pair of runners and settled into a stretch of the course where I was running mostly by myself.
I grabbed a cup of water at the Mile 5 water stop and looked at the race clock. 31:58 was my 1st half split. Sub 1:04:00 pace? Really?
I knew that miles 6 and 7 were the steepest hills on the course – I was starting to feel the sun on my face and sweat was starting to run down from the top of my head and from my shoulders. I was working now, but my pace was holding.
As we came around the bend heading up along Scenic Road I could still see Andy up ahead in his green technical shirt. He was about a minute ahead of me, still looking strong. I passed a runner at the bottom of the last large hill on mile 7 before we would finally get a chance to race on flat terrain and I encouraged him to keep pushing.
I was able to pass three more runners before we reached Chuy’s Hula Hut – one of my favorite places in Austin for Fish Tacos and could finally see smooth road lying out ahead of me. I glanced down at my GPS and it looked like we were still on track for a sub 1:04:00 time if I had enough left to finish over the final two miles.
A smile crept on to my face at this point as I felt like I can do just about anything for two miles.
Mile 9 turned out to be my fastest mile of the day coming in at 6:08 pace. I saw the number pop up on my screen with just one mile to go. We were about to climb again back up to the 1st Street Bridge and my legs were starting to bark at me for the first time all morning.
Fatigue was setting in and I tried to increase my effort. I knew I was slowing down due to the incline – there wasn’t much I could do about that, but I kept digging and wanted to leave a little in the tank for the closing kick on the bridge.
I made the right turn and could see the finishing chute less than 2/10 of a mile away. As I approached the chute I could see the race clock ticking 1:03:38, 1:03:39, 1:03:40.
I hit the line at 1:03:47 – 6:23 pace over the 10-miles – up and over some of the steepest climbs in downtown Austin.
My time was good for 6th place in my age group, 34th place overall.
First 5 miles: 31:58.
Second 5 miles: 31:48.
A PR was in the bag on Sunday being my first race at that distance, but I have to say that this race was a huge confidence booster for my fitness level at this point as well as my training plan. Those Thursday Hill Repeats have paid off huge. I am entering into the next 4 months of marathon training with a great base and a lot of confidence.
Keeping my eye on the real prize of the Distance Challenge is still very easy for me. Run our best-ever marathon on February 20, 2011 and earn a return trip to once again carry Dom’s name on our shoes from Hopkinton to Boston at the 2012 Boston Marathon.
With two more half-marathons in December and January, and another 16 weeks of training leading up to February 20th, I really feel like we are in a position to run our race at the Austin Marathon in February.
But 1:03:47? Even I didn’t think that was possible when I woke up on Sunday morning.
Maybe it is time to start believing that we have a little bit more inside of us than we thought.