Dawn, Landry and I made the drive up to our friends house in Frisco, TX on Friday evening. For those of you out there who have had the pleasure of traveling Interstate Highway 35 (that is what the IH stands for if you were ever curious), I’m sure you can imagine the relaxing trip up from Austin to the Dallas area.
We stopped for dinner in Waxahatchie, TX at a Chili’s where amazingly, I was able to get a dish of plain pasta with shrimp and bread – not a perfect pre-race dinner, but definitely passable. I broke one of my pre-race rules and indulged in one short Bud-Light Draft as a 2 1/2 hours on I-35 will do that to a guy.
We wrapped up dinner around 6:15 and made the drive in to Frisco arriving at David, Julie, Austin and Casey’s house right around 7:45 p.m.
I would have a 40 minute drive back down South to White Rock Lake in the morning, so after a couple of hours of catching up on things and getting Landry settled in, it was time to try to get a few hours of sack time.
Race Morning: I woke at 4:50 a.m. to give myself enough time to wake up, have a light breakfast of a bagel and a banana and get my hydrating done prior to leaving for the race at 5:45 a.m.
I like to stop drinking two hours before the starting gun of a half-marathon or marathon so I can make my final porta-pottie stop just before the race and avoid any pit-stops along the way. Any water or gatorade I take in along the course can just be processed and passed as sweat. Missing a time goal is one thing, but missing it due to a quick stop at a porta-pottie is something I am hoping to avoid at least until I’m racing in the M70-74 Age Group.
I pulled into the parking area at Winfrey Point and chatted with a few runners before heading up to the house to pick-up my packet. Being an “out of towner” this was my first race morning packet pick-up, but the volunteers were very well organized and I was in line less than 5 minutes.
As much as I hoped the weather forecast was going to be wrong, of course on this day the Meterologists had it spot on. Temperature of 38, North Winds at 20 mph, wind chill 29.
The temperature was perfect for racing, but with the wind it was anything but.
I knew that I would be cold heading north into the wind over miles 3-9, but hot on the return trip headed south at the end of the race if I ran in tights and a long sleeve shirt.
As much as I wanted to rock the shorts as a few brave souls were doing, I opted for the full ninja attire. If anything maybe the tight clothing would help me cut the wind a bit.
Thoughts of a PR (1:23:55) were gone for Saturday. I decided that I would run by feel, give “uncomfortable effort” and whatever the clock said would have to be good enough. It seemed like a 2+ minute wind or so, :20 seconds a mile, so a time in the 1:25:30 range would be a pretty solid effort.
Sub 1:26:00 became my race goal for the day. If I’ve learned anything over the past few years it’s that the weather on race day is as big a factor as your fitness is. You can’t cheat it, you can only hope to manage it.
Pre-Race: I got back to the car, pinned my bib to my Brooks shorts and threw them on over my tights. An Underarmour Head band, two pairs of my lighter gloves that I could peel off and tuck into my waistband.
I left the rest of my gear in the car and took a light jog up to the starting area.
As per my usual routine I hit the porta-pottie for the final time and went for a light 1-mile warm up. The start/finish area of the Texas Half sits atop Winfrey Point. The start is straight down a 2/10 of a mile hill, which of course means the end of the race will require runners to power up the same incline.
I wanted to run that stretch of the course one time so that I would know what I had to leave in the tank for the end of the race.
After my quick warm-up I ducked into the chute and crept up to the front of the crowd. I expected to run in the top 10-15 runners based on previous results at this event. The path was relatively narrow around the lake area, and the course would not be “closed”, meaning weekend exercisers (walkers, joggers, cyclists, dog walkers etc.) would be sharing the route with us. I wanted to be sure to “get out clean” even if it meant a slightly faster first mile.
The Start: No star-spangled banner which was a little surprising, just a countdown from the local race announcer from 10 and at the sound of the horn we were off.
Almost immediately as I stretched out over the opening 1/4 mile I felt strong. All that time in the car over the previous half-day did not seem to have me tight or sore. My pace was quick and my cadence felt free and easy. It was going to be a good day – if only we didn’t have to fight that wind I thought.
The opening two miles with a slight tail wind came quickly with splits of 6:06 and 6:09. Too fast based on my race plan, but with the wind gusting I knew that the time on my wrist was not going to be an accurate reflection of effort and energy. I felt like it would be smart to post a couple of quick miles out of the chute with the wind in our favor – hopefully offsetting some of the slower miles that were sure to come when we turned to the North.
I decided to only glance at my watch on the beeps at the end of each mile, and try not to fixate too much on any one split. Just stay even effort up through the 10th mile, then try to push to the finish.
The Wind: As we made our first turn to the West at the bottom of the course I felt the wind for the first time blowing into me from the side. I was running in 12th position as best I could tell and there were no runners within 400 meters of me to the front or to the rear.
I was alone. I was also knew I was pretty screwed when we would turn due North.
As we approached the curve of the course to the right we needed to navigate a “S” Turn switch back and then we popped out after coming up a slight hill to the pumping station. It was that left turn, back onto the spillway right at mile 4 where I felt the full brunt of the wind in my face.
It would be blowing directly at the runners until we reached the Dam near Mockingbird at the 8.5 mile mark. I tried to tangent the curves around the lake path as best I could and just lock in on effort. I started ticking off miles in the 6:33 range one after another, realizing that my estimate of :15-:20 seconds per mile that the wind was costing us was pretty spot on.
6:20 effort was producing 6:35 miles.
It was hard not to become discouraged over those middle miles. I knew that all I could do was keep steady, keep fighting and eventually we would turn south and get out of this darn wind.
Miles 3-9 came in at: 6:31, 6:30, 6:33, 6:33, 6:31, 6:33 and 6:27.
Track position hardly changed a bit over this stretch of miles that took approximately 57 1/2 minutes to cover. Almost an hour battling a head wind and I had neither gained on the runners ahead of me nor did I hear any footsteps from behind. I had picked out a runner approximately :20 seconds ahead of me in a white shirt with long blond hair flowing behind him.
I tried to imagine a string running from his waist to my hips. I would allow the string to stretch a bit, but never break. I wanted to keep him right where he was which told me that if he was holding steady, I too was not falling off. I also wanted one last runner to chase over the final mile to bring the race home.
Heading South: Finally we made a turn to the south and immediately I could feel the temperature rise without the gusting wind in my face.
I had removed my gloves and headband at mile 8 to cool myself off a bit. they were now tucked into the rear of my pants and I had no other clothing to shed. I was going to be warm now until mile 12 when we hit the cone turnaround and headed directly back into the wind again for the final mile.
Mile 11 came in at 6:21, followed by a 6:27 12th mile. As much as I wanted to push the pace back down to the 6:15 range, I just didn’t have the juice to do so after expending so much energy running into the headwind. My legs still felt strong, but they lacked the “snap” that I needed to tick them over a bit faster.
As we approached the cone turnaround I had bitten into the lead that the runner ahead of me had. I pulled even with him as the wind began to gust again from the North and I told him he was still looking strong. At that point of the race I honestly was just looking for some kind of distraction to carry me to the 12.5 mile mark when it would be time to make the final push.
We chatted for a few moments and then I edged ahead of him. There was a runner ahead of us that we pulled alongside of and we dropped him behind us. I had lost count of the runners ahead of us, but I believed I was running somewhere around 11th or 12th. I wanted to hold off the two runners I had just passed over the closing stretch and finish out the race as strong as I could.
We made a right turn followed by a long sweep to the left with 2/10 of a mile to go facing a climb of those last 40 feet. I kicked into the last gear that I had and could hear the footsteps behind me dropping away. As I hit the mat the announcer said, “From Austin, TX Joe Marruchella with a time of 1:25:35 ….”
I slowed to a trot and The Texas Half was now in my rear view mirror.
Post Race: To be honest I had a hard time judging my performance as I made my way through the finishing chute. The time on the clock was a bit disappointing. I thought for sure that I was in sub 1:25:00 shape on Saturday and gave myself an even money shot of running sub 1:24:00 approaching my PR set at last year’s 3M Half-Marathon in Austin.
Certainly I felt like I had given the race my best shot and I never backed down despite less than ideal conditions. That was a definite win.
But there was a part of me that was disappointed that for yet another time when I felt poised to really run a tremendous race, the weather threw me a curveball that would limit my potential at a “strong time”.
I did however run my 2nd fastest half-marathon, taking a full minute off of my time from last October’s Denver Rock N’ Roll Half. Perhaps that PR is still out there at this year’s Austin Half Marathon in February or at the Shamrock Half in Virginia Beach in March.
Awards Ceremony: I made my way down to the car, changed my hat and gloves and slid into my sweats to warm up a bit. I decided to head back up to the house for the awards ceremony as perhaps our time was good enough for an age group award.
The spread at the house was tremendous. Breakfast Tacos, Bagels, Bananas, Gatorade and Cold Beer. On any other day I think I would have taken advantage of the Beer table, but all I really wanted was a hot cup of coffee and a chance to warm up.
As they announced the winners my time of 1:25:35 was good for 10th place overall, 1st place in the Men’s 40-44 Age Group.
The 10th anniversary of The Texas Half put on by Mellew Productions is definitely an “A” event. The planning, organization, course mangement, volunteers, porta-potties, infrastructure and even the race course itself was tremendous. The weather is a variable that any race director would love to control, but simply cannot.
So we move on from the race and back into our preparations for Boston. Two weeks of training lie ahead with 21 mile long runs on each Sunday before we reload and take on The Austin Half Marathon on February 19th. The good news is that I exited the first of three half-marathons 100% healthy and in good spirits.
Time to go back to work.