Race Day started like so many have before. An early (4:20 a.m.) alarm clock, a sleepy start to a shower that by the time the last few bubbles of shampoo are washed away a very awake runner now has a full case of race-day butterflies swarming about.
As I dried off and stepped on the scale to check my pre-race weight, the scaled ticked over to 136.5.
My PR weight for the half-marathon down to the last ½ pound.
I like to run the half about 2 lbs. lighter than a full marathon and I was spot on exact with my pre-race weight. Not that anything the scale told me would have changed my strategy very much out on the course, but I did notice a sense of calm come over me as I stepped off and started to get dressed in my race gear.
The weather this year was just about perfect for racing. 45 degrees, very little wind, and anything that was blowing was going to be coming from the WSW. A far cry from the 68 degrees at the start of last year’s race, with gusting North Winds blowing 18-22 mph and humidity over 85%.
As miserable as the conditions for the race were last year, they were equally perfect for the 2012 Livestrong Marathon and Half Marathon.
I opted for shorts, a light long-sleeved shirt, light gloves and a throw-away hat that I would drop to the street sometime over the first couple of miles.
I got a sleepy “good luck babe” from Dawn as I was sneaking out of the bedroom in the dark, loaded up the truck and made the drive downtown, pulling out of the driveway at 4:55 a.m.
Pre-Race: I drove down Loop 1 (Mopac) to the 5th street exit, headed East toward the capital, made a quick left up to 7th street, a right on Colorado and parked one block from gear check and the exit to the finish area. Perfect.
I was a little bit early, checked a few e-mails, read the paper online and at 6:00 I locked up, hit the porta-potties and made my way over to check my race bag. I had eaten my pre-race bagel chased with a grape Gatorade on the drive down, we were all set to walk over to the start area, shake loose a bit and get ready to rumble.
I took a few short easy strides on my toes to test out the legs. My legs felt the most well-rested they have in weeks. Taking an extra off-day this week really seemed to make me feel light on my feet.
It felt like it was going to be a good day. If only the course wasn’t so darn cruel I thought, I might really be able to lay down something special this morning …
The Start: I chatted with a few runners, gave some course advice to a couple of out of towners and at 6:40 a.m. made my last “pit-stop” before it was time to get in the starting corral.
I made my way up to the front of the 3 hour marathon pace group just behind the Elite Men who were in their own starting corral. The 3 hour guys would be heading out at 6:52 pace. We would be about :30 or so ahead of that target running only the half-marathon.
I decided to hang back just a bit further than I normally would as I wanted to be sure not to get sucked into starting too fast on the opening rolling downhill(s) that carry runners over the first two miles of the course.
I reminded myself to just run by feel and don’t start working until mile 8. That would be the first time we would start “racing”. Everything to that point would be a disciplined start. The Austin course sets up perfectly to be broken down into smaller, manageable “chunks”.
Miles 1&2 roll downhill with a few uphill climbs to keep runners honest. Race too hard here and you won’t have the strength that you will need late over the final 4 miles of the course.
Miles 3-6 are straight uphill with no breaks to the top of South Congress.
Miles 7-9 are back downhill and fast to Cesar Chavez. A couple rollers, but net down, down, down.
Miles 9-12 are where the race course starts to really take it to the runners. Uphill after uphill after uphill. You get brief downhill sections to reload and go from climb to climb. One of the toughest sections of a race course you will find anywhere.
Mile 12-Finish – A cruel 85 foot climb over ¼ of a mile starts the final mile. If you didn’t prepare for it, it can really take you down. If you are ready for it, it can serve as the “kick-start” to your final push. Once at the top, don’t back off effort and simply hold that effort and intensity to the finish line.
5 sections of course that require 5 different approaches. I thought that if I could run at least three of them perfectly, and hopefully four, I could have a big day.
Mile 1-2: After a few words from Lance Armstrong and a rousing live rendition of the National Anthem they counted down the clock and with a flash of fireworks above the starting line – we were off.
I settled in behind a couple of speedy runners and got ready to navigate the 90 degree right turn that occurs only 2 blocks into the race. For the second consecutive year I was able to take the turn relatively tight with no issues, we made another tight turn two blocks later and finally I had some open street to call my own.
I didn’t glance at my watch at any point over the opening mile, just waiting for the beep to come as we approached the left turn on to Guadalupe. As we reached the end of the first mile I glanced down – 6:14 pace. I was hoping to open with a mile between 6:15 and 6:20, which would put me on pace for an opening 5 Kilometers just under 20:00 minutes.
Just about a perfect start.
Mile 2 is another fast mile with a straight shot down Guadalupe with no turns, just a water stop to navigate on the left, and then a 90 degree left turn along Cesar Chavez over to S. Congress.
This mile went by in the blink of an eye as I took off my knit cap and tossed it to the side of the road at the beep for mile 2. 6:12 pace. A bit quick, but nothing too terribly foolish, thankfully the course was about to put the brakes on me no matter what. Time to climb.
Miles 3-6: As we started to head up S. Congress I made a point to pick a straight line in the road, marked for bicycles and just let it lead me to the top. I kept even effort, not any harder, not any easier and let the 56 feet of elevation do their job. Mile 3 came in at 6:22.
Our opening 5K of the race came in at 19:48. Just :12 seconds off of our goal time for that section to the good. Fast, but not too fast. The first test of the day was passed.
The first major hill hits the runners on the 4th mile, a climb of 107 feet to the top, think of an 11 story building, with no downhill breaks to reload. I felt very relaxed, shook out my arms and focused on keeping my shoulders and jaw loose. A tip I picked up from my runner friend Scott McIntyre.
Mile 4 came in at 6:41 pace. It would be my slowest mile of the day, and it was supposed to be. No panic, just keep climbing.
Mile 5 is still an incline (47 feet), but it feels like a break after the previous mile. I locked in to a runner ahead of me and decided to just keep him directly in front of me, I placed an imaginary string from his waist to mine and let him pull me to the top. Mile 5 came in at 6:31 pace.
Our 5 mile time was 32:22. I was hoping to crest mile 10 with a time of 1:04:30. We were essentially spot on pace.
Mile 6 features a final hill up the exit ramp on Ben White Boulevard up to the right turn onto South 1st Street. Another 50 feet of climbing, but whether it is the more gradual grade or the knowledge that the climbing is about to end for a few miles, it feels easier.
Mile 6 came in at 6:25 pace.
I had run the first gauntlet of hills in 6:41, 6:31, and 6:25.
Now it was time to get it back together and make it happen.
Miles 7-9: At the start of mile 7 I received a big smile and shout from our good friend Bea who was working the water stop. It made me immediately relax and appreciate all of the volunteers out working the course.
We were about to drop 134 feet in elevation, it was time to have a little fun, but I knew that I still needed to be cautious. If I simply bombed away here I would start to tax my quadricept muscles in my legs that I was going to need to climb the final 3+ miles of the race.
Just stay even and smooth I thought as I started to lean a bit into the hill, kept my hips and pelvis tucked underneath me so I wouldn’t “brake” down the hill and let my legs go to work.
All of the downhill repeats we have been running for Boston seemed to really help my form and my speed over this section of the course. As the hills fell away from us I put together the next three miles in:
6:11, 6:14, 6:19.
We made the left turn onto Cesar Chavez and I started to reload for the final section of the course. It was about to get difficult, but I guess that is actually the point in all of this.
Miles 9-12: Mile 9 is a microcosm of the Austin Course. The first half is downhill and fun to run as you drop 33 feet in the first half mile. You then start to climb and end up taking on 34 feet of uphill running to close out the mile. Mile 10 came in at 6:34 pace.
My race time at the 10 mile mark: 1:04:16.
We were :14 ahead of our race plan. I enjoyed a brief “attaboy” moment, but it was short-lived, things were about to tilt in the favor of the race course and I wondered if despite my best effort to that point to run smart – had I still gone out too fast?
Mile 11 starts out with a sharp incline, followed by some rollers – I could feel the course starting to fight my legs a bit, but with 5 kilometers remaining it was not time to start pushing just yet.
6:40 – Mile 11.
Mile 12 is very similar to the previous mile as it rolls up and down, only the hills are much steeper. 74 feet of climbing, 79 feet of descent. I took my final sip of water from the aid station and dug in.
6:25 mile 12.
We reached the end of mile 12 in 1:17:18 as we came across the timing mat. I tried to do the math quickly, but was having a hard time adding everything up. If we were able to tackle the final two hills on the course without giving away too much time, 1:25:00 was very possible, in fact, it looked like it was in fact pretty likely.
Just the matter of the 94 foot hill in front of us at the start of the final mile. It is hard to do the picture of what a hill like that looks like to a runner at the end of a race. You would swear that you would need some sort of grappling equipment and special shoes to scale it as you approach.
But as you reach the actual hill, it’s best to just put your head down a bit, pick out a spot 100 meters ahead of you and run to the spot. When you get there, pick out a new spot and run to it. Reach that one, pick out another and so on until you reach the top.
No sense in being scared of it or feeling sorry for yourself. It’s a hill. Get over it.
The Finish: I was running behind a local runner-friend of mine Rush Hemphill as we dug our toes into the hill. I pulled alongside Rush and we ran it together, up, up, up. With every 20 meters I tried to tick the legs a little harder, this was the point in the race when normally we would drop the hammer and run the hardest final mile possible.
Same drill this time, only you could not feel the normal acceleration, the hill was fighting every stride.
As we reached the top we exchanged a brief fist-bump. Both of our breathing too ragged to risk a joke or a comment. Time to drop the hammer.
We powered down the downhill payoff after the climb, made the right turn back onto San Jacinto and then took on the last hill of the day.
A final turn onto 11th, then a left onto Congress just south of the TX Capital and I emptied the tanks.
Final Mile 6:06.
I hit the timing mat with a time of 1:24:07 (official), wrapping things up with my fastest mile of the day by :05 seconds, despite the challenging hill(s).
We finished with the 69th fastest time in the race, 3rd place in our Age Group. Our second time that we have placed in our age group this year at one of Austin’s “Major” races. Pretty special.
This was the race that I was truly hoping to run. A smart, strategic race – while still leaving it all out there. I did not play it too conservative and leave minutes on the clock, nor did I run foolishly and blow up at the end of the day.
In a word, or at least two words, “near-perfect”.
My opening 5 Kilometers of the race were 19:48.
My final 5 Kilometers of the race were 19:51.
This was exactly the type of race I was hoping to run at least one time out of our three half-marathons leading up to Boston. The Texas Half in the stiff 20 mph wind back in January unfortunately did not allow for this type of performance.
Next month at the Shamrock Half in Virginia Beach, we may have another tough weather day or simply not “have it” that morning so late in the training cycle.
But on this day, we ran our race and posted a time just :12 seconds short of our half-marathon PR on a course that is at least 2-3 minutes “slower” than the 3M course where that PR was set, perhaps more.
Our time projects in the McMillian Running Calculator to 2:57:14 as our “marathon potential”. Boston of course is a difficult marathon, no doubt about it. Race conditions on Sunday in Austin were essentially “perfect”. Those are two variables that you cannot discount.
But all that said, I’m starting to really like our chances of breaking through that 3 hour barrier in April if we get the right weather. It’s a little early to start watching the weather, but never to early to start praying to the Gods in charge of such things.
All we need is a fighting chance on April 16th and we’ll let our racing take care of the rest.
Hey Dom, hope you enjoyed this one – Happy Birthday my brother.