Thanksgiving morning marked the 22nd running of the Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot. A five-mile race over some of Austin’s hilliest terrain downtown benefiting Caritas of Austin a wonderful non-profit organization that has been serving Austin’s homeless, refugee and working poor populations since 1964.
Caritas envisions a community where there is respect for all individuals, hope for those experiencing poverty and opportunities for self-reliance. The organization provides a service continuum for those experiencing poverty that begins with a safety net and links them to resources to achieve self-sufficiency.
This year alone Caritas will serve over 85,000 meals in their Community Kitchen, distribute enough take-home groceries for 43,000 meals for hungry families, provide access to 800 classes on topics like money management and smart shopping to 550 clients, provide refugee orientation classes to 435 documented refugees and help 440 individuals find jobs.
On a day like Thanksgiving, where we all need to pause for a beat to count our blessings, the Thundercloud Race serves a great cause and this year included more than 21,000 runners making it once again the largest 5-mile race in the state of Texas. Last year more than a quarter of a million dollars was raised through the race for Caritas, this year that record was broken once again.
From a racing perspective, I frankly was a little worried about this one. After two tough 70-mile+ training weeks with more than 50 of those miles at marathon goal pace or better, my legs were about as worn out as I can remember them during marathon training. The course is notoriously hilly and difficult and to make things even more interesting, mother nature decided to have a little fun with us and push race temperatures at 9:30 a.m. up to 70 degrees on Thanksgiving day. Throw in 90% humidity and it was an odd morning for a late fall race as we had been experiencing morning temperatures in the low 40’s for more than a week. Oh well I thought as I pinned my race bib to my shorts and laid out my lightweight Brooks Singlet. If this was easy, everyone would do it.
Pre Race: With a later start time (9:30 a.m.) it was a pretty low-pressure morning. I woke around 6:30 a.m. to a late alarm clock. Hopped in the shower to loosen up the muscles, had a bagel and Clif Bar chased with gatorade and was ready to make my way downtown to find parking. The trip was uneventful and I was able to secure one of the final two parking spots in the Hooters parking lot across from Run Tex about 1/4 mile from the finishing chute. Perfect.
I kept my sweats on and walked over to the finish line along Auditorium Shores. The starting line would be on the Congress Avenue Bridge just up the hill and around the corner. Whenever I can I like to walk the closing sections of a course before my warm-up so I can visualize the final 400 meters and pick out the spot where I am going to start my kick.
I ran into a runner friend of mine and we decided to run our warm-up together. We walked back to our cars, dropped our clothes and I switched into my race flats. We started our warm up on the Congress Avenue Bridge and ran the first mile of the course up Lavaca. Covering the opening hill that would pull runners up close to 100 feet in the first mile. We spun around at the top and jogged back down to the start area about 20 minutes before the gun.
I hit the porta-potty for the final time and made my way up to the front of the starting area. With 10 minutes before the gun I crossed the start line once again, ran a quick 400 to shakeout the legs and tucked back in ready to go. The corral was starting to get pretty crowded and I began to look around for some of my “peers”. I spotted Scott McIntyre and Andy Bitner, two runners who on my best day I can hang with, but as beaten up as I was heading into the race, I thought they would be perfect rabbits to take me through the opening mile, then I would settle in to whatever pace my legs would allow me to hold for the remaining 4 miles of the course and run through to the finish.
I was hoping for 6:05’s, but I thought that given the factors leading up to the race and the weather, that might be a bit too ambitious. I would start there however and see if we could hang on. 30:30 would be our target. After a live rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, the announcer counted us down and at exactly 9:30 a.m. – We were off.
The Start: As we shot across the mat the tightly packed crowd made things a bit dicey as we made the slight right turn to Lavaca and the left to head up the hill. I stayed close on Scott’s heals and let him “make a hole” in the crowd ahead of us. As is often the case in a large, shorter distance race, many runners place themselves up front so they do not get stuck in the back, but they are not capable of running the pace of the runners around them.
It makes it very difficult to navigate and I ended up doing some jostling in the openint 800 meters before thing started to spread out a bit. Zig-zagging does very little aside from burning energy and not allowing your legs to fall into rhythm, so I try to avoid that as much as possible. We ticked through the first half-mile in 3:04, which was a bit on the fast side as I was hoping for an opening uphill mile around 6:12-6:15, but the pace felt “right” during the climb, so we stayed with it to the top.
Just before 15th street we hit the opening mile in 6:07. I decided that over the next mile and a half of rollers I would back off pace just a bit or our race was going to be over before it ever got started.
The Climbs: The opening hill gets a lot of publicity, but it is really the next section of the course that is punishing. A sharp climb, followed by a roller-coaster downhill that beats on your quadricept muscles. At the bottom of that downhill screamer is a long half-mile climb back to the top of the course. It is a section of the course where running “even” is very difficult and as I started to back off slightly I saw Andy and Scott pull away from me by :10 per mile or so.
On another day under different circumstances I would have gone with them, but as I feared, my legs just lacked the usual “snap” to them that would allow me to lengthen my stride out and click my turnover faster. I was locking in around 6:10 effort instead of 6:05 and that was all we had on this day.
Mile 2 came in at 6:18, followed by mile 3 at 6:12. The terrain making the difference in our splits as we rolled up, down and back up over the hill sections.
Finally at the start of mile 4 we gained a little of our momentum back and started to pass a few runners in front of us. Turning south along the frontage road of Mopac (Loop 1) we enjoyed a nice downhill stretch before turning left on Cesar Chavez and making our way back toward the Congress Avenue Bridge. Unfortunately the wind would be in our face during this section, so the benefit of the downhill terrain was tempered just a bit by the headwind.
Mile 4 would be our fastest of the day in 6:04. Now it was time for the final climb back up to the bridge, across the river and down into the finishing area.
The Finish: My friend Ingrid – who is a tremendous Austin runner and will be racing with us at next month’s Lights of Love 5K benefitting the Ronald McDonald House had said she would be along Cesar Chavez and on the lookout for us as we finished the race. Sure enough as we started the climb she was on the right hand side of the course and gave me a great shoutout – “Go Joe!” – which no matter how tired you are at the end of a race brings a smile to your lips.
I hit the turn on the bridge and gave a quick wave to the large crowd of 1-mile runners who were tucked into the starting corral for their race which would start at 10:00 sharp. As I made my way down the bridge I heard the announcer count them down 3, 2, 1 – Horn! That meant I was now at 30:00 on the race clock and had more than 1/10 of a mile to go. I was not going to make my goal-time of 30:30, but I had known that for quite some time now.
I made the last turn and two runners who had been alongside me on Cesar Chavez had been dropped on the bridge. I was all alone as I saw Scott up ahead and the Andy hit the finish line. 400 meters to go and we gave what we had to the finish. The final mile came in 6:08.
Post Race: Initially I was a bit disappointed with my time as I felt like 30:30 was a reasonable goal, but as I met up with Scott and Andy and talked about their feelings about the course and conditions, I started to feel a little bit better about things.
The bottom line was I started with an opening 6:07 and closed with a 6:08. no drop-off and my endurance is clearly as strong as it ever has been at this point of a training cycle. While “speed” is helpful in the marathon, endurance rules the day. I needed to “get over it” and just move on with my training. We will have another test on December 7th to see what kind of shape our “speed” is in. But all things considered – not a bad effort.
Dawn and Landry showed up in the finishing area and we were able to spend a little time post-race hanging out, eating bagels and cookies, and getting Landry a “kitty-cat” painted on her cheek.
As results were posted our performance became a bit more clear as we took 2nd place in our Age Group, 65th overall, which was good enough for a Turkey Trot trophy and $20 worth of gift certificates to Thundercloud Subs. With a Thundercloud across the street from our new office location starting on December 10th, those should come in handy for sure.
So, with 7 weeks left of training for Houston – we are basically right where we need to be. It is all about peaking on January 13th, not on November 22nd for a local 5-miler. We ran strong, hung in tough on tired legs and finished the race off healthy and happy.
There are far worse things in life than missing a goal by :20. At the end of the day, we have a whole lot to be thankful for. I even had a special helper in the kitchen this year to help me carve the turkey. Kitty Cat on the cheek and all.
I hope your Thanksgiving was a great one!