Austin half marathon race report: A sore throat, hills and a hot banana

Mmm. Nothing like waking up with a sore throat on race day, having to gargle salt water.

Running a half marathon is hard. And I’m sure putting the race on is even harder.

But is it so much to ask that a finisher doesn’t have to take a hot banana?

No, really. After the finish line, in the shoot, at the bananas and bagels table, I took a banana. I didn’t feel like eating, but figured that the potassium in a banana might do my tired body good.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll come back to the hot banana. (I know. It sounds sexual. It really isn’t.) Let’s go back to the beginning.

My college roommate Kristel and I decided to meet in Austin and run the race together. The H2B (that’s “husband-to-be” for those of you who missed it; the BF and I are gettin’ hitched) and I were already planning to make the trip, and we welcomed the fun company that is Kristel.

Fast forward a couple of days of exploring the city and trying to explain to our waiters why I was eating salmon while my compadres were elbow deep in ribs and barbecue sauce (I don’t like barbecue), and it was race day.

I woke up with a sore throat that morning. I tried to tell myself that it was only sore due to sleeping with my mouth open. It wasn’t. The H2B suggested I gargle with salt water.

Bleh.

But he made a compelling argument. And after dashing down to the hotel’s front desk at 5 a.m. and begging them to get me a salt shaker out of the cafe, I gargled that salt water. And, well, it did make me feel well enough to lie to myself that I felt fine. So that was good.

The H2B was kind enough to offer us a pre-dawn ride to the race. So off to the starting line we went — where we stayed for about 20 minutes at a time, because we were so well hydrated that we kept having to hit the port-a-potties. (Thanks Gatorade. I am willing to accept sponsorship, just so you know.)

We each drank a huge bottle of Gatorade the night before, and another when we woke up. Then it was water, water, water. I was worried that running in nearly 80-degree weather after a winter of training in the sub-freezing Chicago climate would be problematic if I didn’t properly hydrate.

During the race, I carried a Nathan bottle with me, and I have to say it’s one of the best decisions I could have made. I’ve never raced with it; it had previously only been a training tool. But it allowed me to be green at the water stops, and since I’m a middle-of-the-pack runner, I didn’t have to wait for the volunteers to fill cups. I was able to walk up to the big blue water doldrums and fill up my bottle, and promptly get back to the course.

The course

In a word, the course was hilly. Particularly for this Chicagoan. I insisted to my friend Kristel that we drive the course the day before. The first hill we went down, I proudly exclaimed, “Wow! I’m so glad we don’t have to run up this hill. It’s huge!”

Joke was on me, though. We inadvertently drove the course backwards. We in fact *did* have to run up that God-awful hill. It was near the end of Mile 11. I had to stop and take a picture before heading up the damn thing. I was in awe of its prowess. [Photos: See pictures from the race, before and after in the slideshow below.]

Ugh. I get mad at myself just thinking back. Ah well, what’s done is done. Let’s look back at the course mile-by-hilly-mile [Link: Course profile (PDF)]:

Miles 1-2: I spent the morning freaking out about the upcoming hills. Thankfully, the first part of the race was fairly flat/slightly downhill. It was easy, and it calmed my nerves. We were just getting warmed up, and Kristel and I had a nice time chatting while we eased into our pace. We were going conservatively at about 10:15/mile. This is the first time we have EVER run together. It was really nice.

Miles 3-6: The day’s big, long climb. I was glad to get it over with early in the run. Kristel and I parted ways once we started heading into our ascent. She hadn’t really trained for the run (but she runs all the time and has finished several half and full marathons), so she wanted to take it easy in case her body got angry with her. I, on the other hand, was itching to go. So we hugged, and that was the last time I saw her until after the finish. “Run like the wind,” she told me. I giggled. And then I probably sped up slightly to 10:05 a mile and kept it there for the duration of the hill. I had some really kick-ass music keeping me going. And I swear, this song, should have been on repeat the entire run. It motivated me like crazy. And I passed plenty of people on the way up.

Miles 6-8: All downhill. And I was feeling so good, I made a huge mistake. I ran faster than I run. Normally, when I’m feeling good, a 9:30/mile pace suits me best. Well, I had 8:00/mile splits on the way down. I passed plenty of people. But it just felt so good to let gravity do my work. I felt strong. It was awesome. I took Kristel’s advice too literally, I think.

Mile 9: Here runners entered the “Yellow Mile.” This year was the 20th anniversary of the Austin Marathon, and for the first time it partnered with Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong cancer-fighting organization. For most of Mile 9, the road was covered with inspiring phrases “penned” in yellow chalk and the road was lined with volunteers donning yellow shirts. It was amazing. And provided some distraction for what were quickly becoming my aching quads, hamstrings and feet.

Miles 10-11: I kind of zoned out for this portion. My feet started to ache, like they always do at this distance. My legs started to feel heavy. And I was clearly overheating (I was “cold” with goosebumps every once in a while, so I drank more water). The route was more consistently up and down during this time, so I just kept telling myself to keep going. I never walked a hill, but I sure did slow down a bit. We’re talking 11:30-11:45/mile. Ugh. It killed me to look at my Garmin and see that. But I trudged on. At Mile 11, the marathon and half split. I managed to smile to myself, thankful that I didn’t have to run 26.2. Those hills were just brutal. A bit later, after a brief pause before hitting the last major climb of the day, I conquered the hill, and kept on going.

Mile 12-13.1: The thought of the finish line was all that kept me going here. I was out of gas. I never stopped, but I was really looking forward to the finish line. I consistently consumed three or four Sports Beans every couple of miles, but my feet were aching and they wouldn’t let me forget that they were in pain. With about a half-mile to go, I ran up next to H2B’s neighbors, who were also running the half, unbeknownst to me. Small world. We briefly chatted, but I finally told them I couldn’t stop. I just had to get to the end.

Finish line: Coming toward the end, people lined the streets. Finally — finally! — these Texans figured out how to cheer for runners. I have to say, that while I was glad to see so many people lining the streets during the race, I was disappointed at their lack of actual cheering. Don’t get me wrong, there were a handful of people who cheered like it was their job, but for the most part, I felt like a zoo animal. At any rate, I managed to smile a bit before actually hitting the finish line. When I did get there, I fought back the tears. I was so happy to be done, to have been healthy (still!) enough to do it, and proud of the accomplishment.Woo hoo!

Opportunities for improvement

Right after the finish line, after running more than 13 miles, things came to a halting standstill. The race, website and expo were all well-organized — except for a few major issues:

1. The shoot narrowed after the finish line, which created quite a bottle neck. You’re running, running, running. And then bam! You’re standing. Muscles don’t like that. Ow.

2. The food table was in the shoot. Um, hello, let me out first! I can’t move. I don’t want to eat. I want to stretch.

3. There was no organized way to meet family or friends after the race. It took me nearly an hour to find my H2B and Kristel. With so many people in one small spot, using their smartphones to find their loved ones, texting was delayed and calls didn’t go through. It was frustrating and maddening. Since I didn’t feel well, I just sat on the curb for a while.

4. The gear check was after the shoot, but before the finisher’s T-shirts. I get why that might make sense logistically on paper. However, I didn’t check anything. I wanted to keep moving. Those lines prevented me from doing that. The gear check should have been elsewhere.

5. I heard second-hand that the “track-a-runner” app didn’t start tracking runners until they hit the Mile 10 sensor. And that after that, the tracking was spotty at best. So people never really knew where their runners were along the course.

6. Back to the banana: I knew I needed some real food, so I grabbed a banana. It felt warm in my hand, but I figured it was just me feeling how warm I was. And I didn’t have the ability to stop and “shop” for a different banana, because I was stuck in the sea of people that were trying to get out of the shoot. So when I finally peeled back the banana and took a bite, it wasn’t just warm — it was hot! Gross. I spit it out in the garbage as best I could. But I had to actually grab some of that hot mush out of my mouth and fling it to the ground. Then I had all that crap on my hand so I wiped it on the bottom of my shoe (didn’t wanna wipe that yuckiness on my pants and make people think I got sick). It was the most awful thing I have ever had the misfortune to taste. It was so bad, I didn’t even want to think about food for the next several hours. Bleh. How on Earth did that banana get so hot?!

My time

I was pretty disappointed with my time. My chip-time was 2:20. I was upset because I knew that I had done it to myself by going too hard too early.

But I got over it. (It took a few days, but I did when I realized that I ran 2:20 on Feb. 20. That’s 2:20 on 2/20. And you what? That’s pretty awesome.

The end

There’s something about finishing a half marathon that is USATF-certified. I know, I know. I ran the F*cking Freezing Frozen Lake Half Marathon on Jan. 29. But now that I’ve run an official half, I feel like a half marathoner.

Next up: Illinois Half Marathon on April 30.

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8 Comments

Filed under Austin Half Marathon, Illness, Races

8 responses to “Austin half marathon race report: A sore throat, hills and a hot banana

  1. “I realized that I ran 2:20 on Feb. 20. That’s 2:20 on 2/20. And you what? That’s pretty awesome.” <– HAHA COOL!! Way to turn it positive, I like that!
    I heard Austin was a tough course, great job getting through it WITH a sore throat!

  2. I’m sorry about the less than perfect parts of your first half marathon. Even if you went out too fast, that is still a great time for a very difficult first half-marathon. I’m glad it looks like you had fun in Texas. :)

    • Thanks Matt — yeah, we definitely made sure to mix in some fun. The good thing about this race as my first real half, is that I know I can run pretty much anything now. Well, except for a full marathon. I am just cursed where those are concerned. Hope all is well!

  3. Dianna

    Congratulations! It’s got to be a great feeling to finish a race that challenging.

  4. Kristel

    You feel like a half marathoner because you ARE one! I’m so glad we did this together – and even more amazed how much butt you’ve kicked in the last few months to get to here. You’re a little bit of an inspiration, ya know.

    Miss you! Looking forward to many more!