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Monday, February 22, 2010

Austin Marathon Recap

Note: Sorry about the delay in getting this posted. I wrote this over a week ago, but in the meantime I've been getting over that strep infection (yay amoxicillin!), getting ready for the three exams I had last week, and trying to get over the sinus infection I have now (yay levaquin!). - ASK


Austin Marathon 2/14/2010

I'm writing this aboard my express flight from Austin to Charlotte, and will do some copypasta to get it on the blog later. :)

The race was supposed to start at 7:00 a.m. The wheelchair and handbike participants were scheduled to start at 6:55 a.m., and I think they pretty much took off on their own after the National Anthem without being prompted. Speaking of the National Anthem, I wasn't paying attention to who was singing it, but they sounded an awful lot like Randy Travis. Maybe it was Randy Travis? I have no idea. I did take my hat off though, so kudos to me. They also made an announcement that Texas Gov. Rick Perry was going to be running, but I didn't hear if he was running the half or the marathon.

The hotel I chose to stay in is situated about half a mile from the starting line so I had a short walk when I woke up to head over there. It was about 0.7 mi from the finish line, so that wasn't a huge deal breaker either after having run 26.2 miles to get back to the hotel.

Sidebar: this was the fourth marathon I've run, and every time prior to this I set a new personal record (PR). I don't think of it as a badge of honor though, if anything I'm like that Russian pole vaulter who kept moving up the world record 1/8th of an inch at a time. What I am trying to say is that perhaps I have set the bar low for myself, and I know I'm capable of running much faster.

Okay, and we're back. I did not set a PR today. For the past several weeks I have been battling a strep infection and a general malaise, i.e. not sleeping well due to the strep, because of the coughing from the irritated throat. It seemed like leaning forward or laying flat exacerbated the symptoms, namely a chest-rattling cough. In the past, I rarely got sick, so I don't know what's up with me the last few weeks. I'm good about washing my hands, and not touching my eyes, nose, or mouth with my hands.

When I woke up, I was not feeling that well, and like I said I had resigned myself to the fact that I would just see how the race went, how I felt, and take it from there. I didn't want to get my first did-not-finish (DNF), which I think can be the SMART thing to do if it's needed, because you know your body better than anyone else. They actually made an announcement before the National Anthem in the morning that if you had diarrhea or were vomiting in the past 24 hours, do not run the race. Regardless of how I felt, I still headed to the starting line and ran the race, and decided it wasn't going to be a day to push myself, so I took it easy on the course even though I had been training smarter and faster than I had in the past. I wasn't disappointed in not setting a PR considering I didn't push myself and wasn't trying to, and in fact, I finished 7 minutes shy of my PR, despite "not pushing myself."

If anything, this tells me I am capable of so much more. There's another thing about this Austin course: boy, is it HILLY. I read race reviews on the marathon calendar site here: US Marathons Races Directory and Schedule, and several of them mention the hill factor. I love running hills but I did not work in a lot of hill training leading up to Austin. I didn't even look at the elevation chart until I was sitting in my hotel room. This is yet another example of my preference for wearing Bad Idea Jeans­™. I mentioned the hilliness in a FB status update, where I said, "if Samuel L. Jackson had run this race, by mile 11 or 12 he would have said, 'Enough! Enough! I've had it with these MF'ing hills on this MF'ing marathon course!'"

It was that bad. There were hills around every corner. It was so hilly that when we got to the flat sections of the course, you thought you were going downhill because it was easier and you had forgotten what flat looked like since it had been so long. The finish was nice, it was another short hill to the Texas State Capitol, where you looped around it and then headed downhill on Congress Ave. for the final 0.2 miles.

I ran in my old Asics, which not surprisingly have a ton of miles on them. The newer model I tried in the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) gave me a sweet blister I had mentioned in an earlier blog entry, anterior and medial to the ball of my foot, so I went to the older ones even though they are worn down. Not surprisingly, my feet are a little sore, but I think the good thing about running in older shoes is that you can be confident in the fit and that they'll work well for you. After I started getting a little plantar fasciitis (PF) in my right foot, back when I switched to the newer shoe, I went back to the old one and it pretty much resolved itself. The soreness/tightness went away shortly after I started using the old shoes again. I think that when the midsole breaks down, you rely more on your foot to stabilize itself instead of relying on the cushioning, which possibly makes your foot weaker. I read something about it in Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, so I decided to try out the older shoes and it did help clear up the PF.

Here are a few notes about the Austin Marathon, and keep in mind the only other marathon I've run is the three times I've done the Marine Corps Marathon, and in my estimation the MCM is the marathon par excellence as far as organization and execution, which is to be expected considering it is run and staffed by the Marine Corps. Oh, one cool thing I saw: someone was recording video on their iPhone pretty early on, like within the first five miles, talking about so far so good with the race and stuff. I kind of wonder who that was, they most likely have a blog or Twitter. Here goes!

  • No food on the course. Really? At the MCM there are orange wedges, ClifShot gels, JellyBelly SportBeans, and of course the random spectators that offer up stuff like candy, goldfish, etc. There were no food stations along the Austin Marathon. I guess they decided to leave it up to the spectators, some of whom made beer available, champagne, orange wedges, Jolly Ranchers, even Valentine's Day candy. Much respect to the mom & young daughter that had gummy hearts, those hit the spot when I needed it. After I realized the lack of food stops, thinking about food and what I was going to eat after the race began to consume ME. I stopped listening to my body and started wondering how delicious a greasy cheeseburger and salty fries would be after I got my medal and finisher's shirt. And it's hilly.
  • The water stations were well-stocked and well-organized, volunteers offered encouragement along with the liquids, and were clear about who had water and who had Powerade. There was a water station at more or less every mile, usually not at the mile marker but between 0.2-0.6 miles into each mile, which was nice, and they alternated Powerade every other mile. There was also water at each Powerade station, which was nice for people like me who think Powerade is too "sweet" while running and opt to mix it with some water. The water stations were relatively flat, not hilly. One was even on a downhill!
  • I like how they will print your name (or probably anything, within reason) on your bib under your bib number. I can't tell you how many times I felt like crap or was dragging a little bit and a spectator would call out my name, tell me I was looking good or looking strong, or yelling "go go go," or "keep moving!" or "finish strong." I think that is a nice touch to put names on bibs. I'm sure this happens at other races too.
  • Speaking of crowds, several segments of the run reminded me of the Hains Point stretch in the MCM. The crowd support at MCM covers the route much better. I thought the route was fairly scenic but for a long stretch we were running around neighborhoods, I think this was between miles 18-24ish, before we ran by the University of Texas campus around mile 25, which was nice. I like architecture, but all the houses looked the same. I saw a lot of columns, craftsman bungalow-type houses with wide porches and chain link or wooden fences around several yards. People in Austin were great about bringing their dogs out--it seemed like everyone has a dog in Austin--and it worked out great, because if the people got tired of cheering, the dogs never got tired of barking. I guess that's what I would do if I were a dog and a bunch of lunatics decided to run by my house, or it could have just been their way of cheering.
  • The finish line was kind of a disorganized c.f. I think a little of that is to be expected since you may have a crush of finishers at once, so it's not the hugest deal. At the MCM, Marine Lieutenants and above place your medal around your neck and you get your "space blanket" to warm up. In Austin, I don't know if they went over what to do with the volunteers but the medal was just handed to me. Maybe I'm nitpicking, but I did just run 26.2 miles and it would be nice to not cheapen it by handing me the medal instead of placing it around my neck. I think it's nicer to recognize the accomplishment by doing the whole bowing the head and placing the medal around the neck, instead of just of handing over the medal like it was a receipt at the grocery store. Maybe it's just me that feels like this? I saw it happen to other finishers as well. It was pretty warm this afternoon in Austin but I quickly cooled down when I stopped running. I didn't even get a space blanket handed to me. The nice thing about the finish was H.E.B. furnished a light post-run spread under white tents, so you could grab some mini-bagels, a banana, some Powerade or water, some chips and I think there were Snickers marathon bars as well. There was also food court outside of the finishers' area that had local places supplying the food, like mmmpanadas!
  • Oh, and another thing--the marathoners and half-marathons run the same course until it diverges around the 10 or 11 mile mark, when they told the half-marathoners to get on the right side of the road and the marathoners to go to the left side of the road. The marathoners headed to the west hills of Austin (hey, I mentioned it was a hilly course!), and the half-marathoners headed to their finish. The volunteers handled the bifurcation very well in telling the marathoners and half-marathoners which way to go. I think the half-marathoners party a little bit more than the marathoners do, at least before the race. I guess that's understandable. I'm not completely basing this on my own observations, one of the cab drivers I had mentioned it on Saturday night. I don't think it's a bad idea to have everyone run it together, but I will admit I was a little jealous when I realized the half-marathoners were heading down the relatively flat home stretch to their finish, aside from a similar hill prior to the Texas State Capitol, but on the other side before heading down Congress Ave. to the finish, and the marathoners were heading for the hills. Literally.
  • This is pretty shallow but the female spectators in Austin were a pretty attractive lot, especially around the UT campus. :)
So overall, would I run this course again? Yes. I would definitely do more hill work before running the race, and think about packing my own gels/some kind of food for the race considering they do not supply any. I probably could have found that out beforehand, and it would have been nice to enjoy the run more than to obsess over what I was going to eat when it was over... hmm, hamburger? NO! Cheeseburger! Maybe pizza? Nah. Empanadas? Possibly. Ooooh, maybe a chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich. YEEEEEAHHH! You get the idea.

If I think of anything else, I will add it later. Next race: TBD. There will be pictures incoming later.

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