I wanted to hate this race. Maybe the old me would have. The hills. The humidity. The temperatures being a little too hot for my liking. But that’s Austin. The city that has become my home and despite all my tantrumming about hating our brutal summers and not having a long enough winter and spring, well, it will forever hold a special place in my heart, no matter where my family lives. Oh, Austin. You have my heart.
Doesn’t every runner want the perfect course? The perfect race conditions? No matter how much training you do, no matter how much heart you have, no matter how much effort you put into a race–you cannot control the weather or the course. It is what it is. So when I saw the temps climbing from freezing conditions the two weeks before the race to seeing race day temps were predicted to peak in the high 70s, I began to worry. And pray. And hope the forecast was a mistake. And the morning of the race I was hopeful when I saw the temps were in the high 50s and then I walked outside and the blast of humidity took my breath away. I sighed. Oh, Austin. I was disappointed but I didn’t get angry. I knew immediately I would have to have a slight change of plans–I’d have to take my hydration belt with me and use it, in addition to the water stations.
I’ve never been this nervous for a race. My last marathon was such a tough battle–both physically and emotionally, I think I was scared that experience would be repeated. But in my heart, I knew it wouldn’t. Even with it being warmer than I hoped for, I was going to be running this race in a way that I never had before and I was hopeful that would make all the difference. Still, I worked myself up into such a huge ball of nerves I could barely eat the morning of the race and when we were in the running corral with still 15 minutes to go before gun time–I started feeling the bubbling of a panic attack. I had to pray and tell myself to calm down. Just breathe. And I reminded myself of my own words from just last week: It’s not life or death. This is just running. And with that, my heart slowed down, the butterfly wings in my stomach settled and I was ready to race.
I’ve never run a race with a plan other than following a training guide and I’ve never worked with a coach and this would be the first time I did both. My last two marathons I set out–full speed, ran with all heart, and mile by mile I slowed down until I felt like I was crawling at the end. I’ve been training with my coach since September for my upcoming ultra marathons, and the Austin Marathon was to be used as a training run–but for me, it’s never that. A race is something that no matter what I label it–will always be a test for me–a test of my endurance, speed, strength, heart and will. We had a loose time goal of 4-4:30 but the bigger goal was to start off slow for the first 5 miles, no matter how fast I felt my fresh legs could carry me– the plan was to hold myself back, then for the next 6-19 miles pick up the pace just a little bit and finally for the last 6.2 miles I was to race my heart out.
I wish I could write what my emotions are about how things actually mapped out. I think to truly feel it, you’d have to be in my heart because that’s where those feelings rest. I don’t think my own words will be able to capture just how hard I tried to stick to this plan, the feeling of accomplishment when I realized I was able to hold myself back and the feeling of strength I had as I was able to slightly pick up the pace, and the heartbreaking disappointment when I felt like I was ready to race those last 6.2 miles and yet when I tried and oh, I tried so very hard, I just couldn’t hit the splits I had hoped for. That I had worked for.
As I fell into my pace for my first 5 miles my mind turned into a calculator. My coach told me to run the first 5 miles at a comfortable pace and as I settled into a pace that wasn’t pushing too hard, I knew it wasn’t a pace that would allow me to get a 4 hour marathon, no matter how fast I raced those last 6.2 miles. So the numbers were crunched and I had a new goal in my head–beat my San Francisco Marathon personal record of 4:17. I knew I was racing the beginning slower than I did San Francisco, but I also knew I slowed down a significant amount at the end of my first marathon–and that wasn’t supposed to happen this time. I was to speed up. To run. To race. I felt comfortable for the middle miles but started feeling warm and I could tell the hills were eating me up. Oh, Austin. But I pressed through, keeping my pace as close as I could to my goal pace of 9:30-9:45 for the middle miles. I knew hills would make me slower than those goal times but I was hoping to make up for it on the down hills.
In the first half and feeling great!
I got to my 20 mile marker and felt strong. By mile 22 of San Francisco I hit my ‘wall’ and limp-ran the remaining 4 miles. By mile 10 of San Antonio I was hurting, and by mile 16 I was wondering if I’d finish. So when I got to mile 20 of the Austin Marathon and felt strong and confident, I was hopeful things were going just as planned. I tried picking up the pace then but the hills and my legs just wouldn’t let me get to the speed that my heart and mind wanted me to be at. My coach said I’d be passing runners at this point and I was. Left and right my fellow racers were walking, limping along and struggling to finish out those last miles. I felt strong as I ran past them but just not strong enough. I felt the disappointment then as I realized I was so very close to setting a new PR but I knew I had to pick up the pace just a little bit if I wanted to beat my 4:17 time.
It felt so good to be running strong at the end. With my first two marathons at some point during the races my mind screamed at me: You can’t do this! It was different this time–that negative voice never made an appearance. Instead, my mind whispered to me: You’ve got this. You’re strong. You can run a marathon.
But I just wasn’t quite fast enough to get the negative splits I was hoping for. The ups and downs of emotions I felt as I crossed the finish line matched the hills I just pushed through. I crossed the finish line with a time of 4:19 and with the biggest smile on my face because I finished feeling better than I ever have in a marathon. And yet I had mixed emotions: I met some of my goals, but not all. I didn’t get a PR but I felt so strong throughout the whole race, never hitting the dreaded wall, never slowing down. But the disappointment of not being able to race those last miles tugged at my heart. And I wondered–did I let my coach down? Up and down. I admit to having pride as I collected my medal. And when I looked at it and saw these words: Run Austin. Love Austin, I was hit with a wave of emotions and the biggest one was gratitude. I was so grateful to have crossed my finish line knowing I did my very best, with the support of my parents who watched our kids so Chris and I could go out and run our town, for my coach who reassured me I hadn’t let him down–for his hard work and patience with me, for Chris, who from the moment I met him 10 years ago has been chasing me and will continue to do so for the rest of our lives in our running and life adventures. I loved the challenge of this course and I’ll happily lace up my running shoes again to tackle the hills the Austin Marathon has to offer. I’ll always love this distance–there is so much beauty in pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and being surrounded by thousands of other people who are running their hearts out. Oh, Austin. 26.2, I’ll see you again.
Never Give Up,
What’s your favorite racing distance?
If you like talking splits (like me) then I’ve included them here for you: Mile 1 9:58 Mile 2 10:01 Mile 3 9:59 Mile 4 10:13 Mile 5 9:52 Mile 6 9:34 Mile 7 9:21 Mile 8 9:30 Mile 9 10:03 Mile 10 9:40 Mile 11 10:32 Mile 12 9:55 Mile 13 9:55 Mile 14 9:56 Mile 15 9:47 Mile 16 9:57 Mile 17 10:18 Mile 18 9:46 Mile 19 9:53 Mile 20 9:48 Mile 21 9:18 Mile 22 9:51 Mile 23 10:12 Mile 24 9:52 Mile 25 9:20 Mile 26 9:42 Mile 26 and .2 8:33
First 13.1 miles: 2 hours 9 minutes 31 seconds
Second 13.1 miles: 2 hours 10 minutes 25