It's been a week since we all ran the Austin Half or Full marathons. But everything is still so fresh in my mind. I have lived and relived parts of the race so many times during this week. Monday probably took the cake for being the most nonproductive day at work. Anyway.. here's what happened with me on Feb 15th, 2009. Clearly, I am not a woman of few words. Be prepared. This is long!
I woke up at 4 am on race day. Showered, ate and wore my pre laid out race gear and Vinit and I were out of the door by 5.15. I wanted to get to the Asha tent real early to peacefully get a good parking spot and get enough time to do some pre race stretching, some general chit-chat and go to Port-a-Potty (multiple times – as is so likely to happen to me before a race). SOH crew was already at the Asha Tent when we reached around 6 am. They were putting up balloons, and taking care of other nitty-gritty to support the runners in all possible ways.
I did all my pre-race stuff – had a banana, had a dose of Tylenol (in anticipation of ITB pain), stretched and tried to imagine a wonderful race ahead of me. Gaurav came and asked about my ITB (he being my mentor and all) and I shooed him away. Frankly, my knees hurt (familiar ITB pain), my right hamstring and calf were tight and I had a shoe bite from the shoes I wore to a salsa class the night before. But all this was really out of my control at that point of time and I didn't want to focus on it. I could just trust my training and all the things that I had done "right" in preparation for this race – tapering down my training runs, hydrating well, gradually carb loading, and resting well in the preceding week.
It was 7am soon enough and Vinit and I made our way to the start. Vinit had been with me during the whole training and he had agreed to run with me at my pace throughout the race. The place was packed with thousands of runners. We were several blocks away from the start line. It was a perfect morning to run. Temperature was in 40s and it was overcast with a little wind. It felt just right. We had a salt tablet each before crossing the start line around 7:30.
The first 3 miles were uphill on Congress Ave and I ran slowly to warm up and ease into my rhythm. Vinit and I had run the course before and I really didn't like the first 6 miles of the course. It was sort of an out and back and I felt it was a waste since Austin has so many other beautiful neighborhood possibilities to be included in the course. I was relying on race day commotion and other distractions to keep my spirits up in this part of the race and I wasn't disappointed. Cheerful, loud bands and excited onlookers lined the streets. I took time to enjoy the music, the camaraderie with fellow runners and the pervading excitement. I thought of my reason for running the race, and was immensely grateful for the opportunity to be there. This was the culmination of something I had been training and fund-raising for in the past 3 months. Every musician, every spectator, every runner, every supporter, everything that was part of the scenery and atmosphere made it an overwhelming experience. I remember, in those initial miles I was all soft and gooey inside and almost choked up many times (sounds quite crazy I know, but I tell you that's what happened to me out there.) We exchanged many "yoohoo"s and "Go Team Asha"s with fellow Team Asha runners. The first few cheerleaders of the Asha crew (Stephanie, Bradford, Ambica and Rahul) were at mile 3 with poster boards and cowbells making a lot of noise. I shed some outer layers and took a quick break to stretch my ITB and quads. Everything was holding up fine so far. No major pains. The slow warm up had helped the muscles.
The prospect of next few miles worried me. They were mostly downhill; perfect for aggravating my ITB pain, but I also wanted to pick up pace on this easy section. In one of our previous long runs, Vinit had come up with a strategy of running with smaller strides and quicker turn over on the downhill. It had occasionally worked for me in the past. It could delay the faring up of my ITB. That's what we resorted to. I was feeling quite buoyant on this stretch, full of hope and really enjoying being out there. Vinit would say "downhill now" to remind me to change my running pattern and I would follow. Mile 4, 5 and 6 were mostly spent doing this drill and meeting more Asha runners. The strategy worked but not for long. By mile 6, my knees hurt and my pace had gradually slowed. I stopped to stretch again. I had another dose of Tylenol hoping that it would keep my pain down long enough for me to finish the race.
We were carrying our own water and hadn't stopped at any water stop. Vinit went to refill my water bottle around mile 6 and I continued across the South first bridge at my slow pace. I was hoping to see some known faces there. Mehul had indicated that he might walk down from his condo to cheer us at South First and Cesar Chavez. I didn't see him but I saw a number of Asha folks (Anitha I, Gaurav, Charanya and more). I asked Gaurav to loan me his knees. He said I could take them. :-) The stretch on Cesar Chavez was flat and I was relieved, hoping it would help my knees to recover. We had our first Gu at 6.5 and I labored on. At first I tried to ignore the pain and focused on the other stuff – my running form, other runners, the town lake trail near by, conversing with Vinit. Then I tried to accept it and get accustomed to the idea of running the rest of the course with the pain.
At mile 7.5, right before the steep incline at Veterans, a band was playing 'Chariots of Fire'. For a few minutes, I stopped the negotiations with the knees and just reveled in the music. Sharanya and Arvind were at the base of the incline cheering loudly. Arvind even offered to run up the hill with us. :-) Murali and Savitha were at the top of the incline. A quick wave to them and we were off on Lake Austin Blvd – a 1.5 mile straight and flat stretch. Here, we crossed a lot of Asha runners again. My knees were feeling better, having recovered on the flat stretches. Tylenol had kicked in too. I picked up pace. We had our second Gu and another salt tablet.
Soon after mile 9 marker, we turned onto Enfield and the hills started. Strange as it may sound but I LOVE running in this neighborhood. These hills seem like friends. I prayed for my ITB to stay sober and decided to give it my all in the remaining miles. From there on, I just pushed through everything. Vinit repeatedly asked if I wanted to stretch and every time I just shook my head and pushed a little more. The king of all hills sat at Enfield and Lamar. Stephanie and Bradford were there once again at the base. I dropped my gloves with them and ran up the incline. 80% of the way up, I almost started to walk when I heard Ambica and Rahul yell out my name from the top of the hill. I held Vinit's hand and ran up to the top. Mile 10, 11 and 12 were a blur. I remember I was doing a lot of self-talk at this time. I was reminding myself of Team Asha's motive behind it all, my training on these very hills, and constantly telling myself to be a little better, to push a little harder. By the end of 13th mile, I felt like puking and empty at the same time. I was craving for some bout of energy from somewhere. I wished I had had another Gu. By now, I was doing something I had only read about in other people's race reports - picking out people in front of me and passing them. Vinit quietly told me that he was slipping out into the spectators and would meet me later in the Asha tent. He didn't want to go to the finishers' chute since he wasn't registered for the race. I didn't even respond. I wanted to leave it all out there and be entirely spent when I finished. Panting, puky, empty I crossed the finish line.
My previous half marathon time was 2:55. When I started my training a few months back, I wanted to set a better goal time, to motivate myself to train harder. I set my goal at 2:30. Then came my ITB issues and I quickly realized that it would be difficult for me to do sub 12 min/mile pace required for a 2:30 finish. So I revised my target, still keeping it challenging, to doing 12min/mile pace which came to 2:37. I finally finished in 2:43. 12 minutes better than my previous time, a few minutes short of my target.
I'll take it ANY DAY. I'll take it quite happily in fact. What with the negative splits in the last 4 miles, the ITB pain, the self-talk and what not!
Post-race was one big party at the Asha tent. I couldn't thank the cheering squad enough. In the end, truly, it was their presence that made a LOT of difference on the course!