Austin: It’s All Uphill From Here

The 2011 LIVESTRONG Austin Marathon came and went on Sunday, starting in the pre-dawn glow and finishing in the shadow of the state capitol building.  With over 15,000 runners for the 20th anniversary of the race, and the first year with the LIVESTRONG sponsorship, this race felt like the big leagues.  As I mentioned previously, I hadn’t trained as much nor as focused as usual, so my goals going in were set conservatively*.  So how did I do in my 10th marathon?  Hint: lots of ups and downs.

Derrick and I carpooled downtown prepared to fight traffic, pay for parking, and deal with the masses.  Luckily the exact opposite happened and the morning was off to a smooth start.  We walked up to the north side of the capitol building, had some nervous conversation, and parted ways to our starting areas.  After a solid National Anthem and wheelchair start, the airhorn sounded to let the runners be on their way.  All 15,000 runners started at once like a massive stampede, rather than in a wave start (i.e. Group A starts, pause, Group B starts, pause, etc).  This mass exodus from the starting area segues nicely into my first observation about the race.

For the first three miles, as the newly designed course snaked up and up and down hills through the city grid, things got very congested very fast.  The combination of 15,000 runners all confined to 4 lanes of traffic, making sharp turns, and many slower runners starting at the front of the pack made for some frustratingly slow miles.  If only I had known how good it was to be held back.


As soon as the crowds cleared, things started going literally uphill and proverbially downhill.  My original goal was around 3:40, or 8:23 min/mi.  So why, when the course turned towards the steepest section, did I jam on the gas to average 7:46 min/mi over the uphill 3 miles?  With a turn-around at the top of the hill we headed down a parallel downhill 3 miles where I averaged 7:31 min/mi.  Did I forget it was a marathon; that there would be 18 more miles, uphill, to follow; that I hadn’t trained properly for this distance?  Apparently.

By the time we came to the half marathon split at mile 11 I was on pace for a 3:25 finish, so we weren’t really sticking to the any plan.  That’s the same time the course resumed its steady uphill all the way until mile 20.  Don’t worry, I didn’t slow down… yet.  A funny thing happens when you’re running uphill, with a headwind, after you’ve already run 11 miles: your legs start to hurt.  Not badly enough to slow you me down–just enough to remind you that you’re going too fast.  Well I wasn’t listening: from mile 12 through mile 19 I maintained a 7:59 min/mi.  I should mention I got a little boost seeing my super fans at mile 15 cheering me on!

Superfan, post-race wearing my medal

It was somewhere around mile 17, however, that I picked up the habit of walking through the water stops.  I had less than zero desire to “eat” any Gu, so Gatorade became my friend.  As the miles passed by, the remaining miles seemed even more daunting.  At mile 7 I thought “cool, 19 more to go”.  At mile 19 I thought “how on earth am I going to go another 7 miles”.

What kept me pushing was the thought that the race was uphill until mile 20 and then an easy downhill to the finish.  Unfortunately I pushed as hard as I could until mile 20 and had zero left in the tank.  Also, all this “all downhill” business should have said “average downhill”, because there were short little demon hills sprinkled throughout the last 6 miles.  Oh, and now would be a good time to mention the 20mph gusting headwinds.  I’m not complaining**, just making excuses observing.

In the final 6 miles I dug deep.  I drafted off anyone in front of me; walked the (unadvertised) steep inclines; picked out the straight-line tangents.  It became as much a mental challenge as a physical one to keep going.  “Just 3 more miles.  That’s not even 25 minutes.”  while fighting “STOP!!! RUNNING!!!“.  The final stretch through UT campus, back downtown (up a hill, mind you), and across the finish was brutal.   I’ll tell you, it hurt.

And so I crossed the finish line with an official time of 3:33:31.  Pretty gosh darn good considering all my excuses.  In fact, my third fastest marathon overall (behind Chicago and San Antonio).  It was 11 minutes slower than San Antonio and hurt like I ran twice as far.  No doubt the hills got me, but I should have paced myself better.  Still, I’m thrilled with my time and enjoyed the race.

Will I do it next year?  Much like the Marine Corps Marathon when I lived in DC, it’s going to be hard to keep me away since it’s in my backyard.  But who knows now that I’m switching into triathlon mode.  Maybe next year I’ll aim for the half marathon.  As always, I’ll keep you posted.

2011 Austin LIVESTRONG Marathon
Distance 26.2 Miles
Time 3:33:31
Pace 8:09 min/mile
Overall Place 382 / 4802 (7.9%)
Age Group Place 51 / 427 (11.9%)
Gender Place 347 / 2859 (12.1%)

*and we all remember how well I stick to my goals.

**yes I am.

PS- I already said “I told you so” to Derrick after predicting he’d beat Oprah.  He finished in 4:25:45 like a champ.

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