I did not plan to enter the Austin Marathon this year, but after the bad weather in Houston, I received approval from “The Boss” and registered for the race a few days later. This would be my 20th marathon in 4 years, and I really didn’t have any goal or purpose for the race, but I figured it would be fun to run in my city with friends both in the race and in the crowds. I had no idea how much they would help.
I PR’d in Houston 5 weeks earlier by a whopping 10 seconds, but something about that race didn’t sit well. I felt like I let the weather affect my performance during the first third of the race, and my time could have been better. A few days before the race, Coach Al sent the standard email asking for race predictions from any Shipmates running the race. I decided to get aggressive, and I “called my shot” with a goal of 3:09:59. To be honest, with the difficulty of the Austin course, I didn’t think this was possible. Regardless, since I have already qualified for Boston 2014, I figured I should run this race more aggressively and see what happens. Nothing like stating a goal before your friends to motivate!
Since fellow Shipmate Colin was pacing the 3:10 group, I figured I would stay near him. To be honest, I have never run with a pace group, nor did I want to. I usually use pace groups as reference points during a race, but I never run alongside them. I figured I would start out staying close to the group, but wouldn’t really worry about running alongside him until the later miles.
My buddy Trent (who was running the half) and I found a parking spot easily enough. We ducked into my brother’s office building for a little warmth and to use the facilities (what a blessing, an indoor toilet on race morning!). We dropped my bag at the bag drop and walked the 3/4 mile walk to the start. Since Trent was looking to run at a 7:15 pace for his mini, we were able to start with each other. I found fellow Shipmates Colin and Jim as we waited for the start. I told Colin that although I doubted I would run with the group the entire way, my goal was to be in yelling distance at all times. I was hoping that this strategy would allow me to run my own race but still use the pace group to pull me to the finish. Also before the start, I was able to give/get good luck hugs from Robyn and Sam, Shipmates that I have spent many miles with during training over the past few years.
The weather was in the low 40s, and I was really unsure how many layers to wear, so I wore my new, bright shirt as my bottom layer with two “disposable” shirts on top. I figured I would start with all 3 and discard as during the race. However, I was feeling a little warm and decided to ditch the 2 shirts before the gun.
The start of the race was pretty uneventful. For the most part, people started in the right spots and the crowd was moved smoothly. This course has a few turns within the first mile, so it can get a little crowded, but compared to some of the races I’ve run, I was very pleased. I tried to relax and keep Colin and the 3:10 group in sight, but they were a little ahead of me. After the first mile during a downhill, I had a pain in my left knee and was concerned that the 5 week turnaround between marathons wasn’t enough. Fortunately it subsided a few minutes later and was never a factor. I yelled hello to Al and Sandy around mile 2, the first of a long list of people that would encourage me thought the day. By the time we hit the Congress Avenue bridge I had (unintentionally) caught up with the pace group, but as we hit the long uphill they pulled ahead.
Mile 1: 7:24.
Mile 2: 6:49
Mile 3: 7:04
Trent had stayed with me for the first 4 miles, but then I realized either he had slowed or I had sped up. Regardless, I was keeping my focus on holding a consistent but aggressive pace while keeping the 3:10 group in my sight. When we turned north (and downhill) my pace quickened and I caught up with Colin and Jim. We chatted a bit during “the easy miles” but unfortunately Jim tweaked something and announced he would be cutting the race short as he had a 50k in a few weeks. Turning the corner onto Cesar Chavez, I was lucky enough to see my Dad and to give him a high 5. Although a little more winded than I would usually be at this point in a marathon, I was still feeling pretty darn good, and I stayed with the pace group a few miles longer. Coworker Jen managed to wake up and make it to mile 9 to cheer the racers on for the second year in a row.
Mile 4: 7:20
Mile 5: 7:02
Mile 6: 7:00
Mile 7: 6:53
Mile 8: 7:00
Mile 9: 6:59
As we turned North again on the Mopac frontage road, I let the pace group venture ahead. We were entering a long (8-9 mile) stretch of rolling hills and gradual incline. I felt if I could keep the pace group in my sight, even if they were a minute or more ahead of me, I could make up the difference with the downhill to the finish and my usual negative split energy. We hit the rolling hills on Exposition, and I just focused on a consistent pace. Since the group was ahead of me, I turned up the volume on my playlist and tried to stay relaxed. I felt a little relieved when we hit 35th street that I had gotten through the hills unscathed. Turning North (again) I still had the pace group in sight. I also saw my first “casualty” as someone was struggling and started walking with his hand on the back of his leg. I remember thinking how unusual that was as we were only at mile 16 and most of the runners at this pace are experienced. Oh well, run and learn.
Mile 10: 7:17
Mile 11: 7:18
Mile 12: 7:20
Mile 13: 7:20
Mile 14: 7:10
Mile 15: 7:05
Mile 16: 7:15
Just before turning on Great Northern, I counted how many seconds behind I was from Colin and the 3:10 group – about 30 seconds – perfect. If I stayed this far back, I could catch them by mile 20 and finish 1 step ahead to hit my goal. On Great Northern I saw a few Shipmates. My brain was a little scrambled at this point, but I think I saw Ed T. and I know I saw Ellie. I smiled and gave them my best “Everything is fine, I feel like a million bucks” look. Of course, I have been feeling uncomfortable and pretty tired for a few miles, but it is better to look good than to feel good, right?
Mile 17: 7:16
Mile 18: 7:07
Mile 19: 7:13
As we reached the top of Great Northern, I decided the race was on and I would try to catch up to the 3:10 pace group. About a mile later as we started the long trek South, I had caught up to the group that was dwindling in numbers but I wasn’t feeling too great. Since the wind had picked up and was coming from the South, I decided to try to use those ahead of me to block the wind. I’m not sure if the folks I wanted to draft behind were too keen on the idea, because they seemed to be zig-zagging a bit making it difficult for me to get in a good stride. I decided to skirt around the group and move in front of them, using them to push me to the finish (versus the pull strategy many use). I was feeling pretty good at this point as I had seen many other Shipmates (Ray, Jack, Jeanne, Mary). I realized I was close!
At mile 21 I saw a coworker (Ray), but the best sight ever was at mile 22 as my family was there cheering me on in full Packer attire, which was a great choice of clothing because I saw them and was able to wave at them for several hundred yards. I’m not sure Olivia knew what was going on, but she was witnessing history!
Mile 20: 7:16
Mile 21: 7:13
Mile 22: 7:11
The 3:10 group caught up with me (or was I slowing) and had dwindled down to 2 pacers and 2 runners (including me). Colin said something like “It’s you and me Joe” and I ducked behind him and tried to hang on. He made another comment about the fact that we were 20 seconds ahead of pace. My response, “I only need 1 second.” He didn’t take the hint to slow down. More coworkers at Mile 24 (Buck and Tara) forced me to smile again, but I could feel the gas tank running on “E.” I was doing my best to hang with Colin, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. As we ran by the stadium, I turned off my ipod and tried to focus. Man, I was breathing heavily!
Mile 23: 7:15
Mile 24: 7:13
Running down San Jacinto, I was pretty confident I would break 3:10. However, I was running on fumes. When Colin asked me how fast I run my Yasso’s, I knew I only had 800m to go. Unfortunately, to remind us we were in Austin, there was one more nice hill to climb. I hit the hill and I felt like the world slowed (actually, it was just my legs). “The wall” had finally appeared, but fortunately the end was near. It felt like my pace slowed from the low 7s to the high-teens as I approached the top. Colin was yelling something as we turned on 11th, but at this point it sounded like the person on the other end of the phone in the Charlie Brown specials (“Wa, WaWa Wa Wa, Wa).
No matter how scenic the course, the best sight in any marathon is the finish line. I turned onto Congress, looked up and there it was. What a glorious sight. I did what I could to get to the finish and I was done.
Mile 25: 6:56
Mile 26: 7:06
0.2 and Garmin Bonus: 2:57
Final Time: 3:09:06, 84th place overall, 9th in age group (40-44 Men)
Professional sports talk about home field advantage on a regular basis. I never understood why the advantage was so significant until 2/17/13. Thanks to all my friends and family that helped by watching the race, or others that (literally) ran it with me, I was able to achieve another goal I never thought possible. As much as running seems like a “solo” sport, it is everything but. Thanks to all of you that motivate/force/encourage me to train and race the best I can.
Next stop: Boston!