Monday, February 20, 2012

Race Report: Austin Half Marathon

I did not quit.  If you don't get anything else from this post, then I want you to remember that little fact.  Above all else, that is what I took away from this race weekend.  The divas and I headed three hours up the highway to run the Livestrong Austin Half Marathon.  Austin, Texas is by far one of my favorite cities to spend a long weekend hanging out.  The town is laid back, full of funky cool individuals and events that urge you to simply have a good time.  The race always falls around President's Day, so having a three-day weekend to drive up and enjoy the extra time off makes it easy on my schedule.  Steph, G and I piled into a loaded down SUV and hit the highway during the quieter minutes of a heavy thunderstorm that stretched the entire way from Houston to Austin.  We were all ready to throw in the towel on the whole trip when the storm let up slightly and we decided to go for it in hopes that we could get to our destination safely.  All the rest of the running divas left town at varying times and in multiple cars, so it was truly every (wo)man for themselves on the slick highways.

Needless to say, we took it easy on the roads and made a couple of pit stops.  Had we been in a bigger hurry or on a tighter schedule, we might not have stopped for the authentic Texas barbecue lunch that warmed our rumbling tummies.  If I had to declare a southern road trip "must", it would be to always make time for a slow smoked barbecue opportunity no matter what else is on the itinerary.  With full bellies and tired joints, we rolled into Austin just as the remaining rain was moving out.  We headed straight for the race expo to pick up our packets and gobble up the free give-aways before the vendors packed up for the evening.  I strolled around the race expo browsing in the usual running vendor booths hoping to motivate myself to get excited about the next day's run.  Normally walking around all the unique running merchandise gets me pumped and ready to tackle anything the upcoming race has in store.  This time it did not work.

I was completely under trained and ill prepared for this race more than any other I can recall in recent memory. Sure I had run a couple of races over the previous two months, but the weeks leading up to this race were filled with other non-running related deadlines and stresses that left me wanting to call off this whole Austin race weekend.  In other words, "life" happened.  Being the quintessential anti-supermom, I have never claimed to have it all under control.  Sometimes everyday demands can bite even the best of us in the butt.  Also the weather in Houston has been, well, chilly and very wet.  I've run through 90 degree heat, sticky humidity and blistery cold, but I absolutely HATE running in cold rain.  All you have to do is tell me it is both cold and rainy and I will hang up my running plans in an instant, no questions asked.  Add all that up and you can easily deduce that I did very few training runs in preparation for the Austin half marathon.  The end result was me trying desperately to wimp out before my bib number was ever pinned to my shirt.

Who knows what cosmic forces actually came together to guide me to it, but I did indeed find myself at the starting line as planned on race morning.  We were so far at the back of the pack we never heard the gun go off, but we muddled through the runner's shoot and immediately hit a deep downhill slope that woke up my sleepy joints with a bang.  Did I mention the brutally endless hills of Austin?  The hills of the Austin race  course are so bad, the race should feature a disclaimer to every runner before they sign up.  It should read something like this: 

Dear Unassuming Runner, 
The upcoming race course is so twisted with rolling steep elevation that even you macho tough guys will go home crying to your mammas.  Trying to attempt this race course makes you certifiably crazy, if you aren't already.  Run it at your own risk.

-from the Austin Race Officials

What makes me truly crazy is I did know all this ahead of time.  I have run the Austin half marathon a few  times before and got my butt kicked thoroughly enough to stay away for good.  But noooo, I had to come back one more time because I obviously did not learn my lesson the first couple of times.  Since I was not well trained for this event, I had already looked at the course map ahead of time and focused on a couple of mile markers where I could drop out gracefully and cash in my chips if the desire hit me.  If I did drop out, it would be a first.  I have taken much pride in the fact that although I've never come close to having a completely perfect running performance, I have never ever quit a race.  If I had nothing else on this tough morning, I still had that.  This is what I clung to as I achingly passed each one of my planned drop out spots along the route until I reached the half way point just before the 7 mile marker.  With my iPod playlist at full blast and Eminem yelling in my ear to "Lose Yourself", none of my usual tricks had their same pump-it-up effect on me that they normally do at this juncture in a bad race.

Beyond that moment all I thought about was my favorite running partner, which happens to be my 8 year-old son.  Thinking about that pint-sized 5K veteran struck a fear in me that pushed me forward the rest of the way.  There was no way I was going to return home without a medal, having to explain to him that mommy dropped out of the race because she simply didn't feel like running.  I tried out every possible excuse in my head and none of them sounded like a good enough reason to walk away from this race.  The news that mommy quit in the middle of the deed would have crushed him.  Better yet, it would have crushed me to have to face him with such a flimsy cop out.  During the race I could almost hear him running next to me telling me not to quit.  Our mother and son runs together usually only total 2 or 3 miles in distance, but they have an endearing affect on me.  He is my only fan and I am not ready to tarnish the grand image he has of me.  As a runner himself, he watches me with an undeserved idealism that always makes me want to do better.  I am pretty sure there will be enough times in the future for him to want to disown his dear old mom, so there is no need to bring that on any day sooner.

In the end, I made it through the rest of the race and lived to tell about it.  My running buds and I got to spend some uninterrupted child-free and husband-free time together.  Our weekend away gave us a chance  to stock up on running goodies, running injuries and funny stories to last us until the next time.  Steph surprised herself with a better than expected performance against the monstrous Texas hills.  G took time off from this race (thank God!!) to give her body more time to heal after a painful injury that still lingers from our Philly trip.  My big boy got another chance to gawk at my finishers medal and dreamily state his desire to one day do his own half marathon or more.  Although he was only with me in my head as I muddled through those final miles in Austin, it got me over the hump when nothing else was working right.  Maybe when he finally does get the chance to train for his own half marathon, I will be able to share this story with him in hopes that it might help him through a particularly difficult moment.  Along that same sentiment, I made my usual vow that I will keep running with him every step of the way as long as he wants me to.  If he does not quit, I won't quit on him...just like I have never quit on myself.  Incredibly enough, my "never quit" streak is still unbroken.  Let's hope it never does.

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