Epic!

This may be the most epic race report ever written, but trust me: once you start reading, you’ll be hooked through the end. Use this rainy, snowy day and dive right in!

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2010 Austin Marathon Race Report, by Bill Durbin

As usual, for those who can’t handle my long-winded ramblings (and let me tell you, this is a looong one), I’ll give a brief summary – of course, if you can’t handle these ramblings, you have already skipped this and are doing something useful with your time. But before I give you the summary, I will punish you by thanking some people, as though this were some kind of acceptance speech.

I actually started listing everyone here – people I ran with this year and last year and the year before that. People who came out to cheer, people who gave birth to me, people who are reading this. People who had to listen to me talk about running and pretend to be interested, people who looked at me funny when I was going to go run in whatever nasty weather I was about to run in (I have goals! And aspirations!). People who committed what might actually be a misdemeanor in the name of tradition… and a few hundred others. But I trimmed the list down a bit. I still thank all you people that didn’t make the very short list. You know who you are.

Stephanie, a.k.a. the Coffee Fairy : Thank you for the coffee. But also, you know, for putting up with me for the last 6 months and not kicking me and my smelly running clothes out of the house. And for making this important to you, simply because it was important to me.

Amy, a.k.a. Coach of the Year : Thank you for believing that I could do this, even before I believed it. And for answering all my questions honestly, even the really, really stupid ones. And, of course, for the frank talk about the consistency of my bowel movements and the advice on that front (back?)

Onward to the summary :

I had an absolutely fantastic race. The weather was perfect. Everything fell into place. I met my goal of going under 3 hours, and finished in 2:58:37, a PR of 11 minutes and 44 seconds. Although I had some glory and some suffering, and I was certainly happy at the finish line (because of my time and because I could stop running), this was not the life-and-death struggle that I was expecting to fight from the experiences at my previous three marathons. The end.

For those who prefer the gritty details…

Pre-Race:

I got about 2 hours of really good sleep on Saturday night, and then I woke up every 30 minutes to an hour starting at 11 PM. Apparently, I was snoring loud enough at 3:49 AM to knock the squirrels off the roof, and I managed to wake myself up with it at 3:50. Knowing that the alarm was going to go off at 4, I just rolled over and waited for it.

Breakfast. Giant Costo bagel, toasted and smothered with strawberry cream cheese. Dee-licious. At 4:11, I had just finished preparing my meal, and flipped open my phone to send a text message to Chris. He beat me to it.

Chris: Whoo!
Me : Whoo 2

This is a yearly ritual now. I have to mention it because it is important for a couple reasons : one being the tradition, and two being that I just simply don’t text. In all of 2009, I sent six texts. Two of them were to Chris at 4something in the morning before this race last year. I’m up to one for 2010. Whoo!

After breakfast, I removed a vase of flowers, a card/note, and a bottle of wine from their secret hiding place and put them on the kitchen table. It seemed a bit inadequate as a Valentine’s gift after the past 6 months. The rest was just getting dressed. My race gear consisted of:

* A lovely green shirt emblazoned with “Springboks” and “26.2” on the front, and “Trained by Rogue” on the back. “Springboks” was Amy’s group name this year, inspired by a movie, a visitor from South Africa, a specific workout, and Mr. Enstone the rugby fan.
* Shorts. Nondescript.
* The “Run Like Hell” socks. No, I haven’t forgotten about the FABULOUS CRAPRIZES!
* Hat. Nondescript.
* Freebie Brooks gloves. These were given to my by Gundi a couple years ago because I answered some trivia question right or something. I can’t really remember what it was about.
* Gel pouch. Nondescript.
* And a throwaway layer. More descript than the nondescript stuff, but not descript enough to describe.

This year I parked at Rogue, somewhere about 5:21 AM. I was one of the only cars there at the time, which is abnormal – usually I have trouble finding a parking spot. But I didn’t intend to stick around. Instead, I grabbed my dry clothing bag, made sure I had everything else I needed, and headed off towards work. I knew Chris was going to be in the lobby with a few other people, and I intended to sit there in the relative calm before the race. I tried jogging, but quickly found out that I had packed a ton of junk in my dry bag, and that just wasn’t going to happen. It made my arms tired. So I walked. When I got to Congress, I made my way up through the pace signs to figure out what street I would need to get into the corral on. The street was still deserted, save for people setting up the festivities.

I heard a “PSSST!” off to my right, and turned to find Chris there looking at me from inside a construction walkway, acting suspicious as usual. He told me he was headed to the clothing drop to just get it over with. That was a good idea. Chris is full of good ideas. We both went and just got it over with, then headed back to the lobby at work.

A few other Rogues joined us there – Chad, Tara, Stephanie M., and Suzanne? It is a nice place to set up base camp. It is warm and dry, and there are chairs and bathrooms. Sitting there is when I realized how nervous I actually was for this thing. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t stop going over to the bathroom for one last break. And I couldn’t stop counting my gels to make sure I had enough. Four in my pouch, one in the pocket at the back of my shorts, and one in my hat. That’s one for before, four on the course, and one extra. I thought several times that I’d rather just take a nap in the chair (and even voiced it out loud once). I came to the realization that I was scared to go out there and run this race. I was experiencing what Dave Barry once, very eloquently, referred to as “butt-puckering terror”. I kept telling myself to relax, but it wasn’t helping much (ok, it wasn’t helping at all).

But then it was time to go, and I got out of the chair, and we went. As we neared the start and went our respective ways, I felt the need to take one lap around the parking lot at Congress and 3rd. I think it took less than a minute. I guess that could be considered my “warmup” for the day. Unlike previous marathons, my anxiety left as soon as I got into the starting corral. Previously, it has been constant until the race actually starts, but once I got over to the 3:00 sign, it just disappeared. The usual announcements and national anthem ensued, and then the race was nearly on. I threw away my throw away layer and bounced up and down for a bit. We started to move forward and pack in – the announcer said “30 seconds”, and all the anxiety came flooding back – for 30 seconds.

The Race:

The horn sounded, and a bunch of pyrotechnic fountains placed on the starting gate over the road started spewing smoke, sparks, and flames. My first thought was “Cool!”. My next thought (5 seconds later) was “Ugh.. look at all that smoke. That’s not going to be fun to breathe.” And shortly after that when I was crossing the threshold, I was thinking “CRAP! THE FOUNTAINS ARE STILL GOING! LOOK AT ALL THE SPARKS! MY HAT IS GOING TO CATCH FIRE!” Then I crossed into the course, and left all of that madness at the start line.

A few seconds after I started running, I realized something was wrong. My trusty little gel pouch was bouncing all over the place and driving me nuts. That never happens. And it wasn’t happening on my little parking lot warmup.. what changed? I still don’t know why that was going on, but I spent the first 1/4 mile trying to figure out what to do about it. It wasn’t easy, because I had a little bottle of water in one hand. I tried sliding my pouch over to the side a bit, but it clips on so tight that it wouldn’t slide. I grabbed the bottle with my teeth to get the other hand free, undid the pouch and moved it to the side, which just made it worse. I tried moving it to the center, and quickly determined that was the worst possible location for it. Finally, I decided to just take one gel out and put it in my glove. It didn’t completely fix the issue, but made it something I could ignore.

I had planned for the first three miles to be easy, not too concerned about pace – just keep the 3 hour pacers within sight. I was on plan for miles 1 and 2. Somewhere in the middle of 2, I passed one of the pacers (name omitted to protect the innocent), who was relieving himself in the bushes.

Speaking of pace, I have dealt with a lot of “user error” on my watch in recent weeks. My original plan a few weeks ago was to turn off the auto-lap feature, and just take laps manually. But I can’t seem to press the right button for that consistently, and the other button STOPS THE TIMER. So I decided on a hybrid approach – the watch would take auto-laps and I’d treat those as my current pace, wherever it happened to land, but otherwise ignore the distance. I also had specific points on the course where I knew the total time for my target, and I could check the total time as needed. It worked out pretty well, at least for as long as I was still paying attention to all that.

Mile 3 was the first checkpoint. The mile itself came in a little faster than I expected. I looked at my watch and saw that I was only 10 seconds behind my goal pace (I had planned on about 30). Can’t change it now.. relax.. just keep going. At least the pace group is still in front of me. About the same time I was having that thought, the pacer who had been in the bushes before came trotting past me. I had forgotten about him. Ok, so NOW.. I am still behind the pace group. I saw the clock on the 5k marker, and checked my watch to note how far behind the gun time I was (15 seconds). I figured if my watch gave out on me, that information might come in handy.

Somewhere along first, I saw Ruth on the side of the road – I put my fist in the air and said “GO ROGUE!” The whole fist-in-the-air (henceforth known as FITA) thing is not part of my usual repertoire. I don’t know where it came from, but it turned into a bit of a signature for this race.

I caught the rest of the pace group on the downhill after a couple more too-fast miles, and I was running right behind them. That wasn’t supposed to happen until somewhere between mile 16 and 20. Relax. Not a big deal (ok, kind of it was a big deal, but I had to tell myself to just focus on what was ahead right now and forget about it). I decided that for at least a little while, I was going to tag along behind them. My goal pace was a couple seconds faster than what they were running, but since I was already ahead of schedule, I thought that it wouldn’t hurt to have a giant group of people as a wind break, should I need it on Lake Austin Blvd. (I didn’t).

Over the bridge on first and rounding the corner onto Cesar Chavez, there were a ton of spectators. I thought I heard my name running through here, but there were so many people I could have been imagining things. (edit: Claire was in the crowd somewhere – perhaps that was her). I think that’s just normal for this corner. The crowds thinned out pretty quickly after that. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a familiar green shirt on the sidelines – it was Mark! I gave him a FITA, and kept on.

Along in mile 8, my mind was not really focused on the task at hand. I was watching the road humps and making sure I wouldn’t trip on any of them, but my mind kind of wandered a bit, too. Nearing Mopac, I looked ahead and saw that the pace group had pulled away from me quite a lot. Then my watch beeped, well before the 8 mile sign, and informed me that my split was 7:00. The first 7 miles had been dead on. I counted to myself and passed the 8 mile sign about 5 seconds later. Nuts! What the heck happened? Did I go for a lap on the track at Austin high while I was all spaced out? But on the bright side.. I was just about back where I had planned to be at this point in the race, seeing the pace group from afar.

The next two miles down Lake Austin out to the 10 mile mark at Enfield were kind of rough. The tendonitis in my left leg that hadn’t bothered me for more than a month was now bugging me – a sharp pain, then a dull nagging, then some more sharp pain, more dull. The pace felt a little too fast, and my watch was telling me I was a little too slow. This is going to turn out to be one hell of a long Sunday run. I pushed most of that negative stuff out of my head (or at least off to the corner where I keep random useless facts like what the word “valediction” means) and just told myself to focus on getting one foot in front of the other and check back in when I had to take my next gel, before the corner up to mile 10.

Rounding the corner onto Enfield and going up that little hill, I was treated to a repeat of a scene that I remember vividly from 2008. We were running towards the rising sun, and it was still pretty chilly out. That one stretch of road has its own little fog bank, created by all the warm bodies running by. You can see everyone’s breath in front of you, but you can also see the steam rising from shoulders and the tops of heads. I like it. I was hoping it would be the same kind of day, and was looking forward to this part of the run. I am glad the weather didn’t disappoint.

Mile 10 was my next checkpoint. I was pretty close to on plan for this point in the course, even though it was about this time I caught back up to the pacers again. In the next couple miles on the rolling hills, I just ran behind the pace group, and found myself starting to feel really, really good. All the problems I was having a few miles before were gone now, and I was running very comfortably.

I had a little packet of salt with me, and I planned to take it on a very specific corner before mile 13, but I still had my gloves on. I took them off, but held onto them, and then dug out my packet of salt, found my corner, and took it. I remember Gundi being around mile 13 the last time I ran this course. I thought, hey.. he might be at the same place again! I can give him back his gloves! Then my watch beeped, and Mile 13 was nowhere in sight. A short while later I saw the orange triangle on the road where the mile 13 marker should have been. Hmmmm.. suspicious. It happened to be about where Gundi was standing in 2008, so I tossed the gloves over there anyway, thinking it was a nice little tribute. Rounding the corner, I spied the 13 mile marker right next to the 1/2 timing mat, and crossed 13.1 at almost dead on at 1:30.

I hope that little adjustment didn’t mess with too many people’s heads. Not long after that, I heard Gundi’s distinct voice yelling my name behind me. Damn.. if I had held onto the gloves just a minute longer! I gave him a FITA and yelled back over my shoulder at him some incoherent phrase that was trying to be “Well, Hello Gundi, it is a pleasure to see you out here today. Did you have any trouble getting here? Fine weather we’re having, isn’t it? Oh, by the way, I left some gloves for you on the grass about a tenth of a mile back. Toodles!”, but it came out more like “Hey! Grass! And gloves to you! Back there!” I don’t think I got my message across.

At the corner of Bull Creek and Hancock, the other pacer (name omitted to avoid the possibility of deducing the first pacer’s name) disappeared into a port-a-potty. These guys are total badasses. They are running a 3 hour marathon carrying signs with balloons and flowers attached to them, and even taking bathroom breaks in the middle of the race. Meanwhile, I’m… well, I am actually feeling pretty good at this point. It was over halfway into the race, and I was relaxed and just kind of in a groove. I realized that I wanted to pick up the pace. I wanted to be going faster. I also realized that I was still ahead of plan if I was running with the pace group. Relax. Wait.

Nothing really exciting happened in the next few miles, except that my confidence started building. I rememberd to take my next gel before 15, and my watch was getting more and more impatient, beeping earlier before each mile marker than it had before the last. At mile 16, I gave myself permission to just get into the front of the pace group and run there. Not to really go any faster, but just to get the feeling of being ahead of them. Even so, without realizing it I pulled away from them a little bit going up Great Northern. I pulled a little further ahead of them on Foster.

I was anxious to see my family right around the corner, and there they were! Penelope was sitting in the stroller, Ben was running around, and Stephanie was reeling him in to come cheer. I took off my hat (finally) and tossed it to them, yelled “I LOVE YOU!”, and kept going.

The section from there to the turn south was the last hill for a while on the course. Coming up the hill, one of the spectators stepped out into the road with his hand in the air. It was so unexpected that I thought at first it was someone telling me to stop, and I half expected to see an ambulance. But then he said my name, and I saw it was Coach Geezer (Charles). I high-fived him (that’s his thing), gave him a FITA (apparently that’s my thing), and I kept running.

Just before the corner onto the downhill is where I noticed how far I was ahead of the pace group. Some stranger on the corner yelled “Go Bill!” It took me a second to realize I did not know this person and they got my name from the front of my bib. At almost the same time, I heard the larger group of spectators I had passed 15 seconds earlier erupt. That was the 3:00 pace group. I had become accustomed to the dynamic of hearing mostly silence around me, and people cheering for them just behind me, but now there was something else going on. Strangers were cheering for me.

I am reflecting back on it now, and I can see it more clearly. I can’t say I figured the rest of this out during the race, because I didn’t. But there’s a strange effect that happens around those signs. Its a cheer dead zone. A lot of runners gather and run with the signs. When you are with the sign, people are cheering loudly, sometimes incoherently, and mainly saying things like “GO SHORTENED VERSION OF THE GOUP NAME!” In this case, that reduces to “GO THREE!”. Now, when you are just behind the group, unless you encounter a large crowd of spectators, people have worn themselves out. They might clap a little, but they don’t say much. They are giving themselves a little break before they yell again. And when you are right in front of the group, they don’t even see you there. Their eyes are on the mass of runners headed their way, and they are gearing up to give them some love. They don’t say anything until you’re already past them. But when you are far enough apart from the group, that’s where things get kind of magical. Everyone you pass is saying your name. Loudly. With things like “GO” and “GOOD WORK” and “RUN” tacked in front. A thing like that could go to your head, if you let it.

Strangers, Cheering. For me.

I rode that wave down onto Arroyo Seco, and took my last gel at about mile 19.5. I passed a couple people on the way. I was now on the second to last part of my plan – to speed up a little and pick people off one by one for as long as I could. Of course, the voices in my head were telling me to watch out for the wall – the distance was starting to wear on me. I was doing my best to ignore them, but my legs were beginning to get tired. Down Arroyo Seco onto Romeria then onto Woodrow, I maybe passed one or two runners. I wasn’t actually counting. Until the woman in the lawn chair.

The woman in the lawn chair was sitting, well.. in a lawn chair on Woodrow. She was shouting at the people ahead of me individually, and I couldn’t make out what she was saying to them. I thought that she was just a particularly loud and excitable spectator. Then she shouted at the guy in front of me something that sounded like “You’re 48!” I didn’t understand what that meant, and thought I heard her wrong. Maybe she said “Go 48”? Is she cheering people by their bib numbers? A few seconds later, she looked at me and said “You’re 49!”

I realized she was telling the runners what place we were in. Interesting. Someone’s sitting there counting runners and telling them what place they’re in. That’s cool. I never would have thought to do that. Then, I realized she just told me I was in 49th place. No way. Uh-uh. I looked at her and yelled back “Are you serious?!?” (loosely translated from what I was actually thinking – Don’t screw with me lady.. I am in no mood right now.. and I know where you live!)

She yelled back “YES! YOU’RE IN THE TOP FIFTY!!! RUN!!!!”

I think that the woman in the lawn chair made the rest of my race. I had a number : 49. The guy in front of me had a number : 48. The other three people I could see ahead of me before the corner all had numbers too, and suddenly, I didn’t want my number anymore. I wanted their numbers.

I thought I’m 49, he’s 48, and I ran past him. As I passed, I said “Good job, Man! Keep it up!” Then I did the same thing to number 47. He was a little resilient. I could see him out of my peripheral vision, about a step behind me. He stayed there until I became number 43, and then he disappeared. I was focused on the little numbers game I was playing, and I just kept doing it over and over.. lather, rinse, repeat – I’m 43, he’s 42…”Good job, Man! Keep it up!”…I’m 42, he’s 41… All along North Loop, then Guadalupe.

Somewhere after the turn onto 46th in the neighborhood going over to Red River, a helicopter, flying very low, appeared in front of us and kind of hovered there for a little while, then headed south. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but I think they were probably following the lead female runners. It was somewhere in that neighborhood that I became number 38, and the miles started getting a lot longer.

Number 37 was quite a ways ahead of me when I first saw him. He was wearing a blue shirt, and he’s the only person in the whole group I can give a name to (Mike), because I was just creeping up on him, and I could hear people cheering his name. I followed him all the way down Red River and around the corner onto 41st (which is where I totally missed seeing Mandy! Ack!). Coming down that hill my quads caught fire. They were feeling tired already, but coming down that hill I think was the single most painful part of the race. I slowed down a little, but 37 must have been feeling the same thing, because I still managed to pass him and two others who had slowed down and were walking near the water stop. We both ignored the water stop. He was resilient like number 47 had been, and passed me going back up the hill. I’m 36, he’s 35.

On the next downhill, I tried a different tactic. Instead of just easing by him, I put on a little burst of speed and blew past him about the time I spotted the mile 24 sign. I didn’t see Mike again after that.

There was again a pretty long stretch without more runners, though I could see a couple more people up ahead. I had some time alone to myself, and I started to notice just how difficult this was getting to be. My quads were burning (though not as bad as coming down that hill on 41st), I was breathing really heavy, and my normally stealthy footfalls were getting pretty loud. I started wondering when I was going to slam into the wall and end up face down on the pavement.

But relatively speaking, I was still in pretty good shape, and I was almost done! Better still, I knew I was well ahead of my goal, even though the last time I could even remember looking at my watch was at mile 18. So again, I pushed the negative thoughts aside and just ran. One of my calves mis-fired a couple times on San Jacinto (almost to the 25 mile mark), and I thought Ok.. it is beginning now, but then the cramping and everything never came. I passed 34 and 33 near the little guard station – I was slightly disappointed that the radar wasn’t on, and the sign just read 00. Oh well. I turned onto MLK to begin the last little ascent.

On MLK, I could see that number 32 had turned the next corner ahead of me and was headed into the Capitol. I didn’t think I had enough time to catch him, but I tried anyhow. Going up that (relatively little) hill was rough. Coach Bobby was at the corner, and I gave him a FITA. I could see 32 again, and could tell that I had gained on him, but he was still too far away and I was running as fast as my legs would take me. He disappeared into the crowds around the Capitol. I stopped worrying about him and began to just focus on finishing strong. That was the last part of the plan – Finish Strong.

The crowd at the Capitol was awesome. They gave me an extra boost of energy, and I was really flying for that last 1/3 mile or so. Around the front, I heard someone yell my first and last name. Somehow, I was able to pinpoint the source of the yelling in the crowd, which happened to be Bruce. I, of course, gave him a FITA, and ran down onto Congress to the finish line. I couldn’t stop smiling the whole way there, and I gave the finish line a double-FITA as I crossed.

Post-Race:

I saw my family almost immediately after I got my medal and my tinfoil spaceman blanket, standing where I knew they would be. I walked (not shuffled, not hobbled, not waddled, and of course not ran, but walked) over to where they were, and gave them much love, despite the chain link fence between us. I showed Stephanie the time on my watch, and realized that it was telling me I had run an extra 1/10th mile (which seems possible). Ben started asking questions:

Ben : “Daddy, why are you on the other side of that gate?”
Daddy: “Because I just ran a long, long way. Why are you on the other side of that gate, Ben?”
Ben : “Because I did not run a long way.”
Ben : “Daddy?”
Daddy : “Ben?”
Ben : “Did you run a mile?”

And a few other interesting exchanges. I picked up my dry clothing bag, some more fluids and a banana, and met my family on the other side of the fence in front of the Paramount. I put on some warm clothes over the ones I had run in (“Daddy, why are you taking your shoes off?”) and we began the trek down Congress.

A (long) while later, I found myself over at Rogue telling John and Ruth that I had a good day. I looked around the training room briefly, and then I headed home. I wanted to go see my family, after a few days of not having them around, and I wanted to send an email to Amy to share my good news.

About halfway home, I realized that I had this electronic device called a phone with me, and I could use it to relay information to another person! So I called Amy while I was driving (which is something I usually avoid doing, and really probably should have this time, too), and left a message on her voicemail. The information content was pretty sparse. I tried to say that I made it, and to thank her, and I think I got about that much out before the enormity of what I was saying really hit me and my throat closed up. I’d been seriously preparing for this day for the last 6 months – really it had been on my mind at some level for much longer than that. When I found my voice again, I think I repeated myself and then said a hasty goodbye so that I could put my phone down and remove some of the strange fluid that was beginning to accumulate in my eyes and affect my vision.

I got honked at in the left-turn lane from 290 to William Cannon. The light had been red when I got there, and I was stopped for some amount of time after it turned green. It is hard to see the light change when you are staring at the roof of your car. When I got home, Stephanie looked in the results for me, so I could know my official time and to see if I really was 33rd place. At the time, they listed me as 31st – I think now that whatever initial timing / counting snafus have been ironed out, I am considered officially 32nd place overall, 30th male, and 8th place in my age group. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d end up there at this race. But I didn’t ponder that for too long because quite frankly, I smelled pretty bad, and even I knew it. I went to take a shower and fix that. And as I was getting out of the shower, I caught a glimpse of the Coffee Fairy, leaving me a present. I may have mentioned this before, but the Coffee Fairy rocks!

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4 thoughts on “Epic!

  1. Bill, I don’t know you but read your summary. Congratulations on an incredible accomplishment. I like how you thanked Stephanie (I assume she’s your wife) for “putting up with you for 6 months and making this race important to her, just because it was important to you”. Beautiful statement.

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