Town Lake Tom’s First Austin Marathon

My First Marathon Experience: Ignorance is Bliss

February 14, 2010. Months of training, hundreds of miles, gallons of sweat. Training for a marathon is humbling; running one is life-changing.

It was a crisp morning, temperature in the upper 40s. I drove over to Rogue to meet with my cohort so we could all wish each other well and warm up over to the race start. Look at those smiles!

 

LIVESTRONG was on my shirt, Broccoli on my bib. I was as ready as I was going to get.

* * * * * * *

10 days earlier, Steve Sisson, coach and co-founder of Rogue, spoke to our Austin Marathon training group about managing expectations. He had just the year previous run his first marathon and the pain and lessons were (apparently) still fresh on his mind.

“Expect success,” he began. “If you don’t start preparing your mind, your body, and spirit to be successful in your goal…it’s not gonna get done. You’re not gonna fake your way through 26.2 miles. You’re not.”

* * * * * * *

We jog over from Rogue to Congress, trying to stay calm and collected (but really are thinking about the beast we’re about to slay). We get there with loads of time; almost too much time. Time = thinking about what’s ahead of you, psyching yourself out. “Expect success,” I kept thinking.

Let’s do it.

* * * * * * *

“Expect the unexpected,” he continued. “You have already decided what the race is going to be like for you, and I guarantee you, you are wrong.” “Expect the unexpected and prepare for the unexpected.”

* * * * * * *

Jordan heads over the port-a-potties not long before the race is scheduled to begin. She, my friends Sandy and Will and I are all planning to run together, hopefully doing a 3:40 (the ladies’ Boston qualifier). “What the hell’s taking Jordan so long? Sandy inquires. Not sure, I’m sure she’ll be here soo…BANG! The race starts.

“Hell, she’ll figure it out.”

Sandy and I take off “down” Congress (south but certainly not down), keeping our pace group in sight. We know we don’t need to stay right on their heels but at the same time you don’t want them getting too far ahead. That said, we never fell too far behind. And so, innocently enough (and a little short of quorum), we had begun a marathon.

Once we got to the end of Congress and began the turn back to South 1st, I started to relax. The first three uphill miles were now behind us and we got to take it easy toward Cesar Chavez. We had been told to take this thing in segments, ideally 10ks, and our first 10k was going swimmingly.

And on it went.

Somewhere on Exposition I turned to see (or not see, as the case was) that Will was gone. I would learn later that Will was not having a 3:40 day, but that he would indeed finish. It was as we were coming upon 35th – thus the end of the Hills of Exposition – that we saw Jordan. “Oh look, Sandy, there’s Jordan!”

“I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM.”

There was no joy in those eyes; only immediacy, terrible, terrible immediacy. “Expect the unexpected…” I could almost hear Steve saying. (For more on Jordan’s unexpected morning, read here.)

Onward we continued. It was on Great Northern that I first started to feel some pain. We were nearing the 20k marker and my brain was (unfortunately) still able to do math. If a marathon is 42k, then we’re…not. Even. Half. Way. You get this bug in your brain, this needling, negative thought. But you brush it aside, you find your second wind, and you continue up that God-forsaken stretch of road, all wind and people and endless concrete…

* * * * * * *

“Expect to suffer,” Steve went on. You’re the one that signed up for 26.2 – you didn’t think this was going to be easy, did you??

* * * * * * *

In the long run we did with the Austin Marathon pacers I had run some 17 miles at pace (with some water stop breaks). The run had gone so swimmingly that I really believed 3:40 was being conservative.

And hear, reader, is where your narrator gets his wakeup call.

It was mile 19. I hurt. I was working way too hard at this point in the race and my mental fortitude was under attack. I was able to play mind games for a good while – just get to that next water stop and you can think about walkingget to that next runner and you can take a breakget to that next turn and you can… You tell yourself anything to keep moving. And honestly, there was a point at 20.5 where I damn near stopped. But a friend had met me and kept encouraging me, gave me water, gave me a goo. I would forge ahead.

We turn south on Red River from 45th (by the Hancock Center with the HEB). This is where the wheels came off. For the first time all morning I watched my pace group slowly – inevitably, inescapably – move forward without me. I had hung on their heels for literally miles, my tunnel vision blocking out anything but her dancing feet, her rhythmic gait. But it was just too much. I was working too hard and still slowing down. I told myself back off for a few precious seconds…just keep them in eyeshot. They were in eyeshot, but the perspective had them shrinking. They turned right onto E. 41st by the Hancock Golf Center. A minute later I turn and see a glorious, inviting downhill. I increase my pace to shorten the gap – and do – but as any marathoner knows, physics is all cattywampus in a marathon and what goes down must come up. And that slight incline may as well have been Wilke because it was too much. This is where I broke. I didn’t stop running, per se, but my pace slackened greatly, so much so that I was really walking but with big swinging arms (think guy crossing in front of your car pretending to hurry). We turn south on Duval. Shortly thereafter, my quads on the verge of combustion, I finally pull off and sidle up next to a wall to stretch them. When I do this a wave of black and white fuzzies washes over my vision and I know that I’m low on calories. My friend Daniel hands me a goo and some water to wash it down. I start to run and quickly reconsider; when I pick the pace up the fuzzies come back. It is at this point that I begin to run/walk (mostly just walking)…

* * * * * * *

“Expect to overcome,” Steve concluded. If you’ve already expected success, expected the unexpected, expected the suffering, then you are primed to overcome.

* * * * * * *

I remember seeing my coach, Allison Macsas, at Duval and Dean Keaton. I was walking and I felt so bad, like I’d let her down. She just smiled and cheered me on, but it really stung my pride to be walking in front of my coach (an Olympic marathon trials qualifier at that!). Nonetheless, I just didn’t have it in me.

I continued on with Daniel, running ever so briefly before falling back into a quick walk. It is not long later that I see the 3:45 group coming up on me. OK, I’m thinking, this is what you came here for. This is what you’ve been training for. It’s now or never…

We’re now to MLK. We’re close; I can almost hear the crowds in the distance. The feet start shuffling. A shuffle turns into a slow trot, the trot into a jog, the jog into a slow run. We’re heading up Congress, my destiny awaiting me on the other side of that magnificent Capitol building. We enter the grounds covering the last Godforsaken hill of the journey. At this point there’s but .2 between me and finishing. It’s like the Tour de France there, the crowds right up on the runners on both sides (people would later tell me they saw me and yelled for me, though I had no recollection of any one face, just a blur of sound and color). The run gets fast, faster, now I’m sprinting. I can see the finish! I dig deep and use up any last drop of fuel I’ve got and burst across the finish line, my parents and little sister there cheering me on. I had done it! 26.2!

I feel against a fence, panting. “How was it?” my parents inquired.

“Hard.”

That was all I could muster. But inside my head I was thinking, I did it. I expected success, I expected the unexpected. I was ready to suffer, and I overcame!

Thank you to Allison, Steve, and the entire Rogue family for a great first marathon experience!

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One thought on “Town Lake Tom’s First Austin Marathon

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