Race Report: Austin Marathon 2012
The Austin Marathon is the last race in what I call my race season. For me, most of my training occurs during the summer time, and I race in the fall/winter. Austin would be my 6th race in the past four months in a race season that exceeded every possible expectation. 32 minutes knocked off my marathon time, 4 PR’s and an ass-kicking of epic proportion in San An… Sorry, still can’t say those two words…
Going back to last year, I had a similar race season to this year, about a race a month. Going into Austin 2011 I intended to race for another PR. Let’s just say I learned a lesson about just how much my body can take. I kept this in mind as I ran through this year’s race season and left my last PR attempt in Houston. For the first time in 13 marathons I would not look to PR. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t try!
To me, Austin is the mythical dragon of marathon courses. The hills, Great Northern, weather, etc. Every piece of the race course previously caused me anxiety and fear. My hometown race got into my head three years ago with a crowd pleasing 6:15 finish, and tormented and exhausted me so much last year that I needed to take a couple months off after the race. This year’s goal, sub 5 hours.
I started the race near the 4:40 pace group intending to run with my summertime training partner Dori Livingston. Maria and Joannie were also in this group which was a great way to start the race. Needless to say, my typical slow start separated me from the group and I never caught up with Dori again. The first six miles, almost effortless and totally relaxed. I didn’t even have to peddle coming down South 1st and it felt like no time had passed and I was already looking forward to seeing the cheer station crowd.
On my way down South 1st, I ran into a friend of mine named Dave Ramos, an Austin Fit coach. He was on the sidelines cheering on the Austin Fit runners. Dave was the first person I met when I decided to join Austin Fit three and a half years ago. I walked up to his table to register (all 300 pounds of me, probably had donut crumbs on my shirt) as a walker, as there was no way someone in my condition could possibly run. Dave gave me a smile and just enough encouragement to get me to join the slowest run/walk group Austin Fit offered. Seeing my friend was just another good reminder of how lucky I am to be where I’m at today.
The other unexpected piece of this race, I now call the “Race of Reflection”, came from our hometown hero Lance Armstrong who decided to make sure I remember how lucky I am by marking up my bib with the word “survivor”. It was 15 years ago this month that I was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a malignant submandibular gland tumor, or simply put salivary gland cancer. Aside from missing a chunk of neck, and a little less spit than most people, it’s not something I think about too terribly often (and I will never ask you to run a 5K, ever!). But jeez, once I hit the Livestrong water stop you would have thought I was a toddler with a skinned knee. Most races for me are fairly emotional times, but this one was bringing up a whole lot of stuff. It seemed cancer survival would rule most of the first half of this race. The water stop just before the cheer station was manned by a cancer group where I got hugs from Jenny Douglas as well as my first Austin Fit coach, Monica Beard, both cancer survivors. Ooh, Brent was there too, wearing stretchy pants, but that’s neither here nor there. So I spent much of the first half of the race being happy and thankful that A) not dead of cancer, and B) in a much better place then I was 4 years ago. And getting to see the two people that gave me my start in marathon running was just plain fantastic.
Heading into the cheer station, things were going very well for me, race wise. The hills through west Austin seemed smaller that day, and I ran up the hill before the cheer station, a first in this race for me. It’s hard to put into words the effect that the cheer station had on me (and probably everyone else). I saw my pal Molly Blake back from her own health situation, my running wife, Jill Williams, from 2 summers ago and her new baby (and her hubby), Cory “High 5” Leahy, Carolyn Gump going nuts, my niece on orange slice duty, sister, Margaret, several more Sole Survivors and assorted other Rogues. And of course Bobby G wondering how the race was going and giving those words of encouragement that keeps us all moving. I left the cheer station with a ton of motivation feeling like the race had not even begun. Good stuff right there.
I hit the half way point at just under 2:19, ahead of where I thought I’d be and feeling really good. The challenge became clear at that point, negative split or bust. Ok, maybe the “or bust” is just some post-race crap talk, but I did have the thought that the hardest part of the course was behind me and I should try to crank it up just a little. I also still had some fear because there was a lot of racing to do and my previous efforts on the 2nd half of this course, well, sucked! And it was getting sunny (my kryptonite). But as I kept moving through the course, all those sections that I once worried about continued to feel shorter. Great Northern went by very quickly, still feeling great.
I got through the northern most part of the course with a little help from my friends. At the end of Great Northern I find my ex-girlfriend (Downtown Katie Brown) holding up a huge sign “I’M PROUD OF STEVE CARUSO”. Great, a few more tears. Why can’t she just think I’m an a-hole like the others… But it was fantastic to see her and catch a hug. A couple miles later I run into my sister, niece, and a few more friends. I grab another orange slice from my niece and get the great idea to carry her with me for a couple blocks, might have been a mistake (Sisters says she’s 45 pounds). A couple miles from there a former co-worker/friend is running the water stop near 2222, more encouragement.
As I approach Hyde Park, I’m slowing down some and walk a little up a small hill on 51st approaching Duval. In retrospect, it’s clear I was just waiting for a fellow Sole Survivor who was just behind me. Once she caught up with me, Joannie Wu and I ran shoulder to shoulder dropping the hammer through Hyde Park and making the last 5K of the race the fastest of the day. We ran the 24th mile of the race a full minute and a half faster than our overall race pace and helped each other negative split the race. While I couldn’t keep up with her through the finish, we both managed to clock the exact same finishing time, 4:36:12! I was also especially happy to see Carolyn Gump again near Hyde Park Grill, and she ran with us for what I thought would be a few blocks. Ended up being about 2.5 miles, and she left her car/phone/friends to do it! Even held my hand as I crossed the finish line, love that! Thank you both!
But by far the best feeling of the day was approaching the finish line. I was happy to see Martha waiting to run me in, but as if out of a movie, what looked like a 100 people came running at me from both sides to help run me up the last hill. Ok, maybe it wasn’t 100, but it sure felt like there were. I’d name names but I’m sure I’d leave someone out.
In the end, I negative split the race, slayed the dragon, and had my best day of racing yet. Wait, what?? No PR and you’re calling it your best day of racing?? Let me put it this way, I’d gladly trade my previous 12 marathon medals for what I experienced last Sunday. Special thing you got going on Bobby G, thank you!