Sunday was a good day. I set a new marathon PR of 4:37, cutting 4 min. off of my Nike Women’s time from October. I got to run with a close friend for most of it. I got to celebrate our successes and that of many of our Rogue friends who met their goals and set new personal bests.
The Austin Marathon course was tougher than ever this year due to some course changes, in particular adding some tough hills at the end of the campus due to the Clinton Global Initiative meeting on the UT campus. I felt pretty confident going in. Through Rogue Training, we run a lot of hills in training runs and quality workouts. We had run all parts of this course numerous times. I knew the roads. I could visualize the start, the hills and the finish. I had practiced it and was ready.
For the most part, it’s pretty scenic, but like most of Austin, it is hilly, with at least half of it climbing. The weather was beautiful, 50 degrees and cloudy at the start, warming up to 60 and sunny later on. Tahsin (affectionately known as T.), Laura and I started out together. The beginning climb (first 3 miles) felt okay as we held back our excitement purposefully going out slow. The next 3 downhill, which we took advantage of. Laura turned off at 6 miles, the point at which I’ve usually locked into a good pace that I could hold for miles and miles, but still hadn’t hit that point. I briefly wondered why, but focused on the good weather, great crowd support, the magic of the day, and the cadence of mine and T.’s feet hitting the ground.
We cruised down Lake Austin and saw Coaches Amy and Mark cheering us up the hill at Veteran’s, turning onto Enfield. About mile 9, the roller coaster hills began. It wasn’t that hard, but not as easy as it should have felt. I mentally chalked it up to the hills and it being early yet. T. commented that I looked strong and I believed him. We turned up Exposition and the real rolling hills began, along with a little headwind. Miles 10-12 were really tough for me. I knew my heart rate was higher than it should be for my effort level.
I am not the fastest runner, but I typically am a very strong mental runner — a big part of the equation for a successful marathon. So, it surprised me when a few counterproductive thoughts went through my head — “Maybe this isn’t your day.” “These hills are so much harder than in training.” I pushed them aside, T. had said I looked strong. We have run close to 1,000 miles together. He knows when I’m strong and when I’m not. I believed him. He made a comment about us being able to afford to take a little time through here. We were a little ahead of pace and had plenty of time to make it up later if we needed to. Meanwhile, T. really was running strong. He had his seemingly effortless, comfortable stride. His fans were spread across this first half of the course and kept him smiling along the way.
We expected Hanna Munin at 15, and there she was with a big smile and a sign cheering Tahsin and I on. White Rock and Great Northern were rough with a headwind. I was having a hard time getting down to marathon goal pace (MGP). We should have been running 10:18’s. For some reason, MGP effort was more of a 10:24/25. It doesn’t sound like much, but we were losing time each mile and would have to make it up later. T. and I each put in one earbud with music to help pump us up. T. smiled and said that a Bengali song about friendship was playing in his year. I smiled, held back a few tears, and tried to focus on getting to MGP. I wanted us to cross the finish line together. Coincidentally, the song that was playing in my ear ironically was hip-hop tune, “Walk it out.” It made me smile.
I thought through past marathons and how these middle miles were usually the easiest part, where you have to hold yourself back to make sure you have gas in the tank at the end. I broke down and took a bathroom break around 17.5, separating from T. and knowing it was his day. I had a hard time getting started running again, and lost about 2 min., but knew Scott and Laura would be up ahead.
This was my neighborhood and I had lots of supporters through this part: seeing Dave, Mia and Maci Calder at 17, Laura and Scoob at 18, and Cha Cha and Miggy at 20. I probably didn’t appear very appreciative, but I was grateful to see them. It kept me going. I walked a water stop (instead of drinking on the run) and again had a hard time getting started running again so I lost another 2 minutes or so. At that point I knew there was no way I would hit 4:30, but knew if I could get myself together I could still PR and stay in the 4:3x’s. It worked. I dug deep and started cruising. I passed Coach Ramsay about mile 22 and kept plodding along telling myself a little over a 5k to go.
I could see UT in the distance. Mile 24 was on campus at San Jacinto (law school) and Dean Keeton (24th St.). There was a 100-foot climb in 1/2 a mile — brutal when you’re more than 4 hrs. in. Fortunately, Scooby, Laura and Joe were waiting for me and motivated me up the hill. They told jokes, made positive comments, and ran me up the hill. They kept reminding me that I was running and everyone around me walking. It’s a cruel hill. There is a crest and you think it’s over, but then it starts climbing again. My coach, Amy, and adopted coach, Mark, were at the crest. Amy ran next to me and mentioned how tough I was and that my form looked great. She told me that just ahead I would see the 40k mark, which would mean only 2k to go, 5 laps on a track, and of course, I could do 5 laps on a track. It was the jolt I needed.
Laura made me (and others around us) laugh as we turned off Dean Keeton and she yelled, “Is that all you’ve got?!” to the course just as Steve Sisson, stud runner, founder of Rogue, and UT women’s track coach had suggested we do.
Scott and Laura stayed with me and picked people up ahead to pass. As we passed pink tanktop, they’d pick another, black hat/skirt, and so on. We were passing people as we turned down MLK and up San Jacinto for the final stretch. Two more tough hills to go. I was non-responsive, but listening to them all the way. Coach Bobby was at the San Jac. hills and ran alongside us for a bit noting that there were only 2 turns to the finish line.
Scooby and Laura got me to the finish line. As we took the top of the hill, I started my kick and finished really strong sprinting to the finish with everything I had. I saw Coach Lorrie, she-Chris and Marchele to the right on the way to the chute. 4:37:37
Tahsin was waiting. I almost fell over as I hugged him. I really don’t think I’ve ever had a race that hard.
We made our way to the Rogue tent and caught up with other runners, most of whom had had great days — Colin, Brad, Tara, Chris, Divya, Bharath, Suz, Joe — and of course, our coaches Amy, Mark and Carolyn. Amy has a great way of helping you keep perspective.
I was well-trained and prepared. My previously nagging injuries were not bothering me. I had eaten well leading up to the race and was well-hydrated. I was wearing the right clothes. My head was in the game. I started easy to finish strong. I believed in the magic of the day.
I had joked with my coach a few days before that I always think it’s my day. I’ve had a charmed running life. I have bad runs here and there, sometimes for a few weeks, but not on race days. On race days, things had always come together for me.
I have no regrets. I gave it everything I had. My sore legs are a reminder that I “earned” that new PR. I fought the Austin Marathon course and shaved 4 min. off of my previous PR from October. I also re-found my respect for the marathon and how utterly amazing it is that we have the ability and choose to run 26.2 miles on any given day.
Scott was so proud of my accomplishment but knew how hard I would take not hitting my goal. He dove into the data and found a few more things to celebrate.
1) I have a new marathon PR of 4:37, cutting 4 min. off my time from Oct., even on a tough course.
2) I finished in the top half of the women marathoners for the first time. 770 out of 1,583.
3) I passed 455 people in the last 6 miles.
4) I didn’t stop running on Dean Keeton or the San Jacinto hills, and sprinted to the finish line.
5) I completed the Austin Distance Challenge.
6) I didn’t develop any new injuries.
I still have a goal of a sub-4:30, but some goals take a little longer to reach. Tahsin and I will be back to surpass that goal . . . next time.
Congrats to all of our friends who ran the Austin Marathon or Half-Marathon, especially T., who just rivaled his PR from a flat course one month ago and completed his 3rd marathon in 4 months! A big thanks to Rogue for the excellent training and extended family.