Monday, February 24, 2014

Austin Half Marathon, part 1 recap

Going to try a creative nonfiction style recap for this post, put that book learnin' to some use. Cold hard stats in the next post...

The alarm went off at 5:30am. "Doo doodoo doo do!" it said, from across the room, way too happy to be awake at this hour. I silently cursed the hotel for not having enough plugs next to the bed (do they ever?!) as I trudged to the desk to snooze the alarm before flopping back into bed. Five minutes later the backup alarm went off, and it was time to get up for real. It was dark, but not too dark. Wisely, we'd decided to leave the curtain cracked so the city lights could stream in, rather than wake to pitch black. Running is all about mind games.

I peered out the window. From our hotel room we could see the Texas Capitol building in the distance. Fog hung low in the sky, obscuring the top half of the rotunda. The facade was lit, the rust-red brick both inviting and imposing. Behind it was the start line, 15 blocks away; in front of it was the finish line, 8 blocks-- but 13 miles-- away. Too late to back out. I put on my clothes, which I'd laid out on the couch the night before, in reverse order of how they would be put on. I rubbed body glide all over my feet (I got blisters, anyways), taped my bad left foot (it bothered me for about 9 miles, anyways), and tied on my shoes.

I couldn't decide if I wanted to wear my sweatshirt, a Goodwill purchase meant for discarding at the start line. 65 degrees seemed too warm for a jacket so I left it behind; I should have brought it. Waiting in line for the race to start for 20 minutes... 30 minutes... an hour; mist began to fall from the sky-- droplets too small to be rain, just condensing fog. It was chilly. Shivering wastes energy, our friend had said at dinner the previous night. I would need that energy. We stood towards the back of the group, self-seeding with the other slow-pokes. We heard the national anthem, then an airhorn... and then the excited chatter from surrounding runners drowned out the announcements. At some point the sun had come up, and although it was still foggy, it was no longer dark. Sunrises happen gradually, and yet also all at once; it's dark and then it's not. The line began to move, we marched forward at a shuffle; nobody wanted to begin running until they crossed the start line. Finally we could see it, and then lumbered across it.

We joined the herd, running first east then south along the Austin city streets. We rounded the Capitol, headed south toward the Colorado River, took in the sights, the sounds, the spectators. "There are no refunds, so you might as well  keep running," said one sign. "Free nipple massages (women only)" said another, held by a man in a green full-body suit. "Do not say you know the Lord and his commandments," shouted the crazy street preacher, "for you are a sinner!" He wore a dirty olive military-style hat and a backpack, and had long, dirty hair and a scraggly beard; I wondered if he was homeless, I wondered why he wasn't in church this Sunday morning, I wondered how he was so sure we were sinners. I kept running (trudging, jogging) forward. We ran past our hotel, I told Dan "We could just quit now and go back to bed." We kept running.

Out into South Congress, the "weird" in the slogan "Keep Austin Weird." Past a food truck lot, and another; an antique shop, or several; a costume store called "Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds." I laughed. I kept running.

I didn't notice the timing strip at 5k. I had to pee. There were no port-o-potties. Finally we passed some-- 6, in a restaurant parking lot, with a line of ~10 people. No thanks, I said to myself, there'll be another. There wasn't. Not until mile 5.6. Here the line was longer. Too bad.

After that, we kept running. Up a hill, down a hill, around a bend. "Free nipple massage (women only)" guy was back, still in his green suit. A woman jumped up and down in a red fleece onesie; a baby gave out high-fives and looked very confused why so many people were grabbing his hand. More shot blocks, more water, more running. At mile 10 I noted that the winner of the marathon had already finished. We kept trudging along. The mother of all hills, sadistically located at mile 11.8. I almost made it to the top, but ran out of steam with 15 feet to go. Briefly, I stopped running and gasped for air. "Come on!" said Dan. So I kept running.

Another little hill, and then we ran around the Capitol building again. The finish line was in sight. I sprinted. 13.1 miles done! But the hotel was still 8 blocks away...

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