Trail of Lights Fun Run

A little rain isn’t going to keep us from having fun at the Trail of Lights Fun Run!

At school this week the weather turned from Flip Flops to Fuzzy Boots, then to Rain Boots by Friday. A muddy Zilker Park prompted email reassurance that the event would go on, rain or shine.

Shine it did not.

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Which led to Saturday afternoon’s text exchange debating the merits of bailing on the race. We’re not normally the bailing-out types, but rain and cold sounded distinctly un-fun. Finally, I suggested that perhaps because of the weather, it won’t be as crowded. And that was enough to tip the scales to the Go side.

We didn’t pay extra for on-site parking (I don’t understand parking as close as possible to … the start of a run) so we parked at Austin High and walked across the bridge. Despite living in the area for more than a decade, S had never visited the Zilker Tree (gasp!) so that was our first stop. Spinning under the tree is my favorite Austin tradition–one of the last things Austin hasn’t screwed up. They tried two years ago when they plopped a Ferris Wheel (and its loud, garish music) next to the elegant, peaceful tree, but last year remedied that by moving the Ferris Wheel to the more -appropriate Trail of Lights side of the park.

Because of the rain, race organizers moved much of the finish line festival to the parking lot of the playground near the start. The fine folks at Schlotzky’s were handing out cookies, hot chocolate, and Jedi-style flashing light sabers. We made a tactical error of collecting freebies before the run, requiring us to figure out what to do with it all, but at least the cookies weren’t a problem in that respect. In the end, I rolled up the bag and tucked it into the inside pocket of my jacket. Awkward and bulky, but better than carrying it while I ran. Especially since I was already carrying a light saber.

We’d opted for the early wave (this one started at 6:30, and the second would begin at 8) so at about 6:15 we walked (in a steady drizzle) back up to the starting area next to the tree. The start line situation was typical of a Fun Run. S and I had no plans to sprint the thing, but we wanted to start ahead of obvious walkers so we kept moving forward. I felt ridiculous lining up so close to the front, but even then little kids, dads carrying umbrellas, and women wearing rain boots surrounded us.

I spotted us at the very end of this clip.

The first mile followed the road around the southwest side of Zilker Park. A couple of kids kept sprinting past us, then coming to a dead stop to wait for their parents to catch up. One dude admonished them (“Run to the left, walk to the right!”)  as he passed, but it didn’t make much difference. That kind of thing drives me crazy, but I kept telling myself that it’s a fun run so chill out about it.

A downhill stretch felt a bit precarious on the slick asphalt, but we made it unscathed. By now the rain had stopped and I was warm in my jacket, but I couldn’t really take it off because I’d stuffed my goodie back into an inside pocket, and my zipped-up jacket was the only thing holding it all in place. Eh, it’s just two miles. I can survive.

I skipped the water stop in front of the pool, then followed the course up toward the playground. Then we crossed Barton Springs Road and entered the Trail of Lights itself for the second mile. Because of our early start, we weren’t caught up in the crowds of people who stopped to take pictures–we just kept running.

S recognized this part of the park from the Zilker Relays a few years ago. This time we felt significantly less pressure to race. Still, we had a speedy (for us) pace going on, so we just rolled with it through to the finish line. I thought perhaps we could just turn around and go back through the trail, more slowly this time, but we were turned away. Instead, we circled back out of the park and down Barton Springs Road to the trail entrance. A wave of walkers just now reached this part of the course, so we jumped back in, this time walking through the trail to look more closely at the light displays.

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We decided to visit the Schlotsky’s booth again–hot chocolate would really hit the spot now–but they’d run out. A volunteer handed us a stack of cookies, though, so I was happy.

We checked out the rest of the freebie stuff, then walked back up to the tree. By now the second wave was ready to start, so we took that as our cue to exit and headed back to the car.

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Yeah, we had to dodge a thousand small people, strollers, and rain boot-clad families. And yes, the course was only 1.9 miles. But we never pretended it was a serious race–hell, it says Fun Run right there in the title. No, we went into it knowing the main goal was to enjoy the Zilker Tree and the Trail of Lights, and we did just that–twice. The rain stopped just in time–our feet still got a little wet, but I’m pretty sure I could convince S to run this one again.

 

Turkey Trot

Last year, I realized after the rainy, warm race that I felt so exhausted because I’d had blood drawn the day before. This year, the weather forecast was perfect–sunny and 50*– and I retained my complete hemoglobin supply so I thought I was in good shape.

Until I missed a step at my dad’s on Wednesday afternoon and twisted my foot.

Fortunately, it affected the top of my foot more than the ankle, and the ice-compression brace-ibuprofen combo worked pretty well overnight. It really didn’t bother me Thanksgiving morning as we headed downtown for our sixth running of the Austin Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot, now in its 26th year.

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This year they started the timed runners ten minutes before the untimed ones, but as always some untimed walkers managed to situate themselves at the front. Still, it was an improvement over previous years. Since I didn’t find myself weaving a lot or getting passed by waves of people, I suppose we’d picked the sweet spot.

The first mile was mostly uphill, from the First Street bridge to 15th along Lavaca. The second mile turned left onto 15th Street–flat, uphill, downhill, giiiiiiant uphill. I found myself walking a lot of the uphill. I’m not sure why–I’ve been running hills all summer–but since Shiner, I’ve had some trouble with my asthma. I think today it was more about my breathing than any sort of physical issue with hills.

Anyway, the third mile turned south onto the northbound Mopac access road, which was mostly flat, with an incline as the road rose into an overpass. I walked some of that too, while B kept sprinting ahead and walking until we caught up. The overpass turned downhill onto Cesar Chavez–mostly flat until a little incline just past the fourth mile marker, then the last stretch back to the First Street bridge and the final turn onto Riverside and Auditorium Shores.

I wanted to finish under an hour–my Garmin said 59:59 but the official time said 1:00:23 so I just missed it. In my defense, though, this was my third race in thirteen days (two of which were successive 5K PRs) and fourth since November 6. So I wasn’t really racing it and I don’t really care about my time. I mostly just wanted to offset Thanksgiving dinner.🙂

Giving thanks

Despite Ferris Bueller’s words of wisdom, sometimes I get caught up in my own life and forget to look around once in a while.

To teachers, Thanksgiving means a long-awaited break. A chance to turn off the alarm clock and chip away at my sleep deficit. To go to the dentist or get my hair cut. To catch up with family and friends. To read for fun. I mean, yesterday I picked up the Sports Illustrated issue celebrating the Cubs’ World Series win. You know, a simpler time, three weeks ago.

Anyway, after hanging out in Shiner with a bunch of Rogues, I was reminded that although running is often a solitary endeavor and I only get out of my training what I put into it, other people play a significant role too.

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Coaches who push me in training and celebrate my PRs. Friends who motivate me and amuse me and coerce me encourage me to sign up for that next race. And family who works around my training schedule and often comes out to cheer me on. Because of these people, I’ve gotten a lot more out of running than I ever thought I would.

I’m not the only runner who feels this way, either. After returning from Shiner, Jeremy, a Rogue CPer, wrote a gratitude post on our Facebook page; it resonated so much with me I asked if I could share it here. I’ve only edited out the more personal sections in which he referred to specific people.

Fall, Thanksgiving, cooler weather, I love this time of year. I especially love Thanksgiving because it is a holiday where family and friends can get together and not have to worry about gift-giving or any of the added stress that comes with the Christmas holidays. Thanksgiving allows me to take a step back and truly take note of all the good things I have in my life.

I consider myself an incredibly lucky person, I have a family who loves and supports me and a well-paying job that allows me to pursue my other love, running. I used to run back when I was in my 20s and 30s and even ran a couple of marathons. I put all that on the back burner after my kids were born, and just recently picked it back up last November, when I joining Rogue Cedar Park.

Even though I consider myself lucky in life, I’ve never really had a lot of friends outside of when I was in the Army back in the 90s. I also work in the legal field, which, over the years has made me a little jaded, pessimistic and always looking at situations for the hidden agendas that were the real motives behind what was going on. I bring all of this up because my past year with this running group, my running group, has brought me more friends than I have had at any other time my life, helped me start to chip away at my cynical nature, and has helped me become a faster runner and what I think is a better version of myself. That is in addition to dropping 25 pounds since I started, a year ago.

I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone at Rogue over the past year who has helped me become a better runner, and who I consider my friends.

I still have a lot of goals to accomplish with my running, and have a lot of work to do to get there, but I feel like I have a great group of friends, coaches and mentors that I can rely on to help me. I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving and holiday season, and I look forward to the next year of training with all of you.

I’m thankful for a lot of things in my life, running and otherwise. Jeremy’s post reminded me to stop and look around once in a while so I don’t miss it.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

Shiner Beer Run 2016

or This Place Smells Like College

or So Glad I Didn’t Run the Half

Last year, S and I went to Shiner as spectators. She had registered, but she was injured so we decided to go and cheer instead. This year, we were both healthy and decided to run the 5K while two other BRFs signed up for the half. And after last weekend’s almost-PR, I was secretly a little hopeful, even though our coach had warned us about the hills.

The four of us drove from Austin to Shiner on Friday afternoon. We arrived too late for a brewery tour, but they were giving away free beer samples in the gift shop. An aroma of beer enveloped the place, and someone quipped, “It smells like college.” Amateurs. My college experience smelled more like tequila.😉

 

Spoetzl Brewery, Shiner

After that, we went to check into our hotel–we had two rooms at The Black Gold Inn–a few miles south, in Yoakum. Just screams “small-town Texas,” doesn’t it? But was a pretty nice place–our room had two queen beds and a little kitchen area, plus free hot breakfast in the morning.

 

View from our hotel

A cold front had blown in during the day, and temps really dropped after dark. We ate dinner back in Shiner, then retired early. The race wouldn’t start until 8:30, but we had a little bit of a drive plus there was an unknown parking situation, so we wanted to leave by 7:15 or 7:30.

It was in the 40s and windy when we checked out of the hotel and headed to the race. We scored a parking spot along the road across from the brewery, thanks to S’s SUV. Since she was running the half, she gave me her keys so that when we finished the 5K we could retrieve extra shirts to stay warm while we waited. I zipped them into the pocket of my pants, but the whole morning I was paranoid about losing them or forgetting to lock the car.

Rogue CP had chartered a bus, and we ran into a couple of friends who had just arrived, plus some others we hadn’t seen in a while. It was cold, but as long as we huddled with the crowd, it wasn’t too bad. Around 8:15 two of us made our way to the start area, but we couldn’t find the others before the gun. I felt bad that I didn’t get to wish them well before their longer race.

The race is capped at 2107–the population of Shiner– and the 5Kers and half marathoners started together, so it was a little crowded at first. But it spread out pretty quickly as the course ran out of the brewery and up a short hill before turning through a small business district into a residential area. My lungs burned from the cold air–I tried to use my inhaler but couldn’t hold my breath long enough for the medicine to work very well. That first mile, several Rogue friends encouraged me as they passed.

I knew the course would be mostly uphill on the way out, so I expected my first mile to be my slowest. When my watch beeped a 10:57 first mile, my only thought was, “Well that sets the bar pretty high.”

Soon the bike escorting the leader–a Rogue!–flew by going the other direction. The number of returning runners increased, and even though I wasn’t really looking at my watch, when I spotted S I knew it wasn’t too far before the 5K turnaround.

When I reached it, I had to avoid a couple of half-marathon runners going straight as I tried to turn. I was impressed with the runner pushing a stroller who whipped that thing around the cone like one of those zero-turning-radius lawn mowers. A few minutes later I spotted the other two and waved, glad I didn’t completely miss them at the beginning of the race.

I knew from here it was mostly flat or downhill, so I could pick up my pace just by running the same effort level as the first mile. And I did–the half-uphill second mile was 10:44. So now I knew a PR was possible as long as I kept up this pace or better–possible, but not easy. My breathing was raspy, exacerbated by the occasional wind gust, but otherwise I felt okay.

I remember making one of the last turns and seeing a downhill stretch before runners disappeared to the left and the finish line. Almost done. I was tempted to look at my watch–it felt like I was running faster now, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to know if I wasn’t.

As I turned the final corner, a blast of cold air hit me. Really? A headwind at the end? But it was all downhill and I could see the finish. Just before I reached the last mile marker, my watch announced a 10:15 third mile. That (and S shouting encouragement at me) powered me over the bridge and to a 25-second PR. She had PR’d as well, so there were smiles all around.

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If a race is going to have hills, I prefer them on the way out

After some water and another attempt at the inhaler, I dropped off some race stuff and grabbed a warmer shirt from the car. We went back to the finish line to catch one of our friends, then got in line for the food. We sat on the grass eating sausage wraps and chips—more food than my 5K calorie burn warranted–while absorbing sunshine, which was pleasant except when the wind gusted.

We decided to walk back along the course to catch our friends and run in with them, and we called out to several Rogues on final approach. We stopped on a corner about a mile from the finish–where there was no crowd support at all–and cheered while keeping an eye out for their matching blue shirts. Which was a challenge because the race shirt was also blue, albeit a little more turquoise. It seemed like forever before we saw them, but I think that’s mostly because the wind gusts were freezing.

We jumped in and ran with them. My breathing was still funky, but half-marathon pace was doable. When we made that last turn and got hit with that cold headwind, I thought again to myself, “I’m so glad I didn’t run the half!” Running the last mile with friends was pretty fun though. I pushed S to pass a couple of people at the end, then veered off at the bridge and sent her to the finish on her own.

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Race day!

S and I sherpa’d their stuff from the car, and once again we sat on the grass, relaxing. They got food and beer, then we caught up with the other Rogues and took a huge group photo as half-marathon awards were called out. A couple of Rogues won–impressive but not surprising since they run past me every week and I know they’re badasses.

This race is pretty unique in that a lot of people come from out of town (they had packet pickups in Austin, San Antonio, and Shiner) and stay all afternoon for the post-race beer and live music. We decided to hit the road when the Rogue bus left, and even though it was 1 P.M. the party was still going strong.

From the back seat, I looked up race results and learned that–shockingly–I had finished ninth in my age group. Out of more than 40! To be sure, some of them were walkers, and ninth isn’t exactly award-worthy. But still, that single-digit place felt pretty satisfying. Then I scrolled to S’s age group and saw that she was SECOND! We’d never heard the 5K awards after the race and had no idea she’d earned one until we were on the road. I hope they’ll mail it to her! The other two had finished about five minutes behind their 3M half marathon time, which is great for the much hillier Shiner course.

And their medals were pretty spiffy–I was almost jealous, but still glad I didn’t run the half.

Run with the Heroes 5K

Most races benefit one or more philanthropic organizations, and while that’s usually not the main reason I participate, I like that running and charity often go hand in hand. We chose to run this race, though, because the family of one of the honorees are friends of ours.

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We arrived a little early and chatted with our friends and watched STAR Flight and the Austin police helicopter land in the middle of Camp Mabry’s field before the race. The Austin police chief was there to lead the pre-race honors, along with the assistant police chief who’s a high school friend of ours. Several family members of the honorees also spoke, their voices filled with emotion.

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After the chief’s words, an invocation, and the national anthem, a Special Olympics participant spoke and asked us to repeat the athletes’ oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

And then we were off.

Since my fall training had focused on 10-milers, I wasn’t terribly prepared to run a 5K with any kind of speed. So I figured I’d just plod along and enjoy the cool morning.

The first mile wound around Camp Mabry’s southern section, then turned north and ran alongside the highway. My lower back felt really stiff that first mile, and my pace reflected my discomfort. I skipped the water stop–it was 54*–and it wasn’t long before the leaders on the return route passed me. I thought I said “Daaaaamn…” in my head, but apparently I’d spoken it out loud since the guy next to me looked over and said, “No kidding.” Mile two headed downhill, around a corner, and then uphill to the turnaround to do the whole thing in reverse.

On the way back, I saw at least one Austin police officer running in full uniform, and lots of families both running and walking.

There were no time clocks on the course, and I paid almost no attention to my Garmin–I remember looking at my first mile notification, thinking it was more like 10-miler pace instead of 5K pace, but I can’t remember if I even saw the second mile. I was uncomfortable, though, so I knew I had either sped up or was in worse 5K shape than I thought. Guess we’d find out in another mile or so.

With half a mile left, I started passing people. I decided the girl in the red shorts was my runner-to-beat, and I felt good when I passed her with the finish line in sight. Unfortunately, I think she must have been resting or something because a minute later she went sprinting past me. Damn again.

Anyway, it turns out I had sped up. In a good news-bad news scenario, I finished more than 1:20 faster than my last legit 5K PR back in May, but my Garmin said I’d only gone 2.98 miles. I’m not sure if another .12 would have come in under my PR time, but I kind of think it could have. I was hoofing it pretty hard at the end, despite my initial lack of preparedness confidence at this distance.

So while it won’t go down as an official PR, I really liked this race. It wasn’t crowded, the course was well-marked, plenty of water was available on the course and at the finish, and unlike several recent races, they gave out technical shirts. I don’t usually wear the race shirt for the race itself, but it seemed like the thing to do this time. And I wore a wristband given to me by our friends.

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More good news? I’ll get another crack at the 5K six days from now in Shiner, Texas. Two friends are running the half marathon and two of us are running the 5K. If the weather cooperates, who knows?

Run for the Water 2016

The bonus of waking up at 5:30 and driving downtown before daybreak for a race? Seeing the UT Tower still lit up orange from Saturday’s football victory.

At that hour, parking was still pretty easy, and after some indecision about sunglasses we were walked toward the First Street Bridge. With sunglasses.

We weren’t sure what to expect on the bridge since the course had changed and the starting line moved down Cesar Chavez almost to Lamar. But we found plentiful porta-potties on the Riverside end (although no trash cans at the hand-washing station) and wandered along, checking out the tents and stuff. Eventually we reached the finish line at the other end, and volunteers pointed us in the direction of the new starting line location.

We weren’t in a hurry, so when we encountered another group of porta-potties, we stopped again. Because nervous bladders. Not that I was really nervous–I wasn’t trying to PR this race–but it’s not always easy to convince my brain that running double-digit miles is a fun idea.

Then it was time for the American national anthem followed by the Burundi national anthem. How many races can say that? Hearing the second one always reminds me that even though I might be uncomfortable for two-ish hours today, I don’t have to fetch my own post-race shower water.

B had come with us–involuntarily–and he sat on the curb reading a book. As we started, he waved goodbye and headed the other way toward the finish. I turned around to wave back, and I promptly ran into the person in front of me because the crowd had stopped moving forward. D’oh!

I’ve run this race three times before (and volunteered at a water stop another year) and have always found it to be really well-organized. This year was no exception, although I was kind of surprised that the 5Kers and the 10-milers started at the same time. That was not terribly frustrating for me, but I’d imagine those fast 5K runners were annoyed at having to weave around those of us conserving energy the first mile or so. There was also an oddly-early water stop, like half a mile in; all I can think of was the location was chosen mostly for the return route (since it’s further from the finish line) or the 5Kers, not the 10-milers on the way out. I didn’t stop.

Did I mention it was 60-something degrees and humid? Less than ideal racing conditions, at least for me. But the cloudy sky helped as I plodded along–behind Austin High, up the hill to Lake Austin Blvd, then right on Exposition. Some Rogue friends cheered at the corner of Exposition and Enfield, which of course made me ask myself why I ran this thing instead of volunteering.

After a long stretch down Enfield, I pretty much lost track of where I was. Just four miles of turns and hills and more turns and hills. Compared to last year, it seemed like there were more (and steeper) uphill and fewer downhill sections. I felt like I was dragging, and I was pretty sure each mile was slower than the last one. A couple of people commented on the back of my shirt, though, which was kind of motivating.

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A few neighbors sat outside their houses and cheered, and at one point someone wearing a dinosaur suit stood on a corner playing music. Police officers guarded us from side-street traffic, and when a group stopped to take a picture at a yard sign (it was in the shape of an acorn and I think it said something suggestive about nuts) a nearby police officer photobombed them. But other than water stop volunteers who were awesome as usual, it was mostly quiet in this upscale neighborhood. And can I just comment on the number of construction projects that knocked down million-dollar houses (but left one wall so it meets some city code because it’s not a 100% demolition…) and were building something even more enormous? I want to know what these folks do for a living. Yowza.

Finally we climbed one. last. hill and emerged on Lake Austin Blvd. Even though this stretch was mostly flat (especially in comparison to Pecos and Scenic) and it was the start of the home stretch I did not love it. I struggled, mostly running but walking a few steps here and there. My quads were killing me, and my left calf had some kind of tightness going on.

Just before the mile eight marker, I finally passed a friend whose electric orange shirt I’d been following since Exposition. Then a water stop, then back down the hill toward Austin High. Speed humps in the road. Passed another friend, walked through a water stop, and crossed what was left of the start line. Rogues again–yay! Another damn incline. Burundian drum music. Spectator friend (“Just one last turn!”) then B ran toward me and taunted encouraged me with “I’m running backwards faster than you are!” One of my BRFs had finished and was cheering too. I finally passed the drummers as I made the turn to the finish.

The best thing about this year’s course change? The finish line was literally just around that last corner. Not halfway across the bridge. I could see B out of the corner of my eye, running alongside me on the other side of the barricade. I heard the announcer call my name, and I tried to smile as I crossed the finish line.

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Like I said, I hadn’t tried to PR this race (and I felt so slow, especially on the hills, I knew it wasn’t in the cards anyway) but I did finish nine minutes faster than last year. And I earned a 10th anniversary medal.

But I didn’t really need my sunglasses after all.

Back on my feet again

My week was pretty pathetic, exercise-wise.

Sunday night a stomach virus took me down for the count. Monday I barely got out of bed, and Tuesday was only marginally better. Wednesday I went back to work, but only at about 60%. I had no appetite and couldn’t even drink my coffee. Thursday was more like 75%. I came home from work and had just enough energy to sit on the couch to watch the World Series. Finally Thursday night, for the first time in four days, I ate something that could be considered a meal.

And that was it.

Fortunately, for other reasons we’d already decided to bump our 10-mile long run to Sunday this week. Saturday morning I slept in, then took a slow two-mile jog around the neighborhood before heading out to the Texas-Baylor game. I went from there to a friend’s birthday party, so I got home later than usual for a 2:30 football game.

But it was worth it. }:8

Even though my short Saturday test run felt okay, it had been a rough week and I still planned to run only five or six miles instead of ten Sunday morning.

I did not do a good job at hydration–even after subsisting primarily on lime water most of the week, I’d pretty much negated it by sitting in the sun at the football game for the better part of six hours on Saturday. I drank a bottle of water the first half and filled it up again in the third quarter (DKR has cold water refill stations–it’s the best) but I doubt it was sufficient. Again, good thing I’d planned to drop down to six miles.

We started around 6:30, in the dark. I was tired, slow, and I fell behind the others a lot. Running on the uneven gravel portion of the trail guided only by the illumination from our headlamps made me a little nervous, but by the time we turned around the sky was beginning to lighten.

Around mile five I got a side stitch and had to walk a little… which made me fall further behind. But the sun was up now and lots of runners were on the trail. I got an unexpected break when we ran into some friends coming other direction and we stopped to catch up. It was just what I needed, and I felt pretty good as we reached the parking lot and wrapped up six miles.

My friends filled up their water bottles and headed out again for three or four more miles. S said she was just going out for half a mile and back; I knew she would keep going with the others. I waited at the park, and when they came back we all headed out for our usual coffee date.

And here I am.
I’m back on my feet again.