Turkey Trot

Until last Thanksgiving, tradition dictated that I sleep in, then watch the Macy’s parade on TV before meeting up with family for a huge lunch. We’ve done everything from formal meals with the extended family to small gatherings at Threadgills. Last year, I started a new tradition: running the Turkey Trot, a five-mile race through downtown. This year, the three of us signed up.

Thanksgiving morning, thousands of people converged on the same spot–we must have sat in traffic for 30 minutes just to get in to the parking garage. But eventually we found a space and wandered out onto Auditorium Shores, next to the bridge where the race would start. Thousands of people milled around–serious runners, families, strollers, dogs. I saw a lot of people with coffee cups, and I shuddered–I love coffee and generally drink large quantities of the stuff, but I can’t tolerate it before a run. Bleah.

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The t-shirt

We made our way to the bridge. It was a gorgeous morning–sunny and clear, but not what most people think of as traditional Thanksgiving temperatures. I think it was near 70 at the start. We found a space with the untimed runners, but I saw a lot of folks with green (untimed) race numbers moving toward the very front. It is generally not an issue for me because I am slow, but serious runners get seriously pissed off dodging walkers and meanderers who decided they had to be first, so I was mildly annoyed watching people who were clearly walkers (the guy wearing jeans, the woman wearing Crocs…) move to the front.

The other thing I don’t get is people who put their race numbers on the backs of their shirts. Do you ever see an Olympic racer with his number on his back? No. In many races I’ve been a part of, the announcers read your number and your name as you cross the finish line–how can they do that with your number on your back? And 3/4 of the Turkey Trotters had theirs on the front–this should have been a clue. Why invest extra work of having someone else pin your number on your back? Even some of the timed runners did this–you’d think a runner who paid extra for the timed race would be experienced enough to know the damn thing goes on the front.

At about 9:25, a local artist began singing the national anthem. Having attended a lot of sporting events, I’ve found that when a live person sings the anthem (as opposed to a marching band), not too many people sing along, and that was the case here. But about halfway through, the PA system went silent, and an amazing thing happened. The crowd began singing, louder and louder, to finish the anthem, even after the PA came back on.

Starting line on the First Street bridge

The announcer said there were 23,000 people ready to go, and the starting horn blared. It took several minutes for us to make our way to the starting line itself, and even once we got through, it was slow going. Walkers strode right down the middle of the street, and once, a woman stopped in front of me to tie her shoe. I dodged left, but someone else crashed into her.

Heading north on Lavaca

There were funny things too–tons of Thanksgiving-themed costumes, Santa hats, and tutus. A trio of breakfast foods–a donut, an egg, and bacon–trotted along near a chef chasing a turkey. I was glad I’d worn short sleeves–the official race shirt is long-sleeved, and many folks looked hot right from the start.

One couple off to my left had a conversation that sounded like the last scene in Titanic. He gasped and told her to go on without him, and she replied with a plaintive, “But I don’t want to leave you!” I don’t know how it turned out because we kept on going, but I hope he fared better than Jack Dawson.

Somewhere in that first mile, I passed a guy pacing on the sidewalk, yelling Bible verses. He called one woman a whore, and yelled something obscene at another. Ah, family entertainment.

At the first mile marker, the course turned left. This is the toughest part of the race–a mile of hills. You make it up and down the first one, then realize that was just a teaser. The real hill is about a half-mile of curving, sloping torture. I did not envy the runners pushing strollers up that sucker.

15th Street
(Photo via RunTex)

We walked most of it–my hip was hurting, and I hadn’t managed much of a decent pace that first mile and a half. I wasn’t feeling it at ALL, so after a while I tossed out the finish-with-a-good-time thing and decided to have fun, even if that meant walking some.

So we made the most of it. We walked up the hills and ran the downhills and flats. I saw a couple of people I knew, which always amazes me in a huge crowd. We ran on, admiring the funny costumes, although I can only imagine how unpleasant it must have been for the guy running in a full turkey suit! By mile four, everyone looked a little bedraggled–long sleeves were pushed up, fluffy boas stuck to sweaty necks, feathers had fallen out of costumes.

We hit the final stretch across the bridge, and as we turned the last corner, cheering spectators lined the course. The three of us held hands as we crossed the finish line.

Half crazy

As you might have noticed from my new countdown ticker, I’m not done with this half-marathon thing after all. See, I have this friend who lives out of state, and in a conversation one day a few weeks ago, she lamented the lack of good winter races in her hometown. I suggested, hey, come to Austin for the 3M half marathon in January. She agreed, with one caveat: I have to run it too.

So we both took the plunge and registered. I also re-upped with Rogue and will jump into their training group the first week of December. The things I do for you, J. 😉

My family and I have also signed up for a couple of fun runs over the next few weeks, so I will have plenty to write about as I continue my efforts on foot. Stay tuned.

13.1

I was awake before race day actually dawned, but not by much. I looked out my hotel window to see the Tower of the Americas bathed in turquoise light across the highway. A huge line of cars, presumably waiting to drop runners off before the streets closed, snaked around the block and out of sight.

After a quick breakfast, we headed out for the half-mile walk to the start. I was assigned starting corral #29, so it took a while to get there. The air was warm and humid, and race volunteers reminded runners to stay hydrated. Once the race got underway, another 30 minutes elapsed before my group made it to the starting line. To my right was the announcers’ podium where one of the emcees was Frank Shorter, the Olympic gold medalist. To my left, a runner in military fatigues and gear laced up his boots. The sound of the air horn released us, and we were on our way.

Within the first half-mile, I caught up with the 3:00 pace team that had started with the corral ahead of me, and I decided I’d see how long I could stay with them. At the 5K mark, I got separated a bit as I ran through the plaza in front of the Alamo because I spotted my family and veered over to the sidewalk to high-five and fist-bump with my nine-year old.

After that, I had no idea where I was or what to expect around each corner. Somewhere between miles four and five, I lost most of the pace team. A big chunk of the middle of this race is really a blur now, I guess because the adrenaline and momentum of the start had faded, but I wasn’t even to the halfway point and couldn’t yet latch onto the “almost done!” second wind, either. I remember bits and parts: a beer tap and cups on a table on the curb of one house. A resident holding her lawn sprinkler, dousing runners. A guy blaring “Twist and Shout” from huge speakers set up on his front lawn. A guy in a pink tutu and a woman in a Superman cape. Water stops, including one that had iced water and another that had chilled Gatorade. Cheerleaders. A whole lot of funny signs. And I think the course crossed San Pedro Avenue four times.

Somewhere around mile nine, as we turned a corner, we could see the Alamodome straight ahead, in the distance. Someone joked about taking a shortcut. But we turned right and soldiered on. Mile ten’s water stop also included GU gel packets–maybe it’s because they were warm, maybe it was the flavor, but man, that stuff is vile. Somewhere around this point, the half-marathon course turned left while the marathoners continued on to run ten more miles before meeting back up for the final 5K. I was never more happy to have three miles–rather than 13–to go.

This stretch was my favorite, and not just because I was almost finished! A couple of things made a real difference here. The marathoners were on the right side of the road, the half-marathoners on the left. As I approached three hours, I marveled at the marathoners who had completed twice the distance in that same time. Then, with about two miles to go, I ran through the most amazing gauntlet of race support. I think they were Air Force ROTC students–most of them looked like teens–and they did not stop cheering. Hundreds of young adults yelled and clapped and chanted, handed out water and cold sponges, and provided an incredible morale boost exactly when I needed it. And then, as I approached mile 12, I spotted my Rogue coaches. Their cheers and high-fives carried me that last stretch of road before turning into the Alamodome.

I came up alongside the stadium, and spectators lined the fences. As I made the penultimate turn, I crossed under a pedestrian walkway crowded five or six deep with cheering, poster-waving people. The last segment turned uphill–the same hill we’d tackled in that first mile. It had seemed a lot easier three hours ago! I looked to my right and spotted my family in the crowd. As I struggled up the hill, I heard my son yell “Run Mom!” so I did.

I made the final turn–the end was in sight. Thirteen down, point-one to go. I don’t know how, but I found some last reserve of energy and actually passed someone just before crossing the finish line in 3:16. I received my finisher medal from one volunteer and gratefully accepted an ice-cold towel and a bottle of water from two others. I wound my way through the lines of bagels, bananas, and chocolate milk, but I couldn’t stomach any food and just kept going. My family stood waiting for me.

Rock ‘n’ roll

Last night I completed my half-marathon training.

This has been an amazing, exhausting, and totally worthwhile experience, and no matter how the race itself plays out on Sunday, I will have achieved something the 20-year old me (or the 30-year old, for that matter) never would have considered. And as I ran through my training exercises last night, I remembered my very first day back in July: three miles in the heat. There were more water stops than miles in those early days, and 13.1 seemed beyond impossible.

Over the past four months, my training runs have taken me through neighborhoods and parks, on trails and up hills, on the track and on the street, in the blazing sun and in darkness. According to my Garmin, I’ve run 269 miles in 71 hours while burning 37,850 calories. I won’t even try to count the number of Advil or gallons of water I’ve consumed, or the songs and podcasts I’ve played. And suffice it to say I’ve spent the GDP of a small island nation on shoes, clothes, and other random objects to make the whole experience less excruciating challenging. I have had good days, bad days, and a couple of really really ugly days.

Last night as I ran intervals on the track, I thought about how far I’ve come. Four months of training had led up to now, this weekend. And I am ready. Let’s rock and roll.

The final countdown

Da na na nah…. da na na na na….

Yep, one week to go before my first half-marathon. I’ve gone from three-mile training runs in the July heat to 13.1 on a cool Saturday two weeks ago to a frigid 10-mile race last Sunday. I’m as prepared as I’m gonna get, and I feel pretty good about it.

For some reason I’m not too worried about doing this. Not like I was before the 10-miler, anyway. I know I can do this distance–I’ve trained hard, I’ve followed the schedule, and I showed up at all the workouts. My hip isn’t 100%, but I can manage. At this point, lots of things hurt at various points of my runs!

This week is pretty light–last night I ran almost six miles (I was supposed to do seven, but I didn’t leave until the Texas – Texas Tech football game ended, and I ran out of daylight) and this morning my son, my dad, and I hit the hike-and-bike trail for three miles around the lake. Now all that’s left is my Tuesday training group, three miles on Thursday, and a trip to the expo to get my stuff.

Lighters in the air, people. It’s the final countdown.

Formula Run

The big news around here is the new Formula One track–Circuit of the Americas–that is scheduled to host its inaugural F1 race this month. Well, we got a preview of the facility today courtesy of the Formula Run, a one-lap, 3.5-mile race around the track.

I’d heard about this event last week–the same running store organized it and the ten-miler I ran last Sunday. But my half-marathon is next weekend (!) and I didn’t think it would be wise to race three weekends in a row. Instead, after I read a Facebook post asking for volunteers, I thought that would be a terrific way to participate. This sounds kind of corny, but I remembered how much I appreciated the people working the water stops last Sunday (and in previous races too) and I wanted to give back. I also thought it would be a great volunteering experience for my nine-year old, so I signed us both up.

Later in the week, I received an email with details–what time to get there, what jobs needed to be done, that kind of thing. It also outlined some pretty strict track policies, including the fact that kids under 18 would not be allowed to volunteer. Gah. So I called the organizers to figure something out, since the online registration system had accepted his entry. Alexandra at Run-Tex went out of her way to help me, but unfortunately the age limit was set by the track, not Run-Tex. In the end, she kept me on the volunteer roster and registered B for the kids’ race, giving both of us credentials and allowing us to participate while still abiding by the track rules.

It was another early Saturday morning. The Circuit of the Americas is out in the sticks, southeast of Austin. It took us about 45 minutes to make our way down roads that got narrower at each turn until eventually we reached a line of cars waiting to turn into the entrance. There’s some controversy surrounding the facility because this two-lane road is the only way in or out, and even at 6:15am it was slow going. I wondered how they will move 100,000+ people through here in two weeks.

The place is massive, and it took us a while just to get to the parking lot. But parking was plentiful–and free–and we soon located the packet pickup tables and volunteers. Someone handed me a yellow volunteer shirt and I took on the task of distributing kids’ shirts. The grammar nerd in me cringed because they called it the Kid’s Dash, as if only one kid were involved, but if others noticed the misplaced apostrophe, they didn’t say anything. Image

For two hours, I passed out shirts and safety pins, exchanged shirts for different sizes, and watched a steady stream of people cross the parking lot and file onto the track. The race was scheduled to start at 8am, but at 8:15 dozens of participants were still waiting to collect shirts and race numbers. One woman told me she had been stuck in a line of cars stretching several miles down that two-lane road.

When the registration area was mostly clear, we headed into the track, a light fog partially obscuring the grandstands off to our left. As we crossed into the pit area, we could see the runners lined up, ready to go. The announcer estimated the field at 2000 participants, although dozens more had registered that morning. Counting organizers, photographers, volunteers, kids’ racers, and non-running spectators, I’d guess the crowd was quite a  bit larger than that.

ImageWe walked around, checking out the gazillion-dollar Formula One facility. The main grandstand and pit area area looked mostly complete, although much of it was closed to the public as construction workers put the finishing touches on the place.

Further out, past the starting line, another set of stands was visible, although seats had been installed in only about 1/3 of the structure.

Because the main race got started late, the kids’ race was pushed back as well. So with an hour to wait. I joined the volunteers at the drink table, icing down waters and Gatorades, setting out bananas, grapes, and protein bars. I hadn’t been working very long when the first racers hit the finish line. Runners trickled in to our refreshments table at first, but soon there was a crowd. It was a warm, humid morning and the drinks flew off our tables as quickly as we could grab them from the ice chests.

Finally, a little before 9:30, they called for the kids to line up. It took forever because many runners and walkers were still on the track, so the announcer kept steering them to one side so the pace car (a little Fiat, naturally) could lead the kids down the stretch.

ImageI stood near the finish line while waves of increasingly larger kids hoofed it down the track. As my nine-year old finished, I got to hand him his ribbon.

I was willing to help with cleanup or anything else they needed, but because of those track rules I wasn’t sure what B would be allowed to do or where he could wait. In the end, the Run-Tex organizers thanked us for being there and said they could handle the rest.

As we traveled back through the enormous parking lot, we passed another incomplete grandstand structure, dozens of construction trailers, and a front loader carrying a couple of huge trees. They say they will be ready for the first race in two weeks, but there certainly was a lot of work left to do.

I’m not all that interested in this millionaires’ sport, but I admit it was pretty cool to be on the track of what I think is the only F1 track in the U.S. before it officially opens. This is probably the only time I’ll be able to attend an event here–it would cost more for my family to attend one U.S. Grand Prix event than I pay for two sets of college football season tickets. If this run becomes an annual event, though, I think I will come out and do it again, either as a participant or a volunteer. Who knew, when I started this running thing almost two years ago, I’d end up preferring to run, not drive, on a racetrack?