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.