Austin half marathon: race report

My fantastic race crew dropped me off a block from the Capitol–they were going to find some breakfast, then stake out a place to cheer along the race course. Watching all the cars and traffic, I could not have been more grateful I didn’t have to deal with parking.

Fog surrounded the Capitol–humidity had to be in the 90% range, which made me kind of nervous about the race. The course is a lot hillier than 3M, so meeting my goal would certainly be more of a challenge.

By race time, fog completely obscured the top of the Capitol.

By race time, fog completely obscured the top of the Capitol.

I headed down to the gear check area–I wasn’t checking anything, but some other Rogue runners planned to meet up there. After waiting in the porta potty line, we made our way to the starting area on the north side of the Capitol. The faster Rogues moved toward the front, and four of us stayed together further back. We planned to start together and I kind of thought I’d run with them most of the race. But much like the Turkey Trot, almost as soon as we crossed the starting line, we got separated. I apparently suck at running with others. Sigh. I decided just to keep on going. I hoped they understood.

Foggy and blurry, kind of like my brain at this hour

Foggy and blurry, kind of like my brain at this hour

The first big hill of the race comes about a half-mile into it, on San Jacinto Street. Our coaches had stressed the need to take it slowly the first six miles because of the hills, but I have a bad habit of starting off too fast, so I really had to work to make sure I kept my pace in check.

We came around the south side of the Capitol and headed west, then south on Guadalupe Street. A good-sized crowd gathered at West First and Guadalupe–this was a good spot for spectators because eventually we’d return this way at around mile nine.

We turned east on First, where I once again encountered The Crazy Guy Yelling about Jesus, then south over the Congress Avenue Bridge. There’s a slight downhill here, past the bat sculpture, before Congress goes uphill through the now-trendy SoCo area. This used to be kinda sketchy–car repair places, resale shops, and a XXX movie theater. Now it’s all revitalized and gentrified, with coffee houses, funky restaurants, trendy condos, and all kinds of hipster-magnets. There used to be an empty lot filled with food trailers, but they got evicted for more condos, or something. Keep Austin Weird indeed.

At the top of the hill, I spotted M and B. B held up the same sign he’d made for 3M. I veered over to them, got high fives, and kept going. I passed a mosaic sculpture at the entrance to one neighborhood, a mural on the grocery store wall, then St. Edward’s University. As I approached the turn at Ben White Boulevard, I saw my dad standing there. I jumped the curb and ran up to him–I hadn’t known for sure he would be there–and he ran with me for a block or so. I was feeling tired from the South Congress hills, so seeing him provided great moral support.

At the next major intersection, we turned right on South First, pretty much back the way we’d come. So all that uphill from Congress? Would now be downhill back to the river. And this whole stretch of road is lined with Mexican restaurants, a couple of coffee shops, and at least one fragrant BBQ trailer. Torchy’s Tacos tempted me, but I let gravity help me out, and I picked up the pace. M and B had met up with Dad–the three of them waited on the west side of the road, but cars were allowed on that side so I couldn’t cross to reach them. I didn’t expect to see them there–another awesome surprise!

Along this stretch, a guy wearing a banana suit ran up and down the sidewalk, cheering, well, looking like a banana. Another guy shouted motivational stuff at individual runners. I saw a Rogue friend too, somewhere pretty close to the halfway mark. The humidity was taking its toll–my ponytail was completely soaked, and I hadn’t even poured water on my head. I didn’t want to overdo it with the Gatorade (no repeat of the Cleveland aftermath, thank you) so I mostly grabbed water, but probably twice I took Gatorade just to combat the humidity. Which at this point was probably closer to 100%, since it was actually drizzling a bit.

As we crossed Barton Springs road and headed over the South First Street bridge, an older gentleman in front of me tripped and fell. A couple of runners stopped to help him up–he’d banged up an elbow but was otherwise okay and kept going. Tough.

We made the turn onto West First (where I said earlier it was a great place for spectators since the race would come back that way) and headed west. Freescale had a dance party going on here–orange-clad volunteers, “I’m Too Sexy” blaring from an enormous sound system. There was even a dancing Stormtrooper!

And then, more incline, up the overpass near Austin High. But to my surprise, as I reached the top, I saw M and B again! Later they told me that while they waited for me, B rolled down the grassy hill off to the side to entertain himself. A runner came by and said “That looks like fun!” and then took off her running belt and rolled down the hill with B. Love it!

Under the highway, just past the Mile 10 marker, a woman held a sign that said “You’ve done dumber things when you were drunk.” I laughed. But The hills (and humidity) were taking their toll on me now, and I walked a few steps. Another mile, and there was the marathon-half marathon split. I could not have been happier to turn right onto 15th Street and take the half route. Mad respect for marathoners–I just don’t have it.

This part of the course worried me the most. It’s the reverse of the Capitol 10K and the Turkey Trot, so the big nasty hill is actually downhill. But going up again, from Lamar to West Avenue, is a beast. I was grateful for the crowd support here. Signs, cheering, even a guy with a megaphone sang “Eye of the Tiger” or at least those opening notes: Dun. Dun dun dun. Dun dun dun. Dun dun dunnnnnnnn. But I’m not a beast and had to walk some of it.

Downhill again, then it leveled out as we moved east. Homestretch. Right turn on San Jacinto where we met up with the marathoners. The same San Jacinto hill from the first mile of the race. There’s a joke that between the first mile and the last mile, someone comes out and raises that hill because it’s so much harder the second time. But something happened here that had a profound impact on me, and I’ll never forget it.

At this point, the course is divided–marathoners on the left and half-marathoners on the right. I looked over and saw a marathoner struggling. He had a brace on his knee and clutched his shirt in his hand. He was leaning forward, almost sagging, but still running. I thought he might collapse. Another marathoner ran alongside him and offered encouragement, and I moved over toward the divider and did the same. The sign said “800 meters to go.” Bystanders began to notice this man and started cheering louder. I don’t know if he noticed any of it. But I did, and I told myself that if he could do this, I could suck it up and run this damn hill.

As we reached the top, a medic ran out to join him. I was afraid she’d stop him–with 400 meters to go. But as I watched, she looked over at the crowd lined up on the curb and gestured for them to cheer. And cheer they did. It was like a wave of sound following them. I saw that he was in good hands, and as I made the penultimate turn onto 11th Street, I took off. The Capitol on my right, the marathoners–who’d gone twice as far as I had in the same time, let’s remember–on my left, hundreds of people lining the barricades, and nothing but downhill in front of me. I rode the wave down the hill, then turned left onto Congress Avenue, the finish line only a block away. I think I passed a bunch of people, but I can’t be certain. All I know is that as I stopped my Garmin and walked through the finishers’ area, I heard the announcer recognize that marathoner, running in with a medic. I could tell when he crossed the finish line because the crowd cheered like football fans celebrating the winning touchdown. Tears streamed down my face.

Yes, I achieved my goal, and I’m proud of that. But I witnessed something bigger today. Not only this man’s determination and iron will, but the response from hundreds of total strangers at the finish line of a grueling, humid, hilly race profoundly moved me. This is why I do this, y’all, and this is my city.

2014 Austin Half Marathon Finisher

2014 Austin Half Marathon Finisher

This may be my last half-marathon for a while. And I’ll never forget it.


16 thoughts on “Austin half marathon: race report

  1. I didn’t quite tear up, but I got goosebumps. I’ve witnessed the sheer determination of some people. Absolutely amazing. Congrats to you for your race also! Your recap was so detailed I feel like I was there!


  2. You run a mean race, and write a mean recap…that makes you all-around awesome! And thanks for the moving story at the finish…that is why I love running – it’s the community that makes it worth all the work!


  3. Melissa, you are a rockstar and you inspire me! I don’t have it in me to run even a half marathon but, if I’m at least moving then I’m better than those sitting on the couch! Congratulations on your half marathon today!!!!


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