Road to 26.2
Thursday, February 27th- MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!
Y’all, this journey to run my first marathon is in the books! I can hardly even believe that I was able to do it, and I’m so excited about what is to come! I’m about to dive into the race recap, but before I do, please know that it was all 110% worth it, I wouldn’t change it, and this is my first of many marathons!
On the Thursday before the race, my friend Colleen flew in from Oregon. When I first made the goal to run this race, she decided to pay it forward from her first marathon, and run the ugly miles (mile 18-26) with me. It was such an amazing act of friendship, I could not have even known how wonderful this gift would be.
The next day was Valentine’s Day and packet pick up day! We woke up to my husband bringing both of us flowers. After 21 Valentine’s Days, he still surprises me with how thoughtful and amazing he is, in big and little ways.
After breakfast, Luke drove Colleen and I into the city where we met up with friends, and we had a fun and fabulous day at the race expo. Afterwards, we all went to one of our favorite Tex-Mex restaurants in Austin. A perfect Valentine’s Day!
Saturday was a lazy day of prepping for race day and relaxing! Colleen talked me through some of the fears I had and how to change the dialog I was having. This proved to be one of the best things I did to prep for the race. We hosted the usual “ohana” pasta dinner on the night before races and set about for an early morning!
Yahoo! I was so excited that it was finally here! I woke up at 3am to have enough time to eat, drink about 30 ounces of water, bathroom it up, and head out by 4:30am. The previous day’s nervousness was gone and I was ready! Colleen and I are naturally morning people and super chipper! Luke totally is not, so he didn’t have much to say, except for helping me to check, double check, and triple check all of my lists.
We arrived at the Fairmont Hotel around 5:30am to meet up with Russell and Wendy, as well as DuWayne and Kevin. Russell and DuWayne were also running, with Wendy and Kevin rounding out the support crew. After some additional water, coffee, and bathroom breaks, us runners took off for the corrals and our support crew went to breakfast!
We made our way to our corrals, along with 20,000 of our very best friends, and lined up on Congress Ave, with the Capitol building at our backs. We stretched and chatted, and before we knew it, the 7am race start time had come and gone. Soon after, there was an announcement that there were “traffic safety concerns beyond their control” and a 15 minute delay was needed to ensure the safety of all runners. That small delay turned into a 45 minute delay, which wasn’t a big deal at the time, yet would turn into a massive problem later, stay tuned.
We were finally off! Russell, DuWayne and I have ran several races together, and we have a little tradition when we begin. We high-five each other, wish each a good and safe race, tell each other that we will see each other at the finish line, and then focus in on our own races. I don’t usually see either of the guys until the end, but this time, I saw DuWayne about a mile in. I run the Galloway method, aka interval running, and my interval tracker (that I have used on every single run for two years) was malfunctioning. I was quietly panicking and wondering how I was going to adjust. At that moment, DuWayne skipped up to me (yes, skipped, he is a lovely human who loves the hell out of some Disney songs and plays them all race long!). I told him what was happening and he talked me through a few easy solutions. That was so nice to be able to just have him there so I didn’t freak out. For the rest of the first half of the race, I timed my intervals on my watch, which gave my brain something to do and it wasn’t too bad.
By this point in the race, I had settled into my rhythm and was enjoying the scenery and excitement! It was growing more and more humid, and I was wondering what the weather was going to do for the rest of the race. It was cloudy but so humid that it felt like we were running through a cloud. I was also realizing that I forgot how hilly this course was!
Given my previous history of heat injuries, I was very cognizant of drinking water, Nuun electrolytes, and my salt tabs. I fueled up with my standard PBJ and kept rocking through the hills!
Hit a wall. I always hit a wall at this mileage, no matter how far I’m running. This means that I still need to fine tune my hydration/electrolytes/fuel situation. On this particular course, this section is pretty hilly. I could tell that the weather was about to change, the humidity had increased to a heavy feeling, and the clouds were starting to break.
There were a few hills that I was surprised with the first time that I ran this course, so I knew what was coming! The hills around mile 10 and 11 were pretty good, but I knew to slow down a little bit because of the beast of hill coming for me at mile 12. I passed the bagpiper at mile 11.5 and got my mindset READY.
Last year, I could hardly walk up this hill. In fact, when I came around the corner to see the totality of the mile 12 hill, I literally took out my ear buds and yelled, “WHAT THE FUCK!” So I slowly trudged up the hill, and there was a guy dressed as Batman who tried to high five me, and I told him to fuck off.
Not this year! Nope, I was changing that story! I ran up the entire hill! I was gasping and pulling as much as air as I could, and so proud of myself for being able to run up that beast! Plus I didn’t tell any superheroes to fuck off, so I’m calling it a win.
Shortly after the hill at mile 12 is where the course splits off for the half marathon course and the full marathon. There were road signs for the people running 13.1 to move to the right lane and for those of us running 26.2 to keep going in the left lane. After the course split point, it was like all of the support just died off. All of a sudden, I went from running on streets with crowds, bands, music, thousands of supporters, and so many other happy runners, to being alone on the course. There was one woman I could see, but other than that, I didn’t see any other marathoners. I called a friend and she got me through some lonely miles, and I knew I only had a few more to go to be able to meet up with my husband and Colleen.
We had made a plan for a rendezvous point at mile 18, and I saw my husband’s truck screech up just in time. We chatted, refilled my water, and took inventory so I could finish the last 8 miles. As Colleen and I got back on course, race event staff came by in vans and told us the course was now closed and that we would have to move to the sidewalks. I looked at my watch, it was 12:40pm. The race staff closed the course after 4.5 hours, not the 7 hours as listed on their website.
It’s honestly very hard for me to even write about the next few miles, that’s why I have put off writing this recap. It’s painful to go back to that place because of how difficult and dangerous the race staff made the course.
Deep breath. Here goes.
I honestly do not know if or how I would have been able to navigate and finish the race without Colleen helping me. In fact, after my husband met up at mile 18, he walked back to his truck, and input the next address into his GPS. By the time he looked up after that, the road was clear of all cones and race signage, the police escort had left, and the road was open to traffic. That is how fast the race staff cleared the course.
We were running through the east side of Austin, which is an area that is not typically known for its safety. They’re not pedestrian-heavy areas. The race staff had pulled all police and race support and guidance, abandoning us alone.
We were alone, through unknown and unsafe areas, without any police presence, medical help, tracking pads, navigational markers, aid and amenity stations. We were left to navigate the course without any signage or markers. We had to traverse through miles of broken glass, damaged sidewalks, drug debris, garbage, detritus from homeless encampments, and over gravel-laden construction zones. We did this in over 80 degree weather without any promised and paid-for safety amenities. At a certain point, we had to stop at a bar so I could use the restroom and refill our water bottles from the bathroom sink.
Running a marathon is hard. It always will be, that’s why 0.5% of the population completes one. However, it is inexcusable that the race staff made such egregious errors in their logistical management of the course that put so many runners in danger. Closing the course at 4.5 hours and beginning the closure and clean up at the end of the race put us in peril. To top all of that off, my official time for my first marathon is DNF. Did Not Finish. I have that mark on my running record because the race staff made massive errors. If I didn’t have to slow down for such jeopardous conditions, if I didn’t have to wait for traffic lights, if I didn’t have to utilize a bar for amenities, if the race staff had simply done their job as promised, I would have been able to finish within the course limit.
We finally had made it through the harrowing conditions that the race staff put us into, and now had traveled back into the downtown area. I’m much more familiar with this area, it is more populated and trafficked by pedestrians, and in general, safer.
Colleen and I plowed our way up 11th Street, yes up, it was another hill but it was the last one so I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I looked up and saw the road sign for Congress Avenue, this is the last turn of the race, this is where the finish line is! We turned the corner, and the finish line was right there! Colleen told me to GO, and I did! People were cheering all around me, and I ran as fast as I could! I was crying and smiling and so excited! My husband and best friends were all at the finish line! I crossed the finish line and my husband got to give me my medal! It was so amazing and the pictures are incredible! I got to run down the finish line chutes by myself and have my husband medal me for my first full marathon, all in the glow of the granite from the Capitol building directly behind me! I got to hug my best friends and enjoy cheering on a few runners that came in next! They thanked us for inspiring them to keep going!
All said and done, I’m so happy I ran this race. I’m so grateful I started my distance running journey last year. I have been given so many amazing opportunities to grow and improve as a human. I will run many more races; more marathons, maybe a triathlon, possibly an ultra. Even given the extraordinary adversity that I faced during this race, it will not deter me as an athlete. The Austin Marathon event staff certainly has room to improve and guarantee the bare-minimum of safety for the athletes, and I have sent detailed emails to the people who can make those changes.
This Road to 26.2 was a journey I’ll never forget, will always be thankful for, and will propel me to accomplish more hard things as an athlete and as a human.
I hope y’all can do the same.