Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Austin Half Marathon Jumps Onto the Race Calendar

What's this? A private message notification appeared on my Facebook late last month. I opened it to find a running friend from NYC asking me if I would be running the Austin Marathon in February. Well, I hadn't planned on it, but since you brought it up....

My dilemma was this: I wanted my Fifty States Club 100th half marathon to be the Go! St. Louis half marathon in April. Another running friend would be completing her 100th at this race event and it sure would be nice if I could finish mine at the same race. The Fifty States Half Marathon Club criteria for completing 100 halves precludes any distance that is not exactly 13.1 miles. I have completed two 25k races and one 30k race, so these don't count for 50 States Club award. It should be noted here that I also belong to another club - 100 Half Marathons Club - and those alternate distance races will count and I will be completing that 100 Halves challenge later in February.

So when I withdrew from the Galveston Santa Hustle race in December and then had the Mississippi Blues race cancelled on me, I was in a bind. I already had one extra race on the calendar as insurance against just such a thing, but I didn't have two extra "insurance" races. Now I needed to add one to the calendar to be safe. The Austin race would be a good decision.

I got onto the race website, registered for the race and then booked my hotel room through their lodging site. I was, quite honestly, surprised that there were still rooms available at such a late date. And a hotel room just two blocks from the start line at that!

That friend's motivation for contacting me was that he couldn't get into Austin from NYC cost effectively, but he could get into Houston for a very low airfare. I agreed to get him at the airport Friday night and then give him a ride to Austin Saturday morning. It was a win-win situation.

His flight arrived at Houston Hobby just before midnight Friday night and picking him up went like clockwork. I had us at my house before 12:30 AM.  As we drove to the house, I confirmed two things: what time did he want to get to Austin Saturday; and was Starbucks okay for breakfast.

Getting Starbucks breakfast before heading to Austin

We were both up, showered and dressed by 8:30 AM so we got onto the road early, stopping at my favorite neighborhood Starbucks for coffees and breakfast. Then we headed west on I-10 to US 71 northwest toward Austin. Along the way we chatted about races we've done, races we'd like to do, and compared travel notes.

We arrived in Austin by noontime, turned my car over to valet parking, and I let him stow his luggage in my room until he could pick up his race packet and meet up with the friend he'd be staying with for the weekend.
Race expo in Austin

The race expo was a fairly good size, but I wasted no time getting my packet and my race shirt and then going off in search of something for lunch. I found a Thai restaurant nearby and had a pretty good shrimp and noodle dish. It was a short walk back to the Starbucks next door to the hotel, so I stopped and grabbed a smoked caramel cappuccino and sat at one of the nearby tables and sipped my drink while getting caught up on my emails. I considered taking a walk over to 6th Street and just seeing the sights, but I was tired. having gotten only 5 hours sleep the night before, and the lure of my comfortable room and the TV was just too much to overcome.

I laid out my things for the race the next morning, set the alarm on my smartphone, and then ordered room service for dinner. It was an early night for me; I could hardly keep my eyes open watching a movie on TV.

When my alarm went off the next morning, I was still so groggy I momentarily considered just rolling over and going back to sleep. But I couldn't do that. I needed to do this race. I needed to stay on track for my 100th half marathon goals.

So I got up, started getting ready, and ate some breakfast. Remembering the difficult time I had with last weekend's race, I made a point of hydrating before leaving my hotel room. At 6:45 I headed for the elevator, got down to the lobby, and walked out the door of the hotel and toward Congress Street and the start line.

Once the gun went off to start the race, it took me about 10 minutes to shuffle my way up to the start line. It was a large field of runners and we were trusted to seed ourselves within the corral based on our running pace. Once I crossed the start line, I began to dread the long, 3-mile uphill that faced us all right out of the chute. This was a very hilly course and the temps were already in the very high 60's with very high humidity. I slogged along, keeping a steady but tempered pace until we made the turn onto flat terrain at mile 3.

I knew we'd now have a nice 3-mile downhill stretch back into the downtown area. But as we made that turn, there was a water station and a bank of portapotties and the power of suggestion took over. I'd no doubt over-hydrated before the race, hoping I'd not have another episode like I had at the Mercedes half marathon the week before.

That business done, I enjoyed the nice downhill stretch into downtown. Once we crossed the bridge over the Colorado River, our route turned and took us along the river for several miles before it turned back toward the downtown area. There were hills and more hills, and steep hills between me and the finish line. But I kept plugging. I had to make two more portapotty stops before we got to the turn away from the river. Guess I drank too many fluids before the race.

Half marathon route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

At one point, when we were within a mile or so of the finish line, an older gentleman, probably about my age, began to catch up with me on the last, long steep hill. He said, "I'll give you 3 Gu's if you'll let me catch up with you and pass you." I turned and looked at him, and gave him a smile. He complimented me by saying how impressed he was with my steady, fast walking pace. He went on to say that I must walk a lot. That would be an understatement.

We made a few quick turns and then came up along the back side of the Capitol building, worked our way around the the side toward the front, then turned onto Congress Street and headed for the finish line.

Half Marathon finisher medal
Aside from having to make three porta-potty stops within the first 6 miles, I was pleased with my pace and my finish time. I did it and was now just one half marathon away from that benchmark of 100 halves (for the 100 Half Marathons Club) and within three half marathons from reaching the 100 half marathons award with the 50 States Half Marathon Club.

I walked through the finisher chute then down Congress Street, past the various post-race support tents, and then past the food trucks. I had some cash on me, thinking I might want to buy something, but as is my usual post-race routine, the food just didn't look appetizing at that moment.

So I kept walking down Congress to 4th Street, turned left, and walked the last two blocks to my hotel. I took my time getting showered and dressed, and then checked out of the hotel, retrieved my car from valet parking, and got on the road toward home. I know this route very well, having driven it many times, and knew there was a McDonald's in La Grange, the perfect post-race recovery food for me.

By 3:00 PM I was home. My cats were happy to see me,

Next up: Rehearsals for our next production and actors will be going off-script this week. I'll also be working on the promotional poster for another project I'm involved in: the inaugural 5K race in our little community.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Very Good Alabama Race Revisited

As marathon events go, the Birmingham Mercedes Marathon/Half Marathon event is pretty high on the list of must-do races. I first did this half marathon in 2013. It was bitterly cold at the start - temps in the low 20's - and I had considerably less experience with hilly marathon courses. But I did it, I finished the race, and filed it away as one that was worth repeating in the future, once I'd finished my 50 States quest.

So in 2016, as I was planning my 2017 race calendar, I took a look at this race again. A few of my running friends were planning to do this race, so I went ahead and registered for the half marathon on Sunday and the 5k on Saturday.

My calendar gets pretty full this time of year, with races and play rehearsals. If I wanted to do this race, I'd need to be home for rehearsals Friday morning before leaving for Birmingham that afternoon.

With a 2 PM flight departure from Bush Intercontinental in Houston, I was able to attend rehearsals that morning and also avoid the morning rush hour traffic. I arrived in Birmingham at 3:30 PM and had a delightfully charming cab driver take me to the hotel. He'd been a cab driver in B'ham for 30 years, so when we ran into heavy rush hour traffic backed up on the interstate, he whipped over to the exit ramp, took local streets only a cabbie would know about, and got me to the hotel minutes later.

Race expo at historic Boutwell Auditorium
I got checked into my very nice room at the Westin, then walked to the historic Boutwell Auditorium to the race expo and packet pickup. Then it was back to the hotel and to the adjacent coffee house to get a cappuccino.. I was hungry but was only in the mood for room service for dinner. I laid my things out for the 5k race the next morning, then enjoyed my dinner in front of the TV.

5k race day morning! I woke, ate Cheerios and some of the fruit plate I'd ordered the night before, then got dressed for the race and headed for the elevator. It was cool but very humid with chance of rain.

Fellow 50 Stater Kimara a the 5k start line.

I wore capri's, a long-sleeve shirt and a lightweight fleece pullover on top. And the cool superhero cape they gave each of us to wear. It was way too many clothes! I was sweating and hot within the first mile. By the time I had the finish line in sight, I was more than glad to be nearly done. How could I have under-estimated the "feels like" temps for this little 5K race?

5k race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch
nearing 5k finish line...super hero cape flying!

I received my finisher medal - a cute little superhero - then walked back to the hotel. A cappuccino sounded like a good idea. I lingered over my creamy, rich and very good cappuccino in the hotel lobby seating area, then made my way slowly back to my room to get cleaned up.

5k finisher medal and enjoying an excellent cappuccino

Tonight we had a 50 States Marathon Club dinner meet-up at a cool little cafe in the Five Points South area of Birmingham. It's always nice to see my fellow running friends, and this little restaurant was a real gem, suggested by one of the members who's local to the area. They took good care of us and the food was great! An Uber ride back to the hotel and I laid out my things for the half marathon the next morning and then chilled out for the rest of the evening.

Delta Blues restaurant on Cobb Lane in Five Point South.

Lovely patio and entrance to Delta Blues.

Our pre-race dinner group at Delta Blues

Half marathon day morning came too soon. I didn't sleep well, waking up frequently all night long. Ugh! I got dressed, left the hotel, and walked to the start line. I almost immediately spotted some of our 50 States club members and we all posed for a selfie.

A few of us 50 Staters at the start line for the marathon/half marathon

The half marathon route was nearly identical to the route when I did it in 2013. The big difference, however, was the weather. That year it was freezing cold, this year it was warm and muggy. I wore shorts but didn't bring a short sleeve running shirt with me, not expecting it to be so warm. Fortunately, my shirt was very lightweight and I could push the long sleeves up to my elbows. But still....
Half marathon race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

Things were going well for the first half of the half marathon, but when it started to get very hilly, and I started to get overheated, the wheels started to come off for me. I struggled up the long hill mid-course, and then again at around mile 8 or 9, after the long downhill section. Several times I worried I wasn't going to be able to finish. My legs felt like lead, I was beginning to feel dizzy, and I couldn't catch my breath.

I realized I was experiencing an A-Fib episode. It had been years since I'd had this happen. Last time I could remember was during the Flying Pig Half Marathon in 2012. I continued to struggle along, pausing frequently to let my heart rate slow and hopefully normalize. Finally, at the mile 12 aid station, I spotted a cot in the first aid tent and headed that way. I knew I needed to get off my feet. I announced that I needed to lie down and then proceeded to do so.

One of the really sweet and very nice gals working First Aid immediately came over to me. I let her know that I was also a health care professional and that I was overheated and possibly hypovolemic, despite having made a point of regularly ingesting fluids along the way. I laid back, raised my legs to improve blood flow to my head. I ingested one of my energy gels and she brought me a cup of water. Within a few minutes I felt my heart rate slow and stabilize and the dizziness subsided.

Half Marathon finisher medal
Mercedes Half Marathon finisher1

I thanked her profusely for her help and continued on. The improvement was dramatic. I was able to resume my normal pace and make it to the finish line with no further problems. I collected my finisher medal and then walked back to the hotel without even stopping to take advantage of the free meal at the finish line. I'm never hungry immediately after finishing a half marathon.

Back at the hotel, I bought a cappuccino to bring back to the room, where I had food and snacks waiting for me. I'd arranged for a late checkout, so took advantage of that extra time to get my feet up and let my heart rate calm down. It was still erratic, still in a bit of A-Fib, but only sporadically at this point.
A sandwich and a Starbucks at the airport, waiting to fly home

I showered, dressed, and then checked out and waited for the free hotel shuttle bus to take me to the airport. I knew I'd be getting to the airport way too early for my flight, but also knew I'd feel more comfortable knowing I was at the gate in plenty of time. I bought a sandwich and a smoked butterscotch cappuccino at Starbucks and then kicked back with my Kindle Fire and relaxed while I waited for my flight.

Next up for me: A friend is coming in from NYC to run the Austin Half Marathon. He's scheduled to sing the national anthem at the start of this race and I'm excited that I have the opportunity to host him at my house overnight and then ride with him to Austin.