Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Run for the Water 10-Miler
The 4:30 AM wakeup was made easier by Daylight Savings Time. Put down a bowl of warm oatmeal and headed out the door, having packed up everything I needed the night before. Wanted to keep the morning routine short and simple, both to prevent any goofs and to be able to sleep as late as possible.
Arrived in downtown Austin about 5:45 AM, exactly as I’d hoped. The parking situation wasn’t made entirely clear, but I knew parking meters were free on Sundays. Once I was a few blocks away from the packet pick-up, I took the first spot I saw.
Luckily, this race allowed packet pick-up the morning of the race, which is a major convenience for those of us who live outta town. In a matter of seconds, It was taken care of. If not for that small thing, hundreds of people would’ve had to waste their entire Saturday afternoon driving to and from Austin. Good on you, R4TW.
Anticipating a problem that occurs at every race, I used the bathroom an hour before the race even though I didn’t need to go that bad. By the time it was my turn, the line had doubled in length. Later, it had gotten to the point that the last few people in line would certainly miss the start of the race.
How do race directors never figure this out? Almost every race at least pretends to appear interested in improving the race experience, but this problem never gets solved. I know port-o-potties cost money, but this is an issue upon which runners unanimously agree.
Similar to the Superhero 5k, this race didn’t have anywhere to leave a drop bag. At the packet pick-up, the volunteers suggested leaving my stuff at the finish area, which was 1 km from the start. After walking there and asking the volunteers, I was told there was nowhere I could leave it. I wound up going over to the KIND Bars tent and asked if I could leave my stuff with them. They obliged.
Again, runners would unanimously agree on the need for a drop bag, and it’s essentially free. Simply designate an area to leave your stuff and have one guy watching it. Boom. Problem solved. Now no one has to carry their car keys or anything else during the race.
Had to jog back to the start area to get there on time. On the way I had to pee again. Predictably, lines were obnoxiously long. I wouldn’t have time without missing the start of the race. Managed to find a secluded corner behind a utility building and did my thing. If you don’t want people to do it in public, provide a better place.
Got some last-minute stretching done during two different national anthems. By the end of it, enough people had entered the front of the start area that I was now four rows back, and we were packed tight enough I couldn’t do anything about it.
The horn sounded and I made a point of taking off much faster than I should’ve, simply so I could get away from the crowd and avoid getting stuck behind anyone. Somehow I kept going at that pace longer than I should’ve. Early-race adrenaline rush, along with the rare caffeine I’d had to perk me up after waking up so early. Little squirts like me have a low tolerance for everything. By the end of the first km, I realized I needed to back off.
The hardest part of the race would be the hills in the middle, and the fastest were at the beginning and end. If I were to make my goal of a 3:45/km pace, I’d have to be faster at this point in the race. After 2 km, I was dangerously close to 3:45/km. I’d have to pick it up. But how much? I had no idea how to pace this distance by feel.
It was about that moment when a group of three runners caught up to me, not long before the hills would begin. They clearly were running together, based on how they ran in formation and gestured to one another. Two of them were tall-ish guys with matching black jerseys. I recognized one from the Superhero 5k; a guy I’d barely passed late in the race. As far as the other, it was a woman who couldn’t have been more than 5’1”, 100 pounds, chiseled like a Greek sculpture and running like it was war.
These guys look like they know what they’re doing. I decided to stick with them.
Being from a hilly little town, I figured the climbing would be my time to shine in this race. Not only is 10 miles shorter than my average training run, but mile-for-mile, this “hilly” course was flatter. Oddly enough, it was during climbs that these three runners would surge ahead, and the ensuing downhills were the only time I’d ever get out in front. Strange, because when I was doing all that trail running in California, I was known for outpacing people up hills, but was notoriously slow on descents, especially technical ones. Maybe it’s different when I’m on road?
The four of us barely said a word over the next 20 minutes, except for the part where a cop made a gesture with his outstretched right arm, so I naturally took a turn.
“WHOAAA, don’t go that way!”
I sharply turned back the other way. All three of them were continuing straight. “It’s this way!” I followed them. One of them turned his head around towards the cop as we ran past, “Don’t signal like that again! Yeah, he was trying to point ‘straight,’ but was kinda signalling off to the side for no reason. I only knew because I’ve ran this course before.”
“Thanks for saving me!”
“I was about to do the same thing,” chirped the short one.
Halfway through the hills, our pace hadn’t slowed down much at all. Dang! I was hoping to finish with any time under 1 hour, but now it was starting to look like I could beat that by a matter of minutes, plural.
Having run in this neighborhood before, back when I was training for my first marathon over a decade ago, I knew the big hill that was coming. “Big one’s just around this corner,” I murmured to the others. They probably knew anyway.
No part of the hill was steeper than anything we’d done to that point, but this one was easily the longest, and even has a few sections in the middle where it flattens out briefly, only to go up some more. One of the group was matching me stride for stride until about halfway up, when I started to get a few steps ahead of him.
Ahhhh, there it is. It’s not that I’m faster on hills, it’s that I last longer. On the other side, I still felt fresh, while the rest of them were probably still getting their legs again. I took off down the hill and never looked back.
The last third of the race, like the first third, was a long flat stretch along Town Lake. Not long into it, I caught and passed one other runner. Other than that, I didn’t see anyone else running the ten-miler. On occasion, I got worried that I was off-course again. Sporadically, there were people who’d already finished the 5k, running the other way on the course with me, headed back to their cars.
Knowing there wasn’t much left to go, and zero hills, I picked up the pace. How fast could I finish this thing? I looked at my watch. 57:30 was in the bag, about two minutes faster than I’d hoped. 57:00 was likely, and 56:30 was possible. Can I hold this pace the whole time? Well, why not go for it? Worst-case scenario is I slow down later. If I slow down now, then I definitely slow down. 50/50 odds is better than 0%.
Halfway through the final stretch, the road took a slight left turn and pointed straight at the sun, early in the morning. Normally, this wouldn’t be such a problem; keep your head down. But it had rained the night before, and the roads were still wet. The glare on the road meant keeping your head down was worse. I kept my head up and turned it somewhat to the side. My eyes probably aged an entire year in that last 2 km.
With about 1 km to go, I started seeing people on the other side of the road, separated by cones, finishing up the 5k. I’d run literally three times farther in the same amount of time. I’m not that fast, so the only way that’s possible is if they walked the whole thing. I suppose it makes about as much sense as paying to go for a run.
Finally saw the 1st Street bridge and come up with one last push for the finish line. 56:27. Three full minutes better than I’d hoped for!
After the race, I managed to catch up with my friend Amber and congratulate her on her engagement. Picked up some freebies, including sweet, sweet breakfast tacos at the Austin Distance Challenge tent. After a while, I bumped into the trio I’d run with most of the way.
“Hey, I need to thank y’all for that pace! If it wasn’t for y’all, I wouldn’t’ve known how to run this thing. Y’all gave me a great race!”
Caleb, one of the taller guys, was part of the Austin Distance Challenge like me. Brian and Jess weren’t, and instead they were planning to run the California International Marathon in about a month.
“Are you doing the half or the full track in the Distance Challenge?” asked Caleb. I was still in the middle of saying something about the hills. He asked again.
“Oh! The full track.”
Evidently Caleb was doing the half track. Which is good news for me, one less fast runner to compete against!
Jess, the short woman who can scoot like nobody’s business, was the 1st place female finisher. I’d beaten her by about a minute. Usually, that’s a worthy barometer to see if I had a good race or not. There are some fast chicks out there, and if none of them beat me, I did well!
I eventually found out these three run with Rogue Training in Austin, as well as running groups from The Loop, a running shoe store.
“If you’re ever in Austin and wanna go for a run,” Brian offered, “Look us up. Either The Loop or Rogue Training, you can find us there. It’d be fun to run together again.”
The other two nodded in agreement. I’m not in Austin often, but I might take them up on it at some point.
As for the Distance Challenge standings, I added another three minutes to my lead. I had been hoping for one. The guy in second place completed the race in essentially the exact time I’d hoped for. If I’d merely accomplished my goal, it’d still be a tight race. Thanks again, Brian, Jess, and Caleb!
Did a math tutoring session on the way home, then watched a so-bad-it’s-good movie, ate popcorn, cookies, and pizza. I earned this.