Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
San Marcos Half Marathon
I found out about the San Marcos Half Marathon the Tuesday before it would take place. I signed up on Wednesday, four days before the gun.
I’d been sort of preparing for a marathon, so the ability to finish wasn’t in question. It was a matter of what time and place I’d manage. Looking at results from previous years, it looked like anything under 1:20 would give me a reasonable chance to win. Given that I ran a 1:13 a year ago, that didn’t sound unreasonable, but I was in better shape back then.
The day before the race, my school hosted a UIL academic contest. There’s always a lot of free food lying around at those things, and little to none of it is healthy. My trail name of “Coyote” speaks to my tendency to scavenge from just about anything, but I managed to abstain this time. Mostly.
It was sprinkling off and on that morning, and the temperature was about 17 °C (63 °F). For the most part, that’s a comfortable temperature for hanging around, but awfully warm for a distance race. I was almost glad about the intermittent rain, since that would help keep us cool. But I wasn’t thrilled about the wet roads.
The race was small and fairly low-key, so it was easy to pick up your race bib half an hour before the race, and I was even able to use a port-o-potty twice (!!) before the gun, even though there were only seven of them. The race started a few minutes late, indicating the degree to which this was simply a handful of folks putting on a race. For the most part, I liked that.
From the get-go, two guys got out in front of me. One of them was wearing a black shirt that said “Rogue” on it. He was slightly on the tall side. The other was more of a medium height and tossed his shirt aside only about a minute after the race began. I let them set the pace and simply followed them. Another runner appeared to have the same strategy.
After 20-30 minutes, it became clear Shirtless was having a little more trouble maintaining pace than Rogue, especially in the hills. In places, I felt like we were moving at slow pace. My watch indicated we were usually holding 3:55/km, when my goal pace was 3:45/km. I could try passing them and moving at that pace, but then they could draft off of me and keep up while I got tired. It’d be smarter to stay here, conserve energy, and make a move when I knew they couldn’t follow.
After a while, Shirtless fell off pace and it was only me and Rogue at the front. Since the beginning of the race, we’d been running into the wind, which meant drafting was even more advantageous than normal. Running a 3:55/km pace would normally be a small challenge, but drafting the whole way, it felt like kids’ stuff. At some point, I’d have to break away. Best to do that once the course turns away from the wind, once drafting is no longer an advantage. And on a hill. I’m good at hills.
8.5 km into the race, there it was. The course made a 90° turn to the right, when the wind had been coming from ahead and to our left. It was turning from headwind to tailwind, and immediately after the turn, there was a massive downy-uppy. As soon as the turn ended, I moved to the left of Rogue and turned it on - down the hill.
It can be hard running downhill. You have to tap the brakes to stay in control. It’s even harder to run fast downhill, because you’re on the edge of losing control the entire time. It’s even harder when the road is wet. I did my best to sprint down the hill, hoping to put as much space between me and Rogue as possible. If I didn’t, he could probably try only a little harder and hold my pace by drafting off me.
I was almost thankful for the ensuing uphill, now that I wasn’t scared of faceplanting. I managed to hold a strong pace up the thing, and once it flattened out, I ran smooth and listened. No footsteps. No one was drafting off me. From here until the finish, ideally, I was on my own.
The race was held on live roads, so a few bikes were riding alongside the leaders in the name of safety. I chatted with a few of them off and on to break up the monotony. I was running a 3:35/km pace. It remained a damp, humid, foggy, warm morning. My clothes had soaked through.
At one point, we saw a cow up ahead. On the wrong side of the barbed wire. It looked young, on the small side.
“I’m gonna go up ahead and scare off the cow,” announced one of the bike escorts.
Cows are usually docile and simply watch as you go by, but being young, this one was a little skittish. It tried to run away from us, but since there was a barbed wire fence on both sides of the road, all it could do was run ahead, which meant we kept chasing it.
“I’m a cowboy!” I exclaimed to one of the cyclists. “We’re drivin’ this one up to Kansas City!”
Finally, after 3-4 minutes, it found a spot in the fence where the wire was a little loose and it managed to squeeze back in. Shortly thereafter, I caught up with one of the cyclists again.
“Well, I thought I was fast, but apparently I’m slower than a cow!”
“It has four legs though, you only have two.”
“Oh, right. And it was only running the 5k.”
Along with the half marathon, there was also a 10-miler and a 5k going on. I eventually starting passing those people, headed out as I returned to the start/finish line. They’d started later. I waved at them at first, but eventually gave up as I grew tired of it. One of the 5k runners was entirely barefoot, running on asphalt. Another was wearing an inflatable T-Rex costume.
I felt good as the remaining distance shrank below 5 km. I’m more of a distance guy, so it didn’t feel like I was running out of gas. Which, I suppose, means I could’ve run a little faster.
We eventually turned back into the outlet mall and I crossed the finish line, very much alone. There were a few volunteers and vendors in the parking lot, but that was it. I hadn’t started making the rounds to the vendors before Rogue and Shirtless finished, only a few minutes later.
Since the awards ceremony wouldn’t start for a few hours (why??), the race organizers were good enough to give me my award so I could leave whenever I wanted. It was probably an hour before I’d finished making the rounds at the vendors, though. Fruit, beer, brisket tacos! These guys knew what runners really want after a race.
After a 1:19 on a course with some hills, I feel good about my chances to win Plano next weekend. Bring it on.