The Cowtown Marathon – February 26, 2012

Well, it’s not Austin, but Fort Worth has a rough and ready charm all its own. This race appealed to me because it has a generous 7 ½ hour time limit and includes an ultra as well as a half marathon (and a 5k and 10k as well, but those are both run on the Saturday before the longer races). I seriously considered signing up for the ultra (a 50k) but then decided it would be much less stressful and a lot more fun to just do the marathon.

My husband accompanied me on this trip; since he is a native Texan, he usually welcomes any foray back to his home state. We set off early on Saturday to drive to Jacksonville where we caught an early flight to Atlanta and then on to Dallas-Fort Worth. On both legs of the journey, we were fortunate to be upgraded (thank you, Delta!) and arrived at the airport tired but relaxed (that extra leg room makes a big difference). I had arranged for a Super Shuttle to take us to the host hotel, the Sheraton Downtown. While this hotel was attractive and clean, it was not geographically close to any restaurants (except for the one at the hotel) or to the expo at the Will Rogers Memorial Center. However, it was a pleasant day, so we walked the 2 miles to the expo. We picked up my packet with bib, D-chip, and short sleeve tee shirt (white with a colorful design on the front). There were more vendors than I expected so Darcy and I walked around checking out all the booths and then stayed for a course overview where I had a chance to see slides of the race and ask some questions about the course.

Since it was supposed to be 39 degrees on race morning, one of my questions was whether we would be allowed to stay inside the Center to keep warm. The answer, thankfully, was YES. That was a great relief to me, since I planned to be on the first shuttle which left my hotel at 5:15, and I really did not want to be standing outside in the cold until the races began at 7 am. I also asked about how the course was marked and was reassured that there were arrows marked on the street, signs on the corners, and course martials at every turn. This was true and I was immensely grateful for the accurate and helpful markings.

After we left the expo, we headed downtown to look for a place to eat. We found a Mexican restaurant and had some decent (but not terrific) fajitas. Since my travels are as much a culinary excursion as a race trip, especially when my husband is along (he is really the food fanatic), we try to find especially good food typical of the locality. Unfortunately, we were still on our Tex-Mex kick after Austin, and so we concentrated on finding fajitas, but the 2 restaurants we dined at were just so-so. In hindsight, I would have preferred a good steak or barbeque, and if we ever return to Ft. Worth at some point we will take on that challenge.

It was still early afternoon and my husband wanted to do some genealogical research at the Ft. Worth Public Library, so we wandered over to the library. I spent the rest of the day browsing through the stacks of this very impressive and attractive building and thoroughly enjoying myself. Soon enough it was time to go back to the hotel and get ready for the race.

My alarm was set for 3:30 am and I woke up just minutes before it sounded. I ate my usual breakfast, bread and coffee, dressed, and then proceeded to go through my usual stages of panic. It really doesn’t matter how many marathons I’ve completed, I still get stressed out before every race. I begin to get nervous the evening before. I study the course map very carefully to get an idea of sorts in my head as to how the course is arranged, what turns I need to be careful of, what landmarks I need to watch for, and when I can relax a bit during a straight leg portion or perhaps towards the end. But nervous as I am the night before, nothing approaches the anxiety I feel on race morning. That’s when I have to ease my fears that I will get lost or stumble or cramp by using lots of positive self-talk and deep breathing techniques. My concerns do not lessen until the race finally begins and I am on my way. What a sense of relief, once I am actually moving towards that finish line!

Downstairs in the hotel, other early runners were waiting patiently for the buses to appear. I hopped on the first bus and sat down. As soon as we were full, the bus took off for the Will Rogers Center. It was warm and pleasant inside with a bonus of real restrooms. I stood around the perimeter of the warm-up room and chatted with other people until around 6:45 I decided to get into my corral, #5 (out of 6 total). It took me about 15 minutes to cross the start line, but once across, everyone spread out and it was easy for me to get into a regular rhythm of walking (mostly) and running (downhill).

As noted above, the course was very well-marked, and with plenty of runners ahead of and behind me, I could finally relax and ease into a very positive mind set. The most unpleasant thing about this otherwise great race was the WIND! It seemed to blow directly at us no matter which direction we were heading into and was so strong that I ended up taking off my Marathon Maniacs cap and pinning it to my jacket so it wouldn’t blow off my head. My husband later told me that Dallas/Ft. Worth is always very windy in February. I can believe it.

I crossed the finish line in 5:42:21, received my attractgive Cowtown medal on a bright yellow lanyard and entered the Will Rogers Center to get my finisher’s shirt (a long-sleeved blue tech shirt) and some bananas, yogurt, and other food items. My husband found me and we made our way to the shuttle bus for the ride back to the hotel. After a shower and nap, we had another undistinguished fajita meal (next time in Ft. Worth – steak for me), and readied ourselves for the trip back to Florida. All in all, a good trip, a worthwhile race, and fun memories of Ft. Worth.

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I Love Austin! – the Livestrong Austin Marathon, February 19, 2012

There is something really special about the city of Austin, TX. It is a bastion of liberalism in a conservative state, a wholesome mix of weird characters, friendly people, great bookstores (especially Book People), comfortable hotels, TERRIFIC food, and folks who enjoy their pets so much they bring them to the many outdoor cafes so dogs and people can dine together. I feel right at home in this city and that’s probably why I come here as often as I can.

What better excuse to visit than to do the Austin Marathon? I signed up last June and looked forward to this trip with eager anticipation. The event is now sponsored by the Livestrong Foundation and includes a half marathon as well as a 5k. I did the marathon back in 2008 and remember it as a very well-organized race. It is also walker-friendly, with a generous 7 hour time limit. Although the 2012 version had a few changes to the course, it was basically the same route, beginning and ending near the impressive State Capitol Complex.

Early Saturday morning, my husband and I drove to our local airport, flew to Atlanta, and on to Austin, arriving around 10:30 in the morning. We had arranged for Super Shuttle to take us to our hotel, the Embassy Suites Downtown at Town Lake, one of our favorite places to stay in Austin and one of the very best Embassy Suites anywhere. Even though it was still early, our suite was ready so we checked in, dropped off our suitcases, and walked a few blocks to packet pick up at the Palmer Events Center. There was a full schedule of speakers, including Bart Yasso and Dick Beardsley , but we concentrated on getting my bib, D-chip, and tee shirt (a bright yellow cap sleeved tech shirt that actually fit). We spentg a moments touring the booths before heading to our favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, Guero’s, for a long-awaited fajita lunch.

After eating , we headed back to our hotel and I began to arrange my race paraphernalia for the next morning. We were both extremely tired so it was an early night. I was up at 3:30 the next morning for my light meal of bread and coffee. I dressed and was ready to go by 5:45. Both races began at 7 am but we had about a 20 minute walk from our hotel to the starting line so we left just before 6. There were signs up with pace times but no strict corral system, so I stood by the next to last sign (I think it was 11:30 – 12:30 minutes per mile) and we waited patiently to begin. There was music, announcements, and a sense of gaiety spreading throughout the crowd as more and more people began to line up. The weather was in the mid-40’s, cold but not unbearable, and the temps were supposed to get into the mid-60’s. I was dressed in layers as usual but I wore my jacket for much of the race and was grateful for my long-sleeved shirt, since the wind was fairly brisk and cold throughout most of the day.

The wheelchair athletes took off at 6:45 and promptly at 7 the rest of us headed for the start line. It took me about 12 minutes to cross it but immediately afterwards, the crowds thinned out and we headed through a circuitous route towards the downtown area on our 26.2 mile journey through attractive neighborhoods, business areas, and the University of Texas campus. The course is extremely hilly and reminded me at times of the Georgia Marathon in Atlanta (but not THAT hilly). I like the change of terrain so the hills were a welcome challenge, especially after the very flat Tallahassee half marathon, and it was enjoyable to run the frequent downhills. This was FUN!

A few stretches of the course were bereft of spectators but elsewhere there were throngs of people lining the streets and cheering on runners; some set up informal aid stations, with drinks and eats. There were lots of kids and dogs and a general atmosphere of frivolity. Official aid stations were plentiful; it seemed like there was one every mile or so, although the handbook stated that there were only 21 of them. That is still quite a few. And, of course, since Austin is famous for its music, there were a lot of bands playing a variety of music, including a mariachi band.

Half marathoners split off from the full marathoners at about mile 10.8. Usually that means that I spend a good deal of the second half of the course by myself, but with over 3500 marathoners, that was not the case here. I don’t remember seeing any signs or directional arrows pointing out the course, but I never had to worry about which way to go since there were always people ahead of me and behind me. One of my biggest concerns – getting lost on the course – turned out to be not a worry at all.

A final couple of hills just before turning towards the finish line and I completed my 107th marathon/ultramarathon in 5:35:59 chip time. I received an attractive heavy medal on a yellow and black lanyard, a couple of bottles of water, and some snacks, met up with my husband, and we walked the few blocks back to the hotel. After a shower and brief nap it was back to Guero’s for a celebratory fajita feast (yes, more fajitas – we really like them). We had another early to bed night since our flight at 5:30 the next morning (and I was starting to feel the effects of running down all those hills). It was definitely a rewarding visit to one of my favorite cities.

The Tallahassee Half Marathon, February 5, 2012

Although I tend to do this race every year because it gives me an opportunity to visit with my son David (who – without any training at all – just comes out and does it with me), this year I had an ulterior motive. This half and the Ocala half marathon that I completed 2 weeks ago would enable me to join the Half Fanatics, the sister club to Marathon Maniacs. While I enjoy the challenges of longer races, I believe the 13.1 mile distance is ideal and it seems that the older I get, the more half marathons appeal to me.

On Saturday morning my husband and I loaded up our car for the 2 hour drive to Tallahassee. When we arrived, my daughter-in-law made us a hearty lunch and we talked and relaxed until it was time to go to packet pickup at the host hotel, the DoubleTree downtown. The Gulf Winds Track Club had scheduled a program that sounded terrific to me – Chuck “marathon junkie” Engle was to talk about his race experiences at 3 pm and a local coach was on the schedule a bit later to discuss how to prepare onself mentally for the marathon. I would have enjoyed listening to both speakers but my family had other ideas, so we just picked up our bibs (with chip attached to the back), tee shirts, and a few advertisements and coupons and headed home. After a light dinner and some very active playtime with my 3 year old granddaughter, I was exhausted and ready for bed around 8 pm.

I slept soundly, possibly too soundly. I awoke with a start and checked my watch. It was 4:30 am and I had planned to wake up at 4. Already a bit behind, I quickly rose and turned on the lightswitch. Nothing. Hmmm, I must have done something wrong. The room I was sleeping in has a control for the fan, television, and light; I must have turned on or off the wrong switch before going to sleep. I felt my way to the bathroom and turned on the light there. Oh, oh! – still nothing. At that moment my son appeared and confirmed that the electricity was out in the house. We went outside to see if any neighbors also had a problem. Sure enough, our entire block was in darkness, although the streets farther away had lights. My son called the local power company to report the outage and then we proceeded to get dressed – me by flashlight and my son by the light from his cell phone.

Not an auspicious way to begin race day! Somehow we managed to throw our clothes on, wash up, and brush our teeth. Hoping I didn’t overlook anything (energy bar, tissues, wallet, what else??), we piled into David’s car and drove to his office. There we made coffee (thank goodness – by this time I was REALLY needing some caffeine), ate our impromptu breakfast (bread and granola bars), and talked.  Funny, this turned out to be a neat way to spend some one-on-one time with my son. I had his undivided attention and we could hold a conversation without interruptions from my granddaughter. While I like to think that we can talk during the race, he is usually much faster than me and tends to run instead of walk. Our conversation, as a result, is in bits and pieces and sometimes there is none at all. Unexpectedly, this particular pre-race morning was the highlight of the day for me.

At 6:45 am we left to make our way to the Mike Long Track on the campus of Florida State University. We parked (there is plenty of parking available in the campus lots and garage), stood in line for the indoor bathrooms (although there are about a dozen porta potties outside), and walked around the starting line area. I saw a number of Darksiders there, including Scott Ludwig, Al Barker, Phil Min, Deb Ingram, and Mellody Hughes) as well as some other friends and we chatted and joked until the 7:30 am start. This is my 5th Tallahassee race but the only time that the weather was warmer than 50 degrees. It is usually so cold at the start that I wear gloves and a hat and a scarf. This year, however, the temperature hovered around 57 degrees and seemed almost balmy. I was glad I had worn just a short sleeved shirt under my mesh vest; I had a light jacket on over everything but I was pretty sure I would take it off and tie it around my waist after a few miles.

The race began right on time and we took off. I think Tallahassee is an attractive city but the race course does not go anywhere close to the city itself. Much of the time we are on a bike path that travels through some commercial areas with not much to see. The Gulf Winds Track Club states many people qualify for Boston on this course; it may be exceedingly boring but it is also definitely very flat. The city of Tallahassee has many hills and would be a challenge to runners; it would also tie up traffic on narrow streets.

Since time was not an issue – we had 6 hours – I decided to walk the majority of the race, running only when I felt like it (which was not much). I occasionally tried to run to keep up with the flow of other participants so I could cross the several major intersections without having to stop for cars. Police were pretty good this year at holding traffic so runners could cross, but in previous years I have been stopped and told to wait while cars were allowed to pass. I wasn’t taking any chances this year.

Around mile 4, my son said he was going to run a bit faster because he was feeling good. I told him to take off and he did – and I didn’t see him again until the end of the race. Turns out he finished only 3 minutes ahead of me but he must have been just out of my line of sight. As usual, during the final 5 miles of the race, I got a resurgence of energy and finished strong, with my best half marathon time yet,2:38. Rather than stay for the bagels and water and such (where was all the pizza this year?), we headed home so we could shower and change and go out to eat. One of our traditions after this race is to go to an all-you-can-eat buffet, usually Andrew’s downtown, but this year we tried Azu, one of LucyHo’s restaurants, where we had a wonderful Sunday brunch buffet, with every kind of Asian delicacy you could imagine.

My husband and I had made plans to stop on our way back at the new home of some friends of ours, so we said our good-byes to David and his family and spent several enjoyable hours with Lew and Elona before we had to hurry home to pick up our dog at the vet’s kennel.

The next day I signed up for Half Fanatics at http://www.halffanatics.com/ . Now I am officially a member at the Neptune level!