RACE REPORT: 3M HALF MARATHON 01/25/09
WhooHoo! A Half Marathon PR with a time of 01:47:22 (average pace 8:12/mile)! Of course everything is relative. That's a great time for me, but would be a terrible time for someone like the male winner of this race who ran it in just over an hour (average pace of 4:40/mile).
I didn't arrive in Austin until late Saturday afternoon, just in time to check into the hotel and pick up my packet. The Expo was at the 3M Innovation Center, but it was really just a "packet pickup" rather than an Expo. Other than the packet pickup area, there were only two other tables - one with Brooks shoes and one with sports gels. Because I arrived near the end of packet pickup, I was able to get my packet with only one other person in line ahead of me. My friends said that earlier in the day, there was a long line, so I was actually lucky to have arrived late! I regret not having time to drive the course beforehand. But it was starting to get dark and I didn't know Austin streets (I had already taken several wrong turns getting there).
I couldn't believe all the wonderful things in the race packet (the nice black bag shown in the picture). There were several coupons, in addition to the long sleeve t-shirt, Powerbar Gel Blasts, Clif Shot Blocks, all kinds of tape dispensers, designer post-it notes, ear plugs, 3M Photo paper, mounting tape and hooks, bandaids, and a skin care product for abrasions.
Two of the people I had run with up in Denton were staying in the same hotel. We met in the lobby on race morning about 45 minutes before the race started. The great thing about the hotel (Courtyard Marriott Northwest Austin/Aboretum) was that it was located right at the race start.
It was cold race morning, so we waited inside the hotel lobby and then about 15 minutes before race start, we went to get in line for the race. After lining up too far back at the DRC Half, I lined up near the front of this race. That made my gun time only 6 second off my chip time and saved me considerable time weaving in and out of people. The announcer said that over 5000 people had signed up for the race.
They had the race director, a 3M executive, and Governor Rick Perry all say a few words at the race start. And Governor Perry ran the race. He did really well, averaging about 8:20/mile. The Governor is shown in the picture below in the white RunTex shirt. A healthy politician is a wonderful thing to see!
The first couple of miles were predominately uphill, as can be seen from the elevation profile below. I had become cold and started shivering waiting for the starting gun to go off. It seemed to take me about 3-4 miles to start feeling better. I've never been fast out of the gate - that's why I prefer the longer distances.
On the climb for mile 1, my legs were actually starting to get that burning feeling. And I wasn't even going that fast. I actually had the feeling that this might be my worst race ever. Also, my confidence was shaken because I unknowingly had lined up with the 6 minute milers. There weren't pace groups or anything indicating pace. Needless to say, when the starting gun went off, I felt like Ralphie's little brother walking to school in the movie 'A Christmas Story': "Wait for me guys!"
But then the downhill portions started and I was able to get my leg turnover up. On downhills, I can run much faster. On mile 5 (almost all downhill), I averaged 7:41/mile with hardly any effort. I love the ChiRunning method (similar to the Pose Method). Gravity does all the work!
For once I was able to stay closer to the front of the pack rather than the middle due to the fact it was a predominately downhill course. It was interesting to note the differences between the front and middle of the pack runners. Because it was a cold weather race, most of the front of the pack runners didn't stop or slow down for anything, including water/gatorade at the water stops. The one exception was a table at mile 12 with Girl Scout Cookies. When I passed by, there was a sign that said Girl Scout Cookies with an empty plate below it.
The front of the pack runners also wore much less clothing. The middle of the pack runners dressed for comfort at the start. As they warmed up, they would stop and remove layers, taking off their jackets and wrapping it around them. The front of the pack runners dress as if it's 20 degrees warmer (actually this is recommended by the experts) so they don't have to worry about shedding layers.
The front of the pack runners did very little (if any) talking to other runners, whereas the middle of the packers were having a good time chatting away. I knew if I opened my mouth to talk to anyone I wasn't going to be able to maintain the 8:12/mile pace I was running, so I didn't do any talking either. I was so busy concentrating on maintaining pace that I didn't really have a chance to notice my surroundings (other than whether it was uphill or downhill).
The front runners also didn't have on ipods, although the rule was recently relaxed by USATF. "USA Track & Field has amended Rule 144.3, which pertains to the use of headphones and other electronic devices, to enable race directors to choose to allow the use of headphones by runners in non-championship races." For a full description of the rule change, click here: USATF Amends Headphone Rule
Around mile 9 I decided to have my Powerbar Gel. But my hands were so cold I couldn't get it open. I finally managed to get one corner open, but all my struggling with it caused it to spurt out all over my hands. I ran the rest of the race with sticky fingers :) When I looked at the time for mile 9, I noticed it was 6 seconds more than the surrounding miles and that's why. But I found a solution to the problem. They gave us a sample of Powerbar Gel Blasts in the race packet and I'm going to start using those. You can put them in your fuel belt without a package and 6 small pieces has the same carbs/electrolytes as a gel packet.
One thing that helped distract me from my discomfort at the end was a guy running with a stroller. He was really fast, but I think he was wanting to get to the finish line and his wife as soon as possible. His 2 year old (in the stroller) had seen Mom on the sidelines and was screaming continuously at the top of her lungs for Momma. All of the runners in front of him were turning to see what the screaming was about. Poor guy! She did not let up for the last mile or two. He kept telling her "Almost there!" and he must have run the last couple of miles much faster than the first because he was passing all of us while pushing a stroller. But the screaming actually provided a nice distraction for those of us struggling to maintain pace at the end.
We ran through the UT Austin Campus near the end and I would have liked to have taken a better look at it. But I was running the last two miles below my lactate threshold and it was all I could do to keep my leg turnover up. But I was thrilled with my faster finish. Experts say to run negative splits and I've always had a hard time doing that in the past.
My friend Justin Meaders won 3rd in the wheelchair division (picture right). I didn't even know he was doing this race. I was only a couple of rows behind him when we were waiting for the race to start. Way to go Justin!!! He's shown in the picture to the right in the yellow jersey.
Austin is also a very dog friendly town. There were dogs everywhere, many of them sporting new sweaters/coats (as in the photo). And they were all well behaved and on leashes!
There wasn't a lot of crowd support. There were only a few spots where people were cheering on the runners. I think it was just too cold for a lot of people to be outside. But there were quite a few people at the end. The police did a great job of traffic control. Even though the entire route was on city streets, there were no "near misses" with cars.
The post-race area was wonderful! They had a good band, lots of food (everything from breakfast burritos to cookies to granola bars to fruit smoothies), and lot of water and gatorade. There were also plenty of restrooms. The one thing I would have liked was a tent/enclosed area to warm up. I had dressed for racing (shorts and a long sleeve vented running shirt), so I was shivering uncontrollably once I crossed the finish line and stopped running. Thank goodness my friends Alan and Nancy let me wait in their warm car after the race. They also gave me a ride back to the hotel (it was a point to point race) so that I didn't have to ride one of the buses. I should have used a drop bag with warm clothing to put on after the race, but I was so used to having my husband at the finish line with a jacket, gloves, and warm car that I totally forgot to use a drop bag. He was on call at work this weekend, so he was unable to come with me to the race.
I saw one of the elite female runners after the race and she had on Spira shoes. There has been a lot of controversy about the shoes because they have springs in the sole, which some say gives a runner an unfair advantage. But they also provide cushioning much longer than other running shoes and help to reduce impact stress. However, even though I like the spring idea, the shoes look stiff (although I haven't tried any on because I can't find them anywhere). Ecco and Newton both created shoes based upon the foot's natural motion, so I think I'll stick with my Newtons (recently featured in Running Times Magazine). My Newtons are nearing 400 miles and still going strong. I'm not seeing the compression/lack of cushioning I saw in my previous running shoes.
I'm going to continue doing this race because I really enjoyed the course and the ability to stay in a hotel right at the start line. That eliminated a lot of the hassle associated with larger races. Even though there were 5000 people signed up for this race and over 4000 finishers, the route was wide enough to accomodate everyone and it never seemed crowded. The race packet was great, as well as the post-race finish area.
I wish I could have stayed in Austin longer. They have some of the best running trails in the state (especially if you're trying to prepare for a hilly race). I'd like to stay at one of the hotels along Town Lake, which has a 10 mile running trail around the lake. There are also lots of Starbucks around Town Lake, where I could get my vanilla non-fat latte afterwards.