Sunday, January 31, 2016

State #27, 3M Half Marathon, Austin, TX, January 24, 2016, Part 2

My body woke up about ten minutes before my scheduled 5 am alarm, which was fine. I slept soundly, but still felt tired when I awoke, most likely a result of the travel and continued recovery from my sickness earlier in the month. I just needed a little while to wake up. Going through my regular routine helped…coffee, yoga sun salutations, breakfast, gearing up, etc. By 6:30 am I was ready. The temperature on race morning was only 39 degrees. Not exactly the warmth I was expecting in Austin, so I was somewhat unprepared, and by race end the temps were only expected to be in the 40's. Hazel and Marshall gave me a heavy duty garbage bag the night before, so donning my garbage bag, I went out to brave the cold. 
Race t-shirt and bib number.
3M sanding attachment for vacuum cleaner...from the goodie bag.
One last stop in the hotel lobby bathroom before stepping out was a necessity. As I was washing my hands, the song “The Long Run” by the Eagles came on…good omen or haphazard foreboding? Hard to tell. 
View of the starting line. Lots of cold runners in 39 degree temps!
The gear bag check and starting line were steps from my hotel much to my relief. I couldn’t get a clear sense from the marathon map exactly where all the starting line action would be, so it was great to have it so nearby. I handed in my finish line clothes in their bag and went off to find my place in the starting corral. This race was a point to point race, starting the Arboretum area of Austin and cruising to the downtown area near the University of Texas campus.
Me and my garbage bag in the starting corral.
Knowing I’d most likely run a bit slow this time, I decided to play it safe and line up near the 1:55 finish line sign. With only ten minutes to the starting gun, I was set. 
The starting horn went off promptly at 7 am and we were off. It took a minute or so to cross the starting line, as the crowd was some 6,500 people strong. But once we got up there, we were off. The first several miles paraded through corporate/industrial/retail complexes on roads that most likely aren’t heavily traveled on Sunday mornings. I tried to just focus on keeping a fairly steady but comfortable pace and breathing properly. I felt very good through mile 6. At mile 6 the 1:55 pace group caught me, which was no big deal, in fact, I expected that to happen, but whenever I get passed by a pacing group, it always messes with my mental position. After that, I felt like every mile got slower. (After reviewing my final splits post-race, that is exactly what happened. I slowed with each quarter of the race, but less than I thought.) 
I was just happy to be feeling good at the halfway mark. The slogan of this race was “Down Hill to Downtown,” which I kind of think is a misnomer. Most of the race felt flat to me, and quite honestly, the second half of the race had its share of modest uphills. The hills weren’t horrible, but when you already feel yourself slowing, it makes things seem even slower. 
The second half of the race boasted many more spectators than the first part, so that made things more interesting. One of my favorite signs said something like, "Blisters are braille for "AWESOME!"" Also, we entered some residential areas. The houses were mostly brick or stone bungalow or ranch style homes. I really like the trees in Austin, too. They aren’t really tall like the oaks back home, and they are shrubby but tree-like. I have no idea what kind they are, but they are pretty. We ran along these tree lined streets, and as we got closer to downtown, we passed some mighty delicious smelling restaurants and cafes. I was getting anxious for the finish line.
At mile 11 the time clock read 1:38, so I pretty much knew if I could keep up with my pace, I’d finish in just under my two hour goal. The last bit of the race was through the University of Texas campus. What an impressive school. The buildings were massive, and the stadium was completely intimidating! I could imagine being from the opposing football team and showing up there on the bus. Talk about feeling small. Right near the stadium I spied a guy on the sidewalk spectating and wearing a UConn sweatshirt. I shouted to him UConn! He yelled back Go Huskies! It was fun. 
Also during this stretch of the race, I passed my favorite musical act along the route: a Mariachi band just inside the UT campus. As I ran past, they broke in to a rocking version of "La Cucaracha" which was just the boost I needed at this late point in the race. I couldn't help but chuckle that all the runners must have looked like a bunch of cockroaches skittering through the streets. Too funny! 
A couple of more turns and I was downtown nearly in the shadow of the Capitol building. As I ran toward the finish line and through the finishing chute, I scanned from side to side for Hazel. I had no idea if she made it in time or exactly where she’d be. Just a few feet before the final push, I spied her and her twins. We saw each other and shouted with glee. I crossed the finish line with a respectable net time of 1:56:52. Not bad for not much training. Needless to say, I was pleased.
Hazel and her kids caught up with me while I was stretching. They had all kinds of great questions about the race, and we chatted while I stretched. I made a quick trip to the porta potty to freshen up, and she graciously drove me back to my hotel. After a quick shower, we headed out for a quick lunch.
Austin breakfast tacos.
We ended up at a busy, fun place called Tacodeli. Breakfast tacos at last! I had a black bean, egg, avocado and pico de gallo taco, and it was spectacular! I’m a fan and can’t wait to make some at home for my kids. A little bit of Texas in CT.
The breakfast club having final goodbyes and selfies.
After our lunch, we said our final goodbyes for this trip, but this clearly was just the beginning of us really knowing each other again. I’m so grateful for that. As Hazel and her kids drove away, and I prepared to navigate back to the airport, tears welled up in my eyes for having the pleasure of seeing an old friend and for it being such a special time. Talk about a powerful moment in life. I hope she and her family can come out our way sometime so I can give them the royal treatment, too. What a trip!
My trip back to the airport was without incident and both my flights were fine, so I was home in no time. This race will be a meaningful one for me for a long time to come. Thank you Austin, TX for a well organized race, and thank you Hazel and family for my full heart. 
Texas card.

Race shirt and finisher's medal.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

State #27, 3M Half Marathon, Austin, TX, January 24, 2016, Part 1

I left Friday, January 22nd for Texas right after work. I drove directly to the airport, and luckily got out with just a slight delay. A major winter storm was heading up the east cost, and even though Connecticut wasn’t expected to see the bulk of the snow, flights (due to connections) were canceling and getting delayed. I squeaked out and made my connection through Detroit without a problem on my way to Austin. 
I chose Austin this time around because of the good reviews I’d read about the 3M Half Marathon. In addition, I was hoping to run in Austin because an old childhood friend of mine lives there, and I was hoping I could sneak in a visit while in the area. I reached out to her well in advance, and even though we haven’t seen each other in roughly 30 years, she was excited and open to meeting up. Yay!
My cousin Andrew registered for the race as well, so it would be a grand old time in Texas! I arrived late Friday night and discovered a text from Andrew that his flight was canceled for the night. He rebooked for the next day around noon and would keep me posted. Bummer.
Saturday morning, I allowed myself to sleep in a bit. Shortly thereafter, I heard from Andrew that his noon flight was already delayed, and he wasn’t feeling optimistic about things. In the end, he decided not to come, feeling that if he arrived very late, he’d be too exhausted to deal with the run the next day. Totally understandable, but disappointing none the less. 
Visitor's Center guitar pick sign.
I headed out to downtown Austin to pick up my bib number at the Convention Center. 3M provided a huge bag of goodies along with the bib, including sticky notes, a vacuum cleaner attachment for sandpaper dust, food treats, some car wheel polish, and other things. I brought all that back to the car and headed out on foot. 
Painted murals just off 6th St.
After a stop in the Austin Visitors Center with a recommendation for a taco place for lunch, I was off. I had heard from my friend that 6th Street was a place to see, so I walked in that direction on my way to the Capitol area. Wow! What a scene it was! 6th Street is filled with bars, tattoo parlors, music shops, The Museum of the Weird, and all kinds of colorful characters. One local described it to me as the Bourbon Street of Austin. I didn’t have much desire to visit any bars (although I was tempted by the Museum of the Weird), so I just meandered through and turned up Congress Street toward the state Capitol building. 
Austin Capitol building.
The Capitol building is enormous and gorgeous! It is taller than the national Capitol in Washington, D.C. and reminded me of a palace. I wasn’t really expecting that in Texas, but boy was it impressive. 
I made my way past the Capitol area over to Lavaca Street where the restaurant was, when I was stopped by a (seemingly) homeless man. He was clearly intoxicated, and asked me directions to 6th Street. Having just walked from there, I was happy to help. Of course, next he took to telling me many of his life stories. He was carrying a guitar case (not sure if there was actually a guitar in it), but he told me he had played music with Miles Davis, Ray Charles and the Pointer Sisters. He was from Oregon originally, but had just rolled in to Austin by way of (I think) Mexico, where he said he was beat up by some guys there and had his teeth knocked out and ribs broken. He really was a mess. I listened as politely as I could, but when he asked me if I had time to sit down and chat, I made tracks. The Austin slogan, “Keep Austin Weird,” was making sense to me now. :)
Lunch restaurant.
I found the restaurant a few blocks later. El Mercado it was called, and after a chat with my waitress, Sam, I settled on the brisket tacos. And ohhhhh my, were they delicious! I had never tasted a more delicious taco before. They served it with sides of barbecue sauce, guacamole, fresh cilantro, spicy brown beans with chiles, chopped onion and a generous basket of tortilla chips with salsa. I was in heaven! After having my fill, I hiked back to the Capitol building for a tour. 
The building houses the state senate and house of representatives, both chambers we toured. The state court is also there, and many historical items, including paintings depicting the battles at the Alamo and San Jacinto. The rotunda area and dome are especially stunning. We also were able to walk down to the extension underneath the capitol building which was added later to house additional office space. It was a fun and interesting way to pass the afternoon. 
Back side of Capitol building.
Interior of rotunda dome, looking up. Beautiful!
Austin Capitol Building Senate chambers.
Dawn at the Alamo painting.
Battle of San Jacinto painting.
Austin Capitol Building House of Representatives chamber.
I headed back to my hotel later in the afternoon, stopping at Target and Whole Foods on the way to pick up some necessities. I changed and headed out to visit my friend for dinner. 
My friend Hazel and I were best friends in our early childhood. I have such fond memories of her and her family from those days. She grew up in a family of 6 kids, so something fun was always happening at her house. All of the kids were creative and funny, so going to her house as a kid was always a blast. She now has a large family of her own (7 children!) and a wonderful man to share her life. 
Hazel's kids. One amazing bunch!
As I arrived at her house, I wasn’t sure I was in the right place, as everything was completely silent. How could a house with seven kids be so quiet?!! When she opened the door, it was as if the last 30 years of not seeing each other was erased, and there we were. I hugged her and then had to hug all her beautiful kids (ranging from age 15 to 14 months!). Through the magic of Facebook, we were able to glimpse in to each other’s lives these last several years, so although we knew some details, we had loads of catching up to do. 
Old friends together again!
Her kids were right there with us, listening to all the old stories and life events (college, jobs, homes, marriage, kids, running, etc.). I was so struck at how well-mannered they all were and how entirely sweet and lovely. Every single one of them is smart and polite and engaged and all were connecting with the conversation. 
Hazel and her partner, Marshall, offered to host me for a pre-race spaghetti and meatball dinner, and it was just the most wonderful part of the trip. My heart was bursting with emotions, and I was nearly a water-works when I first arrived, seeing and hugging Hazel after all these years. 
Crazy shot with the full group.What an incredible night!
I left on the early side, hugging everyone again. Hazel was going to try to meet me at the finish line. What a trooper! I got back to the hotel, organized all my things for the morning and went off to bed. A good night sleep followed after such a wonderful, heart-warming evening.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Off to a slow start...

I feel remiss that I haven’t written a blog post for all of January so far, and now it is nearly the end of the month. January has been a rough month for me with the running. Just after the holidays I came down with strep throat. That was bummer enough, but three days in to the antibiotics, feeling a bit better, I decided with only 2 days of December remaining, I should attempt to finish the last 12 miles I needed to make it a 100 mile month. Stupid move. I made it to the gym on December 30th and ran a rough 6 miler on the treadmill. The next day I felt worse than I had on day one of strep. Ugh. One step forward, three steps back. After that, I decided I better take it easy, rest, hydrate and just try to get healthy. As luck would have it, the next day (New Year’s Eve), I came down with pink eye in both eyes! Quarantined, I was, and feeling like an absolute mess. Needless to say, I have rested for most of the month. Coming in to my latest race this past weekend I only had a mere 13.5 miles under my belt for the month. Talk about a pre-race taper! (More on the latest race in the next blog post.)
So the really fun thing about January 2016 is that I volunteered to display my first 25 half marathon states finisher medals at our local library. I signed up for it over a year ago, setting the goal that I’d have to be at 25 completed states. Also, I chose January thinking that it is a popular time for folks to set fitness goals for themselves, and if someone viewed my display and found it a motivating factor, well alright. 

Last weekend we had some close friends of ours visit us for a few days, and they wanted to see my medals. So we drove to the library for a peek. Along with the medals, I included my ongoing half marathon scrapbook and copies of all the state postcards I’ve made so far to correspond with each medal. My library friend, Erika, put the display together for me, and I thought it looked great! It is very colorful with all the various medals, ribbons and postcards. A nice lift for the grey doldrums of winter. 

I tried to snap a few photos of the display, but because of the size of the case they are in and the tight location near book stacks, I couldn’t get a super great shot. These photos at least give a general idea of it. 
So although I haven’t been at my best running-wise this month, it has been rewarding looking back on the accomplishments I’ve made so far. I’m so glad I had the chance to share them with others, too.