I’ll just jump right in.
My trip to Austin started smooth as silk last Friday. On time out of Albuquerque, brief pause in Dallas without having to debark, arrival in Austin without any trouble. I was stoked for quality family time and a little jaunt called the 3M Half-Marathon. The sun was shining, and my aunt greeted me with a big hug and the perfect Welcome-to-Texas tunes of Lyle Lovett and George Strait.
I had asked Aunt Paula to show me some good barbecue and Tex-Mex during my visit. Friday was barbecue, at a place called Uncle Billy’s Brew-n-Cue (seriously, how can you go wrong?). I had very tasty pulled pork, green beans, and potato salad, washed down by a beer called Axe Handle. I ate it (and drank it) right up.
With the evening off to an auspicious start, we bee-lined to The Broken Spoke, also known as The Best Honky Tonk in Texas and a basically-official Austin institution. Sipping a Shiner Bock under low, uneven ceilings while enjoying prime people-watching, I realized two important things. 1) I needed new cowgirl boots; and 2) Before I die, I will learn to two-step.
Saturday dawned another lovely day, with breakfast at Magnolia. No doubt about it: gingerbread-blueberry-pecan pancakes cover enough food groups to comprise an exquisite day-before-a-race breakfast. That afternoon, I met some of my aunt’s friends at a baby shower. They’re wonderful ladies; the mom-to-be was described to me as a “rock star photographer.” Whoa.
We did Italian for dinner that night – cliché before a race, but hey, for a reason. We ate at Mandola’s Italian Market, and feasted on scrumptious lasagna, bread, salad, and red wine. They even had a strolling accordionist to entertain diners. Who says Texas can’t do Italian??
After dinner came tried-and-true Austin entertainment: Esther’s Follies! I highly recommend it, even if you’re a local and want to write it off as a tourist activity. It’s hilarious, and you don’t even need the drinks they allow/encourage patrons to bring into the theatre to enjoy it.
After the Follies: bedtime, in light of the next morning’s pre-dawn wake-up call. Yikes.
5 a.m. Sunday morning. Beepbeepbeepbeep went my alarm. I had slept about as well as can be expected the night before a big race, meaning: not well. I don’t think nervous stomachs ever disappear completely, no matter how long you’ve been racing. But I woke up quickly enough, managed to pin my number without drawing blood and to wrap my timing chip/band thingy through my shoelaces without pulling a muscle, and got some food in my tummy (most of a bagel, most of a banana). Time to go!
Luckily, my aunt lives about three stones’ throws from the starting area, so it didn’t take long to drive over there [Aunt Paula, THANK YOU for chauffeuring at that hour!]. Then came the usual pre-race stuff: Last swig of water. Porta-potty visit. Peel off layers. Another porta-potty visit. Peel off more layers; give to gracious aunt and cousin. Trot to starting corral. Start feeling ridiculous for bringing sunglasses when the sun won’t come up till a few miles into the race. Oh well.
The weather was perfect. I mean “God must run half-marathons” perfect. Not a trace of wind. I was aiming for sub-1:29:35 – my half-marathon PR that I ran, um, approximately nine years ago. I know, I know. So I started with the 1:30 pace group, which I think helped, even if only a little, in suppressing my ugly little habit of going out too fast. After a few miles, I felt pretty good and moved on ahead of those folks. I started keeping my eye on this girl ahead of me in a long-sleeved pink shirt. Keep her in sight.
I settled into my usual long-distance-race rhythm of grabbing water about every three miles. I didn’t feel like I was running on Cloud 9 or anything, but I felt good enough to be steady…and judging from my watch, steady seemed to work fine. Around mile 8, I saw my aunt and cousin cheering and madly ringing cowbells, and as I think many of you know, NOTHING gives you a boost like cheering and cowbells. High on cowbell fever, I passed Pink Long-Sleeved Girl and headed into the last few miles.
The course wasn’t a cake-walk; a few hills kept things honest. And the sunglasses came in handy after all when the course aimed straight into the sunrise. Not fun. But somewhere, around mile 9 or maybe 10, I started feeling something. Not pre-race nerves. Not early-race caution. Not late-race exhaustion (ok, not that much). Nope. I felt confidence: that little voice that says, “You are running well. Don’t freak out. Steady. Relax. Breathe. There is absolutely no reason for you to not keep running well. You will finish strong. That is simply what you are going to do.”
For once, I heeded the little voice. I didn’t freak out. And that nine-year-old PR absurdly, surreally…just melted away.
To be continued….
* Thanks to Blake Shelton for inspiring this week’s blog title.