After last month’s races, I decided that I could reduce some of my stress around my first half marathon (Austin 3M at the end of January) by running a slow marathon ahead of time — a Race 0 if you will. So, I signed up for the Decker Challenge, with a goal of finishing around 2:10, a comfortable pace of around 10 minutes per mile. While the pace is slower than my January goal (an even two hours), I figured it would probably be almost as hard because the Decker course around the Travis County Expo Center has more hills.
On Saturday, I got my gear ready: charged my phone and headphones, packed my Gu gels (including some new, bigger ones with a shot of caffeine), and got my water bottle ready. I put my number bib/timing chip next to my treadmill to motivate me during the week, and tapered training the few days before the race. Saturday night, I had what seemed like a reasonable dinner (salmon, asparagus, couscous), and got to bed reasonably early. I set my alarm for 6:30, but woke up on my own at 6:20am. I’d had almost exactly seven hours of sleep, and plenty of time before the 8am race. I got up, had coffee, went to the bathroom (with little effect), ate a banana, showered, and got dressed in my trusty shorts, tank top, and new (taller) socks.
At 7:20, I was ready to go and got in the car. I realized with some alarm that the race was further away than I’d realized (~22 minutes rather than 15) but figured that my morning was still basically on track. As I drove, I realized that I hadn’t yet figured out whether to put my bib on my shirt or my shorts. Glancing over to my pile of stuff in the passenger seat, I was horrified to realize that I’d brought everything except the one thing I truly needed.
By 7:30, I was back at my house, grabbed the forgotten bib, and decided I should probably have one more try at the bathroom as my belly was grumbling a little. No luck, and I was back on the road by 7:38. Not great, but I could still make the race. Fortunately, Texas roads have high speed limits, but they aren’t designed for driving while attaching paper to one’s pants with metal “safety” pins and I soon gave up.
Luckily, I reached the Expo Center just before 8 and took a left to drive North past the first gate, closed off by a police car and a line of cones. I drove past a second gate with a police car behind the line of cones and kept driving. Surely, the entrance will be here soon, right? After another mile or so, I realized that I must have missed it when I took that first left northward, so I drove past the two coned-off entrances and went another mile south before realizing that there was no way the entrance was this far out. I pulled off the road to figure out whether there was perhaps a back entrance and realized that no, that wasn’t possible either. Finally, I turned north again and drove slowly past the first gate before watching a car drive through the cones at the second gate without the policemen complaining. Ugh. Apparently, crossing the line of cones was expected the whole time… something I’d’ve figured out if I spent more time perusing the map, or if I’d gotten there early enough to watch everyone else doing it.
More than a bit embarrassed, I walked up to the start line around 8:15 (no one was around) and realized that I wouldn’t be able to run with my target pace group (a key goal for this practice run) and might not even be able to follow the course (looking at the map later, I decided this was an unfounded concern).
I ruefully drove back home to run a half on the treadmill instead, kicking myself a bit for missing the race for dumb reasons, but happy to learn an unforgettable lesson in a low-stakes situation. For January, all of my stuff will be completely ready the night before, and I’ll show up at the start much earlier.
Back at home, I settled on running the Jackson Hole Half Marathon and resolved to run it as realistically as possible — I wore a shirt, ran with the number bib on my leg, and carried my Nathan water bottle in hand. I opened the window but left my big fans off; based on past results, I knew that my heart rate is significantly higher when I’m warm.
I felt strong as I started: after the first quarter I started thinking that perhaps I should try to run a full marathon– the first half with the 2:10 target and the second half much more slowly, perhaps 2:40? This thought kept me motivated for a few miles, but around mile 8 I was not feeling nearly so good. By mile 10, I’d surrendered and turned on the fans, and by mile 11 I knew that this wasn’t going to be a marathon day. I finished in around 2:04, happy to be done but a bit depressed that I certainly wouldn’t’ve met my day’s real-world goal had I run the Decker. (I was further a bit misled because the 2:08 reported by my watch included 4 minutes before I started running).
I refilled my water bottle and then jogged another 1.2 miles to “finish” the race with the trainer (I run faster than the target pace) before calling it a day. I cooled off by walking a mile outside and crossed 30,000 steps for the day for the first time.
So, not a bad effort, but I’m definitely running slower than my prior efforts this year. Before Jackson Hole, I’d run six half marathons on the treadmill this summer, finishing four of them under two hours. The second half of Boston was my best time, at 1:50:30. On the other hand, I recovered from this one far more quickly, with no real blisters, and I was feeling so normal that I had to stop myself from running the next day.
What does all of this mean for my January hopes? I don’t know. But I know that this time I won’t forget my bib!