Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Race... to Self-Discovery

As 2011 approached, I, like most people, contemplated what my "New Year's Resolutions" would be. The year of 2010 had been an incredible one, full of dozens of concerts and music festivals, late nights downtown followed by 4th meals, new restaurants and old habits. All extremely fun things, but not exactly the healthiest life-style I had ever had. Granted I did still run and work out here and there, I still knew that the new year brought an opportunity to reevaluate my choices and make a few changes that could improve my well-being. The typical things came to mind; get in shape, eat better, drink less, etc. These all seemed somewhat mundane and boring, however, and I wanted something a little more challenging. Something that would ultimately drive me to do all those things, but with an end goal. Something that I couldn't give up on after just a week and say "oh well, better luck next year." So with those things in mind, I decided to start training and sign-up for my first half-marathon. There was one in Austin towards the end of February, but 6 weeks seemed awfully soon to try and get enough running in to be prepared, plus it was pretty pricey, so when I stumbled across one in nearby San Marcos at the beginning of March for nearly half the price, I jumped on it and registered for "Moe's Better Half-Marathon."

After an extremely over-indulgent New Years Day full of alcohol and unhealthy food, I started training the second day of the year. I printed out some work-out routines, and started altering my diet. I ate fast food maybe one time a week if at all, cut-back on my drinking, and hit the pavement putting in miles. I had run cross-county in high school, and throughout college had run a few miles a week just because I liked the way it made me feel (aka helped me justify my vices from time to time). Just a month in, I was already running 4 to 5 miles a night 4 or 5 days a week, and seemingly making good progress. February hit, and the temptations for eating poorly began, so I tried to kick those out by doing even more athletically. I joined a soccer team in Austin's Men's Soccer Association league, and with trainings on Tuesday nights and games on Sunday's, I was given even more incentive to continue trying to stick to my resolution.

Shortly after Valentines day, I went on a run and managed to put in 8 miles. Now this might not seem like much considering the half I was training for would be 13.1 miles, but it was a milestone for me as I had never run more than 7 before at one time. Feeling confident, but also a little under the weather due to allergies, I took a few days off after that. Big mistake. For future reference, I will never do that again. I peaked in my training earlier than I had wanted to, and the last 3 weeks before the race I never ran more than 3 times a week, and never further than 5 miles. Soccer, work, concerts, and having a girlfriend all jammed up my schedule, and as race day approached, I felt a little uneasy about the prospect of trying to accomplish the goals I had set out for myself for the race, which were to run the entire thing without walking, and to finish it in under 2 hours (which would require a pace of around 9 minute miles). The weekend of the race I had come, and I ended up going downtown Friday night and staying out late drinking before I had to get up early for work, and didn't get in bed till after 11pm that night (due to nerves if nothing else) even though I had a 4am wake up call Sunday in order to make it down to San Marcos in time for the 7am start. To say I was nervous would be a massive understatement, but the day was here, I had paid my registration fee and picked up my race packet, so there was no turning back now.

Arriving to the Tanger Outlet Center in San Marcos where the start and finish line for the race were around 6am, I was trying to keep positive thoughts in mind. The weather was a little cooler than I would have preferred, a brisk 36 degrees, but there was a hallway by the bathrooms we hung out in to keep from the wind while we stretched and warmed up for the race. This was a great marathon to do as my first one, because it wasn't very crowded and pretty low-key. All the participants and organizers were friendly and up-beat, and I was losing my nervousness and finally sliding into that feeling of anticipation. I was ready, or at least as ready as I'd ever be, to see just how far I could push my body. We lined up near the front of the pack at the start, and at 7am set off on the 13.1 mile long course through the hilly San Marcos countryside.

Now although I rarely am awake for it, the times that I am and get to the sunrise I always have a sense of accomplishment no matter what I'm doing. So seeing the sun come up over the farms of the central Texas hill country as I ran by was a very rewarding feeling in itself. I was enjoying it so much that I ran my first mile entirely too fast, and thought there had been some kind of mistake as I passed by Mile Marker 1 and looked down at my watch to see 7:13, a little under my 9 minute pace I had intended to run at. I tried to slow myself down, but still came in too fast at Mile 2 around 14:45. This ended up being a good thing, because my nervous tick seems to be drinking water, and I had drank 2 to 3 bottles worth en route to San Marcos that morning. So at the first porta-potty stop at Mile 4, I had to make a pit-stop. Having to wait on someone in front of me, this took about 2 minutes time. So when I left I was just under 36 minutes, so right on pace for where I wanted to be. Miles 5 and 6 were both right on pace just under 9 minutes each, and as I approached the steep downhill between miles 6 and 7, I was feeling more and more confident.

As I finished zig-zagging the hill and realized I was just about halfway done with the course, I was having an out-of-body experience. Here I was at 8 in the morning and had already been up for 4 hours, was 7 miles into my first half marathon, the sun was shining without a cloud in the sky, the temperature was a perfect 45 degrees, and I felt like I could run forever. I was smiling to myself, feeling very much like Forrest Gump, and almost as if on cue, "Freebird" came on my iPod. That lengthy song alone killed almost 2 miles, and an array of eclectic tunes accompanied me as I continued on my way from Bob Marley and Bob Dylan, to Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine. As I approached and then ran by Mile 8, I knew that anything past this point was a new personal best for my distance wise, and I know that the photographers and on-lookers cheering us on during the race probably found my huge smile a bit odd.

Entering double digits at Mile 10, I began having the debate with myself about rather I should try and pick up my pace a little (I was still hovering right around the pace I had set for myself of 9 minute miles), of if I should relish the fact that I was still feeling great and push myself more. It was at that exact moment that I saw for the first time of the race someone off the side throwing up. This to me was an omen that I did not ignore, and I maintained my pace rather than speeding up. After nearly being spit on by a guy running with his friend, I ended up staying with them for awhile as they seemed to be right at the same pace as me, and having been running alone for most of the race it was nice to have a little company. A few laughs as we hit Mile 12 and I decided that there was no point in leaving anything left on the course, so I kicked it into gear and decided to try and start passing anyone and everyone I could. The fact that a lot of the people in front of me were girls and/or people in their 50's and 60's was both impressive on their end, and made me become a little prideful on mine, and gave me just the motivation I needed to try and beat as many people as I could coming down the home stretch.

As I came around the last turn and could see the outlet center in my sights, I began running even faster. I then caught sight of my friend Blaine, who had already finished, with my camera (as I had asked him to) taking pictures, and that also helped pushed me through. I passed 2 girls on the last 100 yards and finished with a time of 1 hour 58 minutes and 12 seconds. I had accomplished all my goals; I hadn't walked any and I had finished in under 2 hours. The course was pretty challenging, as there were a lot of hills (a few of them pretty killer), and the colder weather at first and a slight breeze (headwind) here and there also came into play but all in all I would say it went about as perfect as possible. I devoured a cookie, banana, orange, and Gatorade, and had a permanent smile on my face the rest of the day.

I had my first experience at The Mighty Cone trailer on South Congress, and then went out to Zilker Park to check out the Austin Kite Festival. I finished off the near perfect Sunday with dinner and drinks at Chuy's with my dad. It was one of the best days of my life, and most rewarding, because I had accomplish a goal that I had set out completely for myself. I was not trying to impress anyone, or make a soccer team, or win a race, I had simply set out to achieve something, done it, and the reward was the feeling it left within me. Now I can cross that off my bucket list, and have a memory to look back on forever. Next up, I have a 10k in Austin at the end of March, as well as 5 more soccer games this season as we try to move up the table in our division. Its been a very rewarding year so far in 2011, and I can't wait to see what else I will be able to accomplish. I've already read more books in the past 3 months than I did all last year, and am planning on running at least one more half-marathon before 2012. So who knows what 2012 may hold, possibly a full marathon? The possibilities are endless, because when you learn how far you can push yourself, you learn how much it takes to be able to push it even further. And I think thats what this half-marathon meant to me, a journey, a race to self-discovery.

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