2012 ARC Decker Challenge 1/2 Marathon Race Recap

December 9, 2012 marked three weeks post-marathon.

It was the morning of half marathon #10.

But most importantly: it was half marathon #1 for Brad. Shortly after running the IBM 10K in October, we discussed the possibility of him joining me for the Austin Distance Challenge. The furthest he had ever run was 10 miles, so the thought of three half marathons looming on the horizon made the decision difficult. After some convincing on my part (and mayyyybe a text that said “it’s definitely a possibility” interpreted as “sign me up”) I was registering him for both the Run for the Water 10-miler and the Austin Distance Challenge.

I then came to the realization that half marathon #10 was no longer going to be 3M as planned – it was going to be the next race in the ADC: the Decker Challenge.

Decker Challenge 2012

From the race’s website:

The Decker Challenge course covers 13.1 miles of rural roadway on and surrounding the Travis County Expo Center grounds. The course is USATF certified. Be prepared for rolling hills for the first half of the race, followed by several steady downhill miles at miles 7 and 8. Large hills at the end of Mile 8 and Mile 10 are the highlights (or lowlights, depending on your perspective) of the tough final 5 miles.

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I’ve been avoiding this race pretty much since I started running. The hills that surround Decker Lake are no joke. Mile 10 is dubbed “Quadzilla”. Due to the location, course support is pretty much nonexistent. But since it’s race #3 of the distance challenge, there’s no avoiding it.

It was a December morning that felt like June. What should have been a frigid 40 degrees with a biting wind was actually 71 degrees with 84% humidity and a warm breeze. Not exactly “winter” here in Austin.

The car was exceptionally quiet on the 30 minute drive to the race Sunday morning. I think Brad was still trying to wrap his head around the fact that he was about to run 13.1 miles. I was tweeting and constantly refreshing the Weather Channel app in hopes that the forecast was some sort of joke. (It wasn’t)

Decker Challenge Half Marathon Weather

We arrived around 7:35, which was just enough time for a bathroom stop before we jumped in line at the start. An elite runner who was announcing the start of the race commented how happy she was to only be running the 5K. Um, NOT something you want to broadcast to a sea of half-marathoners. She might as well have said “Look at you morons running 13.1 miles. I’ll be done with my race before you even hit mile 2!”

I pumped positive thoughts as best I could into Brad’s head. You’ll be fine. You’ve run 10, it’s only 3 more. I’ll be right next to you the whole time. You’ve got this! I had two goals for this race: (1) no time goal – just finish and (2) make sure Brad doesn’t hate me (or running) when he’s finished. It wasn’t a PR day; it was a day to get Brad across the finish line of his first half marathon.

DCIM\101GOPROThe horn blew and we were off! A quarter-mile into the race we were already sweating. ALREADY. The humidity just would not break. We were super thankful for the Nuun (Tropical for him + Orange for me) in our handhelds. Right before the Mile 1 marker, we took our first walk break. I had thought about running 3:1 intervals but decided we should just walk the mountains, and run the downhill/straightaways. Unfortunately, there were more mountains than anything else so I knew early on that our finish time wouldn’t be the speediest. (see goal #1)

Decker Challenge Half Marathon Course

We made a few friends along the way, chatting it up with fellow runners. I received countless compliments on my Pro Compression Holiday Marathon socks! One runner even commented: “I’ve been chasing you and your candy cane socks the entire race – you kept me moving!”

Here’s what we were up against:

Decker Challenge Half Marathon Elevation Chart

It’s safe to say we did NOT like this race. 99% sure that our first time running the Decker Challenge will also be the last. Brad let out a “F*CK THIS RACE” at mile 12. I assured him not all races are like this and that 3M will be a dream in comparison!

Once we came around the bend to head towards the finish, we began to pick up the pace. The announcer boomed over the loudspeaker “This guy coming into the chute now, I saw him before the race. Wearing a BOSTON RED SOX hat. I thought to myself, I have a friend here.” Brad and I started laughing.

As we got closer to the finish line, Brad grabbed my hand and we threw our arms in the air as the announcer called out our names “Coming across now is Brad Sawyer and Melissa Carlson, way to finish it together! Congratulations!”

Decker Challenge Medal

The Decker Challenge was a PW (personal worst) for me but the finish time stamped on this race means absolutely nothing to me. Brad and I conquered 13.1 miles of hills in less than ideal weather, side by side. We crossed the finish line TOGETHER. And that’s all that matters to me.

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2012 Philadelphia Marathon Race Recap

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It’s hard to believe last weekend I completed my second marathon. It wasn’t the picture-perfect race I envisioned, where I’d cross the finish line with a huge PR feeling like a million bucks. In fact, if you can believe it, I actually finished slower than my first marathon. My training runs weren’t as fast as I’d hoped. Work was kicking my ass in the weeks leading up to the race, leaving me drained and wanting nothing but to be in bed as early as possible. I abandoned all pace goals for Philly and decided to simply focus on finishing. Also, on the Tuesday before the race I came down with a sore throat, cough, and a cold. Of course I did. I armed myself with Vitamin C, cough drops, and enough meds for an army in an attempt to stop the illness in its tracks. Unfortunately, the illness carried right through race day.


Sunday morning Brad and I met up with Shannon, Ashley, Ritsa, and Kara in the lobby of my hotel. I was oddly calm despite the fact I was about to, you know, run a marathon.

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We made the mile trek to the start line, talking about the race and trying to keep warm. Once we arrived at Eakins Oval in front of the Art Museum it started to feel a little bit more real. Ritsa and Kara were running the half, Shannon and I were running the full, Ashley had plans to be the World’s Best Spectator (and she was!)

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Ashley, Shannon and I

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And my race shirt:

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The race officially started at 7am but since our corral was a little further back, we didn’t cross the starting line until nearly 7:30. The first few miles were fairly congested but once everyone settled into their pace it seemed to space out a bit. I was fueling with Honey Stinger chews, which I had used religiously throughout training. Unfortunately that morning my stomach decided it didn’t like them. I knew there would be Clif Shots in the later miles but it wouldn’t have been smart to go without until that point. So every 30 minutes I ate 2-3 chews.

Around mile 7 (after several miles of trying to talk myself out of it) (and pleading with Shannon not to kill me for having to stop) I decided to make a pitstop. The portopotty lines were ridiculously long so I took my chances on a Starbucks bathroom. Thankfully the women already in line ushered me to the front since they knew I had a race to get back to – so nice of them! Shannon and I were on our way very quickly afterwards.

My stomach felt a bit better but my legs were already feeling heavy. Great feeling to have when you aren’t even halfway into your race. My walk breaks became more frequent and I continued fueling as planned, hoping the sugar & carbs would keep me moving. Shannon was trucking along in front of me, killing it – feeling GREAT! I was so proud of her. I felt like I was holding her back but she insisted she wasn’t going to leave me. So thankful for her – she definitely saved me.

As we neared the halfway point, I heard the crowds cheering. Half-marathoners filtered out as they made their way to the finish. I really hated how close we had to run to the finish line. But not as much as I hated the miles I was about to run…

Miles 13-17 were hard, but I was going to see my family at mile 17 so that kept me moving. Shannon was still a bit in front of me, basically my carrot, pulling me through the miles. On a walk break, I texted Brad to let him know I wanted him to jump in at mile 17. Shannon and I discussed that she was going to push ahead and meet a friend at mile 20, and then we’d meet back up again at mile 23. I was so happy that she was going to run ahead because she was doing SO well – she needed to keep going and not worry about me.

The graceful water bottle swap for fresh Nuun at mile 17:

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Why yes, I DID wear sparkly leg warmers.

Brad handed his jacket to my parents and jumped in with me to tackle a few miles.

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Brad was smiling. I’m pretty sure I was not.

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Had I done a bit more thorough research on the course for Philly, I would have noticed miles 13-26 were an out-and-back. I absolutely LOATHE out-and-backs.

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When you’re heading out at mile 13, watching runners hauling ass to the finish near mile 26 is brutal. And then you continue to watch those faster runners all the way to the turnaround in Manayunk. So tough. Mentally it tore me apart. Thankfully I had Brad with me, who listened as I rehashed the first half of the race. Around mile 21 I realized my phone was vibrating. I had a text from Shannon, saying she couldn’t stop at 23 or she might not be able to finish the race. I completely understood (I even mentioned to Brad a few miles back that I wasn’t sure how she was going to stop and wait for me, because it would be tough to start running again) and wished her luck. Go check out her race recap – she did amazing!!

I was going to drop Brad back off at mile 22 with my parents but he offered to stick with me until 23 and then I’d fly solo to the finish.IMG_0209

Could have been a good shot, if Brad wasn’t blocking my face.

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I was trying to fuel but my stomach didn’t want the Honey Stinger chews and it wasn’t a fan of the Clif Shots either. I tried sipping Gatorade instead of Nuun at water stops for the extra calories but (unsurprisingly) my stomach couldn’t handle the way-too-sweet Gatorade. I’m pretty sure miles 20-26 were 90% walking and 10% running shuffling. Every time I tried to run, I could hardly lift my legs off the ground. I had hit the wall at mile 18 (WAY too early) and every step after that was a struggle.

The last three miles were quiet, lonely, cold, and LONG (18:21, 19:51, 20:23 – NOT an exaggeration). I wanted so badly to be done, to see the finish line, to sit down. Once I came up on mile 26, I saw Shannon + her boyfriend, Ashley, and Kara screaming their heads off for me. They gave me the push I needed to start running again. Ashley jumped in with me for a minute, telling me to keep running and haul ass to the finish. So I did. Heel strike and all.

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yup, didn’t buy that photo. stolen.

I got my medal, a heat sheet, and quickly made my way out of the finisher’s chute.

I’ve never been so happy to finish a race.

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It wasn’t the race I hoped for – not even close. I’ve decided I’m going to hang up my 26.2 shoes for awhile. Ideally until 2014, but knowing myself I probably won’t be able to hold off for that long. I want to not dread 3+ hour training runs. I want to focus on running faster in shorter distances. I want to PR in the 10K and half marathon. I’ll certainly have plenty of chances in the spring: 3M, Austin, and ZOOMA.

I don’t want to run races to finish. I want to give them my all – leave everything I’ve got out on the course.

My calendar is full of races and I’m ready to put in the work. I’m ready to push hard. I’m ready to dig deep and run strong.

I’m ready to RUN.

Better than a PR

Saturday morning I willingly popped up out of bed at 6:25 and got dressed to run. This hasn’t happen since, oh I don’t know, maybe April? I was quite enjoying my lazy weekends “sleeping in” until 8am and spending quality time with my couch. After a solid nine months of early morning training runs, I needed that break.

Unfortunately now that I’m ready to start running as the sun rises, Texas is transitioning into summer. This means 4:30-5:00am wakeup calls, 80 degrees/100% humidity at the beginning of my run, and hydrating like my life depends on it. Wait, why am I training for a fall marathon again? Oh, for the fantastic food, delicious cocktails and the glory of nailing that 26.2 PR on my 2012 Goals list.

Philadelphia Marathon

Anyway, back to the story…

Saturday morning I got dressed and pulled on my Mizunos (what a decision this was, choosing a pair of shoes to wear), but I wasn’t alone. Brad was getting ready also. We were about to run our first 5K race together. This isn’t the first race we’ve done side by side, but it was the first where he had been running with me on a fairly regular basis AND where he had proper running shoes. A few weeks ago we went to a local running store and had him fitted for an obnoxiously bright pair of Green Lantern Saucony Ride 4s.

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We met up with my friend Leslie and her boss and headed north to Georgetown to run Vern’s No Frills 5K at Berry Springs Park.

Verns No Frills 5K

Leslie and I had run it back in January and we both really enjoyed it. Hard to beat a monthly 5K race for only $1! All proceeds go to back to the park, which is pretty cool. It really is a “no frills” race but an awesome one nonetheless.

It was a warm and humid morning surprise surprise so Brad and I started slow, running 3:1 intervals and getting our legs loosened up. The first mile was pretty slow but once we found our stride, our pace quickened and we were cruising. This is seriously a dream come true for me, to be running with my boyfriend and have him actually enjoy it. He even mentioned to me the other day “I like that we’re doing stuff together and getting out of the house at the same time. I’m really warming up to running” Cue my happy dance.

Near the end of the final mile we decided to ignore the beep of my Garmin and continue running. Once the finish was in sight we picked up the pace and kicked it into high gear, crossing the finish line in 36:01. It wasn’t my slowest race, nor was it my fastest. That’s not what was important that morning.

I crossed the finish line with my boyfriend, who is not a runner, but slowly warming up to the sport.

And that is much better than a PR.

2012 Texas Spartan Sprint Race Recap

Back in March I took advantage of a sweet deal on the Texas Spartan Sprint at Reveille Peak Ranch out in Burnet, Texas. Last weekend, the race pushed both Brad and I to our physical and mental limits.

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Parking was in a huge dirt field and a “shuttle” took you out to the race site:

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The race let a group of 300 Spartan-to-bes go in 30 minute increments, starting at 9am. Our heat wasn’t until 2:30pm so by the time we arrived at packet pickup, the event was in full swing.

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We dropped our bag off at bag check and then posted up at the barbed wire / finish line gladiators to see what exactly we were up against.

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It was just over 80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. The weather was perfect for say, a few beers by the pool or a day out on the boat on Lake Travis. It was not, however, perfect for the journey we were about to embark on.

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Around quarter after two we headed to the starting line, where a crowd of people were already waiting. Although I had marked my forehead (and arm, calf, and both hands) with my bib number, I decided to cover it up with a bandana to keep the sweat and my hair out of my face.

The announcer told us to keep our eyes peeled for tarantulas and rattlesnakes, both of which were spotted on the race course on Friday. Um, what? (We didn’t end up seeing any, but heard rustling in the high grass along the dirt trail pretty much the whole time).

After an “I am Spartan” chant, our adventure began! The way the course was set up near the finish, we were under the impression we would run the 3 miles, and then hit all of the obstacles leading up to the finish. This was not the case.

Side note: when we registered for the race, it was being advertised as 3+ miles. When the Participant Guide came out during race week, it was advertised as 4+ miles. Per one of the race officials, the final official mileage was 5.8 miles. Just a heads up…

We started off climbing a steep hill on the trail and after our hearts were pumping hard and we were drenched in sweat, the obstacles appeared. The first one was a set of walls “under the first, over the next, under the next, etc” which were fairly easy. This was the only set of walls I was able to conquer on my own because of the height. Thank god for Brad, who I was able to use as a stepstool and/or personal launcher over the walls, especially the final few which were 8 feet tall.

Most of the obstacles throughout the first few miles were climbing walls and beams:

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We also hit monkey bars (which I fell off of, resulting in the need to do 30 burpees. oy), ten stumps of different heights which you had to walk across without falling, a cargo net

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cinderblock hauling (which I carried on my shoulder, as did Brad)

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crawling under barbed wire

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and through a PVC pipe a couple hundred yards long

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cinderblock lifting

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wading through countless creeks

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including one where we had to climb over a set of buoys, under another set, and over the final set. There was someone helping people over the final set and he let me know there was a rock to step on after I made it over. Unfortunately my foot missed the rock, but my lower leg became best friends with it – resulting in a golfball sized lump and a beautiful bruise on my shin.

It’s worth noting that after we hit the first set of obstacles, we pretty much stopped running. It was hot and we decided it would be best to keep it slow and steady in order to finish in one piece. By the time we hit the final obstacles, we were SO happy with our decision. If we had hit it hard, we would have been totally gassed.

This wall (well, the one on the race course – this particular one was at the start for people to practice on) crushed me:

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Basically you started at one end and make your way to the other side without falling off. Well, when you have T-Rex arms like me, it’s very difficult. My midget legs weren’t much help either. I ended up using the top of the wall instead of the pegs until about halfway when I couldn’t reach my foot to the next peg and called it quits. And by quits I mean I went off to the side to knock out my 30 burpees for missing an obstacle. Ugh. This wall also tore up my hands, blessing me with glorious blisters that would hinder my progress in all rope obstacles to come.

We then had to carry a sandbag uphill about a hundred yards and back. It felt like a mile at this point. I alternated between carrying it on my shoulder and my head. Following the sandbag carry (or maybe before? memory is a little hazy) were 5 muddy, slippery hills, with 3-ft mud pits in between each one. Basically scale up the hill, slide down the other side into the pool, scale up the hill, slide down, etc. This wasn’t too terrible, mainly because the mud bath was oddly refreshing due to the sun beating down on us. Gross but true.

We were FINALLY in the home stretch! It was time for the tractor tire flip. Each tire was on a peg, and you needed to flip it twice (off the peg, on the peg, off, on). Then another mud hill, followed by a mud bath, and then a rope climb.

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I tried wrapping the bandana around my blistered hand but it kept slipping off. I couldn’t get a firm grip on the rope, so I (yet again) headed over to the side for another set of wonderful burpees.

Once Brad finished the rope climb and I finished my burpees, we ran over to tackle the fire jump.

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Next we needed to walk across the river on a balance beam, which was easier than I thought it would be, especially that late in the race.

Then was the spear toss. One shot, and if your spear didn’t stick? 30 burpees.

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Brad and I both missed, so burpees it was.

Once we were done we took off running through waist deep muddy water towards one of the final obstacles.

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A combination of my ripped up hands and the inability to keep my weight in my arms helped me lose the battle with this obstacle. My feet slipped out from under me more times than I can count and eventually I accepted defeat. Burpees. Again. AGAIN!! Brutal.

It was time to assume the horizontal position and roll through 100+ yards of barbed wire.

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Then we had one last obstacle to bust through – the gladiators:

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Oooh, gut shot. My face says it hurt. Also I was completely regretting ditching the bandana at this point – my hair was allll up in my face.

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My bib was desperately holding on by only two safety pins by that point.

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Spartan Sprint Success!

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This race was TOUGH, but so much fun! I’m still a little achy and have plenty of bruises, scratches, and calluses. Would we do it again? Absolutely. But definitely earlier in the day, and we’d train a little better next time. Next time as in May 13, 2013 – we’re already signed up for the 9:30am heat. What?! It was only 30 bucks!

We’ll see ya next year, Texas Spartan Sprint.

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2012 New Jersey Marathon Race Recap

Here we are two weeks post-race, and I’m just getting around to writing up the recap. There’s a reason. If you follow me on Twitter, you already know how this race played out. If not, here’s the short version: the New Jersey Marathon was my first DNF.

Race morning began with my alarm blaring at the ungodly hour of 3:15am. I think I slept about 30 minutes the night before, and 12 hours total between Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. I was up pretty late and my nerves were out of control. Ashley was picking me up at 5am so I wanted to have enough time to eat something, get ready, and spend a bit of time freaking out with my fellow racers on Twitter.

I was having the same feeling I had prior to the Austin 10/20. I wasn’t really in the mood to race. In the weeks leading up to the marathon I went back and forth on switching to the half no less than 800 times. My training hadn’t been geared towards New Jersey; I was focused more on the many half marathons and shorter races. My longest training run had been 17 miles. But I was convinced since I had conquered the 26.2 in the past, mentally I’d be able to latch on to that fact and power through.

Ashley picked me up and we went back to her house for a little bit. It took me nearly 30 minutes to choke down half a bagel with peanut butter. We piled into the car with two of her friends, and picked up another two girls on the way to the start in Oceanport. Everyone in the car with the exception of Ashley and I were running the half. I was a bit jealous when they all ran to the start. A half marathon sounded much more feasible at the time. I should have taken that as a sign.

We checked in all of the half marathoners bags for them and then jumped in line for the portapotties. At this point we were surrounded only by marathoners and I started to get pumped up a bit. Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad. We met up with Ashley’s friend Sky – the two were attempting their first sub-4 marathon. Spoiler alert: they succeeded!!

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I ran into my family and Brad on my way to meet up with Libby, who I’d be starting the race with. It’s amazing to be surrounded by such a great support system. It really gives you something to look forward to you and keep you moving along the course. I appreciate it so, so much!

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Once I found Libby and Eva, we headed into our corral. We heard the National Anthem and then it was time to get the show on the road. No turning back now!

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Libby and I had decided to start the race together since we’d be shooting for a similar pace but if either of us decided to hang back or speed up, no problem. No commitment. Eva stuck to her intervals and was always a little behind or a little ahead of us. It was awesome running with Libby. We chatted the whole way and kept a decent (faster than we had planned on) pace. The weather was cool and clouds kept the sun at bay. It was a perfect day for running.

Around mile 7 or 8 I needed a walk break because of a side stitch, and this was where things started to unravel a bit for me. Once I took that first walk break, I knew I’d need to take them regularly after. This worked out fine until around mile 11. Libby decided to keep on going. We wished each other good luck and parted ways. (Libby ended up with a PR on her 3rd marathon in 3 weeks. Such a rockstar!) I clicked my iPod on and tried to zone out until mile 12 when I knew I’d see my support crew. Somehow we missed each other and Brad ended up having to break into an all-out sprint to catch up with me. He had desperately been yelling my name but Luke Bryan was singing in my ears and I couldn’t hear him.

I stopped with him at a nearby water station while he caught his breath and ate a few of the Shotbloks he handed to me. My family arrived shortly after and we chatted a bit.

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After a few minutes I said my goodbyes and continued running. My iPod went back on and I tried to just focus on the music and the scenery around me.

Side note: after I left, Brad needed to lie down on the sidewalk and recover from his sprint session. I’ll turn him into a runner someday! They just happened to be near a hospital at the time and my sister took full advantage of the photo op:

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I passed the split for the half and full marathoners and it was hard not to sail into the finish and call it a day. My walk breaks became longer and more frequent. The negative thoughts started creeping in. If I’m walking this much, what are the chances I’ll still come in under the time limit?  I didn’t run anything over 17 miles – how can I finish 26.2? I’m exhausted, haven’t slept well in days, legs feel like lead. So on and so forth.

We began the long out-and-back (my favorite! ::sarcasm::) portion of the course. At mile 13, the full marathoners coming at you in the opposite direction were at mile 24. I had nearly 10 more miles before I hit that point, and would have to watch all of the faster runners run closer to the finish line for the next 6 miles before the turnaround in Ocean Grove. It was disheartening.

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I tried to draw in some positivity, repeat motivating mantras, pump myself up – halfway done! But nothing was working. I was drained both physically & emotionally, my pace slowing dramatically. I felt defeated. I knew my heart wasn’t in it and didn’t want to push it. I wasn’t ready for the race and my mental game was off too. It was time to make the decision I’d been prolonging

Just past the mile 14 marker I texted Brad “I’m going to stop. It’s not my day. Will you think less of me if I quit?” He replied, “Absolutely not. Where can we meet you?”

I immediately felt as if a huge weight was lifted. No more pressure to finish. But at the same time I was overwhelmed with disappointment. It was my 2012 goal marathon race. And now it was over.

I removed my bib, folded it up, and carried it with me as I made the walk of shame towards the boardwalk where my family and Brad were waiting. I saw Ashley and Sky killing it, well on pace for a sub-4 and looking STRONG!

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Photo Credit

In hindsight, I probably would have fared better switching from the full to the half at the expo. I should have swallowed my pride and chose the distance I was better prepared for – not the one I was registered for. My DNF was incredibly humbling but thankfully I learned a lot from this race. At least the walk to meet up with my family was scenic.

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One thing is for sure – there will be sweet, sweet marathon redemption in my future.

Inaugural Austin 10/20 Race Recap

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Friday on my lunch break I headed downtown to Luke’s Locker for the Austin 10/20 packet pickup.

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One thing I really appreciated about this race was they provided six different dates for packet pickup: Friday & Saturday the weekend before the race and Wednesday through Saturday of race week. This made it super convenient to make it to packet pickup on whichever day worked best for you.

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Packet pickup was very efficient and I was on my way in less than 5 minutes. Under Armour was a race sponsor so both the bag and tech tee were furnished by them. Packet contents were nothing to write home about, but when are they ever? I did, however, enjoy the personalized bib and race program.

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As I mentioned earlier in the week, the forecast was less than desirable for race morning. It only became worse once Sunday morning rolled around.

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When the alarm went off at 5am I was overwhelmed with “I don’t want to run today” feelings. I was tired, thirsty (um, never good the morning of a race), and just plain cranky. I listened for thunder or even just rain hitting the roof. Nothing. Deep down I was hoping the race would be cancelled so I could head back to bed. But it was dry as a bone outside and the Austin 10/20 Facebook page mentioned nothing about cancelling or postponing.

I left the house nice and early at 6:20. Yes, the race started at 8am, but I’ll be damned if I’m one of those people whining about sitting in traffic because I left the house late. I was one of the first cars parked in the garage at the Domain and killed some time by tweeting and inhaling a Honey Stinger waffle. Or two. It’s hard to say.

I drank a glass of banana Nuun before I left the house, drank a water bottle of lemon-lime Nuun in the car, and was STILL thirsty. I had citrus fruit Nuun in my handheld as well, and a backup tablet in the zipper pouch for a refill. It was going to be hot, and I was determined to be prepared.

At quarter after 7 I made my way to the starting area and did a warmup mile. It was at this point I realized my headphones were shot. I could hear music but the lyrics were missing. This infuriated me beyond belief – I know, first world problems. I thought my kickass playlist would have helped me snap out of my cranky non-racing mood but nope. Not a chance.

The race started just after 8am and roughly 7,000 runners took to the streets of Austin. I slowed down for my first walk break at the Mile 1 marker. I was angry. I thought about how close I still was to my car. I could run back, head home and get back into bed. Pretend this whole morning never happened.

But I trudged on.

I zoned out for the next mile but when I came up on Mile 3? The rage returned. I just did NOT want to be running. I was taking far too many walk breaks and it was clear my heart just wasn’t in it. I made a command decision to throw all time goals out the window and just FINISH. Oh and maybe you’re wondering about that additional 10 miles I was supposed to run that day. Yeah. They didn’t happen.

I ran when I wanted to and walked a ton. I bumped into a few friends out on the course and chatted it up with them. This helped make the time go by a little faster. It never rained. Well it did, but I was already on my way home at that point. In the end, I’ve ran a half marathon faster than I ran/walked those ten miles on Sunday. It happens. Not all races can be great ones. I FINISHED and that was all that mattered.

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Aside from my little temper tantrum, the Austin 10/20 was a phenomenal race. Dare I say better than any Rock n Roll race I’ve done? Yes. Absolutely, 100%. The course wasn’t very exciting but with two bands rocking out on each mile, they kept everyone’s spirits up. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect much. It was an inaugural race and 9 times out of 10 anything that can go wrong, will. With the exception of the long BBQ & Beer lines at the finish (and possibly running out of bananas? I saw that on the Facebook page) I really didn’t see any major problems. Here’s what I posted on their Facebook wall post-race:

Incredible race this morning. I was beyond impressed with how everything came together logistically, especially for an inaugural race. Bands were great, volunteers were plentiful, tons of water stops to keep us hydrated, cool towels during the race AND at the finish, awesome presence on FB keeping everyone updated – the list goes on. I’ve run races that have been put on for years and couldn’t come close to the race you delivered this morning. I will 100% be back next year. THANK YOU!!

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Austin 10/20, I will be back for redemption next year.

2012 Statesman Capitol 10K Race Recap

Last weekend was the 35th Annual Statesman Capitol 10,000, also known as the Cap 10K.

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Leslie and I registered for this one last minute, deciding to use it as our final training run for ZOOMA. The training plan called for an 8 mile run, so we parked a little over two miles from the start to hit our mileage for the day.

I played tourist as we hit the streets of UT:

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and before we knew it, we were downtown on Congress Avenue. It was so nice to have the streets all to ourselves.

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We then ventured down onto the trail to finish our run:

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The official runner count for the race was just over 23,000 and the Congress Bridge was PACKED!

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We ran into a few other members of the HEB ZOOMA Texas Girlfriends Program while we were making our way to Corral D. Photo op!

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The temps were creeping up to a range I was hoping not to see until the end of April and the city was covered with a thick blanket of humidity, both characteristic for 95% of Austin-area races.

The course for Cap 10K was nearly identical to the Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot, with the exception of the bridge we started on: north on Congress, east on 11th, north on San Antonio, west on 15th/Enfield (cue dramatic music), south on Atlanta, back east on Cesar Chavez to the Congress Bridge, and then west on Riverside to the finish:

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Now that you have the turn-by-turn course, here’s a photo tour of the race:

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FINISHED!

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The Cap 10K was a great race! It was a bit crowded (as can be expected with 20,000+ runners) but went off without a hitch logistically. Water stops were plentiful and volunteers encouraging. HEB provided post-race snacks: bananas, granola bars, water, and energy drinks.

Overall I was very impressed with the race and provided I’m in town next year I will definitely be registering for it again.

2012 Urban Dare Austin Race Recap

Urban Dare

A few weeks ago I hit the jackpot yet again on Schwaggle, scoring a $90 race registration for the Urban Dare Austin on March 3, 2012 for only $31.50.

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From the Urban Dare website:

Urban Dare is the race where smarts can beat speed. Teams of two solve clues to find checkpoints, where they must take photos or perform dares. It’s like a one-day Amazing Race. Take the dare!

We checked in around 11:30 and received the shirts we needed to wear throughout the race.

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Next up, judging for the costume contest:

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After the contest wrapped up (the fairies won), clue sheets were distributed and the race was officially under way!

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Our strategy was to solve each clue, map it out, and figure out which would be the most efficient route. Once we were finished, we took off out of Duncan Park heading towards 5th & Lamar. On our way, we noticed a couple holding hands who would be PERFECT for part one of clue #9: PHOTO HUNT: Get a picture of 2 people not in the race reenacting the famous WWII photo by Alfred Eisenstandt.

They happily obliged, even though they had just performed the same move for another team only minutes earlier.

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Clue #8 stated: This law changed collegiate sports big time and gave women opportunities they never had before. Oddly enough, the bill never mentions the word sports. Get your picture in front of the shop that goes by the name of this bill.

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Just around the corner was the answer to clue #3: Natalie Portman won an Oscar for best actress in this movie. Get your picture in front of the yoga studio that goes by this name.

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Now, this is where we lost quite a bit of time. One of the clues Brad solved was #6: Macchiavelli’s famous book, the Prince, was dedicated to this man. Get your picture in front of his cafe.

He found the name of the café, went to the website, and grabbed the address off of the site. The address on the website was actually pretty far west, and probably halfway out to the location I asked “Are you sure this is right?”

Brad whipped out his phone and Googled the name of the café, scrolled down the list of results, and then he realized: there were 3 locations in Austin. And this one (A) was by far the furthest out of the way.

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We made a quick u-turn and headed back east as he apologized profusely for not realizing it the first time around.

10-15 minutes later we came upon clue #7: ROMAN MATH TIME – Get your picture in front of District (VII TIMES XLIII)

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And our photographer didn’t waste any time volunteering when we asked her to help us out with part two of clue #9: Get a picture of someone Angelina-ing.

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Next we headed to 3rd Street for clue #2: Cujo was this breed. Get your picture in front of the store that goes by this name.

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Then a little bit further south to Cesar Chavez for clue #5: This tower was named for an Austin fireman who died in the line of duty in 1972 while attempting a rescue. Go there for a 3 legged dare. Once we arrived at the Buford Tower, our legs were tied together while we participated in a 3 legged race. This is especially interesting when the person you’re paired with is over a foot taller than you.

At this point we were right around the corner from the café we were looking for earlier:

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From 2nd & Congress we headed northeast to 718 Red River Street for clue #1: Dawn Zimmer is this city’s first female mayor. She recently rejected a permit to film in her city for Snooki and JWoww. Get your picture in front of the pizza place which goes by this city name.

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We headed back west on 8th Street to Colorado, for clue #11: The state capitol burned down in 1881, so they built a temporary one while today’s capitol was being built. Go to the site of the temporary state capitol which was used until 1888 for your Scrabble Stick Dare. Using the scrabble sticks we provide, you must find the Scrabble value of the word on your passport.

And this was where I messed up. This clue was mine, and when we arrived – an Urban Dare official was nowhere to be found. We did a lap around the building, still nothing. We encountered two other teams looking at the same building, for the same clue. We were stumped.

I pulled out my phone and Googled again. This time it told me the temporary state capitol was located at 11th & Congress, and we took off running.

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There were stakes in the ground with letters on them, and a corresponding number, just like a Scrabble piece. The word on our passport was ENVIRONMENTAL. Once we found the value for each letter, we were to add it up and submit to the onsite Urban Dare official. The letter ‘N’ gave us a bit of a trouble but we found it, had our passport stamped, and were on our way in about 5 minutes.

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Once we were nearing the Capitol, all of the hydrating I had been doing since 5:30am was finally catching up to me. Oh, did I forget to mention I did a 10 mile run with my training group that morning? Yeah. I never said I was the smartest girl. The giant bottle of Gatorade I consumed during the first half of the race probably didn’t help either. We made a quick pitstop at the restroom in the Capitol building and then headed to the other side of the Capitol grounds where clue #4 was located: Get your picture with the memorial to those that survived the attack on the date will live in infamy.

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We only had one clue left and then we were in the homestretch! Unfortunately the last clue was on the UT campus and Saturday was also the same day as Explore UT. SO MANY DAMN PEOPLE! The campus was a zoo.

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We checked the inscription on every statue we passed for clue #10: “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore” This inscription surrounds his campus statue. Go there for your wheelbarrow dare.

Found it!

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The wheelbarrow dare took about a minute, and then we were DONE! We passed a few teams entering campus on our way off-campus, so we knew we definitely weren’t going to come in last. Not that it mattered what place we came in, since this was our first Urban Dare and made a few mistakes along the way.

The trek to the finish line seemed to take FOREVER. We passed a few teams who were already leaving the bar, so that was a bit disheartening. I checked in with my sister to see if she was able to find the answer to the 10 Minute Bonus: Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short played gunfighters in this movie. In the 6th Street District, get your picture in front of the sign where a local drinking hole has a special named after this trio. No such luck.

Finally we arrived at the finish, the Kung Fu Saloon!

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photo credit

Our passport was reviewed, photos checked, and our first Urban Dare was officially complete!

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We finished in 2:36:26, 16th out of 52 teams. Not too bad considering we got a bit turned around in the beginning. The winners came in at 1:02:42 – absolutely incredible. 2nd place finished in 1:28:55, so the winners had a HUGE lead. Probably not their first Urban Dare.

In hindsight, the best option probably would have been to take a bus (the only form of transportation permitted besides running or walking) to the UT Campus and work our way back. I think that would have shaved a considerable amount of time off of our total. Overall we covered 7.03 miles, and that was with me starting my watch late!

Time for celebratory beers:

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And then I spotted something VERY exciting:

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I LOVE skeeball. I could play for hours. Or until I run out of quarters. However in this case, skeeball was FREE and we couldn’t pass this up.

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I missed that one. That’s my disappointed face.

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I beat Brad in a mini-tournament AND scored the highest overall between the two of us. Winner winner, chicken dinner.

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We both really enjoyed the Urban Dare and can’t wait to do it again next year!

2012 LIVESTRONG Austin Half Marathon Race Recap

Sunday morning started with quite an early wakeup call:

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Although I went into this race without any time goals, for some reason my stomach was still in knots. I could recite the course to you turn-by-turn from memory and should have had nothing to be worried about.

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I picked Carly up at 5:45 and shortly after 6am we were parked in a garage downtown by the finish line. In an effort to stay warm, we stayed in the car until 6:30 and then headed to the start. We decided to hit the restrooms before jumping into our corral.

Easier said than done. There weren’t any port-o-potties visible on either side of the corrals. There seemed to be a ton of runners coming and going from a building to the left of the corrals so we headed in that direction. After we waited in line for a few minutes, a police officer came in shouting it was a public building but not open at the time and we all needed to exit the premises immediately.

I overheard the officer tell someone there were port-o-potties to the left and across the street so off we went. At this point it was 6:50am and clearly we weren’t going to make the 7am start. There were about 9-10 port-o-potties and 5 lines of 50 people each waiting. Needless to say, it took FOREVER.

As the announcer declared “if you are running the half or full marathon, you should have already crossed the starting mat. The 5K is about to start!” we were full out sprinting towards the start, crossing the mat at 7:21am.

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Just like San Antonio, if there was anything we did well in this race, it was running positive splits.

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We didn’t slow down nearly enough, clocking our first mile in 9:47. Not ideal for the first mile of a notoriously hilly race. We pulled in the reins a bit on miles 2 & 3 (10:10 & 10:25), but could tell it was probably too late.

Miles 4-6 (13:25, 11:25, 12:54) were a steady uphill climb so we started incorporating walk breaks. I had a massive cramp which didn’t seem to want to go away, no matter how much I focused on my breathing.

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We decided to try and make up some time on the downhill stretch of South 1st Street, heading back into downtown. We ticked off miles 7 & 8 in 11:03 and 10:14, respectively.

Mile 9, the Yellow Mile, was nothing short of inspirational. Supporters lined both sides of the course and the road was covered in motivational phrases etched in chalk. Their cheers pushed us along to finish the mile in 11:58.

At this point, our legs were starting to feel fatigued. Earlier the walk breaks would leave me reenergized, able to go back to running at a pretty decent pace. After mile 9 the breaks made me want to walk more and run less. Our pace slowed considerably over the final miles (13:49, 12:48, 12:39. 12:12), which included the beast at mile 12.

Austin HM Enfield Hill

Please excuse these recycled photos from last year’s recap – my running camera had a timely death the day before the race. Lucky for me, the course was exactly the same and recycling was possible.

The course rose 80 feet in less than a 1/4 mile and drained much of what was left of the strength in our legs.

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Another recycled photo. Again, I’m sorry.

After this hill, we hit another (not as large) hill on San Jacinto, before making the right onto 11th Street. We started to pick up the pace, exchanged one knowing glance, and let our legs fly.

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Whoa, check out that heel strike. Nice form, Melissa, nice form.

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The last portion of our race was a 7:58 pace, 6:16 best pace. A tad faster than I thought I had left in those tired legs!

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Official Finish Time 2:34:37, 11:48 pace

It wasn’t a PR for either of us, but not a bad time for a challenging course. We also beat our time from San Antonio, which was a much flatter course.

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Another great race put on by LIVESTRONG and I can say with certainty I’ll be back for more next year. I’m thinking 2013 might be the time to conquer the full after completing the half in 2011 & 2012.

We’ll see how crazy I’m feeling come registration time!

2012 3M Half Marathon Race Recap

Race morning kicked off at 5am with a large mug of coffee, PB&J, glass of Nuun, and sparkles.

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I took my time getting ready and felt completely relaxed when I left the house at 6:15. By 6:30 I was parked near the start and a heavy dose of nerves had hit me like a freight train. I was less than prepared for a great race, but this wasn’t my first race. It wasn’t my first half marathon.  I had finished a race twice as long and my nerves weren’t half as bad as they were that morning at 3M. I don’t know what it was, but my stomach was in knots.

At 6:35 I made my way to the start and arrived just as the National Anthem was being sung. I positioned myself in the middle of 6,000 runners and took a few deep breaths in an attempt to relax.

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Once the starting gun went off, my nerves started to subside and were replaced with waves of excitement. My first half marathon of 2012 was underway!

Obviously I had no idea there were pacers for the race because before I knew it, the 1:50 pacer had passed me. A quick glance at my Garmin showed just below a 10:00 min/mile pace. It didn’t feel too fast, but for the first mile I knew I needed to reel it in.

It’s worth noting I set my Garmin to only display 2 stats on the screen: total distance and average pace. I was too nervous to run without it while trying to PR, but needed not to be staring at my current pace for the entire 13.1 miles. I compromised with distance and average pace, and only allowed myself to check it when I hit a mile marker. Best. Decision. Ever.

We were able to watch the sun come up during the first mile and it was a gorgeous sight. The weather was perfect, a cool 42 degrees, which made it a great morning for racing. My playlist kicked ass – super happy with it. I didn’t skip a single song during the entire race!

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By shifting the focus away from current pace, I was able to concentrate more on running comfortably and working on keeping my breathing under control.

At the 10K split (1:02 – hmm, pretty damn close to my 10K PR …) I ate an orange Gu Chomp. I’ve trained with these on countless runs, but for some reason my stomach let out a giant EFF YOU this time. It was enough to make me consider walking until I felt better, but I powered through. After a few minutes, the death feeling thankfully went away.

Miles 1-7 10:08, 9:55, 10:10, 10:11, 10:03, 10:00, 9:57

It was at this point I realized I still had not been passed by the 2:10 pacer. Was I really in front of them? I was pretty pleased with my performance up until that point. Aside from the Gu Chomp incident, I felt awesome and was confident I could hold this pace until the finish.

After mile 7, things started to get tough. I didn’t hit “the wall” but I was running out of steam. Of course I had a full package of Chomps, but I was nervous to see what would happen if I ate another. My A Goal was within reach, but could easily slip away if my pace slowed or I stopped for a few walk breaks.

Miles 8-9 10:14, 10:16

I caved and tested the waters with another Chomp. I was in the clear – for about three minutes. I was desperately looking for a port-o-potty just in case but there were none to be found. I took a few sips of Nuun from my handheld and hoped it would quiet the demons in my stomach. No dice.

The farthest I’ve ever run without a walk break was 7 miles. I tried to convince myself since I had beat that previous record, I could take a break to walk. Then I saw I was nearing mile 11: almost done! I wouldn’t allow myself to walk. I had come too far.

The 2:10 pacer passed me. Way to kick me when I’m down.

Miles 10-12 10:36, 10:16, 10:36

My pace was slowing considerably, but I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t going to walk. The finish line was SO close, I just had to suck it up and power through. I pumped up the volume on my iPod to drown out any negative thoughts. My heart was set on a brand new PR and it was going to be mine.

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Official Finish – 2:14:32
Six minutes under my 2:20 time goal,
nailing a new PR by 23 minutes.

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To say I was happy would be an understatement. I was ECSTATIC. Never in a million years did I think I would hit my goal. Maybe it was the Sparkle Skirt? I think 23 minute PRs are made of blood, sweat, and sparkle.

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3M Half Marathon Finish Photo

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Incredible race, 3M – I’ll definitely be back for round 3 in 2013. Well run, small race (capped at 6K), awesome volunteers, flawless logistics. If there was something to deduct points for, it’d be the race shirt. I’ll review that, as well as the expo, in an upcoming post. Overall, phenomenal day. Or maybe I’m just biased due to that MONSTER PR…

Up next: AUSTIN!