Sunday, January 24, 2016

Race report: 3M Half-marathon; January 24, 2016.

I ran the 3M Half-Marathon today, finishing in 1:26:53 - good enough for second overall female master, and the women's 40-44 AG win.

First, some full disclosure: the elevation chart.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way.... while the race itself obviously is the focus of this report, how I managed to get myself to the starting line is also worthy of discussion.  As many probably know, my hometown of Washington DC was slammed by a blizzard this weekend - had my departing flight been scheduled for Friday, this race report likely would not exist.

In a nice twist of fortune, however, I ended up having to fly to Tampa, Florida earlier in the week for work.  So...I shipped a care package to myself in Austin (my gels, throwaway clothes, handheld bottle, pre-race food, etc) and then just packed lightly (some business wear, my racing clothes and shoes, etc), with the plan of flying first to Tampa and then direct from there on Friday to Austin.

This worked beautifully transit wise, as I was fortunate enough to entirely miss all the bad winter weather.  However, all was not perfect.  My seatmate on the flight to Tampa was sick, as were about a quarter of the people at the work meeting I attended.  I went into defense mode, with compulsive hand-washing, neti pot use, and Listerine gargling, and hoped that it would somehow be enough.

However, it wasn't.  And the shock to my system of swapping from 12 degrees to 60+, combined with really long and stressful days in Tampa, didn't help either.  By Thursday evening, I was feeling run down, but hoped that I was just tired.  On Friday morning I met my very old club friend Rafe (whom I hadn't seen IRL for a decade+) for an easy four miles, followed by a mile pick-up at 10K effort.  Despite the fact that I ran the pick-up mile downhill with a tailwind, "10K effort" yielded me a 6:40 mile - about 15-20 seconds slower than expected.  Uh-oh.  I told myself that I wasn't used to running in such warm weather.  But a few hours later, I was ravenously hungry, shaky, and had a worsening sore throat.  FML.


The flight from Tampa to Austin Friday evening was miserable, and when I got to my hotel, I had barely enough energy to slog to the adjacent 7-11 for Tylenol PM, Zicam, and massive amounts of OJ (plus more Listerine).  Well...I also had a bit of energy to fume about the fact that I had invested a fair amount of effort and money in getting to Austin, and now I might not be able to race - based on how I felt Friday night, I doubted I could even run 13 miles at any pace.  But all I could do was try to kick this thing ASAP.

So I doped myself on Tylenol PM, and slept for nearly 9 hours, waking occasionally to drink another bottle of water or pop another Zicam.  By Saturday morning, my throat was a bit better, and so I stuck with my plan of rest (no shakeout jog), Tylenol, Zicam, and fluids.  As the day progressed, I felt better (maybe the Tylenol) - I could complete 13 miles, I just wasn't sure I could do it very fast.  But, I was here, so I'd give it a shot.


Look at all this stuff!
 As the day went by, I felt better.  I hit the race expo very briefly, coming away with the "swag bag" that this race is apparently famous for.  No coupons to local gyms here, just different samples from the race sponsor - 3M.  Including a big "clean sand" thing that got Brian excited, so I knew I had to figure out how to get it home.

I also got a chance to meet up with my very old club friends Sunil and Althea (whom I hadn't seen IRL in a decade+ - are you noting a theme here?).  It was pretty important to me to see them on Saturday, as I planned to be leaving for DC right after the race on Sunday.  So we got together for tea, right before Sunil headed off to prep for his radio show (Darkest Before Dawn on KOOP - 91.7 FM locally, or streaming live every Saturday night at 6-7pm CST).

About the time we got our tea, I got a text that my Sunday flight back to DC was cancelled.  Shortly thereafter, a bird shat on me.

You can't make this stuff up, people.

Oh well - another day in Austin meant that I could enjoy the city post-race and catch up with Sunil and Althea more.  And bird shit wipes easily when it's fresh.

After tea, I headed back to my room for a light dinner and some stretching, while enjoying Sunil's show.  He wished me good luck on the air, which could do nothing but improve my odds of a good race.  I then reserved a cab for the morning trip to the start line (I was staying at the finish line), and took another dose of Tylenol (not PM this time) to ensure a good night's sleep.


When I woke on Sunday morning, I didn't feel 100 %, but I felt good enough to give the race a shot.  I did breakfast, asthma meds, and stretching, and then headed down to meet my cab.  The race started at 7 am, but I wanted to be at the start area by 5:45 to give myself plenty of time to check stuff, warm up, and have some fudge time.  Hence a 5:30 cab.

As it turned out, I needed all the fudge time I had included.


To set the stage, the start line for the 3M half is located in an area called the Arboretum, which seems to be Austin's version of the DC area's Tyson's Corner.  Multiple malls next to each other, plus hotels, chain restaurants, etc.  It's an area that any local cabbie should be familiar with.  Plus, in this age of GPS devices, I was pretty sure that if I gave a cab driver a street address and told him it was the Embassy Suites at the Arboretum, he'd be able to get me there.

I assumed poorly.

My first hint of trouble was when he asked me if I had been there before.  I hate being asked this question, as I suspect that an honest answer in a strange town results in me being literally taken for a ride.  But no, I hadn't.  He hadn't been there either in a long time.  Did I mind if we took the Mopac?

The Mopac sounded like it was the right way, based on my borderline non-existent knowledge of Austin, so away we headed.  My next trouble signal was when we exited, and he asked me if we should take a left or right off of the exit ramp.

*sigh*  I saw some cars turning left, so following them seemed to be the best bet.

[in answer to the obvious question, I had left my phone in my hotel, since I didn't want to risk losing it in bag check.]

So that the discussion of this adventure takes less time than the adventure itself, I'll just say that we drove random circles somewhere near the Arboretum for a seeming eternity, before I demanded that he started using the GPS that he had.

Once he did so, it became rapidly apparent why he didn't use the GPS.  For some reason, his brain couldn't process it.  The GPS would indicate that we should turn right and he would turn left.  Or that we should head straight, and he would start turning right.  Finally, I told him to leave the GPS running, but ignore it and listen to me.  I then watched his GPS carefully, and directed him based on that.  And that was how I got reasonably close to the starting line.

For only the second time in my life, I didn't tip a cab driver.  Before you feel too sorry for him, keep in mind that he probably added at least three additional miles onto my trip with his incompetence.


Fortunately, once I got to the start, things progressed seamlessly.  Bag check was a breeze, plenty of toilets for runners, and decent space for some warm-up jogging and strides.  The temperature was just about perfect for me at 38 degrees.  We did have a slight headwind from the south, rather than the northern tailwind that has benefited the race in other years, but that seemed a minor complaint.  I had made it to the starting line, my throat wasn't hurting too much, and the temps were awesome.

I did get several comments from many of the other runners about my choice of shorts and singlet - most, including people who looked very fast, were in tights and long sleeved shirts.  I just told them I was from DC, and that explained it.


At 6:50, I got in my corral; at 6:55 they sang the National Anthem and I tossed my pre-race shirt, and then at 7 we were off.

There are two situations that guarantee a large number of people starting their race like idiots.  One, as previously discussed, is a race held during a holiday.  The other is a race held on a course billed as very fast.

Note to others - a faster course doesn't mean that you can overrun your fitness and survive.  It means that if you pace appropriately for your fitness, you'll run a faster time.

But many don't seem to get this, including many of my fellow runners on the starting line.  I suspected as much, so I seeded myself between the 1:30 and 1:40 pace groups.  A lot slower than I hoped to run, but I knew that the first mile+ of this course would be uphill and I wanted to ease into the race cautiously.  Starting at 7:10 or slower was fine.

Despite my caution, I was nearly trampled by the stampede at the start.  One person pushed me aside, another stepped on my heel really hard just as I crossed the mat.  For a moment, I feared my shoe had been pulled loose.  But it was still there and secure.  Whew.

People sprinted past me up the hill.  Like it was a 5K.  And one that many of them would blow up in.  I repeated my half marathon mantra "the first three miles are a prelude" and moved myself to the side to stay out of the way.  And just tried to find a rhythm.  (the fact that my throat still hurt made it a bit easier to stay conservative at the start - I was worried that the fatigue from my headcold would haunt me if I ran too aggressively).


The elevation chart above is slightly misleading - this course isn't really a straight descent.  It's really more of a very gently rolling course, where the uphills are shallow and not too long, while the downhills are more extended.  Once I felt relaxed and warmed up, I started letting the course work for me - I used the downhills to build some speed that I then carried up the next uphill, while using the change in incline to shift stress to different leg muscles.  By mile 3, I was steadily passing people, which continued for the rest of the race.

The course itself serpentined down towards the center of Austin, winding through different neighbor hoods.  There were water stations every mile, which I skipped - between the cool weather and my handheld bottle, there was no need.

I knew (or thought) from reviewing the course that there would be a steady incline for a while, starting around mile 9 through about 10.5, so I intentionally held back a bit for that.  However, the climb, though not pleasant, was more of a stairstep, with some mild downhills for relief.  I also noted that (unusual for me) I was passing people on the uphills as well.  It was a new experience, and pretty damn fun.  I give part of the credit to my team's Tuesday hill repeats at the Iwo Jima memorial (we just completed a 6 week cycle).  And part of the credit to the fact that so many people ran the first few miles of this race like idiots.

Then once that climb was past, I starting digging deep.  My legs were tiring, and I knew that there would be two more uphills between miles 12 and 13.  But those were close enough to the finish that I could just attack them, using memories of Iwo Jima to fuel me.  I didn't know what time I was running, but I was pretty sure I was having a good race, and I smiled as I pushed.

After the second of the two hills, I turned a corner, and saw mile marker 13 and the finish line beyond.  I started kicking as hard as I could.  As I approached, I saw the clock ticking 1:26:4X.  And I kicked a little harder.  And then it was done and my watch read 1:26:53 and my sinuses started hurting again.  But I was very happy.


Splits were:

Miles 1-2: 13:37 (6:49 pace)
Mile 3: 6:35
Mile 4: 6:39
Mile 5: 6:36
Mile 6: 6:37
Mile 7: 6:34
Mile 8: 6:32
Mile 9: 6:40 (slight uphill)
Mile 10: 6:48 (uphill)
Mile 11-12: 13:04 (6:32 pace)
Mile 13: 6:32 (some hills)
Last bit: 39 seconds (5:55 pace - hauling ass)


This ended up good enough for second masters female and first in the female 40-44 age group.  That actually makes me happier than the time.  It's a downhill course, and that puts an asterisk by the time.  But we all run the same course, and this is also historically a competitive race - making the age group win pretty special.

I also did some online reading (don't lie - we all do that) and the top Masters female, who beat me by just 40 seconds, has gone sub-3 at the NYC marathon in recent years.  Of course, you can't draw any conclusions from one result, but this does make me feel even better about my race today.

Other notes:
  • Used Dulera for my preventative asthma med, plus a puff of albuterol at the start line.  No breathing issues during the race.
  • Took one Caramel Machiatto GU about an hour before race start.  This is my pre-race go-to, and I only do it for races (or the occasional long run, to make sure I can tolerate it).  Also took part of a Strawberry Kiwi Rocktane gel on course.  Carried a hand-held water bottle until Mile 9, and then tossed it.
  • Ran with handwarmers until I tossed them at mile 7.
  • Stayed at the Doubletree near the finish line, because I anticipated having to move pretty quickly post-race to make my flight.  Next year, I'll stay near the start line, and just plan on staying an extra day and enjoying Austin.  The Doubletree was nice, but it's more expensive to stay downtown, and I'd rather not rely on a cab to the start line next year (the race runs buses from the finish back to the start).
  • One issue to note for others who run this race - in Austin, they have little reflective things sticking up in the road dividing lanes (in the DC area you have them on interstates).  They were everywhere on the race course, and I had to stay very aware of where I was relative to road markings to avoid tripping.  I was surprised that I never tripped during the race; nor did I see anyone else trip.
  • I really recommend this race.  Very well managed and fun.
  • My coach has been telling me repeatedly that I really don't need as many long runs and as high mileage as I like to run.  This race pretty much proves that he's right. 
  • Now, I just have to get home.  Which may be its own adventure.


  1. Wow, great race, your training changes seem to have gotten you some excellent speed gains. Congratulations! Get home safely, now!

  2. I'm running the half this coming Sunday (2017) and your review was great! Thanks, lady! xoxo