Monday, February 28, 2011

Livestrong Austin Half Marathon 2011

2011 Livestrong Austin Half Marathon bibSix months ago, while recovering from some medical issues, I decided to sign up for the Livestrong Austin Half Marathon as a walker to give myself a purpose to help motivate me to get out and exercise and work toward a comeback. The medical situation had taken me from a physical capability of completing a few marathon distance events a year to level where I was struggling to keep up with friends during walks around Town Lake.

When I signed up for the race, the race website had a whole page explaining how the race was friendly towards walkers with relaxed cut-off times. But when the website was updated when the routes were finalized last November, the verbage about being walker friendly was removed (or at least I couldn't find it). And I am not sure but I thought I remembered a more relaxed cut-off. Not sure if the race changed things, or maybe I was just starting to realize I wasn't coming back as quickly as I needed to. I used to run these races targeting around 9:30-10:30 minutes per mile. But now the website said I would need to maintain a 16:00 minute mile for a 4 hour gun-time cutoff. I wasn’t quite to that point yet. Even though I was walking this event, I still had to think of this as a race -- just at a different scale.

By December I had been able to walk as far as 7 miles around Town Lake, but I was getting winded if my pace increased above 22:00 minutes per mile. I wasn’t concerned so much about being able to complete the distance in the race, but it was the cut-off time that I was worried about. By January, I had improved to able to do the 4 mile loop comfortably at just under a 19:00 minute pace. The improvement coming more from time for my lungs and body to heal than due to any training since my exercise had been irregular due to cold weather. My lungs are still at a reduced capacity, which causes me to get out of breath quickly if I walk to fast, but if I stay below the exertion level that my lungs can keep up with, I feel like I can keep going for a long time.

Due to a virus combined with cold weather, I did not get out for any long training walks during the month preceding the race. I didn’t think I was going to be fast enough to finish in the allotted time, but since I had already paid the registration fee, I decided to at least start and see how far I could get before they started to shut down the race course around me. I was imagining myself being the last guy trying to keep ahead of the course sweeping trucks.

The race website specified a 16:00 minute per mile minimum pace, but that assumed walkers at the back of the start corral took 25 minutes to reach the start line. I realized if I could reduce that to 10 minutes to reach the start, I would need only an 18:30 pace to finish by the 4 hour gun-time cutoff. That started to look possible. But it meant I would need to violate runners etiquette and start near the 4 hour marathon pace group even though I was no-where near that speed.

Yes, for this race, I was that guy.

For anyone not familiar with race etiquette, runners generally complain about slower people who line up to start ahead of faster runners, impeding runners behind who must weave in and out between the slower runners during the early portion of the race. I needed to believe I had a chance of finishing within the cut-off time, so I took the risk that I would momentarily annoy some runners to give myself that chance of finishing.

After the gun went off, it took me 9 minutes to reach the start line. As I passed the start, I stayed as close to the edge of the course to minimize blocking the runners behind. For the first ¼ mile, I broke into a slow jog, which I will refer to as a “trot.” My trotting speed now is still slower than many people’s walking speed, and I cannot yet sustain it very long. Fortunately most of the roads here were wide enough I am hopeful I didn’t impeded people behind too much. After the first turn the road widened and I was able to move out of the flow of runners for a bit. I soon caught up to a group of women walking 4 abreast. Rather than impeding the flow to get around them, I fell in behind them for a few minutes and slowed to a walk to catch my breath.

During downhill sections in the first couple of miles, I was able to sporadically trot for some portions as I tried to bank some early time to make up for the up-hill miles to come. If there was even the slightest uphill I could not sustain the trot at all. The first two miles wander through downtown before crossing the lake, and then the course follows South Congress for 3 miles until it reaches Ben White Blvd.

As I walked up the hill on South Congress, I thought back to the training for my first Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon from 6 years before. I can’t believe that was 6 years ago. Similar to that race, I had a long uphill where I could only power-walk. The reduced capacity in my lungs produced a result that was similar to the experience that race with reduced oxygen at altitude. I knew it was important to maintain mental focus and keep persistent forward momentum. Loosing focus would result in unintentional slow-down that I couldn’t afford if I wanted to beat the race cut-off.

I picked out other walkers and focused on maintaining pace and picked people off one-by one passing them. In actuality, more people were passing me than I was passing but this mental game kept me moving. A few people here would become my rabbits for much of the race as I focused on at least keeping them in sight. Sometimes I would walk a little too fast and start to get out of breath and have to slow a little. Each time this happened it was quick to catch my breath once I adjusted the pace.

I overheard part of a conversation between two of my rabbits. One guy was recovering from heart disease, and was using this activity as part of his recovery, not too different from me.

Splits from GPS-watch auto-split, which was taking splits little ahead of the actual mile-markers.
Mile 1: 15:40
Mile 2: 16:09
Mile 3: 17:57
Mile 4: 19:34
Mile 5: 19:00

I passed the 5 mile marker with exactly 1:30 chip-time by my watch. The race website had indicated I needed to be past this point at 1:30 from gun-time. That meant I was 9 minutes behind the cutoff time. This was near the top of the hill, so I risked a look behind and was relieved to see a steady stream of walkers as far as I could see.

After turning down South 1st street, the 3 mile return-trip to downtown was slightly down hill, and I could sporadically trot through some sections to try and make up some time, passing my designated rabbits. I kept myself at a sped where I was just below the point where I would fall out of breath. Occasionally I would push a little too much and have to slow down to catch my breath.

During one of my walking breaks, on a really flat section of road, I managed to twist my ankle. This injury took me by surprise. I kept walking through the pain, and it went away after a couple of minutes. Fortunately, there was no sprain.

After crossing the river again the course turned west. Around mile eight or nine, my hips started getting sore and I slowed a little. My rabbits caught up and passed me and so once again I had a target to keep pace with.

Mile 6: 18:43
Mile 7: 16:13
Mile 8: 17:16
Mile 9: 18:15
Mile 10: 20:05

I passed the 10 mile mark with exactly 3:00 chip-time on my watch. At least I was taking consistent time for the 2nd 5 miles as for the first 5 miles, but that meant I was still at a pace around 10 minutes behind the 4:00 chip time race cutoff. As I looked behind, there were now only a handful of runners around me. At least there was no sign of any course sweep vehicles. The stretch along the MOPAC frontage road had a nice up-hill. Even though I was feeling some pain in my hips and I knew I wasn’t going to make my time goal (and what I believed to be the race cut-off), it didn’t matter. I was happy to be out here and to be able to do this.

As my rabbits started to pull away from me, my thoughts went once again to the Pikes Peak training and the mantras for persistent forward motion. At that moment, a young woman passing me wearing minimalist footwear asked if I had done the Pikes Peak Marathon. I was a little surprised by this question. How did she know? I had not even realized I had picked up a cap to wear from the Pikes Peak race. She used to live in Colorado Springs and was familiar with the race. We chatted for a few minutes and before I knew it, our pace had picked up, we passed my rabbits and got over one hill, and then a second short but very steep hill as we turned on Enfield Road. I was starting to get winded trying to maintain conversation at this pace, and so I dropped back as she quickly moved ahead and out of sight. Just this few minutes of conversation with a total stranger had given me some important motivation to power through this section of the course which otherwise would have been more difficult for me.

Another mile and I reached the big steep hill at mile 12. My rabbits, including the recovering heart patient, passed me while making an attempt to run hard up the hill. They made it half way. I took the hill slowly, and was breathing heavy at the top of the hill. I looked back and saw only one other walker behind me. I figured must be one of the last people still in the event by now.

Another mile brought me near the finish. About 1km from the finish, the half-marathon route joined the marathon route where there was a steady stream of runners coming in. The half-marathon route had been reduced to a trickle of walkers, and spectators had taken over the half-marathon lane. I had to move into the marathon lane for the most of the last few hundred meters until the final finisher chute. My prior marathon coach was there near the end telling me to finish strong as I passed.

Mile 11: 19:09
Mile 12: 19:46
Mile 13: 19:38
Mile 13.1+overall GPS watch auto splits error: 4:00

I crossed the finish line with a chip time of 4:01:25 (gun-time of around 4:10). It was 10 minutes after my target, but still faster than I thought I would be able to do before the event. I guess I interpreted the cutoff times from the race website a little too literally. The race seems to have left the half-marathon finish open as long as anyone was out there coming in. But the belief that I was going to be close to missing a cut-off time gave me some important motivation to push ahead.

2011 Livestrong Austin Half Marathon bib

In the end, 10,536 people were listed as completing the half-marathon and I beat 60 of them. But I think some of those 60 actually ran the full marathon while registered for the half. Looking into the chip-time details, some of those slower finishers ran the first 10 miles more than twice as fast as I walked them, and they were missing a chip time for the 12-mile mark (the only chip mat which wasn’t also on the marathon course).

Anyway, I am happy that I was able to finish in approximately 4 hours and I am glad I chose to get out and do this event rather than stay on the couch. This was the Austin Marathon’s 20th anniversary, and it was the 13th time I have participated in the Austin Marathon in some form if I include all the full and half marathons and legs of the now discontinued 5-person relay. It was an all time PW for my slowest half-marathon finish, but I suppose I should look at it as a PR for the half-marathons where I was an intentional walker.

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  1. Great race report. Glad to hear you're getting back, and you were out there and completed it. [I was supporting my daughter. Her first marathon].

  2. This was as riveting a race report as any I've read, even if you were *that* guy. Glad you made it, and glad the organizers stayed true to the generous cut-off for walkers.

  3. I continue to maintain that there is nothing in life more awesome than a Frierson. Congratulations all around - you were amazing. I recently took up running and am about at your current pace, so if you ever need a buddy in the slow lane, hit me up!


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