Race Report: Austin Half Marathon 2022

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So I keep a training log on this website, and if you scroll to the bottom you'll see mini-race reports. I decided to start writing full race reports, and this will be my first one! Now I don't have to cram my thoughts into one paragraph anymore woohoo. Plus formatting!

Goals

  1. Finish: Yes
  2. <2:00: Yes
  3. <1:55: Yes
  4. <1:50: No

Race Results

Austin Half Marathon, February 20, 2022.

Race Report

Training

To be honest there wasn't much half-marathon specific training going on. However, between this race and the marathon, there was a massive shift in training philosophy. I've been actively doing speedwork over the last semester (when not injured), and it seemed to pay off today- just a year ago running two miles at 8:30 was tough. Today I ran 13.1 miles at that pace! I avoided speedwork when I started running, mainly because I was more into running as a philosophy and lifestyle (calming) rather than running as a competitive thing. This lead to a quite poor first marathon and some insecurities after joining the team; can I really call myself a runner if I can't run sub 9? Although no one needs to meet a standard to be a runner, I want to improve to a standard that I set for myself, and today I broke it.

Tangent over. In terms of actual training, I ran about 20 miles a week in January (coming off a bad (left) ankle injury), before getting injured again! By swimming of all things! My right ankle did not vibe with fins and flip turns it seems. This happened three weeks out from the race, so I really only had a month of actual training; during this block, I followed an 80/20 olympic plan, and extended the weekly long run by one mile each week (topping out at 11). Training was going well before getting injured, and come race day I was just praying my ankle(s) wouldn't flare up mid-race and leave me with a DNF.

Pre-race

I woke up to the good ol' race day 4:30 AM alarm. Breakfast was the standard oatmeal, bananas, and water. This tried and true meal has never failed me two hours before a race, and it held up again today. After a confusing time finding parking, I spent an hour and a half wandering around Congress avenue. I then waited 30 minutes for the porta-potty (I used it at 5:30! But I had to use it again at 6...), took off my cold weather gear (it was 45 degrees), checked in my bag, and jogged over to the start line with the 3:40 pace group. After some attempted leg swings and cool fireworks, at 7am we were off.

Race

I had a mental plan coming into race day, which looked something like this:

"Take the first 10k out comfortably, push the second 10k, and take the last mile home."

In reality the race went something like this:

"Take the first 10k out comfortably, oh shoot its mile 8 and it's starting to hurt. Just gotta run another 5k to make it to mile 11. Why are there so many hills?? Okay two miles left, just hang on. Just hang on. 1.5 miles left, just hang on. Stick in there. You got this. 1 mile left. 0.5 miles left. You can run an 800 right? Wait shoot there's two more turns are you serious. Pain."

As to why mile 11 was a checkpoint, a friend and supposedly a big hill were waiting for me there. The friend was there, but the big hill was not there- I should have studied the course maps better.

Like the quote above, the first 10k was very comfortable and fun. I was feeling great! Hitting my goal pace (8:25) that I set on the spot based on RPE, maintaining a good HR (180), high-fiving people, dogs, and collecting the energy of the crowd and the race. Chugged a Gu at the 10k mark as I crossed the bridge over Ladybird lake; there were so many people cheering there that I felt like a celebrity! The vibes of this race were awesome, and I was having a good time.

Now it's mile eight, and things are starting to hurt. I can really feel the effect of not running for two plus weeks in my quads. They took quite a pounding from the 5k to 10k (all downhill), and my heart rate/RPE is starting to rise for the same pace. During the next 5k time slowed to a halt; I did all I could to hang on with rolling hills further breaking down my broken muscles. Mile 11 was the checkpoint, because that's where Reed (triathlon teammate) said he would be waiting, and the Enfield hill was right past that. As I ran past I almost missed Reed, but he gave me a loud cheer (if you're reading this thanks Reed!!) which gave me the energy to go on a little longer, up the Enfield hill... which wasn't too bad actually? From here I mentally checked out, because I checked the course map and it was all flat from here.

But it wasn't.

In my exhaustion and confusion I somehow managed to misplace the actual Enfield hill; how this happened I have no idea. First of all, it was on mile 12 not mile 11, how did I mix this up when studying the elevation profile? Second, I actually forgot what it looked like. I literally ran this exact hill with TRC (Texas Running Club) and had a conversation about how they place it at the end of the Austin half marathon last semester!! How did I forget what it looked like and mistake it with a small climb under the highway??

Back to the story, I was cruising, mentally checked out, when suddenly the most menacing slope I had ever seen materialized in front of my eyes. It looked like a tsunami of concrete, devouring all the runners as they fought to surf the crest of the wave. This caught me completely off guard, and crushed me both mentally and physically. After making it up the hill, my legs were at one percent battery. And I had a mile to go.

About five minutes into the last mile, I heard some runner say "two more turns left!" Of course, I got excited and started pushing it, and they were wrong of course to further crush my spirits. Also I managed to miss a second hill on the course map right before the finish line. I was almost trudging when I finally turned the last corner and saw the finish line. The clock read 1:52:46- I thought to myself, "Can I take it home before the clock hits 1:53?" The answer was yes. I shifted up two gears, put my head down, and made a final kick toward the finish line (resulting in some unflattering finisher photos).

Post-race

The tank was completely empty after crossing the finish line, and I couldn't even speak when a volunteer asked if I was okay (I gave a thumbs up instead). Then I made a death march collecting my post-race goodies, waiting for my heart rate to stabilize and my muscles to relax. I attempted to walk up the curb to sit down, and felt a burn as I tried to step up- here I realized the next few days were going to be quite painful. I do wish I brought a friend or something at this point, because I couldn't find anyone I knew after the race. I called my parents, ate some falafels, and drove home.

Back to the point of the first paragraph, I'm extremely happy to have raced a long distance race. Up until now, my long distance endeavors have had the sole goal of "just survive". Heck, even my marathon training runs had me almost dead at the end. Now I can run long at a steady pace without feeling like death, and even race a long distance race at what I think is an okay time! After breaking the 10 minute barrier last year, and now the 9 minute barrier, my next goal is breaking the 8 minute barrier, then the 7 minute barrier. But you know, it's not like I'm in a rush anymore. I'm finally coming to terms with the fact that "I can run", and "I'm not a slow faker anymore". I've realized that I was the one who set these standards, and now I'm the one who broke them. Suddenly, the next standard isn't something that I have to do to qualify as a [runner, cyclist, swimmer, athlete], it's a goal that I can work towards breaking. And that inspires me more than anything.

I'm in the process of recovering, since I'm racing a 20k TT plus a 5k run this weekend at TAMU. Look out for more race reports soon!