I felt ok for the first few miles, but just ok. There was a log-jam at the starting line - too many slow amateurs who didn't quite understand that they should have started closer to the back of the pack - so my first mile was slow as I picked my way through the crowd. The Austin Marathon Half Marathon starts off going (literally) up South Congress, which slowed me down as well. I turned the corner onto South First and once I got on the downhill, I breathed a sigh of relief - my legs felt good and I was ready to execute my race plan. Though common knowledge says to hold back on the big downhill stretch - so as not to shred the quads - I'm a downhill runner; it's my strength. I pushed the pace (within reasonable limits) and came through the 10k mark at near record pace. I still had the flats along Lake Austin Boulevard to go before I hit Enfield. The Enfield section of the race is a potential shredder for me - Unlike the steady incline on SoCo, the Enfield hills undulate with steep uphill sections followed by not-as-steep-as-you'd-expect downhills. In 2017, I was taken completely by surprise, novice error completely, but this year I was better prepared. I knew my pace would slow but I'd banked some time on the SoFi section, all part of my race plan. I'd done a lot of Spinning to increase my leg strength and it paid off. In the toughest section of the race, I managed to keep my pace, my legs, and my nerve steady. I wasn't entirely undaunted - I still ran perhaps too conservatively - but I was no longer as scared as I'd been.
I came away from that morning with a nearly three minute course PR (good for sixth in my age group) and an absolutely excellent realization. I love racing half marathons. So much so that I have an entirely new goal (I'm sure I need one of those about as much as I need a hole in my head) - I want to race internationally, as soon as this October. I'd thought about doing the Amsterdam Marathon (race day is just a couple days shy of the twenty-fifth anniversary of my marathon victory in Wichita), but now... I really think the half is my calling, my distance.
I know someone out there is going to ask why I don't just do the marathon. Wouldn't the challenge and the risk of figurative death be that much greater? Is that what I'm in the race for? Here's the thing about the marathon - you have to train. A lot. Like a lot a lot. You have to be willing to give up time, other hobbies, and maybe even suck a couple years off your running career, if not your life. You have put in zillions of miles. And I don't really like running all that much. Especially not in the summer. In Austin. To commit to Amsterdam would mean a bunch of long runs - really freaking long runs - in hot - really freaking hot - weather. Plus I like to write, play tennis, binge watch Netflix series - i.e. have some semblance of a life that doesn't involve running. Additionally, if I'm going to afford a trip to Europe in October, just five months from now, I'm going to need a part-time job.
Besides, there's something about racing half marathons that lights my soul. And - get this - I could feasibly do two halves while I'm over there. The Reykjavik Autumn Half is the Sunday after Amsterdam. I'd have to fly past on the way home, why not stop over for an Icelandic half marathon adventure?
Truly, next fall could be begininng of something really cool. And it all started with an epiphany in on Enfield, the worst section of the Austin Marathon Half Marathon, on a misty February morning. I love racing halves. Who would have guessed?
** By the way, the stretching really works. I'll never run long without it again.**