Austin Half Marathon Expo + Race Report
After I finished this race in 2014, I swore I’d never run it again. Yes, it’s Austin’s hometown race, it’s well-organized and draws great crowds. But it’s hilly, and February weather is a total crap-shoot. I’d come out and cheered the last two years, and I much preferred that over running it.
But when a work trip conflicted with 3M this year—which I found out after I registered–it wasn’t simply a question of deferring until 2018. My friend Kim had already signed up and was planning to come from Ohio to run with me. But for once there was an easy solution: since High Five Events now owns both races, they allowed runners to switch registrations. I wasn’t thrilled about running Austin again, but I didn’t really have much choice. Besides, it would be fun running it with Kim.
Fast-forward to January. Kim made her airline reservations, then a week later fell on some ice and dislocated her elbow. I was fresh off an MRI for my mysterious knee problem. I think I ran six miles total the week she got hurt. But she didn’t have to have surgery, and when it became clear her doctor would let her run—with limitations—she vowed she was still coming to Austin. By mid-January things were improving with my leg as well, so while I was skeptical I could increase my mileage safely enough to finish a half, I gave it a shot. If she could attempt it, I could too.
This past Friday afternoon, her plane landed in Austin, and Saturday morning we hit the expo with my friends Sara and John.
I’ve lived in Austin since long before it was trendy, so I’m grumpy when I have to drive downtown, sit in traffic, and pay for parking. But John drove and although Kim and I both offered to contribute, Sara picked up the parking tab, so that was nice. We just had to walk across the street to the Convention Center.
I’d gotten an email earlier in the week with a reminder to bring my bib number to packet pickup, and then on Friday I got two more informing me that my bib number had changed. Not sure what happened, but my number went from 17-something to 11-something. And it was weird—Kim got those two emails while she was waiting to change planes in Dallas; I got them about six hours later, at dinner Friday night. Regardless, armed with bib numbers, we made our way through the expo.
I’d heard there was a kerfuffle at 3M because of a new policy requiring all runners to pick up their own packets. Austin required the same thing, which baffles me—even the Army lets people pick up others’ Army Ten-Miler packets as long as they have a picture of each person’s ID. And ATM doesn’t even allow shirt exchanges. But at least I was prepared for that this weekend.
It was a smooth process—we got our numbers, then were shuttled through to pick up shirts. I LOVE this year’s shirt!
But race shirt sizing, like February’s weather, is a crap-shoot. I quit getting women’s shirts because for several races in a row they ran too small. Men’s Medium worked well for me until Run for the Water a few years ago. So now I get men’s Large, which is usually too big—but I’d rather have a big(ger) shirt I can wear than a tiny one I can’t. This time, the Medium would have been fine, but since I could only switch on race morning, I didn’t feel like it was worth the hassle.
From there we got our gear check bags, backpacks, and wristbands. The backpack was a bit smaller and flimsier than I expected and the first one I got had a hole in it. But they exchanged it easily, so I really can’t complain. The wristbands had some kind of scanner chip–apparently if we collected all six at the expo and three more after the race, we could win prizes. No idea what, or whether we’d have to be there to win, but we’re suckers for potential free stuff so we wandered around to find them and scanned away.
We spent about 2.5 hours at the expo—I bought some Nuun, an official race shirt with a course map on the back, and something called a Handana. It’s a hand-held sweatband that feels kind of like a fingerless glove. I usually carry a washcloth to wipe sweat off my face, but I keep losing them so this seemed like a cool thing to try. Kim bought two, and Sara and I each bought one. Kim and I tried out an electro-therapy gizmo—she said it made her elbow feel better—but it was too expensive. Tempting with all the extra stuff they wanted to throw in for buying at the expo, but still pricey. She also bought some sunglasses—she couldn’t find hers before she left home, since she hasn’t needed them for the last few months. Because Ohio.
We found a display of the medals—this year they double as belt buckles, and one of the vendors was selling hand-tooled leather belts to go with them. I might have bought one, but they only said Austin Marathon, and I feel it’s disingenuous to wear something that implies I ran a full marathon—I didn’t earn that right by running the half. So we passed on those.
We also stopped to take some pictures, but we forgot to hold up our bib numbers. Amateurs.
After the expo, we walked over to Frank for lunch, then retrieved John’s car and headed home. After an early dinner, we attempted to retire early—John and Sara were picking us up at 5:15 Sunday morning. Early but necessary since we were coming in from Lakeline Mall-ish and we were kind of concerned about finding parking.
Once again I didn’t have to drive (thanks Sara!) and I didn’t even mind sitting in the middle when we picked up another friend on the way downtown. It turned out parking was easy—one of the state garages was virtually empty at that hour so we had our choice of spaces. We walked a few blocks to Congress Avenue, then dropped in to the J.W. Marriott hotel to borrow their facilities—thanks, Marriott!
I’ve never used Gear Check at a race before, but it turned out to be really easy. I’d packed post-race stuff in the race backpack, then put it and my race belt, fuel, etc. into the clear gear check bag. At our Marriott stop, I reorganized and tied up my gear check bag with the tab from my bib. Dropping it off at Gear Check was super quick and easy.
Kim and I walked a few blocks toward the Capitol to take some pictures, and in the process we lost Sara and John. As we waited in porta-potty lines, I got a text from Sara that they were also in line, just at a different block.
We made our way toward the starting line but couldn’t find Sara and John in the crowd. So we spent some time chatting with a woman serving as a Race Guard–volunteers trained to administer medical care between aid stations. With the too-warm weather conditions, I thought this was an excellent addition to the race.
The race starts at Congress Avenue and Second Street and runs south for about three miles, which is mostly a slow incline up the gentrified South Congress area, then past St. Edwards University to the Ben White access road. It was a tough beginning. Kim had set an interval on her watch, and we more or less followed it to run-walk that section. We took it easy, not wanting to expend too much energy this early in the race.
Once we turned back down South First, we made up a little time because it was mostly downhill. Mmmm, so. many. Mexican. restaurants!
This year’s edition of Crazy Yelling Guy (because there’s always a Crazy Yelling Guy) took the form of a man pacing up and down South First yelling about the conspiracy of contrails, which he informed us cause a laundry list of ailments such as Alzheimers and Parkinson’s, and taunted us to “go ahead, just keep breathing all that poisoned air.” I thought I was breathing the magical scents of Mexican food, but woookay, dude.
Down South First, across the river, then left on Cesar Chavez. We kind of slowed down here and walked more than usual. Then past Austin High there’s that annoying hill up Veterans Drive to Lake Austin Boulevard, and we walked it too. We were doing pretty well heading west along Lake Austin (way better than the girl being treated by EMTs) although Kim was fading some.
And then disaster struck.
I’d been running on her left side so I didn’t accidentally bump her elbow. But as we passed the people handing out Clif Shot packages somewhere around mile 9.5, a woman shoved past Kim to grab a gel. She clipped her arm in exactly the spot that had been damaged. It wasn’t crowded, and no one ran immediately behind us—it shouldn’t have happened, but I guess the woman wasn’t paying attention. Kim almost decapitated her, but that would have required the use of both arms, which she no longer had.
The sharp pain caused everything to go wonky, plus the impact with each step jarred the injured elbow. I started running on her right side, ready to throw a block like a linebacker if anyone got close. But she struggled to run.
At the next two water stops, we poured cold water over her elbow, hoping to convince it to chill. I knew she’d need an ice pack from the medical people when we finished.
Fortunately after the Mile 11 marker there’s a long flat stretch (it was a huge relief to take the 13.1 split instead of 26.2!) then a downhill to the Mile 12 marker. A couple with a dog held a sign that said “Puppy hugs!” so of course we stopped. On the bridge over Lamar, my 13-year old was waiting, and he tried to distract her as we launched ourselves up the last Enfield hill, then tried to run a bit downhill and around the last few turns. I know she was in a ridiculous amount of pain, but she kept putting one foot in front of the other. Across Lavaca, right turn on Colorado. Past the Capitol, past the Governor’s Mansion, and left on 11th.
Then the final turn onto Congress Avenue, a little more than one city block to go. Cheering spectators lined the barricades. We crossed the timing mats and I turned to congratulate Kim. She started yelling, all kinds of pissed off. I thought maybe she was just angry-emotional after finishing such a tough race? But no. Some woman came out of nowhere and jammed between her and the right side of the finish line archway thing. Which did not actually have room for another human. So she hit Kim’s right arm.
Why this woman didn’t pass on my left where a full traffic lane was practically empty, I don’t know. But her bump caused excruciating pain that made Kim stop and lean on the barricade (and yell some colorful language). A medic guy was standing right there, and I explained what happened. Another medic approached with a wheelchair and they took her away.
I got medals and took hers to the tent but they wouldn’t let me in. They promised they’d give it to her, so all I could do was wait. I texted Sara to let her know what was going on, then I picked up food and water, skipped the official race photo, then met my family at the exit. We circled back around to find her, but privacy rules meant they couldn’t tell me anything other than whether she was inside. I already knew the answer to that, and I tried to explain that she’s from out of town and I didn’t want to leave her alone. But then she came out with ice on her arm and looked a bit better.
They had fixed her up with ice—she said they were really efficient and kind—and helped her perk up enough to kick into nurse mode and let another runner squeeze her (left) hand when her blisters needed lancing. Another great thing was that when she left the medical area, she was deposited right back into the finisher chute to collect medals and food, and to take photos. I had gotten her a medal because I was afraid she wouldn’t get one, but my fears were completely unfounded.
We retrieved our gear-checked stuff and found Sara and John at–no surprise–the beer garden, along with some Rogue friends. After her two free beers and a change of shirt, Kim was much more cheerful. So we headed out for Mexican Food Recovery at El Arroyo. Enchiladas and a margarita FTW!
Considering the warm, humid conditions and our combined injury/undertraining situations, I’m not displeased with my time. Water and Nuun (and volunteers!) were plentiful on the course—a couple of times I thought, “Wow, another water stop already?” With the weather, I know frequent water stops made a huge difference.
I still don’t intend to run this race again, but that has everything to do with my dislike of hilly courses rather than the event itself. I love the way the race finishes in front of the Capitol, and it’s a well-organized, well-supported race. They need to do something about their app’s course map though. Mile 32 looks pretty tough.