The ’80s 8K is the first race in the Austin Distance Challenge, so it generated a pretty big crowd at Gupton Stadium in Cedar Park ahead of Sunday morning’s 7:30 start.
This was my third time to run it, and there are a couple of things I consistently like about this race. One, the parking lot at Gupton Stadium is enormous, so there’s no worrying about securing a spot. Two, the stadium’s restrooms are open so there are plenty of facilities and no waiting. And three, the course–while hilly–is one I know pretty well from training in the area, and I’m comfortable with it. The ’80s music is fun, and at least last year they had a lot of vendor freebies.
But the first year I ran it, 2015, it had a Back to the Future theme, and someone had driven a couple of DeLoreans to the start area–popular for pre-race photos. And I still wear that light blue technical shirt. Last year the shirt was that soft cotton–not something I want to run in, but comfortable. No DeLoreans, but lively ’80s music and runners wearing creative costumes. This year’s shirt was soft cotton again, but thin and white with a pretty simplistic design. This is a trend in race shirts lately, not unique to this race, but still kind of a bummer since I enjoy wearing technical race shirts for training and other races.
I saw quite a few clever costumes (I really don’t know how this guy ran in jeans and a leather jacket while pushing a double stroller–mad props to him for that) and race swag included basketball game tickets, but while the Tri Doc folks were super busy, overall fewer vendors filled the start/finish area. And the recorded version of the national anthem was kind of twangy and country–not my style. Maybe I’m being too harsh, though, as Run Free Texas does great work with local at-risk kids and that–not this race–is their primary focus.
Still, although I like the race, I wasn’t sure I was going to actually run it. Since my ankle/calf/shin has been semi-injured the last couple of weeks, my training has suffered. I knew I could complete five miles, but probably not well, and most likely not pain-free. But after wrapping it tightly, I felt optimistic so I waited at the start line with three friends to give it a shot.
Let’s put this into perspective. Of the four of us, one is training for the BCS full marathon in December. Two ran a couple miles at a time through the summer, waiting to pick up pace and distance with cooler weather that hasn’t arrived yet. And me, who managed to run a whopping 35 miles in September. Some of that was injury, and some of it was life getting in the way. So we knew we’d be slow, probably walk some, but in great company.
After the aforementioned national anthem, we were off. The first mile was pretty flat, with just a small incline at about .75. But the second mile turned up the Park Street hill. We ran about half of it, but none of us had any interest in really charging up the thing. After the water stop at the top (where we met the leaders coming the other way with one mile to go) we started running again. It turns out, mile two was our slowest mile. From then on, we ran the flat sections and the downhills of Park and Lynnwood, then ran a quarter or so of each uphill on Trailridge back to Park and to the stadium. Our fifth mile was the fastest, thanks in part to a long downhill section. It’s nice to see a faster pace near the end of a race, no matter the circumstances.
I’ve never been one of those people who says a race was fun. I have to work too hard for a marginally-respectable time, and that level of effort isn’t pleasant. But I have to say that this race was fun! We joked around, laughed, and kept each other entertained for five miles. Yeah, there were moments of mild suffering (especially when Sara made us run more of a hill than we wanted to) but my leg didn’t hurt, I loved running with my friends, and I just felt good. Fun.
Except at the end when some competitiveness kicked in and we started sprinting. That was slightly less fun, but at least it was short.
All in all, I’m really glad I ran this race. I had a blast with my friends, my leg was almost completely pain-free, and a successful finish really helped my mental state after struggling with an injury. Thanks to the vendors (who doesn’t love free stuff??) and whoever was responsible for providing post-race coffee. And also to my friends who definitely weren’t slackers, McFly.