Today was the day I’ve spent six months training for. Despite vacations, traveling, the holidays, two bouts of strep throat and fever (missed two of my longest training runs because of this), plus a sinus infection and bronchitis the week before the race, I ran and finished my second marathon. All 26.2 miles of it. I now have a very beautiful medal covered with red hearts from the 19th Annual Austin Marathon on Valentine’s Day.
As I started out heading down South Congress wearing the cobalt blue running pants I bought for today’s race, I put on “Badd” by Ying Yang Twins to get me through the first few minutes. This song has pumped me up for some unknown reason on my early morning drives to my running group for the last umpteen Saturdays. It’s a song about strippers, but it’s catchy and I like it. The next song was the live steel drums version of “Jane Says” by Jane’s Addiction, so hopefully that will redeem my musical tastes, like I need your redeeming.
I felt good going out at a 10:25 pace up hill for the first three miles. Miles 4-6 were down hill on South First Street, where I threw off my gloves and took my first of five gels. As I ran west along Cesar Chavez and Town Lake, the route felt unfamiliar and I saw a stray hair weave on the ground. Who lost their weave, I wondered. What was their night like?
I pushed it a little too hard running up Veterans Drive, and running down Lake Austin, which I’ve done countless times, felt longer. When I got to my boyfriend’s house on Exposition, I rushed inside to use the bathroom and almost cried. He stood outside the door, attempting to console me. “I just saw you run 22 miles 3 weeks ago. You can do this!”
I carried on up the hill on Exposition, then bended east along 35th Street and up Bull Creek, where I high-fived someone in a gorilla costume. On Hancock, I was thrilled to see my friends and their newborn daughter cheering me on in their robes. I tried to call out to them, but my voice was hoarse. (Thank you and love you!)
On Shoal Creek, I stopped around the corner and stretched my feet and calves. I took my first two Tylenol Extra Strength and another gel. All the way down Great Northern along Mopac, the crowd behind me kept thinning out. This was harder than I remembered. I was already thinking of how this was my last marathon. Two may be all I have in me.
I spotted my boyfriend in the distance laying back on some grass around Mile 22, chillin’ out in the sunshine. He met up with me to run me in, but just like it was during my first marathon, I didn’t feel like talking. By this point, it was more of a walk/run or a fast walk. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him simply walking a fast walk to match my slow pace. But he kept patting me on the back and winking.
“OK, we’ll walk until Red River then punch it,” he said. But Red River seemed so far away, and even then I was still at least three miles away.
At Mile 25, I saw our friend Kevin Smith playing guitar in front of DKR Memorial Stadium. I heard his familiar deep voice coming out of a portable PA system, and I yelled and waved at him.
“There goes my girl Heather!” he announced. My boyfriend snapped a photo of me running by. I was getting excited about the finish line.
When I got to the capitol building, “Party in the USA” came on and it reminded me of a time I watched a redhead dancing to it on stage at a strip club. I switched songs on my iPod just before nearing the chute and KT Tunstall’s “Suddenly I See” came on. I was listening to that song about two and a half years ago when I ran my first 15 miles, and I cried then because it was the longest I’d ever run and I couldn’t believe I was actually DOING THIS…AGAIN. I crossed the finish line two minutes and 10 seconds longer than I finished in Dallas. But I was all smiles just to be finished, and I wasn’t last. It was a sunny day when I was handed my pretty medal.
I didn’t cry as much as I did after Dallas. I was less mentally exhausted after the Austin race but more disappointed in my time. My boyfriend met me at the massage tent, and while I had a massage, he went to retrieve my 4Runner that was parked blocks away. When I got in the car, there was a bouquet of tulips. I thought that was so incredibly sweet and thoughtful. Neither of us really care about Valentine’s Day, but I think the tulips were for the marathon, too. We began part one of my marathon celebration at Casino el Camino with a fat-ass cheeseburger and Stella Artois and a screening of Wild in the Streets from 1968. At home, I took a shower and put on my fleece pajamas and got in bed. I told him I was not even about to attempt walking up and down stairs so if he wanted to see me, he knew where to find me. So we ordered a pizza and watched “Mad Men” in my bedroom before I fell asleep.
Best Valentine’s Day in a long time. And I’d do it again. I think I have a third marathon in me. But not for a while and only on a downhill course.
(NOTE: This blog post originally appeared on www.aworkoutaday.com, an archived blog I maintained for more than two years to chronicle consecutive daily workouts during that time.)