Earlier this year I had talked myself into doing the San Antonio Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, partly because it sounded like a fun way to end the year, and partly because it gave me an excuse to spend the weekend at the San Antonio Riverwalk (a selling point for my wife Susie as well). I have done at least one marathon a year since 2004, but this was the first time in many years that I could really focus on a marathon without it being sandwiched between triathlons.
Our hotel was only a 10 minute walk from the start line, so I was able to get a good night of sleep and wake up at a decent hour. I grabbed a quick bagel and some coffee downstairs, then finished getting ready and headed out the door. The first thing I noticed outside was that it was fairly warm and humid for running a marathon (65 degrees at the start), but at least there was good cloud cover. Hopefully the clouds would stick around a while... I did get one nice surprise on the walk to the start line when a couple of my friends spotted me and we all had a couple minutes to say hello and talk about the race. Then it was time to get in my assigned corral and prepare to race!
After about 10 minutes of standing around, the race got underway and it was time to put all that training to the test!. I did the best I could to keep a straight line, but there are so many people that I had to do a little bit of bob and weave in order to keep up a decent pace. My goal for the first 7 miles was to keep an average pace of around 7:30/mile, while keeping an eye on my HR to make sure I wasn't going too hard too early. That part of the race went as planned, some miles just under the pace and some miles just over the pace, but averaging out where it needed to be. My HR was slightly higher than plan, but I chalked that up to the heat and humidity, and lots of caffeine : )
Right around mile 8 the race took us by my hotel, so Susie had walked down to the corner to see me as I went by. I did a very quick stop to say hello, and then got back to running. Now it was time to get to the meat of the race, trying to hold that steady pace as the miles wear on and the mind starts trying to make you doubt yourself. This mid-section portion of the course has a slight downgrade that lasts until mile 18, and then it trends a little bit upward from there. So, I wanted to settle into a solid and steady pace just under 7:30 and take advantage of that downward trend while I had it.
At the halfway mark, I was still on track and on plan, and the mind games started creeping in... "you're only halfway and feeling tired already" ... "feel that fatigue in your legs, you're not going to make it"... etc. The only way to defeat that is to trust your training and stick to the plan. Just keep moving! : )
About 2 hours into the marathon, the sun came out and things got considerable warmer... up into the mid 70's. That made things a little tougher, so I paid full attention to hydration, and took advantage of things like the cold sponges to help cool off. Mid 70's may not sound very hot, but it sure does take a toll on you in a marathon.
As I had expected, miles 18-20 were a little more uphill and my pace slowed a little; but I had planned for that slight decrease in pace over those couple of miles and was not overly concerned. After mile 20 it leveled out some, and my focus for the next 3 miles became the mental battle to hold my pace and not get discouraged by the increasing heat and fatigue. There is some level of relief to be on the last 10K, but then the miles seem to start going by a little bit slower, and you almost feel like someone is moving the mile markers away from you! I was pretty quiet during that section, just concentrating on running efficiently and maintaining my pace.
Once I was past mile 23, all the math I was doing in my head told me that even if my pace did end up dropping off a bit, I was not only going to beat my old Personal Record (PR); but I was in range of getting under 3:20! I had tried not to be overly optimistic going into the race, but based on my training I had set 3:20 as my "barometer" for the race... the closer I got to that goal the happier I would be. And now I was going to beat it!
Finally it was down to the last couple of miles. I was having some slight cramping and starting to slow a little bit; but still moving at a good pace and keeping within my time goals. I could have gone without the couple of little hills at the end; especially the one right before the final turn heading in to the finishing line; but luckily I still had the leg strength to get through them and I could see the finish arch : )
As I came through the finish chute I saw Susie standing with our friends Kirk and Emily; and their shouts of encouragement spurred me on through the final sprint - crossing the line with an official time of 3:18:55 - beating my old PR by over 9 minutes! : )
Besides the 4000+ people doing the full marathon, there were another 25,000 or so doing the half marathon; so the finish area was very crowded and slow-moving. I grabbed various food and drink items as I slowly made my way through, and after about 10 minutes or so was finally out and headed to the family meeting area.
I found Susie, Kirk, and Emily; and we all talked for a few minutes, and then we walked over to the music stage. One of the cool parts about the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon is the music, and the headline concert with Vince Neil (lead singer of Motley Crue) was getting ready to start. Surprisingly I had the leg strength to stand there for well over an hour and enjoy the concert! Well, some of that was probably the adrenaline rush from finishing the race, combined with the fact that I was still pretty amped on caffeine...
After the concert, Susie and I walked back to the hotel and I did a quick ice bath and shower; then it was time to go down to the riverwalk and find some food (and margaritas...)! We enjoyed the rest of our day walking around the riverwalk, and finished the day in the rooftop hot tub on the 22nd floor of the hotel (great view of the city at night from up there).
The next morning it was time to head home, and I thought about how grateful I was to be able to enjoy a weekend like that with my wife and good friends. I never take for granted just being healthy and having the opportunity to train and race. Life can throw so much crud at you at times, so I really try to soak in the good moments and appreciate them.
Speaking of health and life... one final note: Please make sure to take a look at the links below. Ishani and kids like her still need your support as they battle cancer; and those children in Haiti truly deserve to get at least a minimal education. If you can't help them yourself, please say a quick prayer for them and perhaps pass around their info to others. Thank you!
Help the kids!
Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation: to find a cure for childhood cancer for kids like Ishani ... Please help them by donating HERE
Hope For Kidz: program to help educate children in Haiti