Austin Half Marathon: A Story in Photos

Our Austin Half Marathon adventure officially started on Saturday afternoon at around 4:00 when we left our house, suitcases in tow, and headed for the bus stop. The master plan was to take the bus to the Hyatt (so we could feel like tourists and not have to deal with the car), check in, pick up our race packets, browse around the fitness expo, then have dinner at the runners’ chicken/pasta/salad dinner at the hotel.

I’d intended to take photos of all of that for you, but I was a little… what’s the word I’m looking for?… oh, right: grumpy… I was grumpy on Saturday afternoon, and it was all I could do to keep it together to get out the door. I had menstrual cramps to beat the band, and when I get nervous, I become very short-tempered. At one point Dave asked me when I was going to stop being miserable so we could have fun. I might have responded, “Never.”

But that prediction turned out to be untrue.

Once we’d weathered the incredibly long line snaking through the expo and successfully picked up our packets, things perked up. Dave bought some disposable gloves; I picked up a pair of arm warmers that I will wear with tank tops so that I’ll look like I’m wearing opera gloves while I workout. Love it!

The dinner at the Hyatt was pretty tasty, and it was fun to be in a roomful of runners. There were speeches and stories from VIPs and a general sense of anticipation and energy. I ate a double-dose of grilled chicken breast, salad, and even some pasta — then half a blondie brownie. (And maybe a few bites of a chocolate brownie. Maybe.)

The rest of the evening was the usual pre-race jitters and details:

Drink water!
Pin numbers to shirt.
Put chip on shoe.
What if I didn’t bring the right clothes for the weather?
Drink water!
Should I eat a snack before I go to bed?
Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten the blondie!
Where’s my iPod?
We don’t have enough safety pins!
Drink water!

We fell asleep around 10:00 or so with the alarm set for 5:05 a.m.

I’m very superstitious. I’m suspicious of change. Dave and I have a long-standing tradition of eating homemade breakfast tacos before athletic events — good mix of protein and carbs, easy to transport, comforting, tasty — so on Saturday before we left home, I made ham-and-egg tacos wrapped in foil and stowed in a cooler. On Sunday morning, I warmed them with the hair dryer (!) so we could have a hot breakfast at 5:00 a.m.

Again, with the checklist: Water?! iPod?! Hat?! Gloves?!

At 5:45 a.m., bellies full of tacos, strawberries, and almonds — and dressed for battle — we headed out to the race start.

I immediately had to pee.

Crossing the Congress bridge, we saw this truck, and I liked the name. I made Dave take a photo.

We approached the start line from the south side. It was like a beacon in the still-dark morning, and with the bright lights, it made a perfect backdrop for our first self-portraits of the day.

First, my handsome husband…

And then the two of us, getting ready to run (and run and run and run and run)…We found a bank of port-a-potties at the corner of 3rd and Congress, and I joined the queue. It seemed to take FOREVER! (Note that there is no photographic evidence of my bathroom experiences. You’re welcome.)

Walking to the clothing drop at 8th and Congress, we saw some superheroes! (And I was jealous I wasn’t running in a costume. Maybe next year.)
I had to pee again! But it was 6:58 and with the official start only two minutes away, I decided to start running and take a break at one of the stops on the course.

Only two minutes to go… wheeee!
Let’s get another photo… quick! before we start…
And then…

Starting gun FAIL.
When the race still hadn’t started at 7:15, I decided I’d better use the bathroom after all. I kissed Dave in case we missed each other and sprinted to get back in the pottie line.
Meanwhile, Dave checked out the competition and captured the moment.
At 7:22, I made it into the port-a-pottie. While I was taking care of business, I heard the announcer tell this story:

A group of 100 soldiers at FOB Fenty Afghanistan participated in a “remote” Austin Marathon & Half Marathon early on Sunday morning.

I immediately got sniffly, thinking of the soldiers on the other side of the world running our race with us. Here they are…Back in Austin, the starting gun — OF COURSE — went off while I was INSIDE the port-a-pottie. I am a Griswold.

Finally out of the port-a-pottie, I made my way into the moving sea of people and just like that, I was off. On my half marathon. No brouhaha. No fanfare. No starting gun, even. Just me and 14,000 other people doing a lot of left-right-left-right-left-right while panting.

I was pretty frexcited, so I was smiling with tears in my eyes as we started off across the Congress bridge, heading south for the first 10k loop of the race.

I think a turn-by-turn account of the race would be boring for y’all to read, but I’m prety sure I remember every step.

The first half was a loop through my neighborhood: 3 miles up Congress (slow and steady uphill grade) and 3 miles down South First street (slow and steady downhill grade… right past my house!). Because I could visualize that loop in my head so clearly, it felt like “nothing,” i.e., just a little jog through my ‘hood. All of my frexcitement was focused on the second half of the race, which I’d dubbed “the hilly part,” only like this:


Somewhere between miles 4 and 5 — just after hugging Tiffany en route, but before seeing Cathlin and her puppy Moose — I had a little chat with myself.

Me: You like running up hills, right?

Me2: Yes! I do.

Me: And the hills are near the end, right?

Me2: Yes! They are.

Me: So you could look forward to the hills because a) you like them and b) when you hit them you’ll be almost done, right?

Me2: Yes! I could.

Me: I can’t wait to hit those hills.

Me3: You’re both idiots. Can we just listen to the music and run now?

By the time I reached mile 7, the end of the flat, the beginning of the hills, I couldn’t wait! I was ready.

It helped a lot that I saw someone holding a sign at the bottom of the first hill that read:


I said to myself, out loud (’cause yes, I talk to myself out loud when I’m running, even when I’m wearing headphones)… I said to myself, “Let’s go!” (And I heard the girl behind me say, “Bring it, hill.” Nice.)

I pumped my arms backward, got up on the balls of my feet, rotated my torso a little the way Erin suggested, and chug-chug-chugged to the top.

For about an hour and 10 minutes.

During the 3M Half Marathon a few weeks ago, I was pretty emotional and saw a lot of interactions among people that touched my heart.

This time felt like pure celebration. It was less an aria and more a big, exuberant musical production number with sparkly costumes and jazz hands.

I saw a spectator holding a sign that said, “It takes less muscles to smile” and every time I wanted to give in to feeling tired or scared or sore, I’d smile. I know: DORKY. But it worked. I actually had fun! Plus, smiling at people who are cheering makes them cheer louder.

Other things that made me smile:

  • The spectator with a cup of coffee in his hand and a boombox at his feet so we could hear music on the run-by
  • Running up every hill
  • Waving goodbye to the marathoners when they turned left around mile 10 to continue their trek north
  • Keeping my walk breaks to 30 seconds each
  • Hitting 10-minute miles!
  • A sign that said, “Run like a fat kid chasing after queso”
  • Another sign that said “Run like a bunny”
  • Seeing the same group people at different viewing spots with signs that said “Go Mel” and “Way to go, Melissa” in glitter paint and pretending that even though I didn’t know them, they read my blog and made the signs for me

After mile 11, there were no more mile markers. The next distance indicator I saw read “800 meters to go.”

Half a mile!

You so got this! Half a mile. Keep going…

I pushed the button on my iPod to get the perfect ending song. Alien Ant Farm:Skip. Duran Duran:Skip. Skip. Skip. Skip. And then… jackpot!

“Thing of Beauty”


At the 200m mark, I almost started crying for real. Which, in case you don’t know, leads to a scary, embarrassing, almost-hyperventilating, wheezy noise. My recommendation: Do not try to run and cry at the same time.

So I smiled.

And I’m sure I looked like a freak with my eyes in scrinched-up cry mode and my mouth twisted in a trying-to smile.

“Thing of Beauty” was playing… and I heard Bernie shout my name and wave… and Erin coached me to “Run it out, Mel!”…

And then… finish line. Just like that. Done. 13.1.

I got my medal. Let the tears finally flow unabated. Ate Erin’s M&Ms. Kissed Stacey. Hugged Bernie. This is Bernie. Have you ever seen a cuter finish line girl than Bernie in that hat?
I showed off my medal.

Then I ate more of Erin’s M&Ms. Got scolded by a volunteer for stopping in the finishers’ chute to eat M&Ms and hug people. Posed for my official finishers’ portrait…
Finally, after a year of training, striving, Zoning, fretting, celebrating, and hoping, I ate my Doritos.
Erin and I spotted Dave coming out the finishers’ chute and although I wouldn’t have thought it possible, I sprinted to give him a “we did it” hug and high five.
Then we sat on the curb in front of the Paramount Theater with Erin (a.k.a., Angel Erin with the M&Ms and the grapes and the electrolyte+glucosamine drink and the hugs and energy and awesomeness).

Oh, it was nice to just sit. We stretched a little. We bragged a lot. There was lots of high-fiving and smooching and laughing and groaning.

Then we headed back to the hotel…
The end.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *


Do not believe the clock over my head in the photo above. It started while I was in the bathroom!

My watch time: 2:11:41 (w/pottie break subtracted)
My chip time: 2:18:08 (includes pottie break)
Overall: 3913 out of 6970 finishers
Gender: 1896 out of 4098
Division (W 40-44): 196 out of approx. 500

Can I get a “hell, yeah!” for being firmly in the middle of the pack?! Woot!

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