This weekend Katie and I drove up to Austin to see friends and run in the Capitol 10k, Texas’s largest running event. We drove up Saturday afternoon, listening to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (where we had left off from the Easter trip) along the way. The wild flowers were in full bloom along the highways and it was a lovely drive.
We stayed with a friend of ours from Rice and her husband. They are both finishing up their PhDs in Geology at the University of Texas and will soon be moving to Houston for jobs so we were glad to take advantage of their Austin hospitality while we still could!
Before we went to their house, though, we went and picked up our race packets and then drove along the race route. I turned my Garmin Forerunner on during the route just to see how well its reported distances would match up with the map’s distances. That may seem anal but, after my experience in the HEB Bayou Classic last month, I wasn’t taking any chances. An even greater benefit to this 10-minute drive was gaining familiarity with a new course. This course would have hills and take me on roads I didn’t know so, after the drive, I could visualize it much better. I’m really glad we decided to do the drive.
Saturday evening we met up with more Rice friends at Mother’s, where we ordered plenty of vegetarian, vegan, and homegrown fare. Katie had a stuffed poblano that was very rich and I had farfalle in a gorgonzola-parmesan sauce. Even though we were well past the window for carb loading, we used it as an excuse to try several desserts, including mocha chocolate cake, chocolate peanut butter pie, and apple pie a la mode–so good! Then we called it a night to rest up before our race.
Sunday morning, after a light breakfast of heritage bran flakes and a banana, our host was gracious enough to drive us in and drop us off so we wouldn’t have to deal with parking. My first reaction upon arrival was excitement. With 20,000 runners, the Cap 10k would be 10x the size of any race I had run (all three of them!) and there were many people there already. We were an hour early so we walked around a bit, saw some other Rice folks, and scoped out the finish line–again motivated by experience in the last 10k.
My second reaction was disappointment. The race packet indicated that there would be a clothes check near the starting line. Therefore Katie and I both were wearing extra clothes in the cool drizzle to stay warm before the race. We intended to drop the extra insulation off at the clothes check before the race started–so as to run unencumbered–but we were informed that they had decided at the last minute not to provide that service. Boo!!! Instead we would just run carrying the extra clothes in our hands–not the end of the world but hardly ideal.
There were also far too few toilets near the start. Lines for each toilet were 50+ runners long and the waits were 40+ minutes. I decided to forego a pre-race pee and just use the urge as motivation to finish more quickly. Again, this wasn’t the end of the world but I expected the event to be better organized given its popularity and long (33 years) history.
I was a little anxious that the extra clothes in my hands and the urge to pee might affect my performance but there was nothing to do except shrug it off and focus on the race before me. I was a little nervous about the hills too. I have very strong legs so theoretically I should be able to handle them OK; still, I wasn’t used to them so the uncertainty increased my anxiety. To quiet my mind I reviewed my race strategy and goals.
Strategy: Keep a constant heart rate in the low 170s, slowing down when climbing up hills and speeding up on downhill grades. Run the first 5k (the hilly portion) conservatively, then pick it up for the second half (gentle downhill slope to the lake then relatively flat to the finish), kicking it the final 400m and sprinting the final 100m.
1. Total race time under 47:00
2. Negative split: 1st 5k in 23:55, 2nd 5k in 23:05
3. First 8 km under 38:00 (By this point the downhill should have balanced out the uphill and 38:00 would position me to finish the flat remainder at the right pace.).
4. Final km under 4:15
5. Final 400m under 1:25
6. Stay within 10 seconds of 4:45 for each of the first 9 km–a few seconds more for the uphill legs and a few seconds less for the downhill legs.
The race organizers did an excellent job of organizing everyone by time and lining the faster people up toward the front. At the very front were the “elite” runners with gold bibs who were racing to win. Behind them was my group, the purple bibs. I guess you could say we were the fastest of the “amateurs.” Behind us were two other timed groups and then, finally, the untimed fun runners/walkers.
The gun went off and four seconds later I crossed the starting line. The first leg of the race was Congress Bridge, renowned for housing the largest urban bat colony in North America. The bridge sloped gently upward and Congress Street continued to slope upward as we ran toward the capitol building. People passed me on both sides from the beginning but I held myself back, trying to stick to my strategy of taking it easy on the uphills.
As we neared 6th Street, where I knew the 1 km point to be, I was dismayed to realize that there were no km road markers. After my last race experience I was really hoping to lean on them to orient me and ensure that I was running the right race. As I realized that there were no such markers in this race, I was doubly glad that we had driven the course the previous day so that I knew generally where each km marker would have been and I had high confidence in my GPS.
I finished the first km in 4:38 with a heart rate of 160. I had planned to run the first km more slowly due to the uphill grade but 160 was right on track for me so I didn’t pull back yet. As we ran around the capitol building we hit our first steep hill. It was short but definitely steep. I consciously slowed down–or so I thought. The second km ended at the crest of this hill and I finished it in 4:37 with a 172 heart rate. This was faster than intended and the heart rate was higher than intended so I really would need to slow it down to avoid burning out too early.
However, I couldn’t slow down just yet as the ascent was followed by an equally steep downward slope which gave me a chance to test out my plan of accelerating down the hills. I lengthened my stride and tried to let gravity do most of the work. There were still so many people around that it was tough really to open up without fear of running into someone. Despite the wet roads, my Vibram Five Fingers provided plenty of traction. The third km ended with another uphill run and I finished in 4:32 with a 173 heart rate.
3 km into the race I was realizing a few things: First, there wasn’t as much music along the course as advertised. This may have been due to the drizzly weather. Second, the music that was there was good; the one band I had passed by this point was playing Stairway to Heaven and one up ahead would soon be playing Bob Dylan. Third, my sunglasses were completely fogged up from the rain so I propped them up on my head and hoped they wouldn’t fall off. Fourth, despite the hills, the higher-than-it-should-be heart rate, and being 40 seconds ahead of my 3 km pace, I was feeling pretty good. There were only two hilly kms left and then it was, literally, all downhill after that. I began to worry less about pulling back and decided to keep pressing the pace as long as it felt right.
The fourth km had a steep drop until we crossed Lamar and then another incline; I finished it in 4:40 with a 176 heart rate. The fifth km brought us to the highest point of the race and then began the long, gentle downhill portion; I finished it in 4:46 with a 175 heart rate. I had run my first 5k in 23:13 (40 seconds ahead of pace) and I had the easiest portion of the run ahead of me. My heart rate was high, but I was feeling good. My GPS was right on and the race was going according to plan.
The sixth and seventh kms were great: short uphill legs followed by longer downhill legs. Often my downhill momentum would carry me halfway up the subsequent hill before I had to start working again. There was a band playing ZZ Top blues, which was highly motivating. I finished the sixth km in 4:25 (177 heart rate) and the seventh in 4:24 (176 heart rate).
As we turned along the lake, the terrain flattened and I returned to my “normal” pace range, finishing the eighth km in 4:41 at a 176 heart rate. By this point I was 77 seconds ahead of my 38:00 target with a relatively flat final 2k to go. “Easy does it,” I told myself. “Just run your race and you will easily make your 47:00 goal. “Easy,” indeed; I finished the ninth km in 4:51, my slowest of the day, and a 176 heart rate.
I was 71 seconds under pace and, if I just stayed the course, I would easily meet my 47:00 goal without even having to kick it at the end. I could just cruise. At this point it dawned on me that I was running “not to lose” instead of running “to win,” a mistake I had made in my last race. I talk a lot of talk about learning from mistakes but here I had an opportunity to walk the walk. I realized that I had an opportunity not only to come in under 47:00, but to come in even under 46:00. Even though my muscles were aching and my heart was pounding in my head, I adjusted my primary race goal to finish under 46:00 and I picked up the pace.
The last km was tough. I was definitely fatigued and there were two right-angle turns that prevented me from keeping my momentum going forward. I reached 9.6k in 2:40, 10 seconds ahead of my goal for that leg, but my heart rate had soared to 179 and I was pretty wiped. I picked up the pace a little bit more but was reluctant to do too much before the final turn. I know there was a Beatles cover band playing here but I have no recollection of them; I think I was just 100% focused on how to cross the final 400m as quickly as possible.
As I rounded the final corner I knew there were only 200m to go. I willed my legs to go faster but they really pushed back on me. Images flashed through my head of a Gatorade commercial in which a runner collapses toward the end of the race and has to crawl through the finish line. I was slowly passing people and I don’t think anyone was passing me. I heard footsteps pounding beside me but, when I looked, no one was there, so I think that was just my heart beat pounding in my ears.
At 70m out I could see the finish line and adrenaline took over. I found the extra gear I was looking for and, all of a sudden, I was a fullback again, running low, running hard, weaving past the runners I was passing and no longer caring about time or goals. There was just one thing that mattered: get to that finish line and get there fast. People all along the final leg were cheering–for everyone, of course, but it felt like they were cheering for me.
I hit the finish line at a dead sprint, raised my hands, gave a shout of victory as I saw the clock tick over from 45:59 to 46:00, and swerved to avoid a runner in front of me, who had stopped after finishing. My final 400m had taken longer than I wanted, 1:42 (183 heart rate) instead of 1:25, but I made up a lot of ground as I covered the final 70m in 12 seconds or so. This brought my final km time to 4:22, higher than my goal of 4:15 but still my fastest of the day. My second 5k time was 22:43, well below my 23:05 goal and still faster than my first 5k. My final time was 45:56, which means I finished #591 of 7597 timed runners (92nd percentile), #505 of 3792 men (87th percentile), and #85 of 586 men 30-34 (85th percentile). This is a big improvement from my Bayou City Classic performance a month ago (87th/79th/84th) and was apparently enough to warrant being named (along with hundreds of other runners) in the Monday edition of the Austin American Statesman. Once again I can’t help but draw parallels to business lessons in adapting strategy as conditions change and trusting instincts.
As I slowed down past the finish line, the dry heaves began almost immediately. I didn’t feel faint but my body was definitely trying to throw up some kinda fierce! However, there was nothing in my stomach to throw up, so all I managed to produce were guttural noises and convulsions. This indicated to me that I had left it all out there and that I had indeed “won,” not just “not lost.” After a couple of minutes, the dry heaves ceased, I got some water, downed a banana, and found a toilet with no line–much better than the massive lines at the beginning of the race!
I then headed back toward the finish line to cheer on Katie as she beat her goal time as well. While I was there I saw a couple of other Rice alumni whom I knew, as well as some runners in cool costumes. One thing was decidedly missing from the after party, though: NO BEER! As cool and fun as Austin is, I just assumed they would have beer during and/or after the race–after all, all the Houston races do. Weird. The Cap 10k was definitely a great experience but it did fall down in a few areas relative to my expectations.
After the race we had chocolate-banana-pecan whole wheat pancakes with mimosas and fresh strawberries with our hosts. This was followed by some Master’s watching, some napping, and general lazing about/recovery. Katie and I caught Clash of the Titans 3D (which was about as expected) before dinner. Dinner was at The Salt Lick, an Austin institution. It’s finger-lickin’ good BBQ with an habanero-based sauce in a picnic bench-style layout. In short, it’s a great place to meet up with friends–AND it’s BYOB, so we brought some Guinness, some home brew, and some Castello Banfi Super Tuscan to help wash the BBQ down.
Dinner was great! We met up with several Rice friends and caught up over food and drink. I had beef brisket, pork ribs, and smoked turkey. Katie just had sides, but the cole slaw and mashed potatoes were good enough to stand as a meal by themselves. It was great to see everyone and I may just need to add The Salt Lick to my list of regular stops.
What an amazing weekend! Now it’s back to business before heading to San Fransisco for the Investors’ Circle conference!