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#PassMeChallenge Recap: 3M Half Marathon Reminds Runners How Great a Race Can Be

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Back in 2000, I ran my first half marathon, the 3M Half Marathon. I’d joined my first training group in order to prepare; my friend Jennifer DeSpain and I managed to wrangle time away from our young kids and carpooled to the RunTex Riverside location (RIP) for our runs with coach Andreas Soeffker. I was scared and thrilled and jazzed up beyond belief when race day came. I’d practiced running parts of the course in advance, trained religiously, and generally obsessed. It would be the longest distance I’d ever run.

photo-3-web After you’ve run for a few years, you realize how insanely lucky you are to 1) have a great race day and 2) realize it’s a great day while you’re actually there. It took me years to understand just how fabulous a day I had that first 3M because, at the time, it felt like hell—which it should’ve, because I ran my little heart out. Since then, I’ve completed more half marathons than I can keep track of but that first 3M remains my PR and the only half marathon I’ve ever specifically trained for. I met my goal of sub 2:00 with a 1:59:19, and I can honestly say that most of that morning is etched into my memory, as distinct today as that February day 14 years ago. That I have a soft spot for this race is an understatement. The years I haven’t run it, I’ve been out cheering.

 I was back on the 3M course this January 19, 2014, as part of my Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenge Half Track race series. This time, I had no training group, no schedule, no completed long runs, and no expectation of anything like that magical race day so many years ago. I did expect a wonderfully produced race, a beautifully downhill course, enthusiastic crowd support, and interesting and fun interactions with other runners and their fans. Like my PR day, I was not disappointed.

 Running the Race

Because of the point-to-point nature, my sweet husband dropped me off about an hour before race start. Logan Delaware of Big Mouth Announcing was directing runners to the line of buses for bag drop (and those volunteers were so cheerful: “Good morning! Have a great race!”) and toward the bank of pristine Port-o-Potties (did he say there were 75? I had no wait). Sure enough, I immediately found folks I knew—there was Maya Liu, dressed in a cute tutu; we’d met at the Decker Half Marathon Challenge, when she first passed me. Most of the people I knew were trail runners making a rare road appearance. Hill Country Trail Runners Jim Balthazar (who’d convinced me to come over to the dark side some years ago during the course of a long road run) and Cherie and Jeff Linwood were there; my good friend Julie Heron (Ironman triathlete, swimmer, and all around enthusiastic training inspiration) tried to help me with some phone technology issues, as the cool Nike gloves I’d bought at the expo (and, at some point in the race, evidently lost) did not allow me to use my touch screen as promised. The gun went off, and I realized that by hanging with my friends, I’d lined up further along than I’d planned, near the 2:15 pace group. Eh—I figured I’d ride that bronco for as long as I could. I’d also decided that, because of the number of runners, I wouldn’t start recording bibs and conversations until after the 3- or 4-mile mark.

 photo-4---webBy the time I reached the bagpiper, I realized I was overdressed. I totally blame this year’s back-and-forth temperatures for the judgment failure; one day, it’s spring and another, it’s winter. I stopped to strip off my jacket and gloves. Somewhere between Mile 1 and 4, I was passed by 1956 Mike Sawyer—Sawyer’s another trail-running buddy who, after a warm greeting, quickly scampered off in search of Balthazar and the Linwoods. 91 Maya Liu (previously mentioned) passed; she’s bunnied by me in every AFMDC race so far; I expect to see her again at the Austin Marathon on February 16.

 My friend 3713 Beth Gross found me about the time that Julie Heron went on her much faster way, so I traded one running buddy for another. Between miles 3 and 4, I attempted to use my iPhone to record passers and ran into technological difficulty. Gross and I pulled over to the side of the road, and I actually accosted a perfect stranger—Sheryl—to ask for help. She was extremely helpful all without making me feel like a technological idiot; unfortunately, I didn’t figure out until later that I wasn’t actually recording, so I lost Sheryl’s info as well as that of this guy with awesome calves (yes, I prefaced my comment about his calves with, “I’m not hitting on you but…”); he was former military and running with a team (“I found out I was doing this a day ago”). I’d passed him, but he and his team would catch me later.

 As we came up to make the right turn onto Shoal Creek, I heard a friendly voice say, “I’m really excited to see you.” It was 2776 Melissa Leidal, who trains with Tough Cookies and had been reading my posts. Awww.

There were great cheerers as we came closer to the intersection of Shoal Creek and Anderson Lane; it’s a popular spot to watch, as it’s very accessible (there’s great parking in the shopping centers to either side of the intersection) and far enough into the race to really be appreciated by participants. Natalie Vaughn, the best cheerer ever, was on Shoal Creek (we’d first seen her on Burnet Road, around mile 2): “All your hard work, all your preparation, makes today possible! Nice job!” She wasn’t out there for anyone in particular, simply offering encouragement “because I like to.”

 There was a big group of cheerers who were all coordinated, wearing green shirts that said “Team Leslie.” They were supporting 2515 Leslie Brooks, who was running her first 3M; she was just ahead of me, and the group was migrating en masse to greet her at the finish line.

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 There was a screaming mass of wonderful spectators that included Amy and Matt Bush, Laura Boudloche Zeiner, Aleesa Leon, and the (in)famous Coach Carrie—Carrie Sapp Barrett. It’s really pretty painful to listen to the recording of all the shrieking, laughing, and squealing that went on at this point, but it was a lot of fun. There’s nothing like another runner/athlete to understand how much a participant can get out of positive spectator encouragement, even if it only lasts a few seconds. If you want crowd support, you can’t do much better than the 3M Half Marathon.

 I saw the race walker from the Rogue Distance Festival up ahead as we turned onto Great Northern but, alas, I couldn’t catch her…at least, I don’t think I did.

 There was no relay this year, so the big crowd of past years that gathered under the pedestrian bridge over Great Northern was gone. As I progressed down the lengthy straightaway, I could hear someone with great turnover coming up behind me. 1902 Carol Calvin, who was running with 298 Amanda Aguilar, zipped by, looking fresh and unfazed. I’d run with both of them back when I trained with Mixon Henry, an iconic running coach here in Austin, in the early 2000s.  

 With great spectators come awesome signs: “The only reason why your feet hurt is you’re kicking so much ass.” Excellent! We passed some guys with vuvuzelas, which managed to sound both supportive and somewhat annoying at the same time. Bring on the 2014 World Cup and caxirola!

 There was another big crowd, wearing tutus in purple and green, just before the Clif Zone around mile 7. Heather Herrick, who’d passed me at the Decker Half Marathon Challenge, was cheering on the sidelines; she’s recovering from an injury. The Beef Council had a huge group out encouraging runners as we made the turn from White Rock back onto Shoal Creek.

 Somewhere on Shoal Creek, I encountered 2946 Melody Evans with her entourage; Evans has done 3M “oh, about 18 times,” and laughingly said, “Let’s just say I used to do it a little faster.” She was out there with a great support group that included 3746 Jenny Broussard. I also saw the Tough Cookies group of gals that included 2228 Kinaya Ulbrich , looking strong, who won the first Pass Me! Challenge and completed the 30K at the Rogue Distance Festival. She’s doing the AFMDC Full Track, which means she’ll run the Austin Marathon in February. Ulbrich and crew passed me back around mile 8.

 Best Cheerer Ever, Natalie Vaughn, appeared a third time at the corner just before the water stop at Mile 8, her voice holding up great. I stopped to refill my bottle and commented, “This is where I’m painfully aware that I’m not running.” A guy cheering from the yard yelled, “You’re still sub 2:30”—that’s an experienced spectator who offers time encouragement. There were ringing cowbells and lots of cheers from a group of folks with the nonprofit Colin’s Hope near Hancock and Shoal Creek. I yelled out, “Nice sign!” to a young lady at the corner and heard, “Is that Mrs. Nyfeler?” The voice and sign belonged to Layne Meyers, who was out cheering for friend 2077 Ashley Hill West, who was running her first half marathon. Meyers and West are friends of my daughter—doesn’t it just make your heart sing to see the next generation out there on the course?

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At this point, somewhere around Mile 9, I made an observation that, compared to other races, very few people were engaging me for any sort of interaction. My guess is that, what with its reputation as a fast course (quite a few World Best times have been set here, but because it’s an aided course—meaning that the route provides a benefit, such as 3M's sweet downhill nature—there are no World Records), people running 3M were very focused on their time and thus not interested in commentary. That’s not to say people weren’t passing me…

 There were more great signs—“If you think this is hard, you should try dating” as well as the enigmatic “Once you go half, you never go balf” (I heard many runners ruminating on this one)—and a fresh batch of enthusiastic spectators as we came up 45th Street. I saw a kitty cheering (an actual cat, held in its owner’s lap, and waving a paw) as well as my doctor, Katharine O’Brien, who I see all the time at races and events. She got a sweaty hug, whether she wanted one or not. I also got to congratulate my friend Betsy Tieman on her recent engagement.

 678 Jay Kvale passed me, with a cheery “You guys are doing great!” Between his comment and the cool “Touch sign for power” with glitter star (of COURSE I touched it), I got a bit of energy. Add to that passing the Mile 10 marker (“Double digits—woohoo”), and life looked up as we crossed Lamar and Guadalupe on the way to that magical turn onto Duval and the final homestretch. I laughed out loud at the “Don’t you wish you had a Segway now?” sign and replied, “Yeah, it’s about the only time in my life I’ve ever wanted to be on a Segway.”

 Two friends came running by, 4899 Elizabeth Colvin and 3934 Kristen Gilson, as I took a walk break while heading uphill. Gilson called out, “Well, come on then!” in her crisp British accent when she spied my slow trudge. Another runner quipped in response, “Tallyho!”

 “Good job; I’ve been following you!” said 4130 Stacy Pentland, who trains with the Galloway folks; like me, Pentland is doing the AFMDC Half Track. She completed it last year “with baby in belly,” and is coming back this year for her third Distance Challenge. “I like it because it keeps a goal in front of you,” she explained.

 748 Dawn Isensee also came by and, like Pentland, this isn’t her first year for the AFMDC.  There was another nice sign (“May the odds be ever in your favor”) and I tried out my best Effie Trinket accent. By the time we hit the supportive crowd at 45th and Duval, I’d said to Gross, “You’re going to get a crick in your neck from looking back for me.” As we got ready to turn onto San Jacinto, 3713 Beth Gross picked up the pace to finish strong and complete a solid training run for her upcoming out-of-state race with her sister. That left me to do my thing of chatting up people who are either spectating (“I like your sombrero” to the lady with the majestic sparkly purple hat) or participating (my friend and fellow 5:00 pace group leader some years back Cassandra Medrano was there, pacing someone into the finish). Along came the man with awesome calves and his team of runners, chanting, and pulling his group along. I was passed by 3465 Vicki Hill (mother of the aforementioned Ashley Hill West) and we shared a proud moment, knowing that there was at least one mother/daughter duo out on the route.

I turned off my recorder—no one wants to chat during the final 800m into the finish line. As I made my way uphill on MLK, I felt a quick tap on my shoulder and heard 1735 Devin Eatmon say, “Tag, you’re it!” as he whisked around me. He said he’d been working to pass me throughout the race. I have to say that this made my whole morning; I found Eatmon at the end and got a photo.

 There’s a lot more to running than having a PR to make a perfect day. There was beautiful weather, an amazingly enthusiastic support group, and outstanding logistics; I met several new people; and felt happy to be part of Austin’s fitness-minded community. I also felt fortunate to be able to cover 13.1 miles. Here’s looking forward to the Austin Marathon on February 16, whether you’re doing the full 26.2 miles or the half marathon with me. And I look forward to seeing you pass me and hearing you say hello!

There’s just one more race to go in the 2013-2014 Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenge. The times given here are cumulative times from all the AFMDC races through the 3M Half Marathon for the Full Track; the Half Track option gives credit for the Rogue Distance Challenge 10K but those times are not figured in the cumulative score. For a complete listing of 2013-2014 AFMDC results, visit austinrunners.org and click on “Distance Challenge” in the dropdown menu.

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