Writing and running in Austin, TX.
I know, I know–titling a post “Run from Hell” is a bit dramatic. I considered other names for this one.
“A Surprisingly Good Bad Run”
“GU Chomps are Gross”
“Who the Eff Decided to Build a Wal-Mart in this Parking Lot???”
Ultimately, “Run from Hell” won out for a simple reason. Honest to God, that’s the name Rogue decided to give this run.
As I learned in the week leading up to this run, it’s infamous in the Austin running community. Though the route has changed a bit over the years, the primary features remain the same — it’s long, and it covers several of the most notorious hills in the city.
The night before, J (the boyfriend) had generously agreed to throw my running shorts in with his laundry while I met a friend for coffee. The result: Me running frantically around the house at 5:15 a.m. in a futile search for my favorite shorts. At 5:20 I gave up and grabbed my next-best option, a running skirt that causes some…umm…unfortunate riding up. I also grabbed the tightest undergarments I could find (in an effort to avoid the riding-up issue). I remembered my Garmin, my water bottle, and a packet of GU Chomps that only expired a month ago, but forgot my hat. (Par for the course.)
The official start time was 5:30 Saturday morning, and we met at the Chaparral Ice skating rink at Northcross Mall. (Isn’t it cute to start an 18-mile run in 90-degree weather on the doorstep of an ice rink? I thought so…) This mall is actually quite close to my house, and I had briefly contemplated walking or biking to the start. My irrational fear of being knifed–it’s an extremely quiet, knifing-free neighborhood–precluded the former option. My far less irrational fear of having my bike stolen killed the latter. And of course there was the fact that I never manage to leave my house more than 7 minutes before I’m supposed to be anywhere.
Upon arriving at the mall, a string of minor miracles enabled me to find a parking spot, the course maps, and my running partners, all before the run actually started. (NOT par for the course.)
As usual, the coaches dispensed some pre-run advice: Start slow, hydrate well, and try to run up as many of the hills as possible. Also as usual, J (the running buddy, not the boyfriend) and I started at a slow walk. All those 7- to 8-minute/mile runners sure take their sweet time leaving the parking lot…
But we were off, and things felt easy to start. It’s weird, but miles run in the dark tend to seem like they aren’t really happening. Unless you trip on something. Maybe it’s because you know a rational person would be asleep.
Anyway, we zig-zagged south and west, making our way toward some distant hills that I’m sure would have looked ominous, had we actually been able to see them.
Around mile 4, we hit Mountainclimb Road–the name of which had caused me some obvious concern when looking at the course map the day before. Lucky for us, it turned out we were running down the mountain. Whew. (That was pretty much the end of our luck, but I was blissfully oblivious at that point.)
At the bottom of Mountainclimb, Toto jumped on course with us. He was small, brown, and–minus what looked like a severe case of mange–an exact doppelganger of Dorothy’s dog in The Wizard of Oz. We told ourselves he must live in one of the nearby houses, but there were a few signs that such was not the case:
Now normally I’m the first person to stop for a stray dog, but we were 5 miles away from anyone’s vehicle and I had nothing but water and a sticky bag of GU Chomps. (Even my dog won’t eat those.) This caused me some distress, until we later heard that someone came back with a car and picked the little guy up. I’m curious to see if we’ll have a new Rogue mascot.
Toto’s disappearance coincided with the first really major set of hills on Mt. Bonnell Rd. J and I managed to keep running for 1.5 miles of a 2-mile climb, or roughly until we realized we were “running” more slowly than the people walking ahead of us. Those two miles came in at 13:09 and 14:05 pace. Oops.
Shortly thereafter, I glanced down at the course map and saw the next instruction: “Right on Ladera Norte”.
I had never actually seen Ladera Norte myself, but a veteran running friend from work had looked at the map and said, “Oooooh, Ladera Norte.” Ironman J also had warned us about this hill. Her advice turned out to be sage: “Don’t think you’re at the top, because you’re not. And the third time you think you’re at the top, you’re still not.”
In an attempt to be positive, I announced to Runner J that we were coming up on the worst part of this whole ordeal, and that nothing would seem bad once it was over. (In retrospect, I’m surprised J doesn’t smack me sometimes for my attempts at on-the-run motivational speaking.)
The approach to this beast was a 550 ft. drop. This is the kind of downhill where you try not to trip because you know if you go down you won’t come to a stop until you hit the bottom. In fact, I think the best way to describe what came next is to show you the Timing and Elevation charts my Garmin recorded for the run:
On the bottom graph, check out mile 8. And then check out mile 10. And then notice what happens between mile 8 and mile 10. Basically, we fell in a hole.
I’m not going to lie…no one even pretended we were going to run up this “hill”. It took J and I 14 minutes and 40 seconds to reach the real top. And there, at the real top, was a glorious vision. One of the coaches with his SUV, back open, overflowing with ice and orange slices. I thought it was a mirage. I’ll admit I briefly worried about the potential impact of citric acid on my GI tract, but those were the best oranges I’ve ever tasted.
After that…well, I don’t remember a whole lot about the second half of the run. I think it’s because on that hill I felt like I was no longer on a run, but rather on some crazy day-hike. The impossible became doable because I didn’t let myself think of it as one long, discreet project, but rather as a series of adventures that were, after all, supposed to be fun. I know the true elites go out and preview a course before they run it, but I fully believe in not letting yourself know what’s coming. Especially if there’s a danger that you’ll wimp out.
Of course there were a few memorable moments on the back 9. There were the two GU Chomps I choked down at mile 14. (Electrolytes in gummy bear form. Mistake them for candy at your own risk.) There was the rock in my shoe at mile 16, and there was the brutal heat of running the last 2 miles in temps that were approaching 90.
Oh yes. And there was the Wal-Mart.
I can’t fault Rogue for their route-measuring. When the Garmin clicked over to 18 miles, we were right in front of Northcross Mall, just 1,000 feet from the ice rink where this whole mess began. The only problem…someone decided it was a brilliant idea to build a giant Wal-Mart at Northcross Mall.
Now the giant Wal-Mart isn’t actually open yet. It’s still under construction. And apparently, to facilitate the construction, they had to fence off the entire southwest corner of the mall. For us, this meant running an extra half a mile around the mall, an apartment complex, and through the parking lot of a bank (mind the speedbumps). I was no Wal-Mart fan to begin with, but I’ll surely never patronize them after THAT insult.
When we finally did reach the rink, I seized the opportunity to lie down in the entranceway. I can only imagine what all the 8-year-olds in their figure-skating costumes must have thought. (But hey, shut up kid, you’re wearing a pink figure-skating costume.)
Plus, we finished! And there is nothing on the Chicago Marathon course that will be even remotely as difficult as those hills. (I’ve checked.) And for the first time in the course of all this crazy training, I felt like I actually could have kept going. Perhaps there’s some wisdom to this high-mileage approach, because this Saturday, for the first time, I felt like I could run a marathon.