The Austin Marathon and Half Marathon 2017: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

THE GOOD: The race itself, the after-race party, my experiences with Riff Raff, getting a VIP pass, and seeing so many of my friends out on the course

THE BAD: The hard course and the hot, humid day

THE UGLY: My race finish

I thought it appropriate that my first blog post would be about our hometown marathon, the Austin Marathon, because it’s the first time that I’ve ever done the half, and it’s High Five Events’ first time putting on the event after buying it from John Connelly last year.  I have to admit that a lot of enthusiasm was building up when my friends, Jack Murray and Stacy Keese, bought the race, because they wanted to change the course from the very hilly current course.  I spent a lot of time with Jack and Stacy in Boston last year for the Boston Marathon, and we talked a lot about changing the course.  Over drinks, in places like the Green Dragon and Fanueil Hall, in the shadow of Sam Adams, we discussed where the course should go, among other things, like what the swag should be and who the beer sponsor would be. 

If you’ve ever run this course, you understand it’s challenges: It starts with a downhill in the first mile, but then goes uphill for the next few miles, so you’re not even 5 miles into it, and your legs are already angry with you.  It’s also easy to go anaerobic in those first few miles, which puts you at a disadvantage for the rest of the race.  Then, your quads get a pounding as you go back down S. 1st Street for 2 miles.  It’s flat for a bit, but then, miles 10-13 are nothing but hill after hill after hill.  The rest of the course is fairly easy, but many runners are done by mile 16.  I, myself, have walked part of every mile after mile 16, in various years.  So, as can be expected, a lot of people were disappointed when we found out that the course would NOT change for 2017. 

I was one of those disappointed runners.  Besides the challenging course itself, the race usually falls on a hot, humid day.  This is central Texas, so it’s not unusual for it to be 80 degrees with 90 percent humidity in February.  So, I decided to do the half.  I have run the full marathon probably a dozen times, but I’ve never done the half.  After bonking on hot and humid Austin Marathon days, it was a real relief that I’d only have to do 13 miles.  I figured I’d do my marathon goal pace of 7:38, which is a 3:20 marathon and, roughly, a 1:40 half marathon.

Regardless of the heat, humidity, and hills, I went out faster than expected, held it up Congress, and then recovered back down S. 1st, just like my race plans in years past.  The only difference was that I knew I wouldn’t bonk this time, because I was only doing 13 miles, instead of 26.  I realized, by the time I was turning west onto Cesar Chavez, that I was averaging 7-minute miles, and I felt good.  This was the first time I thought that I could possibly shoot for a 1:30 half marathon, which would be terrific.

Unfortunately, plantar fasciitis is a bastard piece of crap who needs to be killed in the most horrible way before being left to die on the side of a lonely dirt road. I would kill him with a dull knife, digging it time and time again into his black heart, watching his—

But I digress. 

What I meant to say is that I have, for about a month, now, had plantar fasciitis in my left foot, usually the day after a long or hard run.  I started feeling it at mile 8.  This was not a good sign.  By mile 11, I was favoring that foot.  My gait had changed, and I was, essentially, limping at a 7-minute mile clip.  I still felt fantastic cardiovascular-wise, though, so I kept the pedal to the metal and kept thinking…”Just 3 more miles…just 2 more miles…”

As I crossed over Lamar Blvd. on Enfield, approaching the mile 12 sign and the last, big hill we had to go over before coasting downhill into downtown, it happened. My left hamstring seized up, and I pulled up lame.  I tried stretching it out, hoping I could just stretch it out okay and get right back to running. I made it about 5 feet before it locked up again, pain searing up through my glute.  An EMS person came over and asked if she wanted me to call for EMS, and I replied, “I’m not ruling it out.”  I have never DNF’d (Did Not Finish) a race, and I wasn’t about to start now!!

After a few minutes of stretching and limping, I realized that the only way my hamstring would function is if I literally dug my fingers as deep into the tissue as I could to keep the muscle from seizing up manually.  This was the only way I could keep going, so I essentially shuffled along for that last mile, holding my leg or my butt, whichever hurt the most, stopping every block or so to stretch. 

As I finally came down the finish chute, I heard Logan yelling on the speaker, “Is that Panther?!  It’s Panther, Phil Carmical, finishing in 1:37!”

My dear friend, Stacy, had, before the race, added me to the VIP list, so, after crossing and getting my medal, I went into the Stephen F. Austin Hotel, where the VIPs were, and I got the massage therapist there to work on my hamstring.  This, at least, got me to where I could walk.  The bad thing, though, is that my plantar pain was at an all-time high.  I was limping, and there’s nothing she could do about that. 

I reunited with Riff Raffers, Alicia and Brandon, and we all got a beer at the after-party before getting on our bikes and riding up to where Riff Raff was cheering, at 40th and Duval.  Regardless of the pain I was in, that was the most fun part of the day, cheering and heckling runners, drinking mimosas surreptitiously out of a cup, and yelling at friends as they ran by. 

Riff Raff is more than just a running group, and the Austin Marathon is more than just a race.  I love Austin, I love running, and this race is, ugly as it can be, sometimes, still MY RACE.  As long as my body will let me, I am going to run the marathon or the half marathon in Austin, every year, change of course or no change of course.  Not just to support Jack, Stacy, and all of my other friends over at High Five Events, but also because it’s a part of who I am.  The years I haven’t run it, I literally felt sick, thinking, “I should be out there running.”  I would rather go through what I went through yesterday than go through THAT again.

And as for Riff Raff—this is who WE are.  Every race isn’t going to be a PR.  You’re not going to go to every training run.  Sometimes, you’ll get hurt and can’t run at all.  But you know what?  Riff Raff will still be there.  We will always pull for each other, no matter what, and we will always be there to cheer each other, whether in a race or in life.  And, when you’ve had a bad race, gotten injured, or even gotten fired, Riff Raff is there to support you and make a bad situation better.  That’s who we are, and that’s what we do.

Until next time, happy trails.