Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Firsts

First half marathon... Actually, my first race!
First time in Austin... Actually, my first time in Texas! (I don't count four times at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport... and neither do any of the Texans I ran it past!)

What a great time in a great city. I traveled to Austin, Texas last weekend to run my first half marathon. The weekend started chilly and rainy... although compared to what I had left behind in Iowa it was a welcome change. I'll take 40-50 degrees even with rain over 5 degrees, snow and wind chill factor of 15-20 below zero.

Saturday, February 16, packet pickup day, it rained most of the day. And when it didn't rain, it poured. When it didn't rain or pour, the wind gusted furiously. I think it was a conspiracy of the northern states sending what they could to scare their northern residents back. Austin won though... Sunday, Race Day turned out beautifully. Before the 7:00 am start, temps of 40-something kept masses of runners huddled around propane warmers. Fireworks over Town Lake (which Austinites repeatedly and half-apologetically pointed out is really the Colorado River dammed up -- It's OK guys, we do that here in Iowa too!) near the Congress Avenue bridge celebrated the start of the race.

After the gun signaling the start, it took a few minutes before those of us at the back of the pack actually started running. Which as I understand is the norm for big races. This being my first time, I was nervous enough that I stopped being chatty. If you know me well, you know this is the extreme... generally with nervousness I get wound up into a state in which I can't stop talking and may even start jumping up and down. Pushed to the limit, I just clam up and observe everyone else around me as if I am invisible. I pretty much stayed in invisible mode until I crossed the finish line. Just before crossing the finish line I caught a glimpse of my friend and RAGBRAI teammate Chris V. (the initial is for any readers who know that half of our team is named Chris, the rest are named Rob and Steve) who waved and cheered. I had really kicked it into high gear coming around the corner in front of the Texas capitol building closing in on the finish and just as that final energy burst began to flag, Chris hollered out my name and I kept it going.

The invaluable nature of a teammate manifested itself for me that day. Not for the first time. But there it was nonetheless. Had Chris, a veteran marathoner, not been there, I can't tell you how nervous I would have been. When I speak of teammates from our RAGBRAI Team LIVESTRONG it may sound as if it is too good to be true... that this group of people can't possibly be as amazing as they sound. And if I didn't know them myself, I might be right there with you. But I do know them. And while I will not do them the injustice of bestowing upon them superhuman qualities this team, from my experience, brings out the best in others, we help each other to believe in ourselves, we might be aware of each other's vulnerabilities, but we view each other in their strengths. So that's who was waiting for me at the finish line. Team LIVESTRONG: Chris there and cheering me on; Amy, who called the day before to make sure her voice was in my head saying, "you can do it!" on Race Day; Jennzing, my sherpa-hero who inspires me whenever she can and who sent me a "whoohooo!" text message post-race; Lisa who never gives up; Melody, who cheered me on during training; and my family... who as you know are ALWAYS part of any team effort; my new friends and Austin hosts for the weekend Matt & Brandy... without whom I would have been homeless the night before the race! Oh no, this is starting to sound like an Oscar speech... the warning music is about to start and I'm going to get pushed off the stage by some tart in an evening gown.

So, anyway, back to the race... after the finish line, racers get herded down a feeding chute grabbing water, sports drinks, fruit, granola bars and other goodies (I missed the chicken noodle soup). Once I was free from the cattle drive, Chris and I wandered around until we found the free beer. We sat on the ground to drink our free beverages wondering how soon we would regret this seating arrangement and promptly met some fellow half-marathoners. On our way to the line for the outhouses, we ran into a friend and fellow member of the cancer community, Jonny Imerman, founder and director of Imerman's Angels. His infectious energy brought together a crew of other runners and so we all headed out for a big meal to replace our depleted carb stores.

The race started and ended in downtown Austin which is at once cosmopolitan and laid back. It's easy to get around the town, friendliness becomes an understatement when strangers make eye contact, smile and say hello... something I expect in small town Iowa, but not something I've experienced to that extent in any other "big" city. And I have been out of the state of Iowa, not only that, I have been out of the country. While I have to say that every city I've been to has had friendly people (and of course the random crabby person who clearly hates his/her job). But Austin... so far, you are first on my list of favorite cities. Austin turned out to be WAY cooler than I expected it to be... and I expected it to be pretty darn cool!

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