“Live” Blog from the Cowtown Half

I did it! I finished the Cowtown Half Marathon on Sunday morning, scratching off one more item from my bucket list. It was a blast, but I’ll be honest: it was really hard at the end, and I’m still recovering. Despite my training plan, my legs weren’t quite ready for that distance. I might or might not try a half again depending on how my future training goes. But I had a blast and am very glad I did it. Thanks for all your support!

I don’t use Twitter (yet?), but if I did, and Siri could understand more than half what I say, I might have live-blogged the morning something like this:

4:05am: Ugh. I wake up nearly an hour early and toss and turn until my alarm goes off. This is normal for me on the very rare occasion that I have to wake up at a normal hour for some special event. I’m too excited to sleep.

4:55am: Get up, eat, and pull on my sexy-and-I-know-it black compression pants that aren’t spandex tights. It’s frickin’ cold out there. I debate what to wear on top and go with a long-sleeved tech shirt under my official short-sleeved Cowtown t-shirt that I got yesterday.

5:45am: Rolling out. The fam is still asleep. The only people driving around right now are drunks going home and crazy runners going to Cowtown. Plus maybe a few of my coworkers going to/from work. I hope those three groups don’t overlap.

6:10am: Stuck in a half-mile line of cars on I-30 trying to get to the race via Montgomery. Wish I’d left earlier. 8000 people take some time to get situated, Box. Panic a bit until I find a reroute. Thanks again, mighty iPhone, for the Maps app.

6:23am: Parked. Fiddling with my gear. Who knew such a simple activity could require so much stuff? Knee brace, pat strap, water bottle, inhaler, chip timer, bib with pins, gels, baggie for used gel packets, iPhone, earbuds, armband…Maybe I need a murse.

6:30am: Done. Must pee before race. Must pee before race. Don’t be THAT GUY who gets a UIP from Fort Worth’s finest during the race because he can’t wait any longer. My coffee will kick in momentarily. I couldn’t find on the website whether they have port-a-potties on the course. Surely they do…right????

6:50am: Hundreds of people waiting for port-a-potties near the start line. Quick math tells me that the 30 people ahead of me in line for these 2 port-a-potties won’t be done by the starting gun at 7:00. #dontpanicdontpanicdontpanic

6:55am: The bathroom line inside is only for the stalls, not the urinals, some guy says. Several of us sneak in through the bathroom exit and discover he was right. BLAM!

7:02am: Let’s roll! Our corral shuffles toward the finish line like a herd of cows. It is Cowtown, after all. Even though I lined up where the sign for Corral 2 was, the announcer is addressing us as Corral 3. Katy Perry is blaring on the speakers. I groove a bit. Purely to stay warm, of course.

7:05am: GO!

Mile 1: I feel great. After a really light week, my legs feel full of energy. With little effort, I’m going faster than my intended race pace. I want to run-walk to help my knees last longer, alternating 4 minutes running at 8:00/min with 1 minute walking at 12:00-15:00/mile. I should slow down, but meh. I’m having too much fun. The weather is perfect. The sky is lightening to a beautiful pale blue-gray.

I pass through Trinity Park. I spent an afternoon near this park in 1998 with my crazy college roommate, Craig, and two girls from nearby TCU. That was a nice day. I haven’t been here in over a decade. It’s like I’ve run back in time.

Mile 1.5: Yep, the water stations do have port-a-potties, although who wants to waste time on the course in one of those? Starting to see spectators with signs, mostly family members of the runners. Some have signs – encouraging, silly, scriptural, funny. It’s nice to have people come out just to cheer us on. Ten years ago I ran Cowtown for the first time (10k distance). A sweet girl named Jenny Matthews gave up her Saturday morning to ride out with me and meet me at the finish line. Anyone who wakes up early to stand and yell in the cold for average Joes like us is definitely a keeper.

Mile 2: I pass Fellowship Church’s Fort Worth campus. A few volunteers or staff are outside playing really loud hip-hop music, presumably the 2012 version of DC Talk or T-Bone. It hits me that the music sounds like regular hip-hop unless you listen hard to the words. A poster of senior pastor Ed Young stands along the sidewalk. Why do so many churches use their senior pastor as part of their branding?

Mile 3: We pass a graveyard and a funeral home. Did the course designers think some of us weren’t ready for this?

Mile 4: So far so good. My legs, lungs, and everything else feels fine. First gel – vanilla-strawberry e-Gel, 150 calories per packet. Mmm. I actually like this stuff. I preemptively stop and stretch my quads and hamstrings, hoping to keep them from tightening up. I turn away from the oncoming runners so it doesn’t look like I’m mooning them.

Mile 4.5: Getting a bit warm and sweatier than I prefer. I take off my gloves. Then I stop for a wardrobe change. I remove my armband and both shirts, tie the long-sleeved shirt around my waist, put the short-sleeved shirt back on, and rearrange my armband and earbud cord. Total time wasted due to tactical error: 1-2 minutes. But I feel much cooler, so I figure it was worthwhile knowing I still have over an hour left.

Mile 6.2: I cross an electronic mat that supposedly sends an update text to my wife, mom, and sister. We’re running through the Stockyards on a bumpy brick road. Lots of spectators here. Even though I don’t know any of them, it’s nice to have a cheering section. Almost halfway there. Still going strong and right on pace. This time last year, I was already done, and my knee was killing me. Not this year, baby.

Mile 7: After a bit of empirical research, I conclude that female long-distance runners tend to have nice butts.

Mile 8: Gel #2 and a stretch break. The sun is getting higher. Shoulda brought sunglasses. Rookie mistake. Feeling a bit tired now, and I know The Hill is coming soon. Some good spectator signs here: “Where are you people going??” “Run faster, I’m bored!” “My feet hurt from standing here”

Mile 8.5: I see a guy running in a Chick-Fil-A cow suit. The spectators like to give him five and cheer, “Go Cow!”

Mile 8:75: I see another guy running in a tuxedo. He’s wearing an Al’s Formal Wear sign on his back. I hope they dry-clean that thing before they rent it out again.

Mile 9: The Hill, a half-mile climb up Main Street toward downtown and Sundance Square. I remember it from my first Cowtown 10k a decade ago. I trained for this hill. I own this hill. I’m mentally prepared for this hill – power through, use your abs, lift your legs. I pass several people and feel slightly superior. But I’m feeling the many miles I’ve already covered. Finally, I reach the top and head south on Houston. I love this area. Fans are everywhere.

Mile 9.75: Still trailing The Cow slightly. A team of runners is sponsored by America’s Beef Council or something. The team has a fan along the route that has a sign that said, “Powered by BEEF!!” The Cow saw it and was not amused.

Mile 10: Just a 5k to go. Right patellar tendon is getting tight. I am tired. The Hill took more out of me than I expected. My form has declined. We split off from the marathoners and ultramarathoners here and turn west toward Will Rogers and the finish line. I down my final gel and press on.

Mile 11: My phone says I crossed 11 miles about 2-3 minutes ago, but the 11-mile sign and timing mat are here. Hmm. Something is off. But I’m too tired to think about it. After this, I’m in uncharted waters. I’ve never run more than 11 miles before. My right knee hurts, and now my left knee is getting tight. Not unexpected, but not good, either. Two miles left. Come on, Box.

Mile 12: I’m on a very, very, very long bridge. The longest bridge in the world. My phone still says I’m right at my goal pace but starting to creep above it. I give up on the walk breaks to drive my average pace back down. I don’t want to leave anything on the course. By this point I know I’ll finish, so I focus on trying to finish under 9:00/mile rather than trying to save my legs for the end. This is the end. I get passed by The Cow.

Mile 12.85: According to my phone, at my pace, I should be finishing right now. But the finish line isn’t here. My phone has led me astray. Oh well. Just power through. I am exhausted. My legs barely have any strength left. Both knees hurt, and the pain alters my stride. Don’t walk, don’t walk, don’t walk…

Finish: I DID IT. I cross the line, raise my hands, and let out a primal triumphant scream that probably scared some poor little kid in the crowd. I DID IT. An asthmatic with IT band syndrome, who at one point wasn’t sure he would ever be able to run again, ran 13.1 miles. Finish time: 2:00:55 officially. A junior high girl puts a finisher’s medal around my neck. I limp toward an open area to rest and stretch and get a guy to take my picture.

Aftermath: I limp into the exhibit hall to pick up my finisher’s t-shirt and some grub. It’s a nice spread – hot soup, bananas, bagels, yogurt, crackers, and best of all, Blue Bell ice cream. I run into my triathlon buddy Chris from work, the one who introduced me to e-Gel and recommended training for hills. I finally sit down for a few minutes and see the Likes and positive comments that people are sending me. I am a mix of emotions – joy at having finished, satisfaction, relief, a touch of disappointment because it’s over and I’m not registered for anything else right now, concern that my knees are still hurting instead of immediately improving after I stop running, pride, camaraderie, gratitude, wonder.

I drive home, assure my mother that I had indeed survived, take a shower for the sake of all around me, and head to Braum’s. My phone said I’d burned about 1700 calories with that run, so I figure I’d earned a celebratory cheeseburger in my blue finisher’s shirt. I sit alone, quietly enjoying my meal. A guy sits alone a few booths down from me. After a few minutes, he looks at my shirt and says, “Did you run today?”

“Yes, I did,” I replied.