Running Austin

My race report is 5 days old. What can I say? Life happened.

Finishing the Austin half 2011 felt incredible. Incredibly painful and incredibly proud. By most course standards I think the Austin half is fairly brutal. At the start there are a couple of hills, a long gradual uphill going down South Congress (no idea why the course has runners facing their back to the gorgeous view of the Capitol) and the final 3 miles are the worst – a long, steep uphill on 15th St., and just when you think it’s over, there are 2 hills on San Jacinto before you turn on 11th street to the finish.

I didn’t beat my 3M time on the race, even though there was a point in the race where I thought I might – we were at 2.10 or so at 10 miles so I thought I might do it, hills notwithstanding. I ran with a friend from the Rogue training group, Vira. Actually Carlene, Vira and I started racing together. The energy at the start line was electric! More than 20,000 runners, some few thousand volunteers and practically half the city out to cheer the runners, bands playing at various spots. It was a party out there and I think that environment easily adds a few seconds to your pace. We began running and I knew we were running faster than I’d begun 3M. Which being my first race, I was nervous, but this one, despite nervousness and running a tad bit too fast for my usual pace, I was having a lot of fun. Carlene was funny and chatty but Vira was quiet. At around mile 6, Carlene took off with a friend while Vira slowed down to get her nutrition. Carlene kept looking behind but before I knew it, she was lost in the crowds. Vira and I began the long and boring but relatively easy trudge down S. 1st street. People who lived there took the excuse to have music blaring from their houses or put up little spots where they set up their music stations. I applauded for every band we passed by (including those who were taking a break, forcing them to begin playing again – what the heck, I wasn’t taking a break from running was I?).

My knees began to ache around mile 7 so I stopped a few times to stretch out the IT band and hips. Vira was running a bit slowly and she admitted later she didn’t have a good race. But I wanted to keep running with her. So at mile 8, when my pacer Charanya joined us (whose legs were fresh and she wanted to sprint to the end), I deliberately slowed down to be able to keep with Vira. I kept glancing back towards her and waiting for her to catch up.

Then we came to Enfield/15th St. This was right after hilly Winsted. Charanya, who until then was pushing us to run faster, told me that if I wanted to walk Enfield, I could. Many had injured themselves pushing up this long, steep hill on the Austin half course. I took a short stop. Stretched out everything and began to run. Tried remembering Rogue hill running tips and tried to run as naturally as possible. The strides naturally get shorter and I kept my focus up. I didn’t stop running but I did feel like my lungs were going to explode. I chanted my prayers and for the first time, I asked for divine help in finishing this course. On top of Enfield, I felt like you could have knocked me downhill with a straw.

Finally turning on San Jacinto when I saw the last hill, I just felt mad. I felt angry at the course, at Lance Armstrong, with all the people out there who were running before me. I tried running up the first hill and then walked up the second because I knew, the last 200 meters would be run or die. And finally as I turned on 11th, I ran as fast as I could. I saw my friend Tanushree, who was screaming my name. I could vaguely hear Charanya yelling, ‘Run Sirsha’. As I sprinted towards the finish line I thought I would pass out with fatigue but please god, let it be after I cross the line. I heard the announcer say something encouraging about me and suddenly, finally it was over. I stopped running and held the railpost to recover my breath. There was no feeling of vanquish I’d felt during my first race, no smiling run to the finish line. I just felt angry and disappointed. I’d hoped to be able to beat my 3M time despite the hard course. I’d hoped to be able to run the hills easily – which I did on all except the last hill. And what does it matter if you scaled them all but the last one slowed you down?

And then during the week a friend sent me this video. Christopher McDougall, the author of the book Born to Run talks about how humans are made to run long distance because we can perspire and remain cool unlike any other animal. But what was more important to me was the store of the Ethiopian runner with a heart of gold. And how running is and always has been a social phenomenon – something that people have done together for centuries. Running is sharing some sort of bond. It’s not about buying the best running shoes or getting the latest gear. Its about being out there, free and together.

So then why was I pissed off? And frankly I don’t know. I got sucked into this competitive expectation that I would beat my previous time. I could tell people I ran Austin and yeah, I ran it faster than I ran 3M. Why did I even think I’d be able to do that? I know my body, I know my knees and my lungs. Moreover, since when did that matter to me? When I started running, it was all about going there and enjoying it. And I did enjoy running Austin. I think back to the first 12 miles and I loved it. Yes, the course was hard, yes I was tired and I’d to put the most effort out there. But I loved it and not making some goddamn time doesn’t matter at all. And importantly, I shared the run with Vira – we finished 15 seconds apart but I was glad to have run with her the whole time.

So thanks Chris McDougall. Thanks for reminding me what this was all about from the beginning and what it should always be about.

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