Medals and Memories: Running The Cowtown Half Marathon

Posted on March 1, 2011

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What:  The Cowtown Half Marathon

Where:  Fort Worth, TX

When:  2/27/2011

Why:  Why Not?

Course:  Through downtown Fort Worth and the Stockyards.  New course this year…One Crazy Hill!!!

 

How Many:  5,280 Half Marathon Finishers

Expo:  The expo was everything we expected, but just a little more low-key than the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio Half Marathon expo.  I suppose most expos are all pretty much the same.  Packet pick-up went very quick, without any lines.  The t-shirts we received were actually very nice and Rachel was happy they had an actual women’s version with v-neck.

Men’s Cowtown Half Marathon Shirt

Women’s Cowtown Half Marathon Shirt

Race Day:  Rachel and I were both surprised to find that we had actually gotten a good night’s rest, especially since we had to wake up at 4:30 am.  We had gone to bed about 9:00 pm, which we all know is a bit ridiculous, but we both managed to fall asleep by 9:30.  (That doesn’t mean I didn’t wake up about 5 times with a nervous stomach).  There has never been one race that I have not been nervous about.  I think that’s just part of running.  But, I was able to get about 6 hours of sleep.  We planned to arrive at the race about 6:00 am, since the race started at 7:00 am (I know, that’s hella early!).  We were able to find parking pretty much on the starting line and there was very minimal traffic.  This was a bonus of running The Cowtown Half Marathon.  However, when we arrived there were not clear indicators of where to go.  Luckily, we managed to find our way around.  Plus, we had ample time to stretch and walk a bit before the race started.

What we were in for:  This was the first time The Cowtown had changed its course in years.  Basically, they told us we were making history.  We were going to be the first to run this new course.  I have added a link to the elevation chart.  You have to see this chart.  I want to draw your attention to mile 9.  Look at it.  Look at it hard.  That is a half mile of pure hill.  When Rachel saw it on the map a few days before the race she didn’t even want to tell me about it.  I had thought they changed the course to make it less hilly, but it sure didn’t look like it.  The hill would prove to be as ominous as it looked on the elevation chart.  Honestly, that lil chart didn’t even do it justice.

The Race:  Waiting for the start of a race is never easy.  In fact, it’s pure torture.  It doesn’t help when the start is delayed for 15 minutes because of traffic.  Standing and waiting to start the race kept my mind on my knee and our serious lack of preparation for the race.  We had indeed trained, but not nearly as intensively as our first half marathon.  I was wearing a runner’s knee brace and I kept running my fingers across my knee cap to see if there was any pain.  I kept praying that we would somehow make it.  We had both agreed that our goal was to simply finish.

The Horn:  When the horn sounded Rachel and I took off slowly, as we had planned.  We were in corral 2 with a predicted finish time of 2 hours.  For the Rock ‘n’ Roll ½ marathon we started out passing people left and right, because I am sure many were not in their correct corrals.  However, for The Cowtown we were being passed left and right, which is always a bit unnerving.  I kept telling Rachel that we should not be discouraged and that we would catch them all sooner or later.  I noticed that we were running slightly behind the 2 hour pace time sign (the guy literally runs with a 2 hour time sign the whole way!).  We weren’t expecting this, but we decided to get in behind him since it felt like a very comfortable pace.  People continued to pass left and right.  I knew they felt like a herd of cattle trying to move in a cluster of people, but that is how the first few miles usually are.  You have to stick to your pace and not push too hard.  Sure enough, many of them were stopping after about the first 2-3 miles, red-faced.  The temperature was above 65 and it was humid as a mofo, which definitely didn’t help.  Again, people did not take this into consideration so after starting too quickly, they faded quickly.

After the first three miles we were running comfortably, with only slight pains in my knee.  The course seemed to be fairly flat, although we hit a few hills from time to time.  However, I was feeling tired since the first couple of water stations lacked water.  There were so many runners crowded around the tables it was nearly impossible to get water without stopping.  You were lucky to get a cup of water half full.  Thus, my stomach was feeling incredibly empty.  (Note:  This is my one complaint for this race…They needed more Gatorade or Powerade and a more efficient way to get it.  However, I appreciate every volunteer handing out water.)

We managed to stay with the 2 hour pace guide, despite the heat and fatigue.  The hill at mile 4 made it increasingly difficult and I had to remove my shirt as the sweat started to build.  There were moments where we would start to run faster than the 2 hour pace and I would tell Rachel we had to slow down because of that impending hill at mile 9.  She had made me very weary of the hill.  She knew it would be daunting.  She had driven it many times and remembered it looking difficult to run up.  In my mind it was going to be more gradual than the elevation chart indicated.

Miles 6-7 seemed mostly downhill.  I actually started to get energized after running through the stockyards with lines of people cheering us on.  It was such a wonderful feeling and I knew that we were about halfway done.  The stockyards were wonderful to run through and it really made me proud to be a Texan.  It was my favorite part of the run.

We had managed to make it through most of the smaller hills.  The water stations were still surprisingly difficult and at one point I literally had to find cups and fill them with Gatorade myself for me and Rachel.  (They needed water stations on both sides of the road to make it easier for runner’s to get to.)  Because of our lack of full cups of water or Gatorade I was feeling even emptier.

At mile 8 you could see the hill in all of her cruel glory.  We ran for about a mile or more with the mile 9-hill in our direct view.  Throngs of runners were attempting to defeat it, many were failing.  Even from a mile away you could see people stopping to walk.  The incline was like that of a roller coaster.  It looked like it went straight up.  Even before we arrived at it there was a gradual rise in the elevation.  I kept advising Rachel that we needed to slow down in order to have the strength to get up it.

Worried that my lack of water and energy would sooner or later take over I finally noticed salvation.  A young girl was standing at the side of the road handing out GU Energy Gel.  I had tried these before and did not like them, but suddenly it looked like God’s gift to man.  I snatched it from the girl’s hand and gave her a grateful smile and a high five.  I screamed out, “Thank you!”  I ripped it open faster than Charlie Sheen reaches for cocaine.  The hill was looming and I had no time to eat it slowly.  I sucked down that goo like it was a milkshake.  Yes, I offered some to Rachel but she refused.  Apparently she is stronger than me.

When we finally reached the bottom of the hill it looked like death.  Runners were slowing to a near halt.  Rachel and I forged on and took each step knowing that the faster we ran the sooner we would reach the top.  I complained about my knee on a couple of occasions as the steep hill nearly became too much.  It was the hill that never ended.  It seemed to go on for miles.  Fans cheered us on telling us we were nearly to the top.  They lied.  Oh how they lied.  The hill itself was seriously about half a mile long.  We had never seen anything like it.  It was a beast that needed to be tamed by strong legs and quick feet.  I swear Rachel and I passed about 200 people on that hill.  Suddenly, Rachel began to actually look tired.  I kept telling her that when we got to the top it was all downhill from there.  Yes, I too was lying.  If you look at the chart there were actually a few more hills, but none as daunting as mile 9.  There was one point where it seemed like we reached the top of the hill only to turn a slight corner with a continued gradual rise in elevation.  I wanted to scream.  We wanted to stop, but we pushed forward.

At the top of the hill the view was amazing.  I looked back to see thousands of runners just approaching the hill.  I remember thinking, “You poor bastards.  You have no idea.”  Our hearts were beating rapidly upon conquering the hill.  Our thighs, calves and feet were feeling tight.  My knees were holding up but starting to feel a little pain.  I remember screaming out to Rachel, “We got this babies!  The hardest part is over.  We are coasting now!”

When we hit mile 10 my energy level was rising.  Rachel was starting to feel the effects of the 2 hour pace, but she stayed running strong.  The 2 hour pacer was actually still running in front of us.  We tried not to pass him because we didn’t want to exert too much energy.  I told her we would wait until the end and do our best to get ahead of him if we had anything left.  We pushed forward knowing the end was approaching.  When we hit the 11.5 mile mark we noticed a large descending hill.  This was heaven to our eyes.  It seemed to be our gift for conquering that ridiculous mile 9-hill.  Once I saw it I told Rachel we needed to take advantage of it.  “This,” I said, “is when we pass the 2 hour pace guy and don’t look back.”  She agreed and we took off down that hill like a couple of kids headed to the ice cream store (we knew there would be blue bell ice cream handed out after the race).  That hill proved to be our saving grace.  We were able to get ahead of the 2 hour mark by more than a few seconds.

There was one problem towards the end.  The finish seemed much further than we anticipated.  We crossed a huge bridge and noticed a turn well ahead.  I pushed Rachel forward to finish strong by telling her the finish must be right around that last corner.  Well, um, it wasn’t.  We turned a corner and nothing was there but fans continuing to cheer, “You’re almost done!”  I nearly yelled, “How much further dammit!”  We were so tired and we just wanted to finish.  We finally saw what looked to be the final turn.  We sped up and turned that corner with huge smiles ready for the camera and once again it wasn’t the end.  I remember screaming, “Where the hell is the finish!”  Again I told Rachel, “We’re almost done babies.  This is it.  We need to finish strong.”  We turned another corner.  Again, it wasn’t the end.  Finally, after speeding up and exhausting ourselves on prior corners we finally reached the last turn.  There, in all of its inflatable glory, was the finish line.  We charged toward it hand in hand.  Before we knew it we had finished.  Not only did we finish under two hours, but Rachel set a new half marathon PR on one of the hardest courses.  The humidity was horrible, but we finished and we finished strong.  Here are links to a break-down of our times compared to everyone in the race.  Rachel did awesome!

Raul’s Half Marathon    Rachel’s Half Marathon 

After The Race:  After finishing we received our medals that were placed gently around our necks.  We also got another swag bag filled with free food.  We headed to get our free ice cream and yogurt.  After that we went to get our free finisher t-shirts, which were a great surprise.  We didn’t know we were supposed to get another t-shirt for finishing.  We loved our shirts!  The women got nice black v-neck dri-fit shirts.  The men got white ones.  We will be wearing our shirts proudly.

 

Men’s Cowtown Finisher Shirt (Like the cheesy line “How the west was run.”

Women’s Cowtown Finisher Shirt (Like the black)

 

In The End:  Running is a part of us now.  It is who we are.  Nobody can take that feeling of finishing a ½ marathon away from us.  There were times we wanted to stop.  But, somehow we fought through it.  There was a lot of adversity I had to overcome just to get us to the race, but we ran it.  Now, we have medals and memories.  I believe with every race we get stronger, which makes us better equipped to handle life and any challenge it presents.  Running has given us the ability to walk more confidently and to stay more positive.  I will never forget The Cowtown Half Marathon not just because I finished it, but because I chose to run it in the first place.  I don’t look back and wonder if I had just run faster or if I had just tried harder.  I look back and remember that I accomplished something special.

Rachel was telling her sister on the phone about the race and how hard the hill was and how difficult it was to run in that heat.  Her sister replied, “Well, I am sure you are going to go back to just running 5K’s.”  Rachel smiled and said, “No.  I am running another half marathon in a month.”  Her sister simply replied with, “Oh.”  I guess in order to understand a runner you have to be a runner.  I am sure all of you runner’s out there know what I mean.

Always start to finish…Never finish with regret.

Pictures Coming Soon

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