Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Alamo Run Fest Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 4th Edition 
65.5 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Alamo Run Fest 
Place: San Antonio, TX
Miles from home: 2070
Weather: 65; Humid



When I hear other runners talk about running the same race repeatedly, I understand the allure. Familiarity allows for many positives. But as much as I have traveled this country, I have learned how little I have actually seen. Call it the curse of knowing too much. You realize how little you actually know. Case in point, I had never set foot in the city of San Antonio. As such, I had never seen the Alamo.  As a history major, this is almost sacrilege. Yet, I know I travel more than most.

I began looking for races to run in the area a few months back which might allow me to experience That is when I happened upon the Alamo Run Fest.  In only its 4th year, it had already racked up an impressive array of special ties. With a half marathon, 10,000 meter and 5k, there was a race for just about everyone. Normally, a 10,000 meter race means a track event and a 10k means a road race. I thought it was a unique way to differentiate itself from other races. For whatever reason, it sounds more impressive to run 10,000 meters than a 10k.
more than your typical run through the streets.

I chose, however, to take part in the half-marathon. As all races had the nifty finishing touch of ending inside the actual Alamodome, and running past the actual Alamo itself, only the half marathon spent six miles running on the Fort Sam Houston. Given the intense military presence in San Antonio, I knew I couldn’t pass this up unique opportunity.

At the expo itself, where I was working with ASEA to spread the word about this awesome revitalizing product, there were no shortage of military members running the races. In addition, this race has the largest amount of wheelchair racers of any race in Texas. Unfortunately, many wheelchair racers were also veterans. Nothing brings the atrocities of war home quicker than seeing a fellow human mangled and missing limbs from battle. A few minutes with any of these people, and even though they proudly served our country to keep us safe, and you really begin to question your stance on the flippant way in which politicians throw the lives of our men and women around. 

A variety of groups benefiting or raising awareness about injured vets were at the expo and I had the pleasure to have a booth right next to one of them, the Semper Fi Fund. I have often said that just because someone has it worse than you it does not mean your problems are without merit.  But worries about a good race or a new personal record gets a little context when a man is folding a flag with a prosthetic hook next to you with nary a complaint. Also on hand was Team Red, White and Blue who were going to have numerous runners in the next day's race. I had no doubt they would inspire many.

Race Day:

After some initial travel snafus that dominoed into a clusterbomb of epic proportions, I finally had a decent hotel close to the start. This allowed quick access to the race expo and to not have to wake up too early beforehand. My pre-race goal was to get a nice 1:27, hopefully with hard but not too hard of an effort.

If I had looked at the course a little closer, I would have seen it contained a few more hills than ideal to make such an effort possible. When morning broke cloudy, but warm and humid, I knew it might be a bit of a struggle to get the said goal.  But you only get to the finish line by getting to the starting
line.  So me and my bestie Shannon walked down to it.

First Three Miles:

I lined up, as always, a few rows deep. And as we started, as always, I had to dodge no less than a handful of people who obviously have either ignorance or disregard to running etiquette. Any frequent reader of my recaps will notice I mentioned placement issue often. I feel like a broken record but it is a salient point. If you know you are a 8 minute per mile runner, don’t line up with the 6 minute per mile runners. It is inconvenient, potentially dangerous, and, as far as I can tell, demoralizing to have so many people pass you. I hate having people pass me so I can only imagine what is like when hordes stream by.  But, I guess people like to be on the front cover of websites.

I knew the course had more than a fair share of turns and being in front of the pack was essential to make sure I ran all the tangents properly. Never run a step further than you have to is what a seasoned veteran of races told me many years ago. This advice has stuck with me more than virtually anything else. I was a bad student in geometry in high school but when it comes to road races I am a Pythagoras.

We passed the Alamo and I was glad I had been able to visit it the previous day. The remaining mission is so tiny, shockingly so, and we passed it within seconds. I couldn't have possibly appreciated the history without the tour and as it is free there is no excuse for anyone not to take it.

The crowd thinned out a bit soon thereafter and it didn’t seem like there would be any land speed records today. Usually in these races, within a mile, a few men (and less frequently a woman or two) will have already put hundreds of meters between myself and them.  Here, however, that was not the case. In fact, the top two men were the only two to break 1:22 on the course.  Not that I am putting down a 1:16 winning time.  I haven't come close to that yet!

As we approached the 5k mark, I was on pace for a 1:26 or even faster. I felt comfortable and expected to be able to pick it up after I woke up. Almost always I don't even get the engine rolling until the 6th mile.  To feel this good this early was a sign of things to come. I thought.

To Mile Six

Almost immediately after the third mile, the comfortable feeling left me. We went up a sizeable hill ending at mile four. This slowed me a touch but I figured I would roll back into my previous effort.  Runners entered Fort Sam Houston Base at mile four and were immediately rocked out by a Army band playing Are You Gonna Be My Girl by Jet.  Other soldiers were present as well to shout encouraging words.  They were the same lies other spectators tell you: )e.g,  "Looking good!"  and "Great pace!" ) but somehow when a man in camo yells them at you, they carry more weight.

We made a long rectangle mile around what appeared to be fields where soldiers would practice assembling other like activities.  After completing the rectangle, we then passed within yards of where we entered the base. Seeing a few of the runners behind you was always cool and you could share some “Way to go!”s if you had the energy.

Next, passing under brick arch façade, we twisted our way around a roundabout and through the Quadrangle. The glorious clock tower loomed above us. Then we passed by a pen of about 15 deer.  

Wait.  Why were there deer in a pen inside an army base?  They looked like they lived in over sized Snoopy doghouses too.  As I ran by they looked up and pranced back and forth near their fence like dogs eager to play.  Was I hallucinating? ( I checked later. I wasn't. At least not with regards to the deer.)

The next mile had me back on pace, and maybe even a little faster than expected. I think some of the mile markers were a bit askew but it evened itself out on the next mile.  By now we were fully on the base and it was an eerie feeling. This is an expansive base and there was a whole lot of nobody out and about. It almost felt like we shouldn’t be there. One place you don't want to feel like you shouldn't be is an army base.  I kept looking around to make absolutely sure I wasn't straying off onto a firing range or a recruitment center.

Another hill around the 6th mile brought us to the 10k. I had slowed a bit more over this mile than I had expected, even with the hill.  I hoped the marker was a tad off and the next mile would split the difference.  The cloudy skies were prevailing but so was the shirt-drenching humidity. Meanwhile the beauty  and symmetry of this base was not lost on me, even as I struggled.  So much order and discipline.  So much to be admired and thankful for.

Onto Mile 10:

The next two to three miles continued our tour of the base. We saw what I assumed were officers’ quarters and few more open fields. A three-laned artificial track was off to our right and occasionally a solider would zoom by on a golf cart or ATV.  I think they were there solely for us and I hope it didn’t take away from a weekend furlough or whatnot. 

These next three miles were seemingly flat as a pancake. But for whatever reason, as always, I ran poorly on these flat roads. One man had passed me on the hill entering the base and here he stayed about 20 yards in front of me. Since the first shuffling of runners at the beginning, this was the first person who had passed me.  When you are not feeling that good it is wise to use the other runners to see if they are suffering as well or at least not suffering less, especially when you can't tell your pace.

The lone woman in front of me, maybe about 100 yards further, stayed in the exact spot as well. I am not quite sure what it is about completely flat that just wears me out but the next three miles were each far slower than I expected. I could see now it would be rather tough to get the time I was hoping for. Yet in spite of my slow miles, I was holding my ground. I wasn't getting passed and those in front of me weren't pulling away. So I had that going for me, at least. The beautiful IMCOM West building loomed in front of us and a few people milled around cheering for us here as well.  Here we turned back toward the finish and began our process of leaving the base.

Right around the 8.5 mile mark I could hear footsteps for the first time. I told myself that this runner was not going to pass me until the 9th mile at least.  If he wanted it, he was going to have to work for it.  Finally, around mile 9.5 he passed me. Then we hit a nice downhill and I passed him right back.  I have always said, and I am not alone in doing so, if you want to pass someone in a race, do it definitively. Don’t allow them the chance to get back on you. I put a few more feet between us and was feeling good about my stellar racing tactics. I am so good at this. Watch me put on a clinic.

Then two other guys passed me. Well, crap.

I did, however,  fall into their hip pocket.  Using their energy to help me continue my lead on the guy behind me, I surged forward.
The last aid station before we exited was lively with volunteers.  They shouted, "Keep Going!"
I replied: "I have to or I think they enlist you!"  It made me laugh at least a little bit.

We turned left out of the base for the final three miles.

Heading Home:

Now we were running down the long uphill that we ran up to mile four. I was feeling good and in spite of my miles being slower than I wanted, was gaining on runners in front of me. I mathed it out earlier and realized I was close to the top 20. The pace I was keeping told me I would probably be able to overtake at least a few more runners to make sure I finished even closer to the top 15. Then things changed.

Right before mile 11 I heard the telltale sound of fast wheels and surmised a wheelchair racer was coming up behind me. Sure enough, one came flying by as I marveled at his speed. Then he took the corner way too fast onto Austin Street.

Much to my horror I watched him try to break, tip over, and then roll out of his wheelchair. I ran over as fast as I could and grabbed the wheelchair as it threatened to continue to tumble away.  I set it upright before dragging it back to the fallen wheeler. Within a few seconds one spectator was there as well. It was a pretty desolate portion of the race as far as crowd support so I wasn’t expecting much help. As the wheeler sat up I could see he had, at the very least, an abrasion on his head. I didn’t know if it was a deep cut or what but I began trying to figure out my options. All I had on was a singlet and I can’t imagine it would do any good to stop the blood. However, before I made that decision, a cyclist who I am guessing was acting as his handler was upon us. I pointed out the head wound and she asked the wheeler if he wanted to continue or move on.  He didn’t answer, perhaps more out of shock than anything else.

I looked around me and was a little surprised no one else had stopped. Granted I was the only one who probably saw the accident, given the tight turn and the building tight on the sidewalk, but runners streamed by. I asked his handler if there was anything I could do. She was already on the radio letting others know what had happened. She said that people who were far more suited to handle the situation would be there in seconds and it would be perfectly fine if I finished my race. (It ends up, I found out later, that the wheeler did get back into his chair and finished the race. I am working desperately to find out who he was so I can tell him how inspirational he was to me.  ADDENDUM:  We connected and he sent me this picture!  Way to go to young Bryan!  18 year old badass.
)

With a heavy heart, I stood up, looked at the wheeler and realized I might just be in the way. I didn’t know if I should have helped him into his chair again or whether that would be a disqualification. Or worse, whether that would be insulting to him personally. Given the rush of the unknown I thought it was probably best to heed the handler's words and just move forward.

Running again, I know my time was now irrelevant. But what was relevant was passing every damn runner who had not stopped. Granted most of them were in the 10k but I knew the few who were in the half marathon as well. You get to know people around you when you are running and recognize what they are wearing.  (Which is why when no one saw Mike Rossi, the guy who seemed to run an enormous marathon PR and qualify for Boston, but never appeared in any race photos along the way, you tend to believe his story was false. People remember your shirt. Or your shoes. Or your iPod sticking out of your Spibelt. I remembered the backward hat of the first guy to pass me after I stopped. I would catch him.)

Over the next two miles, as I weaved and dodged through 5k runners who had now joined us (this was the only portion of the race that needed to be improved - there should have been better runner control to allow each set of racers to have their own lane) I passed no less than five half marathoners.  I finally saw the black hat guy. I am sure he is a perfectly amicable chap and may have not seen me helping the wheeler but in my mind he was Public Enemy #1. With a half of a mile to go, I passed him. I looked at him to see if there would be any recognition in his eyes or shame.  He didn't meet my gaze.

As we went down and then back up a relatively cruel highway ramp with a quarter of a mile to go, I began to think about how I would find out who the wheeler was who went down. I hadn’t seen his bib number in order to look up his name. We rounded the bend and entered the Alamodome for what was a unique and very cool finish. On any other day I would have been reveling in this fantastic ending.

About ten yards from the finish, however, one of the runners who I had passed in the last half-mile, sprinted from behind me to beat me by two seconds. I am glad he didn’t turn around to shake my hand as I would have had a few choice words about how he could have used that extra energy about two miles back.

I finished in exactly 1:32:00 for 23rd place overall. Far from the time I had hoped for, it still surprisingly won my age group. I also talked to and checked other runners’ times and saw that virtually everyone slowed down in the same miles I had before I stopped at mile eleven.  It was a rather humid day which explain how we would slow by why we all slowed on the same miles is one of those anomalies that will simply leave your head scratching.

I was pleased to take part in an event that definitely has potential to be a top notch one for sure.  San Antonio used to be the Fattest City in America. It is now making strides to be one of the fittest.  Events like the Alamo Run Fest will definitely help it be so.

After the race, I went back to my booth to sign books and talk to those who had seen me wearing my ASEA singlet out on the course.  It is always funny to me the difference runners have in their priorities before and after a race. While many weren’t necessarily that curious about how to recover the day before the race, here, covered in sweat, sore and tired, they were definitely all ears.  I was only happy to fill them in on a product I have used since 2009 to help me get the edge I might not have otherwise.  In addition, this rare opportunity like this to mingle with runners post-race, in such a cool place, allowed me to see people I had met the previous day and hear about their races.  I had a great opportunity to see how they had done and even more importantly got to see my best friend finish her half marathon, just two weeks after attempting the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler in Huntsville. 

On an emotional day for her, she conquered a tough race on a tough day.  Way to go, Shannon!

Now I have a few weeks “off” before I race again in another iconic event: the Gate River Run in Jacksonville, Florida.  It promises to be just as hot and humid but I am hoping I will be in even better shape to tackle it and set a new PR in the 15k.

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