Back of the pack: Running the Austin Marathon

photo / Angel Schatz A guy who is not Chris runs the Austin Marathon 

In 2004 I overtrained for my first 26.2, the Mardi Gras Marathon in New Orleans. Everything I read and everything I had told myself melted away from my brain the week of the race: I kept running when I was supposed to stay off my feet. I overslept the night before the race. I ran the first 10 miles way faster than my race pace with the idea that I was banking extra time for the later miles when I would start feeling the pain.

I learned my lesson.

Late last year, I had gone back and forth on whether I should do the 2007 Austin Marathon. The not-in-my-budget registration fee was the biggest reason I was on the fence. But the first thing I opened Christmas morning was my bib number: 1203. My parents took care of the money – I no longer had a good excuse for skipping the race.

So this is what happened when I ran the Austin Marathon last Sunday, February 18.


I arrive at about 6:25 in the morning. Thousands of people are stretching, praying, waiting in the bathroom line, dancing to the mariachi band, and lining up on the Ann Richards Bridge for the 7:00 start. Mentally, I’m nervous – the good kind of nervous. Physically, I’m nervous, and the only way out of this is to quit. But this feels like a party, and I hate quitting parties. Especially parties that you have to pay to get into. I’m surrounded by 10,000 people and there is loud music and firecrackers and bang! A gun blares. I’m hungry.

Miles 1–3

I don’t really get the visual of 10,000 people running in the same direction at the same time until South Congress dips into its first downhill past the rotating bat. The crowd is so packed that if I stretch my arms out too far I’ll hit at least two other runners. A lot of people ask what the motivation behind running 26.2 miles is, and this has a lot to do with it.

Miles 4–7

The spread amongst the runners is no longer a secret. Way ahead is the In It to Win It group, followed by the Trying to Qualify for Boston crowd. I’m comfortably nuzzled in between the over-excited rookie runners and the people who are fighting through a fresh injury.

Miles 8–10

The number of people out here supporting us is really amazing – there are many more than I’ve ever seen at any road race. And there’s been a band at least every 10 minutes, which really helps keep my energy and spirit up. One of the bands had a table and some albums for sale, but I didn’t see any runners stopping to shop.

Mile 11

The half-marathoners went their separate way, and it really thinned out the pack. I’m starting to get lonely. After realizing that the tongue depressors with cream on the end of them is Vaseline (they’re giving them out at every mile), I start vigorously applying it to my nipples and grundle. Children on the course ask their daddies why I have my hand in my pants.

Miles 12–18

I haven’t used the bathroom yet – this is a good thing. In my first marathon, I held my bladder for at least two miles, and right around this time I had to hit the bushes for relief and immediately cramped up. This year I’m avoiding rest stops and cramping. Victory is mine!

Chris’ friends cheer him on 

Mile 19

The loneliest mile. Ever since the half-marathoners went away, a lot of the crowd and music disappeared as well. I’m starting to hit what is known as the “wall,” and it’s no different from a regular wall in that it hurts to run into and it’s hard to break through unless it’s made of paper and you play high-school football.

Mile 20

In the distance I see something big and inflated. I see a lot of people! I see a band! I’m confused. Is this the end? What’s going on?

Turns out that this is not actually the end of the marathon – the start of Mile 20 includes a Clif Bar area, where I am treated to all sorts of fun tasting things to put in my body. I’m starving.

Miles 21–25

I am a complete mess. I feel like a newborn duck, awkwardly waddling, desperately trying to find my mother. There are people eating breakfast and drinking beer in their front yards. They’re being nice and cheering me on, but they are taunting me with their lounging and celebrating. I remind myself that this is why I’m doing this and I will celebrate soon.

Mile 26

I loop around the Capitol and head straight up mega-packed Congress Avenue. Even though more than half of the marathoners have crossed the finish line, I feel like I am the first. The people lining the street don’t care who you are, what you’re time is, or why you did this.

Really, they just think it’s insane that you did.


Marathons suck's picture

Man, no offense, but that marathon kind of interfered with my going out for breakfast tacos. And it was the first time I’d been up early enough on the weekend to go out for breakfast in forever, and I really wanted some. So it was kind of a hassle that the roads were blocked off.

Hm. You know what? When I really think about it, I’m not a fan of marathons. Not only do they block up traffic, but as spectator sports go, they can’t even hold a candle to synchronized swim. The most exciting thing you can hope for is some really skinny guy in short shorts getting too full of himself and throwing up at the sidelines. Or waiting nine hours for some fat dude to finish without having a heart attack.

And marathons, and for that matter,10Ks, and hell, 5K walkathons, even innocent 1K fun runs, they’re all about the same thing. Vanity. Pure, simple, obnoxious vanity. As you watch the panting, sweaty participants stream by, you know each and every one of them is thinking the same thing. “Oooh, look at me, I’m running for a good cause. I have endurance and a social conscience and a big number taped to my chest. That makes me better than everyone else! Especially you there, scowling from your SUV!” Yeah, good you dude.

What a bunch of egomaniacs. And even more pathetic are the spectators, the marathon groupies, offering cups of water and wielding hand-lettered poster board signs, and shouting encouragement. Oh, aren’t they nice and supportive. I know what they’re really thinking. They’re happy that they won’t have to listen to their friends talk about marathon training anymore.

Yeah, yeah, so it’s “for a good cause.” Most of the time, the people in these things are supposed to collect money. I know, I know. You know what? You could just donate to charity, run quietly on your treadmill at the gym, and not make me late to brunch anymore. Nobody has to block off half of downtown to prove what do-gooders you quasi- jocks are. Even if you want to run outside, couldn’t you do it in a field somewhere? But no, it has to right smack in the middle of the city.

The only marathon I’d ever run in would be a marathon to end all other marathons, forever. And it wouldn’t be 26 miles, it’d maybe be a few blocks. And you’d be allowed to drive if you wanted. Now that’s an idea I could “run with” if you know what I mean, Haha. Stupid marathons.

Kareem's picture

It’s not vanity. It’s personal challenge on a collective level. Jesus, scramble up some eggs and bacon yourself if you’re jonesin’ for a taco so badly.

Nice write-up, Trew. Maybe I’ll join you next year.

AnnaZ's picture

That same marathon got in between me and my local Starbucks, just as I was setting off on a 3-hour-journey. AARRGGHH!

I had specifically chosen that day to leave in order to avoid the marathon, but it owned me.

It took me an additional 29 hours to get to my latte. And it was made with a little too much milk.

: |

Yes, marathons suck. Except for that 5K Margarita one — that definitely sounds like my kind of fun.

Prisoner of Marathons's picture

It would be easier to be tolerant of marathons if we had a few weekends a year where, by statute, downtown couldn’t be shut down and users of public transit couldn’t be put under house arrest here in Austin. As it stands, though, the City Council favors repurposing all roads in Austin as jogging tracks and use by motor vehicles is by appointment only.

It would be nice to have a bond issue. Maybe we could build some underground tunnels for the cars to use - for people who have to do things like work and buy groceries on the weekend - so that traffic could continue without disturbing or offending the beautiful and morally superior joggers on the surface above. The marathonners wouldn’t even have to look at us and be disgusted by our pasty faces and spreading waistlines.

But I fear that even if we built some roads in the bowels of Sheol for actual traffic to use that the marathonners would demand to obstruct them as well. I think the obstruction of traffic, disruption of public transit, and causing problems for people unfortunate enough to have to work or do their own grocery shopping are primary goals of the marathons, not side effects. It’s how the Best and Beautifullest show the Morlocks what their place in life is.

Most runners I('s picture

Most runners I know are better than most of the non-runners I know, so this almost makes sense.