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Race Report: 3M Half Marathon 2016

My opinion of a race can be heavily colored by how well it goes for me. When I’m really flying it’s easy to overlook a lot of the little issues that might nag at me without that endorphin high clouding my brain. Likewise, when my feet are dragging, and time’s adding up much faster than the miles, minor annoyances turn into mammoth flaws that can lead me to describing an average, or even fairly decent race as an inconceivable series of fuck ups, capable of imbuing as yet unborn children with facial deformities and multiple varieties of cancer.

With a warning like that it’s probably pretty obvious from the jump that the 3M Half Marathon didn’t go particularly well for me. Which is a shame really, because it’s generally a well loved race, which you’ll see pop up in a lot of internet top ten lists. On a more personal level it’s the very first half marathon my Mom ever ran, and she still loves it so much that, despite race day involving a nearly 1,000 mile commute, she’s made repeated trips back to cross the finish line again. But, being the person that I am, none of that is going to get in the way of my bitching.

The day started off on a low note before I even got to the race, when I woke up with a hacking cough and running an unnervingly high temperature. Neither of which boded particularly well for my PR attempt, which is really the reason I’d come down for this race. The course is a famously gentle downhill sweep from north Austin to the city capital, which, combined with the low elevation, leads to a lot of people logging their best half marathon times here.  Which is why my arrival at the start line confused me. I’ve gotten pretty used to angling closer and closer to the timing mats before smaller races. But faced with a crowd of several thousand I tend to fade off that a little and hang further back. Bizarrely though, at the 3M the sign for 1:30 runners was only a couple of feet behind the starting line. Even the 1:35 pacer couldn’t have been more than ten yards back. This is a PR prestige race with over 5,000 finishers, there were hundreds of people anticipating faster times than that (rightfully or not) and we ended up all trying to cram into this tiny space tighter than Japanese subway passengers (if you don’t quite get that reference watch this video, there are actually people employed in Japan to push against the back of passengers so the doors can close).  I’m not even kidding when I say I had my hands in my pockets, and wasn’t moving anything except a lone finger to scratch the side of my thigh, and still ended up touching another runner so inappropriately I felt the need to apologize for my indiscretion.

On the plus side though, having that much body heat around did keep me warm despite a starting temperature of a little over 35 degrees (seriously, you go all the way to Texas to run a winter race in anticipation of a little bump in the temperature and instead it ends up near freezing). Although to be fair with virtually no wind it never really felt that cold, even running without jacket (or maybe it was the fever that kept me warm, hard to say).

Luckily we spread out again startlingly quick once we started to run, but it may have just been everyone trying to distance themselves from the fratboy douches screaming back and forth about all the “bouncing runner titties,” (and while there’s zero chance you’re actually reading this gentlemen, I would like to say: fuck you, fuck you in many varied, inappropriate, and unpleasant ways). Minus those morons it was a pleasant little bop along in the early morning semi darkness, right up until the first water station. Nuun is one of those newer electrolyte drinks you’re starting to see pop up at some races in place of Gatorade, and while a lot of people love it, the couple of times I’ve tried it at prerace expos I’ve immediately been gripped by violent stomach cramps. Couldn’t tell you why. But I realize this is my problem and no one else’s, so I wasn’t particularly upset with 3M’s choice in beverage, I just figured I’d skip it and go with plain water.  But coming up on the hydration station I couldn’t hear anyone yelling the typical “Water first, Gatorade second.” Instead there was just a dude calling out, “Beer here,” so I fired back with “I’ll take a beer” and snagged the first cup. Now in my defense, I can’t see shit in even the most minor darkness, dating back to a concussion I got as a kid, and Nuun is one of those drinks that colors out very thin. So I squinted into the cup, saw a transparent liquid sloshing around, raised it to my lips and… fuck. I made it about 300 yards, and just as I started thinking I might be in the clear I found myself leaning over the side of the road for a good old fashioned session of power vomiting (pro tip: they may call your number a runner’s bib but it was never intended for this type of situation).

Several minutes later I pulled myself back together enough to rejoin the race, figuring I’d just be kind of an empty shell looking for the finish line, and a bus back to the car. And while I could really feel the sudden lack of fuel in my system, and every breath coming in and out of my bile stained throat featured a ragged burning sensation, truth be told I wasn’t running that bad. Even as I neared the finish line, despite the fact that I was slowing down, I had the sudden realization that this was the first race this length where I never really felt like I’d hit a wall and had to drag it out from there. I don’t know if it was letting go of my expectations after losing time to the vomit comet, or that the course had the exact right angle of declination to keep you moving without torching your legs. It makes me think that PR was absolutely in reach if I hadn’t been such a fuck up in the early going.

Overall Impressions: I had a bad day, and while not much of it was the race’s fault, it’s hard to separate that out in how I think of it. The course is a good one, letting you roll down that gentle slope while providing enough scenery to mix it up pretty well, leading you through various residential and commercial neighborhoods, alongside a park or two, through a college campus, and up an overpass (which sounds like a dumb highlight, but I inexplicably love running across empty overpasses above busy highways). From what I hear (pun not intended) most years the race recruits a lot of band support along the course as well. I don’t know if the unusually low temperatures kept them away this particular year, but honestly all I saw was a group of bagpipers, 3 random lone dudes with guitars who may or may not have been affiliated with the race, and one solitary band that was tuning instruments between sets as I passed. And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the famous 3M goodie bag, generally absolutely packed with enough office supply odds and ends to open your own Staples outlet (and this year they threw in a car sander for reasons that escape even the world’s brightest minds). But there are some niggling little logistical issues for a race this size. Aside from the weirdness with the starting line, the thing that stands out the most to me was the gap between the running gel station and the next water table. Most the time they’re right on top of each other, or at most 100 yards apart, since you can’t really down a gel without some liquid refreshment to keep you from choking on the damn things. Here they were more than a mile apart leading to a lot of people cracking open their gels, and desperately looking for water as they peanut butter mouthed along, block after block. There were a lot of weird little things like that leaving a metaphorical bad taste in my mouth (okay, this time pun intended). So overall I’d say if you’re looking for a place to PR, this bet might be as good, or better, than any other. But it’s not quite the destination race it’s often made out to be.