The 2010 Dallas White Rock Marathon

Dallas, as seen from our hotel

I started writing this recap with the race barely a day old, while Laura napped off her debut marathon.  It just seemed right to type my recount of the Dallas marathon while I could look out the window and see Dealy plaza.  Here’s the lengthy story:

Pre-Race

This one seemed destined to never happen.  Originally, Laura and I signed up way back in July, while lounging on my deck.  We agreed that Dallas seemed like the perfect place to run a marathon.  It’s Laura’s home town, the race seems well-organized, and the course is mostly flat and fast.  The December 5 date gave us just enough time to recover from Towpath.  We pulled the trigger and signed up.

Then came the break-up.  So instead of making plans to go to Dallas, I signed up for Thunder Road where I’d run with Kevin, aka The Gypsy Kid.   I’d try for that ever elusive 3:20 while also helping to pace Kevin in his inaugral marathon.

Then Laura and I reunited while Kevin got too fast for me.   He was now planning on shooting for a sub-3.  Since I was registerd for both Dallas and Charlotte, I decided to race the full in Dallas and then just run, slowly, the half in Charlotte.  During our hiatus, Laura had booked a reasonable rate on a direct flight from Charlotte to Dallas.  Late to the show, with her flight now full, I could only find a flight with a layover in Orlando.  Late beggars can’t be choosers – I bought a ticket.

So the day of the flight came and upon arriving at Charlotte Douglas Airport,  I was somehow able to walk right up to the US Airways counter and check in, without any waiting.  My flight to Orlando went without a hitch, or so I thought.  I should have known that travel cannot go this smoothly.  

My flight arrived a few minutes late.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that it only takes a few minutes to derail one’s travel plans.  When I stepped off the plane around 1:40, I had about 25 minutes to make my connector.  “Not a problem”, I thought to myself.  I was wrong.

I euphemistically refer to myself as  “logistically challenged”.  Others refer to me as “dumb”.  Regardless of how you label me, things like airports can be tricky places for me, especially when I only have 25 minutes to navigate my way through.  So when I walked into the terminal in Orlando and could not locate a console anywhere with flight information, I got a little nervous.  But it was not time to panic.  Yet.  Luckily, I have a nifty little Iphone app that can instantly retrieve flight information.  I pulled up my connector information and found my departure gate, 14.  But when I looked around the terminal, there was no gate 14 to be found.  And no mention of American Airlines, my next carrier, anywhere.  A hint of panic set in.  “Calm down”, I told myself.  Just ask somebody where gate 14 is.

I could not spot an airport employee.  What kind of Twilight Zone airport, one without any employees, was this?  I finally spotted a lady cleaning up and I asked her where I could find gate 14.  She had a blank look on her face.  I asked her again.  She only shook her head and I realized she didn’t speak English.  I ran into the closest shop and asked an employee – he directed me to the train.  I hoofed it over to the train just in time to watch it depart.  After what seemed an eternity, the next train finally arrived.  But by this point, some 20 minutes had elapsed.  Now was the time to panic.  I rushed onto the train and it ever-so-slowly departed.

When the train doors opened, I bolted out and did my best OJ impression (calm down, not the murdering/kidnapping one, the old-school-sprinting-through-the-airport version).  I got winded and thought to myself, “Uh-oh.  I can’t run a quarter mile in an aiport without breathing hard?!  How the *&%$ am I going to run a marathon on Sunday?”  But this thought passed quickly as I saw a couple of airline attendants closing the door to my gate.  I sprinted up and handed my boarding pass to one of them.  She stared at me vacantly for a second as I asked, “Am I too late?  Can you let me on?”  She yelled something in Spanish to the other attendant who opened the door for me as I thought, “Does anybody here speak English?  For chrissakes, this is Orlando, not Miami.”  I was the last person on the flight but at least I made it on the plane.  Unfortunately, my bags didn’t.

In Dallas, at DFW, I discovered my luggage hadn’t made it when the baggage carousel stopped running and my bag was nowhere to be seen.  I was the only person still there, lonely and luggageless.  Good times.  I filed a missing luggage claim and headed to pick up the rental car.  I met Laura there and we drove our rocking Pontiac Vibe (quick aside: there is a reason Pontiac no longer exists)  to the hotel (the Hyatt Regency, in the shadow of Reunion Tower, the microphone-shaped building you’ve no doubt seen on TV many times – for me most notably during Monday Night Football games).

The Hyatt Regency with Reunion Tower in the background

But luckily, my luggage showed up the next morning.  No running around Dallas trying to find running shoes, thank god. 

The few days leading up to the marathon, we ate like kings.  I swear, every meal was like an episode of  Man Versus Food.   The first morning in town, Laura googled “best breakfast tacos in Dallas” and omnipotent Google produced “The Taco Joint”.  It had multiple rave reviews splashed all over the internet and it was relatively nearby so we shot over there.  Within seconds of arriving, Laura walked right up and ordered something in Spanish that everybody from Texas knows and nobody from North Carolina does.  I was caught off guard by how quickly this went down and so I had to scramble to make a decision.  I read a description of “Big Tex” on the board – a 12″ breakfast burrito filled with steak, potatoes, and beans – which sounded tasty so that’s what I went with.

Oh my god, I nearly had an orgasm when I took my first bite of the Big Tex (nearly a week later and my mouth still drools at the memory).   And nearly every subsequent meal was a similar experience.  Delicious, delicious, and more delicious.  I’m afraid Charlotte can’t compete with Dallas in the food department. 

But things were not all flowers and sausages in the Big D.  One night, we headed out to meet some of Laura’s friends for dinner.  We walked to the nearby train station and prepared to board the DART (no, not the Davidson Area Running Team, but rather the Dallas Area Rapid Transit).  I was leisurely lounging around the train platform, not paying any attention or worrying about any logistics as this was Laura’s specialty, when the train pulled up.  We began boarding and being the gentleman that I am, I stepped aside while Laura boarded first.  Then the train door began to close between us – Laura stuck her hand out to stop it, like you would with an elevator door, but apparently train doors don’t work that way as it slammed shut.  She calmly mouthed to me through the glass, “Push the button” and I quickly spotted the big “Push to Open Door” sign next to a large green button which I proceeded to press with no results.  I pressed it again.  And again.  Laura looked at me with exasperation and yelled “Push the button!” to which I anxiously responded, “I am!” just as the train pulled away with Laura onboard and with me left standing on the platform.  I stood there, dumbfounded, and watched the train zip off into the distance.

There I was, alone in the big city.  So now what?  All I knew was the name of the restaurant – I didn’t have the address and I didn’t know which train(s) would get me there.  Just to increase the level of difficulty, I had left my phone back at the hotel.  The logical thing to do was to get on the next train, which I did.  Luckily for me, Laura was waiting at the next stop.  Whew.  Otherwise, I might still be wandering around Dallas.

From that point forward, we spent the rest of our days leading up to the race hanging out with Laura’s friends, having our own Man Versus Food episodes, and just tooling around Dallas.  We ran on the Katy Trail, a cool jogging trail right in the center of downtown, with a trailhead less than a mile from our hotel.  I loved it – a significant portion of the trail had a rubberized surface, like a track.  Come on Charlotte, hook us up with a rubberized trail (there’s like 20 feet of a rubber-surfaced sidewalk near Common Market, but that doesn’t count).  I took pictures of interesting Dallas sites:

The school book depository

 

The grassy knoll

A cool robot

Saturday, we hit the marathon expo and it was by far the best I’d ever seen.  Luke’s Locker and Run On, the two main running stores in town, had expo booths bigger than entire Run For Your Life stores.  I was like a kid in a candy store.  I bought entirely too much junk, but I had a grand time. 

With Saturday night came the pasta dinner.  It was slightly better than the one at Towpath.  (That’s a joke, in case you didn’t pick up on it.)  The pasta dinner was incredible – it was what I always dreamed a marathon pasta dinner should be.  Laid out buffet style, there was table after table loaded down with every type of pasta imaginable.  Still stuffed from all my previous Dallas dining adventures, I nevertheless loaded down a plate with spaghetti and meatballs and a huge salad on the side (despite the warnings of several of my marathoning friends on the danger of marathon-eve salads).  I was ecstatic at the quality of the meal I enjoyed as a band played in the background and a video about the race aired on a big screen TV. 

After the mass consumption of pasta, there was nothing left to do but get off the legs and lounge around.  We laid on the bed and fell asleep watching some mindless TV.  I’ve never slept so soundly the night before a race.  After all, I didn’t feel the typical pressure of the marathon – I had already qualified for Boston.  This one was supposed to be all about supporting Laura in her first marathon.  I was just going to run it for fun.  Yeah, right.  Who am I kidding? 

The Race

Sunday morning arrived and so did our shuttle to the race.  This was no Towpath.  Instead of one little rickety van, there was a steady stream of  full-sized luxury buses (if it has a bathroom, I call it luxury) waiting to take us to Fair Park, the site of the race.  We stepped onto our bus at 6:30, leaving us plenty of time to make it to the race well in advance of the 8:00 start.

But shortly after hitting the highway, and close enough to the park that I could see the ferris wheel in the distance, we stopped.  Apparently everyone in Dallas was headed to Fair Park – everywhere I looked, in every direction, all traffic was at a complete standstill.  We still had plenty of time, I thought – it wasn’t even 7:00 yet and we were maybe a mile and a half from the park.

7:00 came and went and we hadn’t budged.  Then 7:30.  I felt a twinge of panic coming on as several runnners got off the bus and started running towards the park.  I very nearly joined them but I really had no desire to run more than 26.2 miles on this morning.  I decided to take my chances and wait.

Luckily, I made the right decision as traffic finally started moving.  Within a few moments, we were passing the runners who had gotten off moments earlier (I’m guessing they were inwardly cursing – I know I would have).  The timing actually turned out well.  Laura and I handed our bags to the volunteers in the bag check van by 7:45.  We made our ways to our respective corrals and waited in the chilly low-30’s temps.

Standing in the starting corral, I thought about my race goals.  A few weeks earlier,  I was running with my friend Nathan when he said (I’m paraphrasing here), “Do me, and yourself, a favor.  Just because you’ve already qualified for Boston, don’t stop trying to run faster times.”  He needn’t have worried.  Like I told him, 3:20 had taken on a life of its own for me – it was bigger than Boston now.  3:20 was the Moby Dick to my Captain Ahab, the windmill to my Don Quixote.   Dallas was supposed to be my “just for fun” marathon but I don’t think such a marathon truly exists for me, not before I break 3:20.  I stood there in the corral and thought about my past marathons, and what I needed to do to avoid the pitfalls I had encountered in each.

Finally, after a few words from the MC, then the mayor, and then the singing of the national anthem by a local teenaged girl, bursts of flame, with their much welcomed warmth, shot forth (is this a marathon or a Kiss concert?), confetti blew into the air, and we were off.

Initially, madness reigned.  Even though there were some 15 corrals (A through O, I think) with staggered starts, there were over 20,000 runners total, and I started with hundreds of them on a relatively narrow roadway as we ran out past the old Cotton Bowl.  I had difficulty finding enough personal space to maintain pace.  Sticking to the tangents seemed impossible as I was wedged in the middle of a school-of-fish or a flock-of-birds like unit of runners.  Some standard bobbing and weaving ensued (I remember thinking to myself, “I bet Jordan and Ryan Bender have never had to deal with this”) as people cut me off.  And yet somehow I still had a relatively fast first mile of 7:29.

Once things finally thinned out enough where I could calmly lock into pace without getting cut off or cutting someone else off, I relaxed.  This was my first marathon where I was at least somewhat familiar with large portions of it.  I felt comfortable and at home as we ran over many of the same streets as the Uptown Run , a 5-mile race that Laura and I had run in 2009, past the Dallas Opera House   and through downtown.  As the crowds thinned, I could finally start cutting the corners tightly, hitting the tangents.

I felt uber-comfortable at sub-7:30 pace.  Realizing I was only a few feet behind the 3:10 pace leader, watching the red and white balloons with 3:10 scribbled across them in black magic marker, I shifted my focus to throttling back.  I clicked off mile after mile in the seven-twenties; 7:24, 7:22, 7:22, 7:26, to be exact.  I felt so good that I entertained notions of shooting for BSam’s (Brian Sammons), my latest arch-rival’s, recent time of 3:13, which I knew to be 7:26 pace and something that felt imminently doable at the moment.  “Don’t get cocky dummy”, I told myself.  Just stick to the plan.

Dressed in layers for the cold start, I threw off my cheap gloves at mile 5, and regretted this move at mile 6 when we came out of the sun and entered a shaded, windy section.  I pulled down the sleeves of my $2 long-sleeve, throwaway technical t-shirt (purchased at the expo) so that they covered my now chilly hands.

I became so relaxed that I zoned out – I was in a meditative state.  Only the beep of my Garmin watch would snap me back awake, just long enough to check my splits.  Mile 6 was my first mile above 7:30 and it was only a 7:31.  One needs only 7:38 pace for a 3:20 marathon (assuming, and this is a big assumption as I learned at Towpath, one runs exactly 26.2 miles).

About this time in the race came the first 2 setbacks.  First, a gust of wind blew my visor off.  I had a split-second decision to make – do I continue on without it or do I circle back, running against the crowds like a salmon swimming against the current?  I would never forgive myself if I went back to get it and I missed 3:20 by a few seconds.  But then again, it was a clear, sunny day – I would need that visor.  Not to mention that thing cost like twenty bucks!  I circled back and snatched it off the ground.  This time I made sure it was snug as I secured it tightly around my considerably-wide noggin.

I enjoyed the spectacle of a big race – there were hordes of people out cheering and with our names on our bibs, it was really fun to hear random strangers cheer, “Go Allen!”  Shortly after mile 6, a runner wearing nothing, literally nothing but Texas-flag running shorts, pulled alongside me.  The dude had to be freezing – his pale white skin had big red splotches from what I could only assume were the early stages of frostbite.

It was like running next to a rock star (or if you’re in Charlotte, next to Theoden).  “Hey, shoeless guy!  You rock!”  And, I can’t tell you how many times I heard this, “No shirt, no shoes, no service!”  It made things more interesting as I continued along in my running daze.  As we approached every new crowd, I tried to guess how they’d address my virtually naked compadre.

I talked with Naked Tex briefly – he was quite the chatty Cathy.  But I was very conscious about conserving energy and he, clearly, was so very not.  He lapped up the adoration of the crowds – he cheered, hooped and hollered, even jumping on occasion, and responded to every comment thrown at him, which was more than a few.  Someone threw him a Hawaiian lei and he relished putting it on.  I enjoyed the show.  I was now locked onto 7:30 pace – miles 7 through 9 were 7:29, 7:31, and 7:29 respectively – but Naked Tex was all over the place.  We passed each other back and forth many times, most notably when I passed him every time the terrain got the least bit rough, be it with potholes or just pock-marked pavement, either of which forced my barefoot friend to slow down and dodge obstacles while I jetted past.

Around mile 10, Naked Tex and I approached White Rock Lake.  I was pleased to see the lake as I’d run there a couple times on last year’s trip to Dallas so, again, I was familiar with this portion of the race.  Familiarity makes me at ease – no surprises to throw off  the race plan.  I continued my relaxing little jaunt.

I felt like I sleepwalked my way through the first half as I crossed the halfway mat in 1:38 and some change, well under pace.  Naked Tex dropped back as he held a conversation with a couple of guys I had just passed.  I would not see him again on the course.

I continued cruising comfortably around White Rock Lake, but I slowed a bit as I felt the first few signs of fatigue beginning to set in.  Mile 15 was my slowest split yet at 7:39.  We ran across a bridge and then doubled back under it.  When I peeked up at the bridge, I got a jolt.

There he was – Darth Vader, Freddie Kreuger, Tom Brady (sorry Patriots fan) – every arch-villain known to man rolled up into one evil entity.  Here came the 3:20 pace leader.  And what’s bizarre is that I never saw the runner – I only saw the red and white balloons bobbing up and down across the bridge.  The 3:20 apparition chased me.  I wouldn’t have felt as much concern had I spotted a demon running across that bridge.

But the sight was motivation – it strenghtened my resolve.  While the first half of my race was near sedation, the second half would be focus.  Make it happen Allen – this is a 6-year quest in the making.  All ideas of “running just for fun” were completely abandoned at the sight of the 3:20 balloons of Satan.  It was time to get serious.

At this stage in the race, sub-to-low-7:30’s no longer came easily, they took determination.  I started checking my watch more frequently.  I ran mile 16 in 7:29, but it felt infinitely tougher than that first mile 7:29.  Locking in now took considerable effort, but I somehow managed it – I ran miles 17 through 19 in 7:29, 7:30, and 7:35 respectively.

As we left White Rock Lake behind, I found myself in that dreaded, albeit familiar, territory – the last 6.2.  I told myself, “Okay, the 20-mile warm-up is over.  Let’s race a 10K.  You can do this.”  I was concerned as I looked at the Dallas skyline in the distance – we were headed back there and it looked sooo very far away.  I had to look down at the road so as to not be overwhelmed by the sight.  Every time I heard footsteps behind me, I feared it was the 3:20 demon. 

Hello Darkness, my old friend.  Prepare to be defeated.  I will leave Dallas with a win over you.  Mile 20: 7:40.

I knew I had a solid bank of time.  All I had to do was hang on.  Sub-8’s ought to be enough.  I approached the only 2 significant hills on the course, affectionately dubbed “The Dolly Parton” hills.  I struggled through a hilly mile 21 in 7:50.  A bearded man in drag greeted me as I crested the first of the 2 hills.  He cheered enthusiastically and I tried to manage a smile in his direction.

I was beginning the slog.  “No, no, no, no!”  I had been in this place too many times.  “You can do this!  Only 5 more miles!”  5 miles is nothing – I can run 5 miles at under 8:00 pace in my sleep, I tried to convince myself.  When I saw my mile 22 split, sheer panic set in: 8:10.  Here we go again.  I struggled to speed up.

I took my last gel.  I grabbed a Gatorade instead of the usual water – anything to help get me through this last stretch.  I managed a 7:54 for mile 23.

I’m having difficulty understanding what happened next.  I’ve played it over and over in my head trying to understand just what made this marathon different from all the others.  Shortly after mile 23, we came across a band, 1 of many on the course, but their’s is the only song I can specifically remember.  They were singing the lyrics “They don’t serve breakfast in hell”.  And there was something supremely motivational about it – it struck me somehow as very apropos.  Yeah, there’s no breakfast in hell so quit your moaning and crying and start running.  Nut up or shut up, Buttercup.  I sped up, chuckling to myself .

Then I got passed by a guy wearing, I kid you not, a sleeveless tie-dye shirt, and not just any tie-dye shirt, but a Jimmy Buffet concert one, no less.  Really?  Am I going to be racing someone in a tie-dye shirt in the latter stages of all my races now? As he went by, he said, “We’ve got this.  Only a 5K to go.  And we don’t have to run it fast.”  Somehow this was like a punch in my gut.  Don’t have to run fast?!  Maybe you don’t have to, but I do!  I was hit with a burst of energy – I took off, passing the Jimmy Buffet fan back.

Suddenly, I had a second wind.  I picked up the pace and miraculously it felt comfortable.  I knew the course elevation – it was nothing but flat and slightly downhill from here – there were no more hills to conserve energy for.  Go!

I heated up.  I thought it a waste to discard my throwaway shirt this late in the race, but when I tied it around my waste and it flopped around, distracting me and causing me to attempt to readjust it, I thought, “What the hell are you doing?  It cost $2!”  I yanked it off and tossed it with flourish.  It floated in mid-air before finally settling some 20 yards away, as I sped past.

Mile 24, in 7:25, was my fastest split since mile 11 and the first time I could ever remember negatively splitting this late in a marathon.  I was embued with newfound confidence – I’d never had a split this fast in “the bonk” of the last 6.2 before.  Someone shone a bright light in on the darkness.  I was elated.  All I had to do was maintain for 2.2 miles and this was mine.  I cruised through mile 25 in 7:34 and felt great, ecstatic.

During the last mile, the course dumped the full and the half marathoners back together.  I was shocked at how many people were just finishing the half, hundreds of them running a half marathon in the 3:20 range.  Which meant I had to navigate through a sea of slower runners.  I began weaving in and out.

It was during all this dodging that my left quad seized up in a cramp, just above the knee.  For a brief moment I thought, “I better stop and walk”.  Instantly, I screamed inwardly at myself, “Are you f***ing crazy?!?  You didn’t run 26 miles ahead of pace to walk a quarter mile and blow everything!  Run, bitch!”  I glanced back to see if the evil 3:20 balloons were approaching.  They were nowhere to be seen.

I tried to pass all the halfers (Pikermi’s) by staying to the left, but then I heard a lot of shouting, “Move to your right!  Wheelchair coming through!”  Race officials on bicycles forced me back into the crowd as a fatigued wheeler weaved back and forth, nearly taking me and several other runners out.  I continued to work my way through the crowd like Adrian Peterson through defenders.

As I neared the end, a giant big screen TV loomed over the road.  When I caught a glimpse of myself, I joyously raised my arms.  I had this – it was actually going to happen.

Leonard will be shocked to hear that there was no one for me to sprint with at the end.  I ran hard, but without my usual sprint to beat some old man, or some big guy, or somebody wearing tie-dye (I left him at mile 23).  I raised my hands in triumph.  My watch read 3:19:15.  I had done it.

Post-Race

Race officials ushered us inside the Automobile Building of Fair Park.  Somebody covered me with a space blanket, someone else placed my medal around my neck, and a third person handed me the finisher’s t-shirt; a sweet, long-sleeved technical shirt (so I broke even after throwing the other one away some two miles back).

I went to the bag area and picked up my checked bag,  the bright, neon orange backpack once again doing its job as I instantly spotted  and retrieved it.  I pulled out my Iphone and posted the following on Facebook:  “Unofficially 3:19:15.  Go ahead Boston, drop your qualifying by 10 minutes.  See if I care.  Yeah!  To the beer garden and then time to cheer Laura on!”  I made my way to the beer line and grabbed two MGD 64’s, the sponsor beer.

While I waited on Laura, I spotted Naked Tex in the beer line.  I walked up and asked him what his final time was.  “3:31”, he answered.

I wandered around, sipping beer and relishing in my accomplishment, when I spotted this.  Never has a picture summed up things so well:

The demon banished to the garbage heap while I celebrate triumphantly

Laura ran a phenomenal race of her own.  Hoping to just break 5 hours, she shattered that goal when she finished in 4:21!   I hugged and kissed her and we celebrated together. 

Here’s the rest of the story, much of what makes breaking 3:20 so sweet to me.  At the University of North Carolina, some 25+ years ago, I started my collegiate running career with 3 time goals in mind: 1) break 10:00 in the 3200 meters (roughly 2 miles) 2) break 16:00 in the 5K and  3) break 2:00 in the 800 (half mile).  My freshman year, I ran a low-10 3200 meters (10:05, I believe), a low-16 5K (16:07, I think), and a 2-flat 800 meters (I actually ran sub-2:01 a couple of times).  Coming so close to all 3 goals, I thought that surely I would break them all very soon.  I never did.  I had some knee problems (and some bigger grade problems) by the end of my freshman year and I ended up quitting the track team.

The moral of the story – tomorrow is not guaranteed.  If you have a goal, start working to achieve it – don’t put it off until tomorrow.  Tomorrow may never come.  Do it now. 

See you in Boston.

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6 Responses to “The 2010 Dallas White Rock Marathon”

  1. meagan Says:

    what an awesome post! you have every right to be proud of your accomplishment, especially considering how long and hard (that’s what she said) you’ve worked for it. i felt like i was running along with you because i’m so familiar with all the parts of the course you described. good stuff. btw, did you ever see me pops? turns out he and his friends won the master’s division of the relay.

  2. Allen Says:

    Hey Meagan,

    No, I never did spot your dad. He must have run a later leg of the relay, after someone from his team blew past me earlier. I looked for Karhus too, but didn’t spot any (well, at least not on people’s feet – I did see them at Luke’s Locker).

  3. scott Says:

    Allen:
    VERY well written AND inspirational!
    HUGE Congrats! Well earned my friend.
    Scott

  4. Forward Foot Strides Says:

    Ahhh, I was hanging on to your every word! The airport fiasco, the subway, the band (really, no breakfast in hell?), and when I saw you final time I actually said “YES!”

  5. Anthony Says:

    Great post! Congratulations on reaching your Goal.

  6. Henry Says:

    Allen: after all the adventure I thought this guy’s got to get a break, then the merged half with the Marathoners — WTF? I’m glad you could still weave and dodge!

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