It was one of the coldest early mornings in record history for the LiveStrong marathon in Austin. My brother, Lawrence, and I were ready after putting in months of hard work and training to prepare for the longest run either of us had ever done in our lives — a 26.2-mile adventure that I thought I was more than ready to complete with ease. But when it came time for race day, something unexpected happened that left me with extreme disappointment.
Prior to the race, you might have seen us running up and down U.S. Highway 190, beginning in Harker Heights on Farm-to-Market 2410 and headed toward Stan Schlueter Loop in Killeen, and running along the busy highway that cuts through Nolanville and Belton. Each time we completed our training runs, we were exhausted but felt a sense of accomplishment.
The excitement kicked in on race day. I got less than four hours of sleep the night before, too anxious for what was to come. We loaded up our camelbacks with water, filled the pockets with packets of energy gels, pinned on our race numbers, tied our running shoes and drove to Austin.
Standing in front of the state Capitol were what I thought was hundreds of runners waiting for the race to start. But that number turned out to be about 17,000.
The countdown began with the announcer giving the 30-minute, 15-minute, then 5-minute alerts until the start of the race. Suddenly, we were off, striding our way around the tall buildings in the city. Supporters held creative signs along the side of the marathon course, cheering every runner on, and bands played inspirational music.
I was on a roll following the race pacers past mile 1, then mile 5, and mile 9. But at that moment, my hard training and lack of sleep got the best of me. I had to constantly stretch my legs, as I cramped all over. By the time I hit the halfway mark, I was partially limping. I thought to myself, “There is no way I can complete this race,” since I still had more than 15 miles to go.
The residents who live in the outskirts of the city made a tremendous show of support from their front yards, handing out water, fruits and, oddly enough, gummy bears. The cheering continued and random strangers running the race told me to keep going and don’t give up.
A pregnant woman held a sign that said, “Running a marathon is much easier than giving birth.” While I will never know what going into labor feels like, I sure felt agonizing pain creeping from my legs to my shoulders. I was a bit embarrassed to see runners much older than me running and speed walking past me.
My brother was a couple of miles ahead, and I knew there was no way I would catch up. The cold weather subsided and the sun started to beam down as the wind picked up. The last six miles took the longest, as I struggled to lift my left leg a bit higher off the ground and even tried to run again. But the pain was unbearable, and I knew the only way I could finish was to walk as fast as I could the remainder of the way.
The final stretch before the finish line was a steep hill on San Jacinto Boulevard. Once I turned the corner, I knew the race was over. Lawrence was at the end wearing his medal and cheering me on as I crossed the finish line. I put on my medal and limped to the car, ready to eat an unhealthy post-race meal.
I finished with a time of more than six hours, which was well over my anticipated goal of four hours. Although I was disappointed about my time, I was glad I finished my first marathon. I could finally check the race off my bucket list, and I could confidently say that it wouldn’t be my last.
Nick Delgado is a Harker Heights Herald correspondent and student at The Art Institutes of Austin.