Wearing a Cape to Race

Race reports allow us to relive runs. Oh, how I love a good race report!

I hadn’t seen this write-up since it originally appeared in the Austin Runners Club print newsletter. It was a big deal back then on many levels: I’d successfully completed the Distance Challenge Series, racked up a marathon PR, and had my race report published.

DCS Finishers
At the 2003 DCS awards dinner. From left to right: me, Stephanie, our coach Mixon Henry, Amy, and Yolanda Dimas.

The DCS was a gnarly group of Austin runs building from 10K to marathon distance over the course of one season. In 2002-2003, you had to finish eight races to earn a special jacket. The races and distances have changed over time and, though I went on to complete other DCS, this one would remain special. That marathon time is still, in fact, my PR.

The cape I wore disappeared long ago. It symbolically slipped from my shoulders during a spectacularly terrible race, never to be recovered.

Having that goofy clown cape would be a nice reminder these days that my workouts are all about enjoyment. The Paris Marathon is coming up in April, and I’ve worried about my performance, fretted over preparation:  “If only I had another six months…”

But I don’t. And I will have done what preparation I did. My friends won’t judge me on how I finish. My husband? He’s just giddy about going to France for the first time (and the wine and the food. Did I mention the wine?).

Revisiting this report is a nice reminder of how good races can be when you remember to have fun.

The Adventures of Cape Lady

originally published in Austin Runners Club newsletter (2003)

My daughter’s initiation into her high school swim team turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me as a runner. It all started with a dropped cape.

Chicago Marathon start 2002
Awed at the start of 2002 Chicago Marathon, I tried to capture the moment with a photo of runners at the start.

It was the weekend after the 2002 Chicago Marathon, the morning before the second race* of the Distance Challenge Series — the Amy’s Ice Cream Cattle Drive 10 Miler. My good running buddy, Amy Burroughs, and I had had the great idea to dress up for the race. We needed some kind of a concrete reminder that we were in this for fun and our focus was really some months ahead on a PR at the Motorola Marathon. There was no way we were going to run a race hard so soon after what was, for Amy, a wonderful PR in the Windy City. Besides, our friend, Stephanie Chrisman, had suffered an IT band injury during the marathon; not only were we missing her, but her injury had pointed out to us how careful we were going to need to be in order to get through Austin’s grueling race series whole and healthy.

*the first race was the IBM Downtown Classic 10K.

So Amy and I decided to dress up, it being the weekend before Halloween and all. I tried on some crowns but I hate stuff on my head; it always pinches and I wind up with a headache. I had just about given up when I came across this goofy clown cape. It had fallen off my teenage daughter as she was whisked away one 4 a.m for swim team initiation; her “big sister” had dressed her up in all kinds of humiliating garb prior to breakfast out, and I’d rescued it from the yard, setting it aside to return.

The cape was bright red with a fuzzy yellow pompom at the neck fastening. Perhaps it would do. I threw it in the car and headed downtown.

To tell the truth, I was a bit embarrassed walking up to race start, especially when I discovered that Amy, ahem, had not found a costume! Though I’m pretty average in my ability, I’d always taken my races very seriously, so this type of goofiness was quite a departure. I heard lots of “Supergirl” comments as we lined up; I didn’t see another costume anywhere.

People will talk to a runner wearing a cape.

I had the nicest conversations during that race; I told everybody about my recent marathon. I was free to jump up and down and wave at spectating friends. At one point, Wes, a newer runner, asked me what to do with the Clif Shot gel he’d been handed, so I got to play mentor (briefly). When my coach saw me on course and yelled at me for racing so soon, I was able to smile and wave and retort, “I feel great!” And you know what? I even had negative splits! The icing on the cake was good race pictures; I was smiling AND had good form! I decided I liked the cape. My teenage daughter was mortified.

Motive Bison Stampede socks
14 years later, I still have my Motive Bison Stampede Half Marathon socks. Credit: Suzanne Bertin

The next race, Motive Bison Stampede Half Marathon, was hilly; with the course snaking through my home stomping grounds, I knew I would run well. Until this weird foot thing happened…I couldn’t walk the week before the race. Curses! Was I out of the Challenge? Somehow, I accidentally performed my own chiropractic adjustment; things seemed to pop back into place but it still hurt, and I’d been off it for a week. What about the race? Dr. Spears gave me the go-ahead to try.

I decided to run with the clear understanding (and vow) that I would DNF if I had pain, and I would wear the cape to help me remember my promise. I started far back in the pack. You have no idea how many people said, “Hey, I saw you at Amy’s.” I had lots more interesting conversations. Coming down the long hill on Rain Creek, I did not feel the least bit self-conscious zigzagging, arms out airplane-style, to save stress on my foot (well, I guess I didn’t HAVE to do the airplane thing). I was free enough to turn around and go back at the water stop to say “thank you very much” to the Elvis impersonator. Negative splits again, and my foot was fine.

Adventures of Cape Lady
Based on the background, this photo had to have been taken at the Travis County Expo Center before ARC’s Decker race. That’s Amy, left.

ARC’s Decker* is either great or hideous for me. The year before, Decker became the worst race of my life (you know it’s bad when you realize you’re in trouble prior to mile 3); I like to think that the marathon gods chose to teach me a lesson there — thou shalt not take training for granted. I’d goofed off after that season’s fall marathon and figured I’d just rip out a PR on that humid, warm day. Think again, Einstein! With those memories burning, I whipped my cape out and strapped it on — Decker would be fun, damn it! Between the fun of the costume and flashing back to all my joy on the Danskin bike course last summer, I could put Decker in the “great” column for 2002.

*in 2002, Decker was a 12-mile race. The distance has changed many times over the years.
2003 Strasburger Price photo
Amazed to find a photo of this 2003 race. And that I still pretty much wear the same outfit. Credit: Kreutz Photography

By the Strasburger Run for the Hills 25K, I was learning people’s names and hearing a new one for me, “Cape Lady.” Many people asked me during races why I was wearing a cape. The best answer (and shortest) was to remind myself that I was NOT Superwoman. But the best reminder of life’s frailties came with the Boatwright family and friends; I had been there that day a year ago* and, when I saw their memorial, I was overcome with emotion. I had to stop and walk while I cried. When I started running again, this guy struck up a conversation. He seemed familiar…it was Wes from the Amy’s 10 miler, only now he looked like a bona fide distance runner!

*I had been present at the first Strasburger Price Run for the Hills race, when racers attempted to save Boatwright’s life with CPR after he collapsed during the run.

The best part of the race was picking it up at the end and hearing a trio of lady runners yell, “Hey, Cape Lady’s kicking!” while I pushed the final mile hard. I don’t think anybody is too threatened by a 40-something woman in a clown cape, which leaves them free to celebrate my good effort.

Amy and I had continued together through the DC races, though in kind of a loose partnership — I hung in the back while she eventually took off. We were so glad that Stephanie had the all-clear to join us for the RunTex 30K in Buda. We got there early enough to do a couple of miles prior so we’d get in a 21 miler. I found another plus to my cape; it kept me warm!

2003 RunTex 30K
The 30K in Buda was a runner’s race, known for few spectators and lots of loose dogs. Credit: Kreutz Photography

Until we girls split up near the gum ball stop, we were having a great time. But the IT band started acting up for Stephanie, and uphill into the wind is a less-than-optimal mix for me. My finish time was slow; at home, when I started to crab about it to my husband, he quickly shot me a glance and asked, “Were you wearing the cape?” Enough said.

The cape was my reminder for 3M Half Marathon that I would run marathon pace. Amy and I laughed and cut up and generally had a fine time. I noticed several funny hats worn on the course and wondered if there were like-minded individuals out there.

That was the last appearance of the cape. The Motorola Marathon was my goal race; it was serious (like I told a friend, it’s hard to put on your game face when you’re wearing a clown cape). Stephanie, Amy, and I were the three amigos (okay, we weren’t really. They were out there, though — three guys in black mariachi outfits with huge sombreros and penciled on mustaches) until about mile 18. While we may not have finished together, we each PRed; I took 7 minutes off my previous best time.

I owe a large thanks to that goofy red cape. It taught me some basic lessons about focus, friendship, and fun. It gave me the courage to quit if I needed to, and the guts to hold back when I should. I was surely a better — though not necessarily faster — runner with it on.

Another big thank you goes to all you runners out there who helped me finish my first DCS with a smile on my face, and to my great running buddies, Amy and Stephanie. Cape Lady sure had a blast!

Wineglass Marathon Trio
Amy, Stephanie, and I were a great running trio. After the DCS, we picked a race to do in Oct. 2003, the Wineglass Marathon. We’re so happy here BEFORE we ran….


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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

0 thoughts on “Wearing a Cape to Race

  1. I LOVE the cape story. What a fabulous ideas, on so many levels. You should resurrect it, even if the original one is gone.
    And, you\’re running Paris in April?! We are only a 6hour train ride away. Free room and board (and there is a door between my office and the guest room!).

  2. Thank you for the kind comment and you know what? I\’m going to look for a tangible \”keeping it light\” reminder for Paris. Something a little fun, a little weird.

    We will definitely keep you in mind for a stop-over. We loaded our trip heavier on the post-marathon side so we could enjoy the city.

  3. I remember your first DCS with the cape!! It inspired me to wear a cape to several marathons — to remind me to have a good time and not take it too seriously. I think of you every time I wear it!!! THANK YOU, Cape Lady! <3

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