Archive for January, 2012

When the e-mail arrived the week before the marathon with my bib # and coral placement, something clicked in my head and all I could think was “oh crap, my training run really is actually a race!” 

When I entered the lottery the previous June, I had high hopes of going into this race with a goal finish time of 03:50:00.  When I got the e-mail letting me know I actually got in, I was very excited, this would be my first ‘real’ marathon, not only that, but my sister would be running the half marathon as her first.  Early in 2011 I made the jump straight from mountain half marathons to ultra-marathons without having ever testing my training on a for real road marathon.  This would be my chance to prove myself in that field, so I had high hopes.  I signed up for speed training over the summer, and planned on making the Marathon my big winter race, at least before I signed up for my first 100 mile trail ultra that would take place 3 weeks after the Houston Marathon.   

Adding the 100 mile race to my schedule changed everything.  Suddenly the Houston Marathon was turned into a training run, and in order to manage my training schedule, I framed it firmly that way in my head in an attempt to keep me from going out hard for this race.  I had lowered my pace and finishing time expectations to sub 4:30 as an acceptable time, given the fact I would have no real taper beforehand, and would need to be in shape to run 22 miles of East Texas trails the next day.  So when I received the e-mail confirming entry in the Marathon, my brain got a bit of a jolt, and I had to fight off going into full race mode excitement.   

My week leading up to the marathon was a full week of training, with multiple 10 and 6 mile runs, adding to 42 miles in the days leading up to the race, but when I arrived in Texas, with the thick sea level air I suddenly felt like anything was possible.  My mom and step dad went to the expo with me, then we drove the course, which only got me more into race mode, and overnight I went from being satisfied with 4:30, to 4:15, to 4 hours flat.  I knew that 4 hours was ambitious given the week of hard running I had leading up to the race, but I felt like I needed to give it a shot.   


A friend from Runner's Edge gave me this happy little mantra that I knew would make me smile, so I wrote it on my arm in green sharpie!

My family drove my sister and I to the George R Brown Convention Center (GRB for short), and we arrived at 515, just enough time to hit the porta potties and get my 1.8 mile pre-run in so that I would get my full 28 training miles for the day.  As I ran up Dallas Street and back, the crowds started flowing into downtown Houston, and seeing all the runners meandering towards the convention center really energized me.  The air was warm, but not hot or too humid.  This would be a perfect day for a run!   

After arriving back at the GRB, I chilled for a couple of minutes with my sister and her friend she would be running with, before we dropped our gear at the gear check and headed out to our respective corrals.  I needed to hit a porta-potty before hand, as I still needed to take care of some business pre-run, but the lines were so long I was worried that if I took the time I needed, I would struggle to get up to the 4 hour area in the Corral.  I hoped that I would be able to manage any stomach issues through the run, and push it off until my finish 4 hours later… 

I worked my way up to the starting area, and before I knew it we were off!  I had made myself a pace band that utilized the smart pace system Runner’s Edge endorses, and fought the urge to bolt off the start line like the rest of the runners.  I knew that if my experience from the ultras and halfs I had run played out, I would be passing them again soon enough.  The course starts out by going over a viaduct, where the half and full marathon fields briefly parallel each other before separating again as the route goes through one of the less glamorous portions of Houston known as the Forth Ward.  This is the only portion of the route that really could have been marked better.  The Half Marathon and Full were only separated by a small, 2-3 foot wide median as the course travelled over the viaduct.  This led to a lot of marathoners crossing to the half side and vice versa in an effort to get around some the now slowing masses as the field approached the mile one marker.  When the fields split back out again, there were no markings at all indicating who should go where.    This of course led to many runners bolting back and forth trying to get on what everyone hoped was the correct path based on the side of the road each race started on.  This was the only area where there was very noticeable, and verbal dissent expressed by nearly every runner that I could hear, as even the people, myself included, who had assumed the course had been set up with the median in the middle for a reason, had to question if we were on the right path.  It seemed that around me were only Marathon bibs so I assumed I was on the right course, and ran on.   

Once the marathon and half marathon fields joined up for real at mile 2, things got much more crowded.  I was within 20 seconds of my planned splits for a 4 hour finish, and was feeling good but all those runners who had started out way too fast were now slowing down dramatically and creating moving road blocks that had to be dodged, sometimes having to traverse from one side of the street to the other to get around them.  Every other race I had ever run in was a mountain race, so the fields had always thinned out considerably by this point.  Even the Pikes Peak Ascent was less crowded feeling by 2-3 miles in.  I was beginning to feel very claustrophobic, and was wondering why I thought this would be a good idea until we rounded the corner on mile 5.  As the course entered the Heights neighborhood, the 3-4 police officers that had been guarding the course at nearly ever street corner in the 4th Ward were replaced by masses of cheering spectators.  I knew that my family would be somewhere along this stretch between mile 7 & 8, which definitely got my spirits up.  Its hard not to smile when there are so many people out there to pep up runners they don’t even know.   

My splits stayed on track, and I was very happy to see my entire family cowbells, signs and all cheering me on near mile 8 right after the water tables.  At mile 9 the half marathoners turned back, and the field thinned noticeably, I suddenly felt like I had breathing room.  I was still on pace as the race moved through Herman Park under canopies of Live Oaks providing shade from the sun, and felt good…. until my stomach started turning.  I tried to maintain pace, but could feel cramps building and began regretting not taking the time I should have pre-race to let this issue resolve itself before hand.  I ended up losing about 8 minutes due to this issue, and I cursed the time I had lost as I bolted from the mile 11ish porta-potties.  I tried my hardest to make up some time without blowing myself out, and maintained a significantly higher pace for the next two miles, but realized, when I crossed the 13.1 mile split still 8 minutes back from my projected split, that I had two choices.  I could blow myself out trying to make up the time, and possibly cost myself my second training run and maybe even my 100 mile race in 3 weeks; or I could settle for trying to come in under 4:15, which would still be a respectable finish time for my first road marathon, especially given the week of running I had leading up to it.  

As I rounded the corner on mile 18, I managed to re-focus my goal mentally and picked up the pace again.  The run continued through Memorial Park, and as it rounded down Allen Parkway, I know I would be seeing my family again soon.  My running belt had started to get on my nerves a bit, so I made sure to take a gel right before the mile 22 marker, and kept my eyes peeled for my family.  I was happy to see them right after the mile 23 aid area, and passed my running belt off to them, knowing I would be able to push through the remainder with just my water bottle.   

My feet were hurting from the miles of pavement, but everything else felt strong.  I checked my clock and thought it might be possible for me to come in under 4:10, so I pushed the pace a bit more for the last mile coming through downtown.  Despite the timer on my Garmin ticking past 4:10 as I made my way down the last quarter mile of the run, I pushed hard for that last bit, figuring at least this way I would finish strong.  I was passing people all the way to the end, which definitely made me feel better about my finishing time, which was 4:11:13.   

I really wanted to find my sister to congratulate her on her first half marathon, so I rushed through the very well organized finish area to get my medal, the photo (not really optional), my drop bag and shirt/beer mug.  Once I was through that, I called and got a hold of my brother in law who let me know that she had to get home after the race due to some things that had come up, but she had finished strong with a 2:15 finish time for her first half marathon.  

The race was definitely a good one, and with the exception of the single course marking issue at mile 1ish, it was a very well supported race.  I want to go back, and give it another go when I can really focus on this race, and see if I can get a sub-4 hour time.  Happily, I had saved plenty to knock out my 22 mile trail run the next day, and am looking forward to Rocky Raccoon 100 in February!