January 24, 2012

Houston Marathon (Race Report)

Race morning started out as most others do. Alarm at 5am followed by a breakfast of bagel with almond butter and a banana, getting all geared up, and stretching a bit. Chris and Erin left before me to get their warm-ups in and I took my time heading downstairs. When I walked outside I was pleased to find that it actually wasn't cold at all. In fact I almost didn't need the arm warmers I'd bought at the expo last minute. Our hotel was conveniently located a few blocks from the start so I just followed the throngs of people. I ran a bit to test out my calf and was pleased to find that it felt fine. I'd trigger pointed like crazy the night before and was wearing my compression socks for the race so I think those helped. I made it to my corral just before it closed and then all that was left was to wait!
Houston sunrise race morning
I mentioned before what my goals were going into this race. I knew that as long as nothing disastrous happened, I would PR, probably by a decent amount. But I also secretly hoped I could get that sub-4 I've been coveting since I signed up for Chicago last year. My plan was to start conservatively and run more off effort than splits, then see where I'm at halfway in and push if I was having a good race. This worked out for the most part, and although the race didn't go exactly as I hoped in the end, I did run my best marathon yet.

The full and half had different starting lines before merging at mile 2 so it wasn't too crowded as we took off. I reminded myself not to get carried away with the pace, especially since we found ourselves running up the gradual incline of a freeway for the first mile. I couldn't help but think how ironic it was that Houston is touted as being so "flat & fast", and yet there we were, not a mile in, and running up some hills. Ha! My split for mile 1 was 9:17, but I wasn't too concerned as I remembered that it takes me some time to warm-up and get into a rhythm.

Going into the race I actually didn't know much about the course other than it being a loop and mostly flat. The first few miles honestly weren't very exciting but went by pretty fast. My pace naturally dropped to sub-9s where it would stay til about mile 20. From downtown we wound through the Heights and Montrose neighborhoods which had a cute small town feel and great crowd support and cheering. Around mile 6 we started to see the lead half runners coming back on the other side of the road, so I kept an eye out for Erin and Chris but I ended up missing them. Both went on to rock their races and set big PRs!
the 26.2 mile tour of Houston
look for the neon yellow arm warmers - in the middle, to the right of the orange shirt!
The half marathoners turned around at mile 9 while the rest of us continued on. Miles 10-14 took us past Rice and West Universities and their neighborhoods and were easily my favorite of the race. I was feeling pretty good, running even splits, and fueling on schedule (Gu + salt cap every 4-5 miles) plus the scenery and crowd support was amazing! The streets were lined with trees that for several stretches created a canopy of shade and the houses, especially on University Ave. were so quaint and cute! The crowd support here was excellent as well with lots of people setting up there own mini aid stations from their front lawns.

Around mile 16 I started to feel a little tired, but after 16 miles that is to be expected. I was still keeping pace, it was just taking a little more focus. Miles 18-19 took us past the exclusive Tanglewood neighborhood where former president George Bush retired to. I'd got to the point where I was telling myself to hold on and constantly wondering how much farther.

Around mile 20 things got hard. My quads started cramping badly and I had to slow down. In past marathons I probably would have started walking some stretches, but I told myself I'd made it this far, I still had a couple minutes of buffer for a 4 hour finish, I had to fight for it! Mentally I hunkered down and focused, but physically my legs just wouldn't go as fast as I needed them to. It had started to warm up a bit but luckily there was a little breeze. In fact I think we really lucked out with the weather during the race as it was as perfect as we could have expected. Miles 20 and 21 wound through Memorial Park which reminded me a lot of Golden Gate Park. I wish I'd been in a better mood at that point to have enjoyed it more, though!
That last 10k was really a struggle both physically with my cramping legs and mentally as I watched my buffer become smaller and smaller. With just a few miles to go I realized that I couldn't maintain the pace necessary to finish under 4 hours. Physically I was giving everything I had, leaving it all out there. It wasn't like in the past where I've let my head get to me. It was still hard though, especially since I knew I was going to be super close. In fact, the course ended up measuring 0.25 long on my Garmin, and as I looked down at my time when my watch recorded 26.2 miles, I saw a nice little 3 still there : ( The last couple miles brought us back downtown and I spotted Chris and Erin right in front of our hotel. I managed a smile and then tried to pick it up as much as possible as I reached the final stretch through Discovery Green park. I didn't have much of a finishing kick but it was one of the more memorable finishes as I got to run down the same finish chute as the Olympic trials marathoners had the day before. I was agonizingly close to my ultimate goal: 4:01:58.
 running by Chris & Erin at mile 26
 coming down the finish chute...
 on the far right
 dude ruined my finishing pic!
As soon as I stopped running I thought my legs were going to buckle. My quads seized up horribly and it was all I could do to follow the others into the convention center. I hobbled my way around trying to figure out what I needed to do before I could collapse onto the ground. I managed to track down some chocolate milk and then pick up my finisher's shirt and mug before trekking across the giant place to the reunion area. I could barely get my legs to bend enough to sit down, and when I finally got there I knew I wasn't going anywhere for a while. I waited about a half hour to see if Erin and Chris showed up and then I hauled myself up and hobbled the quarter mile back to our hotel.

Back in the room I checked my phone and suddenly was overwhelmed by the whole experience. A small part of me was bummed I'd come so close and missed it, but a much bigger part of me recognized that I'd just ran the best marathon of my life and set a 30 minute marathon PR, a full hour and a half faster than my first marathon less than 3 years ago. For nearly a year my marathon times have not reflected what I was capable of. After my devastating experience at Chicago after a solid training cycle I felt even more defeated. Houston was my redemption!

After I composed myself I met up with Chris, Erin, and a bunch of others for a bite to eat nearby and then came back to the hotel to clean up. My quads still felt pretty beat up and ironically my calves felt pretty good! I also ended up with a monster blister near my big toe and 2 blistered nail beds, but I usually don't come out of marathons with all 10 toenails intact : ) We were all pretty exhausted so we took it pretty easy the rest of the day. Erin surprised me with a celebratory creme brulee (my favorite!) and then we met up with some friends for a late dinner. I crashed pretty early and slept like a rock! The next morning we treated ourselves to breakfast in the fancy hotel restaurant before saying goodbye to Houston and our amazing weekend.
the monster
no. 10, the best yet : )


  1. Congratulations on the huge new PR! This sounds a lot like my race in Philly. I also saw that sub 4:00 slip out of reach in the last few miles and there was nothing I could do about it. Hopefully we'll both cross that barrier in 2012! :)

    I love that they give out a finisher's shirt and mug. Maybe this is a marathon I should do someday!

  2. Congratulations on an amazing PR!! Such a big PR is no joke. I know it must stink to be so close to the sub-4, but just think how close you are now and how much easier mentally it will be next time you go out there.

  3. Congrats on the PR, and that blister. I like that finisher medal.

  4. That is amazing....VERY well done, and what a great post. I love the fact that even when you were giving it everything (and not meeting your goal), that you CONTINUED to give it everything. And a 30 minute PR...just amazing. You should be so proud !

    What a day to remember.

  5. a 30 minute PR! freakin' amazing. sub-4 next time!