by Trey Kirk on Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 1:20am. Houston Marathon race report.
The weather was less than pleasant: mid-60s, 100% humidity, certainty of rain. Let’s just call it what it really was, “Houstony”. The upside to that is it was near-guaranteed to be consistent throughout the race. With the exception that it actually stopped raining, the weather at the end was exactly like the weather at the beginning. This removed any concern for layering clothing or even the need to have warmer clothes to begin with.
About the event: for anybody who has not run the Houston marathon, you have likely heard from someone who has. Those same people told me the event is one of the best organized and well supported events. While this was my first marathon to run in, I’ve been to several others in the past as a spectator and volunteer so I do know what a well organized event looks like. And yes, it indeed looks like the Houston marathon. The convention center encompasses the start line facilities as well as the finish line facilities. Four of the five “halls” are opened up to create one massive space within which we are given: hundreds of porta-potties (I’m actually not sure if I’m exaggerating here), water / snacks, baggage check, medical, post-race schwag pick-up, and space, space, space. Although I signed-up for the “ABB Team Challenge” for the sole purpose of using exclusive porta-potties, the mass’s porta-potties rarely had lines more than 5 deep. And when they did, you need only look 10 feet further for one that didn’t. Furthermore, not only did the start line have wide accessibility to porta-potties, but there were still a fair amount all along the route… So nice!
My wave was the second wave and thus rolled out 10 minutes after the first. At 7:00a on the nose, BOOM, wave 1 is on the road. And then it hits me: I’m 10 minutes away from doing what I spent 28 weeks training for. I had run over 650 miles so that in mere minutes from now, I could run for “just” 26.2. Previous long runs, quality work-outs, medium-long runs, and the many, many neighborhood jogs began flashing through my head, like:
- The summer runs where we were bombarded with heat or humidity, and often both. A climate that can only be summed up by one of my running partners Sara ala, “This heat is bullshit!”
- That long run on Big Fire where it rained, giving us our first break from the heat. We were absolutely giddy.
- The 2 mile time trial where I clocked in my worst TT ever @ 22 minutes IIRC. The 104 degree fever that set in later the next morning clarified what may have been wrong.
- The first time I’ve ever ran “The Run From Hell”. For those of you who don’t know it, The Run From Hell is aptly named. Calling it “hilly” does absolutely no justice.
- The second time I’ve ever ran “The Run From Hell”. It wasn’t any easier, but that’s ok: Trey 2 – Ladera Norte 0.
- The numerous times I ran a PR distance (including Run From Hell #1).
- That time I had to run 20 miles on my own in Lubbock. Short version: cold, long, repetitive.
Yep, 28 weeks is a long time. On the other hand, 10 minutes until you start running a marathon goes by in the blink of an eye. Before I knew it, BOOM! Wave 2 rolls out. I took a deep breath and let out that emotional kind of exhale where it feels like you’re going to cry, laugh, scream, and faint all at the same time. Of course, none of that actually happens. Instead, the butterflies exit and the race is on: cross the start line and beep the watches.
The first few miles were rather crowded, especially when going over the first overpass. I’d say this isn’t all that bad of an issue as there was little chance of going out too fast nor was it an issue to maintain my target pace anyways. One thing that did quickly become apparent was that the humidity could be an issue. I hadn’t gotten a mile before noticing the sweat was already dripping off of me. So here’s to training in those sweltering summer months. Back then, you pretty much had to run with a hand-held or risk dehydrating just between water stops. By the time the cooler fall months rolled around, I had become accustomed to running with the hand-held and did so when I really could’ve done without. And since there’s nothing new on race day, I must race with the hand-held. That was probably the smartest decision I had made as there were more than one occasions in the race where I had drained the entire bottle between water stops.
Speaking of the hydration stops, they were pretty well stocked. Being a back of the pack runner, there’s always a concern the water stops will be cleaned out before you get to them. And while it is true they were considerably diminished, each stop still had a few tables full and plenty of fluids being held out.
One of the most memorable parts of the race were the “Geoff Signs”: every mile, Geoff’s supporters put up a sign that told Geoff what mile it was, how many miles were left, “Go Geoff”, and a short quip that was usually quite humorous. I’ll relay the ones I can remember:
- “Who fartleked?”
- “Why 26.2? Because 26.3 would be CRAZY!”
- (Posted above a cardboard hand) “High-five me!”
- (approaching an actual graveyard) “Graveyard ahead. Look alive!”
- (@ mile 20) “This is the farthest you ran in training!”
Geoff, your supporters rock. Of course, I like mine better. See “Mile 25” later on.
As far as the race route terrain went, obviously it was flat. The biggest obstacle was to dodge the bigger water puddles. I did have to chuckle when while going up an overpass, and not even a highway one but rather a rain ditch version, a runner asked her running partner if they could walk up this hill. Now I haven’t forgotten what it was like to run a 10k for the first time and seriously question my ability to make the 6th mile. So I’m not keen to disparage any runner who chooses to walk, and especially one who’s in the progress of a half marathon. The chuckle was more for the act of calling it a “hill”. I train in Austin, and that weren’t no hill. Of course, Houstonians chuckle when I comment on Austin’s humidity, so to each their own I s’pose.
I had a moment of reflection at the half point. Actually, when one spends 5 hours running on the road, there are several moments of reflection. However this one was one of the more poignant moments. At the half mark, I was right on pace: 2 hours 29 minutes. My first half marathon (of only two, btw) was in conditions very similar, albeit a bit warmer (San Antonio 2009). There I spent all my energy covering 13.1 miles in 2 hours and 40 some odd minutes. Now here I am a year and a few months later running 13.1 miles at a faster time and with a rock steady pace. Now that’s some progress, my friends! So as long as I get across the finish line, that’s enough to call it a successful race for today.
Of course, how nice would’ve been to get that 5 hour monster? That clearly wasn’t in the cards for me as around mile 18, the first wheel came off the bus. I walked through a water stop and gave my legs a sweet, sweet taste of rest. Oh, they wanted so much more. Up to mile 21, I managed to keep the walking down to just through water stops. Unfortunately, from mile 22 through 25, I found more reasons to take a rest. Not only that, but my pace when running was hovering around 12:30. It could’ve been slower, but I stopped paying attention. The focus on time had now changed to focusing on getting to the next mile marker (and to see the next Geoff sign). I had seen Nedra at mile 9 and again at miles 16 and 22. But it was at mile 25 when I really needed to see her. She was what I needed to muster up the will to finish that last mile.
Or at least that’s how the story is supposed to go. In reality, she was the fire under my ass to burn up the last mile. After passing her my hand-held, she shuffled up next to me and began offering words of encouragement while she ran me in. It played out something like this:
Nedra: “You’re doing great! One mile left and you’re done!”
Me (in my head): Yea! One mile left! I can see the conventions center from here! I’m almost done! Dear God, I’m almost done!
Me (out loud): “Ngyugh”
Now before I go on, let me tell you about ‘Ngyugh’. Every runner knows who’s run to and beyond their typical capacity knows ‘Ngyugh’. It’s what the body says when one wants to speak but dare not divert any energy to do so coherently. It can mean several things, like “yes”, “no”, “I’m almost done!”, and “I don’t know where you’re getting your information from, but you’re f*$king crazy lady!” I think you’ll be able to provide the correct interpretations as we go.
Nedra: “Now c’mon, pick it up!”
WHAT?! “Pick it up”?! I’m dying here and you want me to go faster! Sigh …fine. I’m too freakin’ tired to argue about it anyways.
“That’s it, keep it up! You’re doing great!”
Easy for you to say, you didn’t see me waddle my fat ass up that hill!
“Looking awesome, baby! You can do it, you’re so close! Keep it up!”
Ya, I called it a hill. So what!? That underpass was massive! It had to have at LEAST a 7 foot climb… maybe 8. Holy crap, this pace is killing me.
“C’mon, pick it up. Let’s go faster!”
W T F!?
“That’s it, keep it up! You’re doing it! Go! Go! Go!”
OMG I’m gonna die so hard!
“There’s an aggie, let’s pass him.”
Well alright, there’s an idea I can get behind. Yes, let’s do that.
“You’re doing it, you’re doing it! Just keep it up!”
‘Holy freakin’ crap!’ Yep, that’s what needs to be on my headstone when I drop dead. ‘Holy freakin’ crap, he died running as fast as he could to get where he started out from in the first place’
“Look baby, you’re almost there: It’s the half-mile mark!”
ARE YOU f*%king KIDDING ME! My feet are about to fall off from this pace and I HAVE HALF A F*%KING MILE LEFT TO GO!? OH MY JESUS!
The tunnel vision I had developed over mile 23 tightened into a pin-point spot centered dead on the roof of the convention center. And not even that, but really one of the decorative red exhaust vents protruding from the top. All I knew was. if I kept going straight, I would eventually hit a sharp left turn. Also, after making the left turn I would have the finish line in sight. And then it happened: the left turn arrived, I turned, and there was The Finish Line. The pinpoint vision exploded into something ultra-panoramic, the crowd noise rushed in, and about a dozen more folks made the road kill list as whatever adrenaline I had left was administered and I kicked it into an all out sprint. For those of you who don’t run, you should know that if you do it right, you’re not supposed to be able to do this. If you can sprint at the end, you had too much energy left. None the less, I could give a rat’s ass right about then about how much or how little energy I had been holding on to. I just ran my first marathon! Final time: 5:18:04
So that’s my take away from my first marathon: learn to run through demons and inherently know that there’s still something left in the tank. Find that reserve switch and use that energy where it really counts: across the miles and not all at once during the last 200 meters. So ya, I guess I am gonna have to do this again some time.
Are you ready to take on your first (or next) half marathon or marathon? It may still be hot out, but now is the time to begin training. Our Austin Half Marathon and Marathon training programs begin in early September – be the one on the starting line who KNOWS you’re ready.