The Houston Marathon is a lottery race and I signed up for the lottery late last spring/early summer (It’s a little fuzzy in my mind when the lottery actually was, but it feels like an eternity ago) and, lucky me, I got in! That was back in the day when I was feeling strong and resilient. Oh how things quickly deteriorated over 2013. Anyway, I had intentions of running the Chicago Marathon in October, the Route 66 Marathon in November, the Dallas Marathon in December, the Houston Marathon in January and the Austin Marathon in February. The Dallas-Houston-Austin trifecta were most important in the string because I would qualify to get the Texas Marathons jacket. Well, some time in the late summer/early fall the Texas Marathons series disintegrated, so my motivation quickly dropped off for getting Austin into my string. After hurting my foot in the aftermath of the Chicago Marathon, I decided against Route 66 (I hadn’t signed up, so nothing was lost) and the Dallas Marathon was canceled due to a crazy ice storm, so all that was left on the calendar was Houston.
I traveled down to Houston with two of my running friends, Alyson and Jessica. We booked flights together on Southwest and shared a hotel room at the Hilton Americas, which just so happened to be the sponsor hotel for the race, which also meant all the elites were staying there. That was a pretty cool experience, seeing the elites hanging around the lobby!
Race Day Weather
The weather forecast definitely looked way worse than it felt at the beginning of the race with 99% humidity, but the 50-degree temperature was comfortable to run in. The 2012 Dallas Marathon was significantly worse!
The weather really felt comfortable until about the halfway point, when it started to warm up and the sun was shining strong. When I crossed the finish line, the temperature was 61 degrees, which is cool for standing around, but when you are running, your body temperature increases so it feels 20 degrees warmer than it actually is.
So my running temperature was at 81 degrees when I crossed the finish line. A little too warm for my preference. In the second half of the race, I rejoiced for the shaded stretches and dreaded the sunny areas. Needless to say, I came home with a lovely runner’s sun burn (you know the kind, white band around the wrist from the watch, lovely lines on the legs from the shorts, and the top half of an X on my shoulders and back from the singlet). And don’t let those weather screen shots fool you. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky the entire time.
Feelings Going Into The Race
Dread, dread, dread! Oh my gosh, was I nervous for this race. I typically run the full gamut of emotions in the days leading up to a marathon, but with this one, all I felt was dread and nervousness. I was extremely under-prepared for it. That training plan I made… yeah, I really didn’t follow it. My 22-mile training run ended up being the fastest 22 miles I’d ever done, completing it in an hour and a half and when I say I did 22 miles, I really mean I only did 9. I haven’t added up all the miles yet, but I think my “peak week” had me hovering around 26 miles. Yikes. As the marathon drew closer, I set two goals for it. To finish and to not get injured. I had so much anxiety going into it, I wasn’t sure I’d finish it, so my two goals were probably the best two I could have picked for this race. I debated dropping down to the half or just staying home and not racing at all, but I stuck with the plan, flew to Houston, and parted ways with the half marathon at the split.
Meals Before The Race
After heading to the expo, Jessica, Alyson, and I had a little bit of time to kill, so we headed to the hotel bar. I did something I NEVER, EVER do the night before a race. I had a glass of wine.
I figured I was so unprepared for the race, one glass of wine couldn’t do much more damage. As we were finishing up, we got a message from another friend of ours who was already seated at our dinner reservation. There were a handful of us Dallas Running Club people in Houston for the race, so several of us got together for dinner at Piola Treviso on Saturday night.
I ordered the Lollo salad
and the Pappardelle alla Bolognese.
Everything was extremely delicious and we had a very cute and charming waiter to entertain us!
On Sunday morning, I had a Black Cherry and Almond Clif bar. Not my usual, but we didn’t have any English muffins at home for me to pack and bring with me. The Clif bar did just fine.
What I Wore
I wore my C9 yellow sports bra. On top, I had on my new Dallas Running Club New Balance singlet and on the bottom I wore a pair of black on pink Nike Tempo shorts. For socks, I wore my Nike Elite Cushion No-Show Tab socks that I got at the DC Nike Women’s Half. I wore those with my Brooks Glycerine 11 running shoes and a new-ish pair of Carbon Super Feet (these basically cured my case of plantar fasciitis). I also wore my grey Flip Belt, my Garmin Forerunner 610, and my RoadID bracelet. I purchased a blue pair of arm warmers and a blue headband at the expo and wore both of them during the race (although I pushed the arm warmers down to my wrists after a few miles and then eventually took them off). I carried two Gatorade Endurance Chews and six Clif ShotBloks in my Flip Belt.
I honestly couldn’t tell you where the heck I was along the course for 95% of it. I don’t know Houston AT ALL. In fact, this trip was my first time ever visiting the city, outside the airport for a layover. The 5% of the time I did know where I was, we were either running right by Rice University (I only know that because I saw a sign), in downtown, or in some park that I noticed when I quickly scanned the route map a day or two before the race. I had been warned about how awful Houston was and how boring this race would be, but to be quite honest, we ran through some really nice neighborhoods that had the most glorious canopy of trees shading the streets. That being said, there was one stretch right around the halfway point that was running along wasteland America. I think this stretch was an industrial area that butted up against the highway. There was not shade, full sun, and it was just plain miserable. We also had our one large overpass along this stretch.
Speaking of overpasses, the Houston Marathon is known for being flat, flat, flat. It was pretty flat for almost the first half and then the overpass and underpasses hit. Looking at the elevation chart, sure enough, the route was still flat, but I swear, flat courses are mentally harder than hilly courses simply for the fact of being called flat. The underpasses and overpass were hardly anything to complain about, but they certainly didn’t feel flat! Chicago was the same way… every time we hit and incline, I wanted to shout out THIS. IS. NOT. FLAT!! If you describe the course as mostly flat with a few small rolling hills, I’m cool with that, but in the middle of it all, a flat course never feels flat in those minor inclines.
The Race Organization
2014 is the 42nd running year for the Houston Marathon. The Houston Marathon is both a half marathon and a full. The full is sponsored by Chevron and the half is sponsored by Aramco. It seems kind of strange that they have different sponsors (and completely different shirts and medals) for the two distances. Maybe that’s more common than I think, but it really felt like two different races running together on the same day. My friend, Alyson, ran the half, while Jessica and I ran the full.
Another interesting sponsor “fact” about this race: Under Armour has been the apparel sponsor in the past and was intended to be the sponsor again this year, but for some mysterious reason (I’ve googled and nothing has turned up), Under Armour backed out with very late notice, so the Marathon got Sketchers on board as the apparel sponsor, and that’s why the apparel isn’t that great (cotton participant T-Shirt, unisex dry-fit finisher’s shirt, and sub-par, in my opinion, marathon merchandise at the expo).
But, beyond the surprise change of apparel sponsors, I think the overall presentation of the marathon was decent. Not the best, but could have been significantly worse. The expo was fine. It didn’t blow my socks off, but had plenty of vendors and booths to check out. Alyson, Jessica, and I headed straight there after dropping our bags off at our hotel and we breezed through packet pickup.
We were all VERY disappointed in the marathon merchandise from Sketchers. I was hoping to get something to commemorate the race, but everything Sketchers had was lack-luster. I’d hoped that maybe, just maybe, Luke’s Locker printed up some race apparel, but no dice, so I went home sans race merchandise. Just as well. I didn’t really need to spend the money. As I mentioned above, I did purchase some cheap arm warmers and two headbands at two different booths.
On to the race. Alyson met up with another friend who was running the half and who she planned to pace, so Jessica and I found our other friend, Lisbeth in the convention center and hung out there for a while to stay warm before heading out to the start chutes.
Jessica and I were approached by some guy in a white lab coat holding a scale. They were doing a study on how much weight people lose during a marathon, analyzing hydration and dehydration rates. Jessica and I offered up our weights (I wasn’t a fan of the number I saw, having gained quite a few pounds over the last several months). We were instructed to find the lab coat people at the end to get weighed again after the race.
As we were making our way to the chutes, I asked Lisbeth if she wanted to run it with Jessica and me. Jessica said she would stick with me, which was a relief to know I’d have company, but I was afraid I’d be holding her back. In general, I’d say we are pretty comparable runners, but she’s picked up in pace in the past few months while I’ve slowed down. Anyway, Jessica wasn’t mentally into this race so she wasn’t worried about time. Lisbeth said she was thinking of taking it easy too, so it would work out perfectly. The three of us would race together…. more on that in a minute. The three of us were assigned to corral C and headed down the corral C street, only to find out that, after weaving through the crowds, we’d been shut out of our corral. We walked another block over to Corral D and again wove through the crowds to get close to the 5:30 pace team.
We waited in line for the corral to get going and I noticed that the national anthem didn’t happen. Maybe we missed it, but I can’t imagine we’d been running that far behind for the start of the race. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but in retrospect, it seemed really odd not to have the national anthem at such a large race.
I should add here that the Houston Marathon is also the USA Championship for the half marathon basically the trails for the Olympics. In combination with being a “flat and fast” course, this race is loaded with lots of elites. Those people are finishing the half marathon in an hour. That’s CRAZY FAST! Including all those speedy elites, the Houston Marathon and Half Marathon draws about 25,000 runners.
It’s no Chicago, but the Houston Marathon is really well supported by the city. Since a good majority of the race runs through residential neighborhoods, a lot of people sit out on the lawns and cheer runners on. People were handing out food and drinks. Some of the sponsors had little “aid” stations along the way, too. If you happened to be running with that sponsor, you could stop ant their “aid” station and grab some food or fluid. Jessica and I took advantage of one group of people handing out cups of water and ice cubes in the high miles of the race.
We saw a lot of the typical signs along the way (Worst parade ever, Touch here for power, etc.), but some of my favorites for the day were (and I wish I took out my phone to take pictures): “Smile if you just farted”, a woman dressed in a bunny costume holding a sign that said “Hop to it bitches” and some holding a sign at right around mile 25 that said “You are NOT almost there”. I get really annoyed when people yell out, “You’re almost there!” starting at mile 18. I want to tell them to put their beers down, get off their lazy butts and out of the lawn chairs and go run the last X miles, while I sit there for them and then come tell me I’m almost there. I am not almost there until the finish line in a 10th of a mile away! When Jessica and I saw this sign we thanked the guy and he said he knows, he’s been in our shoes!
Okay, so I left off in the corral with Jessica and Lisbeth. Well, Lisbeth told us she was going to take it easy. The three of us all ran the Chicago Marathon this year… not together… but we all did it. Lisbeth and I came in about a minute apart on chip time, so she’s close in pace to Jessica and me. Like me, Lisbeth was feeling under-trained for this race, so I thought her “taking it easy” would be right around my “taking it easy”. I was totally wrong. She was aiming for a 4:30, about 2 or 3 minutes slower than both our Chicago times. When she said that, I looked at Jessica in fear. There was no way that little slower from my PR was taking it easy. I was fully trained for Chicago and I was 100% under-trained for Houston. We inched our way up to the start line and we were off. Jessica and I lost Lisbeth within the first 10 steps and never saw her again. Luckily Jessica did stick with me for the ENTIRE race and if she hadn’t been by my side, I think I would have done much, much, much worse… maybe even DNF (did not finish).
We broke the race up in to quarters to make it easier to tackle mentally. The first quarter went by really quickly. Soon enough, we were parting ways with the half marathon at mile 8. The crowds thinned out and we didn’t need to weave and dodge as much. t carried a water bottle that I’d purchased at the airport and put a Nuun in it for electrolytes and intended to hold onto it for the first half of the race. I ended up drinking about half of it, and by mile 9, I couldn’t take carrying it any longer, I ditched it. We ran through the water stops taking water when we needed it and I was systematic with my chews/ShotBloks, taking them every 3-ish miles. This was the first time I’d ever used the caffeinated ShotBloks and in the later miles, I could clearly tell when I took them. Within 5 or 6 minutes of taking a ShotBlok in the latter miles, I filled back up with energy and felt like I could keep running all day (in theory), but the “effects” would wear off and I’d feel sluggish again and want to quit.
Around the mile 14 water stop, I suggested to Jessica that we take walking breaks through the rest of the water stations. She happily agreed. The sun was getting strong and the water stops felt SO far apart, but we stuck with our pattern for quite some time. Somewhere in the late teens we saw a woman pushing a handicapped person in a racing chair. Jessica and I both felt very humbled and thought we shouldn’t complain for the misery we were feeling. We stuck by this woman and handicapped person for quite some time (it felt like several miles, but it was probably half a mile) before we passed them. Another point along the race, some guy spotted Jessica with her Marathon Maniacs shirt on. he stopped the two of us at a water stop and took our picture. He was a complete stranger to both of us, but for whatever reason, he now has us captured on his phone. Kind of random and funny. He ran with us for a little while as well, asking Jessica about her marathon plans. Jessica is a new Maniac, so the Houston Marathon was her first experience of all the camaraderie.
We carried on and got to the park. I expected a nice, shady stretch, but instead we were in full sun the entire stretch of the park. There were some rolling hills and alas, the Clif aid station. They were handing out an assortment of fuel. I took one and stashed it in my Flip Belt for another time. (No need to pay for these things when I can get them for free!) We carried on and somewhere in between mile 23 and 24, I hit the mental wall. I needed a break. I asked Jessica if she minded walking for a little while, beyond our water-stop walks. She agreed and we walked. OH. MY. GOSH. was that painful. I mentally couldn’t run, but walking hurt so, so much worse. Somewhere in this stretch, I looked down at my watch and saw we were at the 4:30 mark. I mentioned that if this was Chicago, I had just finished, but today, I had 3 more miles to go. :/ We walked for maybe half a mile and Jessica suggested we start running again. I pinpointed a start point; a blue spectator tent, up ahead at the top of a small climb, and when we reached that point, we ran again, taking one last water stop walk before the finish. As we grabbed water from the mile 24 and change water stop, some of the volunteers announced that it was the last water stop until the end. I SO wasn’t ready to hear that. Not only had I been enjoying the water stops for the walk breaks, I had also been hydrating like crazy at all of them, taking at least two cups of water and maybe Gatorade at each of them. At least a mile and a half until the end seemed like too far to go without water for as hot and as thirsty as I was. But so it was, the very last water stop and the very last walking break.
We wound out way back into downtown. We saw a sign: 1/2 mile until the end. Holy cow, a 1/2 mile felt SOOO FAR! Then we saw the 1/4 mile until the end sign. WHAT?! We’ve only gone 1/4 mile since the last sign. Surely they were 45 miles apart! We saw our hotel to the right and the convention center straight ahead. Just a left-hand turn and about a 10th of a mile to go. When we turned, Jessica and I BOOKED it. Looking at our splits, I laugh cause we were hardly sprinting, but man it sure felt that way! Just a few more strides and…. DONE!!!
A high-five and medals around our necks later, I was on the hunt for water. Where the heck was the water?! Nobody had water for us. Bananas, yup, but no water. Grr. As we entered the convention center, we spotted the guys with the scales and offered up our weights one more time. I’d lost 1.4 pounds. Apparently that meant I was sufficiently hydrated. Losing 4 or more pounds was the dehydration threshold, or so they told us. The guy asked me how I felt and I said thirsty. Where the heck is the water. He didn’t offer me any water or direction or where to find it, but simply wrote down my comment. Hope that helped for whatever study they were doing!
I texted Alyson, who had stayed in the expo after the half marathon to wait for us. She told us where she was and Jessica and I headed that way.
Post Race Food And Vendors
We found Alyson walking our way and she told us about the post-race breakfast, hosted by HEB, a regional grocery store: Eggs, sausage, and hash browns. She said she had some and regretted it, so we took her advice and avoided it, so no pictures there. Jessica and I headed to the finisher’s shirt area and got our reward, a dry-fit unisex finisher’s shirt and beer mug.
Meh. We sat down in a secluded area and relaxed for a few and I ate my banana before heading over to our hotel.
There were a few food trucks lining the street, but there wasn’t a ton of activity for the runners outside. We didn’t meander through the convention center enough to see if there was anything worthwhile inside, but from Alyson’s description, there wasn’t anything to write home about.
No Pain No Gain
So my goal of finishing the marathon was a success. And so far, no injuries. Again, another success! But a marathon is far from pain-free. My inner thighs were aching for quite a while during the race and, as usual, my feet hurt, but luckily significant arch issues. My shoulders were insanely tight for the is race and I had to stretch them out as we walked through the water stops. I took one stretch break to stretch out my calves and quickly caught back up with Jessica as we were funneling through a water stop.
Post race, my quads were super sore. I have been working on a big knot in my left quad. I took a hilly 6-mile run for the first time a week after the marathon and my body felt good but I could definitely still feel that knot in my quad. It’s loosening up, but hanging around. All in all, nothing too out of the ordinary here. Being completely under-trained, I was really scared about getting injured, but we took it slow enough where the risk of an injury was low.
Other Random Thoughts
Even though we walked through half of the water stops and took that dreadful walk break between mile 23 and 24, our actual running pace was very steady throughout the entire race. I suppose that’s good, right?! Oh, and I never found water after the race. Alyson had a bottle that Jessica and I split.
Lisbeth, who ran this race in 2013, said 2013 was better organized but 2014 had a better route. Not having the history to compare it to for myself, I thought this race was okay. I don’t know if I’d do it again. 80% of the route was really nice and visually appealing. 20% was barren and full-on sun. I was disappointed with the apparel, but having learned that Sketchers came on as the apparel sponsor at the very last-minute, that seemed to explain the quality. Staying at the marathon hotel was AWESOME! We were right at the finish line, next to the convention center. It was super convenient and sure made the walk back to the hotel after the race bearable! The crowd support was as I’d expected. Would I recommend this marathon to someone else? Hmmm, I guess I would say if someone wanted a major marathon on a fairly flat course in Texas, do Houston. If someone wanted a marathon in general, and Houston wasn’t home or had sentimental value, I’d say pick something else. I hate being down on races. This, by far, wasn’t the worst race I’ve ever done. I simply have no attachment to it. I’m not from Houston nor had I ever there before (or heard a whole lot of great things about the city to get my excited about it). I didn’t PR. And I quite dreaded it due to my own lack of training. If the combination of those circumstances were different, I’m sure my sentiment would be different as well.
Bib Number: 8261
Division: Female 30-34
Official Chip Time: 5:02:44
Official Gun Time: 5:25:24
Official Race Distance: 26.2 miles
Official Average Race Pace: 11’33″
Overall Rank: 5260 out of 6946
Gender Rank: 1796 out of 2587
Division Rank: 355 out of 483
5k Split: 34:14
10k Split: 1:08:09
15k Split: 1:41:53
Half Split: 2:24:15
25k Split: 2:52:25
30k Split: 3:29:09
35k Split: 4:07:09
40k Split: 4:48:22
Garmin Time: 5:02:46
Garmin Distance: 26.46 miles
Garmin Average Pace: 11’26″
Mile 1: 10’52”
Mile 2: 11’04”
Mile 3: 10’36”
Mile 4: 10’49”
Mile 5: 10’51″
Mile 6: 10’46″
Mile 7: 10’50″
Mile 8: 10’47”
Mile 9: 10’55”
Mile 10: 11’01”
Mile 11: 11’09”
Mile 12: 10’54″
Mile 13: 11’19”
Mile 14: 10’59”
Mile 15: 11’28”
Mile 16: 12’03”
Mile 17: 11’52”
Mile 18: 10’57”
Mile 19: 11’51”
Mile 20: 11’45”
Mile 21: 11’45”
Mile 22: 12’53”
Mile 23: 12’07”
Mile 24: 14’40”
Mile 25: 12’47”
Mile 26: 11’10”
Mile 26.46: 9’43”