Last weekend my wife and I ran the Chevron Houston Marathon. This race completed my 7th stand alone marathon and my second time running Houston. This so far is one of my favorite marathons and is the only one I’ve run more than once.
After 7 marathons one thing is for sure – they never get any easier, you just get faster. That’s the case even when I wasn’t racing for a personal best. They’re all hard. The marathon is a very humbling distance.
Texas can be a challenge in itself. For example, at last years Houston Marathon it was cold and humid, which can make for some great running conditions if the humid part isn’t made of a heavy fog that removes body heat too fast. This year, on the other hand, Texas weather decided to change it up on us. The week before we had a hard freeze, but by mid-week we were back to muggy and warm weather. That’s like running in early summer in many places. Here it’s just a typical winter – unpredictable.
The morning of the race my wife and I got an early start. We wanted to find parking that wasn’t too far of a walk. We were lucky and found an open lot about 4 blocks away from the finish line location that wasn’t too expensive.
For breakfast I had a Clif Bar and an Ensure drink immediately after waking up. I was also carrying a pack of Honey Stinger Pomegranate Passionfruit Energy Chews that I ate just before heading out of the convention center to the start corral. I like the Honey Stinger Chews because they aren’t hard to chew like some of the others.
As an endurance triathlete I try to start my long events with plenty of fuel in reserve with a nutrition plan for during the race.
When we arrived we did all the normal pre-race stuff – checked our gear bag, met up with friends, hit the porta-potties, etc… then lined up in the starting corrals. I was assigned to Corral A and was lined up with the 3:30 pace group. This was several mins faster than my planned finish but I also had no intention of staying with them. My goal time was 3:34, which was right in the middle of the pace groups.
The start of the race was full of energy and I checked my watch constantly to keep my pace in control. I was only partly successful at this, but was much closer to my plan than usual. I wanted to hold an 8:10 pace or close to it for 20 miles. This was something I had already done in training, averaging just a little faster than my plan. The challenge on race morning was going to be the temperature. A few days before the race committee had already sent out an email letting everyone know it was expected to be a warm year and that extra hydration and a slower pace should be considered.
As I approached mile 1, I was already sweating heavily and my marathon pace shouldn’t have been that strenuous that early in the run. This indicated that it was truly going to be a tough finish and I needed to take in as much fluid as I could at the water stations without getting that sloshy feeling.
Miles 2-12 were much like any long run. I felt good and followed my nutrition plan, which was to take something every 4 miles, and I was drinking 2-3 cups of Gatorade and water at every water station. Mile 12 had a large overpass and I reminded myself that it’s “ok” to slow down on the uphill. For me the downhills really do a number on my quads, so I kept it controlled on the backside of the overpass and then steadied my pace for the small out and back section at mile 13. Elevation change was 30 ft. This is also around the time I started hearing my shoes squishing – it’s not a good sign if you’re sweating that much. It was time to start picking up more water and dump some on me to try to cool my core temp.
Mile 13.5 had a downhill for an underpass before going back up to street level at 14. I used the same strategy, knowing that I train in nearly flat conditions which makes hills more challenging.
As I arrived at mile 17 I noticed that my pace was starting to slow and my heart rate was up above what I know I can maintain a pace for extended periods of time. My perceived effort at this time didn’t feel any higher; however, experience told me that I could either slow down and bring my heart rate down or keep pushing and try to get as far as I could before crashing. Neither option was ideal.
So what did I do? I decided to push along. Ironically, this is about the same spot I started having trouble the year before with a very different goal pace and overall conditions.
At mile 20 I was averaging about one min per mile slower than my goal pace, but I was still moving. All I had to do was keep moving, which is much easier said than done. Partway through mile 21 I hit “the wall” – not from poor energy reserves, but most likely due to poor hydration. I started to get very stiff and wasn’t able to keep running consistently. I began power walking (or some strange-looking version of it) as we entered Memorial Park. I began following my Ironman strategy of walking the water stations….and walking any incline. Unfortunately, Memorial Park is made up of rolling hills so that turned out to be a lot of walking.
I even tried to stop and work out a cramp in mile 23, which turned out to be a bad idea because I cramped everywhere. I knew better and I did it anyways. I wasn’t doing well on my mental game. This led to more walking to work out the cramps that I just induced. At this time I was passed by the 3:40 pace group and knew I needed to start moving again. I wasn’t going to hit my goal time but I was still fighting for a PR. I only had a 5k to go.
Now I was approaching mile 25.5. I knew my GPS was useless after this point from the year before – something with the tall buildings and reflective surfaces plays with the GPS signal. At this point I knew it was a straight shot down the main road with lots of people out cheering and encouraging runners to keep going. I decided I was going to run the rest of the way. I was still fighting for my PR and I wasn’t going to lose it in the last half mile. As I pushed along it also started raining, which cooled things down a little too late for my race. I managed to run through the finish line with a time of 3:54:04. That was a personal best by almost 6 minutes.
I was disappointed and happy all at the same time, and in serious pain. I hurt from my ankles through my shoulders.
As I was able to take in fluids I slowly started feeling better. I met up with my wife, who ran a great race as well. We got changed and headed to the car where we could finally sit comfortably.
I still have a goal for my 3:34:00 or better marathon and I’m going to keep working for it. However, Now it’s time for tri season to get kicked off with Ironman Texas 70.3 just a few months away.
See all my race data here http://bit.ly/GarminHM