Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Houston Marathon Race Report - Part 1

Look at this smug guy, the day before running the Houston Marathon. I think he's saying "Sure, I didn't train as hard as I could have, but it won't be a problem for a superstar like myself".

A little less than a day later, I struggled over the last 3 miles of the Houston Marathon, finishing it five minutes slower than my time in PEI in October. The weather was perfect, and the course was fast, so I had no excuses for the slower showing. This is me shortly after the end, sitting on the convention floor, eating the great post-race food. See if you can see the caked, salty sweat remnants on my face.

Faith Ann (who ran the half) and I hit the Expo Friday morning. It was fun to look at all the exhibits, spending a bit of money. I think we spent close to two hours there, between picking up the race kits and checking out the exhibits. We took it easy Friday night, took a quick trip to San Marcos/New Braunfels/San Antonio Saturday, did lots of hydrating and carbo-loading, and were up early for the marathon Sunday morning.

The runners congregated before and after the race at the George R. Brown convention center. The place is plenty large enough to hold the runners, allowing us to stay inside in the warmth, although I think it was in the forties (fahrenheit) when the race started, which wasn't too bad at all.

The half and the full runners started at different points, so I separated from Faith Ann and waited for the starting gun, to the side of Minute Maid Park, where the Astros play. Craig Biggio, the former longtime Astros second baseman (whose wife ran the half in 2:08 on Sunday) started the race. I was standing next to a guy whose bib showed that he was a 25-year veteran of the race. He looked extremely nervous, continuously blowing warm air into his hands. I told him this should be easy for him after all these years. His response: "it gets harder every year".

It took me about 1 minute, 45 seconds to cross the starting mat. The sea of people ahead of me resulted in a slow first kilometer, at a pace of 6:05 (9:47 per mile). That probably wasn't a bad thing, as it caused me to start slowly. I was hoping to maintain pace of about 5:35 per km (9 minutes per mile) for the race overall, which would have me finish around 3:55. I didn't try to pass anybody initially, just going with the crowd.

After about three kilometers, I was passed by the 3:50 pacer. I checked my pace, thinking I must be going too fast, but I was actually on pace for about a 4:05 finish. I think she stayed within site of me for the next few miles, but I checked at she actually finished at 3:50:09 - a negative split I'm guessing. I never did see a four hour pacer, but I wasn't really looking for him either.

The crowds for the race were great. Lots of cheering for the names on the bibs, many kids sticking their hands out looking for "high fives", and bands and entertainers along the course. Lots of private homes had people in front of them handing out things like oranges, bananas, tissues, vaseline, pretzels, water and peppermints!

The race was quite congested for the first nine miles, with the halfers running along with the full marathoners for much of that time. It made for some interesting pick-ups at the water stations. I kept my pace pretty good for the first half, with only short stops to pick up water or take gels. However, looking back at my splits it seems like my fairly consistent 5:30 per km (8:50 per mile) pace turned into about a 5:35 pace from kilometers 23 to 38. I seemed to cruise by the Galleria, and as we headed into the tough miles (20 through 22?) of Memorial Park, I was definitely tired, but thought I could hang on.

Shortly after hitting mile 23, for some reason, I just felt dead tired. I pushed on for a bit, but it felt like a very intense struggle that I couldn't imagine maintaining for three more miles. I had a fear of walking, remembering how difficult that was in PEI when I finished my marathon. However, there came a point where I just had to. From that point on, I mixed walking and running to finish the race. Even with that, when I hit the 25 mile marker, it still looked like I could creep in under four hours, and I pushed a good 5:17 kilometer in there, but that just seemed to get me tired again. I walked for a few seconds, then slowly jogged it into the finish, for a final time of 4:01:23. There's finish line video available on the Houston website - check it out here. I'm the guy on the right, with the worst running form imaginable, pulling up my shirt at the end to wipe some sweat off my face. Note that I finished just ahead of an Irish fellow, walking over the finish line holding a can of Guinness.

There are a couple of additional stories I'll describe in a later post, as this one is too long already. I should have time to do this over the next few days, as I'm scheduled to have hernia surgery tomorrow morning, and will probably be flat on my back recovering the next few days. I'm already looking forward to picking up the training again once I'm back on my feet!


  1. Congrats! If you figure out the secret to making the last three miles feel like a piece of cake, you'll have to let me know.

    Hope surgery goes well and that you're running again soon!

  2. Owww, flat on you back! Hope you have some beer and ice cream to soothe your sorrows. Seems like you did OK in the marathon but once you start walking...(you know). Hope the surgery went well and you'll be back at it in no time!

  3. I walked in that marathon too (and others). Good race and report!