Houston Marathon Race Report

What a race!

This was truly a race where things came together, and I hope I can harness this feeling for future outings.

The weather was perfect, 40s at the start. I wore an RRB top for the first time, with black shorts, swiftwick socks and my brooks racers and gloves. I had a long-sleeved shirt to start but actualy took it off even before we started running.

I went out with the 3:10 pace group, telling myself I would gauge how I was feeling and be willing to drop the pace if I needed. The first couple miles were incredibly congested and for awhile I regretted trying to keep up with this huge pack. However, it was great not to have to think. Our pace leaders, Tony and Chris, kept us entertained with chatter. As he’d warned, Tony had a tendency to drift ahead so I stayed back near Chris. My goal was 3:10 and I was content just hanging on.

I did the same thing I did at the Rock and Roll Denver Half, where I manually hit the lap button at the mile markers rather than relying on my Garmin.

After a slow first mile, we caught up to our goal pace pretty quickly. Then it was just a matter of dialing it in. I will admit, at mile 4 I was actually thinking that it wasn’t “easy” and I wasn’t sure if I’d be sustaining this pace the whole time. I considered saying something to Lydia, but kept it inside. After just a few more miles, I was happy to realize it was just a fleeting thought!

The marathon used RunPix.com, which is an awesome tracking program. You can actually follow your runner along on a coursemap, and it updates every 5K split. And of course, that means I even more data to geek out about!

5K split: 00:22:25 | 00:22:25 | 7:13 pace
10K split: 00:44:30 | 00:22:05| 7:10 pace

Ok, so for those of you who haven’t committed my PRs to memory.. last May I set a PR in the 10K: 45:16. Yes, I bettered it in the fall, but less than a year ago, this was faster than my 10K PR.

One nagging concern I’d had about the race was the distance. I’d gotten a few 18 milers in, but I was really hoping I’d be able to sustain the pace I wanted to for the entire distance. I wanted to be careful with fueling. I carried along my homemade energy gel in a flask. Because I actually like how it tastes (as opposed to GUs), I grabbed some every few miles to give myself a steady intake of fuel.

There were only fluid stations set up every 1.5-2 miles, and I’d been concerned that wouldn’t be enough, but it certainly seemed frequent enough. I tried the Gatorade at a couple stations, but the sickly sweetness was too much for me, so I stuck with water and my gel. (My gel was actually too thick so I poured some water into it to make it more “drinkable”)

15K: 01:06:53 | 22:23 | 07:11pace
20K: 01:29:15 | 22:22 | 07:11pace

I was really amazed how the miles kept ticking off. I ran close by the pace group, though didn’t get involved much in the discussions. I just listened and kept plowing along. At every mile marker, the volunteers would call out “7:12 pace!”. Chris the pace leader would announce our estimated finish time (generally closer to 3:09:30 than 3:10). I willed myself to nail the 3:10, despite these few faster seconds mile after mile.

HALF: 01:34:17 | 07:12pace

When I talked to Darren last week, he told me Tony would bring us through the half around 1:34. At the time, it made me anxious because my half PR is only 1:33:44. Well, we did it. But I felt like I still had plenty of energy to keep going. My calves were a bit tight (I’ve referred to the sensation before as “blocked”), but nothing too serious.

Around mile 15, our pace leader Chris veered off the course (I found out later he was taking a bio break). I just kept chugging along, but at some point looked at my watch and it was down to something like a 7:28 pace. Uh oh… I felt fine, but my speed had dropped. I pushed a bit (honestly, thus far it had been sustaining a pace, really not pushing it) to get back to where I wanted to be. By the time I hit the mile marker, I was fine. But it was a bit of a sign that I perhaps couldn’t just rely on the body here and there may need to be some mental strength too.

A few miles passed where I’d look behind me for Chris and not see him. Hmmm… I kept telling myself that so long as he was back there somewhere, I was fine. But it’d be a little comforting to KNOW he was back there…

25K: 1:51:49 | 07:12 pace
30K: 02:14:33 | 22:44 | 07:13 pace
35K: 02:37:04 | 22:31 | 07:14 pace

As it got later, my right midfoot got pretty sore. I wear Brooks racers for races because they’re nice and light, but this was the longest I’d run in them and the minimal padding was starting to make itself known. Again, nothing too serious but I suspected I’d have some blistering or something when this was all over. I did pass Big Jelly on the course – I felt bad as I knew he’d wanted to run 3:04 but hadn’t been sure if it would happen. It’s always tough when things don’t come together 🙁

I ran by one of the mile markers as they announced the winner and it was actually quite a thrill to think I was relatively close to being done!

Around mile 23, Chris and a few 3:10 stragglers came up behind me. I knew my pace was slowing and I wanted to grab onto them to get pulled along, but it was tough going. I heard him say “we’re still on pace for 3:09:30”, which was music to my ears.

Even though I’d told all my friends the day before I was going to start with 3:10 and see how it went,
Even though even 3:15 (or 3:20!) would have been a huge PR,
Even though I’d given myself permission to take a slower time to have a good race and not blow up,

I wanted that 3:10. I would have taken a 3:10:xx, just like I was content with my 3:30:05 in Steamtown, but I really wanted to come in sub-3:10.

It was after mile 22 or 23 that I let myself walk a couple water stops (very quick walks). This was something Tony had suggested at later stages in the race if you needed to get your heart rate down, etc. For me, it wasn’t a walk of defeat, it was a regrouping. The second time I did it, around mile 24, I fixed my eyes on those bobbing balloons ahead (the pace group) and told myself I wanted to catch them.

40K: 03:00:04 | 23:00 | 07:15

It was fun to see I hit the 40K right at 3 hours. So close! I paid little attention to anything apart from those balloons. I focused on them as I made my way through the city towards the finish. Only through my peripheral vision did I notice Brian cheering by our hotel. MUST…CATCH…BALLOONS…

Down the street I ran, struggling like someone in the last mile of a marathon, but not feeling completely spent. The balloons rounded the final corner. Then I heard a few more voices cheering me on, it was Darren and Colleen outside their hotel. Ok, when an Olympian cheers you on, you REALLY want to run faster! I rounded the last corner and wished the finish line were right there. Instead there was a long chute, so I poured on the last of my energy as I watched the clock ahead click forward to 3:10. I knew that I had some time to spare given my chip, and triumphantly cruised to the finish.

26.2: 03:09:52 | 07:15

Chris’ pace group had finished about 15 seconds ahead, and one gal who’d been running with him asked if I’d made sub 3:10 on my watch. When I said yes, she gave me a huge hug as though we were the best of friends. I’m not sure we’d even spoken through the run, but we were now sub-3:10 sisters 🙂 I looked around for Lydia to congratulate her. Her PR before this race had been 3:09 and I knew she’d been up ahead with Tony and had set a PR. She’d actually been feeling so great she left the group a few miles earlier and ran 3:07.

We took a photo with our pace leaders, then gathered to meet the rest of the folks we knew. All the RRBers set PR – Shawna ran 2:47 and placed 9th female overall!

We went inside to get our gear (I was happy to put on my flipflops, but my feet escaped unscathed from my shoes) and fuel up. I’d brought my own honeymilk, but they were giving them away as well. Good thing, because the buffet of eggs, biscuits and gravy (and packaged oreos) did NOT appeal to me!

I chatted with folks and hung out for awhile, then eventually walked back to the hotel, grabbing a subway sub on the way. I used my travel foam roller at bit, and filled up a bag with ice and laid on it to treat my legs, but overall I really felt ok. My calves were stiff, but as soon as I got some compression socks on them (which I then proceeded to wear for 30+ hours, taking them off only to shower) they started feeling better.

Now it’s a few days later, and my coach has decreed this “recovery” week – no exercise at all! I’m sure it’s great for me mentally and physically, but I honestly feel great. This race was not nearly as taxing as others I’ve done. My pace through the race stayed quite consistent, and I feel like it was definitely within my abilities. Now of course I have to wonder what’s next!

I said it a couple times during the race and certainly after. I am SO thankful Darren told me to go for 3:10, and I listened. None of my miles were down at that 7:38 pace and it would have been a shame to run the race at that. I’m still trying to wrap my had around the fact I ran a sub-3:10 marathon (2 years ago that’d have been a men’s Boston qualifying time!). But I know how I felt, and I know it wasn’t a fluke. And I’m VERY excited for what the future holds, after finally getting that 3:30 monkey off my back!

2004: 3:38:39
2005: 3:30:05
2006: 3:29:41
2009: 3:29:36

9 minutes over 5 years, and then BAM! I’m in a whole different league now.