The Houston Marathon is on Sunday. I would be tapering in preparation for this race right now if I hadn’t developed and then ignored my severe shin splints. It still pisses me off, but I’m also thankful that I’ve had more time to learn swimming, to become stronger, just in a slower fashion.
In celebration of the anniversary of a race that changed my life, I thought I would share the recap I wrote after the marathon last year. It is still so vivid to me, the very interesting revelation I made after the race was over, and I look back on this with such fondness. It brings me to tears. Please enjoy, enjoy the way I made the huge discovery on the rainy day I ran my sixth marathon.
A RAINY DAY AND A DREAM – (originally posted January 2013 on a different blog)
I ran the Chevron Houston Marathon on Sunday. After training for six months and doing my pre-race taper and eating routines, I knew I was going to do whatever it took to run and complete the race in the best time I could. I gathered my things the night before, and hoped the forecast for rain and wind was wrong.
It takes a lot to get ready for a race!
Because of the cold, rainy, and especially windy conditions I woke up to, my hopes of a PR (any time under 3:56:30) or even better, a goal time of 3:45 fizzled. (The time of 3:45 would prove to myself that I could qualify for Boston at the next Houston Marathon after I turned 40.) I ended up hoping to finish the race altogether. I was emotionally charged, nervous, and overwhelmed.
As we were driving towards downtown Houston at 4:30 am, it was raining and very windy with temps in the upper 40’s. I was dreading the race. I was disappointed. I felt bad for the first time runners, the spectators, for my husband, and I was literally scared to know how hard it was going to be. All the calm that I had felt coming into the race slowly seeped away as the anxiety crept in. I knew this race was going to be a huge test in mental strength.
You can see the rain coming down.
I was supposed to be in my corral by 6:40 for the 7:00 am start. My group was just leaving the convention center at 6:30, and I needed a bathroom. It was raining, and I started to panic. I HAD to go to the bathroom before we started. Where were the port-a-jons? Why was it raining? Was I going to make it into my corral before they closed it? Was I going to be totally soaked before the thing even started? Would I be able to finish it? Tears. My poor husband just told me that I would be fine, that I had plenty of time, that it would all be ok. He remained the calm in that storm of mine. As I entered the corral in plenty of time (people were streaming in until the race was starting so I really don’t know if they closed the gates to the corral at all), I found the LONG line to the bathrooms. It started pouring. I realized that it didn’t matter if the race started when I was in the bathroom because my time would start when I crossed the start line, not when the cannon went off. I would have rather started later than stop along the way. Thankfully, I made it to the center of the pack for the start two short minutes before the race started, and five minutes after the cannon went off, I actually crossed the start line. Here I was, after six months of preparation, finally running my sixth marathon.
Let’s get this thing started!
Because it wasn’t too cold by temperature, but because of the rain, I decided to wear gloves, biker type shorts that wouldn’t slosh when wet, a tank top, a shedable shell waterproof, very light coat with tear-away sleeves that I bought at the expo, a long sleeve throwaway shirt, then a poncho. I was so thankful for the decisions I made regarding what to wear (especially the shedable shell), because it turned out to be perfect. After three or four miles, I was making good time while dodging puddles, and I completed the 5k in about 26 minutes. I got pretty warm after that so I managed to take off the long sleeved shirt while keeping the poncho on since it was raining. Skills, baby, skills. Haha!
As the mile markers went by, I noticed that my pace was steady and averaging around 8:25 minutes a mile, a miracle in my mind. My breathing felt good, and my legs were strong. One thing I read in the paper about the marathon kept ringing through my mind. Ryan Hall, an elite marathon runner, said that rain should not be a factor in marathon performance. Wind is, not rain. That piece of advice kept me going, and I knew I had no excuse to give up or slow down simply because it was raining. The good thing is that I didn’t feel the wind was as big as an issue as what I thought it would be, plus, the five or so miles going with the wind was a gift that I was very happy to unwrap, as my pace increased to about 8:10 minute miles. Once it stopped raining so hard and the darkness lifted, I saw so many wonderful, supportive spectators, a river of runners in front of and behind me, and I was running a race that I had been excited to run for months. I saw Superman running, I saw ponchos flowing as their owners ran mile after mile, I saw hundreds of articles of clothes abandoned on the side of the road, I saw plenty of people cut in front of me, I saw beer stands, and I cringed when I saw a man with a fanny pack flopping on his back. I loved the cheering people on their porches, the church members loudly celebrating us, the people hanging out of their cars to yell at us to keep going, the blue-lipped volunteers handing out Gatorade and water.
I honestly don’t remember when it stopped raining. Mile 7? Mile 10? I just don’t recall. That’s the beauty of being in “the zone” – I don’t remember a lot, including the pain! I warmed up, threw my gloves onto the side of the road, and I ripped the sleeves off my jacket. I realized later that I should have kept my gloves, even though they were wet. My. Hands. Froze.
I was going to meet my husband between miles 15 and 16, and I really wanted to change into my dry shoes he had for me. While grabbing the cups of Gatorade before that, I realized that my arms and hands were so cold, I had no dexterity to tie my shoelaces if I changed into dry shoes. I decided to save the minutes and kept going in wet shoes.
The miles flew by. I saw belly dancers, I saw more beer stands with people stopping for a cup, I avoided big puddles like the plague, and I saw downtown Houston on the horizon. I grabbed my necklace for strength for the second time at that point. It was my grandmother’s necklace, one that she wore every day, probably even when she taught my sister and I how to run around the shed in her back yard. I thought of my favorite Bible verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I thought of my husband, my kids, my family, and I wanted to make them proud. I almost teared up when “The Fighter” came into my ears, and I knew I was running as best as I could. I did not want to hit THE WALL. Then my right thigh and knee started to ache. When I passed mile 22, it started to hurt. With every step, it hurt. I regretted not taking more ibuprofen at mile 16 like I planned to, but it wasn’t bad enough to stop me. I was still going as fast as I could go, but it was a little slower pace. I gritted my teeth and kept running.
It. Was. Windy.
As downtown got bigger and bigger, I knew I was headed for a PR, and I was as thrilled as a person surviving on adrenaline could be. I couldn’t comprehend much, but I knew I was doing well. I thought that it was amazing that I started a race with very low expectations of finishing at all, but ended up running the best race of my life. I got mad (I don’t have an explanation for that, I was just mad) as I saw the “1.5 MILES TO GO”. I passed the 25.2 mark and threw my coat off so the photographers could see my race number. ½ mile to go. ¼ mile to go. Then I passed the 26 mile mark. Kick it. So I started going faster. I turned the corner, saw the people in the stands and along the sidelines, and I crossed the finish line with my arms up. 3 hours. 43 minutes. 18 seconds. I was done.
I’m near the left in a pink tank top.
As I dodged the guy throwing up Gatorade at the finish line, and I made my way to the photo area, got my picture taken, and found my husband. I was so happy, surprised, thrilled, cold, and exhausted. I met my goal time by 2 minutes and unfortunately missed qualifying for Boston by 3 minutes. I knew I couldn’t have gone 3 minutes faster, so I was very satisfied with my time, especially since the conditions were unfavorable. I ran the race well, and that’s all I wanted in the first place.
The runners were pointed inside the convention center and were met with chocolate milk, water, Gatorade, bananas, ice cream sandwiches, a hot breakfast, and fruit cups. Wow. It was nuts. Houston does a marathon well, that’s for sure. I didn’t know where to go first so I sort of wandered in circles and settled on picking up my bag so I could put my finisher shirt and mug in it. That one decision changed the course of my day.
I really can’t remember the details of how the conversation started with a fellow 39 year old runner. It could have started with me trying to bend down, lightly crying (I cry after marathons and this was a happy cry), moaning as my knees bent, and us sharing a “yeah, this hurts but we both know it’s worth it” glance. I know that I told him that I met my goal by a few minutes but missed Boston by only 3, and I would be back to tackle that goal next year after I turned 40. He said he qualified by just a few minutes and he was ecstatic. He then told me that he was 39 too, but I was mistaken. Qualification is based on the age you are AT the Boston Marathon, not the age you are when you run to qualify. I think there was some babbling in there somewhere, then I asked him if he was 100% sure to which he replied “YES, I AM 100% SURE”. I shook his hand (I almost hugged him but we all smelled too bad for that) and he said, “Maybe I’ll see ya in Boston” and went on his way. I was stunned. I freaking qualified for the Boston Marathon. I think. I had tried two times before, only to find disappointment. Could this be true? Could I have done it on the day I least expected it?
I found a fellow Gotta Run runner and told him (I was crying so I figured I might as well tell him what my deal was) that I thought I qualified for Boston and he agreed about the rules. I texted my husband. He texted me back and confirmed. I put my face in my hands and really cried, like a BOO HOO cry. I swirled with disbelief, happiness, and feelings that I still can’t quite describe. Thankfulness? Pride? Confidence? It was and actually still is a combination of those feelings. I found my way to the reunion area and cried into my husband’s shoulder. Hey, I cry after marathons anyway, I realized a dream I had for several years, and my emotions were just fizzled out. I hugged my parents and whispered that I qualified for Boston, and then cried a little more. I told my Gotta Run coach, the one who kept telling me, “You got this”. We celebrated our marathon finishes and kept getting updates on our fellow teammates. Everyone did it. We were all winners.
I went home truly truly happy with my marathon for the first time. I was so proud of all the other runners I knew, many of which were experiencing their first half or full marathon. I was very impressed with the Chevron Houston Marathon, and I look forward to running it in the future.
I followed a path to a dream, and I caught the rainbow. I think the best part about the entire race, including the Boston Qualification, is that I didn’t know. I didn’t put these boundaries and expectations on myself that morning. I did my best, and I knew I did my best, and I was happy with the result. The reward was that in itself. The BQ was the topping, the ultimate surprise, the gift that I honestly never knew I could or would be able to earn. I did it. Who knew that rainy day would be the day my dream would come true?
I’m so lucky to know the people from Gotta Run Katy. And thank you, Alain, for always believing in me.