The Houston Marathon is a great race. It’s well planned and executed, and I was able to plan my race knowing what was going to be on the course. Plenty of water and Gatorade was offered every 1.5 miles after mile 2, mile markers and clocks every mile, an energy zone at mile 21ish, port-a-jons, a pretty course with lots of spectators that took us all over the city and back downtown to a fun finish line and a good post-race set up.
With the rampant cheating going on, I was happy to see timing mats every 5k and one at an out-and-back section where the half marathon was. This would help catch any cheaters but also provide fairly quick updates to those tracking me.
When I crossed the start line mat, I wondered if my family (ok, just my husband as I knew my two kids would still be sleeping) would get a notification that I started the race. It was game time.
I deliberately ran the first mile slow, and my Garmin beeped right on the mile marker at 8:25. I kept slowing myself down, because one of my main goals was to run a negative split. It always feels good the first mile, right? “Don’t screw it up” and “be smart” rang through my head, as I settled in and concentrated on “just” running. My breath was easy, my legs felt good, and I was basically the perfect temperature. I only had a throw-away shirt over my tank and arm sleeves. It was a perfect decision on what to wear.
My music played loudly in my ears, and because the roads are sloped, I tried to stay in the middle where the surface was more even. The sky was clear, the sun was creating a beautiful sun rise, and I was chugging away at my miles, staying just over 8-minutes per mile. I felt good. I kept taking small sips of my Base Rocket Fuel (Hydro plus Amino but I forgot to add the salt – oops!) from my collapsible hand-held bottle.
8:06, 8:00, 8:04, 7:59, 8:05
I kept finding myself going sub 8, so I was sure to slow a little each time. Marathons can chew you up and spit you out, that’s for sure. “Don’t ruin it, don’t blow your engine early.” I had my first nutrition at mile 5, and I felt like I dug around in my Coeur bra storage compartment like someone looking for their registration after getting pulled over. Where was the damn thing? I had four of them in there, and I was finally able to fish one of the non-caffeine variety out. I had also unsuccessfully tried the “tequila shot” method on my hand to take my Base salt, which resulted in me losing over half of it on my glove and somewhere on the streets of Houston. Damn damn.
I started to get a little warm, so I decided to throw my shirt off at the 10k point, where one of my friends from the old hood would be spectating from. Brrrr. My arm sleeves were wet with sweat, and met with the 30-something degree air, and cooled me right off. I can’t believe I saw her in the crowd, but I was happy to see one familiar face out there. “HI KRISTA!!!!”
Twenty miles to go. Just a long run. I saw a woman who was going pretty much my exact pace, so I stayed on her tail, which gave me something to pay attention to, because I was so lost and couldn’t figure out where we were in the city. I had my next nutrition just under ten miles, and by that time, I had refilled my hand-held bottle, spilling the cold Gatorade all over my glove in the process. Because it was cold, I didn’t take in as much hydration as I had originally planned. Not a very good idea. The half marathon split between miles 7 and 8, then we ran through Rice University and toward the only boring part of the course.
8:06, 8:05, 8:02, 8:04, 7:59. I felt better than I had at this point in Boston, but I didn’t feel as good as I did the marathon before that. Granted, I was running a bit faster, but I wondered if I could hold my pace. My favorite running songs played in my ear, and I stuck with the one girl at my pace. It’s funny, because I don’t really remember a lot of details when and where they occurred, but I was aware of a lot going on around me, if that makes any sense. The potholes, the turning (RUN THE TANGENTS!), the water stations and volunteers, Superman, the police officers standing in the intersections, the people in cars who obviously didn’t know they were going to be stuck a while because there were TONS of people behind me, the spectators standing out in their hats and gloves and blankets, and COW BELL. I love this race. This flat race. Haha.
**Please don’t go Captain Watermark on me because I’m posting these pictures. I bought these, old school style, but they’re not here yet. **
Between miles 12 and 13, during the boring part filled with lots and lots of power lines, there was the first real hill. A bridge. I tried to maintain my pace as I charged up, and sped up as I came back down. The “girl with the same pace” and I went back and forth.
We hit the half mark, and at that point, I was pacing to get my PR. With wiggle room.
13.1 – 1:46:18, an 8:07 overall pace
Because Garmins can be Garmins (UNRELIABLE), I was wearing a pace bracelet with the goal time of 3:35. This made it easy to see where I was, to be sure I was pacing myself correctly. At almost every mile marker, I looked at my overall time and compared it to what the pace bracelet said I should be at. As long as I stayed under the time on my bracelet, I was fine. But the more under I was, the better.
I got really confused, as I knew we were going by the Galleria area, but it sort of looked like downtown where the start and finish were, and I knew we were only around mile 14. What the what? And I lost track of my hydration somewhere along here. I knew I was re-filling my 6 oz hand-held with Gatorade and sipped from it a lot, plus I was taking water from the aid stations, perfecting the “spill all over one’s face, hands, and legs” in the process. But I wasn’t paying attention to the totals as I had planned.
The miles ticked by, and I was maintaining my pace, slowly increasing the time between my 3:35 pace bracelet and my actual time. At mile 16, I thought “just a ten mile run to go”, anything to keep me going. The playlist I created for The Boston Marathon was playing the “hill” music, and I loved it. My legs were doing ok, my breathing was still fairly even, and I knew I could finish my race and get a big BQ..IF I didn’t mess it up.
8:02, 8:02, 8:00, 7:58, 7:57
I needed salt. I grabbed my tube of Base salt, and it was empty. Oh crap. I spilled most of it on my hand, and I REALLY needed it now. Well, what’s done was done, carry on. Still behind “girl with the same pace”.
Near the 18 mile mark, we turned, and you could see the tall buildings, where the finish was, eight miles away. One of the spectators said, “You’re headed home”, and I choked up. Eight miles to go, just a run I can do with my eyes closed, but it was still a long way. I replayed Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and Eminem’s “Til I Collapse” somewhere in here, luckily able to take my thumb out of my glove and hit the back button on my old iPod.
It was a pretty part of the course, but we had a head wind and it felt like it was all sloping up. Ugh. Then more bridges to go under. You go down first, then you go up. They’re not long, but they’re steep. More and more stupid friggin’ bridges (to go under). I thought this course was FLAT. This sure isn’t the mountains, but it sure wasn’t as flat as I remembered. I started taking my nutrition more often, and I know I was hydrating, slowing a little along the hydration stations so I wouldn’t spill all over the place.
We passed through Memorial Park as the buildings began to get larger. “Oh my, just hang on. Don’t back down, don’t back down, don’t back down, don’t give up, you gotta fight for it, don’t eff up what you worked so hard for, for God’s sake just finish what you started and DO NOT GIVE UP.”
8:00, 8:12, 7:57, 8:09,
At mile 21, I grabbed my 5th nutrition at the aid station, and nursed it for probably a mile. It was good. My initial plan was to start a small acceleration at mile 20. When I reached mile 20, I knew that wasn’t going to happen, so I rearranged it to mile 23. But I started to struggle. “The girl with the same pace” took off. I felt like I was going faster than I actually was, and I was afraid to look at my per mile split. I FELT like I was going at the speed of light, and I remember thinking to keep lifting my knees up, just keep going, don’t slouch, don’t lean back, keep moving, keep breathing. Just. Friggin. Go.
Between mile 23 and 24, I felt like my wheels fell off. We had to go under another steep bridge, and I felt like I was in quick sand. I knew I was going to get my BQ by a large margin, but I wanted that PR, I wanted it more than anything. And I knew I had missed some hydration, as my breathing and heart rate increased a lot, which is something I’ve experienced many times before. But I just pushed as much as I could at that time. I grunted. I moaned. I said some eff words and some words that started with “bull”.
Mile 23: 8:07
Mile 24: 8:13
Mile 25: 8:26
Oh Lord, please give me wings and let me fly.
The road finally flattened out (yes, I am still aware this race is not technically hilly, but it certainly is not pancake flat as I incorrectly remembered), and I was headed home. We were downtown again.
My legs churned, and I sped back up. Puke or pass out, just GO! I saw the “1/2 mile to go” banner, which really made me very angry at the time because I was ready for the damn finish line.
Then “1/4 mile to go”.
Mile 26: 8:02
The crowds increased, the sound of cheering increased, the voice in my head wondering where the HELL the finish line increased, and my speed increased. I heard it, finally. I was home. I ran over the mat that registered my name to the announcer, and I heard my name as I crossed the finish line. I was done. I pumped my arm, Shalane-style, and I said “Fuck yeah”.
I finished my 12th marathon, and at the age of 44, I ran the fastest marathon to date, with a 3:33:00.
I wobbled my way to get some water, and I was overwhelmed with emotion. I leaned on the fence, and I cried. I did it. I fought, and I won. I told the volunteers trying to help me, “It’s ok, it’s a happy cry.” Everything, all the million little pieces came together on this day, all the hard work and “learning experiences”, the frustration, the pain, it all paid off.
3:33:00 ; 8:08 overall pace
And FYI, my husband’s cousin got his BQ with a time of 3:06. Congratulations, Craig! “The girl with the same pace” ended up with a 3:31 I found out as I talked to her walking towards our medals. And I missed my negative split by 24 seconds. Ha, I’ll get over it. Oh wait, I already did.
Next Up: Post Race and my “extra time” in Houston…..