The road to running a marathon is normally long and winding, full of ups and downs, highs and lows, and pretty much everything in between. My training cycle for the Houston marathon began in August, when I started doing speed workouts, to allow me time to slowly build into them, as to avoid/prevent injury. I had some amazing workouts, some questionable workouts, and then bad ones. There were workouts in the 90’s, where I could barely breathe, and I struggled to just finish the damn thing. There were workouts in the teens, which is an anomaly along the coast of North Carolina. The good thing is that most of the workouts were good. And I was having fun. I felt myself getting faster and stronger.
To clarify, after my marathon in March of 2016, I trained for 3:40 and pulled out a 3:36. I felt like I had more to give, so I wanted to give it a try. I set my sights on a 3:30 race.
Fast forward. The holidays made the approaching race come up what seemed like superspeed. Pretty soon, two weeks before the race, I was doing my last long run. It was killer, but I nailed it.
In some of my last conversations with my coach, I devised my race plan and looking at the course map, where I spelled out how much I would drink, when I would drink it, and what I would drink, and when I would eat the day before through the entire race. What I would carry, what I would wear if it was hot, if it was cold, pretty much everything. Through our email exchange, I found out I was not expected to run a 3:30 when that’s what I thought I was aiming for. It should have been a phone call instead of an email, but I was a little shaken up by it but in all honesty, it was fine. She gave me some pace guidelines, and I took it upon myself to reset my goal to a 3:35. That would be a PR and a huge BQ, and I knew I would be happy with it. My main goal, I told her, was to negative split my race, to finish faster than how I started. That, I tell you, is the biggest adrenaline rush you can have.
Things proceeded as normal. I doubted my ability, I doubted pretty much everything, but it was a normal feeling, mostly brought on by the “taper flu”. Taper makes me feel like complete crap, where I am tired from climbing the stairs, from cooking dinner, from everything. I typically feel like Pheobe running in Central Park.
My last speed session the Wednesday before the race was tough, but again, it went really well. Could I? Was it possible? The only way to find out was to give it my all.
I packed everything, including the kitchen sink. I traveled with my friend, Melissa, who was also running the full. We left on Friday morning, and we arrived pretty much on time. Ahh, Houston traffic, I did not miss you! I really wanted to go to the expo when we got in, but I knew that would time us to leave Houston when 437,894 other people were leaving and we would get stuck in really heavy traffic. That was not something I was going to do. We went to my old stomping grounds in Katy, a “burb” of Houston. First stop was the grocery store, where I got all the things I thought necessary for the weekend. Pesto chicken pasta was on the menu, along with some snacks, bananas (haha, there’s a banana story coming), and lots of bottled water. I brought my oatmeal, Base Hydro, Base Salt, Base Amino, and Base Energy. I love Base, by the way, and am proud to be on the Base Race Team again this year. #shamelessplug #baseperformance
I stayed at my “old” neighbor’s place, and was thrilled to be able to visit with her and a few “old” neighbors, even if it was just a few hours. After her cat “nibbled” on my hand for removing him from my room, it was bed time. I had a VERY hard time getting to sleep, probably because Melissa and I were just trying not to wake each other up, which in hindsight, would have been worth getting a hotel for. That was one of the many things I learned I should have spoken up about. Sleep is an endurance athlete’s main goal the second night before the race, so we should have made it our priority to set ourselves up to get as much shut eye as we possibly could.
I woke up a few times in the night, but ended up waking up with a start at 9 am. OMG I AM LATE! I wanted to get up at 8, but I know I needed the sleep, so I tried not to panic. Melissa and I went for our shake out run of 25 minutes. Funny, we had to go all the way to Houston to run together. It felt “ok”, but it was done, and it was time to roll. I quickly got ready, and made my way to another friend’s house for a few catch-up minutes. I headed back, collected my stuff, and we headed to meet yet another friend for lunch. And the lunch was GOOD. Pesto chicken sandwich it was. The weekend of pesto! And if you know me, you know I LOVE pesto. I knew I needed to be careful for the fat content, but it is something I normally have, so I wasn’t too worried. Plus, I pour out the oil on the top of the pesto jar, so I felt comfortable with it.
After lunch, we headed to the race expo. More Houston traffic, but at least it was Saturday. The expo was a little more crowded than I thought it would be, but I was able to see my husband’s cousin, who was gonna “just jog” the marathon with the 3-hour pace group. Gag.
I also saw stars when I looked over and there was KARA GOUCHER signing autographs. Silly me waited around, didn’t get a picture, and missed my chance at meeting her. Damn. Kara Goucher. Right in front of me. And not even a picture to prove it.
I picked up a few cool tank tops and a hand-held water bottle, got some pictures (not of Kara Goucher), and it was time to head to the hotel, set up camp, and mentally prepare for what I was going to do to myself the next morning. I wasn’t really nervous yet, probably because I had been running myself ragged, but it was ok. I was supposed to meet a friend of mine from home for dinner on Saturday night, but I got a pretty nasty headache and wanted to stay put and rest for the remainder of the evening. No more running around.
Once I checked in to the hotel, I laid out all my clothes for the race. I was in a quandary about what to wear. It was going to be cold. I love running in the cold. But how cold was it going to be? Did I need tights or shorts? Long sleeve or short sleeve or sleeveless? The good thing is the weather on Saturday was similar to that predicted on Sunday, so based on my shake out run, I thought it was going to feel much warmer than it actually was. I finally decided on shorts, tank top, arm sleeves, gloves, and a headband to cover my ears. I had a throw away shirt and sweatpants as well.
I ate my pre-race pasta, prepared my Base Rocket Fuel for the hand-held bottle, and got all my crap together. I also drank two bottles of water with a Nuun tablet in each. Was I ready? Was I really, really ready? It was time to find out.
I set my alarms for 3:30 and 3:35. I’ve made a few “alarming” mistakes when it comes time to set the time to wake up, so I checked and doubled checked to make sure it was correct. I woke up a few times in the night, but was able to get back to sleep. Thankfully.
Before I knew it, my alarm was beeping and it was time to get up. I made my double oatmeal, trying to be quiet. As you know, using the microwave quietly is nearly impossible, but what could I do? After the oatmeal, I got my bread and peanut butter ready to go. Three pieces of non-whole wheat bread. Time was creeping by as I tooled around, got dressed, and checked my five weather apps to see what it was like outside. Cold – 35 or so. It was cold, and it was going to be sunny. I was happy with my choice of outfit. I would do almost anything to not overheat, which is not hard for me to do.
All of a sudden, it was almost time to go. I got my bag check bag full of post-race junk, throw away clothes, accessories, and snacks ready to go. Then BAM, nerves hit. I was probably shaking as I scurried around to make sure I had everything. We hit the road to the convention center.
The Houston Marathon is probably one of the best organized large races I’ve been to. Granted, you had to walk and walk and walk and walk to get anywhere, but you have an indoor area to hang out, drop your bag, and they made regular announcements as to the time the corrals would close. I needed to hit the can before we left toward the start, but the lines were just too long, and I couldn’t chance missing the cutoff to get in Corral A. Melissa and I said our goodbyes and good lucks.
I jogged towards the start line, following the stream of runners, knowing I only had to follow them to find where I needed to go. The corrals were well marked, and I found the can just outside the corral area. I ran this marathon five years ago, and it was set up significantly different, and I remember it POURING rain as I waited in a long line to go to the bathroom wondering why I was so stupid to do something so stupid, haha. This time, the line was short, and it wasn’t raining, thank God. I had to chuckle at the memory of me absolutely FREAKING out last time “because I was going to miss the corral cutoff time and then I wouldn’t be able to run the race because AHHHHHHHH”. I was nervous, but I was calm. I did some leg swings, A-skips, quad pulls, and knee huggers. The sweats came off and I dropped them over the fence. D’oh. Should’ve checked the time as I had 20 minutes to go and it WAS cold out. Oh well. I listened in on conversations, I people-watched, I thought over my race. Was this the day? How was I going to feel when I crossed that line? WOULD I cross that line? I was ready to go.
One national anthem and a quick crowd mash later, I crossed the start line, and my race had begun.