Saturday, May 1, 2010

2010 Houston Marathon Race Report (3 months later)

Well, I've been promising a race report on my big race, and here it is. It's a little late, but since I've been caught up doing my Triathlon Training, I don't get much time after kids are asleep to blog (frankly, I prefer to sleep I'm so exhausted normally).

Weather conditions were pretty much ideal. A little cold, but we'd suffered a cold snap for a few weeks before the race so it wasn't really a big deal. In fact, given the race is in January, what can you expect? I've not trained for other races, but a January date really means potentially tough weather to train in.

I was as ready as I could be for this race. I'd set out an 812 mile training program covering 25 weeks. By race day, I'd completed 801 miles of it. This included 3 long runs over 20 miles. It also included runs on holidays thanks to my Family and in-laws being around for sitter duty. My favorite was getting in a 10k on the morning my baby was going to be induced. That was great, the hospital calls and asks us to be at the hospital at 5am. I'm like, why, we're going to sit around for hours? I tell my wife to tell them we'll be in a 8am. Sure enough, I get my 10k in, and we go to the hospital and have a baby 10 hours later.

Surprisingly, I slept pretty well the night before. Got to bed a little late, but not too many jitters. I think it was the 3 20+milers that gave me confidence. I had resigned myself to not breaking four hours since my long runs had me at about a 9:20min/mile pace and you need to beat 9:12 to break 4 hours.

I hitched a ride with my neighbors who were in a way responsible for this madness. They had encouraged me to do the race and convinced K to let me do it. (I was not keen and wouldn't have tried to convince K myself.)

As soon as we park downtown, I realize I've forgotten my wireless headphones. Yikes! I've done all my long runs with my podcasts. Unfortunately, the race day didn't fall on a particularly rich day of podcasts, but I would have listened to music. Oh, well, if that's my race day snafu, I'll take it. Turns out, my iphone was on quick burn that day so I'm certain I wouldn't have had enough juice to last the race anyway and given the turn of events, who knows, it may have slowed me down.

So, I'd already decided given projected race day conditions that I'd wear long sleeves. I'd done most of my long runs in long sleeves since it had been pretty darn cold in December in Houston. I had this one Adidas shirt I'd bought cheaply online that had orange piping making it look like my home team Dynamo's warm up shirt. Well, I thought I'd go one step further and I got my company's logo borrowed from the Houston Dynamo stenciled on the front. (Corny, I know, but you gotta pump the sponsors! Especially since they help pay the mortgage!)

I had my Texas flag running shorts with awesome pockets for my 3 gelpacks. I wasn't too color coordinated, but compared to some other runners, I was positively GQ.

The toughest choice was what to wear for the start. Most folks who run Marathons will tell you the worst thing you have to dress for is the wait at the start of the race. It's typically the coldest you'll experience (it's really early morning usually) and can be interminable. Well, I decided on this wind breaker my Dad had picked up who knows where. It was fluorescent green and had "Sports Illustrated" on the chest. It had long ago faded though. I think it was a giveaway like they used to do back in the 80's with a subscription. I'd run with it before on a rainy day, but decided it wasn't something I'd use again. It spent 5 years in my golf bag as a deterrent for rain on my golf days, but it would do for the pre-race wait. I was a little sentimental since I knew my Dad had used this as rain gear. But I figured this was going to be my way of honoring my Dad. Letting a little bit of him run with me. I knew I'd be jettisoning it, but I thought it a suitable end to my association with it, almost like burial at sea.

I was in the second wave which essentially meant the race clocks would be 10 minutes fast for me. I didn't think that would be a big deal. But in hindsight and for next time, you want to be in the first wave. The good thing about being in the second wave, I was right at the front. I saw my first pace runners. Two guys each carrying a little stick with balloons and ribbons that said 4:00 on it. I was like, "Hmm, as long as I stay ahead of these guys, I'll be okay." Little did we know how this drama would play out.

The gun went off for the first wave and of course nothing happened since I'm in wave 2. But you can feel the intensity growing significantly. I really have to say, I was really relaxed. I was a little concerned about possible starting out too fast, but really, I felt really good. Again, didn't think I'd break four hours, but felt I could have a good run at it.

The gun went off for our group and we were off. As expected, it was tough to get settled into a good pace at the beginning. It was very crowded and almost right off the bat, we're heading onto an over pass further constricting the circuit at it's busiest point.

I'm told race starts have a delusional effect on people. Everyone is running at or near the same pace (normally too fast for the whole race) and since you don't sense progress against this pace, you feel you're moving too slow. Well, I pretty much fell for it. I did feel I was going a little fast, but I moved to the outside in order to pass slower runners and got into a nice groove.

Sometime past the bottleneck overpass and into about mile 3, I jettisoned the wind breaker. Thanks, Dad, you got me off to a great start.

The first milestone was 10k. I did it in 54:36. I didn't know this at the time, but I did know my mile pace (8:48) since there were volunteers at most mile markers yelling out the pace. This is where I learned that they were yelling out two paces, one for the first wave, and another for the second. This was perhaps a little faster than I thought, but then again, who doesn't expect to burst a bit out of the gates.

At mile 9, the route passes nearest our house so this was the obvious place to meet with the family. I was a little concerned that racing too quickly, I'd beat them there. As I started the lookout, I was shocked to see a sign with my name on it. Turns out, one of my B-School buddies who I keep up with on Facebook had come out and even made a sign for me. Way to go, Mark! That was sooo cool. I would end up seeing him again at mile 23 and again at the finish! Well, that distracted me a bit, but by the time I'm at the designated rendezvous point, I can't find the K and the family. I thought I probably came out too quick. I also realize that marshaling the troops (a toddler, a newborn, and my sister before she's had coffee) could be a logistical challenge, so I lingered a little bit, looking down the road they'd come up before continuing. Oh, well, we had another back up rendezvous point later.

One of the great things about the Houston Marathon is it runs along all the parts of town I'm pretty intimately familiar with. So from a sightseeing perspective, it's quite comforting to see the transitions from place to place. The first miles are the only unknown for me and I'd left those behind before even thinking about how far I had left to go.

Well, after Montrose (my neighborhood), it's a hop skip and jump to the half-way point. Running through Rice Village, which is a quaint little University style section of town I passed Houston Dynamo player Wade Barrett and his wife spectating. For the second time that day, I got a "Go Dynamo!" from someone mistaking my shirt for a Dynamo shirt. And this time, it fooled an actual Dynamo family member.

I crossed the half at 1:56:47. Listening to the volunteers I was at 8:55 pace. Quite a drop off, but considering, I'd slowed to wait for my family probably about 30 seconds, maybe not so bad.

I was starting to feel a little tired, but I'd had my first gel at about 10 miles and was getting through it.

Miles 14 to 18 were a bit of a blur. The route had us going toward a highway, on the frontage road and then underneath the beltway before we get to more audience friendly sections. At some point, probably mile 16 or so I started hearing my mile pace over 9:00, but I felt I had a good chance at keeping the deterioration at bay and maybe squeezing in under 4:00. Mile 17, our second rendezvouz came and went with no sign of K. By this time I had convinced myself they weren't going to be able to come out there as it would involve driving as opposed to walking a couple of blocks.

At mile 20, came the moment of truth. As most marathoners know, the race consists of two halves, the first 20 miles, and the last 10k. Well, I'm just crossing the 20 mile marker when I get passed by the 4:00 pacers. Remember them? Well, I'd totally forgotten about them. I start to panic, but that doesn't help, I start to lose them, but somehow find some resolve to keep up the pace.

After they get about 20 or so seconds ahead, they slow down for a water station, I'm like, "Woot", I can catch them up! By mile 23, sure enough I've passed them and am on the home stretch. Of course, I'm foregoing most water stations at this point. I'm unable to sip water while running and I can no longer afford to stop for water. Probably not the best strategy, but this is crunch time.

Mile 25, we're in downtown which is perhaps a bad thing because now you can't see beyond the next corner. I'm starting to wonder if the finish line is after the next corner, only to find out it's not and I have what looks like 10 city blocks to the next corner.

Well, mile 25, the first of the two 4:00 pacer passes me and I don't have anything left in the tank. I'm like, "Oh, well, I'll be close." I'm a little comforted by the fact only one of the pacers has passed me. But I've pretty much given up the ghost of sub 4 hour.

At last, I see the finish line (and I can't see the pace guy that passed me any more). I've seen race clocks throughout, so I'm pretty certain to get my estimated race time, I just subtract 10 minutes from the race clock. I was at the start of my wave pretty much so my chip time will be close to the adjusted race clock. Well, I can see the clock, and it's at 4:09:xx. I don't remember what it was exactly, but I remember thinking, "No way...I can do this!"

Someone told me they saw me in that last stretch, yelled at me but I didn't hear them. And I'll tell you why. I found something, some unspent energy and bolted for the line. The rest as they say is history.

I crossed the line and corny as it sounds started crying. It didn't last long, but it was karmic release. All the positive energy I'd invested in training just returned in an instant.

It's tough to put in words the satisfaction of a completed marathon. Few things in life allow you to invest toward such a tangible yet difficult goal. You can't just go out and run a marathon. You need to get in shape just to start training for it. You can't let training slide because you will fail at your goal or worse hurt yourself trying to catch up. So unlike other more important, but much more vaguely defined milestones of achievement a Marathon feels really good.

My official time as 3:59:34. Hah! 26 seconds to spare baby! I looked to my iphone to see my Nike+ what it had registered and it turns out my iPHone had run out of juice about mile 12. This meant that I wasn't going to be able to call my wife to set up my pickup for home. Well, after asking total strangers to let me use their cellphone (not something polite society condones), I finally arranged the reunion and hugged K and my daughter P like I hadn't seen them in years.

Just a couple of notes. When I started my 2009 health and lifestyle resolutions, I weighed just over 230 pounds. Pre-race, I weighed 196 pounds and post race, 191. (I need to learn to hydrate on these races). A year later and about 35 pounds lighter. And all it took was running about 1200 miles. I wonder if I could make a video and sell this as a diet regime. Like this post though, it would probably be a loooong video.

Next to follow up on a Marathon...

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