Time for another long Race Report...
My first marathon of 2016 was the Houston Marathon in Houston TX, on Sun Jan 17, 2016. Once again, I was heading into a marathon undertrained. This had certainly become a habit for me. My highest mileage week since the marathon in Omaha
was 37 miles, and that was the only week greater than 32. This is not the way to be properly trained for running 26.2 miles. So why had my mileage been so low for the last bunch of marathons? I kept telling myself that it was because I was so busy that I didn't have the time to properly train. But I think it's more than that. I don't think I want to use the word "bored", but I guess I'd become lazy. I wasn't willing to work hard enough to get a new PR
, so I was doing just what I needed to in order to finish the marathon distance. I headed to Houston knowing that I would be slow, but fairly confident that I could eventually finish the race, and check another state off my list.
So I went in without much of time goal. Finishing was the main priority. Avoiding a new Personal Worst would be nice. I was 10 minutes slower in Michigan
last May than in any other race, and that was on a rather hot day, so I thought this was a reasonable expectation, even as undertrained as this.
I arrived in Houston on Saturday morning. I stayed at the JW Marriot hotel downtown, half a dozen blocks or so from the convention center, which hosted the expo, and was close to the start and finish lines. The hotel was nice enough to let me check into a room, even though I arrived well before normal check-in time. I found a place for some lunch, then went to the expo for my race gear. The expo was certainly crowded, since this was a fairly large race. I heard it announced that there were 27,000 people competing in the Full Marathon and Half Marathon combined. That would make it one of the larger races I've done in a while.
However, while the expo was crowded, the space in downtown between the convention center and my hotel was not. In fact, it seemed eerily deserted. Apparently this part of downtown Houston is home to many leading energy companies, and I was completely surrounded by many very tall buildings. However, apparently not much business is done there on the weekends. About the only people out and about in the middle of the day on Saturday were panhandlers. It seemed very odd for the downtown of such a large city to be this empty.
After I got back to my hotel, I changed into my running gear and went out for a very slow shakeout run. Of course, I timed it so that I did the run during a brief rainstorm. Oh well, I wasn't out for long, and it wasn't too cold, so I was fine. After the run, I showered, and then looked for a sports bar to watch the NFL playoff games. But since the downtown was so empty, many of the bars in the area were closed. I found it weird that bars would be closed on the weekend when there were playoff games going on, but apparently this was not a neighborhood for weekend nightlife. I managed to find a place, and stayed there for the first game while I had dinner and a beer or two. I wanted to get to bed early, so I didn't even bother to watch the second game. I went back to my room and went to sleep. The hotel had even dropped off some complementary bottles of water and a bowl of fruit in my room. I must say, they did a nice job of taking care of the runners.
Sunday morning, I woke up at 5am, had a bite to eat, and then walked back to the expo, which served as a waiting area. It was a little chilly at that hour of the morning, so it was nice to be able to wait indoors. When it was almos time to star the race, the runners started to make the trek to the start corrals. It seemed like we did an awful lot of walking. So the start line wasn't RIGHT at the expo. We walked past Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, and then walked a few more blocks to some random intersection in downtown. All the while, I started thinking that I needed to pee before the start of the race. But the lines at all the porta-potties were way too long. So I held it.
Eventually we all made it to our corrals. I was in Corral C, which meant I needed to wait for A and B to start before our corral got to start. I finally crossed the start line at about 20 minutes on the clock. As I said, this is one of the larger races I've done in quite a while. I also knew that I would need to find a porta-potty soon. Only once have I ever had to stop for a pee break during a race (last year in Charleston SC), and that was about halfway into the race. This time it would have to happen early.
The first mile was crowded, of course, so it fairly slow, 9:52. Just before the Mile 2 marker, I found an empty porta-potty. Yay! That made me feel better, but it made Mile 2 very slow, 10:35. Relieved, I was now able to get into a normal groove, between 9:20 and 9:30.
About 8000 runners were competing in the Full Marathon. The rest were Half Marathoners. The two races split just before Mile 8. So the field thinned out a bit, but I still had plenty of company. In many recent races of mine, there have been stretches where I was all alone on the cours. Not so much here.
For the most part, I found the course to be rather scenic. I've noticed that most big city marathons have stretches that either go through dirty slums or ugly industrial areas. About the only big city race I'd done before that didn't have stretches like this was the Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota. This one had a few stretches that were along or right next to highways, which wasn't exactly the most scenic. But they did manage to avoid the slums and indusutry, for the most part.
The halfway point was on one of those highway stretches. There was a very short o ut-and-back right at this point, the only time on the course where we faced runners coming the other way. My halfway split was 2:07:38. That's on par with what I've done lately, so it was right about with what I expected. I also expected to be much slower in the second half, thanks to all that lack of training.
Sure enough, my pace dropped very soon thereafter. By now, I was running closer to 9:50 per mile, and by Mile 17 that was a 10:00 pace. By Mile 19 I started throwing in small walk breaks, mostly through the water stops and uphills. And by Mile 21 I was toast. From there, it was run, walk, hobble, shuffle for the rest of the race.
It was slow going, but I made it. My final time was 4:32:06. I suppose that was just about what I was expecting. It became my second-slowest marathon, and that's fine. As I said at the beginning, the most important thing to me is just to finish. Maybe if I train harder, I can start running 4 hour marathons again. But I have no idea if I'll bother to put in the effort to do that. My goal is to finish the 50 states, and there's no time requirement. So I think more 4 and a half hour marathons in my future are likely.
After the race, I grabbed some post-race snacks back in the expo center, before hobbling the half dozen or so blocks back to my hotel. I showered and tried to nap, but for some reason I couldn't fall asleep. So I got dressed and tried to find a place to watch more football. Finding an open bar in downtown Houston on a Sunday wasn't easy, but the House of Blues was open, so I stopped in there for a while. By the time the games were over, I was exhausted. I went back to my hotel and I think I was asleep for the nightby 7:00p. The next day, I flew back home.
So my impressions of the weekend in Houston? I really enjoyed the race. The crowd support was terrific throughout. I don't think I'd ever seen more people holding signs. Some were quite clever, although some were repeated very frequently. Seriously, someone must have been running a clinic on slogans to put on signs. Maybe it's just that everybody has Star Wars on the mind these days, but I must have seen 10 signs that said "May the course be with you". There were also numerous variations of "Hurry up, we're cold". Others were much more original. Nonetheless, it was nice to see. As I said earlier, the course itself was pretty nice, for a big city race. The race was well organized, and the weather was perfect for running. My only complaint about the weekend was the ghost town that was downtown Houston over the weekend. While my hotel was really nice, the area around it didn't have much to offer.
Next up for me will be a small race outside of Denver in April. I've done races at higher altitudes than that before, but I was in much better shape then. But as always, I just want to be able to finish that one.
And now the photos.