Sorry it took me so long to post this. It’s been a bunch of bullet points and half-written sentences since the day after the race, but I haven’t had the time or mental acuity to finish it until now! That, and I wanted to wait for my race photos to be ready, because who doesn’t like visual aids?
Why, yes. Yes, I did just set a new PR for the marathon by 55:39. No, not 55 seconds and 39 hundreths – 55 minutes and 39 seconds. As in, almost an hour improvement.
Needless to say, I’m pretty psyched. Ok, ok. Entirely psyched. And for lots of reasons. I felt really good for the distance and I ran really fast for me. Plus, I’ve only been running for around 2 years now, and I’m not anywhere near 20% body fat — two facts that make me think that I may be able to get a really fast time for a marathon some time in my life. (I’m talking like sub-4hr marathon, which I consider to be really fast for me, a lady of German-Scottish-Czech heritage who is built more for farm labor than distance running.)
Ok, now on to my race recap (story?):
Let me first start by saying holy crap was the crowd support freaking fantastic along the entire course. Seriously. It was unbelievably great. It helped that the race bibs had the runner’s name printed on them in large letters, because a number of times when I was starting to get in my head and hurting, I’d hear a “Go Laura!” or “Looking great Laura!” or “Laura, you’re awesome!”. I also heard some “Way to go Run Happy!”, which took me a minute to understand until I realized I was wearing my Brooks Run Happy shirt. Deciphering that message was just challenging enough to my carbohydrate-deficient brain around mile 15.
Not only were the crowds great, the course was great.
We started out with one of the only 2 miles that was “meh” – a long overpass from downtown Houston into neighborhoods. I suspect no one was really bothered by this mile, because we were all avoiding other runners, the sweatshirts/etc they were throwing, etc. Plus, we all had fresh legs and plenty of adrenaline. So it wasn’t bad, just “meh”.
Then we were smack-dab in the middle of working-class Houston neighborhoods, first a black neighborhood, complete with a cheer station with Elvis dancers, and then a Latin/Mexican neighborhood, which looked like the beginnings of a street party. [A note of reference: the NFL team in Houston, the Texans, were playing in their first playoff game ever beginning at noon on race day. To put this in perspective, since being founded in 2012 the Texans were the only team to never have played a post-season game; and the last time Houston had a competitive NFL team was 1993 with the Oilers who were sold to Tennessee in 1996.] Anyway, so the Latin/Mexican neighbors were in their front yards, playing loud music, dancing, wearing their Texans gear, yelling and cheering and appearing to be having just way too much fun for 7:30am. Best sign? “Run faster, the game starts at noon!” I’m pretty sure I spent the entirety of those 2 or 3 miles smiling and laughing.
Then we had a 4 mile straight-shot run through some of the other neighborhoods of Houston. As we ran by the Houston Medical Center, where in 2002 I had knee surgery to fix an injury from college crew, the song “How Far We’ve Come” by Matchbox Twenty came on my iPod. Serendipity, indeed.
Next we ran through some more industrial areas, including the Party Boy Party Shop, which always makes me think of Jackass and tends to have better-than-average signs (“This is the ugly building with the cool stuff inside”), and Ame’s Warehouse where they apparently know nothing about grammar. Their sign that morning: “Tiara‘s for sale!” And here I thought selling people was illegal.
We ran by Rice University where – as I learned on the local news – a few days ago a man got jumped by two as he walked in to work. The guy successfully beat his attackers with his laptop, and they were unable to steal anything from him. I occupied my mind for the next few miles going through situations involving two guys trying to rob me of my laptop while walking to work, or someone trying to take my iPod and Garmin as I ran, and every related permutation.
Apparently letting my mind wander to random and often ridiculous things is most of what I do on long runs.
After another miserable hill, another overpass, and a stretch along the highway, were were in the more upscale Galleria area.
It was around this point that I realized why I’d heard more than a few people yelling things about Gallery Furniture, a major furniture store which any Houstonian recognizes from their near constant advertising. (I’m pretty sure I’ll remember their jingle for the rest of my life “Call Gallery! 6-9-0 5-5-7-0!) It turns out that Mattress Mack (the owner Jim McIngvale) was running in front of me! He and his running partner peeled off into the parking lot of the Galleria area store, but there’s a small chance that I’ll be in the background of some publicized picture of him running!
Then, around mile 15, I got particularly pissed off. Some group called something like Wallbusters thought it would be a clever thing to start putting ‘inspirational’ giant signs every half mile or so, ‘advertising’ their cheer/food station at mile 20. These signs were seriously huge – an SUV could have hidden behind these signs. The flaw in their ‘genius’ plan? Their signs were well… evil. The signs I remember said “Feeling Tired?” or “Feeling Hungry?” Yes, I was tired and I was hungry. But you don’t need to remind me of it. Pardon my cursing, but these people were assholes for putting up these signs. I don’t think I was the only one who felt this way – I didn’t see one person take anything from their “cheer” station at mile 20. In fact all of the volunteers seemed to be just standing around eating BBQ. Not kidding. WallBusters or WallBreakers or whoever was at the “cheer” station at mile 20 should be ashamed of themselves. I hope they all get ITBS. And plantar fasciitis. And shin splits.
Fortunately, I had the best of all best surprises as I made the turn at mile 18. My dad came out to cheer me on! He’d told me that he “would rather watch paint dry” than watch a marathon (I don’t blame him. They really aren’t exciting to watch, which is why I run them.), but he was there at mile 18! I saw him before he saw me and I ran up and gave him a ginormous hug and then kept running again. I teared up a little and tried not to cry which then caused me to hyperventilate, so I had to walk a little bit. But it was awesome to see my dad!
He popped up again around mile 21, just after I ran through the beautiful Memorial Park area. By this point I could feel that I was fading. The tops of my hamstrings (the area right under my bum) was extremely tired and sore, and I was starting to check out mentally. My dad’s cheering helped me get back in to it. So did the random shouts of “Way to go Run Happy!”
Then came the miserable icky no-good terrible underpasses – Really steep downhill followed by really steep uphill. There were three… I think… I could go back and look at my Garmin info, but I don’t ever want to think about those underpasses ever again.
At the top of the last (third?) underpass, there was a cheer/water station. In an effort to stretch out my tight and painful hamstrings, I began running with a weird little bend in my waist. I guess I looked really awkward, because a volunteer ran up along beside me and asked me if I was injured. I laughed, explained my situation and said I was fine. He smiled, said I was doing great, and reminded me that there was ice, medical attention, and a place to sit down just 4 miles ahead. Nicest. Guy. Ever. Volunteer Guy, if you ever stumble upon this blog – thank you so much. You are amazing.
After that, the finish line showed up faster than I expected. As soon as I realized that I wasn’t going to get my ridiculously-awesome goal (5:19:00, breaking my PR by a full 60 minutes) but was still going to get my super-massive-awesome goal (sub 5:30:00) I started smiling and didn’t stop.
So the Houston Marathon is definitely my favorite race so far. It had the best crowd support, a great course, and great finisher goodies. If you’re contemplating running it, stop contemplating and go run it. I’d be willing to bet it’ll rank near the top of your favorite races too.
Want to see the course? The Houston ABC affiliate has an 8 minute narrated video of the race course. It gives you a nice little view of everything. Check it out on the ABC site, here.