Thursday, February 4, 2016

Houston Marathon recap

Between my pre-Christmas travels and sort-of-injury, Houston Marathon weekend snuck up on me before I knew it. I'd sort of had to to wing it for my last few weeks of training, which left me feeling less than confident about my race goals. But after many training runs in sucky weather (torrential downpours seemingly every other weekend, ridiculous heat and humidity right after Christmas), the weather gods finally smiled upon Houston and gave us perfect 40s and sunny conditions for the marathon. At least I had that in my favor!

On Race Eve I volunteered at the expo with some of the other ambassadors before going out for pizza lunch with Omar and then relaxing at home for the rest of the day.

Expo fun!
Naturally, I only slept about 3.5 hours that night, which I tried not to think about, knowing it wouldn't make or break my race. We quickly ate breakfast, got ready and headed out to catch the train (free for runners!) to the convention center.

This year I decided to skip the pre-race run club photos in favor of simply checking in our gear bags and and getting two pee breaks in (one in the corral, after still rushing there and barely making it in time). Once we were ready to line up, Omar headed closer to the front and I ditched my throwaway layers before seeking out the 3:50 pacers to talk strategy.

I had three potential goals for this race: A. 3:45, B. sub-3:50, and C. PR (anything faster than 3:58:29). The pacers' plan turned out to be running an even 8:45 pace from start to finish. Well, that was what I'd started at the previous year and my wheels definitely fell off well before the halfway point. Omar had made me a paceband with a warm-up/negative split strategy, which I felt more comfortable attempting. I decided to stick with that and hopefully catch up with the pace group in the second half of the race. My friend/former RHC coach Catherine showed up with a similar strategy to mine in mind, so we decided to stick together as long as we could and see what happened. About 5 minutes after the gun sounded, we were off! Here went nothing.

My plan for the first 3 miles was 9:20, 9:00 and 9:00 to average ~9:05 for the first 5k split. The actual: 9:17, 9:03, 8:49. A little fast on that third one, but our official 5k split pace was 9:07, so we were right where we wanted to be as we headed into River Oaks. There was a narrow stretch on West Gray that got a little crowded, but this forced us to keep the pace on the slower side like we wanted. The plan was to keep it around 8:45-8:40 until 10k and then 8:40-8:35 at least through the halfway point.

Before we knew it, we were on Bissonnet, splitting off from the half-marathoners and heading toward Rice University, Rice Village and West U. We saw a bunch of Catherine's friends, her parents and my friends Barret and Claire all between miles 9 and 11. Seeing so many familiar faces in one stretch definitely caused us to pick up the pace as we made the right onto Weslayan. This is by far my favorite part of the course, where we cover much of my childhood stomping grounds.

Cruising past my elementary alma mater in West U. Thanks Barret!
Just before mile 12, we made the next left and began the summit of Mount Westpark. I'd driven past that hill (it is a hill!) about 10 times the previous week, and each time I thought that it didn't look as daunting as in years past. In the end, I was right. Catherine and I clocked another 8:33 split and shared a high-five upon reaching the top. She started to fly on the downhill and I got her to slow down a bit since I was trailing behind with an 8:15 pace on my watch. Too early for that!

We passed the 3:50 pace group at the halfway point, crossing in 1:54:37, right where we wanted to be according to my paceband. The next few miles through the Galleria area flew by as we found a few other RHC'ers both on the course and on the sidelines. As we made our way through Tanglewood, someone grumbled about how we were not almost there at mile 16. He was right, but at the same time, I couldn't believe we were already at mile 16 when it felt like we had only just hit the halfway mark.

At mile 17, Catherine took a spill but was thankfully okay (spoiler alert: she still went on to beat me!). About a mile or so later, we made the turn on to Woodway and I braced myself for what usually feels like the beginning of the never-end for me. But this time we were flying, still ticking off low 8:30s and even some high 8:20s all the way to mile 21. We were making sure to take water at every single station, which was working out perfectly along with my standard gel every 5 miles. We hit the 35k mark and I thought about how Omar would probably be finishing any minute now.

It was also around this point that I told Catherine that my legs were starting to feel it but I was going to try to hang on. I managed to hang on through mile 23. My pace dropped as soon as we made the turn onto Shepherd and then headed up (emphasis on that "up"!) Allen Parkway. I could see Catherine repeatedly looking over her shoulder for me, but I just couldn't find another gear. I don't really remember anything/anyone from the sidelines from that point on  — from there, it was just keep one foot in front of the other/look straight ahead/don't stop running/light at the end of the tunnel.

Mile 24 was 8:53 and once I saw 9:xx on my watch, I told myself to forget about the pace and just don't stop running. There were less than 2.5 miles to go, or 20ish minutes if I could maintain even that slower pace. I told myself, "You're so close and you're still going to PR no matter what. You can do anything for 20 minutes."

Mile 25 was a bit of a low point. It was my slowest mile at 9:18, and this was where the 3:50 group passed me. Mile 25! My heart sank when I heard one of the pacers say they were ahead of the goal by only 10 seconds and they pulled ahead by what looked to be a lot more than that. Then I told myself to snap out of it. PR, PR, PR!!!

Mile 26 was 9:06 and miraculously, I did not feel terrible. I was in the home stretch! With the extra distance I'd already managed to cover, I had about half a mile to go. Before I could see the finish line clock, I heard the announcer say that the pace group came in just under goal. What?? I knew my chip time would be about 5:10 ahead of the clock and when it was in sight, I was shocked to see 3:54:xx. I somehow found a kick, finishing in 3:49:44, an almost 9-minute PR. The hurt set in almost immediately, but I was elated.

I found Catherine (who finished in an awesome 3:46) waiting for me by the finisher medals. I gave her a hug and thanked her for sticking with me for those 23 miles and making the race fly by like just another long run. She then headed into the medical tent to clean up her knee and I went inside to to find Omar, who also crushed his PR with a 3:19.

Pacing buddies for life? Please?
PR's all around!
This was my 7th marathon and definitely my strongest one to date. For the most part, it went according to plan — I'm really glad we started as slowly as we did and I don't think I'd change anything about my pacing strategy. Even though I definitely started to wilt in those final miles, my second half was still only 30 seconds slower than my first. Plus, you've always gotta have something to improve upon next year, right? For me, no question about it, it's finally conquering Mount Allen Parkway.


Until next year, #HouMarathon!