Houston Half Marathon – Training (race) recap

This post surprised me, with my ambivalence about writing it: I normally wait until the end of the week to publish my week-in-training review; while I try to get race recaps up as close to the event as possible, while it is still fresh in my mind, and the minds of others – “news” has a really short shelf life, despite what the 24-hour cable universe would have you believe. So how do I treat a race that was approached as a training run, with totally different goals in mind, and still give it a fair handling? Well, as a favorite author and inspiring figure, Jon Acuff, says, “I don’t know yet…but I’m about to!”

DISCLAIMER: As I wrote yesterday, I had not intended to run this race, this year; circumstances made choosing not to run appear to be the best overall option for me. My training plan, runcoach.com (I really need to do a post just about this awesome resource – I will continue with it beyond the Houston Marathon, I believe) had me scheduled for 15 miles…which is a fairly intimidating thing for a newbie runner, let’s be honest; my previous distance record was still the half-mary I ran back in June, and that was a goal race, with a different mindset – mostly one of being really naive about my body. So when the chance to do a well-supported race instead of being out there all by myself came up, I jumped at it, and I have no regrets about that at all. Technically I was a “race bandit”, as I did not pay a registration fee, or wear a bib. I was nervous about this, I have to admit; many large races – including the Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Half Marathon, let me be very clear about that – expressly forbid this behavior, and they do enforce their policies; I would never dream of violating such a clear mandate, and I would strongly suggest that you be aware of the regulations of any race you are considering running. That being said, I had tacit permission from one of the sponsoring groups, and I was absolutely certain that resources were sufficient for all who ran; otherwise I would not have done it.

The morning of the race did not start well for me. With a 7:00 start, I set the alarm for 4 AM, an hour earlier than usual – my pre-race ritual is fairly well established, and takes about 1 1/2 hours, plus drive time to the event. (There is a great deal to be said for running in your hometown; my commute time to the downtown start was less that 30 minutes, including parking and the walk to the Race Village in Sam Houston Park.) Unfortunately, my phone is a couple of years old now, and beginning to show signs of electronic Alzheimer’s; it “forgot” to go off at 4, and woke me up at 5AM instead, so I had to hurry up, scarf down my oatmeal with honey, throw my gear together and get out the door…and it only got better from there ๐Ÿ˜

The weather was the next obstacle; we had been watching a cold front creep toward the coast for most of the week, so naturally it decided to arrive on race morning. I was standing with a group from my run club at our tent, discussing strategy and checking radar maps on our phones, when the wind tried to blow us right into Buffalo Bayou; this was followed by the sky turning white with lightning, deafening thunder rolling between the buildings, and rain pouring down blowing in horizontally – if not for a generous supply of trash bags, we would have been soaked to the skin in minutes. The race directors interrupted the blaring music long enough to announce a one hour delay of the start, to allow the worst of the storm to blow through, and strongly encouraged everyone to get out of the tents and seek shelter in our cars; this might have been a good plan, except I was parked 6 blocks away in an underground parking garage, and did not see any advantage in exposing myself more than I already was. Instead we huddled together, shivering and feeling jealous of the beautiful photos of sunrise being shared on Instagram from Washington, DC by people running the Marine Corps Marathon, while I was posting shots of myself wearing a kilt made from a towel – the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was right, after all ๐Ÿ™‚

As the dawn crept in, the rain settled down to a steady drizzle, and finally the announcement came to head for the starting line. It was at this point I realized the next hurdle I had to overcome – standing still in the suddenly cold morning air had undone all my warming up, and I felt stiff and awkward slogging through the mud toward the chute. I also realized that in my rush to leave I had forgotten to grab any electrolyte or gels, and knew I was in for a long morning. I snagged a PowerBar from a volunteer, and began breaking it into little bites I could suck on, stashing them in the pocket of my jacket – it was still raining, but I could not imagine running in a trash bag, although many others did; and sent up thank-you prayers that Gatorade would be available at every water stop. I spent the remaining time before the gun went off begging my phone to find GPS signal and run Nike+ at the same time, with limited success…I later saw my splits, and it showed me doing the first mile in 26 minutes, the second in 3 seconds (!), and the third in 1:35; after that it settled down, and the sum of those miles corrected out, so I let it stand. I did silence the feedback from the start, and ran without headphones – which turned out to be pretty cool.

The gun went off promptly at 8:00 and we were off! The start went smoothly, and the course wound through downtown before heading out along Allen Parkway toward Memorial Park. I had been practicing holding back on the pace in the early miles, and focused on my breathing, and my form. I also made a point of saying hello to the brave souls who lined the road, and thanking all the volunteers and police officers directing traffic – yes, traffic…this city doesn’t stop for anything, so there was one lane of oncoming cars the whole time we were in downtown, but the rain kept most people off the roads. Time seemed to pass quickly, and I soon realized that I was holding a steady 9:00/mile pace, with no particular effort, and passing people on a continuous basis, even talking and laughing with other runners along the way. A little spark of excitement flared up at the idea that I could PR a race in these conditions, but I tried very hard to stay in the moment, and leave the finish line in the future – I had a lot of miles between me and it. I could not stop myself from attacking the occasional uphill sections – Houston is flat, no doubt about it, but there were dips and climbs all along the race course, and I have developed a strategy of sprinting up these small hills, to get past them as quickly as possible, and coasting down the other side…those overpass repeats really do pay off, and the gasps as I kick in and blow by dozens of runners trudging up gives me a huge mental boost; you need all of those you can get in a long race, right?

I had a minor setback just before the halfway point, when a volunteer at a water stop leaned out too far and fell into the course right in front of me. I had been running through water stations, but I had to come to a complete stop to avoid crashing into her. I helped her to her feet, made sure she was OK, and walked off theย  disruption for about a minute, until I regained my composure and resumed running. I met a boy running with his dad, he was about 13 and doing his first half, and he was really surprised that I wasn’t mad at her for slowing me down – he had seen the whole incident, and asked me about it. I told him that things happen, and the best way to handle it it to just keep running,,,his dad seemed really pleased at my answer. ๐Ÿ™‚ At the halfway point, where the clock showed me at 1:08:30, about ten minutes behind PR pace, but still respectable, I knew this would not be a sub-2 hour run, but I didn’t let it bother me, because I was really having fun!

Once through the turn-around, I began to worry about fuel, because my PowerBar was all gone; I could feel myself slowing down, and knew I was getting into dangerous territory. Gatorade has a lot of sugar, and I was slamming down 2 or 3 cups at each water station, but that is an awful way to feed your body. Fighting the rain and the cold and the wait before the start had taken their toll, (it let up after mile 8, so I took off the jacket and tied it around my waist, much better!) and I have bonked before, so I knew what to watch for. So when we reached mile 9, and I saw a group of volunteers with BOXES of Gu, lining both sides of the course, it felt like DELIVERANCE. I grabbed two packs, and that was my second-fastest mile of the whole race! There was more Gu waiting at mile 10, 11 and 12, so everyone who wanted any had more than enough opportunities – I do love a well-supported event!

With the fuel problem resolved, the next issue was my old friend Achilles tendonitis. Ten miles is about the point that problems make themselves known for me, and this race was no exception. Both ankles were singing by now, and they had a very unwelcome accompaniment – my right knee began to twinge with every step. It got loud enough that I stopped again just before mile 11, and did a fairly thorough stretch routine; I had no interest in blowing up a knee and putting myself out of commission this close to the finish, let alone 80-something days before my marathon! I eased back into my pace, while telling myself that it would be perfectly reasonable to quit, or at least walk a bit, rather than suffer a serious injury…I don’t know if I believed that, but the pain eased up, so I was spared that decision, and carried on, cautiously.

I wasn’t done with this knee, however; by the time I reached 12 miles, it was chirping again, and now I had to really think about what I was going to do. I could HEAR the announcer at the finish line, and the cheering of the crowd, and I wanted to finish, and finish STRONG, but not at that cost. I took another stretch break, walked 30 seconds or so, and made up my mind – GO FOR IT! I started easy, but my heart wasn’t having any of that – the rush kicked in, I kicked out, and ran the last mile as my fastest mile – a near-sprint across the finish, and I was…DONE!!! I walked through the crowd in the chute, accepted a water, and then a girl came up and put this around my neck – and dammit, I was proud to let her do it!


My gun time: 2:08:50; Nike+ read 2:06:46, which I will accept as a substitute for chip time. I looked through the official results, and this would have placed me 130th in my age group, 1335/4000 overall…in a field this well-qualified, I am very satisfied…it’s only 10 minutes off my PR, and that was in much nicer conditions, and I hurt myself very badly in that race, losing 2 months of running after it.

Not that I escaped unscathed here – I was limping by the time I headed to the food tent, and made a detour to sign up for a complimentary post-race massage from the fine people at Koala Health and Wellness. My therapist started working on my knee, and I nearly jumped off the table. She got another girl to come help her, because both thighs suddenly knotted up in the worst cramps I have ever felt suffered though…they told me I had severely dehydrated, because the lotion they were using was disappearing into my skin as fast as they could apply it. I drank two bottles of water before they let me up, and they made me promise to get a full deep-tissue massage in the very near future – they said I was a wreck, which is probably true, since I have never had a sports-therapy massage. I trudged my way to get some bananas, and another water, and finally made it home – just to jump right back in the truck and drive two hours to attend the Closing ceremony for the prison weekend I had missed. My post-race meal came 10 hours later, and you can imagine what I did to that food…I had 3 waitresses serving us by the time I got done ๐Ÿ™‚

Monday was back to work, and my tweet that morning sums it up very well:


I still have some rest and rehab to do…I had to cut today’s pace workout on the treadmill off at the halfway point, the knee was having none of that, but all in all, I am calling it a successful training run, and a great event – I am very happy that I ran it, and I will do it again – LEGAL – next year.


  1. LilMysNinja

    I’ve finally had a chance to sit down and read this in full. Nothing sucks worse than a race in the rain. Ugh!

    I would’ve never thought to break up the power bar. But that’s pretty cool that they were handing out GUs at the last few miles! What luck!

    I’ve never had a sports massage either but I heard they were painfully awesome. Maybe one day.

    Rest up and recover! You’ve got a marathon to train for! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Nick

      Thanks for your feedback, Maria! Y’know, I have to say, after one race and a few training runs in moderate to heavy rain, I kinda like it! It’s definitely an improvement over the typical clammy humidity of Houston; my opinion is likely to change when the temp drops another 20 degrees, I’m willing to bet ๐Ÿ™‚ Besides, with the Spartan races on my horizon, I had better get used to running wet, huh?

  2. Pingback: CHM Training update: T-12 weeks – Life in the tired lane | Striding Towards Life

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