Time is such a funny thing. isn’t it? It’s only been a few days since I ran the Chevron Houston Marathon, and already it feels like such a long time ago! (Maybe that’s because the race itself seemed like it would never end 🙂 ) So I want to go ahead and get this down before the details slip away…real life keeps chugging along, after all, (sigh) and the steady grind can wear away at even the brightest memories, leaving them a dull echo of what they were. So let’s get started! (Please forgive my total lack of pictures – I took lots, but something went wrong with my phone, and everything got deleted – I was sooo mad!)
For me, race weekend involved both a 5K on Saturday and the full marathon on Sunday – because I am easily distracted by shiny things and they offered a huge third medal to everyone who completed races on both days; how could I resist? That meant that I had to decide how I wanted to deal with going through the whole process of getting my bibs. Even though I have only been running a year, I’ve already developed an aversion to race-day stress; I decided to minimize as much as I could by getting packet pick-up done for both races on Friday, along with taking my little tour of the Expo. I arrived at the George R Brown Convention Center at 4 pm, and joined the throngs just getting off work and pouring in – thousands of people were there, it seemed, but the venue wasn’t crowded at all; we are used to dealing with big events here! Upon arriving, runners were directed to separate rows of kiosks for the 5K, half and full; the rows were then divided by bib number, with each booth manned by two volunteers, and handling about 500 bibs; none of them had any lines waiting! The Marathon Committee has made a tremendous effort to “go green”, and so has created a paperless pickup system: runners were emailed a QR code, which was scanned off your smartphone and verified by photo ID. (You also had the option of printing the code and bringing it with you, which could then be recycled right on the spot.) After receiving my bibs, I walked to the other side of the arena to get my participant shirts and gear check bags; there were at least 20 volunteers there, and again I had no line to wait in. I decided to exchange my shirts for a smaller size, so I went over to the Shirt Exchange booth, and once again, no line at all! The entire process took less than 4 minutes – and this with 30,000 runners between the three races…talk about streamlining! Since I had paid for two hours’ parking, that left me plenty of time to tour the Expo.
I have limited experience with race expos; in fact, there has been only one other – the South Padre Island Half Marathon, last June. That was an inaugural race, very poorly attended, and with only a few vendors. I expected much more for such a well-established event, and I was certainly not disappointed! The show took up the entire third floor of Hall A of the GRB, which is a truly enormous venue. There were over 100 booths, with everything from corporate sponsors to professional sports teams; massages, sports medicine, health and wellness seminars; at least a dozen other races were doing registrations (local, state- and nation-wide, and even Canada and Greece); local running clubs and stores showed up in force; and of course, accessories, clothing and shoes, including official race merchandise by Skechers Performance (as an Ambassador, I received a full complement for free: GORun Ride 3 shoes, a half-zip long sleeve tech hoodie – with thumb holes, how cool! – a short sleeve tech shirt, running shorts, and a nice backpack; the women also received running tights); and all sorts of running-related goodies. I made a few purchases: my first 26.2 sticker, some velcro-and-elastic support wraps for my Achilles tendons (very effective!), and a t-shirt for my non-running wife that reads, “I don’t do marathons, but I do a marathon runner” – which she wore to meet me at the finish 🙂 I walked all the aisles, talked to everyone, picked up all the free samples I could stuff into a tote bag, and then headed on home to prep and rest.
Saturday morning started with getting up at 4:30 to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and coffee. We were advised to arrive downtown before 5:30, when streets would begin closing and parking would begin filling up. Discovery Green, the lovely park directly in front of the convention center, served as gear check, meeting area, pre-race warm-up, and Charity Village, where all the non-profits who participate in and benefit from the races could set up tents. I arrived around six, but I live here and I’m very familiar with the downtown area and had already staked out my parking lot – directly across the street from the park, so no long walk before or after! I had enough time to figure out that the Nike+ app I have been using all year had recently updated, and would no longer sync with my GPS and track my runs; so I downloaded and installed Runkeeper instead. (I’m addicted to stats, and even if I don’t look at the numbers while I’m running, I will after I’m done!) With that accomplished, I headed off in search of coffee – I’m a dedicated caffeine junkie, and I needed another fix – and began bumping into friends; most of us ended up standing around in front of gear check, holding on to our jackets as long as possible before turning them in…it was a little chilly before the sun came up, and with the race not starting until 8AM, nobody wanted to be “left out in the cold” longer than necessary. Finally a group of us decided it was time to make that last trip to the porta-potty, (there were over a hundred of them, so the line moved really quick) and then walk the 4 blocks to the start line.
The sun was bright, the sky was a breathtaking blue, and the temperature hovered right at 50 degrees – absolute perfect running conditions! I had committed that I would NOT race this, but take it easy and slow, since I had spent most of two weeks not running at all because of being sick with the flu, so I lined up way at the back of the pack; I was overwhelmed to see 5000 runners filling three city blocks from curb to curb…there was such a good vibe, so much energy in the crowd! The national anthem was sung, and then…BANG! We were off! The course was set up as a simple one loop out-and back, finishing in front of the GRB, and I was a little surprised to see how many spectators came out – people lined the streets on both sides for the entire distance, shouting out encouragement, waving signs, making noise and just having a great time! My only complaint comes not from the race itself, but the conditions of the roads we ran on. While much of downtown has been rebuilt and repaved over the last several years due to the construction and recent expansion of our light rail system, these particular streets have not received much attention lately. I saw several runners trip – and some fall – going over some gnarly potholes and rough patches on the first half of the course. The bicycle EMT’s were on the spot though, and nobody was seriously injured that I am aware of. I managed pretty well on holding back my pace until the end of Mile 2; then one of the DJ’s lining the course starting playing Don Henley’s “Driving With Your Eyes Closed”; that song has always gotten into my head and amped me up, don’t ask me why! But I felt my pulse race, and kicked out at something approaching my normal 5K race pace – wayyy too fast, but I just couldn’t help myself…I ended up passing a ton of people that last mile, and finishing in 31:41, or about 5 minutes faster than planned; but damn, it felt good to run fast again! I only hoped I would not be regretting it the next day 🙂
I was surprised and pleased to see soldiers at the finish line, placing finisher medals around the necks of runners as they crossed; I made a point of walking up and shaking hands with each and every one of them. I may not agree with our leaders about where, how, and why troops should be deployed, but I have nothing but the utmost respect for these men and women who offer up their lives in service. After that, I met with the other Ambassadors – some of whom had just run the same race – for a photo shoot, and a little pep rally before the BIG DAY. Then it was off to the house, to change clothes, pick up my wife, and meet a group from the running club for a pre-marathon carb-loading luncheon. I don’t believe that this ritual has any real benefits, but I LOVE pasta, and eating with friends, and of course I’m always hungry, so what’s to lose?
All in all, it was an excellent precursor to the main event. Next year, whether I get in to the marathon or not, I will definitely be doing the ABB 5K again, and looking forward to seeing another Expo, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves this sport and wants to see a city that really gets behind its runners!