Houston Marathon Recap

So for some reason, I haven’t been very excited to write this race report. I can’t figure out why because I am proud of my effort and the result and think overall it was a great day!

It might be because I am having trouble wrapping my head around the race and understanding the way I felt throughout. It was really a bit strange and I can only summarize by saying I never felt really good, but I never felt really bad either.  In past races, I have felt good for a period of time, then hit the wall or have felt off until I settled in then felt great for the remainder of the race. This time, I had many ups and downs but never really got comfortable.

I’ll start from the beginning…

I got up at 5 a.m. and was out the door by 5:30. Brad drove me and despite traffic at the exit, it went smoothly and he dropped me off with over an hour before the start. Shortly after, I met Lisa (my cousin) outside of the convention center. We were both nervous and extremely happy to have each other’s company to share the pre-race jitters and excitement.

Lisa’s first marathon – Isn’t she adorable?!

I give props to the Houston Marathon committee because everything pre-race and post-race was extremely organized and went very smoothly. We dropped our bags, hit up the port-o-potty (short line!), then hugged goodbye and headed to our respective corrals. Once I got into my corral, I talked to a nice girl from Houston who had the same goal as me. It was great to have someone to chat with to make those last few minutes go faster. As I stood there, I debated weaving my way back through the crowds to go to the bathroom, but I figured it was just nerves and stayed put.

Eventually the National Anthem was sang, a prayer was said and we were off. As I was shuffling to the start line I pulled off to the side to loosen my shoelaces a little. I tied them a too tight and they were already hurting my feet.

Once I hit the start line, I started the watch and was off…

Miles 1 – 5: 8:43, 8:36, 8:34, 8:31, 8:32

Immediately after starting, we hit a viaduct that took us over a series of rolling “hills”. They weren’t difficult, but certainly kept the pace in check in the first couple of miles. I felt really sluggish in these first few miles. Understandable because it was chilly and I hadn’t run in several days. Instead of pushing the pace to get to sub-8:35, I didn’t look at my watch and just ran by feel. I let myself get passed and be as slow as I wanted. After the first couple of miles, the low-8:30 pace came pretty easily, especially since the crowds of spectators really started to build. If I remember right, it was about mile 5 where I smiled huge and told a guy next to me, “This is fun!” because there was music playing and tons of people cheering along the road.

Just after that is where I heard someone yell, “Corey!” and I turned and saw my Aunt Sissie (Lisa’s mom) yelling for me! That was an unexpected surprise.

The other thing I remember about this section is that my right outer ankle/achilles started to hurt. It was a strange pain that came and went in a few training runs as well. While I knew it would go away, I thought it was strange that it came on so early in the race.

Miles 6 – 10: 8:27, 8:29, 8:26, 8:27, 8:28

Per my race plan, I picked up the pace 5 seconds in the next 5 miles. I don’t remember much about these miles, except taking in the crowds and waiting for the moment where I would settle in and start feeling good. The pace wasn’t difficult and I didn’t have to work to keep it steady, but I still felt a bit off. Looking back, I am surprised to see I was spot on with the target pace, because I don’t remember having to really speed up or slow down to keep it there. I did have to pee, but every time I passed a row of potties, they were full so I told myself I would wait until the half marathoners split off at mile 9 and hit one after that. I debated with myself whether that was what was making me feel out of whack. At this point, I also started counting down the miles to when I would see Brad and my parents.

Not only were my paces right on, but I was also right on schedule with my nutrition and I was able to easily get water at each of the stations. I put any doubts about carrying a bottle to rest, as I was glad to have the Nuun with me to sip on periodically.

Another thought I had during this time was that I knew everyone who was tracking me on-line would see my paces dropping every 5k. Volunteers were reading pace splits (per the gun time) at every mile marker and I loved hearing a second or two drop off the pace time every time I passed one.

Miles 11-15: 8:23, 8:22, 8:22, 8:24, 8:27

Again, per the plan I dropped the pace another 5 seconds here. As they promised, my parents and Brad were waiting just after the half-way point. I spotted them from a long way out and waved my pink arm warmers so they would see me! I switched my Nuun bottle with Brad and told them that I had finally started feeling good (because I was, or at least I was trying to convince myself that I was).

That’s me! And Mom’s hand with the cowbell!

I am not sure if it was the after affect of the huge adrenaline surge from seeing them or the respectable hill/overpass that I hit in the 15th mile, but mile 15 was definitely the lowest point of the race for me. I went into and up that hill feeling BAD and had thoughts that this was the beginning of a big blow up. I decided to grab Gatorade at the next aid station and then took my Roctane Pineapple (i.e. Gu Crack) and shortly after I started feeling MUCH better. I also pulled the other glove off (I was still wearing one!) and eventually pulled one arm warmer down and strangely enough, both helped a great deal! My mantra became, “Get to mile 20 and gut it out from there.”

In the 16th mile, Aunt Sissie surprised me again by yelling my name!

Right after my aunt took that shot I turned a corner and went under an overpass, where Alex  and Kathleen (Lisa’s boyfriend and BFF) yelled for me. All I could muster up for them was a big smile and a wave.

Miles 16-20: 8:18, 8:33, 8:27, 8:19, 8:24

I really think I was feeling better here mentally and physically than these splits show by the inconsistency. If I stuck to the strategy at this point, all of the paces should have been where miles 16 & 19 were, but I didn’t have it in me. I allowed myself to run by feel knowing that if I pushed harder than what felt okay in the moment, that I was risking major problems in the last 6.2 miles. The crowds were great and very helpful, but I was watching people start to struggle with lots walking and stretching out cramps. Even though I wasn’t feeling awesome, I was still going pretty strong and was happy the remaining miles were down to single digits.

I also got a nice little surprise extra showing here from the fam! I wasn’t expecting them again until 23, but they were screaming my name around 17 and it made me so happy! True to form, Brad gave me a high five then informed me that there was an “80-year-old man beating me”. I responded with a breathless, “That is SO not nice,” and kept going.

Miles 21 – 25: 8:34, 8:37, 8:48, 8:43, 8:54

Finally, I passed mile 20! While the paces were slower here, I am most proud of these miles. In my last marathon, mile 22 is where I hit the wall and lost a minute and a half per mile for the last 4 miles. When my legs were so dead they felt like they couldn’t go anymore, I told myself to keep it under 9:00 minutes and just gut it out.

I must have been focused because my Aunt told me later she saw me at 22 and yelled for me, but my head was down and I was pushing hard. She said I looked good though!

I saw the fam again at 23. They had a Nuun bottle for me, but I threw the one I had at them along with my fuel belt and told them I didn’t want any of it. Apparently this got a good laugh from the crowd around them! They commented later that I wasn’t looking so hot at that point, but I reminded them of all the people walking and they said, yeah, we didn’t think about that…at least you were running!

Check out the toe strike! Even late in the race!

In addition to being the end of the race, this is also, by far, the toughest section of the course. There are several underpasses that are short and steep and then a long, steady uphill onto Allen Parkway throughout mile 24. I felt like it was never-ending! But the crowds were awesome and I was counting down the quarter miles.

Mile 26 + 0.34 = 8:44, 7:25<—first time I have ever seen a “7” in a marathon! Who cares if it wasn’t for a full mile?!

Finally, we hit mile 25 and headed back into downtown. The buildings created a little wind tunnel and on a really windy day, I bet that would have been brutal! I started trying to pick it up once I hit the 25 mile marker, but it was all survival at that point.

I also tried to calculate what my time would be if I maintained the pace, but my brain wasn’t really functioning so that was completely unsuccessful. At that point, I was pretty confident at that I would finish with a PR, just wasn’t sure by how much.

I first saw a sign that said 0.25 miles to go. Then I saw the 26th mile marker. And then I finally rounded the corner to the finisher’s chute and instead of being blown away by the crowd, what was my first thought? “Wow that finish line still looks REALLY far away!” I was doing my best to sprint it in, but it hurt. Bad.

As I was coming into the chute, the crowd went NUTS. There was a very little, very cute blonde girl that I was running alongside of for the last 1/2 mile or so. She had 3:30:00 written on her back and everyone was going crazy for her. At the time I thought she couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 years old, but I found out later that she was 11! Wow! How impressive is that?! (But, by the way, anyone have thoughts or facts about if running a marathon is safe or healthy for a young girl with growing bones?)

When I crossed the finish line, I looked at my watch and saw 3:44:00. I was baffled that I finished at EXACTLY 2 mins. (to the second) faster than my previous best. Then I was also extremely happy to find out from Brad later that I got that one extra second, because for some reason getting in at 3:43:59 just sounds so much faster 🙂

Here are the official race splits

I got my medal, took my finisher’s picture, then hobbled shuffled inched inside to get my checked bag, mug and finisher’s shirt. I chatted with a nice guy who finished in 3:14 while I was in line. Nothing I said probably made much sense at the time, but I remember everyone was buzzing in there! I skipped the breakfast area, but grabbed a banana and headed over to the reunion area.

At this point, I felt overcome with emotion. I was relieved that I was done, proud of myself and also in pain and all I wanted was to see my parents and Brad. Tears were running down my face and I am sure I looked like a pathetic mess! I finally sat down and called Brad. They had missed me finished (but saw the little girl!) but checked my time online and knew I was done. They were waiting right behind me but didn’t see me sitting down.

When they walked up I burst into tears. My mom teared up too and Brad thought I was disappointed! He said, “3:43! That’s a PR!” I told them I was very happy but my body just hurt and I was happy to be done. I think Brad’s comment after that was, “Are you sure you want to keep doing this to yourself?” At the time, I said no, but of course now I am already thinking about what training plan could get me to that 3:40!

A few final thoughts:

  • I have absolutely nailed down my nutrition for a marathon. The combo of Gu, Stingers, Nuun and Saltstick tabs is the right combination for me and I know this because I never felt that glycogen depletion, cramps or body exhaustion that I have in the past. My legs absolutely were done before my endurance was.
  • With that being said, my legs were not springy and fresh at all. It could have been from being on them a lot Saturday or it could have been from doing a little too much in taper. In the future, I will completely cut out speed work in the weeks before the race.
  • Despite not being able to execute in the last 10 miles, I do think negative splits is a good strategy for me. I think if I had tried to go 8:23 flat, I would have had a much bigger loss in time/pace in the last few miles.
  • It takes only a small thing, like taking a Gu or changing to Gatorade, to change your attitude when times get tough. And even the slightest change in attitude can take you many, many more miles.
  • My training really couldn’t have gone better for this race. I really like the Run Less, Run Faster program, but I don’t see a point in replicating the same cycle next time (what’s the definition of insanity again?!). I don’t believe in “junk” miles so I will stick to the same general type of plan in the future, but I am interested in seeing if my body can handle a little higher mileage. Maybe that will allow me to maintain a stronger pace throughout the race next time.
  • I have an amazingly supportive family and husband. They were so awesome navigating around and cheering for me. They were so, so very proud of me and I feel very fortunate that I have so much support to do what I love.
I selected this post to be featured on my blog’s page at Running Blogs.

About Corey

I am a 30-something swim, bike, run addict married to my best friend and in love with my two schnoodle doggies.
This entry was posted in family, Goals, Race reports, Races, running, training. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Houston Marathon Recap

  1. Kellie says:

    Great race recap! You did so amazing – you had me tearing up at the end just reading about it. (Does that make me a sap?!)
    And wow, and 11 year old girl running a full marathon!! That’s nuts!

  2. Terzah says:

    I love your recap–I’m so glad you wrote it even if you weren’t feeling like it. Your splits were AMAZINGLY consistent–exactly the paces (by the way) that I need to achieve in my next on in the fall. :^)

    It was fun to read your report–like you said, another eye on the course! I had totally forgotten about that overpass near mile 15.

    You will get that sub-3:40. We’re on parallel quests! :^)

    • Corey says:

      We ARE on parallel quests! I am just not sure when I will be up for trying again. The thought of Chicago has crossed my mind, but I am just not sure if I am ready to train all summer long. The problem is that the decision has to be made in the next couple of months to get registered! Do you have a race in mind?

  3. Laura says:

    Wow, Corey! Awesome job sticking to your plan of picking up the pace every few miles… you ran such a good race! And so, so close to that 3:40… you will get there! I felt the exact same way in my run… never felt great, but never felt horrible either… I’m used to having at least a short bout of feeling really strong. Maybe it was standing so much Sat? So many variables, I guess we’ll never really know. I’m thinking about doing the same sort of plan, with 3 days of running as well… and reading this makes me really want to squeeze one into the spring yet! We’ll see… 🙂

    • Corey says:

      I think the 3 days/week plan works well for me, but somehow I would like to tailor one to build up a little more mileage (in the 40’s). I don’t really want to pay for a coach, but I am certainly not an expert in designing training plans! Also, I am waiting patiently to see what you decide 🙂

  4. yeahhh!! i’m so glad you hit your PR and maybe the checked emotions of not being too high or low helped with the overall pacing?

    i am officially going to have to start better nutrition 🙂 pretty sure you are right and that’s why my pace fell so dramatically, but hey it was a finish. And yes after saying that’s it..i am thinking gee i’m so close to sub 4 now…GAHH

    • Corey says:

      You know, I hadn’t really thought about that at all, but you may be exactly right. Had I been feeling really good, I might have been tempted to push the pace too much…so maybe that was the key to having a more steady race. Good point!

      And, yes, you are SO close! haha! Maybe after a little time you will be ready to go after it 🙂 With those fast half times, you definitely can do it!

  5. Txrunnermom says:

    Congrats on your PR! I was cheering at mile 7/8 and saw that 11-year old run by, plus I saw several youngsters running the 1/2. Pretty amazing…I just hope they don’t experience burnout before at the age of 13!

    • Corey says:

      Thank you! I was thinking about that too! Because my first thought was, wow! I guess we will see her at the Olympic trials in about 10 years, then I thought, I wonder if you can sustain a lifestyle like that for THAT long without burning out!

  6. Page says:

    So, so exciting. Congrats on the PR and nailing the nutrition. That’s really tough to do!

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