Houston Marathon 2013 race report

After a very up and down training cycle, I ran a 3:32:46 in Houston on Sunday, and I’m pretty happy about it. It was not the time I was hoping for (a 3:25:00 in order to qualify for the Boston Marathon), but it felt like everything I could give on that day, and that’s all I can ask for at any race: my best effort.

By the time I toed the line for the race on Sunday, I was already a bit nicked up. My left hip had been been bothering me for about 7 weeks, and while I had never been in enough pain to stop on any individual training run, I did feel it every time I laced up. After a while I started to have some hamstring pain too, but I’m pretty certain that was just caused by stride change die to the pain in my hip. It often felt like it was just on the verge of locking up, but I’d throttle it back so that I didn’t end up on the side of the road clutching my leg. Even with the hip pain, I was still hitting my paces on tempo and speed/strength intervals, so I wasn’t sure what to expect on raceday. In the end, I settled on a plan that had me “going for it” and to see what happens. My plan was to run the first half at a 7:48 min/mile pace, then drop it down to 7:40 or so for the second half.

The weather on Sunday just didn’t cooperate like all of us hoped it would. The course is a pretty flat and fast, so many people went in hoping for a PR, a BQ, or for some of the elites, a world record. Unfortunately, temps in the low 40s with periods of rain and sleet coupled with strong winds, mostly from the north, made it a tough go at times. While we were standing in the corrals waiting for the race the start, the rain started coming down in sheets, just soaking everyone.

Eventually, the gun (cannon) did go off and the race got underway. Just after we got underway, we ran up an overpass that had absolutely nothing to block the wind and rain and boy, did we ever get it with both. The rain really started to come down hard just as strong gusts threatened to push everyone sideways. Thankfully, once that downpour stopped, there were only a few periods of light rain for the rest of the race. I wish the same had been true for the wind, but no such luck.

Somewhere between miles 5 and 7, I got to see my family for the first time, which was a great pick me up. I ran over to the side to get high fives from Michelle, Sam and Matthew and then kept plugging along. The half marathons turn around happened at mile 9, so between 7 and 9 I got to watch the elite half runners go flying by me. It always amazes me to see just how fast those men and ladies can go (and sustain). The other fun thing was watching an 8 year old girl go running by me with a full marathon bib on. She was so tiny it was like her feet never touched the ground. She really had the crowds going crazy cheering for her.

As I neared the halfway point, I was realized I was right on track: 1:41:47 or a 7:46 average pace. And so far, I didn’t feel like I was laboring to hold that. So far, so good, but I also knew the miles between the halfway point and 18 were mostly heading north and that would be into the wind. Time to get to work.

I can’t say that I remember much about those next 5 miles. I remember starting to feel the work get harder after dropping the pace a bit and heading into the wind, but as I glanced at my Garmin every now and again, my confidence was building that I could reach my goal. I remained on pace by getting to the 30K mark (18.6 miles) at 2:24:47, still at a 7:46 pace. Just after that point I saw Michelle and my boys again. I actually teared up a bit as I gave her the thumbs up, meaning I was still feeling strong. A huge difference compared to the tears I shed in Las Vegas when I had to give her a thumbs down and tell her I couldn’t go on.

As I passed the 20 mile mark, I tried to hold back the excitement of thinking I was going to do it, I was going to BQ. I knew there was still a lot of work left to do, so I’d better not start celebrating yet. As I glanced down at my watch when it beeped at 20.5, I saw that I’d run an 4:01 half mile split, and that is exactly what I didn’t want. Lack of focus will slow me down. I used this to get myself back in the right frame of mind and back to the pace I needed.

And then, the wheels came off. Somewhere between miles 22 and 23 my left leg, the one that had been bugging me for a while, just seized up tight. As it happened I tried to fight off the shock of going from “I’m going to do it!” to “Uh oh, I hope I finish.” I was able to get going again, but each time I tried to will myself to get back to pace, my left leg would lock up again. And as I’d get back moving, I’d have to settle for an even slower pace before it would stop me. By the time I made it to the last mile, I was barely shuffling along at an 11:00 pace. I knew my BQ was not to be. I crossed the line in 3:32:46.

While I expected to be pretty down about my result, in the end I just couldn’t be. A three and half hour marathon is not exactly lighting the world on fire, but it’s also not that pokey either. It’s a solid marathon time. After training for CIM in December, switching to Las Vegas the the day before, getting sick in the middle of that race, then re-starting training to get to Houston, all with a wonky hip, I just knew I wasn’t there with my best stuff. The day after the marathon I read that only about 16,500 runners finished out of 30,000 had started due to the poor weather. I can’t blame the weather for my result; I just didn’t have it that day.

The other fun thing from the weekend was getting to run with my whole family. On Saturday, Michelle, Sam, Matthew and I all ran the ABB 5K. Going into the race, neither Matthew nor Sam trained at all. Not a lick. Nada. Nothing. And, unlike the weather on Sunday’s marathon, it was in the mid 70s and 100% humidity on Saturday. However, Matthew decided that he wanted to run a 30 minute 5K, so I said I’d run with him. Sam just wanted to finish without having to walk at all, so my wife ran with him. At the end of the first mile, I told Matthew that he’d run a 12:00 mile, so the 30 min goal was out of reach, and he should come up with a new goal, so he decided to try to run the rest of the race without walking. About half way through mile two, Matthew started to get a side stitch and ended up having to walk a bit. So I told him to come up with a new goal and he found one: beat his older brother at all costs. Sam and Michelle plugged along with a walk break now and again (Sam-induced, not Michelle). Matthew ended up taking multiple walk breaks too. But, as we turned the final corner and could see the finish line about 1/10 of a mile ahead, I told Matthew to spend whatever he had left in the tank and he took off like a shot! I couldn’t catch up to him. He had people in the finishing chute cheering for him.

Pretty cool. Final times:

Matthew: 35:54
Sean: 36:01
Sam: 40:19
Michelle: 40:19