Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Race Report: Houston ABB 5k and Chevron Houston Marathon

Two days, two races, one more state off the list for my multiyear quest to run a marathon in all 50 states!! No doubt, though, this weekend confirmed that everything is BIGGER and BETTER in TEXAS!!

Saturday: up early for the ABB 5k. Ummmm... 5k the day before a marathon, you say? Call it the warm up before the real race. And warm it was - 72 degrees, 93% humidity. Hello, Houston winter. How I've missed thee.

I'm not going to say that a 5k as a final taper run before attempting to BQ is right for everyone. But if you hard-core run for the bling like I do, this was too good of an opportunity to pass up. 5k: medal #1. Marathon: medal #2. Doing both: medal #3. BOOM.

The 5k itself really, truly, was my warm up race. Until I got to the start line. And felt awesome. And heard Meb Keflizighi pump up the crowd. And was close enough to actually see Meb Keflizighi. So. Excellent.

Long story short: 5k was an easy run ending in a respectable time of 26:08. Maybe a little faster than intended, but felt good, heart rate stayed low, finished, got my medal, and headed to the car. Was back home at my parents' by 9:30 for a restful day of football and snoozing on the couch.

Sunday: RACE DAY!! I spent Saturday night at my sister's since she lives about 10 minutes from the start line, and that gave me an extra hour of sleep on marathon morning. She also graciously got up waaaaay before dawn (and if you know my sister, you recognize that as the herculean effort it is) to drop me off. Peanut butter on rice cake consumed; agonizing over what to wear complete; triple and quadruple checking of gear check bag done. Time to go.

When she said drop off, she wasn't kidding: A-list, Red Carpet, curbside service. Which was awesome, since between Saturday morning and Sunday morning the temperature had dropped 25 degrees, bands of rain had arrived, and the wind had kicked up to a steady 15mph. Brrrrrrrrr.

A brisk one block walk later, I'm inside the George R. Brown Convention Center in a sea of humanity. Fourth largest metropolitan area in the United States; over 16,000 runners; their family and friends; and 30 steps in, I run into a high school classmate I haven't seen in 20 years. True story. But did I take a picture before we said our goodbye's and good lucks? Nope. Scrapbooker extraordinaire didn't even consider pulling out the camera. Clue #1 I was a huge spazball of nerves that morning.

Dropped off the bag at gear check, headed over to - wait for it - the VIP Potty area. Once again, courtesy of my awesome Dad. Best.Gift.Ever. All you runners, you know what I'm talking about... the luxury of walking right up to the port-a-potty with no line, extra TP, and plenty of hand sanitizer. Not to mention all of this, still indoors. The Chevron Houston Marathon does it right.

Finally decided to suck it up and head out to the corral around 6:30. I figured if I was going to get wet, I was going to get wet, no matter how long I stood waiting for the start. And, inevitably, I did get wet. The light mist and showers weren't too bad; the wind made it cool enough that I was shivering; but we all just kind of huddled together counting the minutes until the start. And then. Then the downpour. Ten, maybe 15? minutes before the gun, the skies opened up and the rains came down. Full on shiver mode a go. Thank goodness for the super nice people around me; we huddled even closer together in a mostly-futile attempt to at least keep our feet dry. #fail

Meb on Saturday at the 5k was cool; Ryan Hall Sunday at the marathon, also cool. 7AM, the gun goes off, we start to move. Even though 25,000 runners registered for the race, it turns out that only 16,797 total runners finished on Sunday, 6,676 of those running the marathon. I crossed the start line about 3 1/2 minutes after the gun, and I was off and running!!

In all of my race prep strategy talks, one constant was: don't go out too fast. Except it was typically articulated as DON'T GO OUT TOO FAST!!!!! I generally respond well to bold shouty capitals with lots of exclamation points, but I was hyped up; I was psyched; I was going to BQ!!! I mean, all that adrenaline - I felt awesome. So as I'm running, and my shoes are flying across the pavement, I kept telling myself, I'll slow it down in half a mile; I'll slow it down at the 5k point; I'll slow it down at the 10k point; I'll back off at 10; I'll have to ease into the 8:23 pace at the half marathon mark. The thing is, though, some days you've just got it. And Sunday, I had it.

Like I said yesterday, one of the reasons it was a great day was because I knew I would see my family along the route. My face tells the progression of how I felt on Sunday. Mile 8: "Heeeeeyyyyyy!!!"
Lots of excited arm waving going on directly after this picture was taken. Clearly, I'm feeling good - but look closely, and the hands are already getting a little bit red...

I constantly have the "what should I wear?!" dilemma when I run in anything cooler than 70 degrees. Not to be confused with the "I have nothing to wear!" dilemma. That, my friends, is not my problem. As evidenced by the 462 different running outfit combinations I packed for the weekend's two races. Turns out, I hit the nail on the head with 1) capris and 2) one layer of a long sleeve shirt. However, epic fail with the no gloves. I had a pair at the start, courtesy of ABB from the expo. But yours truly had a bit of an issue with the iPod headphone cord snaking into my sleeve, so around mile 5 I took the gloves off *temporarily* to fix the cord. Best laid plans... as I'm twisting and grabbing at the cord under my shirt while still moving forward at a sub-8:00 mile pace, the gloves fall to the ground. I take a half second to consider picking them up and that idea is immediately squashed by the 98% of my brain screaming "YOU CANNOT AFFORD A SINGLE SECOND IF YOU ARE GOING TO QUALIFY FOR BOSTON!!" Goodbye, faithful sheddable gloves. You were great while you lasted.

Short story long (my specialty)... by the time I saw Justin, Susannah, Justin (yes, my brother-in-law's name is also Justin), and Dad at mile 8, the hands were already quite cold. But I'm feeling good, holding a great pace, and excited to keep moving along the miles. Susannah yells "Twelve! We'll see you at twelve!" and that was it. I had that extra motivation to keep me going.

I haven't mentioned that the entire race, the wind was blowing, a steady 15mph. Up to this point, it was a crosswind, so it didn't really impact my time one way or the other. Also, luckily, the rain had stopped, and the temperature was holding steady in the upper 40's, so the weather conditions were basically ideal. By the time I got to mile 12 and saw the family again, I was still feeling good:

At the half marathon point, I checked my Garmin and my pace band and congratulated myself on kicking ass so far. If that had been the end of my race, I would've PRed that, too, improving more than 12 minutes vs. my current half marathon PR from St. Louis. Then the course turned north, and that 15mph wind hit me head on.

As my husband and I like to say, that joker was no joke.

Through Wesleyan, into West Park, under the feeder to 59... never in my life have I loved an underpass the way I did the underpasses at 59 and 610 on Sunday. When a spectator's pants looked like sails on the high seas, I wanted to just stay under that concrete windbreak as long as I could. But the eye was always on the prize; the coveted BQ always in front of me. Onward. Push it. Keep going. One foot in the front of the other, through the puddles and on the endless concrete of the Houston roads.

Mile 16, I took my only steps at a walk the entire race - I hadn't had many fluids at that point, in part because I'm the scene out of the movie "Airplane" when I try to run and drink Gatorade or water at the same time. I knew I needed at least one good fluid intake to get me through, so 6 steps walking, shotgun some Gatorade, and get moving again. By the time I saw my family again at 17, I had the dreaded IT band pain in my left knee, but the muscles, the lungs, and the heart were all still faithful and true.

Then came mile 21. The wall. It's real, my friends.

You can't see it, but you know it's coming. You know it's there. And when you hit it, it isn't about your body anymore. It isn't about how strong your muscles are, or how well conditioned your heart is, or how great is the capacity of your lungs. When you hit the wall, it's about your will; your desire; your mental toughness. It's about your brain believing you can when your legs scream you can't. It's about your soul pushing you forward when your lungs are holding you back.

And when you're a runner, you push through it. You cling to the mantra in your brain repeating "Keep going, Keep going, Keep going" over and over and over again, in part because you can't form a complete sentence. You push through it because you know that the miles and hours of training were for exactly this. You overcome it because you know just a couple more miles down the road, the people who believe in you and support you are waiting to cheer you on and help you Keep Going. Your feet keep up their steady, pounding, punishing rhythm because you didn't come out to run 20 miles today, or 21 miles. You came out to run twenty-six point two miles and come hell or high water, that's exactly what you're going to do.

It wasn't pretty at that point. But it doesn't have to be. You just.have.to.keep.going.

When you see the flags by the building at mile 22 standing straight out, you have to keep going.

When the wind is in your face at mile 23, you have to keep going.

When your BQ cushion falls from 4 minutes, to 3 minutes, to 2 1/2 minutes, you have to keep going.

Because when you keep going, eventually, you get to mile marker 24. And then 25. And that's when downtown Houston is in full view, and you know that if you can just keep going, you're going to BQ.

As I rounded one of the final corners of the race and saw the beautiful blue mesh fences that every runner knows means you're almost there, I could think of nothing but getting in under 3:40. The math told me I was fine; the delirious runner brain told me there are never any guarantees in life. A finish time of 3:39:50 might qualify, but it might not be good enough to get in. SO KEEP GOING. Push it. And as every dear friend who has encouraged me along the way ran through my mind, a miraculous tail wind picks up and literally pushes me along the course.

You see those spikes at the far side? Those are 25.4 miles, 25.8, and 26.1 miles, respectively. And you know what the corresponding moving pace is for each of those spikes??

  • 5:23 minute per mile
  • 5:40 minutes per mile
  • 4:49 minute per mile

So whether it was the wind, the breath of God, or the collective release of the breath my friends near and far had been holding as they got the text message and Facebook updates on my race throughout the morning, it was the difference in a 3:39:00 finish and the official 3:38:31 when I crossed the finish line.

The price you pay when you run a marathon is physical; this was my fourth one, and I had an idea what to expect. But I have never, ever, truly left myself out there, put everything I had into every step of the race. Now I know what that feels like. And because my family was there at the finish line for me, I know what it looks like, too.

In retrospect, there's nothing I would've done differently. Well, okay, except maybe wear gloves. But materially, there's nothing I would change - the weather, the crowd, the number of fellow runners, which corral I started in, what I ate for dinner the night before, what I had for breakfast the day of, how many times I took fluids, how many gels I didn't take.

Because in its entirety, it was a gift. Thanks for sharing it with me.


Official time: 3:38:31

  • Overall: 966 out of 6,676 (top 15%)
  • Women: 206 out of 2,565 (top 8%)
  • Age Group (Women 35-39): 43 out of 483 (top 9%)


  1. You are a runner and a WRITER. Fabulous recap of a special race. You'll be so glad you wrote this down.

  2. I teared up reading this, I knew you were dedicated and strong and amazing....but this showed me just how incredible your will and heart are. I am so proud of you, I am so glad to "know" you, to be INSPIRED by you....Amanda CONGATS GIRL....YOU DID IT!!!!!

  3. Amazing. When does Boston Registration open? :)

    1. September 10th!!! Apparently I need to book my hotel the day after Boston 2013 is run, too. On my calendar already!!! LOL