Monday, August 31, 2015

Race Report: The Woodlands Marathon 2015

As I get back to capturing all of the Coussoule moments that I can from 2015, I've given myself permission not to go in chronological order. Just a fair warning that while I am beginning with my first marathon of the year, there may be a haphazardness to the order of events until I get caught up to wherever I decide "here and now" will be. With that...

It just isn't possible for me to stay motivated to get up in the pitch blackness of the early morning during the dead of winter without a milestone or an end state somewhere on the calendar. Add to that the fact that my Twinnie Shauna and I had never run a marathon together, and it was high time to schedule something to keep me going and for us to accomplish together.

As we looked at our calendars for the winter / early spring of 2015, it became abundantly clear that between the two of us, we were WAY too busy. Bordering on overscheduled, even. In our defense, many of the activities that crowded our weekends were a result of our kids' or spouses' plans, but of the approximately 20 weeks of the marathon racing season we looked through, I think there were exactly TWO weekends that worked, and one of them bordered on the weather getting too hot.

As luck would have it, the one weekend remaining for us was the same weekend that The Woodlands Marathon was scheduled to occur, a race I'd had my eye on for a couple of years, as a childhood friend is integrally involved in its coordination and execution. We put our training schedule together, eventually talked a couple more of our friends into training with us, and proceeded to start accumulating the miles to get ready to run another race.

As race weekend approached, we started checking the weather a little more frequently, grateful that the greater Houston area forecast looked pretty good. Unfortunately for those planning on running Cowtown (the same weekend), the Dallas Metroplex outlook was a bit more iffy, and we congratulated ourselves on our foresight in choosing The Woodlands as we packed and got ready to head out on our 9 hour drive, courtesy of Mike and his company car.

One problem: you have to go through the Dallas Metroplex to get to Houston.

Another problem: said iffy weather arrived a bit earlier than anticipated, but right on schedule for us to get stuck in it.
The nine hour drive turned into almost 12, as we literally sat on the highway just north of Dallas, watching big, fat, wet snowflakes fall, and the Texans on the road generally freak out while trying to drive in it. Accidents, slowdowns, and general congestion turned the stretch from north Dallas to just south of the city into almost a four hour ordeal. In any circumstance, that would've been a huge bummer, but we were all supposed to be up and at the start line for a 26.2 mile race the next day, and now our legs would be stepping out after 12 hours stuck in a car without an opportunity to stretch out, relax, and rest.

Ah, well. Good thing none of us had planned on trying to win the thing.

Made it to the expo and got our packets, and for a bonus, ran into Tiffany (aforementioned friend).
Apparently long car rides impair my selfie abilities
That kind of offset the fact that the extended car trip put us in town too late to pick up the rental car that was the key to managing half of us at a hotel, half of us at my parents' house... kind of. Good thing that no matter how old you are, you can always call Dad for a ride!! We grabbed a sandwich for dinner, my dad came to get me and Shauna, and it was time to do the evening routine so that we could get ready for tomorrow.

Race day showed up with excellent race weather: 37* and almost no wind. There was a slight chance of rain in the forecast, but the temperature was absolutely perfect. My dad, ever the trooper, got up early to take me and Shauna to meet Mary and Mike at the hotel, from which we would carpool over to the start line together. Excellent plan until... I realized five minutes after my dad dropped us off that I had left my race belt in the car. With my gels and my phone. Once again, good thing you're never too old for Dad to bail you out...

With race belt in hand and friends in tow, we made it out the door to head over to the start line. From the start, The Woodlands Marathon had excellent organization written all over it. Parking was simple to find because the site maps were so well done. Bag drop was as quick and painless as I've ever seen at a race, especially one of this size. The bathrooms and port-a-potties were plentiful and in multiple locations. There were a zillion signs to make sure full marathoners and half marathoners got to the right place - since the start lines for the races were in two different places.

The four of us managed to get to the start line with plenty of time to hang out, stretch out a little bit, and take a few pictures.
Me, Mike, Mary & Shauna - my best good running friends!
I even found another childhood friend, my buddy Jason who was doing his first marathon!! Running into someone I know kind of ruins the argument that Houston is too big...
As with all races, ultimately, it was time to GO! I have a history of not pacing myself well, of starting off too fast, but this time, I was running with Shauna, and we had trained together every step of the way so this time, we got it right. Our first several miles were right at a 9:00 pace, not too fast, not slow.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to stay with Shauna, Mike or Mary. Mike and Mary were having a great race, and slowly but surely, pulled farther and farther away from us. Then somewhere around mile 8, Shauna and I split up, too. I could tell even by then I wasn't really feeling it, that this wouldn't be an easy run. You never know how you'll feel on race day, but if it isn't my day, I can usually tell in the first ten miles.

And honestly, it's too bad it wasn't my day physically. The course is most definitely a PR course - in fact, all three of my friends ran personal bests that day - and did I mention the weather was perfect?! February in Houston is about as reliable as you're going to get for cool but not too cold, and probably dry. The elevation gain was practically nonexistent; living in NW Arkansas, the only way to have a flat run is to hit a treadmill or the track. It should've been a great day for me, but it didn't come together.

Of course, it wasn't a bad day, either - how can it be a bad day when you're running a marathon? Despite my speed and prowess in races a few years ago, I've managed to recalibrate (the two broken bones helped with perspective) and am much better now at remembering that every healthy day is a gift. A race practically in my hometown backyard, with great friends and my family there to see me, is a blessing regardless of what the Garmin or the race clock says.

When I did see my sister and dad in the back half of the race, I got a little boost to keep me going. And some great pictures, if I do say so myself.
Susannah and Dad - I seriously have the best fans
The post-race cool down happened pretty quickly; after grabbing some post-race fuel and fluids, Shauna and I cooled down quickly enough that we were ready to head home to get cleaned up and relax.
Post-race in Dad's sweatshirts!!
At that point, we began the "where did we park?" odyssey. In general, relying on me to navigate the concrete jungle should've been a safe bet - but after about 20 minutes of walking, Susannah driving us around to find the car, my dad looking in a different direction, and my certainty that it was "definitely on the left here," we took a right and managed to make it to the car!! Note to self: set location of vehicle in phone when racing in an unfamiliar area. Second note to self: do not assume that just because you grew up close by, that this is a familiar area.

The big payoff to running a race in Houston, of course, is being able to then eat dinner in Houston!! Aaahhhhh, Tex Mex - if only someone in NW Arkansas could convince Mr. Pappas to open a Pappasitos up here, it would practically be like living in Texas. But until that happens, I do my best to stuff myself silly every time I'm back in H-Town.

My parents, sister, brother-in-law, super-adorable-niece, my three stalwart friends and I sat down for a post-race celebration dinner, the four of us proudly representing our adopted home state with our sweet (blue! must be blue!) running shirts.
All in all, I can't say enough good things about The Woodlands Marathon. If I had captured the memories right after the race, I'm sure I would've had many more details to share on how great the aid stations were; the excellent bling; and the fact that I loved getting a tank instead of a short sleeved tee for a finisher's shirt. I'll leave you with my overall impression and my One True Fact - if you are looking for a PR course, or even a BQ course, check this race out. It isn't too big, it's incredibly well organized, it's super affordable, the trees all along the course block any wind that might try to derail you, and the course is FLAT and FAST. It may very well be on my list again when I get ready to try for the elusive second BQ.

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