Sunday, January 17, 2010

2010 Houston Marathon

Houston 2010 will be my 10th marathon since I ran my first marathon at Houston 2006 (not counting 3 Ironmans and 3 50k's), and this will be my 4th time running Houston (I ran the Houston 1/2 marathon in 2009, injured- not a great idea).  I like this race.

On Saturday I went to pick up my race packet, and as usual, it was fun to be swept up in the city's collective excitement about the race.    There were lots of good deals on running apparel, but I managed to escape without buying anything (running is pretty simple- there's only so much gear you really need).  I had toyed with the idea of getting a short "warmup" run in, but I ended up relaxing and watching football.  Not a bad thing, really.  I went out for a pasta dinner, and the restaurant was packed with people running the marathon (which resulted in a painfully long wait, but that's another story).

Sunday- RACE DAY-
Weather:  Perfect!- 45 degrees at race start, warming up to mid 50's by noon.
Woke up at 4:45 am.  I had 2 bowls of cereal before leaving the house (breakfast of champions!).  Agustina, her mother, and I picked up a friend and headed to the convention center, arriving ~5:30 am.  This year was a little different from most years for me- typically all or most of my running crew are running the marathon with me, but due to differing goal races and varying degrees of injury, I had no one to meet up with before the race.  So I headed out to the start corrals a little earlier than usual on my own.  I easily got to my spot in the corral by 6:30, and took advantage of the time to remove some gravel from my shoes (the mesh in the tops of them tends to allow tiny bits of gravel to enter the shoes when running at Memorial Park, so I often end up taking just a little bit of the trail home with me).  I found the 3:10 pace group, and lurked inconspicuously behind them.  I don't know if I've elaborated here on my goal for this race, but here it is:  I decided when I started running that I wanted to qualify for Boston before I turned 35 (when the qualifying time goes from 3:10 to 3:15), so my goal for this marathon is 3:10.  Note: my PR for the Houston marathon after 3 races is 3:31, and my overall marathon PR is 3:18 at St. George (a hilly, but net downhill course).  Considering that I struggled in running a 3:39 marathon at Chicago just a few months ago, it's a pretty aggressive goal, but it's what I've been working towards.  Anyway, I saw another triathlete from Houston Racing who was aiming for a similar time, and we hung out together until the start.  Mayors speech, inspirational prayer, national anthem, and then BANG- and we're off.

I had decided that I wouldn't necessarily stick with the pace group, which I assumed would be running even 7:15 splits the whole race.  I wanted to run just a little faster on the early miles to build a little bit of a buffer for my inevitable deceleration late in the race.  Interestingly, they stayed right with me through 12 miles or so (they ran two ~7:00 miles early on, and ended up finishing a couple of minutes early at the finish).  At some point, I just let them go.  I was pretty convinced that if I kept running that aggressively early on, I'd regret it later, so I continued running my own race.  I kept a pretty good handle on my pace through mile 15, or so (running at or better than target pace).  Mile 15 contains an overpass (the "hill" in this race), and I had a pretty slow split for that mile, and didn't seem to really regain my stride in the subsequent miles (they're headed directly away from the finish, and are pretty mentally tough).  At this point, I was running pretty much as fast as I could, and I was only getting 7:30 miles out of my legs.  I had my watch set to give me 1/4 mile splits, so I knew every couple of minutes how I was doing, and I knew that I was starting to bleed off a little of the time buffer that I'd built up.  I did my best to hold it together, and did manage to pull my pace down between miles 15 and 18, actually getting pretty close to target pace for mile 18.  Not coincidentally, during that mile I saw my buddy Greg (who has faithfully made it out to cheer me on in every Houston Marathon I've run), and some of the folks from my running group who weren't running the race.  It sure helps to have supporters!

Me looking particulary dopey, but very happy to see Greg at mile 18

At mile 18, we turned back towards the finish, and it was an 8 mile run for home.  I knew that I needed to bring my pace down if I was going to finish in my target time, but a side stitch I developed gulping water around 18 lasted for a several miles, and I pushed my pace as hard as I could without making it worse (it's a fine line), and now I was hemorrhaging time.  I was pretty confident that I had burned through whatever buffer I had built up, but I had some consolation in knowing that technically the BQ target time is 3:10:59, so I did have 59 seconds more than I had allowed myself to consider.  Still, at the rate I was losing time (I didn't really slow down that much- I ran miles 21-25 at 7:30 pace instead of my 7:15 target), it was going to take a heck of a kick at the end to come anywhere close.  Encouragingly, I was passing people left and right who had completely blown out instead of just slowing, and I kept pushing, and ran through to the end with everything I had left, running every 1/4 mile as aggressively as I could (but losing time the whole way).  On the home stretch I used up whatever may have been left in the tank, running a 6:04 pace over the last half mile.  The crowd was cheering, I was dying, and I crossed the finish line in 3:11:53, good for a 7 minute PR over my St George time, and nearly a 20 minute PR over my best Houston time.  When I stopped, my legs collapsed, and I toppled backwards like I'd been hit with sledgehammer (stopping after all those hours of running isn't nearly as easy as it sounds), but a friendly medical team caught me, and walked me until I could walk myself.  My track coach from my early days in Houston Racing was in the finishing chute, and clapped me on the back and said, "That was a hell of a race".  That meant a lot- he's known me since I started running in late 2005, and I've come a long way since then. 

I picked up my medal, and ran into some friends, who walked me around until I was better able to move on my own.  I was pretty torn between being proud of my PR (It turns out that since at the next Boston Marathon that I could run I'll be 35, all I actually needed to qualify was a 3:15), and being devastatedly disappointed that I'd put in so much training, and put so much out there in this race, only to come up short of my goal.  I'm still a little torn on that point, but my friends have been excited for me, so I'm probably more happy than disappointed.  And a huge PR is nothing to sneeze at.

Side note- I ran this race (and all of my training for the last several months) in my Newtons, and hopefully I'll find the time to comment on them in an upcoming post.

Here are my splits from the marathon (note the crazy 6:54 pace split at mile 11, run with the crazy pace group):

Official result: 3:11:53- Boston, here I come!

The taper

Tuesday, Jan 5:
Speedwork on a treadmill.  The weather outside wasn't even that bad; I just didn't feel like running on the track alone in the dark (nothing fun about that, really).  I took one of the usual segments out of my workout to make it a bit more taper-worthy (to back down the volume a bit, at least).
1 mi easy, 2000m @ 6:45, 1mi @ 6:26, 800 @ 6:00, 1 mi easy (Total ~6 mi)

Thursday, Jan 7:
Tempo run.  I backed the mileage at 1/2 marathon pace recommended by my plan (6), and opted for 4 (since I wanted to really enforce the taper this week).  I ran at a deserted Memorial Park in frigid temperatures in the rain, and I didn't struggle too much to hit my pace.  These actually felt pretty good.
2 mi WU, 4 mi @ 6:45, 1 mi CD

Saturday, Jan 9:
Easy long run.  Some of my usual crew showed up for this one, even though it was 28 degrees at the start (in Houston!), but it was a smaller group than usual.  On the other hand, since I had no real pace goal for this run, I was able to actually run and chat with my friends, rather than just starting with them and meeting them at water stops, as I've done much of this training season.  It was a nice change of pace.
13.4 mi @ 8:48

Tuesday, Jan 12:
Easy run at base pace.  6 mi @ 8:07 pace.  Again, a nice run, because I got to run with Augie instead of doing my own thing.  I need to appreciate these runs more, since if I expect to improve, I probably will have to do more and more running at my own pace.

Thursday, Jan 14:
I was scheduled for a speed workout on Wednesday, but skipped it to go to a dinner with other marathoners from my company.  It was a good choice; I had a good time.  Thursday I wanted to remind myself what it feels like to run fast (after all of these "easy" runs), so I went to the park (in the rain and the cold and the dark), and did the following:
1 mi WU,  3 mi @ 7:00, .75 mi CD
This was a good run for visualizing the race, and the 3 miles definitely gave my confidence a needed boost.

That's all I plan to do before the marathon on Sunday, unless I go for a quick 1 mile run on Saturday, TBD.

Monday, January 4, 2010

How do you like them apples?

I did it!  I had a fantastic tempo run and actually managed to hit both the distance and the pace!  Finally!  I am so pumped!

Plan: 2 mile WU, 8 mile @ 6:45, 2 mile CD
Achieved: 2 mile WU, 8 mile @ 6:47, 2 mile CD
I finally hit my Thursday tempo run!  It was one of my toughest runs ever, but I hung in there and tried to run each 1/4 mile in the moment; to focus on my form and pace at the moment and not to think about all of the miles ahead of me or behind me.  The turning point in the workout was the halfway point; after that the remaining miles seemed pretty achievable.  I was so exhausted by the end, and so happy to have succeeded, that I felt nearly as emotional as I do after a marathon.  Weird.  I was working pretty hard by the end- my heart rate at the end was around 183.    Then- off to a New Year's party!

Knees are still pretty sore.  It's a ligament (IT band?) on the outside of the knee that mostly hurts when I rotate on my leg (on both legs).  I've been icing a good bit.

Plan:  2 mi WU, 12 mi at 7:04, 2 mi CD
Achieved:  2 mi WU, 12 mi at 7:06, 2 mi CD
This was an awfully tough run.  I struggled to maintain pace throughout the run, which was pretty frustrating (especially since this was supposed to be marathon pace, and I was only running half of a marathon- should it be that much work?).  I even stopped once during the run with no good reason (and was very ashamed of myself for it, too!).  This wasn't as confidence-building as I imagine it was supposed to be, but I had a pretty tough workout on Thursday, and there may have been some residual fatigue from that.  But...  I did get the run in, and I think I even managed to hold pace better than my last "marathon pace" long run.  Maybe I was just a little disappointed because I was expecting it to be easy. 

My knees still hurt. I'm taking Sunday and Monday off.  Hopefully they'll feel better as I enter... Taper Time!