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!


  1. CONGRATULATIONS ON THE MONSTER PR, JOSH!!!!!! What a great run.

  2. Loved reading this recap, Josh - and what a race it was!! You have so much to be proud of and you're such an inspiration for me. Congrats again big bro!

  3. Incredible recap! Truly loved it and we are VERY proud of "our Joshy." You are and continue to be an inspiration. I was hurting for inspiration... so many, many thanks.