Friday, January 30, 2009

Houston Marathon Race Report

It is good to look back on race day and reflect on what went right, what could have gone better and what went wrong and a good way to do that is through recapping the day in a race report, so here is mine for the Houston Marathon:

We woke up early to head Downtown at 5:15 a.m. because we needed to arrive before the police started closing the surrounding streets. A colleague and friend from work rode Downtown with us which was nice because all of the chatting helped stave off some of my usual pre-race jitters. Once we arrived at the George R Brown (GRB), Doug dropped us off and we went in search of our respective training partners.

My training partner Mark had arranged for me to run with a couple of his buddies who were also trying to break 4 hours and I finally found one of the guys, Mike, 15 minutes or so before it was time to head outside for the starting line. The back-up plan was to find the 4 hour pace group and meet there. It was when I finally found Mike (which was a feat in and of itself given the crowd) he spilled the beans that Mark would be running with us. Needless to say, I was extremely excited because most of my training was with Mark and I knew I would have a good race with him.

Course Map for Reference:

After 2 more potty stops we hit the start line to wait for our wave to take off. There was an electricity of nervous energy in the crowd and we were all anxious for the starting gun, and at 7:10 a.m. it was finally our turn. Our little group was at the start of the Blue Wave and right next to the 4 hour pace group. The nervous energy didn't leave me for the first several miles because the crowd was pretty thick and it only got heavier at Mile 2 when the marathon and half marathon courses merged together. After mile 3 or 4 we finally settled into a consistent pace, but by that time the group of 4 we had started with was down to just 2, myself and Mark. Mike was hoping to run a 3:45 so he took off and the woman (I forget her name) that started with us was gone as well.

Around mile 5 (in the Heights) I was excited to see Mikey, Paige and William holding a sign for me! Mark runs with a disposable digital camera and he snapped a quick photo of the three of us and we were off.

To see Mark's Photos from his camera:

Shortly thereafter we saw Doug at Studemont and I-10 and he told us that my mom and step-dad were at mile 10. It was great to know where to look for people because the course was crowded with runners and cheering fans. I also liked having something to countdown to -- like, 3 miles until I see my parents! These miles passed fairly quickly and before I knew it we were approaching the museum district and I saw my parents (each holding great signs for me!) and Doug made a second appearance. I spent most of the time during these miles just soaking it all in - the scenery, the spectators, other runners and even did some socializing with some of the other marathoners. It was also around this time that the half marathon route turned off so the course opened up quite a bit. We turned right onto University and headed towards the halfway mark. During this stretch in Rice Village we saw Mark's family too and they told us Mark's buddy from Richmond was about 10 minutes ahead of us (turns out he started in the first wave, the red wave, with the 4 hour pace group).

The second Doug sighting

It was around the halfway point that I started to feel a cramp coming on and by mile 14 it was really bothering me. I worked most of the cramp out over the next mile by grabbing my side where I felt the cramp and breathing out at every footstep on the right side, all the while maintaining goal pace. At the next water stop (they were every 1.5 miles, so at odd intervals) I decided to take a couple of salt pills and that really seemed to do the trick. I guess I was losing more salt than I expected. At this point we were running along the feeder of 59 and approaching the Galleria, my stomping grounds for work so an area that I know very well. My legs were getting heavy, but nothing was full on hurting yet.

We managed to miss seeing my parents at Rice Epicurean off San Felipe but did see Doug, Ryan, Tracey and Jack off Tanglewood. Tracey was holding a great sign that said, "Great Butt Anne" - it made me laugh and really put some step back in my slowly fading stride. They told me later that the sign got a lot of comments from other runners (Who's Anne? I want to see her butt!) and they even got to see some butts! How funny! They were our last family/friend sighting before the finish line. It was in Tanglewood that we caught up with our friend Mike from the start of the race. He was starting to fade a bit so Mark ran with him for a mile or so while I held goal pace. I knew that if I slowed down I would not be able to make up the lost time. So, I ran a mile or so alone and was proud of myself for maintaining pace and feeling pretty good on my own. Mark left Mike and caught up with me around the 20 mile mark. He really wanted to see me break my 4 hour goal and with Mike fading, I think he knew I was going to need one of his famous pep talks.

Tanglewood - seeing Doug, Ryan, Tracey and Jack

Mark, Anne and Mike

My somewhat embarrassed expression upon seeing the Butt sign

By mile 20 my right quad and hamstring were starting to get tight. They were not throbbing but I could tell that they were "tweaked" and they were going to hurt on Monday! I continued taking Hammer gels (one every 6 miles or so starting at mile 7) and I even took a couple of additional salt tabs for good measure. Every thing that they say about the last 6 miles of a marathon was true for me. It was tough, mentally and physically. Mark spent a lot of time giving me different motivators (were are going to pass that person in the orange shirt 10 yards up, 3 minutes until our next mile marker, etc.) trying to keep me positive. Mark also tried to keep me positive by telling me to remember my best runs and he riled the crowd up when these got too quiet too. He also did that other thing he is famous for -- he made me speed up as I was starting to want to slow down. Even if it just a couple of seconds per mile, speeding up helped me maintain good running form and keep my mind off of negative thoughts. Having Mark there for those 6 miles was a God send. I would like to believe I could have kept pave without him, but I am glad that I didn't have to!

As we approached Downtown and the end of the marathon, I was disappointed that my body didn't seem to have much left to increase pace for the last mile, or at least last half mile. I am usually a "horse to stables" kind of runner and I always seem to run my fastest split at the end of run, but not today. I think that means that I left "all my beans" on the course. That is another Markism and a great way to put a race into perspective. According to Mark, we each have a bag of beans at the start of a race and how we feel at the end of the race is dictated by what we did with our bag of beans. If you left all of your beans in the first half, you probably faded in the second half of the race. If you finished feeling too strong, you probably kept too many beans in your bag.

The last stretch of the race - .2 miles - was a total blur. The streets were lined with people, yet I still managed to see most of our friends and family, even though they were in different places. I saw Mark's wife Sheri and she was screaming, "Go Anne!", I saw my parents who were both jumping up and down with their signs, and then I saw Douglas, his mom and the boys right as I crossed the finish line.

Marathon day, I left my last bean at the finish line when the clock said 3:57:25 ... and Mark who was my cheerleader all day, let me cross first and beat him by one second!

Finish Line Photo

As soon as I crossed the line and started walking my legs got tight and I had trouble walking - and breathing for that matter. Everything hurt. I was able to kiss Doug and the boys through a fence before going inside the GRB to get my medal, shirt and other goodies. I was planning to get a post-race massage, but the line was long and I didn't want to keep my fans waiting! I regretted not getting one later as they always seem to help with recovery. We ran into Mark's friends Mark and John and we all got post-race grub. They sat down to eat and I decided to part ways as to not keep the boys waiting any longer as I knew Andrew was anxious to see me.

After hugs and congratulations we said good bye to the McGowans and the rest of us went to Mama's Cafe for a well deserved high calorie breakfast and then it was home for a much needed nap.

I could not have asked for a more perfect day!

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