My Houston Marathon Experience

On January 18th, 2009 I ran the Chevron Houston Marathon – my first full marathon – and finished in 4 hours, 54 minutes and 42 seconds.

The Event

2009 Chevron Houston Marathon Course Map
2009 Chevron Houston Marathon Course Map

The full and half marathon events began at the same time with groups separated into two waves. The second wave, which I was in, began 10 minutes after the first wave. The half marathon group started a block away from the full, but joined back up at mile two.

Both the full and half marathon events start and finish at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center. The course winds through The Heights neighborhood, through the Montrose district, meanders through the Rice University area, leaves the loop 610 boundary for The Galleria and Tanglewilde districts before turning to downtown via the Memorial Park area.

My plan was to find the runners in the 4 hour, 15 minute pace group and stick with them throughout the run. I intended to use the Jeff Galloway technique of running a few minutes followed by a brief walk. At my pace, he recommends a 4 minute run followed by a 1 minute walk. This pattern is supposed to be repeated until approximately mile 18 where you can then turn on the steam and finish strong. In theory, that is.

As it turned out, I immediately lost sight of my pace leaders even though I was perhaps only 25 yards behind them at the starting gun. The sheer mass of people made it difficult to go the full pace for the first three miles. The massive crowd also made it difficult to start the run/walk cycle right from the beginning, although I did pick it up around mile three.

Between miles 5 and 6 we ran in The Heights neighborhood, and right along the two streets that border my parents’ street, so they came out to see me run past. About this point I ran into – no pun intended – a few of the runners from my running group that run about the same pace I do in training. I started maintaining a running pace that stayed with them and we each began to push the pace a little faster as the crowd thinned out some. This is telling from the result data… over the first 6.2 miles I averaged 5.9 mph or a 10 minute, 7 second per mile pace. During the next 6.2 miles my average pace was 6.0 mph or a 9 minute, 57 second per mile pace – right where I wanted to be.

At mile nine, in the Montrose district, the half-marathon group reached their turn-around point and suddenly the streets became a whole lot less crowded. The spectators thinned out as well, although still remained thick and loud throughout most of the remainder of the course when located on residential streets. The effects of a cheering crowd in an event like this cannot be underestimated. All of the runners have their names printed on their bibs, so you literally have thousands of people calling out your name as you run by; never underestimate the power a flirting woman cheering a name can have on the competitive male psyche!

Almost Halfway
Almost Halfway

I finished the first half of the marathon within 30 seconds of my previous two half marathons I ran in October. That lifted my spirits but fatigue began to set in a few miles later. Just after the 14 mile point we turned onto Westpark and climbed a very large overpass. We also left the residential neighborhoods for a few miles so the combination of the distance, lack of cheering and fatigue of the hill climb finally got to me and I dropped off the pace. The next seven miles proved the most difficult of the race; during my 13.1 to 18.6 mile split I averaged only 5.3 mph or an 11 minute, 18 second per mile pace.

At around the 18.6 (30K) mile point to mile 20 I reevaluated how I’d run the rest of the course. Unlike many of the training runs, I had not bonked but rather muscle fatigue had set in. I decided to take it easy, concentrate on finishing well, and walk as much as I needed to. I did find that keeping a relatively fast running pace felt better than a slower one, but I had to walk much more often to recover. As a result, my last split time was only an average of 4.5 mph or a glacial 13 minute, 17 second per mile pace.

Around mile 20 the race officials also changed the flag risk from green (run as planned) to yellow (ensure adequate fluids and cooling; slow pace as heat increased) as the temperature approached 70 degrees. It really was a near perfect weather day, except runners would really prefer it to be 20 or 30 degrees cooler than that for racing.  I felt comfortable and cool enough, but noticed I was running slower with the same heart rate as I was earlier in the day (which I try and keep between 160 and 165 during a race).

During the last three miles the head coach of my running group, along with the coach of my pace group and several other members of the group caught up to me and did their best to encourage us to keep up and finish strong. I picked up the pace for a little while but fatigue won out and they wound up passing me around mile 25. In the end they finished just under two minutes ahead of me, but it was neigh impossible to keep up at that point.

It really was a wonderful experience crossing the finish line of a marathon. It was tough, although I think my first 100 mile bicycle ride years before was probably a tougher challenge. I was not nearly as exhausted as I thought I would be, although that should not underscore just how amazingly worn out I really was.

After the Finish

Still Alive!
Still Alive!

Immediately after crossing the finish line the organizers herd you into an area where you get a finisher photograph taken. After that you are brought inside the George R. Brown, given your finisher medal and then herded over to the medical area where you are weighed. They compare your weight after the race to what you weighed the previous day when you picked up your packet at the event expo. In my case, I was the same weight so they were concerned I might have hyponatremia.

They took me back into the medical area and had me fill out a questionnaire with the gist being how much water  you drank during the race and how you feel. In my case, I felt great (sore muscles aside) and I had been using an electrolyte add-in for my water during the event. In fact, towards the end I suspected I needed more fluids than I had drunk because I was covered in a thick layer of salt and I did not have to urinate at all during the event. After checking out my questionnaire and making sure I really felt okay they let me go, but this is an interesting data point for me and future runs.

After that little distraction, which unfortunately took a half hour, it was time to herd through the food area, get my finisher’s t-shirt and other goodies, pick up my checked baggage, change clothes and then find my friends. They of course were terribly worried about me since they were not sure when I crossed the finished line and then I was MIA for the extra half hour after I did.

Once everything was squared away we left, found ourselves an IHOP for lunch (mmm, pancakes and eggs!) and then went home. I treated myself to an ice bath as soon as I got home, which was more enjoyable than it sounds, followed by a wonderful shower and a slow, short bicycle ride in the park behind my neighborhood. Amazingly, I didn’t collapse into a coma as soon as I was done with all of that but stayed up until a normal time, even though I had been up since 3:30am.

One of the more amusing things to do after any endurance event like this is to add up just what all you ate during the day. In my case:

  1. Breakfast: banana protein cake
  2. Pre-run: 1 Gu packet
  3. During: 3 bags of Clif Shot Bloks, 2 bananas, 1 Gu packet, and 10 (!) cups of sports drink, plus about the same amount of water
  4. Post-race: 1 slice pound cake, 1/4 bagel, 1/2 cup scrambled eggs, 1/2 cup potatoes
  5. Lunch: 1/2 omelette and 1/2 harvest grain ‘n nut pancakes @ IHOP
  6. Snack: cottage cheese, granola, and raisins
  7. Dinner: banana protein cake

Wow! All of that sounds excessive but I likely did not really eat enough during the day as my heart rate monitor reported a energy expenditure of 3,878 kilo calories during the marathon itself. And let’s face it, you run a marathon and it is pretty much a license to eat whatever you can handle that day. I should have ordered a pizza!

The day after the marathon I found myself extremely sore, but not nearly as much as I thought I would be. I was slow, but fully functional. I did notice that as the day went on my entire back was highly sore, which is a new experience for me.

Today, two days after, I was less sore but my muscles were still screaming at me. It was time for a massage (which I stupidly scheduled in advance without thinking it was the exact time of the presidential inauguration, whoops!). Deep tissue massages are a bit sadomasochistic to begin with, but this one was truly an amazing amount of pain. The old cliché about muscles you didn’t know existing being sore was so true. Nevertheless, it is an amazing recovery tool and I found myself feeling wonderful afterward. The muscles in the middle of my back and my right shin were the most sore and the massage went a long way to relieving their pain.

I am supposed to take  break from all exercise until Thursday, at which point I can go for a short run or walk. This weekend the bicycling training season begins anew, and a gentle ~40 mile ride in the country will likely be a wonderful recovery tool as well.

The Training

I started running in late April, 2008 after the MS150 bike ride between Houston and Austin. My cardiovascular conditioning after the bicycle training season was excellent, which made pushing myself during the runs easy, but my running technique itself was not sound. My good friend Teri noticed how I was running and offered a few suggestions which dramatically changed how I ran and the impact it had on my body. After that point, running became relatively easy.

I signed up with Fort Bend Fit to utilize their training program for the 2009 Houston half-marathon. My training progressed much faster than I expected and I ran my first half-marathon in Albuquerque in October, followed by the warm-up Houston half-marathon a week later. At that point, I decided to switch to the full marathon race and continued to follow the full marathon training program.

During the training season I ran 600.5 miles over 120 hours and 56 minutes, expending a whopping 75,711 kilo calories – not including any of the cross-training I did. The Fort Bend Fit training program was a full 28 weeks long, making it possible for anyone to go from being able to do a 5K distance to a full marathon during that time.

During the training season I ran 2 5K races, a 5 mile race, 2 half-marathons, a 25K race and a 30K race, not to mention all of the nurmous additional training runs in between.

It was a truely awesome experience.

Now What?

The day of the marathon, and the following Monday, I had zero interest in ever running another marathon. Zero. I like bicycling a whole lot more, and that experience is a whole lot easier on your body (unless you crash). But today I noticed I am already looking for future events and reading different recovery scenarios for the first time marathoner. D’oh. Maybe I should just give in and start doing triathlons. An ironman would be fun…

Published by

chadwick

Chad is a software developer from Colorado, USA. He's been working in the software industry since the 1980s and presently works for Alert Logic, a provider of managed security-as-a-service solutions for the Cloud. He spends way too much time bicycling or playing with cars.

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