The Chevron Houston Marathon was really great experience for me. I was able to reach my goal, not hit a wall, and finish strong. Here’s a brief recap.
My morning started off much like a long workout day would, if not a bit early. I woke up at 3:45am, turned on the coffee pot, and headed out for about 10 minutes of jogging in circles in the parking garage. After taking a shower and getting dressed, I had my typical breakfast of steel cut oats and coffee (thankfully, the hotel we stayed in had a stovetop). We left the hotel at 5am and headed toward George R Brown Convention Center, which is where gear check and the start line are located. After using the bathroom and relaxing for a bit, I headed out to the starting corrals. I used the bathroom again on the way, but finally made it out to the start line. I met up with teammate Kirk and friend Mark who were making their way to the start, too. We watched as the US Half Marathon Championships took off at 6:55am, and then got our start at 7.
I let both Mark and Kirk go, knowing that they both had faster goal paces for their races. In fact, I let A LOT of people go. I had somewhat of a plan to start with the 3:00 pace group for the first half of the race, and expected them to catch up to me shortly considering how relaxed and slow I felt like I was running. I had my Garmin set to show only the stopwatch and give me 3 mile splits, so I only knew at Mile 1 that I was in the low 6:40s. At this point, I decided to just let myself get into a comfortable rhythm and let the race unfold as it would. I made it my strategy during the race to not pass anyone as long as I was feeling comfortable (not feeling pulled too fast, not feeling like I was putting on the brakes from going too slow). It turns out that I hung onto probably half a dozen groups of people throughout the race, some of them half marathoners (the courses split at mile 8) and some of them marathoners.
I carried a bottle of Tailwind Endurance fuel into the race and sipped on it as a way of slowly taking calories and hydrating, saving me from the chaos of early water stops. I threw this bottle at mile 8 and took my first gel at mile 10 (GU Salted Caramel w/ caffeine).
I felt completely smooth and in a zone at this point in the race. Mile 11 or 12 featured one of the only hills on the course, a bridge crossing over a set of train tracks. I passed through halfway in 1:27:30, right on pace for a 2:55. At mile 14.5, I ran past my parents and grabbed a second bottle of Tailwind. I latched on with a masters runner who looked like he knew what he was doing at this point in the race. We got to chatting a little bit and found that he was doing his 34th marathon (14th Houston) and was going after a PR (2:58). Knowing that I was on pace for a 2:55, I gave him some encouragement and said that he was in a good place to hit this time. We jabbered a bit for several miles, even sharing a chuckle when a spectator at Mile 18 let us know that we were halfway done! He made a good point that some people need to have that “virtual halfway point” late in the race to mentally prepare themselves for the grueling last few miles. I never learned this man’s name, but I hope he got his PR that day.
At Mile 19, I latched onto another guy who was really hammering home. I didn’t try to race him, I just got right behind him and didn’t let him gap me, knowing we had a few miles left to go. He (I learned from spectators cheering out the names on our bibs – this guy’s name was Eric) ran confidently and with some obvious experience at the distance, so I felt comfortable letting him lead me through a few miles. We started seeing what looked to me to be zombies sprinkled throughout the course. These were, in fact, runners who had gone out too hard early in the race and were paying for it now, either in the form of zig-zagging aimlessly around the road, walking with their hands on their heads, or just plain stopping on the side of the course. I wasn’t feeling the wall that they were feeling, but it didn’t look like much fun and I was thankful for the positive experience I was having. At mile 21 we passed through the Clif Gel station, and I grabbed a Citrus gel with caffeine. I had been carrying another Salted Caramel gel with me, but at this stage of the race (and with the temperatures climbing), Citrus just sounded like a more appealing option.
At mile 22, I started to charge into some of the inclines that could be found leading into downtown Houston. I dropped Eric at this point, and I would spend the next 4.2 miles picking off more zombies alone. At mile 24, the marathon and half marathon courses rejoin, and the crowds were magnificent. It was an almost deafening roar coming into the city, and I felt so much energy coming off of the spectators who all seemed to just beam with respect for the runners. At almost mile 26, I saw my coach who called out to me with one last piece of advice: “Put your chin down, and finish this.” Rounding the turn into the homestretch, I heard my mom’s voice cheering me on. I could barely see anything through the crowds, but I waved in that direction and charged home.
The clock showed 2:56:05 when I crossed the line, but I learned from the torrents of text messages and Facebook message that my official chip time was 2:55:59.
I ran almost dead evenly for the entire race. I had planned to run progressively, but found that an evenly paced marathon will FEEL like a progressive effort over the distance. I consumed 2 gels (200 calories) and about 30 ounces (~300 calories) of Tailwind Endurance fuel. I never felt the “wall” that many people describe during the race, I just know that I steadily became more fatigued as the race went on. Before the race, I was concerned that a nagging issue on the inside of my right knee and also the ball of my right foot would cause me issues, but I had no injury pains during the race. I consider this first marathon to be a HUGE SUCCESS and hope that future marathons will have similar results (but faster, of course!).
What’s next: I plan on laying off the marathon distance until the 2015 Boston Marathon. I would like to spend the 15 months working to develop my speed and overall strength, starting with the Rogue Track Festival on February 15th. I will be racing either the mile or 5k on the track, with the intention of learning how to run uncomfortably again. I also plan to race some (or all) of the 10k Rogue Trail Series, knowing that trail is very good at encouraging musculoskeletal development and has the added benefit of often being soft surface. This will all be pieced together to make me a more well rounded runner. Stay tuned!
Tyler Mathews is the main author of Running Toward Dreams and an aspiring athlete.