Last May I encouraged two of my closest friends to throw their names in with mine for the Houston lottery. At the time, I imagined myself toodling along the course with my friends for an easy run in between target races. Fast forward to race day- “easy” pace, yes… toodling, not so much.
Houston isn’t foreign to me as a former resident (it’s where The Hubs and I met). The course topography wasn’t foreign to me because my urban nomad of a husband- then boyfriend- had uprooted me every six months to move somewhere newer and more interesting within a 5 mile radius in the city (so, as you can imagine, the course just became a guided running tour of “places Jenn used to live” for my running partners). What was foreign to me was actually running the terrain since when I lived there I avoided running at all costs because I thought it was horrible… and painful… and boring… and crazy.
So at 4 am on Sunday morning, The Hubs and I got up to do something that I had previously deemed horrible, painful, boring, and crazy ( and have since classified as sanity saving, painful, euphoric, and crazy)- we were going to run around it while most of the people we still knew who were living there were sound asleep or nursing killer hangovers after celebrating at a friend’s going away party. Guess who didn’t make it to that party… Any guesses? Yes, the couple with the long flowing locks and adorable little toddler who had a race to run. That’s me and The Hubs for the sake of clarification.
By 5 am we were joined by my brother in law Derek (running his first half marathon), Rachel (looking for a PR at this race), Casey (running her first half marathon and who I have already established is no freaking joke), and Casey’s husband Jasen (a former steeplechaser who is also, as you might expect, also no freaking joke) ready to make the trek from where we were all staying in the ‘burbs into the city. If you were doing mental math, you may have noticed there were six of us. So we logically took one car. What else would six full grown adults do?
Jasen, Casey, Rachel and I folded ourselves into the back seat before I had a chance to actually put my shoes on which quickly became problematic for me because it was far too packed in the back for me to put them on en route but wearing no shoes in the car dramatically interfered with my habit of checking my shoelace tension from the third to the last eyelet obsessively every 10 minutes only to untie them every third time to try to fix a nonexistent wrinkle in my sock having to reboot to entire process and start over from the laces once again.
I have a few rituals I like to adhere to- the shoelace thing, peeing at least three times before a run, and wearing an unnecessary number of “backup hairbands” around my wrist. It’s a process of self soothing. Calming nerves. Obviously I know nothing bad is going to happen if I don’t do those things. Yet I didn’t check my shoelaces multiple times and The Hubs ended up with an untied shoelace less than two miles into his run so obviously the universe was punishing me. Not really. But it’s not a totally crazy thought…
Meet Team Clown Car- the focus is just as blurry as my mind felt at the time.
When we made it into Houston- and the four of us unfolded ourselves from the origami chain of slightly antsy arms and legs we had inevitably created in the backseat- I got a moment to focus on my shoes. Unfortunately, in the process of testing the tensile strength of my laces, I forgot to put an assortment of items I was carrying in the trunk so later I would have to deal with the fact that I was holding onto ear warmers (it was not cold) and enough chews to fuel the entirety of B corral.
While I’m making fun of my unnecessary pre-run habits, it’s worth mentioning the major score of hanging out in the lobby of the Westin pre race since we had arrived downtown so early. I can’t even begin to describe how much better this was than standing in a windy line for a porta potty. Three times. It also provided us all a place to sit and decompress momentarily before heading to our corrals and getting a nervous energy contact high. Thanks, Westin!
Relaxing in the lobby of The Westin prerace
This would also be the perfect opportunity to own up to the fact that I broke another cardinal rule- “Nothing New on Race Day”- by wearing and entirely new outfit that I had picked out at lululemon with Casey the day before the race. I’m continually on the hunt for the perfect sports bra and, although I’ve found several almost perfect options, I haven’t married myself off to anything as of yet. Lulu recently introduced the Bitty Bracer which is an awesomely fitted and supportive sports bra for those of us who are… ahem… modestly endowed. I was pretty obsessed with the Ta Ta Tamer when my DD nursing boomies kept me in the appropriate size, but once I wasn’t exclusively breastfeeding anymore I shrunk out of the size range of my fave sports bra. I had a Christmas gift card to burn and was itching to give the Bitty Bracer a try (Thanks, Bro. You unwillingly bought me a bra for Christmas. Sorry!) so I decided to go ahead and break the race day apparel rule and wear it to run. After all, what’s one more broken rule for a girl who forgot to train for a race?!
Around 6:35 we all parted ways for our corrals. The Hubs was in A, Jasen and I were assigned B, Casey and Rachel were in C, and Derek was in D. I corralled myself back with Casey and Rachel and the three of us began a game of “beef spotting” to pass the minutes until gun time. The Texas Beef Council has a team of ambassador runners that all wear shirts that say “Fueled by Beef” which always cracks me up. Maybe it’s the former raw vegan in me, but I just end up picturing someone blending up a steak smoothie post race every time I see that shirt. It’s funny- omnivore or not- and it’s a slogan that sticks with you so that marketing team has earned its gold star. It’s also one of those things that can help break you out of long run delirium- there were several times when one of us was mentally withdrawing and hearing your friend shout “Over there… Beef!” was a welcome distraction. Beef spotting. It’s a thing.
With Rachel wanting to better her 2:24:55 half time, Casey claiming to only care about running the whole time and staying under 2:30, and the fact that my training has been laughable the plan was to run with the 4:45 marathon pace group until the turn off at mile 8 so I could take it easy without having to think much until I took over pacing duties for the group. No such luck. We discovered that the 4:45 pace group were run/walkers which meant my dreams of a mindless early 8 miles were shattered and I’d actually have to think the whole time because staying consistent requires thinking for me. Because we don’t walk. And because I’m consistently inconsistent when running. Realllly inconsistent. Like, this is my most consistent run in my history as a runner until Houston…
Yay! Look at the pretty curvy green line! Wait… what? It’s supposed to be a straight line? Crap.
Houston Marathon did a great job with the corral organization, and the three of us passed over the starting line only 13 minutes after gun time which seems pretty quick for a large race. Even though the first four miles aren’t very scenic or interesting, the streets were nice and wide and the pavement was even at that point which was a good way to start so I only had to focus on being consistent.
Looking back at our 5k, 10k, etc splits after the fact makes it seem like I did a pretty good job of pacing this one… like we almost pulled off negative splits until the 20k mark. Seems pretty consistent:
Pretty good attempt, huh?
Knowing Rachel’s goal, I wanted us to start super easy and keep it under 10:55 per mile to get us in at 2:23 or better. Looks like I did a great job, right? But this is what it really looked like mile by mile:
Yep… that’s more like it. It looks far less consistent.
But wait… it get’s worse. Check out our first mile broken down by half mile:
Here is the first mile as it played out in my brain: ‘Why are we running this pace…Quick… Slow the sprinter down… Wait… Now why are we going so slowly!?’ Clearly the kind of thoughts you want the person pacing to be thinking instead of being in some overrated Zen-like state in which your feet simply propel you forward at the correct speed.
So I think we have established that the fact that Rachel refers to me as her “pacer” is completely outlandish. Moral support… just call me moral support. It wasn’t a perfect even run, but it was a fabulous improvement for me which was my personal goal- to run more consistently. And look y’all, I’ve got a new “most consistent” race…
Yay! Only teeny squiggles. (See the aforementioned dip in our pace early on)
Run wise, this was a pretty good race. The miles were well marked and , although they were manned by volunteers shouting out “current” paces based on the gun and corral start times which is totally useless and distracting if you don’t start on the gun or at the front of your corral, I appreciated that the flags and clocks were so easily visible. The water stops were also well manned by a surplus of friendly and supportive volunteers and there were lots of spectators- all in all a great showing for the friendly people of Houston.
Being a remarkably “average” runner who spends the bulk of her time amongst the cattle drive that is the median speed distance runner on race day, I’m pretty used to having to navigate around others with poor running etiquette. Tutu runners jogging arm in arm who corralled themselves ahead of where they should have been, mid-race mid-course instagramers and tweeters, walkers on the left, and the shoelace tiers who dead stop in the middle of the course with NO VERBAL WARNING. Houston? You had no problems! Congratulations for hosting a race that attracts people who are more interested in running than marathoning through a town dressed as a condom or some such nonsense while live tweeting photos of themselves with spectators at every mile marker.
The three of us ran a relatively quiet race aside from the beef spotting, momentary outbursts of song, and my half mile check in’s with Casey. ”How we doing Casey? You okay?” When she said nothing, I knew she was fine; when she said she had a side stitch or the like, I knew she was surviving; and when she answered with “good…good…” I figured she was hating me for convincing her to do this. I know her code. I mostly got silence and a nod, so I knew things were going really well. Then I got quite a few good’s in a row so I started to get a little concerned. And that’s when the hip flexor talk started… a very dangerous game.
If you’ve given birth without a c-section, your hip flexors are a constant problem. Even sleeping with your hips stacked incorrectly can lead to a miserable day, so when three moms start checking in with their hip flexors at the midpoint of a half marathon things can get dicey.
Luckily, we were due for a pick me up at mile 9!
Yes, sir. Your Mommy is insanely fast!
At just the right time we heard a happy little voice… “Go Mommy! Go Miss Jenn!” Casey’s son and parents were there to cheer her to through the end of her first distance race- which for me is always tear inducing. There is nothing that can motivate me the way that my child can and knowing the impact her love has on my well being makes me feel warm and fuzzy anytime I see a kiddo cheering on a parent at a race. I can still remember vividly how sad I was on the marathon leg of last year’s Goofy each time I passed a point where I just might have seen my little one but she wasn’t there. Main Street Magic Kingdom? No. Polynesian Resort? No. And I remember even more clearly how overwhelmed with happiness I was when I rounded the bend into Epcot World Showcase at mile 25 and I heard an unexpected, exuberant “Mama… How is your run!?!” So when we passed Casey’s son I may or may not have shed a tear… and picked up the pace just a bit.
By mile 10 our group seemed steady once again so I made the mistake of mentally checking in with myself to see how I was holding up with my lack of of training and I realized that my IT bands had quickly trumped my hip flexor pain. It’s something I should have expected because for me under training = immediate IT band problems. I decided to hyper obsess about our pace to take my mind off of it, but I needed an outside push.
As we reentered downtown at mile 12, Rachel stared inquiring about where we were in terms of her goal time. I reported that we had been running slightly slower than our actual pace because I knew what would happen and that it would give me the push I was looking for that everyone else could totally handle- Rachel instinctively picked up our pace with her PR in question.
And just like that I wasn’t leading anymore, thankful to pass off motivation duties to a friend. When my watch rolled over to 12.5 miles, I let everyone know and all of a sudden we were pulling 8:38 per mile. Then, for some stupid reason, I let them know when we were 2/10ths of a mile out (as though it is some important milestone) and Casey took off.
The choice at this point was chase the fastest white American female sprinter in history for .2 miles or miss the opportunity to cross the finish with my two dearest friends. She knew which one I would choose, because she wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise. We worked our way through an insanely narrow finisher’s chute, weaving our way to the finish through a difficult to navigate maze of slowing runners. Casey was all smiles and Rachel looked happy but still hadn’t realized her finish time. 2:19:12.
We made our way into the reunion area to find mine and Casey’s husbands who had finished long before us (1:28:50 and 1:23:27 respectively) and to wait for Derek to cross the finish as well. Everyone felt good. No injuries. And my new sports bra was still feeling amazing. You can’t ask for much more than that!
And I’ve received a gentle reminder of why we continually train in the form of a slightly achey IT Band.
Excuses are uncomfortable. Continual effort feels so much better in the end.
Hooray for the return of race season!
Aramoco Houston Half Marathon
- The corrals are organized and efficient.
- Water stops were well staffed with friendly volunteers.
- Great race etiquette from the majority of runners.
- Shady course.
- Finishing beside Discovery Green is a lovely ending.
- Well organized post race and reunion area.
- Well known race with well know elites- a great dose of inspiration!
- Several water stops at course narrows leading to excessive bottlenecks.
- The pavement is harder here than elsewhere. (All six of us felt this way- there is no way we are all crazy.) Plan your footwear accordingly.
- Volunteers at most mile markers were shouting out “pace times” in an attempt to be helpful… but those paces only hold true for those who started with the gun. While this isn’t a problem for people with a pace group or using a watch, it could be very misleading and discouraging for novice runners.
- Quite a few stretches of course with uneven pavement and potholes.
- The finish line chute is WAY to narrow for runners who come in at the median finish time- it felt a little unsafe trying to maneuver around those who had slowed down.