Houston Marathon Race Report



Houston, we have a problem....


I am having a hard time being inspired to write this race report. It is weird. Yes, I am disappointed in my result but it is not because of that that I am uninspired. I am clearly very able to be inspired to right about disappointing days. I think that it was an uninspiring race in general and my uninspiring performance just means that the way I usually write a race report is not as applicable. My race reports are usually an emotional journey, I like being a story-teller and carrying you through the journey with me.  Houston was a very short story in a lot of ways. I did however, learn a great deal and I think that is much more of what I want to focus on and share. I didn't meet my goals, any of them, with the exception of the most basic one: whatever happens, just don't quit.

The story


Race week didn't go as planned. I had to fight off a virus/cold/flu (so I didn't miss my 4th race in 2 years because of illness) and took down heavy doses of vitamins. After seeing Dr. Maderas at Marin Natural Medicine for a immunity boosting IV push, I was feeling pretty darn good and was just a of a lingering tired feeling from the virus. I got it early enough in the week that I was hoping it wouldn't affect the race. I traveled to Houston on Friday, brought along a bunch of my own food and tried to stick to my own "safe" foods before the race and not start adding back anything too drastic, while still getting in my carbs before the race. But my stomach felt off Thursday, Friday and Saturday was a mess. I attributed it to a case of nerves, this was after all my first road marathon in over 2 years and I was looking to PR bigtime. I attributed it to the rice I ate with lunch since I hadn't eaten rice (or any other grains) in two months. By bedtime Saturday night, I was feeling ok and just figured that a bad race week usually meant a great race day. 


It is what it is ultimately and I didn't get too stressed out over how the week went. It is the breaks of the game. I was happy to have made it to race day, excited to see if I could achieve my goal of running the OT standard and just get back into marathoning. I am especially thankful for the Terranovas as they gave me a place to stay both Friday and Saturday night, let me follow them around like a puppy dog and comforted me after the race. Not to mention Paul was pacer extraordinaire for the 2:39 pace group!


When I woke up Sunday morning, I was very happy there was no lightning. They said that there was a high chance of thunderstorms and that would have meant the race would have been cancelled or delayed or stopped and restarted. We started on time, but the weather was not fantastic, it rained a pretty constant drizzle, there was a heavy downpour at one point and it was very very humid. Before the race I ate 2 bananas with peanut butter and hoped that my stomach problems had worked themselves out. I drank a cup of coffee and we headed to the elite starting area. I felt calm, ready to go but not exactly how I wanted to feel. My body didn't feel that energized. But I also reminded myself that I am in completely uncharted waters here. Heck, as good as my training was and it was very good and hard and on point, I was trying to run in a way my body had never really done. Go hard from the start, be uncomfortable and keep going. Ultras I am very comfortable, marathons are a whole different ball game.


What I really was hoping for was what Ellie Greenwood dubbed a "Devon day". I trained to have one, I am the fittest I have been that I can remember, I even achieved my goal race weight. I was ready to not only make the 2:46 standard, I was ready to push the limits and get close to 2:40. Or so was my thought, hope, prayer. As I warmed up, it started drizzling and my legs didn't feel like wild horses so energetic I needed to rein them in. They felt just fine. And then we were off into the early morning light, splashing in puddles, dodging raindrops but not lightning bolts. 


I ran a 6:18 first mile. There was an overpass about 200 meters in and the little climb kept everyone honest. Paul took off at his prescribed 2:39 pacer duties pace and I knew right away I wouldn't even try to hang on. I scooted ahead of the 2:46 pace group (6:18 pace) and ran my next mile in 6:00. From there, I ran virtually alone for the next 11 miles. Through the non-descript streets of Houston. We were in neighborhoods still sleepy with the early hour. We ran past Rice University. There were fans but when you are running alone, down (painful) concrete roads, it is lonely and hard to keep your own time. Which is why pacers are provided and why they are important. I was in the nether realm between the two OT qualifying standards pace groups. I knew if things started going wrong that I could slow up and hitch my wagon to the 2:46 pacers and cruise in with them. There were suppose to be two of them, one for the first half and one going the full distance.

I hit my splits pretty well for the first few miles, still feeling comfortable around 6:07-6:12 pace. I didn't feel like I was pushing too hard. I knew I would need to start challenging myself but one thing I couldn't figure out was when? When do I go? When do I push myself into the uncomfortable place and hold it? Pretty quickly there after, I had an answer, but it was not what I really meant. My stomach had felt disquiet but manageable during the first 5 or 6 miles. I hit the 10k at 38:45 which is 6:14 pace. But then my stomach started to go. I was drinking water but the disquiet became barfing. Not projectile, sweeping heaps but the small contents of my stomach, mostly liquid. I'd struggle to keep pace and my stomach would object. I had to utilize my ultrarunning skills and barf and run. Didn't even get it on my shoes. I was forced to back off. I was upset, I knew if I couldn't get my stomach under control then I would not be able to let me legs do their job. From mile 6 until 10, I tried to maintain but started to slow into the mid 6:20s and even 6:30s after mile 10. Just before the half way mark, the 2:46 pace group caught me. The pacer told me to jump in with them and I replied, "I've been waiting for you guys!" I was very happy to see them because I felt that I could just switch off my brain and tuck in and run the pace set by others. We ran through some bigger downpours but it stayed humid which I am sure didn't help my stomach.

We hit the half in 1:22:49 and the first half pacer peeled off. There was a pack of 8-10 ladies and we all looked around for the other pacer. No where. Not to be seen, no one had seen him at all that day though the day before he had introduced himself to all of us. Within a half mile the group obliterated and try as we might to hold ranks, the group fell apart. Only 1 out of the group made the standard. Let me tell you, running with a pacer really helps. The race provided pacers for 5 different elite women's speeds (3 of those speeds were basically personal pacers for the top 3 women) and it makes a difference. That is why I chose to do a big marathon, I wanted company. I didn't want to run alone (into the wind) like I did in Boston.

My stomach wouldn't settle. I would take nips of gel when I could, drank water but nothing helped. I got slower and slower. Once the group obliterated and I started hearing that I was on more than a 6:20 pace and slower and slower, I had a hard time convincing myself to do anything but run at a pace that didn't disturb my stomach. From miles 15-23 I pretty much just did everything in my power not to quit. I didn't push, I just ran. I just resolved to have pride and not step off the course despite being sick and not being able to achieve my goals.

I saw Meredith at mile 20 and I told her not to wait for me at the finish line and to go with Paul since I wouldn't be just a few minutes behind him. She cheered for me and I remembered that she had given me salt caps before the race to deal with the humidity, which up until this point I hadn't taken. After I ran by her, I decided, what the heck, I downed some salt caps with a swig of water. And then something weird happened, around mile 23, I started to feel a bit better. Not great but I was able to drop my pace back down to the 6:20 range instead of the upwards creeping 6:45, 6:50s I had seen in there. And I got my pride back. Damnit Devon, I said, even if you can't get the standard (I calculated quickly in my head), maybe you can still PR (my PR is a 2:49:51). I focused on the girl I was running close to and put a move on her. Then I focused on a guy ahead and reeled him in. I pushed and pushed and could tell by how easily my legs responded that it was clearly not my legs that had failed me on this day, it was my energy, it was stomach.

As I pushed the last miles, all those tempo workouts, all those track workouts proved their worth in gold. It felt effortless to push the pace, with the exception of the now intense gusts of wind that was hit us full on in the face every 30 seconds or so. I cranked and my stomach held. I couldn't do the exact math but I figured I would be close to my PR and would at least finish with my pride. I knew I would have to run nearly sub 6 to realistically make it but ran as hard as I could, without looking at my watch.

I hit downtown and spotted a string of 6-7 guys scattered various distances ahead of me, each looking tender footed and hurting. I passed them with such conviction not a single one of them even had a chance to try and keep up. I came down to the final turn and hit the home stretch. There was one more guy I could get. The announcer was calling marathon finisher's names and he recognized that I was in hot pursuit. "Andrew, andrew" he said to the guy in front of me, "Watch out Andrew you are about to be passed by a girl". I flew by him crossing the line in 2:50:55. My second fastest time ever in the marathon. I was 18th woman overall and have to be proud of my effort on a day that didn't unfold as I liked.

I was escorted back to the elite area, met up with Paul and Meredith, commiserated with my fellow 2:46 hopefuls who didn't make it and headed back to the hotel room. It took a long time before I could eat anything and my stomach refused to settle for days afterwards. I headed back to San Francisco that evening and am now considering the all important question: what now?


Checkpoints5k10k15k20kHalf25k30k35k40k
0:19:160:38:450:58:321:18:341:22:491:38:281:59:112:20:452:42:00
 Start OffsetPaceProj TimeOfficial TimeOverallGenderDiv
-0:06:32 2:50:5560188



Lessons learned

  1. Sometimes it doesn't matter how well you are prepared, your chance will come when it comes. Good days don't always fall on race day.
  2. Running at the edge of red line is very hard. It takes practice to know how to handle it. I am thankful for this race in that it gave me experience with feeling out my body at that speed.
  3. I need to get a flu shot and stop getting sick before races.
  4. Concrete hurts. Humidity sucks. Flatter is not always better. And everything is funner with another runner (pacer!).
  5. You can be thankful that lightning doesn't strike, but still get caught in the storm.
  6. I love love loved my training for this race and my nutrition plan too. I feel very fit and feel like I am moving in the right direction.
  7. Ultimately, missing a goal is not the end of the world. I have more chances to get there and it is still an adventure to see if I can do it. 
  8. Even when things aren't going your way, adjust and take pride in your effort. I would have felt a hell of a lot worse about the way things turned out if I had wallowed in things and slowed down or given up. Don't give up, unless of course they are putting an IV in... and even then, don't give up, just listen to the doctors orders.
  9. Remember it is suppose to be fun. The reality is that I am unlikely to make this or any Olympics (statistically speaking and realistically as well) and so I can set goals and pursue them whole-heartedly but also remember that this is my passion, my love and I am not defined by it. (And the same is true even if I do make the Olympics).
  10. There is always a next time. And the next time and the next time.


Watch on the right half of the screen, light blue top as I sprint past a guy and chick him 10 feet before the line. I am not very nice :)