Thursday, February 20

Houston Marathon: Race Recap

At the end of September 2013 I began a 16 week training program to prepare me for the Houston Marathon. After qualifying for Boston once before and still missing the registration cut-off, I knew I had to up the ante. So I set an aggressive goal: run Houston in under three hours. For the past four months I completed somewhere in the ballpark of 100 workouts, all complimenting each other and culminating at one 26.2mi run on January 19, 2014.

These workouts included 54 runs, which was a little over 300mi. They spanned across a couple of engagement parties, the Holiday Season, as well as my birthday and a Whole30. The runs took place inside and outside, at a track or around a lake. Some were great, others were awful. The sum total of all my runs made me faster and fitter than I've ever been. I was primed to run a sub-3hr race, but fell just short, running a 3:02:38 (6:58/mi).

The numbers

Before I provide some commentary on the race, let's take a look at some data. The first chart shows my splits, while the second chart is a graphical representation of how I performed versus the rest of the field.

My Houston Marathon splits

Splits simply represent how long it took me to cover certain distances on the course. At every 5K (3.1mi) during the race there would be a sensor that logged my time. That data was then shipped off to those who signed up to track me. For those interested in seeing more detailed splits, click here.

Graphic representation of how I fared against the rest of the field

Even after all this time, I still haven't properly cataloged my thoughts on this race. I've got mixed feelings about it all. So allow me to ramble and let's see where this leads us...

What happened

The entire race I stuck with the 3:00 pace group. Everyone who wanted to run a 3hr marathon could benefit by running in a pack led by experienced runners, also called "pacers." We averaged a 6:55/mi to the T. 

Side note: those pacers are impressive. They hardly ate food, just drank water (result of fat efficiency and fitness), never looked tired or out of breath. When I asked one pacer what he received for agreeing to lead the 3:00 group he pointed at his shoes and said "This sweet pair of kicks!" No money, no deals, just a new pair of running shoes.

Where was I? Ah, yes, I stuck with the group for the entire race... until Mile 23. Right around 23 there was a hill. At the same time I hit the hill I felt a weird pain with a rush of anxiety, so I did what I've done so many races in the past: I stopped, leaned over, grabbed my legs and shook them out, as if to say: "Come on, just get me to the finish." 

As luck would have it (I find myself believing less in luck more and more these days) Jessie and my Mom were at the top of the hill. Jessie saw me stop (although I hadn't seen her) and came running down the hill to yell: "Brian! Come on! Pick it up! You're almost there!" I told her [in a jokingly tone] to get off my case, that my legs hurt! And then I thought: Is that what marriage is going to be like? :-)

While Jessie and my Mom were an incredibly motivating sight for sore eyes, they only helped fuel a fire that was already there. There was no chance in hell I was going to let myself not run a Boston-qualifying time, especially after running 6:55/mi for 23 of them. Remember, my goal was under 3:00, but anything under a 3:05 technically qualifies me.

In pain near the end
I've been in this situation before (pain + slowing pace) at the end of a marathon, so I leveraged those experiences and some mental toughness to get my cadence going again. It wasn't pretty, but I gritted my teeth and got to the finish, missing my goal, but still beating my previous best time and once again, qualifying for Boston.

Putting a bow on it

In a way, this race was similar to Chicago #1 back in 2011. I didn't hit my goal, yet I couldn't not be happy with the result. Some of my friends and family have seen the above graphic comparing my results to the field and think I have all the reasons in the world to be elated. To some extent, they're right. I do have a sense of pride on my progress over the past three years. However, I'm far less concerned with my performance versus others as the ultimate standard is driven by a competition from within. 

There was certainly an element of disappointment as I know I could have run a faster race, but as a wise person once told me, this is a "live and learn sport." I'll take the lessons learned from Houston and apply them moving forward. In September 2014 I'll find out if I get in to Boston 2015. Until then, I'll celebrate the win and redirect my attention and focus elsewhere: my wedding!

Crossing the finish line
Thank you

Jessie. The week before Houston Jessie and I were in Church. The offering plate came by and she put a prayer card inside. I barely caught the end of a word on the card: "--thon". I immediately knew that she had put a prayer request in for me for the Houston Marathon. She had no clue that I knew she put it in, nor did she tell me. She prayed for me, and never once looked for 'credit' after the fact. It was a completely pure, selfless act of love. It's that sort of love that has enabled patience and commitment, as marathoning has been demanding of my time, body and emotions. "Thank you" doesn't quite cut it. 

Pam. My Mom has always been my number one supporter and fan. She's been to every single race I've done and has been a part of one of the greatest moments of my life (see the picture at the bottom of this post). Her faith in me has never yielded. She's generously offered up continuous encouragement and support while helping me keep things in perspective.

Mike. My coach is amazing. He has helped me get faster, but only in a safe way that promotes overall health. His smart training plans have enabled me to continue improving while also leading a life I want to lead outside of endurance sports. Our open and honest communication was one of the largest assets in getting me ready for Houston. He held me accountable when I'd fall off track, calmed me down when I was freaking out and pumped me up for the big moments. 

Family/Friends. The conversations, text messages, tweets, and comments never went unnoticed. The support within my community has been a sheer blessing.

Thanks for reading!

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