A couple of weeks ago, the weather in NY touched 75 degrees. It was a great day for a run and I was quickly overheated, but figured, at the time, that this was good training for Houston, which reaches the 70s in January quite regularly. Oh, how wrong that prediction was!
The flight to Houston was direct, on ATA, and I like their service; I'll have to use them again. I got to Houston about 9:30 a.m. and hooked up with my mom and youngest sister at the Crowne Plaza Downtown.
(I know they look like twins; my mom's the one on the left.)
It's a nice hotel and beds were super comfy; a good thing, given my three hours of sleep on Friday night - I needed a good night's sleep before the race! Mom, sis, and I wandered around downtown for a while and I got some lunch, then we met my other sister (second child) at the Expo.
The expo was almost like an auto-show, as their were three Hummers, a Mini, and a honest-to-God NASCAR racecar there. I began to think Toto and I weren't in Kansas anymore. The crowd LOOKED like a normal crowd, but I'm sure there were plenty of crazy NASCAR types walking among us. This NASCAR theme was to stick with me through the next two days.
Rachel (the older younger sister) and I picked up our packets and were pleased with how fast that process was. We took some time wandering around the expo with my 4-year-old nephew, and met up with Rachel's college friend Danielle and her family. This was turning out to be quite a get-together!
Rachel and I both had to purchase some gel, which was on sale at $1 each. She didn't bring any, and I had misfortunes with mine. First, security at LGA confiscated my 5 oz. flask of gel. Had I thought to gulp 1/3 of it and stash it in my one-quart ziplock bag with my toiletries, it would have been no problem. But no, they had to confiscate it. (I don't blame the TSA workers - they're just employees following the rules to the letter and the are NOT allowed to "interpret" the rules. I blame the TSA big-wigs who have created a security "system" which makes no sense and fails to make our flights safer from determined terrorists --- but I digress.) The other part of my gel, which was already packaged inside my GelBot, managed to squeeze itself out of the bottle and goo up the inside of the plastic bag I'd thoughtfully put the GelBot in. (Pic 1 - click on all pics to make larger.) This is because of the lesser air pressure inside the cabin than inside the bottle, which I'd sealed at sea level. Lesson learned: don't tighten the seal on the bottle before flying! I did manage to recover 90% of the leaked gel, tho.
Expo done with, we all retired to the hotel for a rest before dinner. I forced myself not to nap, as I didn't want any problem falling asleep that night. My family met Danielle and her husband Travis at Cava Bistro, a nice, cozy, pseudo-Italian place with more wines than you can shake a stick at. I had a problem with my meal and the manager was very helpful in getting me something I could eat without risking the gastric disaster of the Nashville Half. Their food has great presentation.
Back at the hotel, I took pains to lay out my stuff for the next morning. I've never done this before, but it made for a stress-free morning.
I awoke at 5 a.m., feeling super-rested - the beds at Crowne Plaza are amazing! - and met my sister at 6 a.m. Wearing our matching Team Boomer jerseys, we walked down to the convention center which was where the expo was at and was now an indoors start/finish area. Very clever and good, since the weather was 50 degrees and just about to drizzle, with very high humidity already. We did our final preps, dropped our race bags at baggage check, and made our way to the start line. Here's Rachel before the race:
Or as near as we could get. I really like this whole race, so don't get me wrong when I say that if there was one blemish on the experience, it was the start. They had a "corral" start which separated the marathoners from the half-marathoners (why?) and also had two corral colors per race length, for a total of four. This was the worst, most congested start I've ever experienced. If the two bib colors per race length were meant to separate the speedy from the slow, it failed spectacularly. This component of the race MUST be rethought from the ground up. My suggestions: strict separation by time - if you don't have some kind of proven half-marathon time or your time indicates you are a walker - you go in the back. A staggered start would be good - get the marathoners out a half hour ahead of the half-marathoners and separate both groups into corrals of 1000 each. I mean, seriously. The start took this from possibly a "fast course" to a "not PR" course, even had I been trained up ready to run a PR. This race is done mostly on 2-lane roads and when you start 15,068 runners at once - the first five or six miles prevent running at your best pace.
Well, we got started anyhow. I'd put on a plastic bag due to the chill, and was able to take it off by mile 2. I don't think the mile markers were right on the money, but I soon found out my watch is about 2% off, judging by when it was auto-lapping in relation to the last six mile markers.
This was a good, steady run for Rachel and I. We had both talked about walking portions if we needed to, as my training for the last month has been at low levels due to the shin splints and Rachel's training was equally dismal. But whether due to what was actually PERFECT running weather (cool and overcast, but no rain) or the lack of anything I could call a hill (a bridge and an onramp don't count), the run was just very, very steady. In fact, this was my best run since October!
The first four or five miles, we ran about an 11:30 pace, mostly due to the congestion. The course seemed - and this must just be my own perception - all left turns. After about the fourth one, I started commenting on them. "Wow, a left turn coming up! I'm so excited!" "Another left tuuuurrrrn! hurr hurr!" Then as a right turn finally appeared, "geez, Rach, I didn't practice RIGHT turns, I'm not sure I can do this." This, of course, is echos of Jeff Dunham, whom I first saw on a cruise ship a decade ago. He just keeps getting funnier! For the NASCAR stuff, check out his "Arguing with Myself" DVD.
Throughout the race, we steadily passed other people, but one particular segment of the runners were a real problem: the Galloway Method-ites. (Or, considering their tranquilizer effect on pace, maybe I should call them the Methodones.) (For a funny spoof of the Plan, see here.) The problem was, the Galloway runners were doing this not as individuals, but en masse, leading to entire road-clogging convoys of NASCAR-crazed, Galloway-trained cult members! It didn't worry me too much when, in the middle of a clot of walkers, my sister and I heard this group of 8 or 9 people chant "...5...4...3...2...1...Run!" And they all proceeded to start jogging again. The true horror of the situation dawned on me when Rachel and I reached another crowd of runners a half-mile later. 20 voices: "...5...4...3...2...1...WALK!" Aarghhh! NOoooo! It was like coming out of hyperspace in Star Wars. Or everyone on a four-lane highway cutting their speed by 20 mph all at once, only you're not in on the signal. What a clusterfuck.
Passing through one cluster of slower runners, I ramped up the speed briefly and went ahead, then slowed and waited for Rachel. She came up in a little bit and said she can't "sprint" like that. Sprint? Hell, that was just putting the engines from 50% throttle to 70%. Smooth and easy. Her comment made me realize that I do that move a lot in races and really have no problem getting power when asking for it. But lately, I think the one thing that's helping with that is my use of Sustained Energy. It really provides a nice, smooth, continuous energy release and, combined with a couple shots of gel (didn't even use all of it), I am well-fueled and hydrated. (Rachel mentioned when we were within sight of the finish that her feet had been hurting her since mile 2 and perhaps that's why a "sprint" wasn't happening. Despite the pain, she kept up with my increased pace right to the end. She makes a great rabbit! I only hope I was also able to help her keep up a consistent race in a way she might not have done alone. We did mention to each other that we'd like to get running partners for further training and now we can FEEL why.)
We got around these Galloway people, having eventually passed all who were run/walking this race, but not before passing a potty stop at which I commented to Rachel (sotto voce): "...5...4...3...2...1...pooooop!" That got a chuckle out of her.
Rachel and I stopped only twice; once so she could use the portajohn and once for a photo op about mile 11, where Danielle and her family were waiting for us and cheering everybody on. Rachel mentioned later how nice it was to have someone waiting and cheering for her and I agree. I did, however, hear my name and Rachel's several times. Took me until about mile 12 to find out my name is actually printed on my bib!
This run qualifies as great. Usually, I'd have to have dry heaves and bleeding to give a run that descriptor, but in this case, what made it great was that I was running with my sister the whole way. We really acted quite well as each other's wingman, even though a PR was not in the cards for either of us. Though I missed starting my watch again between the potty stop and the next mile marker, the remaining 12 splits show a perfect progression of negative splits. Every mile we ran was faster than the last, ultimately putting in 9:30 for the last mile, with a maximum recorded pace of 8:24.
That last mile was spectacular. As we came downtown again, we could see the convention center, which looks like a cruise ship, and then the course cuts over a couple blocks to bring us around the side of the place. When it straightens out again, you can see the finish line for about half a mile and hear the crowd that far away! The energy and support from spectators was consistent and continuous all along the route. Even the more sparsely-populated sections of the route still had people out there rooting us on - including at one point three guys on their couch on their broken-down porch, sipping from Bud Light cans and looking like they'd just woken up. Guess NASCAR-fans have to put in some late nights. ;)
We finished, got our hardware and shirts (Under Armour!) and found mom and little sis, who were wearing their Team Boomer sweatshirts (and had been out on the route cheering everybody, of course!) (oh, that's my newphew in the bottom left corner of the second pic.)
Seriously, this was a very good race, both as an event and as one of my own runs. This was the 35th annual marathon in Houston (and I think the eighth half-marathon run concurrently), my 33rd road race, and - as it happens - my 10th half-marathon! Of the three big events we've met out of town for as a family (Cincinatti, Nashville, and Houston) this is my favorite.
We showered, took painkillers, and brunched at the hotel's restaurant. I couldn't believe how hungry I was, despite having slugged down a sports bar a quart of HEED (forgot the Recoverite), and a pint of coffee right after the race. (BTW, Houston gives the runners a HOT MEAL after the race!) I feasted royally and we took our time eating. Here's my nephew eating syrup-soaked pancake:
The flight home was thru Chicago, and I lucked out again, as the only delay came from LGA's end, due to poor visibility in New York. I congratulated myself on a run well-done with a beer on the plane and was happy that the planes weren't crowded at all - I had room to spread out and nap.
I like Houston's results site. Since my watch was off by a mile-lap, I'll have to take the timing chip's word for it: 2:19:02. Exactly one-minute-per-mile slower than my PR. Amazingly, this is a 4th-best for me: I have three faster half-marathon times and six slower ones. The following pics are screen captures from Houston's site. I really like the graphical way the data is put out there.
Running for Team Boomer has been a great experience. I'm slowly learning how to fundraise and I want to thank all the people who so generously donated to the campaign. Counting the online donations and the ones sent in by mail, I have raised $1,750; perhaps a touch more. Not bad for one person. Be looking for my emails and phone calls come October - New York Marathon.