Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Houston, we had a problem: Chevron Houston Marathon race report

The short:
My finishing time of 2:54:XX (I have a few different finishing times at this point, but they all begin with 2:54) was nearly 10 minutes slower than the big dream goal time I went to Houston to chase, but I finished the race at peace with that.  My attempt at double-peaking failed, which I knew was a risk, but I don't regret taking the chance; I had to try.  I executed my race plan well, but simply didn't have enough in reserves.  At mile 16 I knew that I could run 10 more miles, but I also knew it was going to be nowhere near 6:15 pace.  I then went on to provide a fantastic example of how NOT to pace a marathon!  With no chance at accomplishing my time goal, I ran those final 10 miles with all I had in me, with a big smile of my face, and while thanking God that I was out there.  2:54 is still my third best marathon (behind 2:47:14 and 2:49:20), and my fifth consecutive sub-3:00, so I am proud that I accomplished that on a day that I didn't have gas in the tank, even though of course I wish my risk has paid a better reward.  Taking no chances means wasting your dreams, and I'm certainly not doing that!

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11
The actual finish wasn't quite like this
The details:
After running a 2:47:14 at the California International Marathon while on the tail-end of vertigo, I felt that 2:45:00 was within the realm of possibility off of my fitness if everything went perfectly, and decided to try another marathon mostly off of the same training cycle 6 weeks later.  I've had good luck running two marathons close together several times, and often run slightly better in the second.  Houston is known as a pancake flat fast course, and I was accepted into their Athlete Development Program way back in September when I decided that having a Plan B marathon would be nice.  Because the winter dealt very cold temperatures to most of the country, the Houston race day weather ended up being ideal for fast racing, with a start time temperature of 34 degrees.  Even though I had a lot of ups and downs (also detailed here and here) during the 6 weeks between my two marathons, I knew I'd always wonder "what if?" I didn't try Houston, so I went for it.
Such an amazing field and race ambassadors
I had a tentative pace plan for the race, but I also went into it with no expectations except to get the best 26.2 miles that I could get out of myself on that day.  After chatting with several friendly runners while waiting and warming up in the ADP corral, I took off from just behind the amazing elite field that included Molly Huddle and Jordan Hasay, among many others in both the half and full distances.  Unfortunately I could never see any of them, because my corral was brought up behind the invited elites at the last second before the gun.  My plan was to run a tad slower at the beginning of the race than I did at CIM, starting with a 6:30 mile, keeping the rest of the first 5K at 6:25 pace, then dropping to 6:20 through the half (targeting 1:23 or slightly over for the half).  For the second half I planned to target 6:15s.
It was still mostly dark at the start!
Jumping for joy (or to stay warm) pre-race
Everything went according to plan for the first 14 miles (except for dropping half of a gel, which didn't phase me because I carry an extra; I also dropped my headband and arm warmers, intentionally).  The course was very flat except for a few overpasses and underpasses, the pace felt easy, the miles clipped away, and I had people to run with.  The field was not nearly as thick as at CIM was at my pace, but I could always see others and ran with a few different groups.  My Garmin was beeping right at the course mile markers, which was nice because I'd been worried about the tall buildings messing with it.  There were also clocks at each mile marker, which I loved.

I came through the half at 1:23:27, exactly 30 seconds slower than my first half at CIM, but I wanted to err on the side of being a little more conservative early on to see if that helped me finish stronger, so I was happy with that.  However, unlike at CIM I did not feel confident about dropping to 6:15 pace, so I decided to stay at 6:20, figuring that it might not be my day for the 2:45 but maybe I could sit at 6:20 and come in for a PR of 2:46 (5 seconds/mile can make a huge difference!).  We also turned into the wind just after the half, and those next few miles were pretty windy ones.

At mile 15 I began feeling more unsure of myself, and by mile 16 I knew that it wasn't my day.  I knew I could run 10 more miles, but that it was not going to be at 6:15-6:20 pace or anywhere close to it.  My mile 15 split was the last one I looked at during the race, because I knew seeing my pace climb would hurt me more than it would help me.  With my big time goal out of reach, I set a new goal:  run the final 10 miles with joy and thankfulness, and with all my body could give.  I put a big smile on my face and thanked God for the opportunity to run another marathon.

After the race, several people commented that I was tough for sticking it out and that it must have been a rough final 8-10 miles.  The funny thing is though, it wasn't.  I was fine running 7:00ish pace for those final 8 miles.  I sure as heck couldn't move any faster, but I wasn't breathing hard or in oxygen debt, and I never thought I was going to need to drop out, nor did I want to stop running.  After I got to 7:00ish pace around mile 19, my pace did not show the progressive decline that I'd had before with a marathon bonk, and the miles still went by relatively quickly (unlike the final 3.5 miles of CIM, which seemed to take longer than the first 22.7 miles of it!).  The best way I can describe it is that I simply didn't have gas in the tank to finish it fast, but my endurance allowed me to finish it consistently at around my long run training pace.  Perhaps my glycogen stores weren't replenished fully, but I could operate in fat-burning mode?  I really have no idea, but it was just different.  I'm glad it wasn't a death march, but also perplexed as to why I couldn't for the life of me pick it up.

For the first 15 miles of the race, my Garmin was beeping pretty much right at the mile markers and I made a very strong effort to run the tangents, but during the final 8 miles especially, I had a difficult time figuring out the tangents because of how the road curved and weaved, and my Garmin's distance kept creeping further and further off the course markers -- not that it really mattered, but if I run this race again I need to know the last long stretch of the course better and make a better effort to run the shortest route.  A man around mile 24 even told me, "Run on the other side of the road, girl, it's shorter", which made me laugh.  Many spectators told me that I was looking strong, maybe because of the smile on my face instead of my pace.  It was a much different end compared to CIM.

Mile 25 was a little slower because I stopped for a bit to check on and encourage a girl who was walking and crying (to be completely honest, this is something I would not have done had I been on PR pace), but otherwise I hovered right around 7:00 pace and then mustered a 6:20 pace kick at the end.  The video my dad took of my finish is here.  I laughed at the announcer saying that I was coming in with a "strong finish", but I guess did get back on pace for the final bit!
Final stretch
Finishing on the right (half marathoners are on the left)
Finishers medal
Prior to the race, if someone had asked me how I would feel about running 2:54 in it, I would have said that I'd be terribly disappointed, but in the end I wasn't.  I was joyous to have run another marathon!  Of course I would rather have had everything go perfectly and have run the 2:45:00, but it wasn't in me in this race.  I didn't do anything wrong in regards to what I could control, and any day you can finish a marathon is a good one.  The event, course, and weather were ideal; I simply didn't have the gas in the tank, which was a risk I knew I was taking going in.  God is good all the time, and His plans are better than mine!  Plus, being mad at yourself when you gave your all doesn't make you any faster next time (it has taken me many years to learn this!).
Having my dad on the trip was a blessing
Meeting up with Halley after her big half PR was also a blessing!
In addition to providing a fantastic example of how NOT to pace a marathon, I learned several things.  I will run two marathons mostly off of one cycle again, but I won't do it with a power-packed vacation (which we took in conjunction with CIM) and the holidays between.  It was all just too much (not to mention all of the 10-12 hour work days I had between).  It is probably also preferable to run one of the marathons close to home, as I have always done before.  I liked the Houston course and if I run it again I'll be familiar with it and the area, which would reduce a lot of stress -- navigating the area in an unfamiliar huge city was no easy task in regards to parking, getting to the expo, finding restaurants, getting to the start, etc. (plus our map of and specified entrance for the ADP corral were not correct!).  The entire experience was full of lessons that will help me in the future.  This was also the first time I ran a marathon with an average pace in the 6:30s, as my other 4 sub-3:00's were average paces of 6:22, 6:27, 6:47, and 6:49.

A year ago, my marathon PR was 2:58:53 and my big dream goal was to run under 2:55 (that was revised to 2:52 a few weeks before the Phoenix Marathon in February 2017 though).  At Houston, I ran a 2:54 on a day when I had no gas in the tank.  Maybe there is some chance that eventually I will be able to run 2:44:59 on a bad day.  However, right now I am going to keep chasing it on a perfect day!  Even if I never accomplish it, I will never regret trying.  I don't regret running Houston, and I know that the results were a step for me in one way or another.  Staying positive doesn't mean that things will always turn out alright; it's knowing that you will be alright no matter how things turn out.

Results can be found here, and mine are summarized below too.

How NOT to pace a marathon!

Additional details on how NOT to pace a marathon!


6 comments:

  1. Ugh, I left a long comment and it disappeared. I always have so much trouble with Blogspot.

    Anyway, keeping it short this time, lol! Congrats on your finish and I have NO doubt you'll get your sub 2:45! You are an amazing athlete!

    @hellyontherun

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    1. I'm sorry I missed your long comment! Thanks for the words of encouragement...I know you understand chasing certain illusive times for however long it takes! :-)

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  2. I love your attitude after this race. It’s hard to train and know you weren’t able to get your best out of the season (darn vertigo), but man still such a fast time!!!! 2 such fast marathons off one training cycle! I’m with you, I’d rather have a disappointing race than be left wondering, “what if.” I’m excited to hear what that next marathon you alluded to earlier is! I hope in the mean time you are getting some rest!

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    1. I honestly surprised myself with not being upset about Houston, although I am disappointed that I won't have another crack at it for awhile. I applied for an elite entry to Grandma's Marathon in June the day after Houston, haha! It's 20 weeks after Houston so I will do 2 weeks mostly off (I made it 4 days without running at all!) then an 18 week build. I enjoy the process so am looking forward to it, and I hope that having this build under my feet and adding a bit more mileage will do the trick! If not I'll probably go back to CIM in 2018...

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  3. You gave it all that you had and your dad was there. That sounds like a perfect race!

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    1. Having my dad along was certainly a blessing!

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