Aramco Houston Half-Marathon, January 17, 2010

Written: January 19, 2010

Background

I made a decision to keep a log of my race events for posterity sake and so that I can, thinking optimistically, look back at my past races and see how my running has progressed. I did the same for my first half marathon in August, 2009. Approximately five months have now passed and I have a report of a new race and a new personal best of two hours and ten minutes to make. The Aramco Houston Half Marathon was my second half marathon.

Training

During this training period I was on the tail end of a nagging ankle/shin issue which kept me from training and running like I have grown to enjoy during the two months (July and August of 2009) leading into my first half marathon. That same injury kept me from running the San Antonio Marathon in November which was to be my first full marathon.

I started this training cycle which ran from late August until Jan. 17th by running some pretty moderate mileage. I wanted let my injury heal and in doing that I kept my long runs below seven miles for about a month and a half and ran only the very comfortable and easy three milers during the week. This time served to allow my injury to resolve itself.

Instead of running marathon training mileage I focused my attention on getting to and comfortable with ten mile long runs on the weekend and on keeping my pace up to close to race pace during the week. This approach worked for the half marathon distance although I have some doubts as to whether I will be able to complete a full marathon without ramping up my total mileage during the week.

For the first time since my return to running about a year ago I managed to train for a consistent time frame (about four and a half months) while logging decent mileage (for me that is about twenty to twenty-five miles per week) without injury . I did two things different in my training this time around: (1) I ran shorter distances (around three miles three to four times per week) during the week at a faster pace (basically what turned out to be my race pace); and (2) I was able to run without taking more than two days off in a row for a solid period of four and a half months.

The Race

My training had gone so well this time around I was confident that I was going to set a personal best. I was also healthy going into the race which was a welcome change. I set a personal goal of finishing in two hours and fifteen minutes and going into the race I was a bit unsure as to whether that was going to happen. I felt like I was being fairly ambitious considering I had run my first half in two hours and thirty two minutes.

The race atmosphere this time around was drastically different. The Aramco Houston Half Marathon is a huge event. Race registration was capped at 11,000 people and I heard it discussed those spots were filled within twenty four hours. Because there were so many people racing the starters were divided into two waves. My wave was set to start at 7:10 in the AM.

Alicia and I stayed the night at a hotel about seven blocks from the race starting line. This time around Alicia was not only a solid supporter but had her own run to participate in on the same morning. She ran the 5K which started at 7:30AM. We made the walk over to the start line for the half, wished each other luck, and parted ways. I would not see her again until I finished my race. I would later learn that Alicia had done very well on her own. Congratulations, Alicia!

The temperatures were quite a bit different than they were when I ran in August. Our starting temperature was probably in the range of 41–45 degrees. I ran in shorts, but it was cold enough to call for two shirts, gloves, and a knit hat to keep my ears warm. By the time the race was over I certainly did not need the hat or gloves but I kept them on throughout instead of discarding them like many other runners had done during the race. The biggest consideration for me was to keep moving during the race and I did not bother myself with trying to get rid of layers. Most of my long runs during this training cycle were in New Balance MT100s on trails at Village Creek State Park in Lumberton so I ran in those. They are trail shoes with a minimalist profile intended to not prop up the heel and allow for running on the mid to forefoot as opposed to heel striking. They are also not intended for road running and the Houston half was entirely on paved surfaces but they did a great job for me.

The Houston half was filled with significantly more fanfare than my first half. An MC for the event talked each wave to the start line and music blared from large speakers making an ipod unnecessary for pre race motivation. Adding to my own personal experience was the fact that Craig Biggio, former Houston Astros catcher, outfielder, and second baseman, was a special guest and announced the start of the contestants for the wheelchair wave which started at about 6:45AM. Craig Biggio has and always will be my favorite baseball player. I saw him play his first major league game and was lucky enough to beg an autograph on the bill of a mesh Astros hat from him before that game. I still have this hat although the autograph is quite worn. His attendance and role at this event would serve as additional motivation throughout the race.

When my wave started there were several thousand people ahead of me. The race is timed by a disposable chip which you attach to your shoe so that you can know your exact time from the point you cross the start line to the point where you run, walk, or crawl across the finish line. For that reason, the runners can take a casual walk up to the start line and we did, following each other like a herd of cattle. I eventually made it to the start line and began a slow jog. At this point the race is not run at your pace. It is run at the pace of the person in front of you, which is dictated by the pace in front of them, which is dictated by the thousands of people in front of them. I believe I finished my first mile in about eleven and a half minutes which was well off of my goal, but that was to be expected.

By mile two things were beginning to break up some. I began to pass some folks and some folks began to pass me and the run became less of a communal flow and more of an individual effort. I settled into a pace that was intended to make up for the first mile having gone so slow. This would turn out to be a blessing because when I settled into that pace, which was faster than my intended race pace, I was able to maintain that pace until about mile twelve. The end result being that by mile ten it was obvious I would be able to finish as fast as my goal and if I did not let up any I was probably going to shave another five minutes off of that time.

At mile twelve I had a momentary slowing of my pace as a result of fatigued legs. At no point did my lungs give me any trouble and I did not have to walk. My legs just grew a bit tired at mile twelve and the feeling lasted until about the twelve and a half mile mark. Looking back I blame this temporary lag on a loss of concentration. At about this point in the race I came across a point in the route where the strong smell of freshly cooked donuts dominated my thought process. A local bakery of some sort must have been cooking Sunday morning breakfast and the smell took my mind off of the race and into a dark place where I had no donuts and my legs were tired and needed donuts. I regained my strength at mile twelve and a half and finished weaving through downtown Houston to the finish line. I crossed the finish line with my chip time at two hours and ten minutes even.

Because Alicia had done so well in her 5K she was already waiting at the finish line when I came through. Her mom and two sisters had also come out and they were there holding signs at the finish line to cheer my finish on. I am very appreciative of their support and glad that they could keep Alicia company while she waited for me to get through. They also took post-race pictures to document the moment.

This morning I had lunch with my mother and like a child that has just played his first baseball game I told her about the race and what it was like. She brought a framed picture that is in my office which shows Alicia and I after the race with our medals on and in the picture we are still wearing our bibs which show our race numbers. At 29 years old I still like to talk to my Mom about what I am doing with my life.

My first text when I got back to my phone was to my brother, Brent. He had run some training runs with me and helped me get in some much needed speed work which paid off.

My second text was to my father. I still like to give him reasons to be proud of me although less of what I do on a daily basis is expressly intended for that purpose. He commented that he was proud of what I had done.

My intention is to keep running and to make running in an occasional race a regular fixture of my life. I will take one week off from running to let my sore legs heal up and then I will start to train for the Gusher Marathon which is set for May 1, 2010. To my knowledge it is the first Beaumont Marathon and it will be my first attempt at a full marathon. Alicia’s grandmother had the foresight to pay my entry fee and give that to me as a Christmas present. She is my “sponsor” for that race and I look forward to finishing with that added element of motivation. As nice as she has been to me I can’t let her down.

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