Thursday, February 3, 2011

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?

 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 :)


  1. Great report Devon. Sorry it didn't go 100% your way but certainly sounds like you were doing something right in your training leading up to it.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Well, you forgot the most important element in running a road marathon PR - run with me!!!

    2:50 on a off day is still pretty impressive. I think you're closer than you think.

  3. Scott- I know right. I could have really used your company out there! Wish I was doing Napa so I could just pretend that I am fast enough to keep up with you these days.

    I definitely think I am close and ready for a huge race. Figuring out which fast run to hit up in the very near future!

  4. What a great race report. I love the fact that you make no excuses but are, at the same time, realistic about all the factors that go into a great race and how everything did not come together. You excel at the 50 miler so to basically be within 2 to 3% of an Olympic Qualifying time (do I have that right?)on a distance half as long--and much faster--is more than just encouraging. It may be that you just put too much pressure on yourself and some of that stress showed up in your belly. I wonder if the next marathon the goal would be simply to learn--learn more about pacing, relaxing--not about hitting any particular time.

    The lessons learned were great. Number five in particular is very funny and quotable.

    Thank you for your generosity of spirit in sharing your experiences. Good days or bad ones, you're always an inspiration!

  5. Definitely one of those character building races for sure, but it looks like you're still winning the war.

    One thing that struck me was "Ideal race weight". I've been through this one a lot (in college my coach said 2lb/1inch (5'10"=140lbs, which never happened), and the truth is that there is no such thing. Picking a number that is a bit lighter than where you are and saying that you will race well at it is a recipe for disaster. Running has very finicky strength to weight ratios that also tie into many other aspects of the endocrine, digestive, and circulatory systems. The bottom line is that your ideal race weight is whatever you are when you're running fastest at that exact moment in your life (not a number that even the most advanced doctors can pick).

    BTW, running while puking is an impressive skill! Add it to your resume!

  6. BTW, we have this big net downhill race coming to town in March called the LA Marathon. It's something that may play well into your downhill skills. Furthermore, there are tons of batshit crazy fans lining most of the route, which is nice.

  7. Oh my gosh. I am still trying to wrap my mind around being disappointed by a 2:50 marathon! Only world class female runners can achieve a time like that - and, of course, that is what you are. Especially considering you were not at the top of your game.

    I also love how you pushed through despite feeling like crap. Thanks for continuing to be an inspiration! :)

  8. I wish you had figured out that salt thing ahead of time! Once I moved to TX, I don't do races without doping on it like candy. Really settles stomach for sure, not to mention holds the cramping. Good for you to find the kick again, and hope that salt pills will be added to your arsenal - and lessons.

  9. You may have not accomplished your ulitmate goal on race day, although you still accomplished a great deal. You are a wonderful inspiration and have shown that even though things don't always go according to plan there is still the underlying passion for running that keeps you going.

  10. Even though you felt like crap and were barfing throughout the race, you always have a way of keeping your head and adding a bit of humor to the moment. That's why I like reading your race reports, because it never fails that you make me laugh. You are hard core girl.

  11. Thanks everyone!

    And Dom, you are making a lot of assumptions on how I define race weight. In fact, I didn't weigh myself until after the race and am equal to that of my PR and of where I personally like to race marathons. I am not defining it by some arbitrary formula. I've read Matt Fitzgeralds Race Weight too and define race weight as that which you run fastest at. And furthermore, I said goal not ideal.

  12. good on you for gritting your way through a not very fun race! I'm so glad it got a little less painful at the end. Even though I'm a native Texan, it still boggles my mind that people enjoy running in places like Houston. We're so fortunate to live in one of the best places in the world for running! Sometimes I have trouble remembering it is supposed to be fun too; thanks for the reminder! You know best, but it sounds like you are dialed in and I can't wait to see what happens when a good day falls on a race day for you! Did you ever find out what happened to the pacer? I think they should offer the 2:46-seekers a free race entry or refund. It seems unheard of for a big race like that to have the pacer be a no show. Like you said, that was a significant part of the reason you chose the race.

  13. Sorry! When I read "I achieved my goal race weight" I thought you meant going into the race, you were at your goal weight. My comment was just that there's not such thing as a goal race weight. If you happened to be retaining more water and were heavier that your goal race weight, but ran a PR, what does that mean?

  14. "Why do we fall down? So, we learn how to get back up." Good news for you is that @ 2:50, five minutes over 26.2 isn't that far down.

    As to what next, I suggest a short rest period and pile back into another marathon very soon to capitalize on all the training you have under your belt, and burn out a qualifier. Sort of like a second taper - You don't need the full blown training, and can sustain what you've done over a few weeks by resting up, getting healthy, doing one big run, and then aiming for a marathon very soon - like next month. Provided you are not suffering from illness, you will nail it. If I was a betting man, I'd put money down in Vegas on that.

    Great report, and really, no need to apologize up front on the demotivated writing, because after all, ya turned the corner on that and wrote a very snazzy report after all. Same goes for your next marathon.

    I'm enjoying the reports. Keep em coming.

  15. Love the report and especially how you outlined your mental shift. Very nice run despite the stomach yuk. Sorry about that. Hope you find your next one soon.


You may also enjoy:

Related Posts with Thumbnails