Saturday, April 27

Boston Marathon - 2013 Race Report

It is Tuesday 4/16/2013.  The day after Partiot's Day.  The day after THE DAY!  I am sitting on a plane next to Sheri, cramped back in 32D reflecting on the last 48 hours (and squirming a little as my quads are still a bit tender).

Good writers are able to sum up big events in a few concise words.  I tried several times and just cannot.  Instead, I am going to take you through this in unadulterated detail.  You won't hurt my feelings if you bail early.  I just wanted to get it all down so I could come back and remember all of it when I am old and gray.

A little choked up after getting my jacket
Sheri and I had an uneventful flight to Boston on Saturday, checked in to the Hilton Back Bay and almost immediately headed out to the expo.  I thought the expo experience would be like all the rest.  I mean, Chicago literally goes on for 1/4 mile.  This was true except for one thing.  Right after we picked up the packets, we walked into the Adidas area where they sell the jackets and I excitedly walked up to my new Boston Jacket.  As I walked up and touched MY jacket, I had my first emotional moment of the trip.  It all hit me right then.  Austin, White Rock, Big D, Houston, Chicago.  5AM Tuesday tempos.  Sunday long runs that went on forever.  All the running friends.  It hit me like a ton of bricks.
It is funny how you get your jacket first.  I mean, i almost feel like it is the big reward.  More than the metal.  Then I thought, this is the reward.  The reward for making it to the start.  If you think about it, making it to the start of Boston is bigger than actually running the race.

In 1995, I got a book from my mom after running the Austin Marathon about the 100th running of Boston.  It planted a seed.  A seed that would go dormant for over ten years.  A seed that almost died with obesity and a heart attack.  An then in 2009 it came back.  I ran White Rock 1/2 in 2009 in 2:07 and for some reason believed that I could go from there to a 3:20 qualifier (it changed to 3:15 for 2012).  That is when the journey started.  Boston has been my beacon this whole last 4 years.  It has kept me training and focused.  It has been at first the ridiculous, then unattainable, then challenging, then tough, and then finally, achieved goal.  When you seek something for this long it gets in you.  It becomes part of you.  

After I donned the jacket, we walked around and happened on a video tour of the race.  I watched the whole thing with Sheri.  She is so sweet for sitting through the whole thing with me.  It was cool seeing elites like Ryan Hall, Bill Rogers, and Kara Goucher talking about the course in such detail.  These people really know and love this race.  The one part I should have ignored is when Hall talked about how the Citgo sign was one mile away.  This will haunt me later.

So, then Sheri and I tooled around a bit.  We took pictures at the finish line, grabbed some food and got to bed early.  The next morning, I did my standard Aussie shakeout with Carolyn and Sheri along the Esplanade.  The weather was perfect and the sub 6:00 part of the run was smooth and easy.  I just knew everything was lining up.  The rest of Sunday was spent riding tour buses
, drinking water, eating carbs and watching movies with Sheri in the room.
Obligatory Finish Line Pic (Careful Not To Cross)
Monday, I woke before the alarm and just sat there visualizing the race.  I had studied the map and elevations closely and had a race strategy that would set me up for a big PR and if it was a miracle day maybe even a sub 3:00 (although, I always knew that was not really in the cards).  I got dressed and went through my normal routine and headed to the subway to Boston Common.  When I reached surface level I was blown away by the thousands of people with yellow gear bags.  Then I realized that scale of the logistics as we all almost continually boarded an endless stream of school busses.  I bet every school bus in Easter Massachusetts was lined up, ready to take eager, yet bleary eyed runners to Hopkinton.

I sat next to the nicest 55 year old lady form Arizona.  She was a spitfire and talked the whole way.  It was great because she really took my mind off things and was actually pretty fun to talk to.  The ride took about an hour and I could not help but think about how weird it was that we would now have to run back all that way.  

Every School Bus In Massachsetts
By the time we pulled into the school in Hokinton, I had to pee like crazy.  You know that horrible situation where you have to pee so bad, you are worried that you may be doing permanent damage?  Yea, it was worse.  Then, after getting off the bus, we still had to walk about 1/3 mile to the porta potties.  AND then wait in line.  I swear I almost dropped my shorts and peed in front of several hundred people.  

While I was waiting to pee,  a weird thing happened.  The announcer over the loudspeaker started talking at length about the dogs that were working the event and how important it was not to pet or approach them.  He reiterated this 3-4 times.  It freaked me out a bit, because I started thinking about how this huge density of people would be the perfect place for a terrorist attack, but then my place in line freed up and I had THE BEST PEE OF MY LIFE!!!!  AND I subsequently forgot about the dog thing.

Carolyn the "Bag Lady"
A few minutes later I found Carolyn, Kit, Logan, and Rachel and we started the hike to the wave 1 start line.  I was pretty amazed at Chicago how they got all those people out all at once.  This equally large marathon gets off just as smoothly, but on the width of a two lane road.  The thing that Boston does that is so smart is everyone is where they should be.  All of the runners around me were about my level.  That means less weaving the first few miles and lots of familiar people around to pace with all through the race.  It is really pretty wild being with that many 3:10 runners.

I was abnormally calm.  The weather felt perfect, but I was a bit worried that I should have been a little more cold in just a T-Shirt and hoped the heat did not get me later.  I got my watch set, turned on the iPod, gave Carolyn a hug and we started moving up a pretty steep hill to the start line.  It took about 5 minutes to cross the line after the wave 1 start.  

Next thing I know, I hit the start button on my watch and I am now running the Boston Marathon.  I immediately had my second emotional moment of the trip.  It was  surreal.  Already from the start, runners spread out for over 1/2 mile in front of me.  The fresh morning air, the music, the other runners, and the elation of finally running all swept over me like a tidal wave and I am sure I shed at least one tear before I reached 100 yards.

MILE 1:  7:15
After the initial emotions subsided, I realized I was running way too slow.  I was stuck in traffic and all I could think was My first mile can't be a 7:30.  That will blow all my plans.  I started trying to weave, but it was no use, the crowd was too dense.  Then I remembered, I was in the coral with the 3:13-3:15 runners and I was trying to get in the 3:0X.  I knew I was in a bit of trouble, but there was nothing I could do but just chill out and enjoy and easy start.  Things picked up around 1/2 mile and I was able to get close to MP by the end of the first mile.  The pace seemed so easy and I was hungry to see what the legs had in them.

MILE 2: 6:44
The next mile was much better.  The crowd was speeding up and finding gaps was easier.  I was able to do some surges on the steep downhills and really started to find a rhythm here.  Previous 1/2 M and Full M races have taught me it is important to get settled into race pace early because your body tends to settle into a pace and if you wait, it is hard to speed up later.

MILE 3: 6:48
This mile was similar to mile 2, but it definitely hit me that I was going to be throwing down some fast miles and I needed to get mentally cool with sub 6:50 pace.  I remember thinking at the end of three that I was about 40 seconds behind my pace band because of the first mile and was not sure where I would get that back.  Not sure what I was thinking.  Maybe I actually believed a 3:00 was possible.

MILE 4: 6:43
Very Audacious Pace Band
Still heading downhill.  Legs loose, crowd getting lighter and starting to work on nutrition.  First Gel and not missing any water stations.

MILE 5: 6:49
I remember thinking how weird it was to be clicking off sub 6:50s and it was coming so easy.  I love downhill running and truly miss it in Houston.

MILE 6: 6:44
I knew this was the last of the downhills and wanted to make it a good one.  I was not pushing pace, but I made sure that I did not slack off and give up needless seconds.  The last few miles were right in line with my pace band and I felt pretty good about the $5 investment I made in that spreadsheet.

MILE 7: 6:45
I am not sure what happened here.  The band called for a 6:50 due to the rolling hills.  I think the first big crowds were here and giving all the kids high fives really got me rolling.

MILE 8: 6:56
I remember this being the first mile that had any effort.  There were some medium uphills always followed by downhills and I was just cruising now.  The crowds kept getting better and better.  I am thinking this was near Framingham.

MILE 9: 6:52
This was supposed to be a slower mile, but I think the crowds were just pushing me along.  I was on my third gel now and starting to dump water on my head and shirt.  I decided to take my hat off to maximize cooling.  I was definitely worried it was going to get a lot hotter.

MILE 10: 6:58
I was thrilled to still be hitting 3:00 paces at mile 10.  I always like mile 10 because it is time to switch gears and start applying effort.  I started gently putting pressure down, especially downhill and was still feeling great.

MILE 11: 7:01
WTF!!!!  Pace band said 6:40.  That mile was tough.  I started thinking I might already be fading early.  Not sure why the pace band said to go so fast because it was definitely a harder mile.  Maybe time for another Gel.

MILE 12: 6:38
Got a gel in me and felt a surge almost immediately.  It literally felt like I had a hand pushing me and it was so F*ing cool to be running in the 6:3Xs at this point.  This was uncharted territory for me.  So far this thing was going at near tempo pace.

MILE 13: 6:59
It is true what they say and Wellesley.  They are amazing and so loud.  You could hear them for at least 1 mile away.  There is a couple rollers on this mile, but the girls just push you along.  I blew some kisses and kept rolling.  Maybe next year I will actually kiss one of them.

MILE 14: 6:47
I was expecting this one to be a bit slower, but the energy was flowing well and I was getting excited about seeing Sheri at 16.  Also, my pace band said next mile was going to be a fast downhill and I wanted to get there!

MILE 15: 7:08
My pace band said this one was supposed to be a 6:33.  I don't remember it being slow, but the clock doesn't lie.  Maybe the band was wrong because the next mile was much faster.  Honestly, I don't really remember this mile, indicating that I probably lost focus and that probably explains the real 7:XX mile for the day.

MILE 16: 6:37
I turned my iPod off for this whole mile to make it easier to find Sheri in Woodland.  She took the Green Line out to the last stop and I was hoping I would find her.  We forgot to say what side of the road and I was pretty sure I would miss her because the crowd was so dense.  I decided to commit to the right side because that was the side the train station was on and I assumed she would not cross the street.  As you roll into Woodland, you get a nice long steep downhill.  It is probably a 6% grade downhill for over 1/2 mile.  I just put it in neutral and let the legs turn over as fast as they could to minimize breaking.  I swear at some points, I was doing sub 5:00 pace and had a huge smile on my face.  I have never flown like that so late in a long run (training or racing).  It just felt amazing. 

As I rolled into Woodland, and we made that slight turn at Beacon, I heard my name and found Sheri!  It was so great seeing her.  I ran up and got the kiss I missed on Wellesley.  Apparently, she found a new friend that was a veteran Boston spectator that was helping her find my StraitSpeed shirt.  
The next 5 minutes, I was thinking about Sheri.  She is so amazing.  She is the glue of our family.  She selflessly gives herself to me and the boys and shows love through actions and service.  I would be worthless without her and definitely would not be running this amazing race without her support and love.

So, even though the pace band said this was supposed to be a 7:08, I rolled a 6:37 on this one.  Was the band wrong, was seeing Sheri that big of a boost?  Not sure, but I think you and I know the truth!

MILE 17: 7:33
Time to get serious.  I was mentally prepared for the next four miles and knew what I had to do.  This was the first of four hills and it was time to buckle down and steadily attack.  I told myself to run off effort here, especially on this first one.  The pace slowed dramatically, especially after that last mile.  I had to lean into it and really focus on short, faster steps and pumping the arms.  Then it leveled out and actually gave me a few little downhill recoveries until the next hill.  One down, three to go!

MILE 18: 7:31
This hill came and went without much fan fair.  I just kept pushing, but not overdoing it.  I wanted to make sure I had something left for the finish.  I do remember the energy starting to drop a bit in here and I think I nursed my second to last Gel on this mile.

MILE 19-20: 7:12 + 7:32
This might be the worst two miles of the race.  I am combining them here, because they blurred together.  Energy really dropped off here and the third hill is a real psych out.  I was getting a little dizzy and the legs were starting to get rely tired.  This hill is not big, but you just crested two other sizable hills and you know you have heartbreak up ahead.  I even asked the guy next to me if this was heartbreak and he said "Nope.  One More!"  I felt like I was standing still, but the pace on this mile was definitely acceptable and as the watch finally beeped and gave me a split, I was thrilled that I got over that nasty one intact and ready to attack heartbreak.

MILE 21: 7:57
This pic gives a sense of the long climb up Heartbreak
I gave myself permission before the race to run effort, not pace over heartbreak and that is what I did.  This is a legit hill.  You look up it and can see the crest for a good 1/2 mile.  It is just steady climbing and pumping arms and legs.  For the first time today, my breathing went well above elevated and I think the combination of hill, energy depletion and pressure definitely showed me why they call it Heartbreak.  As I cleared the crest of the hill, I felt a deep sense of elation that the worst was behind me.  My buddy Nick told me to take a couple minute recovery and then start focusing on the finish.  I took my last Gel here, dumped a cup of water on my head, cranked up the tunes and started to focus on what was ahead.

MILE 22: 7:13
Energy levels we definitely coming back at this point and I felt stronger than I usually do at mile 21.  I knew I was past the wall and was running on fat stores efficiently at this point.  It was just a matter of getting the speed back.  I started to do mental math and figured if I could get back in the sub 7 range, I would be seeing 3:05 or so at the finish.  I started to push the pace, and quickly realized that the legs were going to be the rate limiter.  As I pushed the pace on the downhills on this mile, the quads started that tweaky, crampy feeling and I knew what I was dealing with.  The next few miles would be a process of testing the legs to their cramping limit.  I knew if they cramped, it could completely shut me down and it was better to be conservative and stay in the safe zone.

MILE 23: 7:24
The "Damn" Citgo Sign - Almost Drove Me Crazy
At this point, you can see that Citgo sign at Fenway park.  I knew from the expo that was the 1 mile left point.  I started focusing on that damn sign.  It seemed so close, but it was still two miles away.  I was still pushing the legs for all they would do and all they gave me was mid 7's.  Energy totally bounced back and I remember thinking that I wished my legs would let me go a bit faster as everything else felt perfect.  The crowds coming into Boston are ridiculous and it was very easy to just feed off them.  I was still giving kids high fives and just stayed focused on that damn Citgo sign.

MILE 24: 7:34
Pretty much all my focus is on the Damn Citgo sign now.  I know if I can get there strong, I can finish this thing up nicely.  I am doing a lot of math now, figuring out what it will take to get a PR.  Basically a couple 8's get me there and I started to get elated that I was going to PR on this beast of a course.

MILE 25: 7:50
Legs were really close to cramping and energy was starting to drop again.  Just keeping it under 8 to make sure I get a PR.  Finally, I pass the Citgo Sign and  just after that, the "One Mile Left" sign.  I want so much to just open it up, but the legs keep saying "Nope."  "OK!  OK! ... I just settle in around 8:00 and hang on".

MILE 26: 8:15
Slowest mile of the day.  It was driving me crazy to have pretty good energy and be so close and not be able to get under 8 minute pace.  Just gotta hang on for a few more minutes.  There is a nastily little dip about 1/2 way through this mile with a 200 yard climb on the other side that really pushed the legs right up to the cramping point.  Also, there was a pretty big head wind this last couple miles that I was really starting to feel now.  

It is wild how fast Boston goes from rural to residential to urban.  All of a sudden, we are in urban Boston in the tall buildings and the greenery is behind us.  I kind of expected the race to feel more urban earlier, but it was only in this last 1.5 miles that it really feels built up.

I also remember really cooling off here.  It may be the head wind, but people told me it would be 10 degrees cooler in Boston due to the water and it sure felt like it.

I hope Boylston is Restored to This Glory By Next April!
Boston has a near perfect finish.  You make a left turn onto Boylston and you have a straight 600 meter run with a slight downhill to the the end.  The finish gantry is so big, it seems like it is right there the whole way.  I decided to just run through the risk with the legs here and was able to get close to 7:00, but that was it.  They just would not go any faster.  

The crowds were immense and cruising over that ten yard wide finish line gave me a feeling I did not expect.  I was not elated, emotional, happy, sad, or any other high or low.  I just felt content.  This was the end of a four year journey and in may ways, the finish was almost an afterthought.  You know… Like the prolog on a great book that already had a complete story and you j wanted to know what happened to the character after the story was over.

I remembered to stop my watch for once and looked down to see a solid 42 second PR with a 3:09:15 and I remember thinking at that point that that was exactly the time I was supposed to run that day on that course.
I Gotta Buy The Print (I like that it says Proof though)
Cool Down
The after race at Boston is quite a process.  It is a blurry 3/4 mile hike through pictures, blankets, medals, food, bag claim, and finally family reunion.  Of course Sheri was right there and I found here right away.  We chatted and held hands all the way back to the hotel.  I was a little wobbly and dizzy, but just felt great.  I had that feeling when you get a great grade on a really hard project and know you did your best and that was more than good enough.

Garmin Data:

The Incident
Thank God We Were Together
Up until now, Sheri and I had no idea that the big event of the day was still ahead.  We got back to the hotel, I showered, pounded down some calories and was looking out the eighth story window of our hotel room watching runners turn onto Boylston when all of a sudden all the runners stopped in their tracks and started heading off in all directions other than the finish.  My mind immediately went to some kind of violent event.  I finished getting dressed and Sheri and I went out in the hall.  We immediately found people talking about an explosion and we both got kind of freaked out.  

We made our way to the hotel bar and found a bunch of people watching the TV and we quickly found out there had been a bombing.

Everyone Pegged to the TV and Phones
Everyone knows the details of the bombings and I don't want to belabor them here.  I do want to recount some of the things we saw.  Our hotel was very close to the corner of Boylston where the runners were diverted and there were tons of Running Refugees there that had no way to connect with family.  They had no money or phone and were hungry, tired and scared.  The hotel did great helping take care of everyone and I gotta give Hilton some kudos for this.  It took about 5-6 hours for the hotel lobby to convert back from refugee camp to normal pedestrian traffic.

I was active on Facebook the whole time and it was comforting to be chatting with friends and family and to easily and quickly tell everyone we were OK and to check in with everyone else.  It was one of the few times that I felt Facebook actually played a vital role.

Sheri Trying Not To Look Nervous
Cops Stopping all Pedestrian Traffic Outside The Hotel Bar

The bar we were in had windows facing the street and over the next few hours, an endless stream of ambulances, police cruisers transitioned to HUMVEES, urban assault vehicles, and eventually military grade MRAPS.   Officials went from wearing normal police uniforms to full on military gear including BDUs, M4 assault rifles and bullet proof vests holding 10+ 30 round clips.  It was a bit scary seeing how quickly we are able to convert into a mode that looks pretty much what I would expect martial law to look like.
Is This Iraq or Boston?

5 Army Guys and Their HUMVEE

Everyone in the bar was pegged to the TVs and drinking beer and wine to calm the nerves.  It was good to be with other people and whenever Sheri asked me if I wanted to go to the room, I turned her down thinking it was better to be around people than holed up by ourselves in our room watching TV.

MRAPS On Boylston
Around 3 PM I got connected with an NPR reporter and did a quick interview.  That was kind of wild because I was struggling with finding the right words.  There had been so many highs, lows, and terror that day that my mind was definitely not totally lucid.  I am so glad she focused on my thoughts and concerns about the refugee runners.

Sheri and I went to the room around 9 PM and I crashed hard.  The next morning, we woke and I immediately decided that since our flight out was not until 7PM, we would not just stay in the room.  Instead, we decided to check out and get to the historic part of Boston and do some sight seeing.  I am so glad we did.  We took bus and duck tours, ate at ancient restaurants, saw tons of historic sights and talked with a lot of runners and residents.
Ye Old Oyster House
The Original State House and Site of The First Boston Massacre
The tone on the street changed dramatically through the day.  Early on, people seemed tense and were keeping to themselves.  As the day progressed, we started sharing stories with other people.  We talked to people that were there when the blast went off.  We talked with people who were still miles away.  We talked with people that like me, had wonderful races.  Then as the day progressed conversation seems to flow from reflection on the race to a general desire to come back with a vengeance next year.  People (like myself) that were not sure about returning were talking about how big next year will be and how much they wanted to be part of it.  This tone kept building and everywhere we went, runners were talking about next year.

Boston residents bounced back equally fast.  By mid afternoon, families were active at Boston common (just blocks from the finish).  Kids were running around, couples were having picnics, tourists were walking around and business people were getting the job done.  It hit me that Bostonians are a tough bunch.  That city has seen a lot.   I think the reason that Bostonians love Patriot Day so much is because they know first hand what liberty really means.  It does not mean being fearful and hoping your government will care for you.  It means standing for what you believe.  It means living your own life.  It means being tough.  It means loving your neighbor.  It means never trading freedom for security.
Residents & Runners Starting an Impromptu Memorial Near The Finish
I fell in love with Boston not on Monday (Patriot's Day), but on the day after the attacks.  By the end of the day on Tuesday, I saw what it means to be a Bostonian and I have to say that the heartbeat of liberty is still alive and well there.  The rest of the country could learn from Boston's example.
George Washington Standing Guard 2 Blocks From The Finish

Next Year
I left Boston knowing I would return.  I have to return.  I have to be there next year to see how the town exacts it's revenge.  I know millions will come out to celebrate liberty, running and brotherly love.  It will be a once in a lifetime event.

The best part is I won't go there to race.  I will run it in a way that let's me fully experience it.  I will go there to be part of it.  To make new friends.  To reunite with old ones.  To show everyone that marathoners don't scare easily.  To be there at the finish to cheer on all the people that did not make it to the finish this year.

Final Thanks
It takes a village to get a guy like me to and through Boston Marathon.  I wanted to thank a couple folks:
  • Chris Strait:  Chris is the best running coach out there.  If you know Chris and you talk to him about his athletes, you know immediately what I mean.  He cares as much about the guy trying to break 4:00 as the gal trying to break 3:00.  He really gets to know you and your goals.  He believes in you before you do.  He goes to your races.  He brags about you on Facebook.  He truly understands physiology and the science of athletic progress.  Most of all, he is a great friend and my life if more full because of him.
  • Steve Maliszewski:  In September, I went to Steve and said it was time to start training for Boston.  He just said, tell me when and where and I am there.  Over that whole time, Steve NEVER missed a workout.  We ran in heat, rain, cold, humidity, 4:30 AM, overnight, windy and sometimes perfect conditions.  Steve is a blessing to me and I could probably go on for pages about what he taught me about being a great training partner, but the best was when we ran Houston together.  We supported each other all the way through that race and both of us had huge PRs finishing within 2 seconds apart.
  • Sheri & the Boys:  Sheri has been putting up with my running obsession for three years now.  She never complains when I get home late from a mid week long run and she has to take the kids to school.  She encourages me.  She let me keep running after almost dying at Big-D.  She is definitely an amazing runner's wife.
  • Blake: Going from me pacing you to you pacing me.  I taught you everything I know about running and now you are teaching me.  I can't wait to see what your running career has in store.
  • Mom, Dad, Linda, Davis and Rebecca:  My family is amazingly supportive.  They understand that my running obsession is a bit over the top, but they all still love and support me no matter what.
  • Nick and all the DRP Peeps:  The Dallas Running Project folks got me from thinking about Boston to Qualifying.  Long Sunday runs.  Tempo down Katy trail.  Track at SMU. Hills in lake highlands.  I learned how to train with the DRP.  I will always owe Nick Polito for encouraging me to come out and being patient with my 1000's of questions.
  •  Boston Athletic Association:   I have to say.  B.A.A. is a class act.  They may have blown it in the 60's not letting women run, but they sure get it today.  That race is run amazingly well.  I can't imaging the planning and logistics that it takes to get that project organized.  I can't think of anything that would make it a better race.  Then in the aftermath of the bombing, they have handled all of the issues with class, patience, and have communicated with the runners and community better than most organizations do on their best days.  Way to go B.A.A. 

Sunday, January 20

3:09 @ Houston

Houston 2013 was supposed to be a training race for me on my way to Boston 2013.  As such, I basically just trained straight through it.  I did not even get stressed out about it.  I did my normal nutrition plan on Thurs-Sat and my Aussie load process that Nick Polito taught me on Saturday.

The weather was interesting for this race.  On Saturday, it got into the high 70s, but the weather forecast promised a cold front to come through around 3AM include a bit of rain.  Sure enough, we woke to 45 degrees and rainy.  I woke up feeling great and mentally decided that I was going to go for a PR. 

I had a 3:09 pace band printed out that laid out even 7:12 pace since Houston is a notoriously flat course.  Also, I had a secret weapon - My running buddy Steve.

Steve and I have been training together all fall, following Coach Chris' plan with the discipline of a Tibetan Monk.  Every morning, we meet at 5AM for easy, tempo, track, trail, and marathon paced runs.  The only thing missing from our regime is hill workouts because the Houston area is devoid of anything resembling a hill except parking garages.

Steve was so worried about Boston Qualifying that two weeks before Houston, he went out hard at the Kingwood marathon and ran a 3:14.  For our 40+ year selves, that will get you signed up for Boston, but it will not likely make the time cutoff, so Steve showed up at Houston knowing he needed to run a very smart race.

On Monday, we recommitted to each other to pace together until at least mile 16.  We would work hard at keeping right around 7:12 pace.  We also agreed that if either of us felt good at 16, then they could start pushing the pace and it was every man for himself from there.

The other blessing of the day was Sheri and Blake running the 1/2.  Sheri had not run a 1/2 M in 5 years and Blake was ready to run a huge PR after a fantastic fall XC season and some big quality over the holidays (read 70 mile weeks with 30+ at race pace).

So, we showed up at Houston and everyone was relaxed and excited about the cold wet weather.  Nick was in town and I got to shakeout/Dennys with him and Blake on Saturday and ride together to the race.  His goal time was closer to 3:00 and I knew we would not see each other once the cannon blew. 

About 20 minutes before the 7AM start we walked out to the starting corals.  I did not realize I was stressing out Steve because we were a little late to the party and and coral A was already full.  Then our first miracle happened.  A cop car came through the crowd and parted the sea of people leaving a gap for us to follow to within 50 yards of the start.  We were right by the 3:10 pace group and I just knew it was gonna be a great day!

Ryan Hall got on the loud speaker and said something about great conditions and that we should run plan A - Duh!!!  I was already starting to think about an even more agressive plan.

Then the cannon fired.   Boom!  We were off.  50 seconds across the start and in the clear.  No weaving or delays and 6000 runners behind us!

The first 4-5 miles were a bit mentally challenging for 4 reasons:
  1. I take about 4 miles to find marathon pace because I never hardly train there.  We are always running in the 6s or 8s.
  2. The first few miles are actually a little hilly with several overpasses.
  3. It was raining pretty hard.
  4. The wind was in our faces.
No matter, we were hitting our paces nicely, my legs were warming up, breathing was easy and I felt like a bad ass running in the rain.  I LOVE running in the rain.

Around mile 5, the course heads south until mile 11.  The wind was to our back this whole way and pacing was VERY easy.  We were watching the Garmins like a hawk to make sure we did not overpace too much and things were just going great. Two of theses lies we're sub 7.

Around mile 7 I saw Blake and all the Strake boys hauling ass back to downtown and I could tell Blake was having the run of his life.  This really motivated me and I could not wait to get back to hear his tale of glory!

Miles 11-13 were nice down around Rice and West U.  I stopped for about 5 seconds right in the middle of the road to take a pee and then caught back up to Steve in about 30 seconds.

Then it got hard when we turned north around 14.  The wind was right in our face and everything was starting to get hard.  Then, right on schedule, I saw Coach Chris and got re-ignited for the bridge at Westpark.  We were now close to the Tansco tower and mile 16. 

At mile 16 as if he already planned it, Steve started pushing the pace and I wanted none of it.  I held back at 7:20ish and Steve started pulling away.  I was excited for him and knew I was still set up for a great day and PR and did not want to blow it by pushing the pace into the wind.

At one point, Steve was probably about 150 yards ahead, but I never fully lost sight of him and then we turned East at mile 20 and I got a sight of downtown.  I am not sure if it was knowing that I had a straight six back, or if I really just felt better, but my paces picked up.  A Lot.  I was back in the low 7s and was feeling great.

I could also tell I was reeling in Steve.  I LOVE that leg from Memorial to Downtown.  I had run that in a 10K and the Houston 1/2 earlier and knew exactly what I was dealing with.  My hands were getting a bit tingly and I knew I was running low on steam even though I had done 3 GUs and switched off water and Gatoraid.  I continuously sucked on 2 more GUs from 19-23 and I know that helped me come back.

For the next three miles, I stayed fixated on Steve and just kept reeling him in.  At 23 I caught him and was mixed in with a small band of 3:10 guys that pulled me right past him.  As we passed, I yelled something like "Get on my ass, Mother F**ker!!!".  The other guys all looked at me and I yelled - "I am not talking to you!"  I think I freaked them out.  Anyhow, that whole thing fired me up and I kept hammering.

Then, we were downtown.  The wind was blasting between the buildings and switched from pushing me along to almost knocking me over.  I was getting pretty dizzy, but not bonking.  I could see the convention center at the end of Lamar and knew that I just had to hang on for a few more minutes.  I could not do the mental math anymore, but I knew 3:10 was going to be close even though  the 3:10 group had not passed me.

Then I made the little maneuver around the park to the finish stretch.  It was fun trucking down the grandstands in front of Chris and Natmer and then I crossed the finish, turned around and there was Steve.  Boom!  He took my advice and was right there.  I ran a 3:09:57 and he got a 3:09:59.  That let's him register for Boston a week early and is a definite entry!

The rest was great.  Sheri ran a wonderful comeback race and Blake ran a 1:20!  Also, Houston Marathon has their act together.  That is the best run race I have done.  The before and after logistics are great and the food/recovery is top notch.

Probably the coolest new experience is how short the race felt.  I swear it went by like a half marathon.  We got through mile 10 like nothing and were at 16 before I realized it. 

Here is what I learned:
- Tapering is overrated
- It is better to not worry about it going into race week. Lose yourself in work or something.
- I am a rainy cold racer
- Having a pace buddy like Steve is critical (I already knew this)
- I Love the Houston marathon
- Even though there will be hard miles in a marathon, have faith that you will come back later
- Peeing in the street is acceptable if you are in the front part of the race an no one is around
- Aggressively use GU or whatever to bring your energy back
- Trust your training

I can't wait to run this again next year!