Wednesday, February 2, 2011

RACE REPORT: Chevron Houston Marathon

I'm now officially a MARATHONER!!! 

Sadly, I missed the BQ by 41 seconds... a mere 41 seconds out of the 13,200 seconds it takes to run a BQ. 

Here's my analysis of what I did right and what I did wrong... with lots of pictures!!!

"26.2 IS THE SHORT PART" - Training Plan Recap
The Saucony ad is true... 26.2 is the short part.  The many nights of hitting the treadmill, even when work left you pretty tired, and enduring the weekend long runs took some effort, but you loved every moment of it.  It made each day exciting and important.  You were in training. 

This was the first time I ever used a training plan.  Previously, the inpredictability of my schedule and my tendency to overtrain and injure myself made following a plan impossible.  The first part is understandable, but considering how well this went, I'd say that the well-chosen training plan prevents injuries... well-chosen and smartly executed.  If you're not feeling good, it's okay to back off.  Okay... I did push it at times... pretty far, too.  You get nervous, and I'd probably do it again.  I guess I was just fortunate, too.  But I did just go by feel, instead of following prescribed paces, and that worked well.  There's no way I could've handled some of what was asked.  Go by whatever pace you feel like you can handle without jeopardizing your next run or risking injury.  Make sure you also do cross training.  Strength training is especially important for injury prevention, good form/running economy, and speediness.

PLAYING IT SAFE - The Week Before the Race
- My hip had been giving me issues again in the 2nd week of the 3-week taper.  It had flared up the week of Christmas, but it got better by itself.  When it was bad even when walking on the week before the race, I was worried.  I could feel that my body was a bit taxed by the training, so I decided to skip the other proposed runs in the last week so that I could just rest.  My PT buddy also checked it out and didn't find anything seriously wrong, which was very comforting.  I spent a lot of time stretching, and that and the rest helped it feel 95% again.  I even did about 2 min of decently fast running on Thursday night, so that my leg wouldn't grow stale.  Some say that after a week without training, you lose 10% of fitness, which is huge.  But at least in HS, I'd notice that a week completely off, normally during vacations, would cause me to come back stronger than ever.  I always raced every workout, so maybe my body needed the rest then.  It was a good decision to rest and stretch in that last week. 
- I didn't change the makeup or size of my diet much.  This will probably vary a lot from person to person.  I'm someone who needs to get what my mind/body wants, otherwise my body/mind gets anxious.  It's hard to tell whether it's more body or mind... they're linked to some degree.  Anyway, I tend to eat pretty balanced and nutrient-packed foods, and if they're good for me in training, they're good for me always.  During the last 3 days, I did shift a little bit more towards carbs, but only a little.  I also reduced fats in the last 3 days.  I also subsituted some of my less superfood choices for superfood choices... like oatmeal instead of processed cereal.  I happened to eat strictly vegetarian (would've been vegan, were it not for milk and cheese), but it wasn't because of the race... my appetite for meat just kind of waned. 
- Unfortunately, work was especially hectic that week.  Lots of stress and little sleep.  Work had to come first, though.  Couldn't do much about it.  I figured I'd make it up on Saturday, the day before the race, by sleeping all day.
- During the week, I looked up the weather forecast a couple of times a day.  It got worse and worse, in the end predicting, from 7am-11am, 64->64->65->66->67 degrees, with 60% chance of scattered thunderstorms.  I had counted on Houston being a fast course due to its flatness and its good weather.  Oh well.  Can't control it.  If you've read the Houston Hype posts, you'll know how much I was debating about whether to go for it with this race or if I should take the conservative approach and just go for the BQ.  This helped to seal it for the conservative approach.

HELLO, HOUSTON - The Trip, the Olympic Trials Preview, and the Expo
- My parents came out to my apartment, and then we drove 2 hrs to the airport to fly out to Houston.  We got there at around midnight then spent another hour catching up with the family friends we were staying with.
- The next morning, at 6am, I woke again to watch the U.S. Half Marathon Championships / Olympic Trials Preview.  Elite racers competed while getting a taste of next year's trials.  We got there and walked up to a suprisingly small crowd.  And boom, immediately, I saw Magdelina Boulet, who I recognized from a Saucony ad on one of my running magazines.  It was a bit suprising, to see these people in person, right there.  There was an excitement about the place, as the athletes did their striders and made preparations for the run.  It would've been cool to even earlier, to watch their whole preparation process, with the stretches, fueling, mental prep, warmup, gear, etc.  They take this stuff seriously b/c for many, it's their livelihood.  Others, because it's hard to get sponsorships, still have to have day jobs.  I sometimes imagine that being a pro athlete would be a dream job, but I suppose having your livelihood depend on your performance would be stressful.  If it's what you love, too, though... I think the deal I have going on is nice.  I work hard at work, but that provides the means to enjoy this hobby/passion of mine.  No pressure, just enjoyment.

- The runners were a sight to behold.  They have leg muscles that you didn't know existed.  Powerful machines.  Determination and guts.  They push themselves with incredible determination and raw guts.  You could see the strain in Ryan Hall's face as he was in his final sprint, just half a step behind the lead.
- I love race expos.  A good expo is one of the things I look for when I pick a race.  I like the atmosphere -all around you are people just like you, just as crazy as you.  There's gear.  I like gear.  There are lots of free samples.  You feel like a celebrity, picking up your number and shirt and goodie bag and everything.

(Nissan sponsored a picture with me on Runner's World with Ryan Hall!)

- At the Expo, they introduced the pace team leaders.  Each group (2 leaders per time group) shared their strategy.  There was a big mix : Neg splits, positive splits (the neg split guy blasted him when it was his turn), even effort, even pace, Galloway run/walk, walk through water, run through water.  It was interesting to see how even within a group of very experienced runners, there could be such diversity.  I agree wth all of them besides the positive splits guy.  I guess I can see why he may be that way - the hills slow you down, the last 6 slow you down.  He wanted to "bank some time" in the early miles.  Eh...
- Afterwards, I had a filling lunch... it was mostly soup.  I didn't want much else, for some reason.  I was tired after a long morning, so I thought I might go straight to bed for the night afterwards.  I slept in the car ride and woke up refreshed.  I tried sleeping once I got back to my friend's house, but I ate some more for dinner, then tried to sleep again... It took a while, so I didn't end up sleeping until 10.

- I went to bed at around 10pm and woke up at around 4am.  I had already laid out my gear.

- Visor... good for the projected rain. And part of my "uniform", that I wear even when I'm indoors sometimes.

- Sports Bra... once I put it on, I realized how the black stripes might chafe me... it also just felt kind of hot in it b/c the top covers more.  So I went with the trusty old Nike DryFit Princeton bra.
- 4 Pocket Shorts... pockets allow you to carry your fuel without having to bring extra carriers like the Nathan ShadowPak.
- Fuel... Roks because protein helps carb absorbtion when taken at a 1:4 ratio, and it maybe helps your muscles a little bit somehow, I seem to remember.  PowerBar Gels - Cappucinno flavor with 2x Caffeine for the ergogenic effect and easily digestible energy.  Endurolyte electrolyte tablets, for the heat.
- Compression... I went with the calf sleeves + socks combination because 1) OxySox sometimes slide down my calves, and 2) It may retain less water during the rain, and 3) the OxySox bunched at the ball of my foot a couple runs ago, which was annoying.  Compression is for 1) better blood flow for oxygen/energy supply and waste removal, and 2) reduced muscle vibrations for more efficiency.
- Shoes... Kinvaras... see the Houston Hype post for more.  They are light.  The laces stay tied and give a nice fit to the shoe, besides the overly roomy toebox.  Plus, they're bright orange.
- Shuffle... Music makes you run with less perceived effort.  Research says that slow vs. fast music doesn't really make a difference.  Podcasts don't have the same effect.  There's something about music.  I ended up keeping it relatively soft, and I didn't even really notice it.
- Shades... I didn't end up using them, because it was going to be rainy.  No need for extra weight anyways.

- We got there at around 5:50am.  Runners were supposedly supposed to start lining up at 6:15am.  I put on my shoes (I wait til I get there, so that I don't mess up the cushioning), applied lube on my arms to prevent chafing, put on my hat, etc.  I went to the restroom.  I packed 2 chocolate covered coffee beans for the start of the race for an extra boost.
- I lounged around until 6:25ish until I started heading for the start.  Next, I checked in my bag, which took a while due to the long lines.  I looked for Gatorade b/c I wanted more electrolytes and took 2 Endurolytes.  Then, I had a choice.  Go back across the big building to the porta potties, or follow the "more porta potties are available at the start" that I heard.  I figured those would be on the way, so I headed to the start.  As I was walking, the need to use the restroom increased.  I saw porta potties and got in line at 6:41.  The line moved slowly.  Sometimes, you think you gotta go but it's not really that much.  I had drank a little more than I thought, so I thought "ok, well at least it was worth it".  I had 5 minutes left, so I powerwalked to the start.  I was in the first of two waves, but by 5 til, everyone had already crowded by the start line, so I couldn't get very far.  I figured it'd be okay, that since the physical distance to the start line wasn't that far, I'd find the 3:40 pace group and catch up quickly.
<< wooh, finally at the race now >>
- So the cannon went off, and the crowd moved up to the start line reasonably quickly, yet getting a tightly packed crowd to finally string out takes a long time.  It was 3 miles before I felt I could even breathe. Moving up was a frustrating process, especially when people run together, next to each other.  You get boxed in.  It was far better on the edges of the road, but even there, boxed in.. boxed in...
- Things finally thinned out enough to do some real running after about mile 4.  I kept hoping I'd see the next pace group, but I never got to see a single pace group.  I was so anxious about being slowed so much at the start that I overcompensated and ended up making up all of the lost time by mile 11.  Ideally, your effort should be even, so I really should've toned it down and realized that I had the entire race to make up the lost time in from the slow start.  At the time, I had been really proud that I had made it up by mile 11, but in retrospect, that's a bad sign... I must've been putting up too-fast times. 
- It was really useful wearing a pace bracelet, which gives splits for a given goal time.  I checked it at every mile. 
- Something that made me laugh during the run... we hit the 10k mark on the run.   We had just covered 6.2 miles, but that was only a drop in the bucket compared to what we knew was coming.  A little after we hit the 10K mark, the road went under an overpass.  There was a banner hung from the overpass saying "If you were running the such-and-such 10K, you'd be done by now!", and a line of people dressed up in duck costumes with kazoo-like horns were teasing us.  It was funny.  An ingenious advertisement. 
- A lesson from a poor guy I saw : Never try anything for the first time on race day.  I was running, looking at the road before me, and I noticed sandals... sandals?  Then I saw the floral designs on the sandals... someone was running in this?  Then, I noticed that it was on a man's feet.  What?  Then, I looked up and saw the Vibram 5 Fingers clipped to his belt and realized what must've happened.  This was maybe mile 4, and the poor guy probably never ran so far in the Vibrams before, had his feet start hurting, and had to borrow a kind female stranger's flower sandals.  Poor guy.  He's dedicated, though. 

- Mile 7, and I saw my dad, which was nice.  There were big crowds there.  The crowd support everywhere was nice, and so many families decided to cut up fruit to give out to the runners.  The Houston Maraton prints your name on your bib, so people cheer for you, too.  I remember at my first half marathon in Philadelphia, I got a high just from hearing people cheer for other runners by name. 
- It was fun reading some of the signs that people were either holding, or had previously placed along the course.  "Sweating is fat cells crying".  "Keep your eye on the prize"... that one helped me a lot, as I focused on the BQ.  I don't remember the other funny ones right now... maybe I'll remember later.  They were great and made me laugh.
>> found an article about the series of signs I saw with some guy's face on it! (see the left sidebar for a list of the sign slogans)
- The rain was on and off.  I've run in the rain before and  always thought it was fun and made the experience epic.  I like the rain, especially when it helps to cool you down on a warm day like this.  However, at times, it was a little slippery, not in a falling way, but in the traction way.  I only noticed it a few times, though, which is good. 
- The water stops were pretty good, although I wish they would mark which side of the road it was coming on, so I didn't have to suddenly veer across the road to try to hit the tables before I passed the water station.  The volunteers were great, especially being out there in the rain and relative (to someone who's not moving much) cold.  Every stop, I drank some Gatorade Endurance,took some purewater, and splashed a cup of water on my face and body.  Even with the rain, I needed faster cooling.
- The miles between 13 and 20 were just about covering distance so that you could get to what some people call "the real race" part of the marathon.  This was true.  And it helped to think "just 6 more miles" when you were at mile 14.  It made it seem more manageable.  Think of the marathon as several shorter runs : the 7 mi, the 13 mi, the 20 mi, and the final 6.2.
- Somewhere around mile 18, I started getting a little tired, and I even tried taking a quick nap while running, by closing my eyes.  I do that sometimes - not often, maybe once a year on average.  It truly feels restful somehow! 
- At around mile 20, a body runs out of glycogen in the muscles, if it hasn't supplemented with fuel taken in during the run.  Something that I've been curious about is what it feels like to hit the wall.  During workouts, my goal is to get trashed.  I like the feeling of wearing myself out through physical exertion.  I'm weird, I know.
- My plan was that in the last 6 miles of the race, when things are supposed to get tough, I'd dedicate each mile to someone.  During that time, I'd think about all the reasons I loved them and was grateful for them, and I'd thank God for them.  Mile 20, this went as planned.  Mile 21, some time during the middle of it, I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to be thinking about my next person and got off maybe 2 sentences about them.  It was starting to get hard to concentrate.  Mile 22, some time during the middle, I remembered again that I was supposed to be thinking of someone else, and so I got off a couple of sentences about them. After that, I totally forgot  / was physically incapable of having any ability to focus on anything other than trying to keep moving on.  Up to this point, my pace was still on target. 
- Houston is supposed to be a flat, fast course.  But it was hillier than I expected, and many of those hills came in the last 6 miles.  I guess they weren't terrible, but they were a force to be reckoned with.  Not the best place for hills.  I didn't know about it.
- At mile 23, I was doing okay.  I was exactly on target, with the extra 0:59 Boston grace minute to rely on.  But after that, things went bad.  I slowed down.  Couldn't help it. 
- The last mile was HARD.  I knew I was so close and that a BQ might still be possible, if I could kick it.  Just had to keep going with all that I had.  I saw the 1/2 mile left sign.  Then, the long stretch of straight road leading back to the Convention Center.  That building with the big red pipes coming out.  Such a sweet sight.  It looked close, but only because it was a big building.  I forced my body to go as fast as it could, but it was getting tough.  There was a headwind, too.  Up until mile 23, I was consistently passing people.  Mile 23-25, and especially the last mile, I was getting passed.  Then, the turn, and the final short stretch along the front of the Convention Center.  I sprinted as best as I could, and in the final 10 steps, my legs stopped firing correctly, and I could barely control them, but I made it over the line and was caught by med volunteers, who helped me stagger to get my medal. 
- Oh man, I was depleted.  It was tough to stand.  I got my picture and shuffled over to check my weight.  I didn't do a pre-race weigh-in, but I was about my usual weight, so I drank enough, probably.  I shuffled to get my gear bag, and I tenderly found a spot on the floor and changed out of my wet socks and shoes.  Then, I shuffled slowly towards food... eggs and a bit of potato and salsa for me.  I'd normally like eggs, but my tummy didn't really want it.  The potatoes were appreciated by my tummy, but I had only been given a few morsels of them.  I picked up my finisher shirt and beer glass, then shuffled over to my parents in the reunion area.
- We took pictures, watched the finish line a bit, drove back to my friend's house, then I took a nice warm bath.  I haven't taken a bath bath in like 15 years.  It felt good to be warm again after being in wet clothes in the cold.

So no BQ...
I'm already working on picking my next race.  I still want to go for Boston 2012.

Afterwards, I analyzed my splits to see where things went wrong....
It's incredibly informative, so I highly recommend doing this for races...


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