Monday, January 31, 2011

Houston Marathon in 5:29:05

I haven't blogged in a while for a couple of reasons. First - I've been busy at a new job. Second - I really didn't feel like there was anything overly exciting to report. Third - (and I think this is the real reason) I just didn't feel as if my training and my times represented anything anyone would want to read about.

One of the reasons I run the Houston Marathon every year is that I have a streak of consecutive finishes. Ever since my ACL tear and subsequent replacement last year, it's been doubtful I would keep the streak alive. I didn't really feel like I wanted the world to have a front seat to a long rehab followed by a huge disappointment (well - a huge disappointment for me).

Over the season as I built my workout time up and my pace per mile down, my stride changed every week, sometimes twice a week or even run to run. Sometimes I could feel the knee shift, or my hip or my quad. I had hope, but every workout was its own challenge. This year I emptied the buckets of injury-avoidance knowledge and put it all into practice, because one (more) injury would mean the end of the marathon hopes this year.

Although continually improving over the training season, my times were awful. Some days were really awful - the kind that just suck the life out of you. Two examples happened in the last month alone. I went out to run and I did not make it past my neighbor's driveway. The cold and stride mechanics combined to make it painfully clear I was not going to run that night. I also had a marathon barometer run - a 21 miler. I had a great 12 mile run that day followed by nine miles of misery, walking and self doubt. That "run" came in at 5:30 - and Houston has a six hour cutoff. I knew that wasn't my best possible effort, but what knee and stride were going to show up on race day?

About two weeks before race day I had a true answer to prayer. My ten mile run came in at two hours flat. "Marathon math" is not an exact science, but the pace calculators put me finishing the marathon in 5:36. It was the first endurance run since February of last year that had me projecting a finish faster than six hours.

All that work, effort and massage led me to the start line - where it was a balmy 68 degrees with rain. Of course, this was unlike nearly all the distance runs I had done this year for training. I stuck to a plan of running comfortably for as long as possible and then just finishing - similar to my "fly and die" strategies of previous years. I didn't wear a watch because I didn't want to drive myself crazy analyzing my times. I was very evenly paced to a 2:30 half marathon when it occurred to me that I needed a salt tab. These can be rough on me - in the worst case I need about an hour of slowing down to make them work for me. I decided that with 3:30 to go I had enough of a cushion and would be thankful later. Sure enough, miles 14 through 18 were pretty rough and dark. I concentrated on walking fast and running for short stretches. All those training "run/walks" really came in handy as my body was used to cycling back and forth between running and walking. Starting about mile 20, I started passing people back as I felt better.

The last 5 miles of the Houston marathon are slightly downhill. One of the crazy things I found out about my stride is that I can really let it fly downhill, so I used that every time there was a downhill grade. More passing... At that point, I was still being pretty conservative because I know that cramps can come for you any time. I was pretty happy because I was pretty sure I was going to finish. I saw a runner bundled up in mylar on the roadside - she looked done and was just over a mile and half from the finish.

With a half mile to go, I felt like I could relax. One of my concerns throughout the race was that the race officials would detect lightning and close the course. With most of the faster runners in, they could close the course and not reopen it. My thinking at that point was that they would probably have all runners proceed to the shelter of the convention center, which would mean an official finish for me. I saw a friend who finished a couple of hours earlier.

As I rounded the last corner with about 200 yards to go, I saw the race clock reading 5:31. Throwing my conservatism and concern about cramps to the wind, I finished as fast as I could. Sure enough, my chip time was 5:29:05.

The only food items that were 100% certain gluten free at the post race party were the bananas and the chocolate milk. I might want to do something about that next year...