Monday, January 18, 2010

A Half Marathon Dream Achieved! Aramco Houston Half Marathon 2010 Race Report

This Sunday was the Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Houston Half Marathon.  I was running the half, the first of my goal of "10 halfs in '10" after doing 8 halfs in 2009.  My parents offered to watch the toddler so hubby Steve was able to go down to the race with me!

Background for This Race:
I had put into place a new plan three weeks ago of going from 10-12 miles per week to 20-25 miles per week.  In doing this, I didn't realize until late last week that I was many days into a running streak.  Turns out that the Houston Half Marathon's 13.1 miles also marked the 13th straight day of running!  So I went into this race with mileage for this year that was more than the mileage I usually had in a month!  I had run 14 miles since Monday, and I was sore.  I planned to see how I felt race day morning, and see what the weather was like and then decide if I was really going to race.  I very badly wanted to break 2 1/2 hours on the half marathon, and my PR from a month before was 2:32:51.  But again, I was sore, so I was ready to back off from that idea if I needed to.

Race Start:
The weather was perfect - 45 degrees at the start, clear skies, humidity didn't feel too bad, it wasn't going to warm up very quickly, light breeze.  I headed to the start corral about 25-30 minutes before the race.  For the half marathon, the green wave started at 7 am and the black wave started at 7:10 am.  I was in the black corral. 

Race compliment: Finding the corrals was nice and easy with great volunteers routinely shouting instructions and good signage. 
Race criticism: green corral folks had to travel completely through the black corral to enter.  eek! 
I followed a flow of people heading to the front of the corral from the back and then suddenly I found myself in front of a volunteer who said I couldn't enter the green corral because I had the wrong bib.  I was puzzled - I had actually found the very front of the black wave corral!  I backtracked about 10 people rows back and dug in to the crowd. 
Race criticism: For a race this size to have no pace signs to use to line yourself up surprises me.  I never saw them. 

Race criticism: If you have thousands of half marathoners, please consider providing pace teams.  I can understand smaller races not having them, no big deal, but at a certain race size, my expectations change.
I made some quick friends with the folks around me.  Jessica was from Houston and originally slated for the green wave.  But she had recently broken a rib (!) and was hoping to walk the race, instead of running it.  Another couple loved doing half marathons too and they inquired all about my spring half marathon schedule and gave me helpful info on the Seabrook Lucky Trails Halfs I have coming up in March, and it's a small race and I'll get to see them again there!

In the end, where I was in the starting corral worked out fine for me.  The race started, and I wasn't dodging tons of people. 

Seeing Old and New Friends
Two funny run-ins.  I knew other Dallas friends were there but everyone had different corrals, paces, races, so I went into this race very much alone.  I had become active on Twitter the last few weeks, chatting it up with a bunch of runners from Dallas and Houston about the upcoming race.  One of them, Lisa, had people comment on her outfit choices the day before and had warned us all she would be outfitted in a ballerina tutu also.  Race day morning she posted a pic of herself in her running outfit for the day.  Who knew that this would make our first "tweet-up" possible?!?  Mile 4, a gal in a bright yellow shirt and a ballerina tutu passes me to the left.  I yell, "Lisa?"  She turns and we have an impromptu, laughing introduction.  We wished each other luck and separated.  A fun moment.

Around mile 6, I was passed on my right by a recognizable gal.  Laura, who owns a marathon charms business and you'd know her because she's at every marathon expo, was running the race!  We had gotten to know each other over the years, she's a big Heels and Hills supporter since she's been friends with the H&H Founder Paula for a long time.  Another nice treat.

The First 5 Miles AKA "Nobody Said There Would Be Hills", "Where Did All These People Come From?"
Okay, I'm really not complaining.  But everyone talks about this super flat course Houston has and in the first mile we're climbing up and down bridges and overpasses?  Huh?  It was also very crowded the first, what, 9 miles!!!  But the worst was the first 5.

After slowdowns getting water/Gatorade at aid stations at Dallas White Rock Half Marathon and flat out problems with supply & demand at NYC Half Marathon last August, I didn't want to wear a full fuel belt, but I didn't want to go in unprepared either.  I knew it would be crowded and couldn't spare many seconds at the aid stations.  So Thursday before the race, I bought a very small 8 oz handheld Fuelbelt container that slipped around the palm.

I was so glad because at the first two aid stations, many panicked around me as the big sign labeled "Last Gatorade Table" revealed they were out of Gatorade and the water tables were a little chaotic as there was very little on the tables and the volunteers looked dazed and very few considering the crowd.  I was more than happy with my decision to steer clear.  And this has just happened too many times - 8 minute milers report to me no problems, 10 minute milers start to notice slight scarcity, and by 11:30 pace gals like me, we've hit a problem.  But it's led me to a general race criticism...
Race criticism: At this point, I just think you can not expect any race of, say, 10,000 or greater, to handle aid stations WELL.  Maybe OKAY, but not WELL.  It's just hard to possibly have enough volunteers, tables, and preparation.  You can stack cardboard and towers of cups 5 high, 5,000 cups on tables, and it will look like enough, way more than enough.  And by the time 8, 9, and then 10 minute milers come through, you realize you don't have enough and it's too late to recover.  You're sinking deeper and deeper in the quicksand.
An awesome participant ran through the crowd of runners about 2 miles in and yelled, "I am SO proud of you all for doing this today!"  We all WOOTed and hollered.  Then one guy yelled, "You and my mother!" And everyone laughed.  And then another guy yelled, "You and my kids!" And I think we were all just a little touched by that.  The original instigator proceeded through the crowd and before he disappeared ahead of me I heard him yell, "Most people are still in bed right now!"  Thanks to that guy for bringing us all a smile.
Race compliment: Houston did a great job of complete consistency at their aid stations of Gatorade first, Water second, with decent signage.  I appreciated having aid stations on both sides of the course.  While I rarely use port-a-potties at a race, I noticed and appreciated the short lines and large number of portapotties after each aid station.
Thank Goodness for My Sweet Husband

I had mapped out clear driving directions to get him all over the course race day morning. It was his first big spectating event. He'd come out to one spot on the Dallas White Rock Half Marathon course with the baby two years in a row. So driving to different course spots in an unfamiliar city and trying not to run into the course was a fun challenge! He told me afterward that he thinks it was a super hard task and spectators should get medals too!

But he really saved me for what was a good race but a hard goal. At Mile 5, I found him easily in the crowd, gave him a beaming smile, and passed him my handheld water bottle that was now empty. Funny how the perception of handing that off made me instantly feel so much lighter! With the happy feelings of seeing a friendly face and that lightness, I whizzed through the next half mile!

I hadn't realized how many spectators there would be at my designated spot at around Mile 8 (Mile 10 after the turnaround too!). So I missed seeing him then but it was a great distraction of just trying to look for him that got me through that mile. And when I DID find him at Mile 10, it was a pleasant boost!

Miles 6-10 AKA "Where It All Fell Apart in the Last Half Marathon..."
Going down Montrose, a major street, the roads were lined with spectators, and the crowds were slightly less congested.
Before the turnaround, we hit mile 8.5 and this was the moment I had dreaded how I would feel.  At the Dallas White Rock Half Marathon a month earlier, this was the spot where the 2 1/2 hour pace team, who I had been barely ahead of the whole time but didn't know it, caught up to me.  And then I sadly had to watch them pass me and run away into the distance.  I fell off my goal 2 1/2 hour half pace at that point and couldn't recover because I just didn't have the strength and stamina in my legs.  For this race, I continued to plod along at goal pace and didn't feel too bad.  I was holding it together.And with no half marathon pace teams, there were no indicators of how far forward ot back to sign up.  I didn't even know the qualification pace for the differentiation in corrals.
Race compliment: Thank you for having such great spectator support.  The city of Houston really loves that race!
Right about mile 9, the marathoners continued straight and we turned around on this out-and-back section of the course.  I love that moment of an out-and-back.  I visualize slingshotting around that turnaround point and I tend to hold the pace a little faster for the next half mile.  It mentally always feels like a fresh start right at that moment.

At mile 10 I see my husband and while I give him a thumbs up, he could tell in my eyes that I was in mental anguish and physical pain.  Nothing was TOO hurt, just everything was just hurt enough.  I was TIRED and struggling to keep the pace at this point.

The Most Important 5K - The Last 3.1 Miles
We enter in the downtown area and I'm loving how the crowd of runners has thinned.  So many spectators are cheering us all individually by name, and it's making a world of difference.  Which also reminds me...
As we go between the buildings, the Garmin starts acting "wonky" as it's having problems verifying my location for its calculations of pace.  This has happened to me before.  It was swapping between telling me I'm running a 7:30 pace and running a 13:00 pace.  Frustrating!  What I do when this happens is switch my Garmin to another screen that shows the current lap's elapsed time and the mileage.  From that I can roughly tell if my lap pace is on track by eyeballing it.
Race compliment: I am so happy that this race made the names on the bibs so clear and easy to read!  I've been amazed at big races that do not bother putting the names even when a race sells out months ahead of time (ahem... NYC Half) or you can't read the name on the bib due to the color blending into the bib's background color!  So Houston excelled at this!

I passed a lot of people losing steam and walking these last couple miles.  It was a nice touch to have the "1.5 miles to go" sign on an overpass we went under.  And once the finish was in sight, it felt like we would NEVER get there.

The last tenth of a mile I relaxed my form and moved into all-out sprint, something I've been getting better at.  I went from an 11:23 pace to a 9:42 pace that last 1/10 mile!  I was happy that the announcer noticed my sprint at the end and even with so many crossing the finish at the same time as me, he called out my first name from my bib as I crossed.  Awesome.

After The Finish - Justifiable Tears
I had finished the race in 2:29:23.  My dream of breaking a 2 1/2 hour half marathon had been achieved!  And I had taken 3 minutes, 28 seconds off of my PR set just a month earlier!

I stumbled forward, past the paramedics, and scanned the volunteers there, the "Houston Angels", for my friend Kay.  Kay had been a member of the Heels and Hills team at the Texas Independence Relay.  She had told me they were helping out participants right past the paramedics and I had told her my goal time, so we knew to look for her.  I saw her, we locked eyes, I froze, put my hands up to my face, and started bawling!  Kay asked if I hit my goal and I told her I had.  She gave me a huge hug, and I'm so appreciative that she was there for me.

Kay went to walk me into the Convention Center post-race area and then I heard my name.  In another surprise moment, there was Valarie, a friend from high school, standing there.  Unfortunately, I was such a mess that I could barely have any conversation and basically had to excuse myself and head inside since I explained I was "an exhausted mess".

I can't compliment or criticize the post-race area.  I didn't get the food, I didn't take a picture, I didn't bag check, I didn't use a portapotty.  I grabbed a cup of water, found my husband and sister-in-law (who lives in Houston and had also run the race) and I just wanted to go back to the hotel.

What's Next?
I'm sore, I'm tired.  I also seem to have found myself now on Day 13 of a Running Streak that I'm considering continuing.  I also have the 3M Half Marathon next weekend in Austin.  Not sounding like fun at this second, but I know I'll be excited by the end of the week!


Mile 1: 11:23
Mile 2: 11:25
Mile 3: 11:24
Mile 4: 11:25
Mile 5: 11:17
Mile 6: 11:28
Mile 7: 11:26
Mile 8: 11:28
Mile 9: 11:27
Mile 10: 11:23
Mile 11: 11:26
Mile 12: 11:17
Mile 13: 11:28
Last 0.13 miles (as measured by the Garmin): 9:42 pace


  1. Congrats Libby!

  2. Excellent blog post. Congratulations for your PR!

    When is your full debut? I know you can do it!

  3. Be proud. Be very, very proud. And to people like me, bottom 6%, 3:24:45 (my best 3:10:23), thankful to God to finish, you're a Speedy Gonzalez. They time me with Carbon14!!! Congrats on achieving your goal!

  4. Great race report, I enjoyed reading it! And awesome job of 14 days in a row of running!

  5. Wow...I felt like I was there. Even teared up as you described your finish. Loved the criticism and compliments. I'm also very impressed with your splits and how close they are.

  6. Nice race report and I liked your race "criticisms" and "compliments". I had some of the same thoughts along the course. Good luck in Austin next weekend.

  7. To Marmota: Thank you! There's an expectation from many that doing a half marathon must then lead to full marathons. I've done over a dozen half marathons now and still have no plans to do a full. The half is a perfect distance - an enjoyable race if you have a solid running base, or a challenge of a distance if you want it to be for racing! But a marathon for most involves 6+ months of training, injury for many, and then what happens when you get to the event and it's just not your day (you don't feel great, the weather's awful, no water at aid stations, etc.)? What a sad moment. I can go do a half and if it's good, great, and if it's not, I feel good enough the next day to go sign up for another one in the near future!

    To EW, Issysmommy, Naomi, and Kathryn: Thank you!

    To Yayamade: I completed my first half marathon in 2005 with a time of 3:35. I have been there!

  8. I teared up, too! I am doing my 2nd half in Austin on 2/14. I hope to break 2:30, too. Though, I know about the 'hills' so I honestly just want to finish running!


  9. Very proud of you Libby. I really enjoyed reading your race journal, felt like I was there with you the whole way. Pretty awesome having your hubby cheering you on. Big congrats on your new PR.

  10. Awesome job Libby!!! Great accomplishment PRing! Maybe you should run one of these halves with no Garmin at all and let your body do what it does! You know, now that your goal has been attained, its okay to run a race without PRing :-) Your mile splits were very consistent!

  11. Thanks, "mommaof3", Courtney, and Mark! Mark, I actually have no big goals to PR the rest of the spring. The goal I instead set was to try to break 2 1/2 hours 3 times this spring, even if it's 2:29:59. :-) 1 more, just gotta do it 2 more time. With so many halfs I'm running, I would like my body to learn 2:30 is less of an uncomfortable finish time over the course of the spring. This seems a better goal than trying to outdo the last race every single half this season, when my training can't possibly ramp up to meet a goal like that. I just want to work on establishing strong weekly mileage right now.

  12. Congratulations Libby! You are such an inspiration to me. I am so happy for you.

  13. You are such a badass! Congrats on a great race. You are totally hardcore with a race schedule like that... ;)

  14. Congrats on your PR! That is awesome! :)

  15. Willowmu13, Quix, and SFJogBlog: thanks so much, guys! I'm in the best shape of my life and loving it! Hope to meet you all at a race in the future!