Finally, a chance to run the world's oldest annual marathon. This was my 11th marathon, with the first 6 all over 3:45. Attempting to get down to 3:15 for a Boston Qualifier (BQ) was looking downright impossible. All the formulas based on previous race results pointed to a 3:15 but I always struggled with cramps in the closing miles. Then I moved to Austin and joined the Ship of Fools and all of a sudden 4 of my last 5 marathons were 3:30ish or faster.
My training had been going well with most weeks in the mid-40 mile range, running 4 days/week. The last 22 miler was 2.5 weeks out on the hilly Stratford, Scenic, Mt Bonnell route - one of my favorites.
Houston was my 3rd official BQ attempt: Frankenthon was the first - the perfect weather, great course, and great support brought me a 3:18 with limited damage. Then came San Antonio which was a reminder in adjusting your goals down as the humidity forecast goes up. I didn't and suffered greatly the last 10 miles with total cramping in every leg muscle.
I consciously stayed away from any Houston forecast until 4 days before the race. I tend to be a bit obsessive about these things (aren't most marathoners?) and decided not to spend any energy worrying about the weather until the forecast settled down. It settled quite nicely to low in the 40s and maybe topping out in the upper 50s at the finish - there was a bit of humidity but overall pretty darn good. I love the Houston Marathon - it's my old 'home' course having run it twice before and completed countless 20 milers on it. It's flat, well organized, and the town shows up for support. It was historically always my personal best so I was feeling confident.
My plan was to run no mile faster than 7:15 and no mile slower than 7:25 and hitting the first half at 1:35. I knew what the final miles of a 3:15 would feel like from Frankenthon so I wanted some time in the bank when the pace started slipping and legs started failing. I was never good at negative splitting a marathon in the past so I didn't expect to try it here.
I hit the first half at 1:36 with 2 miles under 7:15 and only the first mile over 7:25 averaging 7:20/mile overall. Great start. I was taking a Gu every 5 miles and drinking a full cup of Gatorade Endurance at every aid station (I forgot my bottle to carry along). In fact, I drank nothing but Gatorade Endurance 24 hours before the race - very little water.
Miles 15/16 sneaked up to 7:30s and surprised me. This is when I typically have to give a little bit more energy to maintain my pace but not wanting to accept it quite yet. I rallied back and got the pace back down. I saw my family and friends at mile 18.5 which gave me a nice boost of energy. I was back on pace until mile 21 at which time my legs really started quivering and twinging and just giving me the typical cramp warning signs. This is the point in the past where I would have stopped to stretch and avoid any 'hard' cramping. Like a light bulb, it hit me - I was using the cramps as an excuse to stop in the past. It was usually then that I cramped - a little self-fulfilling prophecy. So I just held on, gradually giving into a marathon shuffle as to not overextend those muscles and keep the pace down as much as possible. This was, by far, the most internal banter I have ever had during a marathon. I was talking to myself (sometimes out loud) for a good hour about why I was feeling the way I was, how my brain was trying to sabotage, and how I could still get in under 3:16 with my legs screaming at me.
Miles 21-23 were all around 7:30. Mile 24 up to 7:40, mile 25 right at 8:00. Crap, I'm really cutting it close here. Every time I pushed, the muscles just said no. Keep with the shuffle and do NOT stop. Finally I turned up Rusk and saw the finish line but had no idea if it was 5 minutes away or 2. The last 400 yards or so were a blur. Apparently I had people cheering for me and even running me in from the sidelines but I heard nothing. My left hamstring started to cramp and I did everything I could just to keep moving. The last 1.2 miles took me 8:11. As I crossed the finish I knew I had it - both my watch and the clock were under 3:16 - I almost collapsed from another hamstring cramp as Raul (from the Ship) caught me and held me up. He hung around for a good 5 minutes until I was standing on my power. Tip of the cap to the Houston volunteers.
My official time 3:15:13 - had 46 seconds to spare. 3 minute positive split which is my best so far (6 min at Frankenthon, 24 min in SA).
Boston 2010 sold out in a couple of months so I'm sitting here refreshing their registration site until the 115th running of the Boston Marathon opens up.
A good race indeed.