Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Race Report: Houston Marathon

I slept well the night before the Houston Marathon, images of the Olympic Trials races still spooling around in my head like a movie reel. Kathy and I set the alarm for 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. (just in case we had a hard time shaking off sleep—turns out we didn’t need the second alarm).

I took my accustomed pre-race shower and shaved my legs like I always do, being careful not to nick my ankles with the cheap disposable plastic razor I had brought (two days earlier I had skinned both ankles with that thing). We hung out in our hotel room until about 5:20. It was really nice to be staying so close to the convention center and starting line because we were able to take care of private business in our own clean flushing toilet.

We arrived at the convention center just in time for Mass. Mass was crowded—lots of Catholic runners in Houston, I guess. The priest, pointing skyward, called his homily “a brief word from our sponsor,” eliciting laughs from the nervous crowd. I couldn’t hear much of the rest of it because there was loud music echoing from somewhere else in the giant concrete space. They somehow managed to distribute communion to the crowd, and the service was over in a half-hour. We both realized we had to go to the bathroom again, so we went back to our hotel room (like I said, convenient!).

On the way back to the start area, I heard someone call my name—and there was my friend Jenne, who I know from library school!! It was so nice to see another friendly face! She had driven all the way down from Huntsville, where she is now a professor, to see me run. She was supposed to be in the 5K that morning, but hadn’t realized there was no race-day packet pick-up. But she came anyway just to cheer for me. The three of us worked our way into the steady river of runners exiting to the streets where the marathon and half-marathon starts were.

Jenne got a shot of Kathy and me pre-race. Yes, Jill, I used my Rock Canyon Half shirt as my throw-away!
I said good-bye to Jenne inside the convention center, and outside said good-bye to Kathy. My corral assignment was “A” (this was the case for everyone who predicted a sub-4 time). I was still clutching the bib in memory of Sherry Arnold that Caroline had sent me to wear on my back during the race. Jenne had located some safety pins, but there hadn’t been time to pin it inside. I saw Amanda, the other Boulderite with a press pass whom I’d met the prior day at the Trials finish line. She and her friend were headed to the half-marathon A corral. We chatted a bit about the Trials and then all wished each other luck. (I late found out Amanda ran her half in something like 1:26. Ah, Boulder!)

The scene at the entry to the A corral was a mob. I stood in the group for a while and chatted with two nice women, who pinned the bib on my back and asked me questions about Sherry. One of them turned out to be a reader of Beth’s. I think we all had a catch in our throats. But I left them because I really wanted to get into the A corral and find the 3:50 pacers. I wended my way through the crowd. Once I was actually inside the corral, things opened up. I found the pacers easily and hit the port-a-can one last time before the start (port-a-cans in the corral! Great idea!). Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter both spoke over the PA system. Shorter called it “no excuses weather.” It was cool but not cold, maybe in the low 50s, with some cloud cover. Perfect indeed!

Through all of this, I felt stomach-clenchingly nervous. And when that gun went off, I cried a little, just to myself, thinking of the past year and of Sherry and of the Trials runners (especially Dathan Ritzenhein and his little girl) and of Jenne driving all that way and of everyone who sent me good wishes and of how I want to qualify for Boston. I knew today would be a good day, but I wasn't sure it would be Boston good and I was worried I would disappoint many people. It was such a relief to start running. It felt familiar and safe.

I had found the 3:50 pacers, but by using the bathroom that last time I had lost them again. I was OK with that because I wanted my first mile to be slower than they were planning to go. It turns out that in the first couple of miles I was behind the 4-hour pacers, too, because I passed both of them in miles three and four. I’m starting to be skeptical of pace groups. I had a great experience in New York 2005 with my pacer, but the groups in the Top of Utah Marathon started too fast, as did the groups in this race (I ended up passing the two 3:50 pacers in miles 22 and 25, too, even though my finishing time was three minutes slower than they were supposed to be posting). I know pacers are human, too, and anyone can have a bad day in a marathon, but still…..

The first few miles went quickly. The crowd support throughout the course was amazing, and there were lots of bands as well. My favorite, in the early miles in the Heights neighborhood, was playing some kind of bluegrassy gospel stuff that I would have stopped to listen to longer if it had been a different kind of day. My legs were feeling good—I noticed no talking from the ankle cuts, my left glute and hamstring or my calves as we ran past Rice University (my alma mater, where the Marching Owl Band, or MOB, was playing). The only physical issue I experienced the whole race was sore feet. I had been expecting that as it had happened on long runs too. It’s time to switch back to my prior shoe brand, Asics—I think they just work best for me.

Not sure where this was....
Soon after Rice, we entered the West University neighborhood where my aunt and my friends Colin and Mimi live. Colin and Mimi and their two daughters, it turns out, were the first friends I saw on the course. They were handing out oranges and bananas just after the half-marathon mark. Mimi called my name and I was rocketed out of my trance. I got a glimpse of her face and saw their two girls, then saw Colin a little way down. I’m sure I ran 10 seconds per mile faster for a long time after seeing them. It was a great boost (even though I didn’t take an orange, as their daughter Alexa pointed out to me later).

I was still feeling good along the stretch by Highway 59 and into the Galleria shopping area, but by mile 18 it was getting a little harder to hold my pace. I thought about the Top of Utah marathon, where I bonked hard at mile 18, and realized I felt nothing like that bad this time. I kept my legs churning and the doubts passed. It happened again around mile 20, and I told myself that moods and sensations change in the marathon. How you feel now isn’t necessarily how you’ll feel later in the race, even in the last crazy miles. It worked, and I kept on trucking.

Heading into Memorial Park, where many Houston-based runners train, I saw my friend Amy from Denver. She was in town visiting her brother and had made a sign for Kathy and me. I didn’t see her or it until she called my name (which I’m glad she did loudly because I’d put my headphones on as planned at mile 18). When I saw her, I inadvertently called out Kathy’s name, because I was reading the sign and because, well, I was in my trance again, but then I corrected myself and called out “Amy!” She snapped a photo of me, and I moved on, again having gotten a huge lift. No one’s ever made a sign with my name on it for a race before! Thanks, Amy!

Amy's wonderful sign! Just what you need around Mile 20!

Here's the pic Amy got.

Jenne was the next friend on the course. She had walked all the way from downtown to her spot at the entry to Allen Parkway, and she was working a shiny hula hoop. Again, a lift right when I needed one, and I felt ready to tackle the Allen Parkway hills. They aren’t really hills, just spots where the road dips under overpasses, but as many of you know, any incline in the last miles of a marathon feels like a mountain. So I prepared to bear down for them.

And you know what? They were over before I knew it, and….they weren’t that bad. I knew then that I could finish this race strong.

But I had one more happy surprise: my friend John! He and Rosann, his wife and also an old friend of mine, live near the early miles of the course, but didn’t put two and two together in time to see me go by at that point. So he had driven up to catch me at about mile 24. He told me later I looked much better than I did in my prior showing in this race in 1997, when he’d helped change my shoes in the freezing rain. It's always nice to hear, on the doorstep of your 39th birthday, that you're looking better at any moment than you did at almost 24! Seeing him gave me one more giant boost, and that along with the sight of downtown Houston’s buildings getting taller and taller and a slight cool breeze sent me sailing toward the finish.

The finish line was the same as the one for the Trials the day before. Its bleachers were lined with cheering spectators, and as I rounded the turn for the last tenth of a mile, I thought of Shalane Flanagan finishing her race the day before in that same spot with that grin on her face, and I broke out into my own huge smile. My Garmin put my finishing pace for that last bit at 7:50. I got my medal and had a finish photo taken before I headed into the convention center for a needed massage, some Honey Milk and an ice cream sandwich.

The final result? 3:53:28, a six-minute personal record good for 2,150th place overall out of 7,649 finishers (only 28% were ahead of me), 509th woman (only 18% were ahead of me) and 95th in my age group of 35-39 year-old women (again, only 18% ahead of me). Data from the race say that I finished ahead of 66% of male runners, and that in the last 4.5 miles I was passed by 29 people but passed 183.

Here are what my splits looked like:

In the end, I’m most proud of my relatively even pace throughout the whole race and that I never seriously considered walking or slowing appreciably (though I did slow after the 25K mark--will have to work on that!). This was true even when it became obvious that I wasn’t going to qualify for Boston. Because when I DO qualify for Boston, that steadiness will be a key skill set that will get me there. And I am glad I didn't give in to negative thoughts.


  1. you did GREAT. I told you there would be no problem in Houston! 6 minutes PR is fantastic! A positive race report, that is really great. You look happy on the last picture! it is wonderful that you had supporters on the course...it does make us go faster or feel lighter, that and the pro photographers...no way i am ever going to walk in front of them!!! I know a good place your BQ: Long Beach California!!!!

  2. Wow, talk about consistent! Looks like all of your training is paying off--congrats, Terzah!

  3. Wow!!!! How can you not be thrilled with 6 minutes!!! That is so fantastic! I'm very happy for you!

  4. Loved this thorough recap, and all the emotions you experienced. What a race--awesome job! So glad you had lots of crowd support, too... that makes all the difference. And good for you for doing your own thing, like you, I've learned the hard way not to go out too fast. Pace groups are helpful, but can't cater to individuals. Anyway, so proud of you!

  5. Well done you. Your splits are awesome and that really will help. This was a great race recap and I really do admire your attitude and the way you approached the race. And a 6 min PR is something to be proud of. The fall will bring great things. I know it.

  6. I have no doubt that BQ is going to happen, and happen soon! So very happy for your consistency and the fact you felt so great and strong. You are awesome!!

    (sorry for the lack of comments and short ones when I do, my laptop is in the computer hospital and I can't sit long in this dumb chair where our desktop computer is. Plus, I have to share it with my family and thus almost have to take a number to get on - ha. But I'm reading...and smiling big for you!).

  7. Fantastic Terzah! Great splits!
    I like the stats you listed too (I am a sucker for stats :) )

    Love the signs and the fact you ran into your friend! :)Looks like it was a good year in Houston.

  8. Congratulations on a great race and your PR! You will get your BQ!

  9. Love the recap. Very consistent! You inspire me!

  10. What a wonderful recap. Your splits are SOLID. You ran so strong! Really, really great race :o)

    This quote in particular really resonated with me: "I knew today would be a good day, but I wasn't sure it would be Boston good and I was worried I would disappoint many people. It was such a relief to start running. It felt familiar and safe."

    I can relate to this so so much. I remember feeling similar emotions when I ran MCM, and now that I am training again and continuing to go after this goal there are so many emotions. I am going to remember what you say here about running feeling familiar and safe and will just do the best that I can do, doing something I truly love so much.

    Congratulations on a wonderful marathon! A fantastic PR and another great race under your belt. You are on your way to that BQ and I am so excited for you!!!

  11. Great job! Love the splits!! My dream splits, actually :D

  12. Wow! So consistent! You ran a great race and I loved your race report. It is so interesting seeing another person's take on the same course and the same day. I am looking forward to following your racing this spring and then the next attempt in the fall!

  13. Congrats Terzah! What a fantastic race and report. You are truly an inspiration.

  14. You ran beautifully Terzah! So strong and steady and perfectly paced. Congrats again. Boston will come. Soon!

  15. Awesome race!! It's fun to read your report. You totally rocked your pacing too; that's consistency at it's finest. Enjoy some relaxation and recovery time. I am curious though, when do you think your next marathon will be? :)

  16. what a great race and race report! Sounds like you ran a smart race and are moving just that much closer to a BQ! I'm super impressed - i hope if i ever get to your level I will be as smart as you too! you were so amazingly consistent. and yay for clean flushing toilets!!! :)

  17. Wow, way to go! I've always wondered if pacers are really that accurate. I feel like it would be much more difficult to pace a longer race than a 5K. Congrats on a great marathon!

  18. The marathon is always a marathon and you did great: a very good finishing time under the 4h and in the first third overall.
    Congrats, brava!
    Boston is on the corner and if you want ..... Rome is on march 18....

  19. Great report!  I kinda teared up a bit reading it!  I had thought your pace was very consistent based on the text messages I was getting.

  20. How have I not commented on this yet??  I just took a major blog hiatus and I swear I had read this, but I couldn't find my comment...

    6 minute PR, SO SO proud of you!!!!  Congrats Terzah!

    Anyway, I LOVE your even pace for this race.  You are SO right about the even pace and steadiness being a huge key.  That was really big for me as well.

  21. Terzah, you rock!  Huge congrats to you!!  Great race report - I felt like I was there with you.

  22. I read this awhile ago, but with my laptop in the hospital, it was hard to reply.  So sorry about that!  I was laughing that you threw away that ugly sweatshirt, how sad is that!?!?   I still have mine if you feel like you're missing your best friend and want it back, you are certainly glad to have it!!!  :)

    You did great, girl - I can't even tell you how proud I am of all you have accomplished last year - Houston was the icing on the cake!  BQ, here you come!!