Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Race Report: 2012 Aramco Houston Half-Marathon

When I signed up for the Aramco Houston Half-Marathon last year I really wanted to use it as a PR race but that wasn’t in the cards this weekend. First a shout-out to my wonderful hosts, the aunt and uncle of a law school classmate of mine (who was supposed to run too but had to cancel her trip last minute), who could not have been more welcoming (the aunt also ran the race and PRd with a 1:41!!!).

I’ve been battling a cold for the past two weeks so I had B and C time goals in mind. Friday night my flight out was delayed several times so instead of getting in before 9, I got in near 11. By the time I got to sleep it was well past midnight and unfortunately my brain didn’t realize I didn’t have work the next morning because it woke me up around 5:15 am! When I did my 3 mile shakeout run later in the day my legs still felt kind of heavy—not light and fresh the way they were supposed to.

In order to get downtown on Sunday for the start we had to leave by 5 am which meant a 4:15 wake-up and another night of not enough sleep. I had my usual bagel with peanut butter (having had my ritual pancakes for breakfast and pasta for dinner the day before) and we were out the door right on time. We cruised downtown with no traffic and found a spot in a garage by 5:30. At 5:45 we left the warm car and headed over to the convention center. There weren’t any port-o-potties in sight so, after ditching my warm clothes, I headed to the corals for a pit stop. It was a little chilly, but not cold and with clear skies, the weather was absolutely perfect.

Although the half has around 11,000 people, there are only three corals, the A, B, and open corals. I thought it would be a mess but it worked surprisingly well—I managed to get almost to the front. After several running celebrities were introduced, a prayer was offered, and the anthem sung, the gun went off.
In spite of the large number of people I experience no crowding at the beginning. You run immediately over the freeway on a bridge which constitutes the biggest “hill” of the course. To your left, you can see the full marathoners who merge onto the same bridge. At mile 1, I realized I had started my watch too early and for the first time in my running history the course clocks were behind my watch! I knocked out mile 2 in a PR pace but I could feel the effort—the last time I ran a PR, the whole race felt effortless so I already had doubts.

The areas we were running through definitely had a inner-city feel, but after seeing so much suburban sprawl, it was a nice change. We were now running with the marathoners but the course remained very open. At this point my legs started to feel tired. My breathing was great but my body wasn’t giving me the speed I asked for. My pace didn’t change too much for the next couple miles, but I was having serious doubts since nothing felt right.

Just after mile 5, we turned onto what is essentially a long straightaway that lasts for 4 miles. I began asking myself if I shouldn’t just slow down and treat the day as a long run. Nevertheless, I kept going, reminding myself that I was still on track for my C goal and that my B goal was not impossible.
Because of an out-and-back spur, at mile 7 you start seeing faster half-marathoners running towards you on the other side of the street. At this point I began counting the minutes until I would may the turnaround and join them. Around mile 9, just after the turnaround another guy was running right beside me. I picked up the pace a little to match him as he increased speed and stuck with him. He told me I was doing great and I returned the compliment. He definitely kept me moving faster than I would have on my own.
Just before mile 10, the course makes a right turn onto a parkway and begins heading downtown. From this point onward, I had one goal: finish! I lost my supportive friend somewhere along the parkway but I tried to keep up my own pace. Thes were slower miles but with the downtown skyline drawing me in, I found more energy than I thought I had.

Finally, I could see the convention center which signaled the finish line. I knew I would meet my C goal with no problem but I still tried to speed up when I saw the 400 meters to go sign. I crossed the finish in 1:24:37, my slowest time since 2009, but felt great about it. I had run the race without throwing in the towel and had a great time overall enjoying the spectators, the other runners, and the city itself. I hope to return next year for a second chance at this race!

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