Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Hot and Humid Dallas Race

I completed my 100 Half Marathons goal a couple of weeks ago. But wait! Why am I still at race #98? Long story short....Every other running club I belong to accepts race distances between 13.1 and under 26.2 for purposes of counting half marathons. But there's this one club that doesn't. The 50 States Half Marathon Club only counts races that are exactly 13.1 miles. So my 25k and 30k races don't count toward earning the 100 Half Marathons award. This is making for a bit of confusion among my running friends who are on all of these different running club pages on Facebook. I post my successful completion of 100 half marathons, but then I post a particular race as being something less than #100 and therein lies the confusion. Yeah...it's been a bit confusing for me too.

So having celebrated race #100 in Little Rock a couple of weeks ago, here I am taking three steps back to say that this weekend's race in Dallas was race #98. Wait....what??!

I chose two fairly local half marathons held within two weeks of each other to knock out these last two annoying races plus the Go! St. Louis race, to reach the 100 half marathon mark (again!) for the 50 States Half Marathon Club. this would let me get two of these done with minimal expense and easy travel. This past weekend was the Dallas Rock n' Roll half marathon. I could drive there in a morning, and I had enough Hyatt points to get a free room at the Hyatt that was right next to the start and finish lines.

It's a beautiful Hyatt with wonderful amenities - including a Starbucks - and gorgeously furnished rooms. I was thrilled to be staying here. The valet parking was a bit of a mess, however, when I pulled up, since it was just a little after noontime and they were trying to get check-out guests cleared out even as early arrivals like me were trying to check in.
Inscription over the entry to Dallas Morning News. Struck
me as appropriate in today's political climate.

My room was ready and I was happy about that. I dropped my bag off in the room then walked the couple of blocks to the convention center to pick up my race packet.

Entry to the race expo

Packet pickup. Not as crowded as they predicted.

On my way back to the hotel I stopped to take photos of a couple of Dallas landmarks.

Very impressive bronze statues in Pioneer Park downtown

Iconic Dallas

There was a 50 States club dinner that night but I just wasn't feeling up to it. Even though it was an easy 1/2 mile walk to the restaurant, the group was going to be fairly large and I just hate being in a big group at a restaurant. What should be a relaxed affair usually ends up being stressful for me as service is usually very slow and what should be an hour dinner almost always ends up being a 2-3 hour affair. To me, that's okay if I don't have to be up early the next morning for a race. So I got room service for dinner and spent a restful evening staying rested and hydrated and getting ready for what would prove to be a very warm race the next day.

I was up the next morning at 6:30 and had my Cheerios and banana as I got ready for the race. The start time for the race was 8:00 AM but Rock n' Roll races use a wave start that for me usually means anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes' delay for my crossing the start line. So I was in no hurry to get to the start line. I left the hotel at 8:00 AM, walked the couple of blocks to the start line and then had about a 15 minute wait as my corral shuffled its way toward the start line.

It was a pleasant 65 degrees but I knew that this wouldn't last long. As the sun got higher in the sky, I knew it was going to get quite warm. I realized too late that I should have brought my hydration belt and a bottle of Gatorade. For some reason, the fluid stations were farther apart than is typical for most races. The first station was at mile 2, the next was at mile 5, a full 3 miles later. Couple this with the fact that the stations from mile 7 and beyond had run out of Gatorade. This did not bode well for me, being so far back in the pack. Add to this the fact that the race route was really awful, going through some of the worst sections of downtown Dallas and was totally devoid of any shade or greenery or trees. But then, that's Dallas....my least favorite - and ugliest - city in Texas.

Somewhere along the race route, before it got too hot

By mile 11 I began to feel the effects of the heat and the lack of sports drink at the water stations. I made sure I was drinking plenty of water but knew this wasn't helping me. The last two miles were almost dangerous for me. I could tell that I was becoming overheated.  As I've neared my 7th decade of life I've noticed that I don't handle heat as well as I used to.

The last mile was across a causeway with absolutely no shade. It seemed to go on forever. Finally, I was across that causeway, making the turn onto Reunion Blvd, and then making the last turn to the finish line. I was in a total brain fog by that point, totally unaware of my surroundings and being driven only by that most primitive, reptilian part of the brain that controls survival. I knew that I was very close to heat exhaustion.

Race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

It was all I could do to stay on my feet. I could feel the bile in the back of my throat as the early signals of nausea began to creep up my esophagus. I was beyond able to take in any fluids and declined the offers of finisher snacks and beverages from the volunteers as I made my way through the finisher chute. I began to feel the characteristic abdominal cramps of heat exhaustion and stumbled my way toward the bank of porta-potties. But it was so hot inside that porta-can that I couldn't bear to stay long enough to let my bowels reveal their intentions. I knew at that moment that my best bet was to head to the hotel as quickly as I could.

Finisher medal...replica of the Reunion Tower globe

I was so out of it when this was taken...I barely remember

So I gave up trying and struggled to make my way the two blocks back to the hotel. I got into the lobby and dropped into the nearest chair in the lobby and put my head back and closed my eyes. I felt like I could stay there forever. But forced myself back onto my feet and toward the elevators, the lure of my room and the bed the only things pulling me along.

This was by far the worst I've ever felt after a race. Yes, I've had a couple of episodes of A-Fib that have slowed me down, but I've quickly recovered once I stopped moving and got off my feet. This was different. My heart rate was fine, no signs of PAC's or A-fib. That's how I knew this was heat-related. The coolness of the room and the bed felt so good! I laid there for more than 30 minutes, occasionally sipping water and nibbling on a granola bar. Thankfully I had a 2 PM checkout, a benefit of being a Hyatt loyalty member.

Finally, I pulled myself together, got into the shower, then dressed, packed, and went down to the lobby to check out and retrieve my car from valet.

As I drove home, I had plenty of time to further recover as I sat in my comfortable A/C cooled SUV. Driving home from any city in Texas on a late Sunday afternoon is always a challenge. Traffic is always bumper-to-bumper the closer I get to Houston. This day was no exception. I stopped in Fairfield for gas and a McDonald's meal, the salty french fries the most perfect race recovery food for me.

Finally I was pulling into my neighborhood. It was almost 6:30 PM and I was more than ready to be done with this day. But I was just so happy to have this race done.

So race #98 - or race #101, depending on who's counting - is done. Race #99/#102 will be the HEB Alamo Half Marathon in San Antonio. It promises to have way more fluid stations and if I'm lucky it will be cloudy/raining that weekend.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

My 100th Half Marathon!

100 Half Marathons!! I knew that this milestone was looming on the horizon several months back. But the problem was that race cancellations - either by me or by the race organizer - were making the actual 100th half marathon a moving target. So when friends started asking me what race would be my 100th, I honestly could not answer that question until it happened.

I wanted the Chevron Houston event in January to be my 100th. After all, it's where I got my start running. But this plan started to fall apart last fall. I cancelled my plans to run a race in Savannah so that I could work the sound booth for our play production. I reneged on the Galveston Santa Hustle in December because of brutal weather. I decided to change registration from the half to the full for the Texas Metalsaw race on New Year's day. Then the Mississippi Blues event was cancelled in early January due to an ice storm. The target kept moving farther and farther away as races were falling off of my calendar.

Finally the dust settled and I could see that a small little late-February race that I'd registered for in the Houston area might end up being my 100th. I wasn't thrilled with that prospect.  I knew no one doing that race, it's very small, and the thought of doing this little race, crossing the finish line, and then just driving home to an empty house just wasn't doing it for me. So I made the decision not to do this race, even though I'd registered for it.

The next race after that was Little Rock where I'd registered for the full marathon. There were dozens of running friends planning to be at that race. I gave it some thought and concluded that the best thing to do was to change my registration to the half so that this event could be my 100th half marathon. Perfect! I had just 2 days remaining to make that change before the deadline. Phew! Then I posted at the 100 Half Marathons Club Facebook page that this would be my 100th.

Even though I would not be finishing this goal in my home town, at least I'm be finishing it at a large and very well done race event with lots of excitement and lots of running friends.

View from the sound booth....rehearsals

My original plan was to drive to Little Rock. But I was in rehearsals for our next play, which would open the weekend after the race, so I felt that flying to Little Rock would be the better way to go. This way I could fly out Friday afternoon, after rehearsal, and fly home Sunday night after the race, and not be absent from the sound booth.

rehearsal in the morning, Little Rock race expo in the afternoon!

Friday's plan went like clockwork. Rehearsal was done by noon, I drove home, made myself lunch, then left for the airport mid afternoon for my 4:15 PM flight. I was on the ground in Little Rock by 5:30 and to the hotel soon after. The packet pickup expo was still open, so I walked the pleasant distance to the convention center to get my packet and check out the vendors a little bit.

Packet pick up at the expo

Heifer International is one of the sponsors of this race. They had a large display booth at the expo, and two adorable pigmy goat babies that were getting lots of love and attention!

Adorable baby goat!

The next morning - Saturday - I got showered and dressed and out the door to the hotel so that I could watch the 5K race run past the hotel. I had camera ready, searching the faces of the runners for any friends. I did manage to pick one out of the crowd, but didn't see any others, though I knew they were out there.

A son cheering his mom on in the 5K on Saturday

Arkansas History Museum...a great way to spend an hour or so...

Once the runners passed by, I walked back to the convention center with its attached Marriott Hotel with Starbucks to get my much-anticipated cappuccino then went back through the expo again, taking more time to look at the merchandise and visit the many booths promoting half marathons in other parts of the state and the country. Back out and wandering about, I walked over to the Arkansas History Museum, a living museum preserving a small group of original buildings and dwellings. Here I spent a very nice hour visiting with the docents and learning about the history of these buildings and their original occupants.

I was just a block away from the restaurant I'd picked out for our post-race lunch, so I stopped in to check it out in person. It was smaller and a bit more rustic than it appeared on their website, but our group was small, so hopefully this will work out. Next door was Andina Cafe, so I stepped inside, checked out their menu, and decided to stay for lunch.

Back to the hotel, lay out my things for the race tomorrow and relax before meeting up with our 50 States club for dinner at Dizzy's. I wanted to get there early, eat, and get out fairly early. Fortunately the restaurant owner decided that, with our large group, they would just set up a pasta and salad bar and let us eat as we arrived. Easier for us, easier for his kitchen and waitstaff.

Race day morning I was out the door and walking the short 3 blocks to the start line. The corrals were arranged in a very weird way that pedestrian traffic was severely impeded along the sidewalks. I worked my way along with thousands of others toward the back corrals, getting into my corral just moments before the start gun went off. They cleared us through the corrals and to the start line fairly quickly given the size of this race, and once over the start line I could settle into my pace. It was overcast and in the high 40's with light rain the entire time I was out there. I wore capris, a long sleeve shirt, and my favorite cheap Russell Athletic windbreaker jacket with ample pockets. It kept me warm and dry, and I had the hood up over my running hat for most of the way.

Race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

The route was similar to the route when I did this race back in 2012, but there were some changes in the early miles (going in the opposite direction in North Little Rock, which actually worked out better) and then some differences in the middle miles, once back across the river and past the Bill Clinton Library. it still went past the Governor's Mansion (but no governor greeting the runners this time) and then spent more distance near the capitol building which was much better than last time.

Nearing the finish line

Finisher! My 100th half marathon!

Across the finish line, finisher medal collected, I made a beeline down the stairs in the convention center to check out the post-race feed. I didn't take the pasta, but I grabbed some other snack foods, sat and drank a beer, then walked back to the hotel to get cleaned up and go to lunch at Blue Canoe Brewing.

Finisher...100 half marathons!

Celebrating at Blue Canoe Brewing

We had a nice little turn-out, just right for how small the venue was. Good running friend Colleen went above and beyond to bring a festive feel to the post-race lunch, as we celebrated my finishing my 100th half marathon. She made posters and signs, and brought me a little bundt cake for later. She and I will be doing Go! St. Louis Half Marathon together next month. It will be her 100th half, and will be my 100th half according to the Fifty States Half Marathon club criteria, which does not accept distances longer than 13.1 miles, such as my two 25K races and one 30K race.

Delicious little bundt cake and a cappuccino at the airport

I returned to the hotel, packed my things, including all of the posters except the largest, and then took Uber to the airport. I arrived plenty early, enough time to get a celebratory Starbucks and enjoy my little bundt cake.  It was a very quick but very enjoyable half marathon weekend!

I bought a really great beer glass at the expo, so when I got home I poured myself a beer and kicked back to enjoy it!

A really great beer glass!

Next up: Our play performance weekend and then on to Dallas the following weekend to run half marathon #101/#98.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Austin Half Marathon Jumps Onto the Race Calendar

What's this? A private message notification appeared on my Facebook late last month. I opened it to find a running friend from NYC asking me if I would be running the Austin Marathon in February. Well, I hadn't planned on it, but since you brought it up....

My dilemma was this: I wanted my Fifty States Club 100th half marathon to be the Go! St. Louis half marathon in April. Another running friend would be completing her 100th at this race event and it sure would be nice if I could finish mine at the same race. The Fifty States Half Marathon Club criteria for completing 100 halves precludes any distance that is not exactly 13.1 miles. I have completed two 25k races and one 30k race, so these don't count for 50 States Club award. It should be noted here that I also belong to another club - 100 Half Marathons Club - and those alternate distance races will count and I will be completing that 100 Halves challenge later in February.

So when I withdrew from the Galveston Santa Hustle race in December and then had the Mississippi Blues race cancelled on me, I was in a bind. I already had one extra race on the calendar as insurance against just such a thing, but I didn't have two extra "insurance" races. Now I needed to add one to the calendar to be safe. The Austin race would be a good decision.

I got onto the race website, registered for the race and then booked my hotel room through their lodging site. I was, quite honestly, surprised that there were still rooms available at such a late date. And a hotel room just two blocks from the start line at that!

That friend's motivation for contacting me was that he couldn't get into Austin from NYC cost effectively, but he could get into Houston for a very low airfare. I agreed to get him at the airport Friday night and then give him a ride to Austin Saturday morning. It was a win-win situation.

His flight arrived at Houston Hobby just before midnight Friday night and picking him up went like clockwork. I had us at my house before 12:30 AM.  As we drove to the house, I confirmed two things: what time did he want to get to Austin Saturday; and was Starbucks okay for breakfast.

Getting Starbucks breakfast before heading to Austin

We were both up, showered and dressed by 8:30 AM so we got onto the road early, stopping at my favorite neighborhood Starbucks for coffees and breakfast. Then we headed west on I-10 to US 71 northwest toward Austin. Along the way we chatted about races we've done, races we'd like to do, and compared travel notes.

We arrived in Austin by noontime, turned my car over to valet parking, and I let him stow his luggage in my room until he could pick up his race packet and meet up with the friend he'd be staying with for the weekend.
Race expo in Austin

The race expo was a fairly good size, but I wasted no time getting my packet and my race shirt and then going off in search of something for lunch. I found a Thai restaurant nearby and had a pretty good shrimp and noodle dish. It was a short walk back to the Starbucks next door to the hotel, so I stopped and grabbed a smoked caramel cappuccino and sat at one of the nearby tables and sipped my drink while getting caught up on my emails. I considered taking a walk over to 6th Street and just seeing the sights, but I was tired. having gotten only 5 hours sleep the night before, and the lure of my comfortable room and the TV was just too much to overcome.

I laid out my things for the race the next morning, set the alarm on my smartphone, and then ordered room service for dinner. It was an early night for me; I could hardly keep my eyes open watching a movie on TV.

When my alarm went off the next morning, I was still so groggy I momentarily considered just rolling over and going back to sleep. But I couldn't do that. I needed to do this race. I needed to stay on track for my 100th half marathon goals.

So I got up, started getting ready, and ate some breakfast. Remembering the difficult time I had with last weekend's race, I made a point of hydrating before leaving my hotel room. At 6:45 I headed for the elevator, got down to the lobby, and walked out the door of the hotel and toward Congress Street and the start line.

Once the gun went off to start the race, it took me about 10 minutes to shuffle my way up to the start line. It was a large field of runners and we were trusted to seed ourselves within the corral based on our running pace. Once I crossed the start line, I began to dread the long, 3-mile uphill that faced us all right out of the chute. This was a very hilly course and the temps were already in the very high 60's with very high humidity. I slogged along, keeping a steady but tempered pace until we made the turn onto flat terrain at mile 3.

I knew we'd now have a nice 3-mile downhill stretch back into the downtown area. But as we made that turn, there was a water station and a bank of portapotties and the power of suggestion took over. I'd no doubt over-hydrated before the race, hoping I'd not have another episode like I had at the Mercedes half marathon the week before.

That business done, I enjoyed the nice downhill stretch into downtown. Once we crossed the bridge over the Colorado River, our route turned and took us along the river for several miles before it turned back toward the downtown area. There were hills and more hills, and steep hills between me and the finish line. But I kept plugging. I had to make two more portapotty stops before we got to the turn away from the river. Guess I drank too many fluids before the race.

Half marathon route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

At one point, when we were within a mile or so of the finish line, an older gentleman, probably about my age, began to catch up with me on the last, long steep hill. He said, "I'll give you 3 Gu's if you'll let me catch up with you and pass you." I turned and looked at him, and gave him a smile. He complimented me by saying how impressed he was with my steady, fast walking pace. He went on to say that I must walk a lot. That would be an understatement.

We made a few quick turns and then came up along the back side of the Capitol building, worked our way around the the side toward the front, then turned onto Congress Street and headed for the finish line.

Half Marathon finisher medal
Aside from having to make three porta-potty stops within the first 6 miles, I was pleased with my pace and my finish time. I did it and was now just one half marathon away from that benchmark of 100 halves (for the 100 Half Marathons Club) and within three half marathons from reaching the 100 half marathons award with the 50 States Half Marathon Club.

I walked through the finisher chute then down Congress Street, past the various post-race support tents, and then past the food trucks. I had some cash on me, thinking I might want to buy something, but as is my usual post-race routine, the food just didn't look appetizing at that moment.

So I kept walking down Congress to 4th Street, turned left, and walked the last two blocks to my hotel. I took my time getting showered and dressed, and then checked out of the hotel, retrieved my car from valet parking, and got on the road toward home. I know this route very well, having driven it many times, and knew there was a McDonald's in La Grange, the perfect post-race recovery food for me.

By 3:00 PM I was home. My cats were happy to see me,

Next up: Rehearsals for our next production and actors will be going off-script this week. I'll also be working on the promotional poster for another project I'm involved in: the inaugural 5K race in our little community.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Very Good Alabama Race Revisited

As marathon events go, the Birmingham Mercedes Marathon/Half Marathon event is pretty high on the list of must-do races. I first did this half marathon in 2013. It was bitterly cold at the start - temps in the low 20's - and I had considerably less experience with hilly marathon courses. But I did it, I finished the race, and filed it away as one that was worth repeating in the future, once I'd finished my 50 States quest.

So in 2016, as I was planning my 2017 race calendar, I took a look at this race again. A few of my running friends were planning to do this race, so I went ahead and registered for the half marathon on Sunday and the 5k on Saturday.

My calendar gets pretty full this time of year, with races and play rehearsals. If I wanted to do this race, I'd need to be home for rehearsals Friday morning before leaving for Birmingham that afternoon.

With a 2 PM flight departure from Bush Intercontinental in Houston, I was able to attend rehearsals that morning and also avoid the morning rush hour traffic. I arrived in Birmingham at 3:30 PM and had a delightfully charming cab driver take me to the hotel. He'd been a cab driver in B'ham for 30 years, so when we ran into heavy rush hour traffic backed up on the interstate, he whipped over to the exit ramp, took local streets only a cabbie would know about, and got me to the hotel minutes later.

Race expo at historic Boutwell Auditorium
I got checked into my very nice room at the Westin, then walked to the historic Boutwell Auditorium to the race expo and packet pickup. Then it was back to the hotel and to the adjacent coffee house to get a cappuccino.. I was hungry but was only in the mood for room service for dinner. I laid my things out for the 5k race the next morning, then enjoyed my dinner in front of the TV.

5k race day morning! I woke, ate Cheerios and some of the fruit plate I'd ordered the night before, then got dressed for the race and headed for the elevator. It was cool but very humid with chance of rain.

Fellow 50 Stater Kimara a the 5k start line.

I wore capri's, a long-sleeve shirt and a lightweight fleece pullover on top. And the cool superhero cape they gave each of us to wear. It was way too many clothes! I was sweating and hot within the first mile. By the time I had the finish line in sight, I was more than glad to be nearly done. How could I have under-estimated the "feels like" temps for this little 5K race?

5k race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch
nearing 5k finish line...super hero cape flying!

I received my finisher medal - a cute little superhero - then walked back to the hotel. A cappuccino sounded like a good idea. I lingered over my creamy, rich and very good cappuccino in the hotel lobby seating area, then made my way slowly back to my room to get cleaned up.

5k finisher medal and enjoying an excellent cappuccino

Tonight we had a 50 States Marathon Club dinner meet-up at a cool little cafe in the Five Points South area of Birmingham. It's always nice to see my fellow running friends, and this little restaurant was a real gem, suggested by one of the members who's local to the area. They took good care of us and the food was great! An Uber ride back to the hotel and I laid out my things for the half marathon the next morning and then chilled out for the rest of the evening.

Delta Blues restaurant on Cobb Lane in Five Point South.

Lovely patio and entrance to Delta Blues.

Our pre-race dinner group at Delta Blues

Half marathon day morning came too soon. I didn't sleep well, waking up frequently all night long. Ugh! I got dressed, left the hotel, and walked to the start line. I almost immediately spotted some of our 50 States club members and we all posed for a selfie.

A few of us 50 Staters at the start line for the marathon/half marathon

The half marathon route was nearly identical to the route when I did it in 2013. The big difference, however, was the weather. That year it was freezing cold, this year it was warm and muggy. I wore shorts but didn't bring a short sleeve running shirt with me, not expecting it to be so warm. Fortunately, my shirt was very lightweight and I could push the long sleeves up to my elbows. But still....
Half marathon race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

Things were going well for the first half of the half marathon, but when it started to get very hilly, and I started to get overheated, the wheels started to come off for me. I struggled up the long hill mid-course, and then again at around mile 8 or 9, after the long downhill section. Several times I worried I wasn't going to be able to finish. My legs felt like lead, I was beginning to feel dizzy, and I couldn't catch my breath.

I realized I was experiencing an A-Fib episode. It had been years since I'd had this happen. Last time I could remember was during the Flying Pig Half Marathon in 2011. I continued to struggle along, pausing frequently to let my heart rate slow and hopefully normalize. Finally, at the mile 12 aid station, I spotted a cot in the first aid tent and headed that way. I knew I needed to get off my feet. I announced that I needed to lie down and then proceeded to do so.

One of the really sweet and very nice gals working First Aid immediately came over to me. I let her know that I was also a health care professional and that I was overheated and possibly hypovolemic, despite having made a point of regularly ingesting fluids along the way. I laid back, raised my legs to improve blood flow to my head. I ingested one of my energy gels and she brought me a cup of water. Within a few minutes I felt my heart rate slow and stabilize and the dizziness subsided.

Half Marathon finisher medal
Mercedes Half Marathon finisher1

I thanked her profusely for her help and continued on. The improvement was dramatic. I was able to resume my normal pace and make it to the finish line with no further problems. I collected my finisher medal and then walked back to the hotel without even stopping to take advantage of the free meal at the finish line. I'm never hungry immediately after finishing a half marathon.

Back at the hotel, I bought a cappuccino to bring back to the room, where I had food and snacks waiting for me. I'd arranged for a late checkout, so took advantage of that extra time to get my feet up and let my heart rate calm down. It was still erratic, still in a bit of A-Fib, but only sporadically at this point.
A sandwich and a Starbucks at the airport, waiting to fly home

I showered, dressed, and then checked out and waited for the free hotel shuttle bus to take me to the airport. I knew I'd be getting to the airport way too early for my flight, but also knew I'd feel more comfortable knowing I was at the gate in plenty of time. I bought a sandwich and a smoked butterscotch cappuccino at Starbucks and then kicked back with my Kindle Fire and relaxed while I waited for my flight.

Next up for me: A friend is coming in from NYC to run the Austin Half Marathon. He's scheduled to sing the national anthem at the start of this race and I'm excited that I have the opportunity to host him at my house overnight and then ride with him to Austin.

Monday, January 30, 2017

[Sigh] Marathon Gone Terribly Wrong

One thing about running full marathons as opposed to doing half marathons is that the training needs to be good and it needs to be maintained. With this in mind, I sucked it up big time and registered for three full marathons spaced out over three months in the first quarter of 2017.

I completed the first of those three marathons on New Year's Day. I wasn't fully trained for it, but did manage to complete it successfully. It would seem that from here on out, subsequent full marathons over the next three months would get easier to do, since I had a nice mix of half marathons sprinkled in among them to maintain training.

My second full marathon of 2017 was January 29, 2017. It was in the nearby city of Sugar Land, just 30 miles away. But because of the very early optional start time for the race, I went ahead and booked a room at the Hilton Garden Inn through the race website lodging portal. It gave me a very good room rate and still allowed me to collect Hilton Honors points for my stay. The hotel went above and beyond for those of us there to run the race. They had special welcome packets for us, a special pasta dinner the night before, early bird breakfast the morning of the race, and shuttle service to/from the race venue for those who didn't have cars or didn't want to drive. It really was a very nice touch, given that this is not an especially large race event.

I took advantage of the pasta dinner and then returned to my room, laid out my running gear, and set my smart phone alarm for a 3:15 AM wake-up (ugh!).

The next morning I got up, got dressed, ate my Cheerios, then left the hotel, grabbing a banana on the way out. It was just a short 2 mile drive to the race venue. I signed up for VIP parking and as I got into my car, attached the silly window flag they gave us so that parking attendants would know we were eligible for the VIP parking lots close to the start/finish line.

window flag for VIP parking. Interesting....

I got there plenty early and easily parked up close to the action. There were about 50 or so of us for the early start. This early start was provided for those who needed more than 6 hours to complete the marathon. It was dark and very cold at 4:30 AM! At the last minute I added a lightweight fleece jacket, thinking if I got too warm I could remove it and tie around my waist.

Soon we were crossing the start line, with a police car escort to get us out of the U. Houston campus and across a major roadway, through the Smart Financial Centre complex and then, 2 miles later, back across that busy street to the paved sidewalk on University Boulevard.

We ran 7 miles down University to a turnaround point then returned back the way we came. It was very dark, and we were advised to bring our own hydration, as the water stations would still be getting set up as we ran past. The sky began to lighten at around mile 9 and the water stations were fully open by about that same point. At about that same time, we saw the first of the normal start time participants coming the other way on the roadway. For the second 13.1 mile loop for us marathon runners, we would be heading back out on the now-closed roadway and returning on the sidewalk on the other side of the street. This explained the great distances between the porta-potties on our side of the street, a fact revealed only after daylight when we could see the other side of the roadway.

13.1 mile loop, data from my Garmin GPS watch

When I got to within a mile of the turnaround point at the start/finish line, I realized that I just wasn't up to the task of doing a full 26.2 mile marathon. I had that mile to give it serious thought and consideration and to weigh the emotional fallout of dropping out after doing only the half. This is "territory" I've visited twice before and successfully negotiated mentally while doing the Texas Metalsaw Marathon. I now realize that I'm better off not doing marathons that consist of multiple loops!

As I neared the timing mats at the finish line/turnaround point, I actually ran across the mats, and headed back out for the second loop, but within a few yards I decided there was no way I could head back out there. I stopped for a few moments giving myself one last time to talk myself into or out of it. It was so frustrating to be facing this mind-over-matter situation yet again. But this time I just couldn't continue.

So I walked back toward the finish line, carefully avoiding the timing mats, and approached the timing tent to let them know I was dropping out. I was disappointed in myself. As I walked back to the car, I considered returning to the race course and continuing, but just wasn't sure. Hem and haw, hem and haw. Ultimately I realized that if I was questioning myself this much, I needed to just walk away.

Nice finisher half zip top

The good news is that I did complete a half marathon, and I am happy about that. I have three half marathons in February that I'm looking forward to, The Mercedes Marathon/Half Marathon in Birmingham AL, a couple of half marathons in Texas (Austin and Baytown) and will have another chance at the full marathon in Little Rock AR in March.

Meanwhile, I just need to not beat myself up for crapping out on the full marathon this past weekend.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Earning Legacy Status at Chevron Houston

I've now run the Chevron Houston Aramco Half Marathon ten times! This qualifies me for Legacy Status! I'll never reach legacy status for full marathons since I'm no longer able to finish that distance within the time limits, but am happy to have reached this milestone with the half marathon.

The first time I ran the Houston marathon (26.2 miles) was in 2002. I was never a runner until the year leading up to that year's marathon. I cheered a friend at the 2001 marathon and saw the inspiration I needed to salve the grief of losing my husband. I trained for, and then ran the 2002 marathon, raising money for American Cancer Society (ACS). Over the next few years I continued to raise money for ACS through my running.

News article appearing in Houston Chronicle, 2003 (click here to enlarge).

Over the years since my first marathon, I've witnessed all of the changes that have taken place in the sponsorship and management of this race. The first year I ran it, the race was sponsored by Compaq and was called the Compaq Houston Marathon. The next year the sponsorship changed to Hewlett Packard. This began what I would consider the "dark" years of this race, when purse money dried up and the world-class elite runners stayed away.

2002 Compaq Marathon. Near mile 25 on Allen Parkway. Note the near
absence of any spectators. It's totally different today!

2003 HP Marathon, at mile 18.
2004 HP Marathon, mile 21

When Chevron took over as corporate sponsor, purse money returned - big money - and the world-class elite and Olympic runners returned. The race grew in size to the point that getting registered for the race meant sitting at the computer as soon as registration opened and attempting to get registered before the race sold out. This sometimes meant hitting the 'send' button repeatedly as the website was overloaded with runners trying to register. The race sold out within hours! The start of the Chevron sponsorship era coincided with my retirement from work and, at the same time, my decision to stop running full marathons.

It was in these early Chevron sponsorship years that I felt the race event had 'sold its soul' in order to attract the elites. All of the race event's efforts and promotion went toward catering to the elite runners, at the expense of the thousands of everyday runners like me. It seemed to be all about filling up the field, not about making the race experience itself enjoyable for the  'weekend warrior' runners. No doubt this was to attract the elites back to Houston after several 'no purse' years.

The demand for registrations became so great that the race went to a lottery system of entry. For the next few years, I was lucky to get in all but one year. The last year of the lottery, I had reached 5+ year early registration status which granted me early guaranteed registration. The next year they did away with the lottery. By that point there were so many other races to choose from, including an excellent full/half marathon held in nearby Baton Rouge on the same weekend, that the demand to get into Houston had eased up enough that, while the field does fill up every year, it's not a frenzy in the first few hours when registration first opens. This increased competition for runners' money and time was no doubt the reason the registration crush had eased, and for eliminating the lottery system.

But then something changed. It was noticeable immediately, and seemed to coincide with the major change to the race route. Gone was the dreadful start across Elysian Viaduct and through the depressing and shabby 5th Ward neighborhood of Houston. Gone was the sterile, near North Side section and then into the Heights, and gone were the dreadful out-and-back 4 miles on Montrose. The change to safer, more up-scale neighborhoods has meant large numbers of spectators now line the race route.

Chevron Houston Aramco Half Marathon route (data from my Garmin GPS watch)
Old portion of the route is in green.
Now the route departs downtown straight down Congress Street to Washington Ave. It's a start route that's along wide, open streets, through the revitalized Market Square Park area. It totally eliminates the stretch through The Heights, instead including a big section through the River Oaks neighborhoods, down to the Rice Village area and then over to the Museum District.

With this greatly improved route, the miles just seem to fly by. The last two miles down Allen Parkway are one giant party along the median, with all the local running clubs and their tents set up, the cheering, the beer! It's become a much better "user friendly" race than it ever was in those years when I was just becoming a runner.

The race organization got much better. Start corrals were instituted, the finish line organization was much more logical, and race swag greatly improved. The post-race feast for the finishers, put on by HEB inside George R. Brown convention center, is one of the biggest and best in the country.

Welcoming the runners to GRB in 2017

So here I am, in 2017, finishing my 10th Half Marathon, which qualifies me for Legacy status. It will give me guaranteed registration every year, a special racing bib, and other perks. As long as I'm still able, I'll always hold this weekend in January open for this race!

Packet pickup for Chevron Houston races

I drove to GRB convention center on Friday to pick up my race packet, shop the plentiful vendors, and then grabbed a Starbucks at the Hilton next door. The next day I packed my running things, grabbed a Subway sandwich to take with me, then drove back into town to the hotel where I've stayed for the last two Houston marathons.

Visiting the Route 66 Marathon staff at the Chevron Houston marathon expo

Really cool autograph wall at the expo

I got up the next morning, had breakfast in my room of Cheerios and a banana, then walked the mile to get to my corral at Preston and Caroline. It was a short wait before our corral was released to cross the start line. The weather was warm and very muggy, and the stark contrast between the weather and my shorts and short-sleeve shirt this weekend to the low 20's temps and layers of clothing in last weekend's race was comical.

Finisher medal for 2017 Chevron Houston Aramco Half Marathon

12 miles later, as I entered downtown, it began to rain....heavily! I couldn't look up because the rain was hitting my face so hard, and when I did try to peek ahead to check my progress, the rain was so heavy that visibility was only a block or two. Rain was pouring off the bill of my running hat as I crossed the finish line and walked through the chute to claim my finisher medal and work my way into the GRB to claim my very nice finisher shirt. The A/C was turned on full blast inside the GRB. Wet clothes, cold A/C = instant goose bumps! I thought about going through the food line but I was getting very cold and beginning to shiver a little. So I blew off the fabulous food just to get back outside where it was a little warmer.

I hurried to my hotel room, grabbed my bag, and headed to the car, driving home in my soaking wet running clothes. But it sure felt good to sit down, get warm and know that I was done and on my way home.

Another half marathon done! This makes 97 life-time half marathons, my 10th half marathon with Chevron Houston marathon. I am now a Chevron Houston Legacy runner!