My good and faithful friend Keith was again my support person, picking me up at my house, clear on the other side of town from where he lives, and driving me to start line, where I hopped out of his car with the few last words of encouragement from him and my assurances that I'd see him at the pre-designated meet-up spots along the route.
It was cold - about 40 degrees - but perfect, with temperatures remaining in the 40's throughout the morning, very low humidity, and clear sunny skies. This is all in sharp contrast to the weather of the previous 7 days. Record-breaking low temperatures in the high teens and low twenties gripped the Houston area for several days. Then a warm-up that brought rains into town near the end of the week, right up to Saturday before the race.
Time passed quickly as I waited in my designated corral for the race to start. The first wave of runners took off at the 7:00 AM gun, the second wave 10 minutes later. I don't care what anyone else says, the first four miles of this route have some hills. Not big hills, but long inclines that will take the starch out in a hurry if done too quickly. Within the first half mile is the long steady 1 mile incline up the Elysian Viaduct. Three miles later the bridge up and over I-45 is deceptively long. Then there's the 1 mile long incline along White Oak Bayou into the Heights district of Houston. It's flat and smooth through the heights and back toward I-10 where the route dips sharply under the overpass and back up the other side. It's steep but short. Then it dips again to go under Hicks Street and then a railroad bridge, and this uphill is longer and steeper. The route is then mercifully flat through the Montrose section of Houston. But then there's the first mile on Allen Parkway, headed back toward downtown. A long gradual incline, not even noticeable by car, seems to never end when running it on foot. I know from running the full marathon several times, that the killer hills are the Westpark bridge just west of Weslayan, and the long killer incline on Memorial Drive east of I-610.
Friend Keith was waiting for me at mile 5 at the corner of Michaux and 11th in the Heights, camera in hand. While he waited, he caught the front of the pack, the elite runners, as they streaked by. First the half-marathon elite runners, then the full marathon runners.
He was there again at mile 8 at the corner of W. Gray and Montrose, again with camera in hand, as well as a banana and some GU for me. We half-marathon runners continued south on Montrose for another mile, turned around and came back up the other side of the boulevard which gives all spectators a second chance at seeing friends and loved ones slogging along. For Keith this meant grabbing a donut at Christi's Donut Shop and then easing across the road to the other side to wait for me at the 10 mile marker.
I'm home free at this point, with only 3.1 more miles to go, so a wave and "see you at the finish" and I didn't even slow down. It's a thrill to run along Allen Parkway, the Houston Skyline in front of me shining in the early morning sun, and knowing that I'm on the home stretch. Running the half marathon gives me a unique opportunity to run along side (be it ever so briefly) the elite front-of-the-pack full marathon runners as they pull ahead of me quickly toward downtown and the finish line.
The crowds this year were phenomenal! Larger than I've ever seen before in the 8 years I've been running this event. All through the Heights and along Montrose the spectactor crowds were heavy. Coming into downtown the crowds grew until they were several people deep along the last 1/2 mile of the route. The noise was deafening as I neared the finish line. I hope they all realize how encouraging and uplifting that is to hear!
The bands were just super, providing non-stop entertainment all along Studemont and Montrose! The best was the DJ stationed somewhere near Alabama. His commentary was great! The Cancare ladies in their yellow foam BIG HAIR wigs were there, as they always are, near the finish line. And those Biker Chicks (ConocoPhillips Rodeo Run) at the 10K mile marker are the cat's meow!!! Lotsa noise goin' on!
Such a great feeling to cross the finish line feeling good about the day, the run, my physical condition...just everything!