Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Hard-Earned Finish This Time

I'd like to say that I was well-prepared for this year's Houston half-marathon, but I wasn't.  In fact, things were looking so dismal that I wasn't even sure I'd make the effort at all.  My running had dwindled to none at all the whole month of November because of a chest cold, which left me very little time to get it back on track, especially with the holidays looming between my ability to train and race day.

I did the best I could.  But right up until marathon week, I still had doubts.  
It took some self-convincing to even drive down to the Fitness Expo on Friday to pick up my race packet.  I browsed the vendors half-heartedly.  Bought some logo wear at the official marathon gear booth.  But the energy in the exhibit hall got me psyched.  It reminded me of all those years I'd been doing this event...the full marathons, the half marathons...and how good it felt to complete it.
Bill Rodgers and Joan Samuelson

And that's really all it took to make my decision to do it.

So I set a goal for myself to run the first 9 miles - where the route turns back toward downtown and the finish line - and would then give myself permission to walk as much as I needed, those last 4 miles.  This decision actually removed a huge burden.  I wouldn't put pressure on myself to do well...just finish it.

Saturday was an easy day, which gave me some time to figure out the best way to handle driving myself up to the start line.  Past years I've had someone drive me there, meet me several places along the route, and then meet me after the race to drive me home.  This year I needed to figure this out for myself, figure out a solution for carrying the car key with me, carry some cash, my drivers license and insurance card - both car insurance and health insurance.  I didn't want to leave a wallet or purse in the car as temptation for thieves.

A small, thin lanyard solved the problem of the car key.  It was safely tethered around my neck and the weight of the key carried inside my jogbra in my "cleavage."  The insurance cards and drivers license, along with my cellphone, were locked in the center console of my car.  Some folding money was tucked in the sweatband of my hat.  My PowerGel, normally taking that cleavage space, was instead pinned inside the waistband of my shorts.  This was actually a good solution and I think I'll continue to do this in future.

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The alarm was set for 5:00 AM but I woke early and was up and moving by 4:45 AM.  A bowl of Cheerios, brush my teeth, pull on my running clothes and I was ready to gather my things and head out to the garage and get going. 

Parking turned out to be painless.  Into downtown, onto St. Joseph Parkway, right onto San Jacinto St, right onto Leeland and one block down, there was the perfect parking lot at the corner of Leeland and Caroline.  The worst part was arriving there more than an hour before race start.  And it was cold...below 40 degrees.  I stood in my assigned corral and froze and shivered until the gun went off.  Then, of course, being in the 3rd corral, we all still had to wait another 10 minutes before the mass of runners at the back of the pack were able to move forward toward the start line.

So much was improved this year for the race!  The race organizers added a third corral for the runners.  They added huge pace signs, which greatly improved organization of the runners within the corrals.  They changed up the finish line, the entrance into the Convention center after the race, and the layout of the various post-race stations inside the hall, which really made the post-race experience stress-free and so much easier!

I truly surprised myself by making it to mile 9 without walking, except for brief walks on the uphill portions, which I have done the last couple of years anyway.  At the turnaround near the 9 mile marker, I made the turn and then started to walk, until the 10 mile marker.  This point of the course begins a long gentle downhill stretch toward Allen Parkway.  One of my own rules for running is to never walk on the downhills. 

Gravity is our friend when it comes to running.  So I picked up the pace and ran all the way to Allen Parkway, down the entrance ramp and along the parkway until I reached another short gradual uphill.  I was losing some steam but at this point, was surprised I'd been able to run as much as I had.  I wasn't disappointed in my performance in the least. 

I managed to break into a run again, once past that little rise in the road, and ran into downtown and the last mile.  This stretch always kicks my butt, no matter how well I'm trained, or whether I've just run 25 miles or 12 miles.  But then, as I got within 3 or 4 blocks of the turn to the finish line, the noise of the crowds got me going again toward the finish line.

Another finish, another finisher's medal.  And a decent time - better than last year's - all things considered.


post-race lunch!

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