Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Chevron Houston-Aramco Half Marathon...Should I Go For Legend Status?

The Chevron Houston Marathon has what they call "Legendary" status, which earns the runner a special race bib and t-shirt plus guaranteed entry into the race each year, regardless whether it's a lottery entry system or an open registration system.  To earn this status, a runner must have completed 10 or more events. That's 10 full marathons or 10 half marathons.  No mix and match.

January 18, 2015 was my eighth running of the Chevron Houston Aramco Half Marathon (I've done the full marathon 3 times). Clearly I am on my way to becoming a "legend!"  But there are so many great races in other parts of the country to distract me from this goal.  The one year that I did not get into the race lottery (and chose not to pay the big bucks to get in as a charity runner) I signed up for and ran the Louisiana Half Marathon in Baton Rouge.  Such a great race, but it's always the same day as the Houston race.  And there are other races that conflict every year, as well.

Running the Houston event this year reminded me once again how much this event has grown and matured over the years.  There was a time period where I'd come to dislike this event.  I'd gained some experience running other races in other parts of the country and, as a result, had other experiences to compare to the Houston event.  For a few years, as the Houston event sought to attract the international elite, they seemed to forget the weekend warriors, to push runners like me aside in their eagerness to appeal to the Olympic athletes and Olympic hopefuls, the Boston Qualifiers and the Boston Qualifier hopefuls. But the experience has changed at least as much as has the venue that hosts the start and finish line of this massive race, much of it for the good.

This year's race was once again a lottery entry.  In June I registered for the lottery on-line and a month later received the email confirmation that I was in.  Even before learning that I'd made it into the race, I had booked a hotel room near the George R. Brown Convention Center, something I'd done the last time I'd run the race.  Even though I live only 11 miles from the start/finish, this was so nice!  It removed the stress of getting there early on race day morning to find parking, of worrying about my personal belongings in the car, of having to carry the car key with me during the race. I could wake up a lot later, walk to the start line just minutes before the start.  Much more calming and relaxing.

So there I was, the eve before the race, sitting in my hotel room and eating a Subway sandwich while watching football.  I had everything I needed: water, snacks, dinner, Cheerios and a banana for breakfast the next morning.

Everything laid out and ready for race day morning

On race day morning, I woke up at 6:00 AM, ate my breakfast, got ready, and then walked out the door of the hotel at 6:45 AM.  I was in corral D and the estimated start time for our corral was 7:30 AM.  It was a beautiful morning, a little chilly but sunny and as I stood in the corral waiting for our start, I worried a little that I might be over-dressed.  If I'm not shivering enough while standing still, then there's a possibility that I will get too warm once underway.

The corrals were very-well organized, each corral occupying its own side street and then feeding onto Congress Street as it was our turn to be released.  Slowly we inched our way up and then we were moving at a good walking pace, making the left turn onto Congress and then, a block ahead, over the timing mats and under the arch for the start line of the race.

For years the race course took us up the Elysian Viaduct and into the Fifth Ward neighborhood of Houston.  It's one of the shabbiest sections of town and there were absolutely no folks out of their houses to cheer us on, despite our running literally right past their doorsteps.

But two years ago the Race Committee changed the course route due to construction.  And the change has become permanent - hopefully.  It is a much, much better first 3 miles.  Much wider, more open, better for the bolus of runners at the start.  The old route suffered from terrible bottlenecks on the Elysian Viaduct.

Race from my GPS watch

I love this new route!  It took us straight up Congress Street, across Buffalo Bayou, and then onto Washington Street - a large, wide road with lots of spectator activity and a great view ahead of the colorful "snake" of runners.  It then turned us south onto Waugh and then west onto W. Gray, continuing into the beautiful and shaded River Oaks neighborhood to Kirby.  Every mile of the route was filled with spectators, lots of support, more portapotties than I ever remembered.

When we started, I stayed toward the back of our corral, knowing it would put me back with the slowest runners and the walkers, but psychologically, it's a big boost for me.  You see, by starting way, way back in the pack, I have nowhere to go but "up."  I pass lots of folks for all 13 miles, which is enormously motivating.  Check out these stats:

I passed a total of 553 runners!!

The miles just seemed to fly by...that is, until we got to Montrose St which, for me, is old and stale news since the old route ran us down this street for 2 miles then turned us around and ran us up this street in the opposite direction.  I grew to become totally sick of this stretch of road in the past.  And yet, here we were again, running this road but only for a couple of miles heading north to get to Allen Parkway and the home stretch.

And the hoopla on Allen Parkway seems to have grown exponentially in the last two years since I last ran this race!  So many running clubs with their canopies set up on the median.  So many people cheering us on.  This is a huge and positive change from years past.  I can't help but wonder if they were forbidden from doing this in the past but have now been given the green light to be here.  It made a huge difference for me personally, as this is the last mile of the the half - and the full - marathon and we can all use as much noise and encouragement as we can get!

And then I was downtown, running in between the skyscrapers, the big cruise-liner shaped convention center dead ahead and easily recognizable even though it was still a mile away.  I was walking by this point but when I spotted the finish line I broke into a run.

At the finish line

Medal around my neck, I was herded with all of the others into the convention center where I made my way to the finisher shirts and claimed my own then started to head for the food but then thought, "Why?"

Finisher medal

So instead, I turned around and walked toward the exit that took me toward my hotel.  Into my room, grab my purse and suitcase, check out of the hotel, into the car and onto the highway that will take me the short 11 miles toward home.  But not before stopping at my neighborhood Starbucks for a Vente cappuccino and a pastry treat to take back to the house!

Selfie taken while sitting in drive-through line at Starbucks


I was very happy with the experience, thrilled with the race course, and pleased with my result.So I had a tough decision to make last week when I got home from running this year's race and saw the email waiting for me, inviting me to take advantage of their early pre-registraton-before-registration-opens-for-the-masses window and sign up.  Only a few spots available for this limited 7-day window and then the window slams shut and doesn't open again until mid-May.  Oh, what the heck!!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

New Year's Visit and a Long Run

My half marathon running has taken me all over the country.  Along the way, I've met up with old friends, with motorcycling friends, with running friends, and with on-line friends I've never before met in person.

While I was in New England this past October, I finally got to meet a few of my on-line running friends.  They were doing the Hartford Half Marathon and the Newport Half Marathon on back-to-back days... just like me.   I ran a good part of that Newport race with a gal named Sandy, another crazy runner trying for all 50 states and from southern California.   As we ran together, we had lots of time to chat, compare notes on past races, and talk about our respective plans for future races.  When she told me she was coming to Houston to run a race on New Year's Day, I knew exactly which race she was talking about and agreed to try and register for that race and do it with her.  But I also knew it was a very small and very popular race and that chances were slim to none that I'd be able to get in.

As I expected, when I had a chance to log online the following week, the race was sold out and had a waiting list, but that didn't deter me from my promise to her to be available to help with transportation and anything else she needed.  So we stayed in touch for the next couple of months and a plan was hatched for me to pick her up at the airport on New Year's eve, stay at the same hotel in Humble TX, and then get her to the start line of the race in Kingwood.

Her flight was right on time into Hobby Airport and I whisked her off to Fairfield Inn where we both got checked in and then headed out for dinner.  I'd found a nice Italian restaurant nearby that fortunately wasn't crowded, no wait to get a table, nice!  It was New Year's Eve and I was a little worried we wouldn't get a table, but not a problem!

Even though the weather was absolutely gorgeous on New Year's Eve day, it deteriorated quickly overnight into cold rain for New Year's Day morning.  We left the hotel at 6 AM and drove to the parking area near the little park where the race start/finish line was.  I was bundled up in layers, but knew that the car would always be nearby should the weather change and I needed to shed/add more layers.
Packet pickup race day  morning.  Sandy on the left

Sandy in her Michigan poncho, waiting for the start

My walk to Starbucks...3 miles round trip.
I got Sandy to the start line, waited for the race to start, then walked the 1.5 miles to a Starbucks in Kingwood Center for a good hot Vente cappuccino and a croissant.  I lingered over my breakfast, knowing it would take Sandy about 3 hours to do the first two laps of the 4-lap marathon course. Soon after I returned to the park, she texted me to let me know she was about a mile away from the turnaround point and would I retrieve her other headband from her race bag.  Perfect timing!

Sandy at the turnaround point, before heading
out on her 3rd loop of 4 loops

She looked cold and wet, but determined to finish the full marathon. She had the option at that second turnaround point to stop running and clock out with a half marathon finish.  But she was still game to finish the full.  So off she went on her third leg of the race.  I had brought my knitting with me, so walked back to the car and settled in for the next hour, knitting, surfing the 'net on my smartphone, reading.  The time flew by quickly and next thing I knew, Sandy was texting me again to let me know she was within 2 miles of the turnaround point.

Every year a different mascot and matching
squeezy toy finisher's award. 

The plan was for me to join her on that last 6.6 mile leg of the race.  I changed into my running shoes and walked back over to the park.  In just a few minutes Sandy arrived and after she took advantage of the beverage and snack foods at the turnaround point, we took off together for her last leg of the marathon.  It was still raining and it was still cold but moving along at a good pace, it didn't feel so bad.  As I expected it would be, the race course was gorgeous!
I ran ahead to capture some enroute photos  of
Sandy on the race course on lap 4

Data from my GPS watch...last of 4 loops of the marathon

Success for her - a giant finisher's medal in her possession - and a good workout for me.  We went back to the hotel where she'd kept her room for one more night.  We both changed out of our wet clothes, she checked out of the hotel and we found a great steakhouse for her celebratory dinner before taking her to Bush Airport for her late night flight home.

Pizza for the finishers!

It was fun getting together with Sandy and helping her do this race.  We have plans to do Rock 'n' Roll Washington DC together in March and hopefully she be able to join me for the Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon in Portland, Maine in July.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Curious Kitty

It was about 10:00 PM last night. I was in bed reading when I heard what sounded like the start of a late-night "wild cat" routine. My fellow cat owners know of what I speak. 

I heard the sound of rustling paper and of my cat running wildly around the house. What the heck??? 

Then I spotted a flash of cat racing through my bedroom, past the foot of my bed, and into the master bathroom. When my cat shot back out of the bathroom and through the bedroom toward the door, I got a better look. Is that something white she's carrying with her? Is she playing with a paper bag? 

The wildness of galloping, thumping paws and rustling paper continued throughout the house. When she darted back into the bedroom, I could see that she wasn't playing....she was panicking. Her favorite hidey hole when she's scared or stressed is a lower shelf in my closet. So I climbed out of bed to investigate. There she was, cowering on the shelf, huddled into the corner, with the handle of a fragment of gift bag around her neck. 

This was around poor Nyla's neck

It took me more than several minutes to find the other half of the bag wedged between my bed and the nightstand. And another more than several minutes to find the balls of yarn that once resided inside that bag. 

Finally found the other half wedged between bed and nightstand

"Hi, my name is Nyla and I am curious kitty."

While I've had other cats that have loved playing in paper bags, In her long 12-year life, Nyla has never shown one iota of interest in doing this.  Boxes, yes.  Paper bags, no.

Wonder what got her attention this time??  So glad this happened while I was home, and not away on a trip.  

Of course, she's now so traumatized by the sound of rustling paper, it may be a long while before she goes anywhere near another paper bag.   But I think that from now on, I'll take preventive measures, just to be on the safe side.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Getting Caught Up For The New Year

I am so behind on my blogging!  But I did take time earlier this week to export my 2014 blog content to Blurb for my annual soft-cover year-in-review book.  It gets "slurped" up into BookSmart but then does require a fair amount of massaging to correct pagination, move photos around to match the text, and select some photos for enlargement on inter-leaf pages.  So this took time over several days to get this done.

I've been doing Blog-to-Books for several years.  When the day comes that I'm 95 years old, it is possible that on-line blogging sites will have gone out of business, my personal webpage will have long been removed, and my digital photos will long be gone from their web hosting site.  Books - diaries really - are all that will be left as documentation of my life.

I had other things going on in this New Year, as well.  One major - and very expensive - project was having my attic fiberglass insulation removed, the attic cleaned up, sanitized, and fumigated, and then having better, "green" cellulose insulation installed at a much higher R-factor blown in.  You see...rats are a real problem here in Texas and, come winter, they seek out any form of warm and dry shelter.  It seems they decided that my attic was most hospitable and had quickly homesteaded up there.  They've also set up housekeeping in a number of my neighbors' attics as well.  It's shocking how small of a hole or space they need to squeeze inside.

Arriving right on time!  8:30 AM sharp and already unloading

The company that did all of this was top-notch from start to finish.  Excellent communications, always professional, always there when they said they'd be there.  I had the estimate done January 2, and the crew of five men showed up January 8, exactly on time, with a courtesy phone call to let me know they were on their way.  They immediately got to work and each had an assigned job to do and did it well.
Three giant generator-driven vacuum machines

The first thing they did was to spray hospital-grade viricide-bactericide on all surfaces in the attic and while that settled and decontaminated everything, they unloaded one of the two large trailers with all sorts of heavy equipment and giant tool cases.

Three workers up there, vacuuming out the old insulation

Then up into the attic they went...three of them with giant hoses and vacuumed out every last shred of that fiberglass.  It was a huge amount of work and generated huge amounts of noise with those monstrous gas generator-driven vacuum boxes out in the driveway.  Five or six enormous HEPA bags were filled with insulation and who knows what else (rats, mice, cockroaches, silverfish, spiders??).
Giant HEPA bag filled with insulation/debris.
A total of five or six of these were filled.

One of the workers caulking, sealing, nstalling flashing and screening
over every nook and cranny around the perimeter and on the roof

While the vacuum extraction of the old insulation was going on, the other two were clambering up and down ladders to inspect every nook and cranny in the eaves, the roof, the stackpipes, vents, soffits, fascias, ridge vents, weep holes and sealed up every possible port of entry with caulk, screening, metal mesh.
Installing the new, better dryer vent

Varmint-proof dryer vent

Once all the insulation was removed, the foreman and another worker inspected every inch of electrical wire and every HVAC duct in the attic for damage.  There were no damaged wires but the did find many areas where rats had chewed through the outer insulation on the ductwork, so the workers repaired all of it with aluminum wrap.

The final step before blowing in the new insulation was to fumigate the entire attic space with a high-pressure blower, which would push the fumigant deep into every little crevice in the attic.  Why fumigate?  Well, most likely, along with the rats came fleas, mites, lice. And with the rats gone, these pests would have no food source and would move downstairs into my living quarters in search of warm blood.  The added plus is that the fumigation would rid my attic of any other insects living there as well such as silverfish (a huge pest here in warm, humid Texas), wood roaches, spiders, and other yucky creepy crawlies, and it would do it far more effectively with the insulation gone than would quarterly visits from an exterminator.

My kitty and I had to vacate the house during this fumigation step.  I had already coaxed her into her cat carrier and placed her in the quiet surrounds of my walk-in closet, so kitty in her carrier and I got in the car and drove to Starbucks for lunch and then lingered over a cappuccino until the foreman called me with the "all clear."

Giant powerful blower to install the cellulose insulation

When I returned, they were already setting up to start blowing in the new cellulose insulation.  The blower and the bales of cellulose were in the second, very large trailer out at the curb.  Two of the crew were still doing the remediation/exclusion work on the exterior of the house, a tedious and painstaking process to close up every single possible entry point.  Who knew that houses were so "porous?"

Over the bushes and through the garage, to the attic goes the cellulose insulation!

The cellulose insulation is treated with 15% boric acid as an insect and rodent deterrent and can only be installed by a licensed exterminator.  I opted for a much higher R-factor that the minimum R-30 that was originally installed.  They even placed rulers throughout the attic to guide them in the insulation installation and to serve in future should I ever sell the house, telling the home inspector at a glance just how much insulation there is in the attic.
Insulation over the dining room and foyer - see the ruler?

Insulation over the kitchen area

It took almost 3 hours to blow in all of that insulation.  Hard work for the two guys in the attic and the one guy "manning" the giant compressor/blower unit installed inside of that trailer.  But in the end, the results are gorgeous, if there is such a thing as gorgeous insulation.  A few rat traps were set just in case there is a straggler or two, and the job is done!

Statement of Compliance

Major $$$ but well worth it.  Even if I hadn't had this problem, I was seriously considering re-insulating the attic anyway for greater R-factor and to upgrade the insulation material.  I would have removed the old insulation, so much of this expense would have been incurred anyway.  But darn!  It's a lot of travel money!  Or new granite counters in the kitchen, or remodeled master bathroom, or...