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 route...data 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?"
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!!