"It's a treat being a runner, out in the world by yourself with not a soul to make you bad-tempered or tell you what to do." - Allan Sillitoe

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Better late than never Houston Marathon report (including watching the US Olympic Marathon trials)

I don't know why it has taken me so long to do this, but better late than never, here is a bit of a recap of our trip and the Houston Marathon.

We left Perth on the Monday and arrived in Houston on the Tuesday evening having flown on Emirates via Dubai.  About 25-26 hours flying and 4 hours in Dubai.  We went out that evening to the local Chinese restaurant and then crashed although Rox and I were awake pretty early the next morning.

Our hotel was in the Downtown area, 2 blocks from the Toyota Centre where we went to watch the Houston Rockets play on the Friday night which was Rox's birthday and about 4 or 5 blocks from Discovery Green where the Olympic Marathon Trials expo was on and where the Marathon started and finished.

We had a pretty quiet time in Houston.  Our major outing was to the Johnson Space Centre just outside of Houston on a bitterly cold day.  The temperature was in the 30'sF so about 1-2C but with a cold wind as well.  We went on a tour which was in an open shuttle bus and it was close to the coldest I have ever been.  Still a very worthwhile experience and we got to see a lot.  These are only the photos from my phone so I may add some from our camera in another post including the Mission Control Room that was used for the Apollo missions.

This is the prototype of the Mars Rover being developed for the manned trips to Mars.
Probably the highlight for Sammie was the ice rink that was in place at Discovery Green.  For $10 you got skate hire and skating.  She ended up going four times and really enjoyed it.  She was very good after the first session and is keen to do more.

Sammie skating at Discovery Green
I ran three days in Houston, but didn't run the day before the marathon as I didn't wake early and also felt a bit self conscious about running around the streets downtown at the same time as the elite runners were warming up for the marathon.

I had already seen quite a few elite runners out running along the Allen Parkway on my morning runs including Shalane Flanagan (Nike), Sage Canaday (Hansons Brooks) and Emily Harrison (Adidas/McMillan Elite).  My main run before the marathon was on the Wednesday - approx 15km in 65 mins including 3km @ 3:50/km.  Was supposed to be 3km at marathon pace (3:54) but the 3:50/km felt effortless and I was starting to feel like I was in shape for a good run.

On the day before the Houston Marathon, the Mens and Womens US Olympic Marathon Trials were held on a loop course 1 x 2.2 mile then 3 x 8 mile.  This was my first experience of watching world class marathoners as a spectator (other than seeing them running past me in the other direction at Boston and Gold Coast) and I absolutely loved it.  Our hotel was close to the narrowest part of the loop and so Rox and I were able to walk basically the length of one block and see the runners go past twice per loop.

Before the race started we saw Benita Willis (who ran the marathon the following day, finishing 2nd and qualifying for the London Olympics) and Nic Bideau.  Benita was doing some strides after her morning run.

The Men's race started 15 minutes before the Women's race so they completed their 2.2 mile loop and were heading out on the first of the 8 mile loops before the Women started.  Ryan Hall took it out from the start and really broke things up from the start.

The photo below was taken at the start of the first 8 mile loop and you can see the gap that has been opened up from the chase pack after only 2.2 miles.

Lead pack after the first 2.2mile lap

Chase pack after 2.5 miles including Andrew Carlson, Jason Hartmann and Mike Sayenko

Hansons runners in chase pack

In contrast to the Men's race the Women's race was a very slow start in a big congested group although the main contenders made sure they were all to the front of the pack.

The same lead pack was together in the Men's race after 10 miles (Hall, Keflezighi, Abdirahman, Ritzenhein, Trafeh -photo below)

Here is a video I took on my phone as the Men's lead pack set off on the second 8 mile loop (10.5 miles in to the race)


Womens' lead pack including Davila, Kastor, Flanagan, Goucher and Hastings
Unfortunately, the rest of the decent photos are on the camera not my phone so I will need to add them later.

Took it very easy for the remainder of the day on Saturday and we went out for an early dinner to an Italian restaurant (actually the same chain of restaurants as the one we went to in Boston the night before the marathon in 2009).

Race started at 7am on Sunday so I was up at 5am for breakfast - an Up and Go which I had brought from Australia as well as a banana and Gatorade.

The start was close to the Exhibition Centre where there was a massive indoor area where you could relax before dropping your gear and walking about 500 metres to the start (maybe a bit more).  I went for a bit of a jog after I had found the start corral and that it was not too busy yet but really spent most of my time sitting and waiting.  I was warm enough because I had a warm top to throw away before the start (actually an XXL 2004 Boston Marathon top that I had bought at the expo for $10).

Didn't get right to the front of the corral and as result had a bit of a slow start.  Had to do a bit of dodging and actually stepped up about a foot and ran along a concrete traffic barrier as we ran along the Elysian Viaduct.  First km was 4:00 flat but it opened up a bit after that and I was able to get on pace pretty quickly so that by the time we got to 5km, I was right where I needed to be pacewise.

By the time I got to around 10km, I was running with a guy who was also wearing all Saucony gear (Orange Vizi-pro) and who said he was hoping to run 2:45 but by the time we got to about 15km he had dropped off the pace.  I then got into a group of three and we ran together past half way before one guy dropped off.  The other guy and I ran together for another few miles, including over the only significant hill on the whole course which was a large bridge, before he picked up the pace and dropped me at around 18miles.  I considered going with him but there was still too far to go and I had had to work hard a few times to stay on my 3:53/3:54 a km pace.  What was very handy was that each mile marker, they had someone calling out what your current overall pace per mile was.  I know sub 2:45 was 6:17/mile so it was reassuring to hear 6:15 when I knew it had taken me a few extra seconds to cross the start line.

My basic approach was to stick to my pace as if I was running 42 x 1km with no rest.  So if I noticed that my pace was dropping, I picked it up until I was back on pace.  I figured there would come a time when I picked it up as much as I could but couldn't get back on pace but luckily this wasn't until around 40km.

There is a Runpix site which provides some graphical results and race stats and it shows that over the last 4.5 miles I passed 7 runners and none passed me.

It must have been with about 5 or 6 miles to go that one guy came past me like an absolute train but other than that I can't think of anyone passing me after halfway.

At about 20 miles you hit the part of the course where you run through Memorial Park.  This was a very nice section, even if there were lots of signs up saying "Welcome to the Wall".  It was around here that I took my last Science in Sport (SIS) gel although I did still have another one on me.  I had taken one at 50 mins, 90mins and this one at around 2 hours.

I was still feeling strong but not strong enough to run any quicker than I was as I was at my limit maintaining my pace.  Not long after we came out of Memorial Park, and found our way onto the Allen Parkway.  I had run along here in the days leading up to the marathon so knew exactly how far it was to go and could visualise it in my mind.  What was different though was that where my running along here had been up high, now we were running down in the freeway itself which involved underpasses where other roads went over the top.  It was like about 4km of rolling hills which I didn't really appreciate at that stage of the race but it actually wasn't much at all.

My pace dropped to around 4:00/km as the course went into Downtown Houston.  There was a bit of headwind here as the skyscrapers created a bit of wind tunnel.  I recognised the street we were on from my earlier runs and knew that it wasn't far to go.  I picked up a couple of runners with about 1km to go and then as I increased my pace as much as I could as we got to Discovery Green, I picked up another couple over the last 300-400m.  I actually finished pretty quickly with my Garmin showing that I covered the last 300 or so metres at 3:37/km pace but as this not particularly flattering photo shows, I was pretty pleased to stop running.

Photo from Houston Chronicle website
The organisation of the Houston Marathon was flawless.  In fact I would say that it was the best organised of the marathons I have done mainly because of the way they looked after the runners.  As the finish was back at the big exhibition centre, the runners went back into there to collect gear.  I was able to walk straight in to get a massage which was very thorough, about 25 mins on my legs.  I then went to a large area which was set aside for getting changed, changed and easily found the family in the reunion area.  Then I was able to go back into the area set aside for the runners and enjoy a full breakfast.  I received a normal t-shirt for entering, a technical running shirt for finishing along with a medal and a glass beer stein.

Below is the link to my Strava entry on the run which shows my kilometre by kilometre splits if you go into it.

The day after the marathon, it was on with the remainder of the holiday to Orlando, Florida and Walt Disney World and the Universal theme parks.  We stayed on the resorts which worked out very well, especially at Universal where we got early entry (one hour before) and Fastpasses which allowed us to skip queues.  Universal's Islands of Adventure is where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park is and was a real highlight of the trip.  The only downer of the whole holiday was that I was bit crook on the first full day we were in Florida after Continental Airlines allowed a sick passenger (who happened to be sitting next to me on on the plane) to fly.  He was late boarding and started throwing up before we had even pushed away from the airbridge.  Unfortunately, it seems that not delaying the flight by having to find and offload his baggage was more important than the health of other passengers.

Sammie and Ben in front of Hogwarts

The Blues Brothers perform at Universal Studios backlot
After Universal we went to Walt Disney World where we stayed at a resort called the Wilderness Resort.  It was a massive hotel but we didn't spend much time there as we continued our theme park exploration.  That was probably the one thing we got wrong in our planning, we didn't program in any real rest days.  From the day after we travelled to Orlando, it was non stop theme parks for 7 days straight.  We did so much walking, especially at Disney where the parks were bigger and in particular at Epcot which was the last one we visited.

Fireworks at Disney's Magic Kingdom

The totem pole in the incredible foyer of the Wilderness Lodge

I only realised when we were on a stopover in Dubai on our way home on Australia Day that it was the Dubai Marathon the next day (Friday).  Not a great spectator marathon and it would have been a bit of an ask to indulge my marathon following any further but it would have been nice to break up the trip.  What a race as well, I think I read somewhere that the average time of the first 10 finishers was 2:05.

I have run every day since we have been back.  Nothing more than an hour and no workouts at all.  Just easy running, one shorter day then one longer day.  I'll probably start doing some pick ups within my runs next week and then maybe a Mona fartlek the week after that.



DB on the run said...

unreal effort mate
im hoping to do gold coast this year, looking fwd to it

Biscuitman said...

cheers Dave. Look forward to catching up sometime soon. I'm running (not racing) the WAMC run up at Kings Park this Sunday.