Now that it has been almost two months since I ran the Houston Marathon, I have finally gotten around to blogging about it. Actually I have been working on this post for several weeks. It has taken me a while because there is a lot to write.
My quest to run a marathon started about this time last year. My best friend and running partner, Lindsey and I casually joked about running the full marathon. We did a half marathon in 2010, and I remember saying after the half, I think I could do a full...but I would never want to... However the running bug bit and with a little persuading, Lindsey convinced me to go for it.
So last May, the time came to register for the Houston marathon. Actually, we didn't register for the race, we signed up for the lottery. I really didn't expect to get in. Somehow, we both got in. I remember getting the email in June that I had a spot in the marathon. Now I was thinking, darn I actually have to do it!
Lindsey and I started training in September and we followed an online marathon training guide. Every week the guide told us how many days we had to run (usually 3 short runs, 1 long run and 2 cross training days.) For the first couple of months we followed the plan pretty well, however by late November we were just doing the best we could. The one part of the training plan that we always stuck to was the long runs. Every Saturday morning we met up for our weekly "long runs." When we first started training our long run was 4 miles. Each week we added a mile. We reached our long run training goal of 18 miles the week before Christmas. The last two weeks before the marathon I began to taper my runs back down in order to allow my body to be rested. The week before the marathon I did one 13 mile run, one 5 mile run and one 4 mile run.
Now that it is all over with, I can reflect and say that the hardest part of running a marathon was the training. When I first started training I was pretty excited about my long runs each week. However, by the time December got here I was sick of running, and I still had a month to go before the marathon. Throughout our training, Lindsey and I averaged somewhere between and 12:30 minute mile and a 13:00 minute mile. Yep, we are slow. But this was important for us because the Houston Marathon is timed. Runners have 6 hours to complete the race before they reopen the streets and close the finish line. If you don't finish in 6 hours or less you don't get a medal, you don't get the t-shirt and you are not an official "finisher." This was my greatest fear. To have spent the last 4 1/2 months training for a race and not finish! I was not going to let that happen. But at my SLOW pace I knew I would be cutting it close and there would be very little time for stops or bathroom breaks, and there was really no time for walking. I needed to maintain my slow jog for the entire 26.2 miles.
By the time the week of the race arrived I felt ready. By now I just wanted to get it over with. I had everything in order for the race day: comfortable shoes and wicking socks, race outfit (running shorts and tank top), hand held water bottle, heart rate monitor, 3 packs of peanut butter GU, 2 extra strength Tylenol (to be taken around mile 13) and most importantly a new 6 hour play list on my iPOD! What I was not ready for was the weather! In all of my 4+ months of training, there was not one single day when the weather was as bad as it was for race day. As much as I hated to change up my routine, I was forced to. So I decided to add a fleece "throw down" sweatshirt and gloves to my running attire and hope for the best!
The night before the race I guess my nerves started to get to me. Not only was I anxious about the race, now I was anxious about the weather. So I laid in bed all night wide awake. I didn't want to take any sleeping aids because I was afraid of how they might affect me in the morning. I tried counting sheep. Nothing helped, I was not going to sleep, so I just laid in bed and tried to "rest" and not worry too much about the fact that I wasn't sleeping. Since I never fell asleep, I didn't have any trouble getting up at 4am. Lindsey and I were dressed and ready by 5am when we left for the convention center. It was about 5:15 am when my husband dropped us off in front of the GRB. At this point the temperature was about 45 degrees and there was a light misty rain. I remember thinking, this isn't so bad, it could be worse...
It was probably about 5:30 am when we got inside the GRB Convention center. We checked our gear bags and found a spot on the floor amongst the 24,000 other runners to wait until we had to head back outside and line up at the start line. At 6:30am everyone started to make their way outside, so we followed the crowd. As we passed through the doors of the GRB on to the cold, dark street, I felt the rain hit my face. It was no longer a light mist, now it was a heavy mist. Still, it could have been worse.
This is when my first moment of panic came. Lindsey and I were following the crowds trying to figure out where to go. There were 2 races (the half marathon and the full marathon) and each race had 3 "corrals" that lined up at the start lines. So essentially there were 6 different start lines, and 24,000 people scrambling around in the dark. Somehow, within seconds of leaving the convention center, Lindsey and I got separated. She was right beside me one second and the next second she was gone. As soon as I realized she was not with me I stopped right where I was to try and spot her. I stood in the middle of the street, in the freezing rain, while thousands of strangers walked all around me and literally spun in circles trying to find her among the crowds. It felt like I stood there for 20 minutes, but it was probably more like 2 minutes. Once I realized that she must have kept walking I decided to do the same and head for our start line and hope to God that I would find her when I got there. So at this point the race hasn't even started yet, and I am walking to the start line in the cold, dark rain all by myself! I wanted to cry, but I didn't. Once I got to my start line I tried looking for Lindsey again, but there were literally thousands of people all around me. The saying, it was like finding a needle in a haystack came to mind. At this point I was thinking I would try to meet up with her somewhere along the race route. Fortunately, from among the chaos I heard a familiar voice yell "there you are!" I looked over to see Lindsey running straight towards me. I am always happy to see my BFF, but at that moment I was beyond happy and so relieved to see her!!! We both breathed a big sigh of relief. We hooked arms tightly (we were NOT going to get separated again) and began to make our way to the start line. We could hear the announcer talking and the countdown to the start began. We heard the gun fire and we knew the race had begun, but we were still a good 10 or 15 minutes from getting to start ourselves. On our way to the start line, we passed some port-a-pottys and we took advantage of the opportunity for a last minute bathroom break. That was a great move, because we both made it through the entire race without another bathroom break.
About 15 minutes after the race officially started, Lindsey and I crossed the start line. It felt good to start moving because it was COLD. The rain was still steady but not too heavy. The weather was bad, but still it could have been worse. A lot of people were running with garbage bags on, I wish I had done that too. Somewhere within the first mile, the rain got heavy. I guess the cold, and the rain and the adrenaline really got us moving because we finished the first mile in 11:40. Somewhere during mile 2 the rain went from heavy to torrential downpour! At this point it didn't matter if you were wearing a rain coat, a trash bag, or just a t-shirt. Everyone was soaking wet!! The part that worried me the most was the fact that my shoes and socks were soaked. It felt like I had jumped into a swimming pool with my clothes and socks and shoes on! The heaviest rain was from mile 1 through about mile 6. We just kept trucking along hoping that rain would eventually stop. Around mile 6 the rain started to slow down. By mile 8 or 9 the rain had completely stopped. Although the weather was terrible, in hindsight I can say that if it does have to rain during a marathon, it is best if it rains in the beginning. In the beginning of the race I still had plenty of energy and stamina and no amount of rain could slow me down. Had the heavy rain started at mile 15 or 20 my outlook may have been different.
By the time we reached the halfway point of the race the rain had stopped, the crowd was considerably less (all of the 1/2 marathoners were done!) and we were beginning to dry out. I ditched my throw down sweat shirt somewhere around Hotel Zaza. There was a little bit of sun coming out, but it was still very cold. My hands were the coldest. When I went to take my Tylenol at mile 13, Lindsey had to get the pills out for me because I couldn't feel my hands. Perhaps I should have thrown down my wet gloves when I threw down my wet sweatshirt, but for some reason I hung on to them for the entire race. Wet gloves seemed better than no gloves!!
We continued on our race, maintaining a good pace, eating a little GU, drinking lots of Gatorade and taking in our tour of Houston. I particularly enjoyed running through the neighborhood of Tanglewood. Admiring million dollar homes is a great distraction while running a marathon! There were also lots of great supporters and spectators along the race route. It was great to see complete strangers standing outside in the cold and rain cheering us on. Our fist names were on our bibs so people would even call us by name. Every time I heard "Great job Ashley, you can do it" I would look up and see a nice fellow Houstonian cheering for me. The spectators were wonderful and so were the volunteers. There was always someone offering us more water or Gatorade. There were volunteers offering pretzels and orange slices. I even saw volunteers helping runners apply Vaseline to their arms and legs to prevent chaffing. (Thankfully, I never needed Vaseline.) And they did it all with a smile. The spectators and volunteers really were top notch, and next year I would like to return the favor and volunteer myself.
Eventually we made it to "the wall". Mile 20 is commonly referred to as "the wall" because it is when runners feel like they have hit a wall and many will tend to quit at this point. For some reason, when I saw the sign "welcome to the wall" I got a second wind. I was feeling great, no aches or pains, just cold and wet (but I was used to that by now.) To me, mile 20 meant only 6 miles to go! So I just kept running! Unfortunately, the wall got to Lindsey and her feet starting going numb. About mile 23 we decided to split up. Linds needed to slow down a bit and I was afraid if I slowed down too I would loose my little adrenaline rush. So we agreed that I would go ahead of her and I would meet her at the finish line. So off I went...
The last couple of miles I was alone, but very focused. I was thinking about how good it would feel to put on dry, warn clothes, and I was also thinking about how good it would feel to STOP running! This was great motivation for me to get to the finish line. I passed a lot of people who were walking. I wondered how could you walk when you are this close? Now is the time to run!! I knew at this point I was going to finish and I was going to get a medal. Around mile 24 or 25 a nice person standing along the route had a bag of M&M's and they poured some in my hands as I ran by. I was starving by now and the M&M's were a delicious distraction as I rounded out my last mile or so. Once I was about half a mile away from the finish I took my headphones off so I could hear the crowds. Just as I was rounding the corner of mile 26 I saw my family, including my precious baby boy, cheering me on. I know I had a big cheesy grin on my face as I waved to them. I was so happy to see them and I was moments away from the finish line. As I approached the finish line I heard the announcer call my name. My months of hard work payed off and I completed the marathon in 5 hours and 32 minutes. It was such a great feeling to finish. I stood just past the finish line and chatted with my family while I waited for Lindsey to cross as well. A few minutes after me Lindsey came through with a big grin on her face. We received our medals, took our official finisher photos and made our way back into the warm and dry convention center.
Once we got inside the convention center we collected our gear bags and got our finisher shirts. I also changed into the dry clothes that I had in my gear bag. We didn't hang out at the convention center for long. I really wanted to get home, take a hot shower and sit down...and that is exactly what I did. As the day went on my body started to feel stiff. I wasn't necessarily sore, just very stiff. The next day I went to the chiropractor and got a much needed massage. By Tuesday morning I was still stiff and I felt like I needed to do something to loosen up my legs, so I went to spin class at my gym. It worked like a charm, I felt great after that and the stiffness was gone. Overall, the recovery from the marathon was not bad at all, I felt good as new by Wednesday.
So in conclusion, the entire process of preparing for and running the marathon was a wonderfully rewarding experience and I could not have done it without my BFF and training partner, Lindsey. Although the training sucked at times, the race day and the marathon itself was pretty awesome. However, at this time I can comfortably say I have no desire to run another marathon again.