Sunday, January 18, 2009

Houston Marathon '09 - DNS - the non-racing Race Report


Houston Marathons over the last few years to me have marked the beginning and the end of the year. Typically Jan 1 is 90% done with a training cycle so it was not a logical finishing of the year - so the Marathon was the finish of MY year.

2007 Started with a 3:10 and ended with a 2:40 Houston Marathon. I had a stretch 2008 goal in the back of my mind to earn a spot as a local elite in the 2009 Houston Marathon. Right off the bat a surprise master's winner at the '08 Houston Marathon earned me the spot - I just love being on that list forever - true that it was among the slowest winning master's time in the last 30 years - but it was a lightning fast race for me.

2008 Started at that 2:40 - had some truly amazing running and racing that thrills me to reflect on ending with San Antonio Marathon in November. The Cherry on the Cake plan/dream had been to come back to Houston in the best fitness ever for another step change in performance (I was planning sub2:35 fitness and I think I had a good plan to get there although weather likely would have slowed a little)- but that was spoiled by injury.

To make the best of this - I elected to make the Houston Marathon 2009 everything it could be without the race......and it was awesome - let me tell you about it:


Plan had been my Sister and Niece (my biggest fans besides my wife/kids - both have travelled to 2 Bostons and NYC marathon races of mine to cheer) were flying in for my big race and I put them in the 5k Houston race along with my son to give them something "fun" to do while I was off racing. No change in the 5k plans but my plans got modified :-).

I figured I'd soak up all the Local Elite Perks I could - even if I can't run. Thursday night I went to a free dinner :-) and got to socialize with a few of the other local elites - even had them all sign my ITR magazine article that had a little bio on each of us that Jon Walk put together as a souvenir. I also got to spend a little time with the Course Director - Stan - who I run with occasionally up in Kingwood. Fun evening and that Greek Lasagna was good...

Friday I get my sister/niece from the airport and really enjoy hanging out with them for a while - we hit her with a surprise birthday party as it happened to be her last couple days of the 3X'er so we had to throw a bunch of over the hill embarrassment at her :-) and planned out 5k race plans and spectating plans - after all - I knew 20+ runners and was eager to live the run vicariously thru them.

Stan give me a call and invites me to be a part of the volunteer work supporting the marathon as he needs someone to ride in the lead police car ahead of the marathon. At first I was tentative about it - I really wanted to see them finish the 5k - but then after I mentioned to the family it became clear it was such an excellent way to kinda experience the race even though I couldn't run it - I couldn't pass it up - and my Wife/Daughter (designated spectators) promised to take pictures/videos. In fact this was very exciting way to experience the marathon.

Saturday we head down to the expo to grab the 5k packets and I figure since I'm there I'd go ahead and pick up my race packet too. I had to go to a special Elite Hospitality Suite to get it where the family raided the food spread they had layed out and I got to chat with a couple of the volunteers. The Race Packet was very cool - I got a special long sleeve shirt that has embroidered "Local Elite Athlete" and was felt really special when I saw my bib number --- NUMBER ONE!!!!! --- Pretty Cool. While down there I try to hook up with Stan by phone to find out my assignment and he turns around and invites me and all I have with me to lunch - we were all hungry and looking to go for lunch anyway so sounded like a fit. After some confusion getting to the restaurant we find ourself at a pretty fancy Mexican Food Restaurant with what seemed to be the Marathon Committee. We had a great time visiting with the Race Director, Brant, and other organizers of the marathon. I got a major ego boost when the Race Director comes up to me and says - "are you the 4:40 to 2:40 marathoner" - I guess Stan had been bragging on me [being the engineer I felt compelled to correct the numbers - 4:30 to 2:40 :-)]. That mega impressed my wife and sister that some stranger who is head of the Houston Marathon would know something about a me. Absolutely awesome company to visit with for lunch - everyone had a great time. And they even picked up our check and expensed it to the marathon - I really wasn't expecting a free lunch in addition to all the great fellowship - how totally cool!!

I learn my assignment for the Marathon - in the unlikely event the marathon route should be blocked for whatever reason - my responsibility was kinda the last line of defence should all other preparations fail - to make up a new work-around course on the fly that does not make the marathon route shorter - longer is ok but not shorter. Of course this translates to - in the likely event things go as planned - I sit in the back of a car and have no responsibilities whatsoever. Images of having to use this responsibility and leading the race into a dead-end street somewhere filled my mind - that would play interesting on the news :-). To get to the police car I would have to use my elite bib, #1 btw :), to get with the elites and get escorted with them a special route around the crowds to the front of the race.

Night before the race played similar to marathon night-befores. I checked the weather - worried about the temperatures/humidities (sympathy taper madness for those running). To bed early but slept poorly, up in the early hours a couple times. During one of these I noticed I could set up alerts on the website so I set up for more than 20 runners I wanted to keep tabs on during the race to get text updates on my phone. On my own I would have moved the leaving the house up probably an hour but with 3 kids/wife/sister - 5:15 departure was as early as I could reasonably ask.

The Race Weather mid50s and Humid with a mild breeze. Seemed to cool and get drier a little at first but by end of 3 hrs it was low 60s.

Out the door 5:15 - get to VIP parking at 6:10 and need to rush a bit to get to the elite area as they were getting escorted at 6:20. I make it just in the nick of time seeing the elites coming out of the elite area and heading for the startline and I jump in line - since I had my bib I fit right in. I kinda walk next to Sell and Ritz (1st and 3rd American at the Beijing Olympic Marathon) and listen to them talk about their pacing strategies hearing lots of 4:xx mile this and 4:xx mile that. I notice Magdalena who I've been a fan of since I saw her at Boston lead by a ton for most of the Olympic Trials Woman's Marathon. Pretty neat to just walk next to these marathon legends. I only regret a little not getting up to the elite area 30 minutes earlier to hang with them instead of just walking out to the startline - but that's OK - sometimes great things are best in a sample size - although a bit larger helping would have been nice.

Get to the Startline area - I walk over across the front of the startline to see if I knew anyone lined up in the front - I saw one of my running club ladies and chatted with her a little - went back and found my Police car I'd be riding in for the race then just kinda stood around and watched the elite marathoners do their warm-ups. As the race time approached I load up in the back of the cop car (like a criminal). The guys up front were all business so there was little chit-chat thru the wall of plexiglass that separates the back seat which was fine with me - I wanted to just look around and soak it all in - cleaner windows sure would have been nice :-).

Gun goes off - I start my watch and we start rolling. Our car was the leader of the pack. Co-pilot in the front passenger seat maintained radio contact to all the other drivers in the parade of vehicles in front of the race and guided them all with descriptions of what to expect as we approached things on the course. He pointed out water stops, pinch points, turns, people that needed to be moved out of the way, which he had the motorcycle cops deal with, and other stuff like that. Behind us was 4-5 motorcycle cops and a couple Press Trucks. There was too much distance and vehicles to see the front runners most all the race except occasionally I could see the front runners off in the distance. A continual sea of eager spectators lined the streets. I was able to keep contact with what was going on with all the runners I was interested in with the text messages coming in for 10k, 1/2M, 30k, Finish splits. I could see the front group of 3-4 runners, then it was 2 runners by the 1/2 (I recall seeing 62:xx for the half and knew the course record was going down as expected) - then by 30k I could only see one runner running alone. The people lining the marathon route from beginning to end yet again impressed me - this marathon rivels Boston / New York in my mind for crowd support (ok not really to that extent - but not that far off either). By mile 24 we speed up to the finish and the job is done - I bid farewell to the front seat couple and make it to the finishline in time to see Merga finish up the race in 2:07:52 shattering the course record.

Meet up with the family and hear excited stories about the 5k race. My son dogged the first couple miles to stay with my sister/niece but then took off for the last mile running what he believes to be his fastest mile ever (~7 minute) to finish-up the race. My niece was excited to have run the entire 5k without walking and my sister was just happy to have the quality time running with her daughter the whole way. Get some cool video and pictures of their finish - Mom is VERY proud of Ryan taking off and putting down a good last mile (and so am I).

Now I get to play spectator - I had a whole bunch of text messages coming in and had some idea when to expect several of the runners I was watching for. We have some time so we move on away from the hussle/bussle finishline and find some open space around the 26 milemarker and wait for people we knew. Except for the Olympic Trials at Boston - this is the first marathon I've been spectator for so I was kinda looking forward to this different kinda experience of the race.

I almost miss the first guy I was watching for - Wilmer Bustillios - he killed my chip time in San Antonio but lost to my gun time so didn't take the Master's Check because of a late start. He most definately would have made roadkill out of me no matter what kind of dream race I might have run with a 2:32 marathon - his 2nd ever marathon I think - incredible - looks to me like he scored a cool $1900 from 3 different prizes - good for him as the late start in San Antonio probably cost him almost that much in prize money there. The 2nd place local master was Gerardo Mora who came in 2:43. There were a couple surprize out of towner masters in the race that came in 2:39 and 2:41. I suspect a good race out of me I might have got 2nd even considering likely a couple minutes slowdown from the wind/heat .... maybe - I will never know but I like to think so.

I continued watching people come in. I was tracking 3-4 competitors, 8-10 from my running clubs, 4-5 from the running times forum and 3-4 co-workers and got to see many of them come by and give them big cheers. A mix of everything in the results from first time marathon awesome races (2:51 from one guy, 3:07 from another) to a co-worker who came out for just a work-out with Austin being the goal race and surprized himself to get a huge PR and almost qualify to go to Boston (missed by 39 seconds :( ). The good, the bad and the ugly - it was all there. What a way to experience the marathon and I thuroughly enjoyed every minute.

Got home and watched the recorded version. Saw the US dominate the 1/2 - Meb 1st, Ritz 2nd, Magdalena 1st for the Half. Saw the course records go down both male and female in the full. And saw a bunch of people I knew in the recording too.

Great race and lots of fun with my out of town guests.

That's all for now - I'll probably add some pictures later.

Thanks for reading......John.

2 comments: said...

Great report. Heard about the injury, I think, from Rich Fredrich on Friday morning before the press conference.

Don't even remember how it came up.

Saw you before the race up front, but you were moving pretty quick and recognized it was you before it was too late.

I'm confident that I'll be writing another bio on yourself in '10.

Keep up the great work. You guys make my job as a journalist fun to do.

Bill Blancett said...


Great experience. What a great consolation prize, makes having an injury easier to swallow.