Last year, I trained for the Aramco Houston Half Marathon. Finishing that race was tough – my head was off in the clouds worrying about future life events. Despite a bad race (for personal reasons, the event itself was awesome), I still finished the race wanting more. I knew a marathon was in my future.
This year I returned to take on the whole 26.2 in my hometown. The week leading up to the race was filled with the usual mix of fear, anxiety, and excitement. When you start thinking too much about the details of running a marathon, I believe its quite natural to panic! All concerns aside, I knew I’d be able to run that last stretch into Downtown Houston and crush that HEB ice cream sandwich at the finisher party. I felt good about my training. And I was excited to tweak my performance from my first marathon in Munich and run a strong race.
The weather forecast for the big day was not looking promising. Nearly 100% humidity and temperatures in the high 60’s to start. Not to mention a small chance of thunderstorms. I don’t really mind running in rain, in a weird way it cements your purpose and dedication. It makes me feel powerful. Humidity on the other hand is my absolute nemesis. Humidity makes it harder for your body to cool down because your sweat isn’t evaporating as quickly, thus increasing the risk for heat exhaustion. Combining your expected exhaustion with some heat exhaustion makes for an unpleasant combination. The head doctor for the Houston Marathon wisely advised everyone to slow down in emails and press events leading up to the weekend. Ok, sure. Just run slower!
Knowing my disdain for humid long runs, I adjusted my expectations from when I raced in Munich. I decided I would find the 4-hour pace group in my Corral B and bunker down with them. Persevere with a group! Easy.
Despite being surrounded by runners and loud cheers at the start line, I felt very alone. There is no faking your way through a marathon and I felt a sense of vulnerability. I’m responsible for my own success or failure. It’s not the weather, it’s not the pace group, and it’s not my race-day outfit. And I believed in myself. A lot of emotions struck me at once and I was overcome with all of them (in the form of a small tear…) just before crossing the start line at 7:05AM. My breathe was short and my chest felt heavy, even for a hellishly humid morning.
I was committed to staying with the pace group. I believed I could do it. That hope began to fade 9 miles later. I kept debating with myself if I should let go of the group. Throw up the white flag. Tap out of the discomfort. I was irritated at this point. Am I going to come away with another, “just enjoy the jog” feeling? I wanted to be triumphant! I’m not competitive, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care. I clearly care a lot if I am even having these internal thoughts! I set out at Houston wanting to run a smart race. And here I am running like a fool.
While all of this fuss was going through my head, some friends from my running club caught up to me. I was relieved to see a pair I could latch onto as the 4-hour group balloons were getting smaller in the distance. As the grip on my lasso loosened, I made the decision to slow it down. I realize now that this seems like a pretty obvious and trivial decision, but at that moment, it felt very serious. And just plain sad.
I made it to the half way point – 13.1 miles – and that took so much more of my energy than I was expecting. I was beat and only halfway. I had friends cheering ahead at mile 20, but at that point I was wondering how I would even get there! I walked for the first time, overcome with negativity and anger at myself. The runners around me checked to make sure I was ok. The camaraderie running deep! Pushing forward, the miles began to pass. Spectators handed out oranges, beer, gummy bears, and even tissues. The sliced cold oranges were refreshing. The crowd went wild (more like a few extra people cheered) when I snagged a cup of buffalo bayou brew. The heart of the city was around every turn and it made it impossible to feel down for very long. The race wasn’t going my way and I was finally feeling ok about it.
Around mile 19 I saw one of the leaders for the 4-hour group (the group was long gone) emerging from a medical tent. He appeared to be fine and walking around! But it was evident that he was either dropping out of the race or going to take it slow to the finish. Pacers for marathons are veteran runners. They have done it all and that’s why they volunteer to pace a huge city marathon. I very selfishly did not feel that bad for myself anymore. I finally made it to my friends at mile 20! Seeing them gave me a boost of energy amongst the running zombies.
And then came the rain. On and off for the rest of the race. The rain was actually refreshing, as were the ice cold soaked sponges the volunteers were handing out. It was only 4 more miles until I would see my mom and brother at mile 24. I was still beat, but my feet were on cruise control. The energy from the crowd is what kept me running. I couldn’t believe how many people were around cheering – it’s inspiring to see the city come alive like that.
Turning onto Allen Parkway was like a beacon of hope. The end is so near. Just outside of the KHOU building, I saw my family! They were worried that something had gone wrong, since my pace had slowed so drastically from the first half of the race. I don’t think I said much (or anything at all), but my smile was evident that I was A-OKAY.
The last two miles were shaky and numbing and in a blink of an eye, it was all over. Four hours and nineteen minutes later, I got my medal and smiled. I walked slowly and caught my breath. I realized I had more energy left than the people around me. Someone actually told me, “you look like you should be more tired!”
As I reunited with friends and loved ones, the happy endorphins were hitting me, but another part of me was saddened. Maybe I didn’t give it my all, maybe I should’ve pushed harder and silenced the voices telling me to slow. Or did I really give the Houston Marathon everything I had and this is just what it feels like to fall short of your goal.
How do you know if you’ve reached your potential? I think that is why there are so many marathoners in the world. You learn a little more every time. Until next year, Houston.