When I crossed the starting line of the 2015 Chevron Houston Marathon, this was not the story I thought I would be sharing. When I imagined how my race would go, I really only considered two possible outcomes; I’d either push for a new PR of 4:15 or I’d take it easy and enjoy every mile. I trusted my training, knew I’d put in enough speed work and most (but not all) of my long runs had been exactly where I wanted them to be. My legs and body were more than ready, my only remaining question was if my mind was strong enough to see me through 26.2 miles at my goal pace.
I never considered that it wouldn’t be my mind, or my legs that would let me down.
I can’t talk about the race without first mention some of the other fun times I had during the three days I was in Houston. I started marathon weekend with the We Are Houston luncheon at the Grove, listening to Meb Keflezighi speak about his journey through life, running, and winning the 2014 Boston Marathon. I am so grateful to have been invited to attend as an ambassador, many of the things Meb said resonated with me and solidified how I wanted to run my race on Sunday.
I spent the rest of Friday hanging out at the expo with my fellow ambassadors taking pictures, spending money and enjoying the pre-race atmosphere. I finally got to meet Emilia and Carla for dinner, after internet creeping on them for a few years.
Saturday morning, Julie and I ran the ABB 5K at a very sedate pace, I even made her walk once we hit the 4K mark because we’d running at a pace above my prescribed “super easy, slow run.” Julie helped get me through two of my longest training runs in December, so it was nice to spend some time running together just for fun.
After the post race bananas, we headed back to the expo where the other ambassadors and I took more pictures and I spent just a little bit more money. I blame Julie for not helping me resist temptation.
The rest of Saturday was spent carb loading and trying to rest my legs for Sunday and a little sight seeing. I really need to spend more time in Houston, it is a beautiful city. I was also able to spend a little more time with ambassadors Eileen and Lisa before Julie and I headed to dinner to eat even more carbs.
I woke up Sunday morning with a horrible headache after sleeping poorly due to some shenanigans happening on our hotel floor late (..err early?) into the night. I heard people in the hallway as late as 4:00 in the morning which might be an acceptable bedtime for party people but not for marathon runners. In a glorious spark of karma, a group of runners walked up and down the hall about 5:00 a.m. singing loud enough to wake even the deepest sleeper.
In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to the headache and maybe lied down for a bit longer instead of heading over to the convention center early. But I’ve run with a headache probably over one hundred times and never suffered any real ill effect. I hadn’t ever run a marathon with one though.
The convention center was more crowded than I remember it being in 2014 and the lines for the port-a-potties were insane. I didn’t really want to head outside into the slightly chilly air because I’d forgotten to bring a throw away layer. I am the luckiest ever though because Julie walked most of the way with me and I was able to give her my jacket before getting to the corral where people were so smashed together I was plenty warm.
The weather was as perfect as we can hope for in Texas in January, nice and cool with very little humidity. I decided that I wanted that PR and I was going to get it no matter how much it hurt. My brain was finally on board with buying a ticket to the pain train, and I was going to take full advantage of the great race weather.
The first half of the race could not have been much better. I remember thinking how easily each mile was ticking by, how it seemed as though I was hitting one water stop and then just a few minutes later there was another one. I jumped into an empty port-a-potty somewhere between the 10K and 15K mats, when I found a bunch without a line. I nearly tripped all over myself trying to get back out, I’m lucky I didn’t break something.
It seemed as though the entire city was out Sunday morning cheering for the runners. I love that Houston prints customized race bibs, so the spectators can call your name out as you pass them by. I saw Julie around mile 5 even though I almost missed her I was so focused. If I had to pick a favorite part of the first half it would probably be West University Place, but really it’s all fantastic.
Those first couple of hours really were amazing, everything was unicorns and sunshine. My hydration was spot on, I was sipping my handheld slowly and methodically because in the past I have found I tend to forget to drink water and quickly become dehydrated. My GU was as delightful as ever, you just can’t go wrong with salted caramel. I was getting the occasional wave of pain from my head, but I tried to compartmentalize as much as possible and just focus on the pain in my legs instead.
I’ve tried to understand and figure out what happened in the second half, and I’m still left shaking my head in confusion. Around mile 14 I was hit with a wave a nausea so strong that there wasn’t anything I could do but stop and heave at the side of the course. I walked for a bit after, trying to settle my stomach and get my head back into it. I saw the 4:15 pace group go by and knew I’d never see them again. At mile 15 I found Julie and begged her to take a Coke with her to mile 20. I can’t describe how much it meant to me knowing she would be there as I struggled through 5 miles of throwing up and dry heaving mixed with a side of running. Knowing my amazing friend was waiting for me was the only thing that kept me moving forward.
People say that running is an individual sport, that runners compete alone and against other runners, against the clock and against themselves. I’ve never really felt that way; my happiest runs have been shared with friends. On Sunday, when all I wanted was to be left alone to wallow in my misery my fellow runners continually checked on me, slowing down their own race to ensure I was ok. When my stomach hurt so much I couldn’t do more than take small, shallow breaths, another runner walked with me until the pain subsided enough and I could start running again.
I was at my lowest point, somewhere along Allen Parkway, sobbing and bent over, my stomach fighting against the water I’d managed to swallow. An angel wearing a volunteer shirt held my handheld and rubbed my back, telling me I’d be ok and asking if I wanted to go to the medical tent. I remember wanting the race to be over, remember cursing marathons and all the hours I spent training, but I wanted to cross that finish line so badly I couldn’t imagine any other outcome.
Finally, four hours and forty two minutes after starting I finally crossed the finish line. I leaned against the fence and cried for the loss of a goal, for the hours I spent training, hours away from my beautiful family, time I felt was now wasted. I accepted my medal, one I felt like I hadn’t earned, feeling as though I’d somehow cheated my way to the finish. I stood for the post race pictures faking a smile and hiding behind my sunglasses because I couldn’t stop the tears.
It’s hard to explain, even now, many days later the sense of disappointment I felt. It wasn’t just that I failed to run a PR or that I did NOT enjoy ever mile of the race. It was that my body had let me down, and there was simply no reason that I could understand and point to and say “this is why that happened.”
I’ve asked myself dozens of times “was it really that awful? Really, you couldn’t just push through and keep going?” It took me a few days of reflection to understand that I did push through it, and that my mind, what I thought was going to be the weakest part of my race, was so much stronger than I anticipated.
I’m surrounded by amazing, wonderful, kind people who have helped me realize that finishing this race was a huge accomplishment. Slowly I am finding pride in my performance on Sunday, where a time goal meant a lot less than my ability to keep moving forward.
I might not be ready to run another marathon just yet, but I will be in Houston again in 2016. I hope to see you there!