If any race deserves its own race report, it’s my first marathon. Last Sunday I ran my very first 26.2-mile race, the Chevron Houston Marathon.
Spoiler alert: Marathons are Hard.
Before I get into how the race went, I’ll tell you of my original goals for it. These goals would change later in the race, but that’s okay. Originally I was hoping to run a 12-1/2 minute mile pace and I planned to run the entire race except for walking through water stops.
I ended up with an average pace of 13:23/mile, which is okay. That kept me under the official cutoff pace of the race. I ran until mile 20+ when I changed to some walk/run intervals for the remainder of the race. I really have no idea how much of the last five miles I walked, but I’m guessing it was probably two to three miles. I finished in 5 hours, 56 minutes, and 8 seconds. (That’s a long time to ambulate, by the way.)
But before all of that happened, I was up at 5:15 am and cheerfully waiting in my hotel room for 6 am to roll around so I could head over to my starting corral. I had gotten rooms for me and for my mom and stepdad (henceforth referred to as “Richard”) so we could be near the start line in the morning.
I was set to start in Corral E, which was the last one. My family was nice enough to get up with me and walk over to the corral at 6 in the morning. I spent the next 45 minutes circling, fretting, stretching, and going back and forth from porta potty line to porta potty line.
The weather is generally very mild for this race, but this year it was warm, with temperatures in the 60s and 70s and high humidity. Thankfully it was overcast so at least there wasn’t much sun for most of the day. A few minutes before 7 I shooed my family away and wormed my way into the throng to wait for the start.
I waited, looking around as usual and then I had a thought. “Jean,” I thought to myself, “This is your first marathon. Take a minute to breathe it in and remember what it was like.” So I stopped and breathed it in and then I wormed a little farther ahead to get away from the porta potty and then I breathed it in again. Then I couldn’t stop smiling.
Start time was 7am, but I didn’t get across the start line until 7:30ish. That’s when I stopped smiling and got down to bizness. Bizness didn’t last long though because I passed my mom and Richard after about a quarter of a mile and my smile came back when I high fived them. Also, my name was on my bib, so bystanders did a lot of yelling of names and every time someone said my name it made me smile even more.
As I mentioned, it was pretty humid (by mile 2.5 I could already smell myself, which is never a good sign), but it was F.L.A.T., so going was good for the first section. There were lots of things to look at and the crowds were fantastic. There were people everywhere and they were all so nice. There was also Gatorade and water every mile and a half or so, so I drank a lot of liquid.
The first 8 or so miles the marathon ran with the half marathon, so there were lots of people. It felt amazing to take the right turn leading to the marathon route when we split off from them. That felt like a big deal. Suddenly there were a lot fewer of us and it felt different and kinda awesome.
There were also suddenly no lines for porta potties, so I took advantage of that, which also made me feel different and kinda awesome.
It was quiet along that stretch without a lot of spectators. I knew that the course would shortly pass my stepsister Sara’s church and I was hopeful that she would be out with her kiddo, Elliot. Sure enough, at mile 9, Elliot’s dad was suddenly there running alongside me, videotaping me as I passed Sara and Elliot on the corner.
It is amazing how much seeing my supporters on the sidelines affected my energy and pace. I was still feeling pretty fresh at that point, but still I perked up and headed off with fresh gusto.
There’s not a lot to report for the next few miles. I ran. That’s about it. I continued to hydrate. I was finally able to put on my sunglasses after a bystander handed me a tissue and I could clean the fog off of them (my clothes were entirely wet with sweat by then). Volunteers passed out wet sponges at mile 11. I encountered my first hill at mile 12 (freeway overpass), which is also where I saw a half marathoner trudging the wrong way along the course. I spent some time thinking about how awful it would be to take a right instead of a left and end up in a 26-mile race instead of a 13-miler.
I also passed my favorite sign right around the halfway mark. There was a man standing quietly by the side of the road, not shouting or cheering, and holding a small white sign on which was written in small black lettering, “You are doing good.” The simplicity of that sign made me smile for a long time.
Then it started to pour rain. Because we wanted ALL the weather that day.
At mile 15 I ate my Snickers bar, which did not melt, thank you very much, just in time to be captured by Richard’s camera as I rounded a corner to find him and my mom cheering.
It was here that I decided to take my first break to stretch a little and also to ask my mom if I had chocolate on my face, because it is embarrassing if you are a chubby runner and you have, like, a peanut and a smear of caramel on your chin while you’re running a race.
Sadly the rain had made my sunglasses unusable again, so I stopped to use a porta potty again and to use toilet paper to clean them off. The sun also came out, which was nice, but hot. This was the hottest part of the marathon, although it’s possible that I just stopped noticing at some point. The race had started under a yellow alert because of heat and humidity, but by the time I finished it was at red.
It was also around this point that I started to notice my mile splits were getting longer. I had been maintaining about a 12-minute mile for the first half marathon, but it was about here that they started getting longer. It looks like for my next marathon I’ll have to run longer more often during training.
I kept chugging along, although mile 16 and 17 were where I started to notice an upset stomach, which I think makes sense. I’d been expecting it. It was nothing too major, but just noticeable enough that I started to be more careful about what I consumed, trying to strike a balance between fueling enough and not, you know, puking on the course.
I’d expected to see my family once on the run, so it was a wonderful surprise to see them two or three more times on the route. They were so fantastic. I hope they know how much their presence meant to me. I loved seeing them and high-fiving them, although the last time I saw them at about mile 24, I did not want to spend the energy to veer away from the middle of the road to slap their hands, so I just mouthed “OH. MY. GOD.” at them and continued on my way.
My longest mile by a lot was mile 20. It took me 16:42 to traverse that section. I had started to feel a little light headed and so I slowed down and took time to stretch. It was also during the last quarter mile of mile 20 that I first took a walk break. I had badly wanted to run the whole marathon, but I was starting to realize that I could finish the whole thing or I could run the whole thing. I didn’t think I could do both. I felt a little demoralized about it, but decided that adjusting goals due to my condition was not the worst thing in the world.
I continued doing walk/run intervals, trying to run as much as I could. I also took a brief sitting break at some point to let my legs enjoy a bent position for a minute. I knew that even with my readjusted goals that I wanted to cross the finish line under six hours though, so I tried to keep hustling as much as possible.
At mile 23 I was trudging along near the side of the road when a stranger looked at me, looked at my bib, and said, “Jean, do you need a banana?” I nodded and she handed one to me. “Take little bites,” she told me.
That woman was my spirit animal. She got me, you know? She really, really GOT me.
Speaking of people by the side of the road, the bystander support at this marathon was phenomenal. Even when it was raining there were people out there. There were fantastic signs. There were people handing out pretty much anything you needed and often exactly when you needed it (tissue, banana, OMG those pretzels I ate at mile 17). I can’t even tell you how many people cheered specifically for me. That is a little thing, but it means a lot.
And I really needed all of that because by the end, my legs and feet huuuuurt. My earbud and the fact that music continued to play out of it was almost offensive to me. (At some point I realized that since I was only listening in one ear, I could switch ears. Brilliant!) A couple miles before the end, I reached for my waist pack and realized that my forearms were tired. My forearms. They hadn’t done anything. I guess I’ve pinpointed the wussiest part of my body.
Then, just as we were approaching downtown again, probably two or three miles out, a headwind started up. And I was all, “FOR FUCKING REAL?! Now you’re ACTIVELY pushing AGAINST me, Houston?” It was messed up.
Nonetheless, I persevered. I cannot even tell you what it was like to enter the city again. They were letting pedestrians by at one of the cross streets and I swear to God, if the traffic control hadn’t stopped people, I don’t know that I would have been capable of stopping myself from barrelling right through them. Because once I entered the city, I committed to running until the end and nothing was going to stop me.
I actually look kind of all right in that photo. I look much less like I wanted to die than I felt in the moment. Finally it was there—the finish line, which I triumphantly crossed after 5 hours, 56 minutes, and 8 seconds.
Here is video of me lurching over the finish line and then immediately slowing to a walk.
My family was right there after I crossed too. I don’t know how they got there, parked, and forced their way to the front of the crowd, but they did and I got to see their smiling faces just after I finished.
I am going to run other marathons and I hope to run them with better time and endurance, but I am so proud of myself for this one and I am so grateful that I got to do it with my wonderful Houston family. Thank you. This marathon was an incredible experience and I am so happy with it.
But even though I had finished, it still wasn’t time to rest. I had to wander through the finish line area and pick up my finisher shirt and beer mug. (Really? Glass? They are lucky I didn’t immediately drop it what with my weak-ass forearms.) Then I had to continue through the long path through the convention center until I could get to the runner reunification area.
There was a woman walking in front of me and she was dragging her gear bag on the floor behind her. I sped up a little bit to tell her “The way you are dragging that gear bag is exactly the way I feel right now.” She looked at me kind of desperately and said, “It’s so heeeeaaavy.” We understood each other.
I had planned to meet my family under the “J” area at runner reunification, but unfortunately they were arranged in ranges and figuring out that “J” was between “H” and “L” took longer than I thought it should have. Then my family wasn’t there yet, and I spent some time turning slowly in circles and reciting the alphabet to make sure I had it right.
Suddenly though, they arrived and they were so congratulatory and my mom even hugged me (I wouldn’t have hugged me) and I felt so happy.
From there I only had to walk, like, a mile back to my hotel where we had late checkout so I could shower. Fortunately, my mom is brilliant and (along with requesting said late checkout) had brought a space blanket, which saved my life on the walk back. We walked along the race route and cheered on the last few racers.
I did it, you guys. But I didn’t do it alone. Thank you to everyone who cheered me on via Facebook and here. Thank you to everyone who texted me the day of the race—my waistpack kept buzzing as I was running so I knew you were in touch even if I didn’t see the texts until later. Thank you to my running friends at home who encouraged me through all of my training. Thank you to my mom, Richard, Sara, Elliot, and Ashley for your support on the course—you have no idea how much it meant. Thank you to Houston for hosting such a good marathon. And, perhaps, most of all, thank you to that lady at mile 23 with the banana.