Houston Marathon recap

The most difficult hurdle for any athlete to conquer is fear. A full calendar year without a running PR manifests a little self-doubt. After my experience in Chicago, I thought being able to walk away from a marathon with a positive taste in my mouth would be the antidote.

Why not just fix things in practice instead of hopping right back into another marathon cycle? Well, I’ve never feared anything in training, and consequently, it’s hard to overcome any apprehensions without actually racing. The physical components of training come naturally for me; running is what I do, everyday. My training sessions have become such a part of my daily life that I don’t really put much thought into any of them – even the hard ones – I just do them and move on to the next one.

I had to race. Because I don’t care how many races you’ve run, there’s nothing routine about them. Races serve as your final exam and how you will be judged. No one ever gets nervous about the daily homework, but we can all remember the stressed feeling before taking a big test. And there are certain races/tests that cause more anxiety than others, like ones where you have to do well because a previous one went poorly. Or maybe you experience more pressure because you feel under-prepared.

That is exactly how I felt heading into last weekend’s Houston Marathon. Since my last race wasn’t what I hoped for, it was important to not follow that up with another dud. But my preparation for Houston was less than anything I have done for a marathon in the past two years. All of a sudden, it’s Thursday, I’m heading to Texas, and I’m scared to race. Why heck am I running a marathon? That was the question playing over and over again in my mind on the flights to Houston.

Even someone who has never competed in sport knows that my mind wasn’t in a good place three days prior to a race.

But a funny thing happened when I arrived to Houston. I saw familiar places and talked with familiar faces. I ran along the same path I’ve run on now 4 of the last 5 Januarys. I sat soaking up the sun in the park adjacent to the hotel and had dinner with my cousin and her family. The familiarity of everything reminded me that this was a test that I could pass, and all of the sudden, my nerves were replaced with excitement.

I spent Saturday afternoon pouring through my training logs from the last 6 months. Sure, my buildup over the past 10 weeks wasn’t as strong as it could have been, but I had a few good workouts during that stretch and a plethora of great sessions from my pre-Chicago phase. Maybe I wasn’t in a position to aggressively attack the race like I had been in Chicago or Boston, but I could find enough quality in my training sessions to realize I could probably still run 5:10 pace and if I was feeling good, break 2:15. By bedtime on Saturday night, I felt pretty good about the possibilities Sunday morning would bring.

tnLeon_Craig-Houston15Unlike some of the major marathons, the field for a race like Houston is a little thinner up front, so there’s always more of a concern that you will run alone for much of the race. Fortunately, fellow American – and 61-minute half marathoner – Aaron Braun was hoping to run similar times through the first half of the race. We wound up working together for the first 25k (15.5 miles) of the race. The early pace was comfortable enough for me that I began gaining confidence with each passing mile. At one point, I even thought that maybe there was a good performance buried in me after all.

We crossed the halfway point around 67-minutes and immediately my head began crunching the numbers: if I could run an even split race, I would finish up with something close to my PR. Aaron began to put a little distance between us shortly after 25k, but I was able to keep within striking distance over the next 5 miles. I knew if I could keep him close, he could pull me along to a fast time.

By mile 22, the gap was bigger and I started to feel some fatigue. However, the shooting cramps that I got in my calves and hamstrings in Chicago and Boston the previous year never arrived, so I was able to run unencumbered, albeit tired. Miles 22-25 weren’t great – 5:16, 5:16, 5:26 – but probably to be expected given how my training had gone. Rather than continuing to slow over the last mile, I rallied to close in 5:12, which is the quickest I have ever closed in a marathon, and crossed the finish line for a time of 2:14:43 and 9th place.

The end result will show another 2:14 marathon – the 3rd of my career. But not all 2:14 marathons are created equally. The 2015 Houston Marathon was absolutely a good 2:14 for me because I felt like I ran to my potential on that day. If I had a faster time in me, it was probably only seconds and not minutes. I also found myself grinding and fighting again late in the race. I was too gassed in the later stages of both Chicago and Boston last year to even feel like I was competing; I was just trying to survive to the finish line.

The 2015 Houston Marathon was about replacing some bad marathon memories. By that standard, it was a success. I know that when it comes time to train for another one of these I’ll be able to recall some positive moments and feelings. As sport psychology goes, that is a good thing.

Probably more importantly though is that I’m already itching to get back out there; therein lies the difference between a positive and negative marathon experience. When a marathon goes poorly, the recovery time is probably double what it might normally be. I took a day off on Monday, but ran every other day this past week while I was in New York City and plan to hop back into some workouts this week once I get settled back into Eugene.

I would like to run at least one more marathon before next February’s USA Olympic Marathon Trials race, but that won’t happen in these next 6 months. My attention during this time will be directed to some shorter distances. It’s been a while since I’ve dedicated a significant block of training to something other than the marathon and it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.




2015 Houston Marathon Splits – Powered by Garmin

Splits Time Cumulative Time Moving Time Distance Elev Gain Elev Loss
1 5:09.2 5:09.2 5:09 1.01 27 19
2 4:58.8 10:08 4:59 1.00 4
3 5:01.9 15:10 5:02 1.01 22
4 5:06.5 20:16 5:07 1.02 25
5 5:05.1 25:21 5:04 1.00
6 5:05.9 30:27 5:06 1.01
7 5:07.5 35:35 5:08 1.00
8 5:04.6 40:39 5:05 1.02 7
9 5:06.1 45:45 5:05 1.00
10 5:04.8 50:50 5:05 1.00 3
11 5:07.9 55:58 5:08 1.02
12 5:14.4 1:01:12 5:14 1.02 7
13 5:06.7 1:06:19 5:08 1.01
14 5:16.2 1:11:35 5:16 1.04 8
15 5:07.3 1:16:43 5:07 1.00 5
16 5:59.4 1:22:42 5:59 1.18 7 3
17 4:11.5 1:26:54 4:12 0.83
18 5:49.7 1:32:43 5:49 1.17 8 14
19 9:21.1 1:42:04 9:21 1.85 9 3
20 5:07.3 1:47:12 5:07 1.01 7
21 5:08.8 1:52:20 5:09 1.01
22 5:15.5 1:57:36 5:16 1.01 30
23 5:16.1 2:02:52 5:16 1.01 26 30
24 5:25.3 2:08:17 5:26 1.01 15
25 5:12.0 2:13:29 5:12 0.98 10
26 1:13.9 2:14:43 1:13 0.23

Comments (1)

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    Michael Owen


    I think we can all benefit from running races without being “too focused” leading in. Fresher legs and a relaxed mind does a lot. Look what your fellow Houston top finisher, and Ohio guy, Tony Migliozzi did. He wasn’t even planning on doing the full until 2 weeks before, but ended up PRing by a large chunk, and qualifying for the OT’s.


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