On January 1st, I ran the Texas Marathon in Kingwood. This race is always held on New Year’s Day. I originally scheduled only one marathon in December and one in January. Then I noticed they were six weeks apart. I didn’t want to go that many weeks without a long training run. I also didn’t want to run that far on a treadmill, and I couldn’t count on having good road conditions in Minnesota in January. I’d much rather run a marathon, even if it means traveling.
Kingwood is just outside Houston. I flew to Houston on Monday and stayed at the Hampton Inn in Humble. After checking in, I continued to Kingwood to pick up my race packet. I could have waited until Tuesday morning, but I didn’t want to deal with picking it up in the morning.
In addition to a T-shirt and a hat, we each received a nice duffle bag.
The race directors are Steve and Paula Boone, who were two of the founders of the 50 States Marathon Club. Because of that, this race is always like a de facto 50 states club reunion. Without knowing who was going to be there, I knew I would see lots of friends.
I had dinner with my friend Jane, who was visiting from Australia. We met seven years ago at the Tahoe Triple. It was nice to catch up.
I went to bed early, but couldn’t get to sleep. There have been numerous occasions when I couldn’t sleep, because of pre-race anxiety. This was different. My mind was calm, but every time I was close to falling asleep, I had to get up to go to the bathroom. I don’t know where all that liquid was coming from. After a few hours, I started to get hot. That sometimes happens during the night, if I eat a large dinner.
One time, after a trip to the bathroom, I glanced at the clock, climbed back into bed, and actually fell asleep. When I woke up, I looked at the clock again. It was only 10 minutes later. That was the only sleep I got that night.
About 10 minutes before my alarm clock was set to go off, I got up and started getting ready. I was downstairs when Hampton Inn started their breakfast service, so I had time to have a cup of tea and a pastry. While I was in the breakfast area, I bumped into my friends Teal and Carol.
I carpooled with Jane, and we got to the race in time to find street parking about a block from where the race starts and finishes. When we got out of the car, we started bumping into all kinds of people we knew.
Fifteen minutes before the race started, they had a pre-race ceremony. This was the 20th Texas Marathon, and they introduced runners who have done five, ten, fifteen, or in one case, all 20 Texas Marathons. They also introduced four runners who were running their 100th marathon at this race. The surprise of the ceremony was a marriage proposal. (She said, “Yes.”) Then we all sang the national anthem together.
A sign where you enter Kingwood refers to the city as the “living forest.” The entire city feels like a park. They have a network of sidewalks through the woods, called the Kingwood Greenbelt.
The course is an out-and-back on the Kingwood Greenbelt. We did the same out-and-back four times. After the field gets spread out, there are runners going in both directions, so it can get congested in spots. There was a half marathon that did two loops of the course, but they didn’t start until 15 minutes after the marathon.
The temperature at the start was about 45 degrees. When I was driving to the race, it was foggy, but the fog lifted by the time we started running. The temperature was forecast to climb to 55 by noon, but I still dressed fairly warm. I often wear tights in conditions where other people wear shorts. Today was no different. I wore my cheetah tights and hat, at the risk of getting warm later. I also started the race with gloves.
Even though I was dressed that warmly, my arms felt chilly as I started running. Perhaps because of that, I started a little bit fast. My first mile was 8:47. After that, I eased back to about nine minutes per mile.
About two and a half miles into the first lap, I encountered a series of three or four deep puddles. There was no easy way to get around them, so I had to get my shoes wet. As the race progressed, the water got increasing muddy. I was wearing my oldest pair of running shoes. I was planning to retire them after my next race, but I may retire them after this one instead.
I took just under an hour to finish my first lap. I was on pace to break four hours, but I knew the pace was unsustainable. After just six and a half miles, I was already beginning to feel tired.
Usually, after not sleeping well, I can shake it off. I usually feel fine once I start running. Today wasn’t one of those days. I felt lethargic. As I started my second lap, I made no effort to maintain the same pace. I stopped checking my time at the mile markers.
One of the nice things about doing multiple out-and-backs is that you get to see all the other runners. I saw everyone I know, whether they were fast or slow.
Late in my second lap, I tripped and fell. There aren’t any rocks or roots on this course. It wasn’t even a seam in the sidewalk. I scuffed my shoe on a rough patch of concrete, and I went tumbling. I couldn’t avoid hitting the concrete, but then I rolled onto the grass. I didn’t seem to be injured, but the impact knocked the wind out of me. I needed a minute to catch my breath. Then I slowly got up. I walked for a few steps before I resumed running. I don’t think I ever got back to my previous pace.
As I resumed running, my vision was cloudy in one eye. After about a minute, it cleared up. It’s possible one of the lenses of my sunglasses fogged up when I stopped, but cleared up after I started moving again.
My right elbow was bleeding, but it didn’t hurt. I just had superficial scrapes. My hands were spared from any scrapes by the gloves I was wearing. By now, it was warm enough that I no longer needed them, but I never got around to taking them off. My right leg was spared from “road rash” by the tights I was wearing. I had to wait until after the race to see if the tights were still OK.
By the end of my second lap, I was no longer on pace to break four hours. That was no surprise. If I was feeling better, I might have fought for a four hour finish. Instead, I reminded myself that I scheduled this race as a long training run. At this point, I just wanted to finish, regardless of pace.
I began to play leapfrog with Bob Kennedy. Bob’s new goal is to finish first in his age group in every state. Today, he was able to cross Texas off his list.
For several miles, I knew I would eventually need a bathroom stop, but I wanted to wait as long as possible. I was worried that if I stopped for a few minutes, my legs might get stiff. I finally realized I couldn’t wait much longer.
Although the course was mostly out-and-back, there was a loop near the far end of the course. There was an aid station that we passed at the beginning and end of that loop. As I finished the loop and got back to the aid station, I finally made a bathroom stop.
When I emerged from the port-o-potty, my legs were a little bit stiff. I walked through the aid station while I drank some Powerade. As I walked, I started to notice some blisters inside my waterlogged shoes. As I left the aid station, I also started to notice some soreness on my right side, where I took the impact of that fall. I had just under nine miles to go. They weren’t going to be fast, and they weren’t going to be easy. On the bright side, I started to notice a cool breeze, which kept me from getting too hot.
My third lap was much slower than the first two. As I headed back out, I was encouraged to know that I was on my last lap. I still had six and a half miles to go, but I started to pick up the pace.
When I got through the puddles for the last time, I was happy to know that I was done with that particular obstacle.
The loop part of the course took us around a small lake. We only ran this section in one direction, but it was the most memorable part of the course. I had a good feel for where I was as I followed the contour of the lake.
Although this was a multiple loop course, there were mile markers for all 26 miles. In my last lap, I was paying attention to the mile markers from every lap. At the 24 sign, I had 2.2 miles to go. At the 13 sign (from lap 2), I had 2.1 miles to go. At the 18 sign (from lap 3), I had 1.65 miles to go. At the 5 sign (from lap 1), I had 1.55 miles to go. Then I repeated the pattern. This really helped break up the last few miles.
Now I was racing again. I passed several runners, but I didn’t know which ones were on the same lap as me. I accelerated in the last mile.
I finished in 4:13:29. My fourth lap was about the same pace as my second lap. When I left the finish chute, I received my finisher medal.
They say everything is bigger in Texas. That’s certainly true when it comes to the finisher medals. They’re ridiculously large. They’re more than six inches wide. These medals, which are a signature for this race, are generously provided by Sawblade.com.
In addition to the medal, each runner gets a squeezie toy. Every year, there’s a different theme. This year we got squeezie cowboy cows. Each one is numbered according to how you placed in the race. I placed 35th, but got cow #36, because another runner passed me in the chute while I was asking the timekeeper a question.
The post-race food included pizza, cookies, and coke. Steve and Paula want to make sure there’s plenty of food for the runners at the back of the pack, so they keep having pizzas delivered throughout the day. Every runner gets warm pizza.
After waiting in the finish area long enough to see a few of my friends finish, I drove back to the hotel. My first order of business was to inspect my tights as I got undressed. There’s a small hole in the right knee. That probably saved me from skinning my knee.
I took a hot bath to soak my legs, and I dabbed my right elbow with a damp washcloth to remove the dried blood. It looked bad, but it didn’t hurt. What did hurt was the right side of my chest. It felt like a bruise, but there wasn’t any discoloration. It seems like the pain was in my rib cage. It doesn’t hurt as much as the broken rib I had two years ago, but the pain is in the same place, and I’m noticing it more and more.
I already have a physical scheduled for later in the week. That’ll give me a chance to follow up with my doctor.
Distance: 26.2 miles
Average Pace: 9:40
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras: 364