Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Houston Marathon: Smart and Steady

I ran the Houston Marathon yesterday! It was a huge event and I'm happy I was able to experience it. I had run the half marathon twice (2008, 2018) but never the full marathon. This was marathon #32 for me. Wow- I have run so many marathons!

I registered for this race exactly one year ago while I was sick with Covid. I was inspired by seeing so many fast times! Granted, the weather last year was perfect and I knew that Houston weather could be hit-or-miss, but I decided to pull the trigger anyway.

The plan was for both Greg and me to run the marathon and then fly directly from Houston to Cancun and stay at our favorite resort. Since both of us would have just completed a marathon, there would be no need to worry about training while in Mexico and it would be a wonderful way to relax and celebrate. In the past, I have gone to this resort in April after the Boston Marathon. But I have never flown directly from a race to a vacation. So this race-to-vacation plan was a bucket list item!

Race Weekend
We flew into Houston on Friday afternoon. I made sure to hydrate very well before, during and after the flight. Given the forecast, I knew that hydration would be key. I refilled my 24oz sports bottle 4 times on Thursday, twice with liquid IV and twice with regular water. I had about the same amount of fluids and electrolytes on Friday. 

We met my friend Randi for dinner, who I had not seen in 14 years! We had met through running and the last time I had seen her was the NJ marathon in 2009. This was definitely a highlight of the weekend. As we were leaving dinner, a man at the table next to us said, "Did you write the book Boston Bound?" I answered "Yes," and he told me that my book was on his list. So cool!

The next morning, I met up with my friend Carrie for a quick shakeout run. Carrie would be racing the half marathon. The weather on Saturday morning was such a tease. It was 43 degrees with no wind! It was hard to believe it would be 15 degrees warmer the next morning. I kept hoping for a miracle that somehow the weather would just stay cool. But alas, it did not!

Greg, unfortunately, is still injured and is not currently doing any running. We suspect it's a hernia, and we will know more after his ultrasound later this month. Greg and I picked up my bib from the expo and then took an Uber to Whole Foods to get my race morning breakfast and a few other items. Then it was back to the hotel for lunch where we met Carrie again. For lunch I had a chicken panini with pesto sauce. Breakfast was a crepe with bananas and walnuts. (I like to document what I eat the day before a race). I also did a lot of snacking on pretzels and almond butter filled pretzels. And I continued to hydrate with water and Liquid IV.

For dinner we went to an Italian restaurant where I had my standard chicken parm without cheese! It has always worked well for me in the past and it's what I had the night before my fastest ever marathon. Soon it was bedtime and I slept relatively well. I went to bed at 8:00, which was 9:00 east coast time. I was awake for about an hour in the middle of the night, but then slept solidly until around 4:15. I felt rested and ready to go. 

It's much easier to be relaxed about a race when a PR isn't on the line! I was confident in my fitness and my ability to run smart in the heat and humidity.

Before the Race
Two hours before the race started I ate an English muffin with almond butter and I drank about 18 ounces of water with liquid IV. I mixed a full 24-ounce bottle of water with 1.5 scoops of Skratch Labs Hydration drink mix. That equates to about 140 calories + electrolytes. It would be a great way to stay hydrated and get extra carbs to supplement my gels. I also mixed a packet of UCAN energy mix with water and drank about half of that 30 minutes pre-race. The plan was to drink it all, but for some reason it didn't sit very well.

Our hotel was located at the entrance to the start corral. I chose that hotel because of its proximity to the start line. I was able to leave my hotel at 6:35 and enter the corral immediately. I typically like to warm up for about half a mile before a marathon, and there was no doing that inside the corral. But since the weather was warm and I was planning on starting slowly, I figured it was fine. I kept the legs moving in the corral and did some dynamic stretching. 

In the corral, I was approached by several runners who follow me on Instagram. It was really awesome to chat with so many people before the race and it was a big pick-me-up. I also chatted with my friend Cris, who I have known for over 15 years! We communicate a lot online but hadn't actually had a real-life conversation in a long time.

As we approached the start line, I situated myself between the 3:25 and 3:30 pace groups. The goal was to not let that 3:30 pace group catch me. And if I had an awesome day, maybe I would catch 3:25. 

When I registered for Houston, I knew that there was a chance it could be warm. Even though I had fantastic weather in 2018 and the weather in 2022 had also been good, I knew that it was hit or miss. I was much more confident in Indianapolis being cool because that race is almost never warm. But the weather certainly didn't cooperate for Indy last fall (I didn't start because it was too warm).

On my race weather scale, I give this race a 3 out of 10. It was 57 degrees at the start and it rose to 67 by the finish. Skies were mostly cloudy with the sun peaking through here and there. The dew point was 54 at the start and 60 at the finish, which equates to around 75-85% humidity. Winds were 8 mph for most of the race, but picked up at the end to around 12 mph. The reason it gets a 3 instead of a 1 or 2 is because the clouds helped keep things feeling cool, and it could have easily been 65 at the start. For example, it was 68 degrees this morning at 7:00am. 

Race forecast plus my prediction of how it would go in emojis. 

Race Plan
When the forecast first came out, I was definitely disappointed. I had an amazing training cycle and I felt like I was in shape to run a time of 3:10-3:12. I was healthy with no injuries. And this would be a fast course. So the realization that I wouldn't be able to shoot for that time was disheartening. After feeling down for about a day, I got over it and accepted that the race would be about running smart-- not about running fast. The weather wasn't going to change and I couldn't change it. I had to adjust my expectations and strategy accordingly.

So the plan was to start in the 7:50s and take it from there! If I could speed up-- great! But I wasn't going to try and push the pace until the last 10K. 

Miles 1-5
These miles were crowded. And as much as I told myself not to spend energy weaving through people, I did end up weaving through people. Some runners started way too far in the front of the corral and were getting passed like crazy. When I told myself to be patient and not weave, I found myself running a very slow pace. The full and the half marathon were combined until mile 8, so this explains the crowding- very similar to Indianapolis where the half and full diverge at mile 8.

During the second mile, there was an amazing sunrise off to the left, and I almost missed it by not looking left. I took in the view of the sun peaking up through the buildings juxtaposed against the huge swarm of runners crossing the bridge. I took a moment to remind myself to have fun, to remember that "this is it" and to be thankful for the opportunity. 

I carried my own bottle of water + Skratch Labs Hydration mix, but I still went through each water station to pour a cup over my head. This had a nice cooling effect. 

During the fourth mile, I couldn't believe what I was seeing and feeling. My shoelace had come undone! Really?! At the start line I had checked multiple times that the shoes were double knotted and tied tightly. How in the world could they have come undone? I will note that these shoelaces on the adidas Adios Pro 2 were different than on my other pairs of 2's. It was a special edition of the shoe, and really the only thing that changed was the color of the shoe and the fabric of the laces. They must have been so slippery to come undone from that tight double knot!

The funny thing was that when I pulled off to the side of the course I stopped my Garmin out of habit. But then I instantly remembered I was in a race and re-started it! I made sure it was tied very securely.

Of course this incident made me believe that the shoe laces were super slippery and could come undone again, despite the knot. But then I told myself I shouldn't worry about that because there was nothing I could do about it and I didn't want to spend the entire race thinking about my laces. Thankfully, it did not happen again. I always name my shoes in my training log and I have decided to name these shoes after escape artist David Blaine for their ability to magically untie a double knot. Greg thinks I should call them "Shoedini" after Houdini. 

I made up for the lost time in the next mile. Because it happened during mile 4, I had plenty of gas in the tank to run a slightly faster mile 5 without it being a huge effort. 

Throughout these miles and the entire race, runners approached me to say, "I follow you on Instagram!" Some even told me that they enjoyed my content and that I inspired them. That was a huge pick-me-up throughout the race. Even some of the spectators cheered for me by name, "Elizabeth," which was not the name printed on my bib. The name on my bib was "Zebra". So if they yelled "Elizabeth" it meant they knew me. If they yelled Zebra. . . well that was just awesome!

Mile 1: 8:01
Mile 2: 7:52
Mile 3: 7:49
Mile 4: 7:57
Mile 5: 7:38

Mile 7, running with half marathoners
Miles 6-10
Things were going well. It felt like I was out for a long run and not pushing too hard. I timed my fluid intake. Two large swigs every 15 minutes. For a 24 ounce bottle, this meant that I had enough fluid to last me 2 hours. I also timed my gels. I took the first gel at 40 minutes (Maurten caffeinated) and then alternated CAF and regular every 40 minutes. That means I took 4 gels, with the last one at 2:40. I was also getting carbs/calories from my bottle. 

Greg had taken a train out to mile marker 7, so as I approached, I kept my eyes open for him in his fluorescent yellow jacket. The funny thing about him and that jacket is that he has a professional looking camera and he's in a bright jacket, so runners thought he was one of the official race photographers!

It was so great to see him! I wasn't 100% sure he would make it given the uncertainty of the train schedule but he's become a pro at navigating public transportation during races. After seeing him, I heard a voice from behind me yell "Greg Clor!" I figured it was someone who recognized him from my Instagram. Turns out it was a friend of ours- Nicole!

Nicole approached me and I was excited to see her. I had known she was running the race and I figured we might be running around the same pace. We stayed steady and exchanged a few words here and there. At one point, the 3:05 pace group came up from behind us and passed us. She said "I have so many questions!" Of course I knew exactly what she meant. I guess a portion of the 3:05 group started way in the back. Greg later told me he saw a 3:05 pace group in the location they should have been, and also where they should not have been, so I guess there were two of them. Same with the 3:10 group. They passed us a little later.

I really enjoyed these miles with Nicole. I've been following her running for over 12 years but we had never run together!

I saw Greg again at mile marker 10. Miles 7-10 looped around so he was able to walk from one spot to the other pretty quickly. He took photos and a video of me simultaneously. That's talent!

Mile 6: 7:51
Mile 7: 7:48
Mile 8: 7:51
Mile 9: 7:53
Mile 10: 7:46

Miles 11-15
After my second sighting of Greg I started to pull away from Nicole. I felt strong and energized, despite the weather. I trained for a marathon pace of 7:15 so I was optimistic that I would not crash and burn with my 7:50 average pace.

In the 11th mile, I heard a spectator calling out my name loudly. It was my friend Lindsey! Lindsey lives in Texas (about 90 minutes away) and had driven to the race to spectate and cheer. She ran on the side of the course with me for about 20 seconds and that was so fun. We had plans to meet up post-race so I knew I'd get to see her again.

At around mile 12, Cris (the friend I chatted with at the start line) caught up to me. She had started farther back in the corral. We exchanged a few words of encouragement briefly and then she proceeded to run ahead. This was the mile with the one major hill. It was early enough in the race not to be too bad, but it was definitely a change after running flat for 12 miles. I think I handled the hill pretty well - running up a little slower and down a little faster.

I had now seen two friends on the course + Greg twice + Lindsey. This is what made the race so much fun for me. And the fact that I wasn't running at max effort meant that I was able to really savor the experience without being too focused on my pace.

I crossed the halfway point at 1:43:36. I couldn't do the exact math in my head but I knew that put me on track for a low 3:27. My target range was 3:27-3:29, so I was executing as planned.

By this point everything was still feeling very easy and I began to wonder if I should turn on the gas a bit. But then I realized it was only going to get warmer and warmer, and a pace that felt super easy now might not feel so easy later in the race. So I continued on at my steady pace. I executed my fueling and hydration plan perfectly, and I was able to toss my water bottle at 2:00, which was around mile 15. I continued to dump water over my head at each station and I think it worked pretty well, especially when the wind gusted, making the water feel extra cool.

Mile 11: 7:53
Mile 12: 7:48
Mile 13: 7:55
Mile 14: 7:51
Mile 15: 7:46

Miles 16-20
Things were going really well! There were times when the sun poked through the clouds and made me VERY thankful for the cloud cover we had. (Hence a 3 out of 10 and not a 2!) It felt about 5-10 degrees warmer during those short bursts of sunlight. But they were short lived and a good portion of the course was shaded.

These were the glory miles. I felt like I could safely accelerate a little bit and even if I crashed, I would still be very close to my goal range. So instead of targeting 7:50, I tried targeting 7:45. Cris was still in my line of sight and seeing her helped motivated me. She once wrote something in her blog about asking the question "can I give more here?" and seeing her reminded me of that question. The answer was yes! I could give more! And so I did, while trying to stay controlled.

Once my water bottle was gone, I drank water from a few water stations. I was really happy that my digestive system was cooperating. I was able to take all 4 gels easily and get down the water when I drank it. Typically, by this point in a marathon, my gag reflex kicks in and my body rejects fuel and water. But I think that gag reflex is caused by me running at race effort. I have no problem fueling when I train, and I had no problem fueling yesterday. 

Mile 16: 7:46
Mile 17: 7:42
Mile 18: 7:40
Mile 19: 7:47
Mile 20: 7:46

Miles 21-Finish
The race had felt relatively easy up until mile 20. Then my 7:40s started to feel hard, so I didn't attempt to run any faster. I would later look at my heart rate data, which does not display on my watch when I run, and realize that I could have safely run faster. But I had no way of knowing that at the time. My heart rate is usually through the roof in the heat and humidity, but I guess my training really paid off because it was in the low 160s for most of the race. Marathon effort for me is in the high 160s. 

Regardless, I stayed steady. I had found a groove and rhythm in the 7:40s. I think I could have maintained that pace for the final 10K had it not been for the rolling hills. I knew to expect hills during miles 22-25, but they had been described to me as minor. And they probably were minor, but nothing feels minor during the last 6 miles of a marathon. I'm not a strong hill runner, and these hills made me unable to maintain my 7:40s. 

I took three honey stinger chews at mile 22, still in awe at how easily my digestive system was handling all the fuel. I continued pouring water over my head which felt amazing with the wind gusts. The wind wasn't an obstacle for me until mile 25, when we were presented with a strong headwind on a hill. An uphill headwind during the 25th mile of a marathon isn't what anybody wants! I felt like I was hanging on for dear life, but my spirits rose again once I had gotten to the top and things flattened out. 

I think my last mile was really fast but my Garmin data didn't capture an accurate split because of all the tall buildings. I was passing people and I got a second wind out of nowhere. When there was only half a mile left to go I was flying! It was looking like it might be a close call between 3:26 and 3:27 so I sprinted very had to secure my 3:26:xx. I even remembered not to stop my Garmin immediately to make up for the few seconds it was stopped during the shoelace stop!

Mile 21: 7:43
Mile 22: 7:48
Mile 23: 7:52
Mile 24: 7:56
Mile 25: 7:59
Mile 26: 8:02 (but I think it was faster!)
Last bit- Garmin says 6:15 pace, but I'm skeptical with all the tall buildings. 

Garmin distance was 26.49, which is mostly due to weaving and not running the tangents, but partially to tall building interference. I briefly glanced down at my Garmin and saw 3:26:xx and was happy with that.

My official time was 3:26:48, which is a BQ by over 23 minutes! I'll be 45 in April 2024, so my qualifying standard is 3:50:00.

After the Race
I crossed the finish line and started walking. A few seconds later Cris was there next to me and we chatted for a few seconds, but then I quickly realized I might not be okay. Physically I felt fine, but mentally I wasn't all there. I was a little confused and delirious. Cris told me to talk to a medical person if I wasn't feeling well. Thankfully there was a medical person close by and I said, "I am not sure if I am okay, would you please have a conversation with me to make sure I can talk correctly?" And it wasn't long into our conversation that I started slurring my speech. I knew what I wanted to communicate, but I couldn't get the words to come out clearly. This is the exact same thing that happened to me when I had hypothermia in May. It must be the way my body likes to shut down- the ability to talk properly is the first thing to go.

They put me in a wheelchair and brought me inside the convention center to the medical tent. They wanted me to lie down on a stretcher, but I insisted on sitting up. I felt like lying down would really set me back. I still felt physically fine, but I felt mentally really weird. It was like I was high on something. I've never done drugs, so I have no first hand experience, but it felt like I was in this really happy place. I kept making jokes and I told the medical people that I was going to be the funniest patient they had all day. 

They fed me gatorade and took my vitals. They wanted to give me an IV for dehydration, but I said I wanted to try drinking first. My temperature was normal so I wasn't overheated, and I didn't feel dizzy like I have in the past with heat exhaustion. So it was plain ol' dehydration. I was so baffled as to why, though. I felt like I had done everything right with hydration. I've been running for over 20 years and I know how to hydrate. 

I called Greg from one of the nurse's phones. I told him I would be delayed because I was in the medical area, but that I was basically fine. They kept me there for what seemed like an eternity. I had to drink a certain amount of gatorade and they needed to make sure I could pee properly. And then they tested my waking and my cognitive abilities. My first attempt at walking gave me a bit of a panicky sensation mentally, but after some deep breathing I was fine. I felt undeserving of all the medical attention I was

Lindsey and me after the race
getting. Surely there were people who were worse off than me who they could have been treating. 

When I was finally cleared to leave, I walked out into the main hall to pick up my finisher's shirt. I then realized that I had to walk ALL the way back to the finish area to get a medal. It was so far away! And then it took forever to get out of the convention center. I was recognized by an Instagram follower and after a brief chat, I asked to borrow her phone. I called Greg and he told me where he was. It took me over an hour from the time I finished to the time I was reunited with Greg. Greg was with Lindsey and it was so awesome to have them both there. The three of us walked back to the hotel near the start line and then hung out at the rooftop pool. 

I drank two more bottles of gatorade and my pee was still a dark shade! But I think that by today I am finally back to a good electrolyte balance and hydration level. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
Where to begin? If I could summarize the race in one sentence it would be this:

I ran a smart race in challenging conditions with even pacing and a slight negative split, and it was a BQ.

Here are some other thoughts:

Effort Level: My average heart rate was 160. Typically my average heart rate in a marathon is around 165-166. When I ran the Boston Marathon last spring it was 171. In Boston, it was elevated due to post-Covid heart rate issues. In Houston, it was low because I didn't run it at race effort. I think I could have been slightly more aggressive during miles 10-20 (maybe in the low 7:40s) and still held it together at the end. Physically I underestimated myself, but not by much. I probably could have eked out a 3:24, but in the grand scheme of things, two minutes is not a big deal- especially since it's not a PR. 

Hydration: As for the dehydration, I don't think it impacted my performance because I felt really strong until mile 25 with that uphill headwind. And then I felt strong again during mile 26. But if I had it to do over again, I am not sure what I would have done differently in terms of hydration. One clue is that whenever I have blood drawn, the blood doesn't flow about 80% of the time. Apparently I have big veins but once the needle goes in, they can't get blood to flow. I am often pricked in both arms, and in some cases multiple times in the same arm before they can get blood. I was recently told that they need to use the largest needle on me. So maybe my normal state of being is dehydration. Carrie suggested that this could be a vitamin D deficiency that prevents the electrolytes from being absorbed properly. I'll definitely look into it.

Negative Split: The last time I ran a negative split during a marathon was in 2015 at the B&A Trail marathon. So that's nearly 8 years and 12 marathons of positive splitting. And usually I try to negative

split! I ran the first half in 1:43:36 and the second half in 1:43:12. It's just a tiny negative split and might  be more accurately described as an even split, but I'm proud of it. My fastest portion of the course was miles 15-22, and for a warm race, I'm very happy with that.

Weather: The weather was challenging, but I had trained really hard so even my "medium" pace yielded a respectable time and sizable BQ. 

Community: Throughout the weekend, I met probably 20-25 people who follow me on Instagram. Everyone was so nice and supportive and told me that they really enjoyed my content. This was surreal to me because I never expected my Instagram account or my book to take off the way it has. I am fortunate to be part of such an amazing community of runners, and to have such great friends like the ladies I met up with throughout the weekend.

What's Next:
A vacation in Mexico and a week off from running! I'll definitely be swimming in the very long pools and maybe doing some light core work, but that's it. I am not running another marathon this spring and I haven't decided yet if I will try to run one in the fall. I'm definitely hungry to race another marathon because this one went so well, but I'm mentally done with the training. 

Thanks to everyone who supported me in this race, and it was really awesome meeting up with Carrie, Nicole, Cris, and Lindsey!


  1. What a great race! I've heard that vitamin D deficiency causes a lot of wacky symptoms and I wonder if it does play a role in the heat tolerance/dehydration thing.

    Enjoy vacation! You've earned your time in the pool.

    1. Yep your Zebra and Elizabeth 2nd. Yah I like the Houdini name for your mysteriously untying double-knotted shoe. Great race...I know I be elated to be able to run that fast in the marathon these days and get back to Boston!

      The issue with slurred speech post finish smacks of what happens when hypothermia kicks in. I know that well from the Boston 2018 Monsoon race. It could be an artifact of such extended duration at your effort level in combination with the not good for you warmer temps, and likely dehydration, then once you stop after finish line, that blood pressure comes down quickly, nd maybe that has something to do with it?

      I always set the Garmin to manual lap and push the lapped button at each course mile marker, and that is the true split for that respective mile. I suspect you not manual lapping, but you mention the tall buildings at the end of the race, and you can always get quite accurate measure of your speed simply lapping your watch at marker 26 and lap again across the FL and you will have a very accurate measure of your speed for that last metric finish ca 0.22-mi.

      Great race Zebra and as always, a most detailed synopsis of the entire adventure.

    2. Not meant for this blog to talk about myself to but yeah that 2018 Boston Marathon race was something else with the hypothermia

  2. Congratulations on a great controlled race, Elizabeth! You shouldn't be surprised that people were supportive and love the content of your blog. Now rest up and have a wonderful holiday. AV

  3. What a well run race! It sounds like you had a lot of fun with it, talking to all your fans! I'm not sure what to make of your dehydration unless the humidity had something to do with it. Or hypothermia, like the commenter above said. Glad you recovered well and are now soaking up the sun in Mexico! Enjoy and congrats!

  4. Just an idea for your shoe laces. I never double knot my shoes. I tie them once and stick the two ears under the laces so that they're never moving around. Give it a whirl on a training run and see what you think.

    As for the race, you seem to have a great grasp of what your abilities are given the weather conditions. And yes it is much easier to relax when one doesn't put the PB expectation in their minds. I feel it has actually helped me

  5. Congratulations on your Houston marathon race. What I want to thank you for is a now "ancient" post on squeezing runs in on your Viking river cruise. I'm one of those 60-75 year olds you wrote of and I would like to get a few runs in to keep the old legs moving. What I took away is that finding running "windows" will be challenging but not impossible. By the way, your post is at the top of the list when googling "Running on a Viking river cruise."

    1. I imagine there is not too much competition for that search term! When we did a Viking Ocean cruise in 2019, we actually met a man who was a runner and he shared part of our run with us!