Mike and I tried to get close to the front of corral, but we were later than most people, and we didn't get up very far. I was worried about having to weave through a lot of people. There were two waves, and we were in the first wave. But inside the wave, there was no corraling so that the faster runners would be in the front. Once again, this didn't bother me too much because I wasn't trying to get a PR, or even a specific time goal. I just wanted to do my best, and see what would happen.
The first few miles were really rough. I felt like I was walking through some of mile 1. The crowd was so tight. I didn't want to waste energy weaving through people, but I had no choice. I had to pass the slower runners if I wanted to maintain a good pace. I missed mile marker two. Some time after the third mile marker, I noticed my watch stopped.
Mile 1: 9:22
Mile 2: Unknown
Mile 3: Unknown
Mile 4: Unknown
Typically, having my watch stop like that in the middle of the race would have really upset me and discouraged me. I NEED to know my time! Or so I thought. But I only panicked for a moment, because I wasn't even going for a time goal. In fact, I thought it would be kind of neat to run a race "blindly". I decided that from then on, I would track my mile splits, but I wouldn't know what my actual time for the race was.
At about mile 5, I caught up with the 3:45 marathon pace team. I decided I would try to keep them in site because that was approximately my half-marathon PR pace. I wasn't expecting to maintain it, but I was going to try as long as possible. And it felt good at that pace!
This course was very boring. Not scenic at all. Some buildings. Some stores. Some residential areas. Really nothing exciting at all. And surprising, the course was not flat. The course advertises itself as being almost entirely flat, so I didn't expect any hills. And there were some! The New Jersey marathon is a flat race. The Delaware marathon is a flat race. Houston, in comparison to those, is not flat! Richmond was hilly, but I was mentally prepared for the hills and I knew where they all were. Everytime I had even the slightly incline in Houston, I got frustrated. It was supposed to be flat!!! I was able to track my splits on my watch:
Mile 5: Unknown
Mile 6: 8:10
Mile 7: 8:21
Mile 8: 8:22
By mile 9, my left foot started to hurt--right under my big toe. This was where my physical therapist said my leg problems were stemming from. My foot had been out of alignment. Aside from that, though, the rest of my leg felt great. I was really enjoying the race and the pace was easy. In fact, I was surprised at my watch splits. I couldn't believe I was averaging around 8:20-8:25 for my splits. My PR pace was 8:37, so starting at mile 9, I realized that there was a chance I could actually PR! I had no concept of the pace of the first few miles, but it seemed like I was going the same pace throughout.
At mile 9, I saw Michael Hayden in front of me. He was injured, so he was running this race for fun and not for time. He had said in the beginning that he was going to go out at an easy pace (for him) and then see what happened. He looked like he was hurting, so I stayed back and ran about 15 feet behind him until around mile 10.5. We ran side-by-side for about half a mile, and I enjoyed the comraderie. And then he started to pick up the pace just before mile marker 12.
My pace started to feel tiresome at mile marker 11. But I needed to maintain it for two more miles in order to secure my PR. So, I repeated in my head, over and over: "Houston is my PR, Houston is my PR". (There is an advertisement in Runner's World that says this- promoting the race as being fast and flat). I kept repeating it over and over until the finish line was in sight. It really worked!
For the first time, I was not super into my iPod. I did have it turned on, and I was listening. But I was really not using the music to my advantage. It was more background noise as I coasted through the streets. It actually felt easy. And so good to run-- after three weeks off!
Mile 9: 8:23
Mile 10: 8:31
Mile 11: 8:27
Mile 12: 8:30
Mile 13: 8:23
I think the biggest lesson I learned was to relax more during races. I didn't have my watch keeping track of the elapsed time, and I didn't freak out about it. I didn't have a goal time in mind. I just went into the race with an attitude of doing my best and enjoying it, and it really worked for me.
I took three whole weeks off from running (with the exception of a 4.5 mile treadmill run one day) and I still PRed by two full minutes. This goes to show you that sometimes rest really is in order. And that it won't kill you to take some time off.
I also learned that my iPod is really not my savior. Yes, it motivates me, and yes I will continue to use it. But for this particular race, it was more of an accesory than a critical part of the race experience. I'm not sure why, but I just wasn't that "in tune" with the music.