2016 Texas Marathon:
Lessons in Racing, Pacing and Timing…
For the 5th consecutive year, I’ve started my New Year by running the Texas (full) Marathon (I did the half version 6 years ago). It’s one of the longer-lived marathons in Texas, put on by Steve and Paula Boone, 50-States Marathon Club legends. Logistically, it’s a very simple race for me to run, ~30 min from my house in Houston and at 8am (sharp) every New Year’s Day. It’s held on greenbelt trails, so though it can get crowded by the runners on this 4-loop course, there really isn’t any vehicular traffic to be concerned with and lots of friendly faces throughout the race.
As the race approached, I noticed the weather forecast trending towards pretty near-perfect running weather. Temperatures were forecast to be in the low-50’s and overcast with a bit of a North wind. Wind isn’t too big of an issue on this course, with a large chunk of each loop in the woods, but can make it feel a bit cooler.
For the first time, I actually went into this race with a little goal. With my strong training this season, I wanted to see if I could go sub-3:30 for the first time since Indy (pre-ankle snafu).
There were a couple of issues with this plan.
- A head cold was starting to take hold on NYE, making me wonder how I’d feel while running at pace
- The Houston Marathon being just around the corner
- No taper, I’d be peaking into this race. At Indy, I had ~10 days of taper leading to the race (already 22 quality miles that week)
Upon waking on New Year’s Day, I felt reasonably ok, so I decided to go out on feel and see where that placed me…
I started near the front of the pack, as this is a race that accommodates all runners and abilities, I wanted to make sure I didn’t have to weave too much in the first couple of miles. This strategy worked pretty well and I had clear pavement for much of the first loop. I was running a pretty even pace, ~7:55/mi and was feeling remarkably good. Like with year’s past at this race, I decided to see where that took me and keep on keeping on…
Near the end of the first loop, I was approaching half marathon runners headed out on their first loop. I didn’t really know where I was standing in the race (this race gives equal “bling” to all runners), but a few people were cheering me on as the “3rd female runner”.
Nice! I didn’t really know I was that far up in the standings, but just decided to keep on running my race and see what happened.
The second loop was a touch slower, but not by much. Around mile 9, I passed the woman holding 2nd place and moved up in the rankings. I told myself I’d just pick people off one by one at this point. I was still feeling great heading into the half marathon point in ~1:42.
As I crossed the mats at the end of that second loop, Jon Walk, the race announcer, noted that I had moved up into 2nd place and was 3 minutes behind the leading female. That helped me mentally quite a bit. That isn’t an insurmountable lead and I was determined to run a smart race, as even as I could muster.
The third and fourth loops were where things started getting a bit tougher. The course became a bit more crowded and congested around the tight spots on bridges and curves. I had to do a bit more weaving as a result. I didn’t let it get to my head though, keeping my heart rate under control. There were only a handful of times where people had music on too loud to hear my “passing on left” calls. My pace slowed a bit. Rather than 50-51 minute loops, I fell to 53 minute loops. Not bad pacing, but not my best effort either.
Just prior to the end of my third loop, I ran by a friend who informed me I was only 40s behind the leading lady.
That couldn’t be right? 40s? That was really achievable!
Jon Walk confirmed my time gap upon finishing that loop. I was pretty darn happy at this point!
Going out on loop 4, the third female, Suzy simply told me to “go get her”! It was becoming more real, I was confident I could make up the time gap and hopefully win the race.
A few moments later, a gentleman who had been following me for some time asked if it was bothering me that he was pacing behind me. Heck no, I said, he’d been helping me keep my pace up for most of the 3rd loop! He told me he was on a mission to help get me to my target pace and hopefully win the race. Around mile 21, we first saw the leading lady. I slowly made my way up to her and passed her with a congratulations for a job well done at mile 22. By mile 24, the gentleman pacing behind me decided to go ahead and do some of the pacing. I unfortunately didn’t have the kick he had and fell off his pace.
The last couple of miles were a bit rough. They were a touch slower and I didn’t really know what time I was looking at (GPS doesn’t do very well on this course). In retrospect, I should have tried harder to keep up with my race angel, but let my brain get the better of me.
In the final straight away, I tried to go for it! The trail was pretty crowded, so it was hard to get up to my full speed, but I did what I could given the constraints.
The finish line was in my sights, I saw a number of my friends lining the finishing chute. It was pretty surreal!
I did it, not only did I win overall female for only the second time in my racing career, but I made my time goal!
3:29:38…good for a BQ-10
If I had stuck to the gentleman I ran much of the final two loops with, I would have also achieved a PR (he finished in just sub-3:29). However, no quibbling here! I ran my second fastest marathon ever on no taper and with a lingering illness.
What a way to start out the New Year!
My friend Kristie met me at the end of the chute with the biggest bear hug I could have imagined and got to celebrate with many of my friends from the local running community.
Lessons learned and/or confirmed –
- Run your own race…
- Pace yourself for the long run
- Give it your all near the end, there is still probably something still left in the tank
- Pick off the rabbits one by one, don’t rush things, let them come to you
- You can race with a head cold, just use caution and common sense
Bring it on 2016, I’m ready for the challenge!
Thanks again to the Boones and countless volunteers for a fun-filled New Year’s Day.