Tag Archives: half-marathon

The Math-Impaired Makes a Difference

I found this in a dusty storage bin in a closet when I was looking for photos.

I found this in a dusty storage bin in a closet when I was looking for photos.

A funny thing happened to me several weeks ago: I gained another Houston half marathon finish.

Despite my obsessive running record keeping, I had managed to overlook it, because I thought the first half marathon (which I completed) was in 2003, not 2002. But my buddy Jack Lippincott found it for me again (records are kept online). And now I have to fix and update a bunch of blog posts that are all one race off.

Obviously, basic math is not my strong suit. I knew that 2014 was the 13th edition of Houston’s premier half marathon, the trusty companion to the Chevron Houston marathon. And I also knew that I had missed three of those 13 races. Yet somehow in my mind 13 minus 3 equaled 9.

Sigh!

Medals weren’t given out for the first three races, which weren’t sponsored by Aramco.

Medals weren’t given out for the first three races, which weren’t sponsored by Aramco.

So how did all of this come about?

I have been gently nagging the marathon’s race director, Brant Kotch (also known as my butterfly expert), the last few years to allow certain half marathon entrants to have an auto-in to the event, just like their marathon counterparts, instead of trying their luck with the lottery. Runners who have completed five to nine official Houston marathons (and that includes yours truly) are guaranteed marathon registration for the first month that it’s open (those with 10 or more, formerly called veterans but now are considered legacy runners, have until November 1 to register). But even though more finish the half marathon, we had no guarantee we’d be able to enter unless we met certain time goals that are waaaaay too fast for me.

When Brant boldly asked for suggestions to improve our already-excellent event on Facebook, I, of course, pushed once again for the half marathon guarantee. He said the marathon committee just needed a volunteer to help with the program.

Put me in, coach!

So, of course, I enlisted and attended a meeting with Jack and Arlen Isham, who are in charge of the marathon legacies, at the marathon office near Memorial Park to get more details. Quite honestly, all I wanted was for at least those of us with nine half marathon finishes to be guaranteed registration (not very selfless of me, I realize). But I was willing to advocate for those with 10-plus, figuring I only had one more to go to reach that status.

Lo and behold, the marathon committee was many steps ahead of me (not that hard to do, of course). They wanted to start a legacy program equal to the marathon’s! That means that runners who have finished from five to nine Houston half marathons have that same almost one-month guaranteed entry. Those with 10 or more (yep, that’s me!) can take their time plus get a special shirt and participate in a prerace group photo. What’s not to like?!?

My first “child”

My first “child”

When I was writing about the Houston-area running scene with my monthly magazine “Human-Powered Sports,” I learned that one person can make a difference, especially if he or she knows the right person to contact. It really is who you know. I was able to convince former councilman and avid runner Jim Greenwood to push the city to install a stoplight at the first entrance to Memorial Park. I also persuaded former Houston Parks Department head Don Olson to close the Picnic Loop at the park during certain hours so cyclists could ride without fear of getting hit by a car.

You know what they say about that old squeaky wheel? Consider me greased once again! Thanks to Brant and the marathon committee for showing that they care about the half marathoners, too.

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A Love Letter to My Sons

And so it starts . . . after 13 minutes of waiting.

The 2014 Chevron Marathon and Aramco Houston Half Marathon start is just ahead . . . after 13 minutes of waiting in the C corral.

Dear Jake and C.J.:

During your entire lives, you’ve had one constant: Your mom usually sets a running goal during the summer and tries to achieve it on a day in January. When you were younger, it was the Houston Marathon. I doubt that you remember me passing by as you watched with your dad, but I always drew strength from it.

In 2003 when the half marathon was added, I gave in to the responsibilities of parenting and being available for your activities and concentrated on that event. It was so much easier to train for 13.1 miles, plus it didn’t take as long to recover from. It was the perfect long distance.

Sunbeams light the way, as the marathon and half marathon split at mile eight.

Sunbeams light the way, as the marathon and half marathon split at mile eight.

During the ensuing 12 years, you saw me finish one or two times, which was very special to me. But you don’t have to be on the course, because you’re always with me in my heart no matter what.

Runners are a selfish lot. We pound the pavement for our own goals and satisfaction. It’s just the nature of the beast . . . even when we raise money for charity. Crossing the finish line is a great feeling, but it’s just for us. The medal is put around our neck. We wear the finisher’s shirt. It’s really our own accomplishment.

It’s finally the end!

It’s finally the end!

Yet I do share these triumphs with you, my precious sons. I want you to understand that if you set a goal and work hard to achieve it that you can make it happen! No matter what your age is.

While both of you were sleeping in your respective college towns yesterday, your mom was finishing her ninth Aramco Houston Marathon, her fifth straight (13th overall half marathon). The weather was perfect (48-55 degrees), and the new course was amazing, with great volunteers and spectator support (my favorite sign was “Run Like It’s the Start of the Hunger Games!”).

Despite turning 60 last August, I ran my fastest time ever for the event by a couple minutes, 2:40:03 (for 13.2 miles on my Garmin watch). Having long runs of 9-12 miles in my legs (perfect preparation) and a solid plan to run four minutes/walk one minute made the race almost fun. Almost!

I thought about the two of you during the final very loooooong mile in downtown Houston. I’m so proud of what both of you have achieved so far, and I look forward to your future accomplishments. I hope that both of you have taken away positive lessons from my running. You know that even though I’m slow, I tend to finish what I set out to do.

More bling for my office doorknob

More bling for my office doorknob

And I hope you’re proud of Mom, too! Love you forever, like you for always!!

Breathe In, Breathe Out

Dream . . . or nightmare?

Dream . . . or nightmare?

The self-doubting, as usual, started a couple days ago. The self-loathing will wait until, oh, maybe mile six.

Yes, friends, it’s time for my annual loooooong morning of self-induced torture, also known as the Aramco Houston Half Marathon.

“Race” day (in quotes because I wobble more than run) is Sunday morning, starting and ending at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Today I travel there with my friend Janet B. to pick up my packet at the marathon expo. I’ve attended almost every expo since 1986 (after moving to Houston), and it’s fun to be in such an energetic atmosphere. Plus it’s nice to share my nervousness with others who speak my language.

Thanks to a great half-marathon sponsor (they missed out on the first couple years).

Thanks to a great half-marathon sponsor (they missed out on the first couple years).

I’ll be trying for my ninth Houston half-marathon finish, which also will be my fifth straight. You would think that running this event would be old hat by now, but it’s not. Every year presents some new wrinkle (and not just on my face).

This time it’s a biggie!

New and improved?

New and improved?

For the first time since the half marathon debuted in 2003, the course has radically changed. The city told the marathon committee not to count on having the evil, devil-designed Elysian Viaduct available (it’s scheduled to be demolished, thank goodness), so the race has to start in another direction. The end result? The first nine miles are different and, thankfully, flatter.

It’ll be nice having a change of pace (which might cause me to have a faster pace), not that I really remember the course from year to year, because I so often have my head down as I try to avoid the potholes. I do have a plan to try to help me deal mentally with the unrelenting concrete:

The first six miles are for me. Just as I finish beating myself up for having too many pounds and not enough miles in my legs, I’ll turn my thoughts to my friend Janet Ely, who recently passed away after an amazing, long-term battle with breast cancer. I’ll count on her help from mile seven through eight.

After that, I’ll be thinking about my buddy Steve Terese, who unexpectedly died last fall from cancer. Steve was a Houston Marathon veteran and triathlete, a wonderful runner and a caring friend. I’m hoping he’ll carry me through miles 9 and 10.

Before I take back the mental reins for the final 1.1 miles, which I always dedicate to my beloved father, who passed away from leukemia in 1991, I’ll be reflecting on a similar battle that my former brother-in-law, Howie, has just begun. He’s been diagnosed with a different form of leukemia and will start chemo soon. I pray that his outcome will be different and that he’ll live to watch his grandchildren grow up.

A Chamber of Commerce day

A Chamber of Commerce day

Here’s hoping that Janet, Steve, and Howie can help get me to the finish line. The weather has decided to cooperate (Mother Nature owed us big after last year’s miserable conditions), thankfully. Now it’s up to me to do the rest.

Good luck to all the marathoners and half marathoners on Sunday!

Forgetful Running

Not in the correct place

Not in the correct place

In my 34 years of running (which now more resembles wobbling), I’ve completed well over 300 races. One constant links all those distances from a mile to a 50K (31.1 miles): My running watch. In the early years I sported a chronograph (Casio and Timex were favorites). In 2003, I stepped up to higher tech with a Garmin Forerunner, which uses GPS to more accurately figure one’s distance and mile splits.

Now I’ve had watches occasionally die or malfunction due to operator error (as in pushing the wrong button at the start and/or finish). But I’ve never neglected to actually wear a timepiece during a race.

Until yesterday. My Garmin Forerunner 110 was charged and ready to go as I attempted my third 13.1-miler this year (12th overall), the Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Half Marathon. Unfortunately, it wasn’t on my left wrist. Instead, it still was on the charger. At home.

Bummer!

As I parked my Honda Pilot near the race start, I realized my watch was missing. Then I had another I-should’ve-had-a-V8 moment: When I got ready earlier that morning, I neglected to use my asthma inhaler, which is standard operating procedure before long runs. Just like putting on my 110.

Double bummer!!

The sun starts to rise ahead of the start (no banner).

The sun starts to rise ahead of the start (no banner).

Fortunately, this final race of my seven-week tour of a trio of Houston-area halfs had spectacular running weather: 33 degrees at the start with no wind. What a welcome change from the Aramco Houston’s cold, wet misery and the USA Fit’s sweatfest! Definitely a running chamber of commerce day; no wonder it was my fastest time of the three (with me “fast” definitely is relative . . . and I do blame my relatives for my lousy running DNA). My breathing was fine until the last couple miles, but I never felt in distress.

Timingwise, I decided to use my iPhone 5’s stopwatch, clicking it when I crossed the start and the finish. However, I could’ve used the Nike+ app to track the entire distance and mile splits, because I was wearing my trusty companion Fooba, aka my Nike FuelBand. Unfortunately, I totally forget about it until I passed a fellow competitor and heard her phone say her split. At mile six.

I could’ve had a V8!

My favorite part of every race: The finish line

My favorite part of every race: The finish line

Despite my forgetfulness, this was as enjoyable a race as 13.1 miles can be. There were two bagpipers, a fellow who was blasting Beatles tunes outside a van, and the finishers’ goody bag featured a Hershey bar and Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies. What’s not to love?

Bling bling!

Bling bling!

Plus the finisher’s medal was shiny and huge! It’s a fine addition to my collection.

As for not wearing a watch, it felt kind of nice not being a slave to it. Still, I hope that next time I remember to look at my wrist before I leave the house for a race!

Running From a Sale

Our standard beautiful Texas sunrise illuminates the race start.

Our standard gorgeous Texas sunrise illuminates the race start.

While I was at mile nine of yesterday’s USA Fit Half Marathon, I reminded my addled brain cells that sometimes it’s best not to buy things just because they’re on sale.

Case in point? The aforementioned half marathon.

Last June I got an e-mail for a cut-rate price for the USA Fit Marathon/Half Marathon. Even though I already was signed up for the Aramco Houston Half Marathon, which I slogged through two weeks ago, I was intrigued. Why? The course is practically in my neighborhood, which means no leaving the house at 5:15 a.m. to get to the start. Plus it was really cheap for a long-distance event.

Running downhill on new roads (complete with rebar)

Running downhill on new roads (but watch out for the rebar!)

Of course, I worried that my legs might not want to participate in another 13.1-mile race a mere fortnight after Houston. But, hey, it was so cheap!

Fortunately, my lower limbs pretty much felt fine during the run. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for my mental tenacity, mostly because the temperature was 63 degrees at the start, rising about seven or eight degrees by my slow finish (albeit three minutes faster than Houston’s half). I almost missed the wet and blustery cold. Almost! Even though it was supposed to be overcast, the sun baked us, especially in the latter miles when we were subjected to hills.

What goes down, must go up!

What goes down, must go up!

Speaking of which, the course was in beautiful Sugar Land where we pride ourselves on two things: Lots of concrete (yes, the surface was tortuous) and no hills. None!

This was the fifth year for USA Fit’s small but well-organized full and half marathons, and for the fifth-straight time, the course changed. In an effort to impact traffic as little as possible for an event that has an eight-hour time limit, we spent a mile or so going down residential streets and making u-turns over a three-mile stretch. Then after we ran past the start-finish area at the University of Houston branch, we headed for a part of University Boulevard that hasn’t opened to cars yet.

Because it’s not finished.

Fortunately, it’s just cleanup and pouring cement in medians that still needs completing. And even though the concrete was hard as . . . well, cement, it was nice and smooth. No potholes like in the mean streets of Houston.

Unfortunately, there were two nasty hills (nasty because to me hill = hell, especially late in a race) that had been built to carry the road over creeks. I had been visualizing and savoring in the pancake flatness that is our lovely community only to be hit upside the head and my aching left achilles tendon with these mini mountains.

Love the medal!

Love the medal!

You would think that that final hill would propel me towards the race’s end. But, alas, not at all. We still had a little over a mile along a wide sidewalk to traverse before we took a sharp left turn to that wonderful finish line.

So very Texas

So very Texas

As well as the cutest finisher’s medal I’ve ever received!

So now that my 11th half marathon is in the books, you might think that I’ll be taking it easy, enjoying much-shorter training runs and races.

But you would be wrong.

In about five weeks, on March 3, I plan to be at the starting line of the Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Half Marathon, which I ran two years ago. Why? Need you even ask?!? Last July, when I signed up, the entry fee was only $22!

Well, it sure seemed like a good idea at the time!

Random Running Snippets, Few Apertures

Gotta love all that bling! (Not sure if there was a medal in 2003)

Gotta love all that bling! (Not sure if there was a medal in 2003)

Some random thoughts about last Sunday’s Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Houston Half Marathon while my quads gently scream (with apologies to the late George Harrison):

My dear close friends and family, who are almost all nonrunners, marvel at my half-marathon “achievements” (some don’t even know the difference between the half and the full marathon). They make it seem like I’ve climbed Mt. Everest! Being more of a slogger than even a jogger, it’s kind of embarrassing; it probably makes my running pals, all of whom are much faster than me, roll their eyes when they read their lovely Facebook comments.

While I do appreciate the adulation, here’s the total truth: Unless you have physical limitations, anyone can finish these events (heck, several blind runners led by dedicated guides completed the marathon). It’s a simple process: Train for the distance for four to six months. Then on race day put one foot in front of the other. Repeat until you at least cross the finish line. Bam! They put a medal on you! Bask in the glow while your body pleads for mercy for several days.

Finishing a half or full marathon is an awesome accomplishment. I recommend crossing it off your bucket list next January in Houston!

Back Off!

I thought about my former college roommate Jan during Sunday’s event. Given her nursing background, it was no surprise that she had posted on Facebook hints for avoiding the flu. One biggie? No hand contact. So what did runners see along the route? Lots of spectators wanting to give us high fives. Ugh! I’ve had the flu shot, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t get sick from someone else’s germs . . . no matter how well-intended the gesture is.

Around mile 10, a guy held a sign that read “High Five 4 Power.” I gave him a virtual high five . . . and stayed very far away. Love our wonderful supporters’ spirit and enthusiasm. Just not their potential viruses.

Don’t Mess With the Course

I hate to say it, but some runners are selfish slobs. Too many of them drop their excess wearables, especially trash bags that were worn for protection against the rain, on the ground as they’re running without any concern for those behind them who could easily trip over these discards, hurting or ending their own race. I figured it was just the guys who were guilty (having lived with three males who forget that hangars do exist all these years) until I watched a gal toss her sheddable jacket behind her as we neared the finish.

How hard is it to run to the side of the road and put bags, gloves, hats, and jackets there? Or drape them on a cone? Please take the time to keep your fellow runners safer!

ahasig

Still Fundraising

Thinking about who you’re running for is a great distraction during these long-distance races. In the latter stages of the half marathon, from mile nine on, I tried to concentrate more on my family members who have battled heart- and stroke-related problems than on how cold, wet, and miserable I felt. It actually helped!

You still can donate to my Run for a Reason cause, by the way. Just click on this link: The American Heart Association. Thanks for making a difference!

Les Mis Half-Marathon Running

Rain doesn’t make for good early-morning iPhone photos.

Starting line ahead! (Rain doesn’t make for good early-morning iPhone photos.)

I’ve yet to meet a runner who doesn’t love to dish war stories. Whether it was the toughest training run ever or the most-challenging race, runners enjoy reminiscing about our formidable feats . . . even those of us without fleet feet.

So everyone who finished yesterday’s Chevron Houston Marathon or, like me, the Aramco Houston Half Marathon without a doubt has a great war tale that should get as much mileage in the telling over the years as the race distances themselves.

The conditions, to put it mildly, were brutal, thanks to a downpour that soaked us during the first hour on a cold, blustery day (45 degrees but the wind chill made it feel like the mid-30s). We were truly Les Misérables but without the French . . . kind of like the movie.

Love seeing the turnaround sign for the halfers! Yes, the guy IS wearing a tutu!

Love seeing the turnaround sign for the halfers! Yes, the guy IS wearing a purple tutu!

This was my eighth Houston half marathon, and it was the worst weather by far. It’ll mesh nicely with my favorite miserable-conditions running war story—the 1997 ice storm Houston Marathon (still makes me shiver to think about it). I started off wearing a running jacket over my long-sleeve shirt and shorts, as well as a hat (a necessity with the rain), earwarmer, and gloves.

I took off the jacket at the third mile, wrapping it around my waist. The gloves became heavy and uncomfortable by mile four, so I ditched them and endured cold hands for the rest of the race. The earwarmer was pushed on and off my ears depending on which way the wind was blowing.

Because this is one of the best races in the universe, our wonderful supporters still came out to cheer us on. My favorite signs this year were: “Four Months Ago This Seemed Like a Good Idea” and “Segway Rental.”

There was only one band, which was near the finish, but some homeowners along the way blasted music. Every little bit helped with the distraction, as we maneuvered around all the puddles and discarded trash bags that some runners wore as protection early on.

Finish line ahead!

Finish line ahead! (That’s the George R. Brown Convention Center on the right.)

My favorite part of the half marathon, as always, was crossing the finish line and getting a medal draped around my cold, damp, aching neck. No matter how slow my time is (and it was pretty pathetic this year), it always feels great to set a goal during the summer and achieve it in January.

Bling!

Bling!

For this very Les Mis runner, it was almost like winning a Golden Globe!