Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Houston Marathon Race Report
2011 was a year plagued by urgent sports medicine consults and surgery. With a sports medicine practice structured to provide rapid access to aching athletes, my own training seemed to get buried. So I planned 2012 to begin as a year of racing myself back into shape.
The Chevron Houston Marathon, just two weeks into the new year seemed a great place to start. This was my third year registered for Houston, but would be my first attempt at this event. I was a no-show for both the 2010 and 2011 editions of the marathon, again forced to stay in San Francisco to take care of patients.
Just two days before my departure this year I would have a work matter come up that threatened to thwart my marathon again. I re-booked the flight, so I could fly in at the last minute. Sleep deprived running would be better than no running. A plane with a “broken hose inside the wing” left me anxious and sitting at LAX for an extra 5 hours, but eventually I made it to Houston.
I was excited to run as I would be joining my sister and my brother-in-law. It was his first marathon. My sister Laura however is a veteran.
After a few hours of sleep the three of us were up in the dark and parked in downtown Houston. The temperature was 41 degrees but forecasted to rise to about 60. Perfect!
Because 2011 was so busy with work, I hadn’t actually run more than 13.1 miles since Ironman Texas. That was eight months ago. So the plan for my race was simple. Run steady. Don’t walk. Don’t do anything dumb enough to cause an injury.
I went out for a test run about a week ago to plan my pace for the marathon. I ran 13.1 miles, from the San Francisco zoo, along the Great Highway, up through Golden Gate park and back. I covered the half marathon distance in 1:42. So I figured that a 3:40 marathon would be a reasonable goal.
The Houston Marathon is a huge event, but the organization was great. Runners were separated into corrals based on expected pace. I found the 3:40 pace crowd and waited for the start.
After the mayor spoke and the national anthem was sung, the wheelchair start was off. Ten minutes to gun-time. I took off my warm-up pants and tossed them over the fence into a growing pile of running wear that was to be gathered and donated to the homeless. It was cold, so I kept the sweatshirt on.
The gun went off and anxious shuffling commenced. Thousands of runners trying not to bump into each other, trudging through the shoot, pointed out of town. Like magic, as soon as I hit the start timing mat, running began. Almost instantly the mass was at a seemingly coordinated 8:00 min per mile pace.
As we rounded the overpass, it was a fascinating sight to see. Dawn cast an orange hue on the horizon. There ahead, as far as I could see was a street stuffed with a colorful gyrating mass of bobbing heads flowing through the street.
One mile in and I was finally warm. I bid my sweatshirt goodbye and tossed it into a pile of clothes on the sidewalk. A couple of slow runners suddenly appeared in front of me, creating a challenge to dodge them, without elbowing anyone or stepping on any heels. Time to ignore the crowd and stay on pace.
Before I knew it I was out of downtown and in the Heights. Five miles into the race I passed my sisters house, which happens to be right on the course itself. There on the sidewalk were my twin nephews who offered up a matching pair of enthusiastic high fives.
We kept rolling south through Montrose and towards West University. Bands played. People cheered. A priest stood in the street, waiving a palm frond dipped in holy water, blessing the flowing crowd of runners.
The course continued, flat as a pancake, through historic neighborhoods, under the shady tunnel of trees near Rice University and out through Memorial. As we hit Memorial Park, I had my last energy gel and knew I would make it. All I had to do was keep running and I would be in somewhere close to my goal.
Just then I saw my friends Henry and Josh cheering wildly, a great boost for the final stretch. The last few miles had the only real sequence of hills. But my frequent runs at Lake Merced, Crystal Springs and through Golden Gate Park, made them seem like speed bumps. In the last 4.5 miles I passed 162 runners, but only got passed by 10.
Right turn on Shepherd then left on Allen Parkway. The crowds got bigger, the cheers louder and the buildings of downtown steadily grew into the sky. As I felt the headwind pick-up, I realized it was the wind funneling between the skyscrapers. I was downtown, just blocks from the finish. I felt great and was tempted to turn up the juice, but then the voice of reason rang through me head…”you haven’t run more than 13.1 miles in 8 months. You have Ironman St. George and Ironman France coming up...DON’T DO ANYTHING STUPID!”
And so I stayed on pace. Round the corner and down the longest finish chute I have ever seen. Across the line in 3:41, actually a new PR. Today, I will call that success.
2012 is officially off to a very good start.
Dr. Christopher Segler is a marathon runner, 6-Time Ironman Finisher, and sports medicine podiatrist in San Francisco. He lectures to other foot and ankle surgeons at medical conferences on the topic of complicated running injuries. His practice focuses on runners and triathletes who have complicated injuries and cannot seem to get an accurate diagnosis. You can learn more about foot and ankle injuries at www.AnkleCenter.com and learn more about housecalls for runners in San Francisco at www.DocOnTheRun.com. He performs second opinion consultations for runners and triathletes world-wide through www.RunnerSecondOpinion.com