Gu? Check. iPod? Check? Jacket and hand warmers? Check. For many of you, this Sunday’s race will be not only be your first Houston marathon, but your first marathon ever. Even if you live in Houston, running through the city on foot is such a different experience and you’re going to see the city in a whole new way. The neighborhoods, people, sights and sounds all come alive. Here is a little insight into what you might expect during your first 26.2.
Miles 1-3: "OMG, I’m really going to do this!"
Getting to the start line is quite the feat in itself, so make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to check your bag, warm-up and stretch before you line up. Expect that the first few miles will be your slowest (and they should be) partly because it’s super crowded and you have a hill to tackle. If you are pacing off of a friend or pace group, you may lose them temporarily but don’t panic. Just try to stay calm and avoid trying to elbow your way past the crowds because you are worried they are slowing you down. You’ve got 25 miles to make up time!
What to look for: During the first few miles, the spectators are pretty sparse. Most likely they are wondering if the city is being evacuated. Plus, it’s early, cold and dark, so who could blame them?
During the first few miles, the spectators are pretty sparse. Most likely they are wondering if the city is being evacuated. Plus, it’s early, cold and dark – so who could blame them?
Miles 4-7: “Wow, I’m fast! I can totally hold this pace!”
The course takes a turn to the west as you venture down White Oak Drive and the surrounding neighborhoods. The course is still pretty crowded and a little hilly. By now you’ve stopped at 1-2 water stations, so you should decide if the Gatorade is too strong for you (if so, mix with water) and have a plan for how often you will take it. Remember to move to the side if you need to stop, or you’ll get run over.
What to look for: Now you will start to see some spectators, but don’t be shocked when you see many in their robes and unmentionables. They know there is a marathon happening, but that doesn’t mean they will get dressed up for you. You’ll see all kinds of people on their front lawns with coffee in one hand and a donut in the other. Don’t let the smells of breakfast distract you. It’s too early to start thinking about “real” food.
Miles 8-11: “Okay, maybe I’m not that fast.”
Now it’s starting to feel more like the marathon. For the first time, you may start to feel your legs and start to second-guess your pace. The half marathoners split at this point, which will give you a little more breathing room and the course is finally a little flatter, so you might pick up the pace some.
What to look for: It’s Montrose and that means crazy outfits, funny signs and all sorts of fun entertainment. You never know what you’ll see here! I also like to focus on all the nice trees and the Mecom Fountain to the left as I enter the Rice/West U area.
Miles 12-14: “It’s only halfway?! I can’t handle any more Flo Rida.”
You’ll be running through Rice Village and into West University here. It’s pretty flat here too and the streets are easy to navigate. But soon after you will have the Westpark Bridge. It looks like a huge hill, but it’s really not that bad. Just conserve your energy on the way up and then you can get back to your pace once you are flat. If you have a blister coming on, your hat is bothering you or you have another issue, now is the time to take care of it. If it’s bothering you now it will be killing you at mile 24.
What to look for: This group comes prepared! Need a Band-Aid, tissue or some Glide? Odds are they will have it! This is a great crowd and they want to help!
Miles 15-17: “My legs don’t feel so bad. Oh, wait … what’s that twinge in my right hamstring?”
Right about now it will start to feel a little harder. The area between West U and the Galleria is a little boring too. Just try to keep your pace and start to focus more on your breathing. Once you get to the Galleria area you will feel better.
What to look for: This is one of the biggest areas for spectators. Sure, many were probably planning to hit Neiman's and got sidetracked, but the energy is amazing! I always like the cloggers, belly dancers and other entertainers. Plus the cool arches on the street and nice flowers are good distractions.
Miles 18-20: “My legs are starting to feel like they belong to a sumo wrestler!”
When I’m going through Tanglewood, I start to worry about my finish time. But I’ve found that if I stress out during this point it makes the next six miles harder. Try to stay positive. Once you turn right on Woodway you’ll feel much better because you are starting the long stretch home. However, if you feel like you are going to die ... there is usually a priest out in front of St. Martin’s church.
What to look for: The Tanglewood crowd can sense you are starting to get hungry. During this stretch you will be offered more food choices than you can imagine. Fruit? Candy? Popcorn? It’s hard to say no to the kids but if you aren’t used to training with it, don’t try it!
Miles 21-23: “I want a margarita. And pizza. And some Tex-Mex and ….”
This part sucks. Partly because you are sick of your Gu and want real food, but mainly because this is a spot where you will feel all alone. This is when I start to focus on those I’m running with and try to pace myself off someone similar to me. Good music comes in handy here too. Also, smile — it will trick your brain and body and you’ll get some energy.
What to look for: The only spectators here are the die-hard who camped out for you and then the squirrels, who at this point may seem like they are chanting your name. Just go with it.
T he only spectators here are the die-hard who camped out for you and then the squirrels – who at this point may seem like they are chanting your name. Just go with it.
Miles 24-26 “I can’t feel my body but I hope I look good in my race pics!”
The Dolly Partons
(hills) make this stretch a killer. This is where you see people walking, crawling and crying. Resist the urge to walk or you may not start back up again. Slow your pace a little if you have to and focus on your breathing. Visualize a past race or training run where you felt great and channel that energy.
What to look for: These people have been there. They know it sucks. This is where you will hear “Come on [insert your name here] just put one foot in front of the other!”, ”Lookin’ good!” and a bunch of other lies. But, who cares? Feed off their energy and it helps. This is also the crowd that will offer you beer because they want to help you put an end to your suffering. Word of advice — save it for after the race.
Finish: “ I don’t think I CAN stop running!”
At this point you are pretty much dead. Try to conserve that last bit of energy to cross the finish gracefully and smile for the cameras! You did it!
What to look for: The medal. Enough said!
Cari Shoemate is the personal trainer for the NBA Rockets Power Dancers, runs Bombshell Bootcamp and is a marathon runner. You can get more of her fitness tips at Cari-fit.com.