So you want to know what it’s like to wake up at 5 a.m. and run 26.2 miles in the rain? Amazing.
But, don’t call me crazy until you’ve run a mile (or 26.2) in my shoes.
Ready, Set Go!
Rain, cold, humidity and thunderstorms!? Who cares? I’ve been training almost all year for this and have run in way worse conditions. I think maybe only a tornado would stop me. I wanted my medal!
I woke up Sunday at 5 a.m., ate some breakfast and got my gear on. It’s Race Day!! Once I got downtown to the George R. Brown Convention Center, the adrenaline and nerves kicked in. I just tried to stay calm and made sure to check my bag, use the bathroom (aka porta potty) and do a few stretches. I was a little less nervous Sunday because it was my second Houston Marathon and also I was running this time with my friend Emily, which made the experience a lot more fun.
People react differently to the start line, which is all illuminated like the pearly gates. Some people panic and think they are in the wrong pace group, others decide on a last-minute stretch and most just stand there in anticipation. Then, there are those that push their way through the pack and try to make their way to the front because they think that’s going to help them get a better time. In a 5K, sure.
In a marathon, forget it, it’s not going to help unless you are a Kenyan.
We had a great start and tackled the first bridge with ease as we bounced along in our rain ponchos. The first few miles are always fun and we loved seeing our first groups of spectators, Elvis impersonators and creative signs through the Heights.
Six miles down and only 20 more to go!
What other sport lets you compete in the same event as the elites and Olympians? Think you’d get a chance to ride in the Tour de France next to Lance Armstrong? Uh, no.
But, with running ... you might not get to run next to Meb Keflezighi (unless you run under a five-minute pace), but you can run the same route and have the same experience. There were a variety of runners on Houston's streets Sunday: all ages, races and fitness levels. Some were are out there because they are making a comeback, some were running for a friend or even a charity (like me), some have a marathon on their bucket list and others run it every year. Whatever their reason, they are all on my team.
Running is typically thought of as an individual sport but in reality, all of us out there feel like we are teammates. We’ve suffered together all year in training and understand what the day represents. That makes earning the medal and finisher shirt more special and we all feel like we are part of a secret society.
Dining On The Run
When you think of marathoners, grace and coordination don’t always come to mind. But, in order to stay fueled and hydrated along the way you have to have some skills. It hard to unzip your fuel belt, pop in a few gel “chomps” and actually have a mini meal while you are running. But, those flavored gels and chomps really give me something to look forward to.
I kind of think of it as going out to eat, just with a very limited menu. You also have to plan your Gatorade stops every two to three miles.
Are you going to stop at every table? Will you do Gatorade, water or mix them?
This also becomes a challenge because you have people cutting in front of you, stopping to walk and weaving in and out in order to get their drink. Add in the slippery roads and you feel like you are doing Zumba on ice.
What Gets Me Through
Besides my “Chocolate Outrage” GU, I use funny signs, people and even cool landmarks get me through each mile. I have to give a shout out to a guy named Geoff and his friends who made big creative signs along the course that said things like: “Don’t worry Geoff, you aren’t going to win anyway!” and at Mile 23, “Graveyard ahead, look alive.” Hilarious.
I also had my music, which really helps me stay motivated. Although, yesterday I heard many people yelling at their iPods, watches and other gear that was acting up in the rain.
Luckily the rain didn’t scare off the spectators, the belly dancers and other performers! But, I think having all my friends out there helped the most. They woke up early, left their warm/dry houses just to come cheer me on. That means more to me than anything and was the highlight of the race for me.
Bumps (and Dolly Partons) Along The Way
Mile 13 comes around before you know it and most are so excited because it’s technically the halfway point. Not so fast. You have to tell yourself that the halfway point is really mile 20, or you might run out of steam. That tough spot (also called “the wall”) happens around miles 18-20 and even I had to hurdle a small one Sunday.
Your body just starts to run out of steam and you feel like you have to consciously put one foot in front of the other. Spectators recognize this by all of our agonizing faces and they try to help by chanting “You’re almost there!” but you really just want to say “Shut up!” because you know it’s not true.
It’s at those hills where you really see a change in the runners. People start to walk, crawl, take off their shoes and even cry. Most of us are just plain delirious with no energy left to give. It’s at this is the stretch of the race where that teamwork really helps and you have to reach out to those that are in pain or walking to help them get through.
I’m not going to lie the end is hard. Once you round the corner Downtown and see that finish line, all the balloons and people watching ... you almost get a second wind. Almost. I crossed the line pretty exhausted, but strong.
It’s such a weird feeling just to stop. It’s like your brain and your legs get very confused. But, then there it was: my shiny new medal! I got my medal and about that time the pain and stiffness set in.
So, I joined the thousands of other runners inside the GRB who were stretching, evaluating their injuries and refueling with “real” food.
After taking the rest of the day to recover, I met up with my other runner friends Sunday night to celebrate, swap stories and show off those medals.
Did I wear my heels, you ask? You bet!
Cari Shoemate is an ACE-certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and certified yoga instructor. You can get more of her fitness tips at Cari-fit.com.