Monday, January 21, 2013

Houston Marathon

After months of hard work, I was really looking forward and relieved, that it was time to head to Houston.  I ended up switching my flight to Friday so I could sleep in on Saturday.  I left school, headed home to pack and was on my way.

As usual, I left a little bit later than I wanted. I got to the airport about 45 minutes before my flight, but unfortunately, the security line was HUGE.  After waiting in line for a while, and seeing that it was 5:00 (with a departure time of 5:20) with several dozen people ahead of me, I felt I would miss me flight for sure.  To make matters worse, it was Southwest's last flight of the day to Houston.  Luckily, fate was on my side, as they opened up a new line, starting with my row.  I got through the checkpoint a few minutes after 5:00, hauled butt to my terminal (which was at the back of the airport) and barely made it in time. 

I had a direct flight to Houston, which was a pretty short flight. I brought my laptop with me on the plane so I could knock out a couple of episodes of The Wire.  But I was an idiot and brought my broken headphones, which meant I had to watch it with subtitles.  If you've seen the show, you know it's just not the same.

In honor of one of my favorite characters on The Wire

Eventually, I landed in Houston, went to get my bag and was on my way.  I've never had to get a taxi before.  Well, technically I did in Kenya and managed to get lost and ride around everywhere.  Somehow, it only cost me four bucks.  But when it comes to getting a taxi in the airport, I had no idea what I was doing.  I saw a huge line outside and tried to get in one but they told me I had to go to the front of line.  Who knew?

Thirty-six bucks later, I was at my hotel, the Hilton's of America.  The taxi driver must have thought I looked like a skinny dork because he knew I was a runner as he asked who the tough competition would be.  But it was dark and he may have not had a good view. However, the lady behind the hotel desk had a much better view obviously, as she asked if I was in the air force.  Must have been the muscles popping out.  

My roommate for the race was 2:05 marathoner, Wilson Erupe.  When I got to the room, he wasn't there. So I hung out so he wouldn't come in the room and see a bunch of random crap everywhere.  He lives in Iten, Kenya and his English was really limited, so we communicated the best we could.  He did tell me several times on Saturday that "tomorrow, we kill the people" and started running in place.  He was in bed a little bit after 8:00pm, which was perfect because I had a pretty bad headache and wanted to sleep as well.  After a phone call to the wife and a couple of Benadryl, I was out to the world.

After waking up, I tried to figure out when Wilson was running, so I could hopefully tag-along.  It's not everyday you get to run with a 2:05 marathoner and he would have been the fastest guy I've ever gone on a run with.  I'm not sure who takes the title before that, maybe 3:36 1500m runner, Jason Lunn, from the Hawaii race a few years ago? 

I was wanting to run around four miles with a few short pick-ups to wake my legs up and get them loose for the race the next morning.  We ran what had to be close to nine minutes for the first mile and then he started accelerating.  After running a mile at well under 6:00 pace, I let him go so I could do my own thing.  I jogged around for about 15 more minutes, threw in some short, quick spurts and then headed back to the room.  

Once Wilson got back, we headed to breakfast.  They had a special room set aside that was always stocked with food.  I ended up getting this huge, gooey cinnamon roll, what was probably the best croissant of my life and drunk some Gatorade.  New York City Marathon winner and Olympic Silver Medalist, Meb Keflezghi, was also in there, which was cool.  But I don't like to bug people like that, so I just let him be.  By the end of the weekend, I felt like he was stalking me because I saw him another 10+ times.  He was supposed to run the half-marathon but came down with the flu a couple weeks prior, and wasn't feeling ready to race.


I was planning on walking around a bit but I just bummed around the hotel until lunch, which was a turkey sandwich, some chips, Gatorade and a huge sugar cookie.  I didn't have anywhere to be until the athlete meeting at 2:00pm, so I knocked out a couple of Wire episodes, wasted time on the internet and then prepped my fuel bottles.  I planned on taking four of them during the race (every 5ish miles or so) but made a couple of more, just in case I missed them.  I decided to jazz them up a good bit so they would be easy to see as I approached the tables during the race.  My friend, Jake Krong, suggested orange duct tape, but since I didn't have any of that, I covered each bottle in yellow floor tape and then  put a bunch of black polka-dots on them with a Sharpie.  Yeah, it may have looked fruity but I didn't care.

After the athletes meeting, I got my race gear, which was pretty cool.  They gave us mini-backpacks, with the race shirt, hat and our bib numbers.  All of the other guys in the elite field had their last names on the front of their bib but since I was a late entrant, I had to settle for just number 21.  I then turned in my fuel bottles and ended up signing up for a free 20 minute massage.  I got one for an hour (well, really like 50 minutes, those scammers) Thursday afternoon at Massage Envy but the lady wasn't that great and I should have trusted my instincts and gone to Julianna in Nashville.  But since I was still feeling pretty tight, especially my right hamstring, I figure another one would do me good.  The guy was pretty decent and I felt better afterward.

I should just cough up the dough and buy one of these

After a quick shower to wipe off all that massage oil crap, I headed down for dinner, which was held in some ballroom.  I got some spaghetti, some huge meatballs and several breadsticks.  I saw my old college competitor, Mario Fraioli there.  He wasn't running but he coaches a lot of casual to elite runners and one of his guys was running the marathon.  He was eating with his marathoner, so I didn't want to intrude.  He's really gone far with his writing and went from a guy who wrote the occasional article for Running Times, to writing for several publications, future author and is also a senior editor for Competitor.  I ended up sitting beside a guy who was wearing some Saucony stuff, as I figured we would have some natural camaraderie.  His name was Martin Williams and he was a really cool guy but what made him even more cool was that he and his wife live in England, so they had English accents.  We talked a bit about race strategy, training and how we enjoy life with a toddler.

I planned on heading to bed early but I was a little bit antsy.  Strikeforce was also having a show and they had some good match-ups, so I headed down to the library to watch it on my laptop (the internet is free in the lobby but $14.95 in your room.  I ain't no baller.).  After seeing Gegard Mousassi submit Mike Kyle, I headed up to my room.  There were still three fights left, but with a 4:30am wake-up time, I needed to head to bed.

All week long, I was paranoid about the weather.  A couple of days before, it looked like it would be really windy, with some potential rain showers.  After waking up, I checked the weather and it looked like the winds were only 12 mph, the rain would probably dodge us and temps would be in the high 40s.  Not ideal, but Boston (80+ degrees), New York (cancelled) and CIM (rainstorms and insane world) would all agree it could be much worse.

CIM picture from this year

I headed up to the athlete room for some breakfast. I like to stick to simple, easy to digest carbs when I'm within 24 hours of a race, especially the morning of.  The last thing I want is some whole grain stuff hanging out in my stomach.  With that in mind, I opted for Pop-Tarts, a bowl of Fruit Loops and a bottle of Cool Blue Gatorade.  Plenty of carbs, with enough calories to keep me satisfied.

I checked the weather again and oh snap, it looked worse.  Winds were now 22mph with gusts up to 30mph and rain on the way.  I was pretty bummed because wind that strong is pretty significant and definitely slows things down.  I then debated what to race in.  Since my Saucony deal ended on December 31st and I don't find out if I'm renewed until late February, technically, I can race in anything.  But the Grid Type A5's are my favorite flat, so choosing those was a no-brainer.  I packed two different racing uniforms.  One was my regular Saucony outfit and the other one was my "bad weather" uniform, with some Tennessee flavor: long sleeve Camouflage Under-Armour (well, Walmart brand, technically), with the sleeves cut off and Vizipro Orange Saucony arm sleeves.  I felt the camo would hold much less water than my Saucony singlet but if it didn't rain, I felt the singlet would be a much better choice.  I followed the advice of Malcolm Gladwell and went with my first instinct by choosing the Saucony stuff.

We had to meet in some lobby area at 6:00am, so we could be escorted to the start at 6:30am.  I ran into Martin, talked with him a bit and then did some light jogging up-and-down down the really long hallway for a few minutes.  It was a little earlier than I wanted to start my warm-up, but I felt running inside was much better than heading outside in the cold, wind and rain.

Finally, it was time to go.  I grabbed a poncho and pair of gloves that were offered and we were on our way to the start.  It was a bit of sad walk because instead of walking out, ready to run a really fast time, I knew my fast time was out the window.  I came to Houston to run fast but that was out of the question.  At least I had the competition.  I jogged around some more, took my millionth bathroom stop for the morning, stripped down, threw away my poncho and headed to the line, taking a spot in the second row, behind Fernando Cabada.

Finally, the race was off.  As soon as I started running, I realized how strong the wind was.  I did my best to drop my head and tuck in behind people.  The rain was coming down and after a few minutes, I thought, "man, that stuff hurts" only to see little ice balls bouncing off the ground.  Great.

Early in the race

I don't know if it was because of the temperature or the weather itself, but I felt really flat and couldn't relax at all.  The marathoners and half-marathoners start on different blocks and don't merge together until a couple of miles in, so based off that, I was probably somewhere in the high 20s, place wise.  Finally, the first mile marker was in sight and after passing it, I split my watch to see what it was.  5:35. Crap! As soon as I saw my split, I had visions of a 2:20+ time.  But with 25.2 miles to go, picking it up, getting frazzled or giving up isn't something you need to do.  I kept up my same effort level and continued my journey.

I caught up to a small pack of guys and took a spot right behind Tommy Neal.  I don't know why, but I'm terrible at running in packs.  Maybe it's because I do nearly all of my training alone, but with people in the mix, I get thrown off my rhythm and occasionally bump someone with my elbow, or get too close, which results in someones foot flying into my leg on their back kick.  Tommy's leg clipped me once and I apologized.  It happened again a minute or two later and rather than him think "who is that idiot" I cut a sharp left in hopes he would blame it on the guy beside me.  Sneaky, sneaky.

Over the next few miles, I was able to slowly move my way up.  There were a ton of Africans nearly out of sight, with Andrew Carlson in tow and not too far ahead were Fernando Cabada, Mike Reneau, Sergio Reyes as well as a couple of rabbits.  A little bit over three miles in, Martin and Cesar Lizano, a 2:17 guy from Costa Rico and 2012 Olympian caught up to me.  At 3.5 miles in, I took my first fuel bottle.  I knew it was still early in the race and because of the rain, I didn't feel like drinking it but I knew I would need the carbohydrates later, so I drunk nearly all of it.

I could tell the pack with Cabada in it wasn't leaving me and I was pulling away from Martin and Cesar, so I felt at that point, it made the most sense to do a surge and catch up.  That way, I could draft off them for a while, rather than fight the wind alone.  I was really intimidated to run with these guys so early.  On paper, they were on a different level and I still had over 21 miles of racing left.  In a way, I felt unworthy and felt like I was the nerd trying to sit at the jocks' lunch table.  But my effort level felt pretty good, so I decided to tow along.

 I tucked in behind Mike and rabbit, Joe Moore.  It was a bit of a deja-vu experience because I ran with Mike and Joe for most of the US Half-Marathon Championships this past June, before they dropped me a little bit over 10 miles in.  We were clicking off the miles in the 5:15-5:20ish range pretty consistently and I felt like I was back in college running the steeplechase as I jumped over several deep puddles because few things are worse than wet socks (even though my socks were soaked by now).

Eight miles in, I took my second bottle and shortly after that, I worked my way to the front of the pack. It was intimidating running ahead of these guys but for the first time, I was starting to feel pretty relaxed and since I did my fair share of drafting, I felt like I should also help with the pace.  No freeloading here!

At 10 miles, we started to string out a little bit and after checking my shoulder, I noticed that Mike was gone. Sergio and I continued to lead the pack until a few minutes later, Cabada rejoined us. We hit halfway in 69:18 and I was still feeling pretty good.

I was really enjoying the moment.  Here I was, hanging with some guys who have much better resumes than I do but I was holding my own and feeling pretty good.  Well, that moment was short lived because before I knew it, Fernando and and Sergio put 50 meters on me.  I looked over my shoulder and could see Cesar about 100 meters away and believed Sergio and Cabada were just bidding their time and I would probably run the rest of the race alone.  Well, it was nice while it lasted.

I tried to lock into my rhythm and rather than falling behind over time, as I expected, I was closing the gap on the guys and a couple of minutes later, I was back in the pack.  I was scared that I was running too hard, so I closed my eyes for a few seconds and tried to really "feel" the pace. It felt good and no worse than it does on my marathon pace runs, so I knew I was good to go.  A little over 15 miles in, Cabada dropped out.  Oh snap!  I then realized that I was going to go home with a little bit of money and told Sergio that he was going home with $5000 and I'd be happy with my $2500 (I totally forgot about Andrew Carlson during the race).

The wind was pretty strong and I almost asked Sergio if he wanted to alternate the lead.  But I was pretty self-conscious and asking him something like that is like asking a girl out on a date.  You have no idea how they respond but the fear of rejection is too great.  And who wants to feel awkward for the last hour of the race?

Sergio and I mostly stuck together with me unintentionally putting a few meters on him here and there. At this point, my left IT band was getting really, really tight.  The tightness started around 10 miles in and I was scared it was going to get a lot worse.  I was waiting for and expecting Sergio to leave me at anytime and when he did, I was going to tell him to give me a shout-out at the press conference (top American got invited to it).

I was wondering if the wall would come soon but I was still feeling pretty good (other than the bum IT band). At 20 miles, I tried to take in more fuel (fourth bottle) but my stomach felt too full so I just chunked it after a couple of sips.  Once we hit 21, I felt like I had a lot of fight in me and at 22, I picked it up a little bit and split that mile in 5:06.  I put several seconds on Sergio that mile and I locked into the rhythm as I hit the next one in 5:04.  With about 5k to go, I had about 100 meters on him and felt like I had plenty left in the tank.

The 25th mile went pretty quickly and I was really enjoying the moment.  I went from the subelite field, to elite at the last moment and was on my way to finishing as the top American.  I could see an Ethiopian way in the distance but with my left calf now getting pretty tight, I didn't feel like pursuing him. I went through 26 miles and was really gaining on him, but just kept the same effort.  Finally, the finish line was in sight!  I could see the clock was in the 2:18:40s and I REALLY didn't want to run a 2:19:00.  2:18:59 is only a second faster than 2:19:00 but saying you're a 2:18 marathoner sounds a lot cooler than saying you're a 2:19 guy.  So I picked it up, ended up crossing the line in 2:18:52 and immediately started gimping around on my left leg.  On my way inside, I wondered who that tall looking marathoner with the seductive eyes was. Crap! It was Andrew Carlson who finished as the top American.  I was bummed for a second but knew he deserved it.  I honestly didn't feel like he would finish the race as he had an achilles issue and was limping around the hotel the day before.  But he battled the elements, along with his injury, so he definitely deserved it.

For some reason, no one got updates on me.  Then I saw the results and I was not listed. I figured it was something to do with my bib number, as I went from number 209 to 21 and figured they would eventually figure it out.  I started talking to a guy named Ben Zywicki, who ran for the Colorado School of Mines (cool sounding college) and he used this race as a long run and ended up running 2:24.  Pretty impressive.  We went to go do some jogging but right away, I started limping like an old, injured man in the middle of a heart attack, so I stopped.


After a while, we got the results figured out and I began my long, limpy walk to my room.  Wilson was in there and he ended up third in the half-marathon in 62:12, with the winner at 61:54.

I then ate more than my share of junk food, talked to Sergio and Cabada for a bit and then jumped on of the athlete shuttles to the airport.  It's a small world because it turns out the girl I was sitting beside, 2:31 marathoner Lanna Marchant (blazing for a girl), lives on the TN/GA border and comes to Nashville nearly every weekend.  She was looking for some people to run with while she's in Nashville and I ended up running with her and some other people this past weekend.

Well, there's marathon #4 in the books (only my third marathon "race" though).  With the conditions being as bad as they were, I've had a lot of people ask me how much faster I could have run with ideal weather. Mario felt like it was 4-5 minutes.  I was a little over 90s behind a 2:07, 2:11 and 2:10 guy and was just behind another 2:07 guy.  Sergio ran 2:19 and has run 2:14.  Cesar ran 2:22 and he 's run 2:17.  I definitely think this race was worth a 2:15 and maybe a 2:14.  If this would have been ideal conditions, I don't know if I would have finished 9th.  As I mentioned earlier, people come to Houston to run fast.  We all had visions of fast times in our heads and once the weather went bad, so did our visions....if we let it.  I think that really messed up some people's race but I didn't let the conditions affect my mind.  You can't have perfect weather but you can always try to put in a perfect effort.  I was really happy with my effort but I want a faster time than 2:18.  The results aren't going to have an asterisk beside the times, stating the weather was bad, so for now, I'm a 2:18 marathoner.  But the most encouraging thing was that I never hit the wall and felt really good (other than the gimpiness).

Mario also ended up writing a piece on me here

Random Thoughts

  • While I've been a believer in the gel dissolved into water method, I think I will retire it.  In Houston, I didn't need 40 ounces of fluids, but if I wanted all of the gel, I had to drink that much.  I probably took in about 30 ounces, which is only 300 calories.  From now on, I'll use the same bottles, but attach the gel to it, so I can get the calories and take as much water as I need.
  • I would label this an "A" race.  I beat some good guys, felt good and had plenty left in the tank.
  • Looking back at my training, my build-up was less than ideal.  I didn't get in enough marathon-specific work and I wasn't "fast" enough before starting my marathon training.  Most of that was out of my control though.
  • Next on the agenda is either a couple of easy weeks, a month long speed phase and then six weeks of marathon-specific work, followed by the Boston Marathon.  What is smarter is probably a few easy weeks, a short base phase, long speed phase where I attack my 5k/10k/half-marathon PR's and then peak for the US Half-Marathon Championships.
  • Battle damage from the marathon: obviously the left IT band and calf.  My left heel also really hurt, which was probably a result of me switching to more of a heel strike, due to the tight calf.  What hurt the most were my toes.  Both of my big toes were really painful as well as my third toes.  I may just need to put in a slightly thicker insole into my shoes.
  • After running in a pack with Cabada, Sergio and Mike Reneau, I realized that they are all a good bit leaner than I am.  I doubt their diet is as bad as mine.  I believe there's a strong correlation there.  That's something that stuck out to me and is something I will work on.  
Balanced Mile Splits: 5:35, 5:16, 5:16, 5:22, 5:15, 5:06, 5:10, 5:10, 5:14, 5:15 (52:39 10 miles), 5:17, 5:22, 5:21, 5:18, 5:28, 5:22, 5:25, 5:24, 5:18, 5:17, 5:16, 5:06, 5:04, 5:17, 5:17, 5:30, 1:12

5k Splits: 16:41, 16:18, 16:07, 16:30, 16:40, 16:46, 16:15, 16:09



  1. Fantastic write-up. Really interesting to hear the play by play and your thoughts along with it. Awesome job! It's been fun following your build up and the race.

    1. Thanks Jason. I enjoy following your exploits across the ocean(s) as well. Congrats on the big PR!

  2. Congrats on a great race and staying focused under tough conditions. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Thanks man. As soon as I saw your picture, I recognized you from Running Ahead.

  3. Great job Scott!! Proud of you man!!

    1. Thanks CT. I've been seeing your truck at SCHS a lot lately. You're going to be ready to roll.

  4. For reference, this is pablo (from LetsRun). I came across your blog a little while ago by complete dumb luck. I just wanted say CONGRATS on a huge breakout race, one that has been in the works for a few years now. You truly are an inspiration for those of us who juggle full time jobs with heavy training, and I'm glad it paid off for you. Hope to see you in Boston (though, several minutes behind)!

  5. Thanks Pablo! I still check the Road Racing thread every week to keep up with your progress. The thread has blown up much more than the Marathon Training Thread ever did. Sorry Jacksonville didn't work out and if things work out, I'll see you in Boston. We definitely need to meet up.

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