Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Houston Marathon

I was really looking forward to this race.  I trained hard, was fit and would have a good group of guys to run with.  I flew into Houston three nights before the race to make sure I would be caught up on sleep and would be able to relax enough before the race.  I was expecting this to be a big breakout race for me and run fast enough to get me some help in getting to Chicago, Frankfurt or Twin Cities this fall.

I got into Houston Thursday night and was rooming with Patrick Rizzo, who I have never met before.  The guy is definitely a character in a sport that needs more characters.  He was also one of the guys I was planning on running with, so I tried to prod a little bit to see how he was planning on racing.  Not in order to beat him, but in hopes to see if we had similar ambitions in order to work together.

Friday morning, I woke up and ran with Rizzo, Jonathan and Matthew Grey and Daniel Tapia for seven miles and then ran another mile with Daniel.  He ran in the World Marathon Championships last August and seems like a genuine and really cool guy. We discussed marathon training a bit and about how a lot of youngans do too much intensity and end up paying the price for it come race day. He is trained by Scott Simmons, who has always intrigued me, so I tried to pick his brain a bit to see the type of stuff they do.  I then spent the rest of the day bumming around and not doing much of anything other than an easy 3.5ish mile run later in the evening.

Saturday was a much busier day.  I woke up and ran with a group of people, including Connor Kamm (occasional Nashville training partner) Brent Martin from Ohio and Newton teammate, Tyler McCandless, who is always a super nice guy. We ran just over four miles and then Connor completely smoked me in a few strides afterward.

After that, I was finally able to met Stephen Gartside, who is sort of like my Newton boss and is in charge of the Newton Elite team.  He hooked me up with my uniform, warm-ups, shirts and a pair of shoes that wouldn't clash as much with my outfit, like my neon green Distance Elite's do.  I did a brief interview with Sam, who is a cool guy and a Newton intern, took some pictures and it was off to the athlete's meeting. Luckily, that was short and sweet and after getting my race number, I went to the Newton/Fleet Feet tent at the expo and met some more of my Newton teammates.

I also decided to buy a couple more energy gels.  Normally, I just take four but Rizzo told me someone took his bottles in a race sometime, so I freaked out and bought some extra gel so every bottle could have one attached.  Spending an extra four bucks on "gel insurance" isn't so bad I guess.  I then had to bedazzle my bottle in hopes that someone wouldn't mistake it for theirs and also because I was secretly craving a little arts and crafts time. Normally, I use empty Tum-E Yummie bottles but this time, I went with the lab bottles they offered.  They had a straw attached to it, which I felt may be easier to drink out of it.

After turning in my bottles, it was time for the Newton Team dinner.  We ate at the Grove across the street, which was a pretty swanky place.  The burgers and steak were calling my name but I didn't want a bunch of fatty meat sitting in my stomach, so I opted for the more runner friendly pasta with shrimp and mussels. And since everyone ordered dessert (except for Tyler and Jeremy sissying out and splitting a dessert and not even eating the ice cream that came with it), I decided I would as well.  I went with some beignets with hazlenut sauce.  Man, I love carbo loading.  After dinner, I popped a few benadryl, and went to bed.

I was up at about 4:00am and the first thing I did was check the weather.  When I went to bed, it was supposed to be 49 at the race start (7am), with a 44 dew point and at 9am, it was supposed to be 52.  Not bad at all.  But both weather sites were saying current 4am temps were 54 with a 55 dew point and 100% humidity. When I saw that, I changed my goal pace from 5:05-5:10, with mostly 5:05s to the same range, but with mostly 5:10s.  I was bummed the weather wasn't going to be ideal but I figured the humidity would hurt the good ol' Southern boy less than the others and give me a better shot of finishing as the top American.

After a big bowl of Fruit Loops, a Powerbar, big cup of coffee (after a two week coffee fast), a couple packs of Gatorade chews and some Gatorade, it was time to suit up and load onto the bus.  We got to the start a little over an hour before the race and I hung around inside the tent before heading out for a mile jog about thirty minutes before the start, followed by some strides and then headed to the line.

When the race started, a ton of guys shot off.  And not just guys, but I got passed by a few ladies as well (and also was elbowed by a short Ethiopian chick).  The pace felt nice and relaxed and after about half of a mile, I found myself in a pack with Ian Burrell, Patrick Rizzo, a tall Russian guy named Nikolay Chavkin with Canadian Lucas Mcaneney hanging in the back.

Patrick, Ian and I were doing most of the work and we were right on pace, running 5:05ish. It was a little faster than my plan, but it felt smooth.  At 5k, I was going to grab my first bottle, take my first gel and get in some water.  But after getting to the table, my bottle was already gone.  I guess one of the East Africans way ahead of me really liked glittery stars.  Well, it was them or that tall red head. Since our rabbit left us (that dude better not get paid), Ian wanted us to take turns leading miles. It sounded like a good idea at the time so when it was my turn, I obliged. The good thing about setting the pace for a mile is that since the pressure is on you, it feels really easy.  The bad thing is because it feels really easy, you don't realize that you are running too hard.

We were rolling off miles in the low 5:00s.  Part of me wanted to let them go but it still felt pretty smooth. The Canadian guy fell back and the Russian would either fall behind or surge ahead.  Kind of weird tactics, but whatever.  I grabbed my first bottle/gel combo just after 10k.  I downed the gel but getting water out of the bottle was much harder than I thought.  I made sure I cut the tip correctly but it was still hard to get much fluid out.  After getting about a couple of ounces out of it, I chucked it.  Ian made a quick surge and I let him go since it felt like it was sub 5:00 pace for sure.  But he started to slow down again and I left Rizzo in order to catch up.  That right there was the snowball that started the avalanche.  Rizzo was falling back with each mile and the Russian guy was doing his fall back/surge ahead thing. We were still running in the 5:00ish range and we went through halfway in 66:18.  In my mind, I thought I might be able to pull off a 2:12 and definitely felt a 2:13 was in the cards.

Around 15 miles, my hip flexors started to get a little fatigued and at that point, Ian and the Russian surged ahead.  In the past, I've had trouble after getting dropped. When you get dropped in a race, it's mentally defeating, but I was fine mentally at this point.  I knew the pace they were running was too fast and I had no business sticking with it.  But in the marathon, people can go from running phenomenally to blowing up in a matter of minutes.  With the Russian's surging tactics, I had to be ready to move up in case one of them blew up earlier than anticipated.

At 18 miles, I started to feel the wall coming on and split just under 5:17. It was also only my third mile 5:10 or slower.  So much for my initial plan. But I knew if I could hang on to the 5:15-5:20 range, I could still run a really good time, so I tried to keep the legs moving.  I ran the next two miles pretty well but then it started to get ugly, really quickly.  Mile 21 was a 5:21 followed by a 5:24, 5:28, 5:34, and 5:45.  I wasn't giving up at this point and each mile became a lot more painful than the prior one.  I really, really wanted to walk but I wanted to still at least get the "B" standard, which is 2:18:00.  And I knew if I stopped to walk, it would be hard to get moving again and I may not break 2:20, which would result in me not getting any travel or hotel money.  I'm getting poor, so that couldn't happen!

And for some reason, my entire right arm started tingling and going numb.  It was a weird feeling and I don't know what caused it.  And while this was taking place, I felt like an old lady driving on the highway while sports cars flew by me. I believe Rizzo went by first.  I thought he was done for when we dropped him but he showed his experience and regrouped to rally back.  Or maybe it was just me rallying backwards.  Then Tim Young went by and he was absolutely trucking.  I thought Rizzo would be the only one because I never saw Tim during the race, but sure enough, he flew by me like he was Usain Bolt.  Shortly after that, Luke Humphrey flew by me and then Kenyan, David Tuwei.  It mentally hurt getting passed by so many guys but I still had to go after the standard.

I really wanted to be finished and finally, I made it to the final turn without getting passed anymore.  I saw I was going to be able to sneak under the standard and crossed the line in 2:17:17.  I was really dizzy and wobbly legged but knew if I acted overly dramatic, I would get asked a billion questions, have to go by some tent and waste a bunch of time before being allowed to leave.  Some dude walked me back to the athlete area and I tried my best to answer his questions without sounding like an old man on his deathbed.  It must have worked because he let me go back to the elite athlete area.

I saw Jeffrey Eggleston (who rabbited through the half marathon in just over 63 minutes) there and I felt a little embarrassed because I was running so well and ended up tanking.  I respect that guy a lot and when you respect people, you want to perform well for them.  He ended up giving me the best advice I've received since the race.  The first thing I told him is that maybe I need to start eating more salads but in short, he told me not to do that, keep doing what I'm doing and really encouraged me to come race Boston.  I guess it was his way of saying you are in good shape, didn't have a great race today and that I need to take another shot at it to show what I can accomplish.  He will make a wise-old man one day.

My buddy Jake Krong also told me he thought I should have broken 2:15 and if I would have stuck to my pre-race plan, he thinks I would have.  I always appreciate the straight-shooters and constructive-criticism. That's how you grow, not by getting pats on the back.

I also had a few people tell me I had a good race because I PR'ed and I should be really proud of that. Checking out my splits, it's obvious I didn't run a good race.  Yeah, it was a PR but if I had today's conditions last year, it would have at least been worth a 2:16.  And this year, I was a ton more fit. It makes me sound like a whiner and jerk that I'm complaining about a time that qualified me for the Olympic Marathon Trials but I was/am much fitter than a 2:17.  But today was just another day in my training cycle, albeit a very important one. You can't grade a season by one race or one workout and overall, I was/am very fit.

But looking back, I should have dropped back with Rizzo and worked with him.  I feel that if I did that, I would have salvaged a sub 2:16.  Since it was only about 10 miles in when we left him, we could have worked together, hung out in the 5:10 range and I may have had enough mojo left for a big push at the end. Even better would have to run with Luke Humphrey and Tim Young.  Tim ran a nice negative split and had a heck of a race. If he gets in a race with a nice pack, he has a 2:13 in him.

Of course, if someone takes you out over the last part of the race, you wonder if the results would had been different if you changed your tactics.  But the most disappointing part was that I thought I could run with Ian, I stuck with him for 16-17 miles and then he took me out to the shed for an almost four minute severe beating over the last few miles.  That's complete ownership.

Ian Old Yeller'ed Me

I had a lot of hype before this race and wanted to perform.  Well, not so much for the hype but I really wanted to drop a fast time to show you don't need fancy diets, training partners, trails or even a coach to really perform.  But I abandoned my normal conservative racing strategy for a more risky one.  It's frustrating that I had to end my season on that note, but I will rise again.

Random Thoughts/Notes

  • I really think Houston needs to host the Olympic Trials over Los Angeles and I think everyone who competed this weekend would agree.  L.A. would be a cool place but Houston has shown they want it done and can get it done.  And they were just as impressive with everything last year when they weren't hosting the U.S. Half-Marathon Championships.  That shows true commitment.
  • My Newton Distance Elite's worked perfectly.  Before the race, the longest I ran in them was 10 miles (even though I did a single 20 mile run in the regular Distance, which has the same outsole).
  • My Newton teammates also ran really well in the US Half-Marathon Championships.  Fernando Cabada finished 8th in 62:00, Tyler McCandless was 17th in 63:25, and Jeremy Freed was 21st in 63:51. Nicole Chyr won the open women's half-marathon in 78:29, Bob Weiner was 6th in the open men's half-marathon in 71:14 (also won the master's division at 48 years young) and the boss man, Stephen Gartside, finished 5th in his age group in the marathon in 2:58.
  • My Nashville compatriots also had good races.  Connor Kamm had a huge PR, running 65:29 (was on 65:00 pace for almost 12 miles) and Ashley Evans finished 2nd place in the open women's half in 78:47.
  • I'm too lazy to type out my mile splits, but I manually hit my GPS at each mile marker.  Here are the splits:
  • During the race, I took four gels (I think) and probably had less than 16 ounces of water.  Two of my six bottles were missing and I can't remember if I intentionally didn't get one.  It was too hard to drink out of those bottles and I really wasn't thirsty.  Most people drink too much in marathons, instead of drinking to thirst. And you also get a lot of water from the breakdown/release of carbohydrates.
  • I really don't know if/how much the weather slowed me down. You don't notice a paper cut when you have a shotgun wound.
  • Part of me wishes I were in the half.  My workouts before Houston were faster than before the US Half-Marathon Championships last year.  Maybe that's why I bonked so hard.  Going off that, I found some holes in my training and I'll post a training review/spring preview later in the week.
  • Aaron Braun was really impressive in the half but I'll give the best performance award to Matt Llano, who finished 5th in 61:47 and only nine seconds from second place. That guy has been on fire lately and it seems like there are good things going on with Ben Rosario's newly found group in Flagstaff, Northern Arizona Elite.  He seems to know his stuff and I'll probably eventually bug him with something.  Update: This was just posted, which gives an review of his fast workouts the last few weeks of training. Pretty cool stuff.
  • The men's best marathon performance goes to Tim Young.  I figured he would run 2:17-2:18ish and thought Rizzo and Ian were going to be the toughest American competition.  Tim whooped both me and Rizzo and almost got the "A" standard. Great race from that guy. 
  • Sorry ladies, no awards for you. I'm not as familiar with women's running because it would be hard to explain to my wife why there is so many women's names in my Google search history.
  • Overall, it was good I learned the lesson that came from starting too fast.  Better now than when the Pan-Ams/Worlds window opens this fall.  That being said, I still can't figure out why I died so quickly. I know I tanked because of bad pacing but it should have been more gradual. Bad peak? Bad fueling? Who knows? 
  • I always say that people are in control of their own destiny and you shouldn't let others control you or impact what you do.  I didn't follow that advice very well and exchanged my own race strategy for someone else's. I should have known what the result would be.


  1. Great recap Scott. A very honest assessment. I really like that you are keeping this in perspective... one (important) day/race out of many. You learned a few things, and you'll knock out the marathon you know you are capable of this year.

  2. I hope so, Jake. Getting in great marathon shape is one thing, performing perfectly well on race day is another. It's frustrating to have so many good dress rehearsals and then bomb on opening night but that's the nature of the best sometimes. It's going to be your turn next!

  3. Wow. Great race report. Sorry that the race didn't quite go the way you had trained for, but you made Nashville proud, as always! Such an inspiration for so many of us trying to slog through our training and races. Congrats and look forward to continuing to stalk your training!

    Also... the lady on the little rascal pic. Amazing.

  4. Thanks for the kudos Amy! Everyone has their own goals/desires and demons they are being chased by. Now that my marathon is behind me, I'll enjoy a lot of local Nashville races now.

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