Saturday, January 21, 2012


UPDATE 1/25: I've added more pictures!

I don't even know where to start. I have a billion thoughts in my head and I want to get them all out. I am speechless, dumbfounded, thrilled, shocked, excited, and about a billion other emotions all wrapped up together.


I didn't run a blazing fast race. I didn't avoid the Wall. I didn't run non-stop. But I conquered the marathon.


The Chevron Houston Marathon on January 15 was my 5th marathon overall. I can make every excuse in the book, but I simply never reached my potential in any of my marathons, even though I completed all of them. I was bound and determined to change that in 2012.

At first I wasn't even going to do a marathon this year. I was really dejected after last year's mediocre performances, but a friend of mine convinced me otherwise. I'm so thankful. Read this blog post for a refresher on why I changed my mind and signed up for not only Houston, but also Austin.

My excitement for this weekend has been building for weeks. The plan was for my friends and I to head to Houston on Friday in time to watch the Olympic Marathon Trials on Saturday morning and to just relax with no responsibilities before the marathon on Sunday. Unfortunately Karen didn't end up making it until Saturday and Rachel didn't end up coming at all, but Tony and I were ready for our adventure and we headed to Houston Friday morning. I had other friends who were heading out Friday and Saturday and I hoped to run into a few of them. Seeing the Houston skyscrapers was pretty damn great. I freaking love that city.

I'll write a separate blog post about the Trials, but I will say that if you ever get an opportunity to watch something like that, you have to. It's so hard to describe, but it's phenomenonal to watch people with that much athletic ability and that much determination. I think I smiled for 3 hours straight.

My nerves really kicked in once Karen arrived in Houston Saturday afternoon. It was getting real and it was getting close. I kept reminding myself that I had put in the work. Tony had convinced me to make my goal a 4:25 instead of the 4:15 I REALLY wanted, and I was okay with that. A 4:25 is a 15-minute PR for me and a totally feasible goal. The three of us would have a great shot at it. And if I could squeak in at under 4:22? That would be less than 10-minute overall pace. Hey, you never know!

I was so grateful to have Karen and Tony there on Sunday morning before the race. We all got ready together, calmed each other's nerves, and got pumped up. The race start was literally right outside our hotel, whereas the finish area was a few blocks away at the convention center. We decided to forgo stashing a drop bag at the convention center - a decision I may have come to regret later, but we'll get to that. Since our hotel was so close to the convention center it stood to reason that if we really needed something we could just head back to the hotel quickly after getting through the finish area after the race. We needed to be at the start line at 6:50. How nice it was to not have to wake up until 5:30am on race morning!

The weather in the morning was beyond perfect. Around 40 degrees, no wind, and it didn't seem like the humidity was bad (although I didn't actually check for fear of freaking myself out if it was high). I had a throwaway jacket and gloves for the first couple miles. After that it was going to start warming up to about 60 degrees by Noon. I could handle that. It was pretty much a billion times better than last year's hot, humid, and rainy misery. I was really comfortable as we waited in the start area for the gun to go off.

Tony had printed out a pace band to get us through each mile on target for a 4:25. It had us starting out very, very slow the first few miles and slowly building speed up until about 20 miles, where it then gave us a bit of a break in case we hit the wall. This is good strategy, especially in a crowded race and one where it's still chilly out at the start. One of the worst things you can do in a long distance run is starting out too fast. If you save a lot of your energy in the beginning, you can get through 10 miles before you actually ever start getting winded.

The start was CROWDED and we definitely did more weaving around people than we had planned. We positioned ourselves right between the 10 minute and 11 minute per mile pace signs, but there were still so many people who were going much slower or even walking. I was a bit frustrated for those first few miles. We planned to get through the first 5k is about 33 minutes, and we hit it in 33:27, so just about on target.

Can you find us?

Those first 10 miles were really uneventful. We unfortunately added on some distance (at least a tenth of a mile by the 8 mile mark, but thankfully the half marathoners split off from us at 9 miles and the congestion eased). But it seemed to me like the miles flew by. I felt incredibly good. Strangely good. SCARY GOOD. I wanted these feelings to last as long as possible. Tony and Karen kept having to yell at me to hold back because my pace would start to slowly inch up. I wasn't used to running a 10 minute pace for so long - I'm most comfortable at a 9:15-9:30 pace - but it was smart strategy to set us up for faster middle miles. Karen wasn't feeling all that great, however. She hadn't run in over a week leading up to the race and it was taking it's toll by about 10 miles. I was worried for her and hoping the yucky feelings would pass and we could still ramp up the middle miles together.

I think it was at about this time in the race that I may have started dancing and singing a little. Yes, as a matter of fact, I DID dance while on the race course. I totally understand why Karen and Tony were behind me by this time. I must have been incredibly irritating to be around.

Karen made it through 20K before needing to take a bathroom break and regroup. Tony and I decided to keep running and hope that she caught us in the next few miles. We were at 2:07:57 for a 10:18 pace at 20K...right on target. Because he'd been injured and had only run his longest run at 16 miles Tony told me he would need to stretch within the next mile, and had also hoped to see Karen and make sure she was okay. I told him I couldn't stop since I didn't want to break my momentum so the plan was for him to catch up to me if possible. Once we hit the 13.1 split checkpoint, we separated. We were at 2:14:49 at the halfway point. An even split race would still get me to a sub-4:30. I really thought this would not be a problem.

I was so excited at this point. I felt like I was 5 miles into a run instead of halfway through a marathon.

But I also knew that the true "halfway" point in a marathon is at 20 miles.

I tried to keep my enthusiasm in check after splitting from Tony and Karen, but I can't lie....I was PUMPED. I had a permanent smile on my face and the spectators must have thought I was insane. How could someone be that happy 15 miles into a marathon? But I honestly was so happy. I felt phenomenal, had very little fatigue, and if you've run Houston before you know just how incredible the spectators are. It's so easy to get caught up in all the excitement. The result of this excitement was a very fast (relatively speaking) split between halfway and 25K - I was running at about a 9:30 pace. Miles 13 and 16 were both 9:27, my two fastest miles of the whole race, not counting the very end. I honestly thought it was slower than that and I intentionally tried to slow it out so I wouldn't burn out. The next 5K split was better (from 25K to 30K), about 9:45 pace, and I didn't feel the need to really slow it down at all. Nearly 19 miles in and I was still feeling pretty good, although definitely getting fatigued. I was on track for a very good finish if the wheels totally didn't fall off, so I tried to cut myself some slack for the next 5K. I STILL ran that in about 9:45 pace. So much for slowing down!

In all my other marathons I've let the mental side of the race get to me at about this point. Anyone will tell you a marathon is half mental, half physical and they are totally right. It's very easy to let the discomfort bring you down and make you doubt your training and everything you've worked hard to accomplish. It's easy to make excuses and just give in. I refused to let this be the case during this marathon. I talked myself out of the bad feelings several times over the last third of the race. I made sure I kept my nutrition and hydration on schedule and I even focused on my cadence to get my mind off of things. It worked. I wasn't letting mental frailty take over my physical ability.

At this point I'm at the 35K point (21.7 miles), only 7K left in the race, and I'm at 3:38:41. 4.5 miles left in the race. Quick calculations in my mind made me realize all I had to do was finish the race at 11 minute pace and my sub-4:30 marathon was in the bag. As a matter of fact, I could pretty easily run a negative split race. Miles 13-22 gave me a lot of time in the bank. I had run an average 9:45 during those 9 miles.

Once I hit the 35K split, I was definitely fatiguing more rapidly. My quads were getting sore, I was getting a little warm since the sun was out, and my breathing was a bit more labored. I allowed myself another mile of running and then looked for a water stop, where I would finally take a short break and cut myself some slack in order to finish the race strong.  I can definitely say I hit THE WALL at 23 miles. But that was fine. I ran 23 miles WITHOUT STOPPING - for the very first time in my life. If I needed a quick break before finishing the last few miles I would allow myself that luxury. All I needed to do at that point was run 11:30 pace and I still had negative splits.

I took two short walking breaks between miles 23 and 25 for probably a total of a half mile. Once I hit mile 25 I ran the rest of the way to the finish. At this point in the race, we're running right into downtown Houston, on Lamar Street, with shade and an incredible energy from the crowd. I knew I had a great pace going at this point and I really couldn't wait to be done and to finally have that PR I've been shooting for since 2010. I ended up running the last 4/10's of a mile at 8:02 pace. I honestly had no clue it was that fast.

MY FINISH TIME - 4:26:27

The moment I crossed that finish line, the tears were flowing. I could barely get the medal on and my finish area photo will probably look so pathetic, but I wasn't just the PR I was happy about.

I RAN NEGATIVE SPLITS. My first half was 2:14:49. My second half was 2:11:38. This is one of the most difficult things for a marathon runner to accomplish and it really doesn't happen very often.

However, my happiness very quickly gave way to a little bit of worry. I don't know if it was because of the crying, because of the distance, or the effort I made at the end, but when I entered the convention center I realized I wasn't breathing well. I couldn't get a good breath in at all and I was definitely feeling light-headed. Remember when I said I would come to regret not having a drop bag at the finish area? I didn't have my inhaler with me. I was fearful I was going into an asthma attack. I saw an EMT right inside the convention center and asked if they had albuterol. He said that they did in the medical area and if I needed assistance to get there. I decided to try to get my finisher's shirt and mug first and then see how I was feeling. He really wanted to walk with me for about 5 minutes to make sure I didn't pass out, but I managed to convince him it was okay and that I would head straight to medical if I didn't feel better.

I got my shirt and mug, talked to Greg and my mom, walked over to the porta-potties, and immediately wanted to pass out. I REALLY didn't feel good at all. Karen called me right at that moment. She and Tony had finished the marathon together and got a minute PR for her. I started to walk to find them and realized I really needed to sit down and luckily an EMT was right there with a wheelchair. I could see Tony and Karen at this point, but they didn't turn to see me unfortunately. I got through to her and told them to meet me at medical.

Once inside the medical tent, the nurses and doctor got to work to see if I was having an asthma attack. My vitals were fine, my blood pressure was going down, but I still couldn't get a deep breath. Luckily no wheezing, though. I got to have chicken broth and little of a recovery drink and started feeling much better. The doctor chastised me for possibly overhydrating (I think I was just fine on that front) and asked me if I was aware I had a heart murmur. Um...say what? No, I had no clue I had a heart murmur. He told me not to freak out because he sees a lot of them after marathons, and that I just needed to get it checked by a doctor while I was rested. It likely would go away on its own. So I do need to see my doctor this week just to rule out any real problems. But really? A heart murmur?

I didn't need the albuterol after all and was released within a few minutes. The nurse took me to Karen and Tony, who were waiting for me in the family waiting area. What a sight for sore eyes they were.

The walk back to our hotel was slow and painful and I just really wanted to lay down. I think it was another 2 hours before I could really say I felt better. I had literally left everything I had out there on the course. There was no energy in me whatsoever.

Relaxation, contemplation, a shower, some wine, and a snack made me perk back up, enough for us to head out to eat some dinner. Thank God Tony wasn't sore and could actually function enough to take care of me and Karen, who weren't faring quite as well in the soreness category. Of course watching a 51 year old guy who had just run a freaking marathon bound up and down stairs while we had to gingerly walk sideways down them made us want to get violent.

We spent the rest of the evening chilling out, watching football, drinking way too much beer and wine, and just enjoying the accomplishment. I was happy that I got that damn monkey off my back, Karen was happy she pulled through some incredibly rough moments during the race to squeak in a PR, and Tony was just happy he was there to be our coach and to get Karen through some very dark moments, while having the confidence in me to let me go after the halfway point. It was a blissful feeling all around. I am a blessed girl to have these two amazing people in my life.

What's next? The three of us talked about what Austin was going to mean for us. Karen is still chasing her 4:30, which she has the ability to do - no doubt - but Tony and I feel very happy with where we are both at right now. I think we're going to go into that race with the same strategy as Houston and see where it leads us. We want to push Karen to get her goal, while I just want to actually cross that finish line with someone.

I'm pretty sure we'll all be very happy on February 19.


  1. Great report and SO inspiring! While my finish time is going to be a bit behind yours, the strategy you described is exactly what I've been planning. I meant to print out a pace band, but I didn't...oh well. I keep reminding myself this is my first race and although I want to make some goals, I want to enjoy every moment too. So glad you put this up tonight!

    1. Now that you've done your first marathon, you know exactly what to expect and you can build upon that as you prepare for your second one. Rarely are the first ones how we envisioned, but you will meet your goals in subsequent ones. I look forward to continuing to follow your journey!

  2. If and when I ever do a marathon, I will come back to this post for inspiration. You are awesome Stephanie, a true rock star. Congrats!

  3. Awesome job Steph! I ran the half & yes, the weather was perfect. Can't wait to experience the thrill of finishing a marathon. Great report!

    1. I can't wait to follow your marathon journey, Chris!

  4. I just discovered your blog. Congrats on the PR in Houston!

  5. This is awesome!! I am so happy for you because I know what it feels like to have that "monkey on your back." You ran a beautiful race and should be very proud of yourself...I know that I'm proud of YOU!!

  6. Thank you so much!!! You're going to rock Chicago this year!!