Houston Half Marathon (relay) 2012

Time: 2:00:48

Position: 17/57

Medal: Yes! (And technical t-shirt)

Despite being super tired from the Huntsville half marathon on Saturday (and getting next to no sleep, and BOTH of us failing to indulge in an afternoon snooze/early night), Nikki and I were totally looking forward to the Houston half marathon relay on Sunday morning.  Why? Well, let’s see:

  1. Even though it started an hour earlier than Huntsville, it was significantly closer and we had already picked up our race packets, so we could sleep in an entire hour later than Saturday.  I rose at the leisurely hour of 5:15 (Nikki was coming from her mom’s, so had to be up a smidge earlier).
  2. It was only half the distance.
  3. We were going to get another medal (Nikki is now firmly a medal whore, as she’s scouting for races we can score some at after she births what I can only imagine will be a super fast and super amazing child).

I was picked up just after 6am and we headed downtown, eventually following the enormous trail of cars trying to score free parking (we were successful). Then we started making our way to the race start, and began voicing our concerns over where to start, what happens with the relay teams, what to do with our stuff (I did not shed clothing as it was freezing), etc.  We figured we would get all the answers we wanted if we followed the people in running gear and race bibs:

We found the start line and heard over the loudspeaker that all second leg runners on relay teams (Nikki) should meet on the grassy section by the start/finish line, where they would await first leg runners (me) after we’d run.  Obviously.  There wasn’t much time and people were already starting to line up, so I peeled my extra layers off, told Nikki I’d see her soon, and wedged myself into the hoard of runners for heat.  The horn went, we edged forwards, and then the hundreds of ‘bleep’s went off, letting us know we should probably pick up the pace.

The sun was starting to come up, and it was pretty cool running through Houston’s downtown streets with zero traffic, weaving in and out of the skyscrapers.  After about 3 miles I found myself passing the start line, beginning the second loop of my leg.  I slowed down a bit to scan the crowd, and just when I’d given up hope of catching sight of her, I saw Nikki and heard her shouting encouragement!  I waved and kept going.

We ran along the Allen Parkway until about mile 4, and that’s where the relay runners became separated from the group.  We turned at a bridge, and started running back to the start line.  It was pretty cool being able to watch the mass of runners going in the other direction while a grand total of about 40 people were on your side of the road.  It did make for some pretty self-conscious photos around mile 5 (3 photographers aiming at you because there’s no one else around is less ‘I’m a Rockstar!’ and more ‘Fuck, where do I look?’.

After the stress of paparazzi, it was back under the overpasses and onto the home stretch.  I started to speed up here because I didn’t want any of the 5 people I had overtaken (yes, I counted) to overtake me, and also, I had a flight to catch that afternoon and all extra packing/showering/relaxing time was appealing.

Here I am coming into the relay changeover area.  For once, my face doesn’t look like it has melted, but this could be the sheer joy of seeing Nikki was there with my stuff mixed with the knowledge that I was done!

The woman organizing the handovers was apparently working alone but doing a kick-ass job, because Nikki was waiting for me and had her sweatpants off already.  I reached her, grabbed our stuff, and yelled ‘Go, go, go!’.  She sped off, and then looped around the start back onto the half marathon path for her lonely section until she met up with the half runners a few miles before the finish.

At this point I knew I’d have about an hour, so I collected my medal and headed to the event village where I had a free toothbrush thrust upon my person, and eventually found the food.  I took a moment to have my first ever ‘official’ finisher photo since I’ve never had the opportunity to without a queue!  Then I grabbed some water and a banana, then went back to the finish line to catch the freaks of nature that can run a half marathon in just over an hour.

Three guys came storming in about 2 minutes after I returned, and then more and more runners trickled in.  There was a little girl who seriously can’t have been more than about 8 who came firing into the finishers chute under 1:30:00, and I felt beyond sorry for the fully grown dude trailing her looking totally used.  Who lets kids do these things anyway?

I started noticing some relay bibs coming in (they were yellow instead of white), and kept my eyes peeled for Nikki, camera phone at the ready.  Just after the 2 hour mark (gun time), I spotted her, and blindly aimed my camera into the sunlight hoping to get her in the picture while shouting ‘Come on Nikki!’ or something similar, and making my way to the finishers’ area.  Here she is coming towards the finish:

After congratulating ourselves for getting a better time than yesterday on tired legs, I ushered her towards the food (bypassing the now heaving photo queue), and then we split (again, I had a flight…).  It was only at the car that I looked at the photo I took of Nikki (I hoped) and we both realized that I had captured the most awesome, flattering, and as much as I hate the word, dynamic (it just sounds like what pricks use to describe themselves on resumes) race photograph I’ve ever seen.  And that includes that ridiculously photogenic runner guy.  Witness the beauty:

I mean, that’s the kind of photo that has motivational crap written over it in Nike posters.  Ridiculously good.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous – I’d love a good race photo!

Anyway, back at my parents’ house we said our goodbyes and vowed to run again after she has become a mother.  I showered, packed, cried at the thought of leaving sunshine, went to lunch with my parents, and then had a ‘carve-off’ with my dad.  I stuck with the jail theme:

My dad went for a traditional face emoting ‘surprise’, not a festive take on a blow-up doll, as it first appeared:

And then it was time to head to the airport.  We swung by the diner my brother was working in so I could say goodbye (freaking out the customers with my crying weirdness), and then making everyone at the airport come to the conclusion that I had a fatal disease with more OTT crying.  I am really trying to get on top of that.

The flight home seemed to go ‘around’ Hurricane Sandy, but it was one of the most turbulent flights I’ve been on.  The ‘fasten seat belt’ sign went on after about an hour (of a 9 hour flight), and I can honestly say I never saw it off again until we landed.  I’m terrified of flying anyway, so I was white-knuckling it the entire journey home, getting zero sleep.

Upon arrival (late) at Heathrow, I had to pick up my luggage (no checking through to my final destination available – great), and switch terminals, pretty much running to the bag drop with my purse, jacket, very full duffel bag (containing medals) and 47 lb. suitcase, dodging travelers throughout.  I had to clear security by 8:05 to be allowed on the flight.  I cleared security at 8:05.  I was sweating quite a bit.  And then OF COURSE my flight was delayed.

After finally arriving home, and having amassed a ridiculous 8 hours of sleep in three days, all I can remember doing is showering, eating a handful of candy corn, putting my three new medals on my rack, and then collapsing onto my beautiful bed.  I knew work was going to hurt the next day*.

* Spoiler: It did.  We even had an after-school meeting.  Ugh, jet lag.

Mighty Mud Dash Houston 2012

Time: 43:04

Position: 302/3193  Gender Position: 80/1757

‘Rachel’ position: 1/14

Medal: Yes! (and cotton t-shirt, and wrist band for free beer)

This was race 2 of 2 on Saturday, October 20th, and I had scheduled to run in one of the later start waves to give me time after the West U Halloween Dash earlier.  By the time I arrived, however, most of the participants were gone or drunk, and the organizers didn’t seem to give two shits about when your wave was; when you were ready, you start.  Instead of risking more bitterness that day, I opted to skip the costume contest and start straight away.

Obviously, my Garmin had issues starting, but I didn’t really care about pace, more heart rate in the mid-day Houston heat.  It got going after a few minutes, and by then I was already hyperventilating in a ditch of freezing water.  The course was definitely not congested by this time (it seemed like most people were trying to clean up by this point), and for the first mile I overtook about 5 people, and I was taking it relatively easy.  The obstacles rolled by, but nothing near as horrendous or dread-inducing as what I faced during Tough Mudder Scotland.  In fact, this was pretty much a walk in the park.

And then I reached the ropes that I was supposed to navigate over a pond of muddy water.  I got to chatting to the photographer who was telling me about a half marathon in Dallas next weekend, whilst snapping ultra-unflattering action shots:

This isn’t so bad, I expected to get muddier, I thought, stupidly, to myself, tempting fate.  And then came the mud pits.  Whilst gross, they weren’t too difficult to navigate, and I jogged along in soggy shoes that weighed approximately 50lbs. more than when I started.

Eventually I scraped some mud from my Garmin to realize that I was over 2 miles into the 5k course, and that’s when we swerved around by the spectators.  There was my brother, checking out the scantily clad girls, and my mother taking yet more unflattering photos of me hauling myself over a 6 foot wooden wall.

A couple more pits of mud, another wall, a rope web to climb over, and one final crawl through mud and I was crossing the finish line and accepting my (huge) medal.  I was disgusting, and my brother seemed to want me to clean myself up before getting into his car for the ride home, so I joined the masses in a qiant queue to get hosed down by firemen.  With big ass hoses.  I can confirm that firemen’s hoses have exceptional cleaning power.

Cleaned up (kind of) and soaking wet, I sat on a couple of trash bags and we set off home, via Taco Bell for some (un)healthy refueling.

Overall, I felt that the volunteers had had enough by the time my wave time came around.  The majority of water stations were unmanned and out of water by the time I ran, which was disappointing and would have mattered had the course been longer than just 5k.  I also the feeling we were being ushered along like cattle, but whatever, I entered early so I got cheap rates.  I doubt I would do the Mighty Mud Dash again because it didn’t really feel like much of a challenge, and I have discovered (for the second time) that it is a complete pain in the ass to clean muddy shoes and clothes thoroughly.  And mud in your ears sucks.

West U Halloween Dash 5k

Time: 26:10

Gender position: 45/135, Age Group position: 7/19

Medal: No, but we did get a t-shirt


I’d like to say straight away that I am still not acclimatized to Houston’s heat and humidity issues.  And I ran this 5k dressed as a Native American warrior chief because the website ‘encouraged’ fancy dress, and specified there would be a costume contest after the race.

I had signed myself and my unsuspecting mother up for this race as a ‘bonding’ experiencing during my visit.  Whilst not entirely impressed, especially given the 8am start, she did not outright refuse, nor did she completely hate the idea of dressing up (though recycling an old 80’s chick costume was, in my opinion, just lazy).

This was a community event, and there were several families there.  The local supermarket, H.E.B., provided fresh bananas, water, and coffee to everyone there.  Loads of parents made baked goods to sell.  There was music.  It was sunny.  A cool front had hit Houston (still skin melting temperatures for someone used to running in Scotland).  My mother and I arrived with about 10 minutes to spare, but most of that was used up by everyone moving to the revised start line (2 guys wanted to break a 15 minute 5k, and so they needed it to be an accurate distance.  Spoiler: they demolished the race).

This was a no-frills start, and a horn went off out of nowhere, signaling the start.  So we were off!  I didn’t bother taking music with me as it was just a local 5k, but I immediately regretted this decision when I realized that I would be listening to my beaded necklace smash against my chest every time a foot hit the ground until I was done. At least it was only a 5k.

The route was through residential streets, and plenty of the locals were out cheering on the runners.  I had lots of ‘Come on Chief’ and several ululations from the supporters, and that helped me soldier on even though my faux leather fringed calf guards were practically sodden with my sweat.  I managed to keep a steady, but average, pace throughout, and I had a mini-kick at the end, though nothing spectacular.

Approaching the finish line

After grabbing a bottle of water, I found a spot by the finish and cheered on fellow runners, but I was definitely more enthusiastic for the 5% of people who were also in fancy dress.  Eventually my mother came walking towards the end.  I was shouting for her to “Finish Strong, don’t walk!” but she had apparently hurt her calf and didn’t want to jeopardize her important tennis match on the Monday.  She walked to the end.

She came through in just over 30 minutes, but for some reason her chip didn’t work, so she isn’t listed in the results – which is a bit of a bummer for her first official 5k.  There was a girl dressed as a cat who she said she was in front of the whole time, so we looked up her time (after stalking her to take a note of her number) to give us a rough idea of what time my mom could have finished in.  It turns out if she kept running she’d have won the prize for the fastest female coffin dodger!

Walking to the finish

Speaking of missing out on prizes that should have been yours, the costume contest was bullshit.  I had scoped out my competition throughout the run, and during the kid’s fun run afterwards, and I knew I was pretty much the only decent female contender.  Once the contest started, I was waiting in the adult section along with Captain Underpants (a dude in tighty whities and a cape), a dude dressed as Snow White, and a dude in a full gorilla costume.  We looked at each other and all agreed that two of us were going home winners.

They had the kid’s costume contest first.  We all clapped like we cared when Princess Fiona and a whoopie cushion paraded before the judges.  Next category was ‘best couple/group’, so the four of us hung back.  But then we overheard the judge award a prize to best couple, then best female group, then best male group.  And then he moved on to the running awards.  What the actual fuck, man?  The gorilla took his mask off and looked super pissed.  The guy in his underwear looked at us and asked, “Is that it?”.  We had all run a 5k and hung about a children’s event to win a costume contest, and we were totally blown off.  Even my mother exclaimed, “What?  This is bullshit!”.  I should mention that competitiveness runs in the family.  Monopoly games can become violent.

The four of us, jaded and deflated, decided we weren’t hanging around for ‘If you’re happy and you know it’.  I still had the Mighty Mud Dash to get ready for, and I’m certain the three men had better things to do on a sunny Saturday, so off we went.

It’s Tuesday and I’m still bitter.


The Aftermath

When you find yourself on the phone to your mother at 2 am searching for the soothing voice of sympathy, you’ve done something stupid.  I have been battling this cold for nearly a week now, and although yesterday morning I was chipper and enthusiastic, I was not 100% fit to run.  But the sun was out, and that’s kind of like my kryptonite, people.  Not so much that is destroys me, but it has an overpowering effect on me, leaving me unable to resist it’s seductive lure of sexy warmth.

So I ran the 10k, and it hurt to breathe, and I was in a substantial amount of discomfort throughout, and I intentionally avoided looking at my heart rate because I wanted to avoid a freak out.  And then it was over, and I entered a delusional stage that made me feel like I had the power of the HULK (and the overall sex appeal – ie. none).  Witness:

Momentary lapse of dignity – In my mind I’m probably thinking: ‘I’m so bad ass!!!!!’

And then I felt progressively worse as the day wore on.  Here is a visual representation of the remainder of my afternoon (remembering that I have a sunshine fetish and it was BEAUTIFUL outside):

Front row ticket to the Pity Party

Fast forward nearly 12 hours, and I was shivering on my sofa, speaking to my mom in Houston about how crap I felt and getting reassurances like ‘Your throat wont close off and suffocate you in your sleep’, and ‘I promise you don’t have Meningitis, you’d be too sick to phone me if you did’ (I tend to become a bit a total freak-out hypochondriac when I get really ill, especially at night).

I can’t remember when I eventually got to sleep, but I woke up at 6:30 to get ready for work.  By 10 am I was headed right back to my bed, via the pharmacy for some pain relief drugs and Vicks Vapour Rub (amazing stuff).  One power nap and a bit of planning for next week done, I feel no better and no worse.

Knowing that I’ll miss spin class tonight is a bit of a bummer, so in an attempt to cheer myself up, I have registered myself and my unsuspecting mother (a lithe and spirited 55 year old) for a fancy dress 5k in Houston during my planned visit in October.

She said in a recent conversation: “I’ll make sure to read your blog sometime soon.”

We’ll just wait and see how much truth there is in that statement, shall we?


***EDIT***  Costume suggestions welcome (and encouraged) in the comments section!