For a summary of my race experience– written the afternoon of the race, which is why it sounds a bit delirious– click here.
So, the weather was really unfavorable for this race. (In addition to the warm temperatures and killer humidity, my last mile was in pouring rain!). But that was pretty much the only negative aspect of the race and generally the weather isn’t so rough in January.
Here are some other random bits and pieces of information that may be useful for anyone considering the Houston half or full marathons:
The expo was huge. That shouldn’t be too surprising since the marathon and half marathon (plus the 5K the day before) are enormous races. But I’ve run comparably sized races in Dallas and Philadelphia with much smaller expos. I was there on Saturday afternoon and packet and t-shirt pick up went very smoothly. As with most elements of this race, everything was extremely efficient and well organized.
There were a ton of vendors, elite athlete meet and greets, photo opportunities, and so forth at the expo. There were some interesting speakers lined up but unfortunately I was there during the 2-2:30 dead time on Saturday. I am not sure what the parking situation was at the expo since I walked over from the hotel but it’s at a huge convention center downtown, so I imagine there’s a garage nearby.
We drove to Houston on Saturday and spent the night at the Westin Houston Downtown. This seemed a bit swankier and pricier than necessary (which was my fault– I forgot until late November/early December that oh yeah, I’m probably not going to drive 2.5-3 hours to Houston on Sunday for a 7 AM race start). However, I booked our stay through the marathon website, which meant we automatically had a late checkout time on Sunday.
The Westin also had a pasta buffet on Saturday night for $24. While I don’t think the food was worth that much money, I was happy to have a convenient option, especially since a lot of places downtown seemed to be closed over the weekend. The hotel also opened the cafe at 5 AM on Sunday morning so runners could grab coffee and/or food before the race. I did not visit the cafe because I preferred stay in the hotel room and hole myself up in the bathroom with coffee from the coffee maker, an HEB bagel, and my pre-race neuroses.
The Westin was also 2 blocks away from the entrance to corral A at the start line and within walking distance of the finish line and convention center (where the expo and finish parties were held). So, in the end I was very happy to have paid a bit more money for extra convenience.
The half marathon and marathon courses overlap for eight miles. Since each race has over 10,000 participants, the course is pretty crowded but it’s all on pretty wide city streets. Also, the corrals (A-E, plus maybe another at very front for elite athletes) have staggered starts, so there didn’t seem to be an awful bottleneck like I’ve noticed during some of the big Austin races. The corrals and the routes to each corral were really clearly labeled, which I appreciated– at the Dallas Half I had some trouble finding the entrance to Corral A and narrowly avoided starting back in B. Also, there are tons of port a potties in each corral.
Most of the marathon race course is flat. There’s an overpass at mile 12 and then a ~50 foot climb in mile 23 or 24 but that was it for hills. There are some turns throughout the course– including a weird hairpin one at mile 13 which I assume only exists so the course would meet the exact distance–but other than that it’s very simple. And that’s why I think Houston is a fantastic choice for a first marathon: it’s not complicated! You don’t need to worry about massive hills anywhere. There is crowd support for pretty much the entire course, which is amazing. It didn’t seem like there were any awful spots where the sun is right in your face or beating down on you but it’s hard to say because yesterday was mostly cloudy.
I was really impressed with the water stops. There were so many volunteers handing out Gatorade first, water second. Honestly, I usually don’t think too much about water stops because I’m usually not running quite so many miles (:-)) and most of my races over the past few years haven’t been so muggy. But I really appreciated these volunteers and how well organized the stops were. There were also quite a lot of medical tents on the course, which I’m so thankful I didn’t have to visit aside from grabbing a water bottle at mile 25. But again, I was so glad they were there, and unfortunately I think they were very necessary on a day when a lot of people were overheating.
After the finish line runners are funneled into the first floor of the convention center. There are areas to pick up finisher shirts, get food, take photos, and meet up with friends or family. I really liked this setup since, as I mentioned, it was pouring rain when I finished. I imagine it’s also quite nice to be able to move quickly to a heated area on a cold race day .
I got a cotton t-shirt just for participating (mine is in the laundry, so just picture a blue cotton t-shirt).
For finishing, I got a medal, another t-shirt (in a tech fabric), and a glass mug. I was super excited about the mug since it’s always cool to get something more useful or unusual than a medal after a race.
(My finisher shirt is also in the laundry since it got rained on during my walk from the finish to the hotel. Here is a random photo I found on Instagram).
My only complaint related to the race is that the two shirts I received are too big. I think this was an issue for a lot of the female runners because there was a long line at the shirt exchange area when I finished and by the time I got there they were completely out of anything smaller than a medium. It’s not a huge issue since I have far too many race shirts already but it would have been nice to keep the shirt from my first marathon in my regular rotation.
I’m really glad I did this race, especially as my first full marathon. I keep thinking back to the post I read on Texas Running Post a year ago that got me seriously interested in training for a full. There are so many little details that make it a great race experience and I highly, highly recommend it!