Chevron Houston Marathon 2011 – 11 Lessons Learned

Chevron Houston Marathon held its 2011 event yesterday. Here are 11 lessons learned — or re-learned — from my participation.

1. Be flexible.

Several Houston weathermen and continued to predict a high likelihood of rain and thunderstorms as the start time approached. And the marathon committee was very good about broadcasting email alerts about the possibility of asking us racers to shelter in place in the event of lightning.

Fortunately, the lightning never materialized, and the rain was more of a drizzle than a downpour.

But we racers had to be flexible…

  • as we ran across newly-drizzled-upon roads and pavers that were slippery with oil,
  • as we had to decide whether to don store-bought and makeshift (garbage-bag) ponchos or to go poncho-less, and
  • as we had to concentrate harder than usual on the path so as to dodge small and large puddles.

2. Adjust pre-race preparation according to weather.

Given the weather forecasts before race day, I had cut a poncho out of a 42-gallon trash bag and put it with my gear the night before the race. The morning of the race, I applied an anti-chafing cream to prevent the bloody nipples that many male endurance racers otherwise get.

The entire race felt like a cold sauna, given temperatures in the 60s (Fahrenheit) and high relative humidity — projected to be 93% for much of yesterday morning. There was even a runner who had a humorous “Ask me about the dew point.” sign on the back of his jersey.

But I did not totally adjust my pre-race preparation according to the weather.

I re-learned after the race that drizzle and high relative humidity combined with compression tights (my favorite way to avoid delayed-onset muscle soreness) can lead to chafing in unmentionable areas.

3. Look to the future.

I learned this lesson by accident. I asked myself around mile 10, “What if I were to stop dwelling on slipping several minutes behind the five-hour pace group and instead focus on what was right in front of me?”

In hindsight, such a question makes a lot of sense. At the time, though, it was a surprising but HUGE stress-reliever because it got me to look forward to completing the next mile, to hearing more spectators cheer for me, and so on.

I admit that I regressed to more negative thoughts in later miles. But every time that I caught myself and asked myself instead to look to the future, my attitude improved, and I enjoyed the race more.

4. Give compliments.

I remembered how I felt during the 2011 Texas Marathon twenty-nine days earlier whenever someone would compliment me with “Keep on smiling!” or “I like your smile!” Apparently I had perked up some other racers in that four-loop event as they kept passing me in the opposite direction.

So I paid attention to what made me chuckle and what touched my heart during the 2011 Houston Marathon.

Besides a series of humorous “Go, Geoff!” signs posted along the course, I noticed that two runners' jerseys got to me.

  • One jersey had a list of reasons not to run a marathon, and what I saw of the list was hilarious.
  • Another jersey said that the wearer was running for someone else, not for himself, and that touched me deeply.

So I told each of these runners that I liked his jersey. I could tell that my compliments gave them new energy. But do you know what? Their smiles and spoken “Thank you”s gave me new energy, too.

5. Thank.

I have written a lot about the power of gratitude to transform one's life. This race gave me an opportunity to share my gratitude with a group of people who do mostly-thankless work — the volunteers. And, with some 7,500 volunteers, Chevron Houston Marathon is recognized as the USA's premier volunteer-supported marathon.

“Thank you for being here.” was my mantra as I approached someone handing me Gatorade or water at each water station and as I passed volunteers raking up the paper cups discarded by the racers.

I did not always get a “You're welcome.” in return. But that did not matter.

  1. I was saying it primarily for the recipient, not for me.
  2. I am sure that many of the volunteers, especially in the higher miles, were as fatigued as I was but still appreciated the thanks.
  3. The few “Good job!”s and “Keep at it!”s that I got in return gave me huge boosts of energy.

6. Encourage.

Have you ever struggled or lagged in a race and heard encouraging words from a fellow racer? Did those words give you new energy?

I certainly have benefited from encouragement from fellow racers, and I love the philosophy expressed in the title of the Pay It Forward movie.

So I tried to be aware of fellow racers during the race yesterday. Whenever I saw a racer who was particularly struggling or lagging, I would look at him or her and say something that I hoped would be received as encouraging.

Based on immediate reactions (or lack thereof), it sometimes was hard to tell how my words were received. But sometimes it can take several moments for encouraging words to sink in to the recipient's mind. So I am still glad that I said them!

7. Challenge yourself.

I got a huge boost of energy from the cheers of several friends at my group training program's tent, which was positioned not far beyond the mile-24 flag. I had been mostly walking for several miles before I saw them. As soon as I saw the tent, I began running, and their cheers kept me running for about three hundred yards beyond the tent. I then reverted to walking and even pausing to call my wife, but that experience gave me confidence to challenge myself about a mile later.

When my GPS watch told me that I had about one mile to go to the finish line, I began running. I soon became anaerobic, and my heavy breathing caught the attention of many people. Initially my heavy breathing probably caused concern by others for my safety, but many who noticed saw that I was otherwise fine, and then they began cheering for me. (What a rush!) As soon as I saw the half-mile-to-go flag on the horizon, I told myself that I would keep running until I reached it. As soon as I reached that flag, I challenged myself to run as far as possible between the flag and the finish line. And, as soon as I reached the final turn and realized that I was still running, I felt compelled to run all the way past the finish line.

According to an excellent racer-tracker system used by the Chevron Houston Marathon:

  • One runner passed me in the final 1.4 miles. But — get this! —
  • I passed 67 runners in the final 1.4 miles!

And, given at that point that my running pace was close to 10:00/mile whereas my walking pace was close to 15:00/mile, I am sure that I shaved five minutes off my chip time in the final mile by running instead of walking — by challenging myself, in other words.

What a reward that was!

8. Savor small victories.

Even though I was shooting to beat my 5:02 personal record (PR) with a sub-five-hour marathon but ended up with a 5:42:14 chip time yesterday, I have to savor every small victory from yesterday, including:

  1. Other than the chafing mentioned earlier, I did not hurt myself and definitely did not incapacitate myself.
  2. I finished.
  3. I finished within the legal time limit.
  4. It was not my slowest marathon. That distinction still belongs in San Antonio, at eight minutes slower.
  5. This was my first endurance race in the rain, so it gave me my one and only “rain PR!”

9. Smile throughout the race.

I found many reasons to smile during the marathon yesterday.

  • The rain was a drizzle, not a downpour.
  • Lightning never materialized in the area.
  • We found parking close to the convention center, where racers convened before the race.
  • My group training program had a reunion and its traditional “blessing of the quads” before the race.
  • The race started on time.
  • The water stations were frequent and plentiful.
  • Some 250,000 residents and other spectators lined the course and cheered for us at sometimes deafening volumes.
  • There were many funny signs and funny jerseys along the way.
  • The marathon committee took what previously had been a multiple-turn final mile and straightened it before the final turn into the finish-line chute.

So I guess that I smiled a lot during the race, even as I struggled with fatigue, slowing speed, and some foot pain.

  • I have for a long time been a big fan of research that says that smiling has a positive effect on one's attitude, just as a positive attitude tends to make one smile. Whenever I remembered this research and smiled, I felt better!
  • Whenever another racer noticed that I was smiling a lot, he or she tended to laugh or smile, and that led me to smile even more.
  • Several race photographers told me that they loved my smile, and that gave me even more positive energy!

10. Appreciate what you have.

Yesterday, I saw a blind runner twice pass me with two other runners helping him to avoid potholes and fellow runners. He seemed to have twice my energy, and eventually I lost sight of him as he ran too far ahead of me the second time.

One of the head coaches in my group training program posted on Facebook after the marathon that a woman in a racing wheelchair stopped right in front of him, where he was cheering. He wrote that he thought that she might have a problem because she stopped so close to him. So he asked whether she needed any help. She said, “No. What I don't like about these wheelchairs is that you have to stop to eat or get a drink.” He wrote that she then took out some food, put it in her mouth, and proceeded to roll back into the race.

So “Appreciate what you have.” has to be one of the lessons learned!

11. Mental tricks do not overcome lack of physical preparation.

As author of the book Mental Tricks for Endurance Runners and Walkers, I might be the last person whom you would expect to put this in writing. But this is one of the lessons that I re-learned yesterday.

As tempting as it might be to believe that the mind can completely overcome the body, if you are not adequately prepared physically to complete a marathon or to complete it within a specific duration, then there is very likely no mental trick that will overcome this lack of physical preparation.

You must train your body as well your mind.

  • You can defeat a well-trained body with fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
  • You can defeat a confident mind with insufficient physical training, inadequate sleep, and poor nutrition and hydration.

So, “Thank you, everyone involved with the 2011 Chevron Houston Marathon,” for helping me to learn or re-learn these lessons. It was a very educational day!

2 thoughts on Chevron Houston Marathon 2011 – 11 Lessons Learned

  1. Just ran across this, Kirk. I like the comments. Since I had a running partner most of the race, we used a lot of your “lessons” on each other to keep us going. It can sometimes seems trivial to thank the volunteers, but having been a volunteer myself, it really is appreciated. I want to practice the smile more often in my runs. Great tips!

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