Lining up in the A Corral for the Aramco Houston Half Marathon on January 16, 2022 felt like a victory over COVID-19, over trauma, and over every obstacle that conspired to keep me from crossing the start. But I did it: not only did I make it to the start line, but I crossed the finish line upright and smiling – and surprised the living daylights out of myself.
A Rough Half Marathon Training Cycle
I say I surprised myself when I ran the 2022 Aramco Houston Half Marathon because my training cycle was, in a single word, rough. I initially used the Run Less, Run Faster half marathon plan, but I got knocked out early on with strep throat. Too many long runs had to be cut short, and I struggled to hit my training paces. Add in the heat and humidity, and I knew that beating my body up wouldn’t put me at the start line in good condition.
Instead, I pivoted. I bumped my training down to the beginner plan I used way back in the day. My weekly mileage didn’t exceed 20, but I still did some speedwork and long runs. My longest run was 12 miles, not 15, this time.
Feeling Some Normalcy
I was worried about how running a big race would feel, given the COVID-19 climate. In Texas, organizations can’t mandate that someone get the vaccine or wear a mask to participate in an event. But organizations are free to “strongly suggest” masks. That’s what the Houston Marathon organization did: they “strongly suggested” wearing a mask for the packet pickup, inside the George R. Brown Convention Center before and after the race, and in the corrals (outdoors).
I declined. I saw plenty of people wearing masks at the expo, but I chose not to wear one. And I write this because it needs to be said: if you’re a runner, you are at far less risk of severe complications from COVID-19 than someone who is sedentary.
However, the night before the race, I felt the first moment of pure joy and normalcy I’ve experienced in a long time. I stayed at the Marriott Marquis Houston (yes, the one with the Texas-shaped lazy river). That evening, I went for a short walk in Discovery Green Park. Some other women were walking, including a woman with her dogs. No one was wearing a mask. We all gathered around the dogs, smiling and laughing and admiring how sweet the dogs were. It felt like 2019 again.
2022 Aramco Houston Half Marathon: Race Day!
After a fitful night’s sleep (a strange bed will do that to you), I woke up in time to quickly dress, gather up my gear check bag, and head over to the GRB. I foam rolled, stretched, and took entirely too much time doing so, because before I knew it, I had to leave the porta-potty line to get to A Corral on time. And it was COLD, below 40 degrees. I had my gloves half-off to text my friends who very wisely were huddling in the GRB and waiting for B Corral and warn them – one of them made a game-time decision to forgo the throwaway shirt. Go with God.
I made it to A Corral with seconds to spare, hopping from one foot to the other and doing dynamic stretches to keep warm. And then, before I knew it, we were listening to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner bloviate. I couldn’t help but boo loudly. Turner shut down Houston, and he probably would have shut down the race this year if he could have. So no, I will not applaud for Turner.
Anyway. I crossed the start line about five minutes after the gun went off, and I immediately started trying not to sob. These were happy tears. Like the night before, it felt normal. I knew I’d be on a struggle bus soon enough, but for now, this absolute moment of joy took precedence. The crowd along the course (which was pretty consistent for the entire 13.1 miles!), the aid stations, the other runners: normal. We were living life again.
When I look back on my splits, they are absolutely typical for me. I went out too fast, averaging a 7:58 mile, which I have no business running. So I slowed down and ended up with:
- 2 – 8:22
- 3 – 8:11
- 4 – 8:15
- 5 – 8:19
- 6 – 8:13
- 7 – 8:12
- 8 – 8:22
- 9 – 8:10
- 10 – 8:27, also known as where my right knee decided to make its presence known. I felt a distinct pop and let out a string of words not appropriate for the under-18 spectators. And then I kept running because I was just three miles away, dangit.
- 11 – 8:21
- 12 – 8:24
- 13 – 7:07
And that last bit? I kicked it way up, to 6:35, according to my trusty Garmin. I definitely had no business running that fast, but I did it, and I crossed the finish line in a glorious 1:49:43.
Second sub-1:50 half marathon, done! I surprised the heck out of myself.
But… Not Normal
Despite the aid stations, the corrals, and the spectators, I was jarred harshly into reality shortly after crossing the finish line. As I tried to re-enter the GRB, a volunteer attempted to hand me a mask. I opted for a bottle of water and a banana instead. I started dreaming about the ice cream sandwich, hot breakfast, and coffee that usually awaited me.
Alas, that was not meant to be, either. Instead of a sit-down breakfast, I was handed an ice cream sandwich and a sad bag of snacks – a protein bar of some sort, some fruit, that sort of thing. No hot breakfast. No hot coffee. Just sitting on the cold floor of the GRB with my ice cream sandwich.
And that was the disappointing part – the fact that there was no real food afterward. I had just poured my heart out for 13.1 miles (well, a little more than that, because running the tangents isn’t my thing), and all I got was a bag of nonperishables.
Do I want to do it again next year? That’s a resounding heck yes. Setting aside the snacks, the rest of the experience is fantastic: crowd support, flat course, medal, finisher shirt, and a beach towel with a hood for swag. God willing, I’ll be lining up again next January.
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