Houston Marathon: a spectator’s view

We drove to Houston on Saturday–not to run, but to support friends who were running the marathon. One was looking for redemption after a wrong turn at his earlier marathon attempt; others had big goals.

First stop: the expo.

The Houston Marathon is huge–about 27,000 runners for the full and the half–and the expo reflected that size.

After wandering around for a while (and buying a few things…. What I can I say? Sweaty Bands were $5 each!) we checked in to the hotel. The Hotel Icon used to be a bank, and it was pretty cool. Not sure it was $250/night cool, but it was close to the start and finish lines. And the shower had so much water pressure I felt like I was washing my hair with a fire hose. But that’s neither here nor there.

A bunch of us decided to go for a shakeout run before dinner. We were close to a trail, but it took us a half-mile or so to figure out how to access it. The area between downtown Houston and Buffalo Bayou is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, but it was clean and lots of people were out enjoying the 50-degree temperatures.

For the three running the marathon, this was an easy 5K shakeout run. For me, it was a speed workout keeping up with them. 😉

After our run, we met some other Rogues in the hotel bar for drinks, then headed out to dinner. It was a 20-minute walk or so to the restaurant, and believe it or not it was cold and windy in downtown Houston!

For S and me, it was a relaxed evening of food and drink. Especially this frozen Lemoncello concoction we especially enjoyed. The others were nervous, which I completely understood. They had big goals.

So dinner was over early, and we headed back to the hotel with plenty of time for them to get organized for the morning. S and I made posters, which was entertaining after the aforementioned Lemoncello concoctions.

The alarm got us up at 5:30; we met everyone in the lobby at 6:30 for the walk to the start. I thought they were cutting it close, especially considering as we passed the entrance to Corral A the race crew was counting down “Fifty-nine seconds until Corral A closes!” People with A bibs were sprinting from all directions–they were serious about closing corrals ahead of the start. But our friends were in Corrals C and D, and pretty soon we realized they still had a long wait.

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The first wave started at 7, but we didn’t hear them because we were several corrals back. I think it was 7:30 before C left, and 7:45 for D. Did I mention it was 34*? I was wearing two shirts and a pullover, and even with gloves my fingers were cold. Perfect running weather; less-perfect spectating weather.

Let’s put it this way: after D moved forward, we walked from Minute Maid Park all the way around (the side streets that were entrances to corrals were still blocked off) and back to the hotel–three blocks over and seven blocks up to Congress and Main Street–and we couldn’t cross Congress to the hotel because Corral D had just crossed the starting line. It was an almost-endless stream of people! We could throw a rock at the hotel from where we stood, but we had to wait for 10 or 15 minutes to cross. It was fun cheering for the runners, though, so we didn’t mind.

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From the hotel we got the car and headed out to the half-full split around mile 7.5. This is where our friend had made a mistake a month ago, so we all planned to be there to make sure he went the right way. This was kind of an unnecessary step, as a half-dozen signs and Race Crew with megaphones supervised the split. Someone who had dropped from the full to the half (but still wore a full marathon bib) was stopped by a crew member for not taking the right turn to stay with the marathoners. They were serious about this thing.

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From here we drove to about mile 14.5, at the Galleria. Which was fortunately next to a Starbucks, because we were in some serious need for caffeine. A bunch of Rogues were already there, so it was great fun watching with them as Rogue Runners came through. S and I had bought giant (obnoxious) cowbells, and the others had big signs. We were hard to miss.

After all the Rogues came through, we warmed up in the Starbucks for a while, then did some planning. Here’s something cool–the Houston Marathon app allowed us to not only track our friends, but live track them–we could sit in the warmth of Starbucks and watch their little dots move along the course. We might be able to catch our friends who had started in the earlier corrals somewhere around Mile 22, but if we waited there for our Corral D friend, we might miss the others at the finish. So here, we split up. My group headed to the finish.

We found a parking space, then hoofed it around the convention center until we found a good spot. We could see a few blocks to the right, and watch the runners curve toward the finish on our left. Because we were live-tracking our friends, we knew exactly when they would appear. And because we had the world’s most obnoxious cowbells, they heard us when we yelled for them.

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It was really exciting, watching all of these runners make that turn toward the finish line. Even more exciting when we knew our friends not only achieved their goal, but beat it my almost two minutes. By then we also knew that one of our coaches had BQ’d with a big cushion and another teammate had finished her first marathon. Lots of Rogue pride out there!

The finishers’ chute funneled them into the convention center, so it took some doing for us to find them all. But eventually we did, and it was an emotional little celebration–much like many others happening all around us.

We decided to go back out to the bleachers where we’d sat before and wait for J. We knew, thanks to live tracking, that he was a couple of miles out. So four of us got some coffee and settled on the bleachers while S and C ran the course backwards to find him. They ran with him a while, then raced back to watch him finish. He had some ups and downs throughout the race, but this time he finished 26.2.

We went through the same search in the convention center, but it was more efficient as the others had told him where to meet us. Then it was back to the hotel, check out, and find lunch. The first Mexican place had a 45-minute wait, which was unacceptable for starving marathoners. But next door–no wait. It was a great celebration, and I’m excited I got to share it with them.

Spectating is all kinds of fun. I sort of wish I could do it again next weekend instead of running the 3M Half Marathon. 😉

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