There has been a lack of activity here lately. And the reason for that is because I was off on holiday visiting my brother and his family in Texas. Which also, as you might expect, provided an opportunity to prepare for running a marathon in Texas.
Well, sort of. In January I’ll be tackling the Houston Marathon on a closed-road course that winds around the city. Most of my running in the past few weeks was along the footpaths of The Woodlands, the ‘master-planned community’ (i.e.: it didn’t exist until the 1970s, and now has a population of 100,000+ and growing) my brother lives in about an hour north. It’s all big houses, big trees and big lakes, with the slightly surreal air of artifice you’d expect from a place which has a capitalised ‘The’ in its title.
The roads and footpaths in The Woodlands are far quieter, and a fair bit more meandering, than those I’ll be tackling in downtown Houston. And since running in Texas is otherwise fairly similar to running in Britain, it’s not like I was gaining vital course knowledge or anything.
What I did get to practice was running in heat. Well, more specifically, humidity. In summer, Houston is hot. Houston is humid. This wasn’t really news, and I do have previous experience of Texan summer running from previous visits. Still, as a pasty-skinned Brit who doesn’t like sitting out in the sun, dealing with Texan humidity will always be a challenge. Really, there’s little you can do other than ensure you’ve taken on lots of fluid, pick your times to go running (early in the morning, late at night or after a humidity-dowsing thunderstorm…) and be prepared to sweat. A lot. Lots and lots.
So much sweat.
Oh, and pack plenty of running kit. Because you’ll need to change it regularly owning to the sweat. I even resorted to buying a running vest in a bid to beat the sweat. That was a big move for me: I don’t like running vests, because I’m not exactly the type who likes to show off his shoulders. Anyway, it didn’t really work, other than helping a bit near the end because having a sleeveless top meant I had marginally less sweat-soaked fabric clinging to my skin.
Handily, I’ve also found a regular race that takes place not far from my brother’s house: The Lukes Locker Run The Woodlands 5k. Run by a local running shop, it takes place twice a month, at 8am on Saturday morning.
It’s essentially the same as a parkrun, expect it starts an hour earlier, and instead of being free you have to pay one whole dollar to enter. Oh, and instead of getting a position barcode at the finish you’re handed a popsicle stick (that’s an ice lolly stick to British types).
So last weekend I contested the Run The Woodlands 5k for the third time. This was the source of some excitement, so on my previous outing (on Boxing Day last year) I finished third, my highest-ever overall finish position. Could I better that this time?
The early prospects looked good. I pushed hard, and was part of a three-runner lead pack that developed in the first few kilometres. While the leader began to pull clear, I moved up into second shortly before half-distance. This was going great!
Then it just started getting hotter and hotter. As the temperature shot up, so did the humidity, and the more sweaty I became, the less easy it was to cool down. Heading into the final kilometre the leader began to pull clear, and I knew I was struggling a bit. The runner in third had managed to stick with me, and I could hear him close in towards the end. He finally shot past at the three-mile marker, practically within sight of the finish.
I clung onto him, but had nothing to respond with. Third place again. And, I consoled myself, the guy sprinting past me was probably a Texan native who had grown up dealing with the humidity. Not quite. He was from Southampton. I’d been outsprinted by a fellow Brit.
Still, he’d lived in Texas for a year or so, so he was probably better prepared for the humidity than me. Besides, it’s hard to be that disappointed with a third place finish. To borrow the American vernacular, I podiumed! And that was worth sweating for.
Although there was a lot of sweat…