In the build-up to this year’s London Marathon I found that I was asked a lot of questions. In a bid to avoid repeating myself lots and lots, I wrote a series of ‘running FAQ’ posts. It seemed to help.
Now that I’m five weeks away from running the 2017 Houston Marathon, I’m started to get asked quite a lot of questions again. Now, these are mostly questions with short, easy answers. So I figured the easiest thing to do was bundle all the questions and answers into one big post.
Shall we begin then? We probably should. Alright then.
You’re running another marathon? Why? You must love it…
I’m not sure I do. In all honesty, eight months on I can’t actually decide if I enjoyed the London Marathon or not. Sure, it was an incredible, unforgettable experience that I’ll be immensely proud of having done forever. But at the time the latter stages of the race was a painful, difficult, exhausting slog. I didn’t enjoy it, and I remember thinking at the time I never wanted to do this again.
But as that pain faded and the satisfaction crept in, I started to ask myself two questions: did I enjoy it or not? And did I run it as well as I could have?
There’s only one way to definitively answer both questions without second guessing myself. Run another one. So… here we are.
So you really do love it, don’t you?
I guess so.
Why the Houston Marathon?
I couldn’t guarantee getting another entry into the London Marathon (I entered the ballot but, sure enough, my number didn’t come up), so I decided to look elsewhere. I decided the only way to follow-up London was with another big, crazy marathon – but it had to be something that would provide a notable contrast.
And then my brother, who lives not far north of Houston in Texas, foolishly decided to enter the Houston Marathon. Just as foolishly, I decided to join him.
As an aside, my brother has subsequently seen sense and switched to the concurrent Houston Half Marathon. I’ve not been so clever.
Are you running for charity again?
Not this time. I was thrilled and incredibly proud to run the London Marathon on behalf of the South West Children’s Heart Circle (an incredible cause worth of donations, if you’re feeling charitable as Christmas approaches), but this time I wanted to focus simply on the effort required to run a marathon.
So a marathon in Texas then. Erm, isn’t everything bigger in Texas?
Lots of things are bigger in Texas. Cars – well, trucks, really – are bigger in Texas. Burgers tend to be bigger in Texas. Steaks are bigger in Texas. Barbecue is bigger in Texas. Flags (especially those flown by car dealerships) are bigger in Texas. Cowboy hats are bigger in Texas. Motorway service stations are bigger in Texas (really: there’s a branch of convenience store/gas station chain Buc-ee’s that covers 68,000 square feet and has 120 petrol pumps… and 83 toilets. 83!)
Basically, ensuring that things are bigger in Texas is big in Texas.
Thankfully, marathons are not bigger in Texas. The Houston Marathon is 26.2 miles long, just like any other marathon. Which is good. A marathon is hard enough to run as it is.
All very interesting, but I didn’t mean longer. I meant is Houston a bigger race with more entrants and stuff?
Oh, got you. And actually… no. Entries for the event are capped at 27,000, roughly split evenly between the full and half marathons. So it’s not as big as London, which featured around 38,000 starters this year.
Will it be strange running a course you don’t know as well as London?
Strangely, I reckon I know the Houston Marathon course better than I did the London Marathon course before I ran it. While most people know of the London Marathon landmarks – the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, the Palace of Westminster, The Mall – huge chunks of the race went through bits of south and east London I realised I didn’t actually know very well.
By contrast, doing tourist things on my frequent trips to Houston to visit my brother and his family mean I reckon I know a lot more of the Houston Marathon course.
So what are the famous landmarks on the Houston course? Are there any?
Well, there’s nothing quite as famous as the Cutty Sark or Tower Bridge. The start is close to baseball stadium Minute Maid Park, passes through the very pleasant River Oaks shopping district, goes close to the Museum District, past Rice University and then out towards the Galleria shopping centre. Based on the course map, the halfway point will come somewhere around a brief section on an access road for the 610 Interstate – Houston’s M25, basically…
After that, the race meanders up through a posh part of town before hitting Memorial Drive, a long road that goes through Memorial Park (sort of Houston’s version of Richmond Park, I guess). Then is all gets a bit familiar: Memorial Drive is oft-used on Houston races, including the Houston Half Marathon I completed a little while back.
The course then winds back downtown, finishing at Discovery Green next to the convention centre – which is helpfully also the race headquarters.
Part of the run takes in an Interstate access road? Doesn’t that just prove that Houston is just a big, sprawling American city full of roads packed with straight roads and traffic jams?
Technically, yes. The greater Houston area covers 599.6 square miles, which is quite big. And it had a population of just under 2.3 million, which is also quite a lot – it’s the fourth biggest city in the United States.
Houston also has a lot of ring roads, highways and Interstates, and not much in the way of public transport. But the Houston Marathon takes place around the surprisingly green downtown area. And it’s held on closed roads, so it’s not like the traffic is going to affect my run – even on that access road. So cars not a problem. Well, apart from the likely fun of finding a parking space before the start.
A parking space? You’re going to drive to the start?
Yup. While it’s basically impossible to drive to the start of the London Marathon, unless you’re staying in a hotel in downtown Houston driving to the start is about the only feasible tactic to get to the Houston start.Thankfully, since everyone drives in Houston there are plenty of car parks – and since I’ll be parking up before 6am on a Sunday morning it shouldn’t be too hard to find a space. Although there will probably be lots of traffic due to all the runners.
Texas is pretty flat, isn’t it?
Yes. And thankfully, so is the Houston Marathon course. Like, it’s really flat. A few months back, I read an article in the US edition of Runner’s World that highlighted Houston as an ideal flat course for fast times. No pressure.
What’s the weather going to be like? Isn’t it really hot in Texas?
Yes, it is often quite hot in Texas. In summer, Houston can be almost insufferably humid: sticky, sweaty and generally very unpleasant. That’s why the race takes place in mid-January.
So, to answer the last part of that first: no, it probably won’t be really hot. I say probably because, to answer the first part of your question… I have no idea what the weather will be like. Based on my experience of visiting around December and January, it could do anything. It’s been hot. It’s been cold. It’s been sunny. There have been thunderstorms. Sometimes all in the same day.
The weather is pretty unpredictable, all told. In fact, in weather section on the FAQ on the Houston Marathon website, the organisers simply state: “No predictions here!” Thanks.
According to that FAQ, the average low temperature on race day is 45F, the average high 63F, and the mean average was 54F. In theory, then, it should be fairly temperate. But this is Texas, so there is every chance the sun could come out and temperatures could soar. That’s why, as a precaution, the race starts at seven am.
Hold up. What time did you say the race started?
That’s… early, isn’t it?
What time are you going to have to get to the start then?
I’m refusing to even think about that at this stage. The answer is too unpleasant to contemplate.
Okay, I’ll move on. How fast are you aiming to run?
Aaah, that would be telling. I never really like to share my target time with other people ahead of time, since it just creates expectations and pressure. I will say that I ran the London Marathon in 3h 28 17s – and I’d like to think I could at least match that now I’ve got experience of running one.
But don’t hold me to that…