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Luke's Experience Running the 2024 Chevron Houston Marathon

Updated: Feb 16

Our Director of Operations, Luke, loves pushing himself to his limit, then passing it. His latest endeavor took place at the 2024 Chevron Houston Marathon, where he crushed his previous PR and set a new record after battling a series of frustrating injuries. Read his full experience below, and follow the blog to see more content from our GBM staff coming soon!



PHOTO: Luke running our 2024 Resolution Run the week before going to Houston. Just a little warm up!



Chevron Houston Marathon – 14 January 2024


Now that I’ve had time to soak in the last week after the Houston Marathon and reflect on my race with all the training leading up to it, I would like to try to put together a race reflection as a part of the running blog they are trying to get me to do for the store’s website.  Selfishly, though, this race was a big moment for me, and after 6 years of races fraught with setbacks, getting such a great result left me near tears in the finishing corral.  I promise not to turn this into a novel, or even try to copy Emma Bates’ success, but I’d like to highlight some changes I made in my training philosophy that I think contributed to the breakthrough.


Background:  Let’s just get the hitches out of the way.  Going into 2018, I was on a great streak, finally having figured out “the marathon”; I PR’ed in 2017 to qualify for Boston 2018 and my training was flawless with multiple speedwork sessions and a long run every week.  Things went so well, that even with gale-force head winds, driving wind, and near freezing rain, I was able to run 2:55:20 at the Boston Marathon in April!  Still, I left Massachusetts knowing that I had left time on the table, and I could have run faster had the conditions been better.


This fueled me to train even harder, and I knew my next race would be an even bigger result - except that I trained too hard, didn’t listen to my body, and got hurt.  And then got hurt again.  And then, on top of that, I tore my meniscus in my right knee bending over to pick up a sock on the floor.  I accepted that a full reset was necessary and took a long hiatus before slowly starting to build back into the best shape of my life just in time for the Covid pandemic to cancel my race 4 weeks out in 2020.  Such is life.


Spiraling, I gave up.  I gained close to thirty pounds and figured ‘Hell, 2:55 is a really solid time; I can live knowing that would be my best ever.’  Except I couldn’t just walk away.  The friends I ran with were still training for a marathon, so I kind of de facto trained in a haphazard way as well.  When I did train seriously, I got hurt:  Posterior Tibial Tendinitis, Quadriceps Tendinitis, Sartorius Tendinitis… basically just make up any Latin-sounding word you can think of and then just add tendinitis at the end of it.


Everything I was doing just wasn’t working.  Even with the help of a great chiropractor and physical therapist (I even tried CrossFit!), I was barely making it to the starting line.  It took finally listening to my body and witnessing the success of my training partner Amy, a female masters runner, to realize that I was training myself the same way I train my High School Cross Country team of 16 and 17 year olds instead of a late 30s has been:  too much speedwork and not enough recovery/base.


Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of things about this build up that I think could have gone better, but I was able to set a new best off only tempo runs (threshold) and marathon pace workouts.  My peak mileage was slightly higher as well, but only by a small margin.  I’m happy to share my complete plan if anyone finds this interesting and my profile is public on Strava, but I’m already getting lost in the minutia and the race hasn’t even started.


Race Day:  Truth be told, the first couple of miles didn’t go so smoothly:  my compression socks slid down my calves to my ankles, I dropped one of my energy gels, and I got a small rock lodged in my shoe.  Experience teaches you not to panic and luckily the rock worked itself out after a few minutes and I was able to settle down.  My goal pace was 6:33 for a finish time of 2:52:xx, but I knew miles 8-18 were relatively uphill so I targeted 6:29s to buy myself a little bit of a buffer.  Even with that goal, I still ended up a few seconds fast, but I was having fun.  Kofuzi, a running industry videographer was in the race just ahead of me doing the half and I had a fun time trying to keep up with him so I could tell Sammi, one of his followers that works with me, that I had “beaten” him.


Near mile 8, Kofuzi and the rest of the half runners turned off, leaving just us marathoners alone with a lot more space to improve our tangents.  Just like my plan, I relaxed the pace for a few seconds per mile in preparation to save energy for the long, gradual climb.  I stuck to that plan for miles 9 thru 12.5, but I quickly realized that I had overestimated the elevation – Houston is a very flat course, and the variations on the elevation graph looked much worse because the scale for the y-axis was in 10s of feet, nothing for someone training daily in western Pennsylvania! 

 

Still, it was early, and I was already ahead of pace for an aggressive goal, so I wrestled about what to do until we ran over a bridge about halfway into the distance.  On the descent I found myself speeding back up to the sub 6:30 pace and a group of fellow runners.  Realizing it was too early to make a bold push, I decided to back off and save my energy for the last 8 miles and I watched as the small, unofficial group pulled away from me.

As soon as they were more than a couple meters ahead of me, I realized that I was still working just as hard even though I had slowed down?  The weather, a cool and ideal low 40s, did have a little bite to it with a strong wind that had no hills or tall buildings out here to block it.  I scanned behind me to see if there was another group coming up to me that I could latch onto and work with, but things were very sparse at that point with almost no one in sight.  I don’t mind rain, or cold, and I’m immune to pretty much any type of weather, but I hate headwinds with my whole being, so I changed my mind and decided to take a big risk way too early and surge to catch back up and draft.


Looking back at my GPS data, you can see my heart rate start to jump right about here, first by 7 points, and then another 15, and then again by another 8.  This was not an easy decision and although I had to weigh it quickly, I knew the consequences and had blown up before.  We were redlining with over ten miles to go.  This is not good advice, and I’m not writing this to encourage anyone to try this strategy. 


Run enough races and you pick up psychological strategies to convince yourself that you’re not dying.  Like any toxic relationship, I like to build mine on a foundation of lies: “you’ll be fine if you can make it to 30k”, or “try taking another gel”.  The most absurd of these was probably that I was convinced that I would be fine if I held onto one glove until mile 20 and then threw it away.  So, in the absence of any more logical options, I made it to 30k, increased my gel consumption from every 40 minutes to every 20 minutes, and threw my glove at trash can.


The good news is that the turn at 18 put the wind at our backs and gave us that “downhill” back to the finish, even with a few rollers along the way, so I tried to open it up and push the pace a little.  The bad news is that we were already on vapors.  Even math had become hard at this point and even though I knew I was ahead of my goal, I had no idea by how much, and the ship was sinking quickly.


I soldiered on.  By 23 I was surviving only by looking for funny spectator signs and listening for how many times someone would play Eminem songs alongside the road.  At 24, we made a left turn under a bridge, and I felt my left hamstring tighten up.  I blew a snot rocket all over my shoulder and tried to focus on bringing my hips forward to improve my form while cleaning myself off.  If things weren’t ugly before, they were getting ugly now.


The best advice I can give you in this moment is that if you can’t help yourself, then help someone else.  I knew my body was on fire, but the worst thing you can do is just sit there and stare at the flames.  I recommend trying to choose gratitude instead:  say thank you to the volunteers and spectators along the course and cheer on your competitors as they pass you.  Even if you are mumbling in languages that no longer make sense, it doesn’t matter if they understand you; remember, this isn’t for them, it’s for you!


I did lose some time in these last few miles, I slowed by a few seconds, and then a few more, giving back time on the clock that I had tried to bank.  But something magical happened:  I didn’t fall apart, or at least not all the way.  I made my way back into the city and scanned the crowd for the face of my wife and my mom cheering for me and was able to find the motivation to push just a little bit longer.


Post Race:  Last piece of advice:  Marathons are NEVER 26.2 miles.  When you are planning your race and calculating your splits, put in 26.4 miles.  Race directors intentionally build a little extra distance into the route for certification reasons, but even beyond that, you will never be able to run perfect tangents and every inch around a turn adds up over such a long distance.


So I ran passed 26.2 and 26.3 and until I can see the clock ticking ahead of me.  A jolt of adrenaline shoots through me as I think that I have a shot to break 2:50, but it quickly evaporates as I realize I’m going to be square in the mid 2:50s, guaranteeing me a 5-minute PR after 6 long, frustrating years.  I don’t slow up, but my throat tightens as I try to soak the experience in.  Somewhere, very far away, a loudspeaker announces me and the name of some small town in Pennsylvania, but I don’t hear it.  


It’s a long walk through the medals and finisher T-shirts, Houston has you exit through the convention center and has a whole breakfast and changing area available if you need it, but I made my way out of there as fast as possible.  As soon as I made it outside, my wife found me and hugged me while I tried not to cry in front of her, but I don’t think she cared if she noticed.  She helped me untie my shoes and gingerly supported me while I slid some sweatpants over my now destroyed legs.  To me, there was more love in those tender gestures than in any Ryan Gosling movie.


We find my mom who had to sit and rest after standing for hours and walking almost 4 miles and I’m grateful that she got to be there for at least one more race.  We go get a beer while my phone silently blows up.  In this moment, life is good.  2:50:26.

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