Sunday, January 30, 2011

Houston Half Marathon Race Report

This morning's Aramco Houston Half Marathon and Chevron Marathon was certainly unusual, primarily owing to the weather related anxiety surrounding it! As a weather-obsessed runner, throughout the past week I frequently checked Houston's weather forecast and was frustrated with the its wild oscillations, from an initial near-perfect prediction to the final 80 - 100% chance of rain with a significant likelihood of thunderstorms and lightning.

Anticipation of lightning justifiably caused the Houston race organizers to scramble, to enhance their contingency plans and to release a map of shelter-in-place locations were lightning to be sighted within 10 miles of the course. Having years ago come within 100 yards of a lightning strike and realizing its tremendous danger to runners I fully support the race organizers' efforts, if for no other reason than to heighten awareness.

Fortunately, this preparation was not tested. The race started as planned at 7 AM since no lightning was sighted within 100 miles. However, the ongoing light rains caused wet and slippery conditions, which combined with starting temperatures in the low 60's and the near 100% humidity the race was appropriately put in the "Yellow" Heat Advisory status. This was justified as I've found correlations which point to a necessary heat stress related slow-down amongst marathon/half-marathon runners when:
  • The average race temperature plus the dew-point is more than 120°F (this morning's was 65°F+60°F=125°F). Consequently, a reduction of ~20 seconds per mile was warranted as this slow-down was ~5°F above 120°F.
  • The average temperature in degrees Fahrenheit is over 55°F. A recent study found that in general marathoners slow by 19 seconds per degree for temperatures above this level. While quite simplistic (since it ignores both humidity and the runner's average pace), using today's average 65°F would translate to an 8 seconds per mile slow-down.
So, given this weather-adjusted expectation how did I do? Well, as I tend to run much hotter than other runners (evidenced by my running the Chicago Marathon two years ago and sweating profusely despite temperatures in the mid 30's and being bare-chested) my slow-down was more pronounced. In the first 10K I was generally on-target with a 7:17 pace, however as the heat got to me I slowed to finish with a 1:43:55 - approximately 45 seconds per mile from my optimistically hoped-for P.R.. Nevertheless, considering the high humidity and the difficulty obtaining traction on the wet roads I was satisfied.

Moving on, consistent with Sean Wade's advice the next stage of my training will focus on improving my running form and my shorter distance race performance. In this regard next week I've got an appointment for a "basic biomechanical and gait analysis" from a bioengineering wizard with Memorial Hermann's Sports Medicine Institute. I'm looking forward to it and the follow-up strengthening and stretching exercises, which I will incorporate with my ongoing Kenyan Way training.


  1. Geez Mark, what did you do to piss off the weather Gods. Obviously, you were fit and just got unlucky here.

  2. Sad to hear that the race didn't go as planned, but at least you adjusted for it and came away with an outcome that is better than "I gunned it and ended up in the medical tent".

    That global warming, though... you've gotta find a race that isn't unseasonably warm and humid!

    Hope your future racing goes well!

  3. Looking forward to read how the "basic biomechanical and gait analysis" goes.

    1:43 is still a decent run based on the weather. If not a great finishing time, still some good learning.

  4. Weather plays such a huge role in what happens to your time on race day. I'm glad you were satisfied especially given the conditions!
    I can't wait to here how your gait analysis goes. I'd love to do something like that someday!

  5. Nothing to be ashamed of, given the conditions. I also don't run well in heat an/or humidity. Maybe you should consider moving to the Pacific Northwest!

  6. Interesting post for me, especially after posting a somewhat similar post about racing a 30k in New Orleans on Sunday.

    For years, I thought I could "learn to race" in humidity. I think I "FINALLY" learned otherwise and have accepted it.

  7. Well, that sucks. I'm sorry you got such bad weather. It sounds like you handled the surprises in a smart way, though.

  8. Well - I was surfing for race reports on the Houston Half, and found yours. Are you running again this year? I'm running it for the first time (hoping for better weather than you got)