First off, I must say the Holidays without my father are always tough, and I've found myself pondering life a lot lately knowing my dad has now been gone 2 years. I'm afraid Houston might become a long standing tradition because running and suffering through a marathon seems to snap me back into my more normal, positive loving life type personality. (OK, too many adjectives!)
of all a shout out to Blythe, Kimberly and Steven at the Houston Marathon for making this all possible. Although screening a film during a loud, highly bright convention hall isn't ideal, I was thrilled with how many people were able to see (and hopefully enjoy!) the film. We showed it once on Friday, the first day of the Expo. We also had a great Q&A after that I'll definitely remember for a long time. I must admit it's slightly awkward for me to answer running related questions. I'm about as far from elite as you can get, I'm just the average guy trying to run the distance. And like a lot of average runners I also chose to "Run for a Reason." But I've always been a fan of "slice of life" stories...and "Running for my Father" is mine. On Saturday we showed the film several times. The stage was idol between speakers and cheerleading squads, so we snuck it in where we could. (We showed it 4-5 times Saturday!) We had a booth at a nearby booth where we were selling DVDs. We actually did pretty well over the two days, but even more meaningful was hearing people's personal reactions and hearing their stories.
It was also really amazing meeting many of the elite athletes (especially for Billy who follows a bit more than I.) The Houston marathon pulls in many top American runners for the half-marathon, as it's the UTAF finals. Pretty amazing to be around these super human athletes, whom, btw are all nice and humble...
Although the Expo was exciting the days were long and I unfortunately spend much time on my feet. Nearing the end of day Saturday we decided to cut out an hour early to start focusing on the other focus of this trip: running the marathon!
Before I move on to my recap of the race I should mention we had some INSANE food Thursday night at the famous "Goode Company Tex-Mex" The Pecan Pie I had there was the most heavenly piece of piece I've ever tasted. (We'd go back to purchase a whole pie to bring home!) Also, we were happy to see David and Debbie Wizig for dinner Friday - they hosted us last year!
Saturday night we tried to lay low. Just an overpriced mediocre pasta buffet at the hotel. Around 10:30 or 11pm it was lights out. I was exhausted, but the nerves were strong. It was so frustrating not being able to get to sleep! I must have been up 2 hours trying to fall asleep. Finally, I got the little sleep so many marathoners are used to. The alarm went off at 5:01, just like last year - even the same ringer (I used my phone.) Billy decided it'd be cool to play the "Sound of Silence" off his laptop. Awesome.
forward, we got dressed and headed to the race area by about 6:45. The gun was to go off at 7:00 AM, we were in the second wave at 7:10 AM. And we were off. It was going to be much hotter than last year, but I felt somewhat confident with my training this year. It definitely went well in my 10 week prep plan, but a marathon's a marathon! Anything can happen and I knew there was no way to coast through it.
The first several miles flew by - almost as exhilarating as last year. We had a plan and Billy was there to make sure I stuck to it! 10:00-10:15 minute miles for the first half in order to "bank" a bit of a cushion for when conditions (heat) got worse later in the morning. The crowds were as amazing as last year and it was really cool remembering various spots where my family met me (nobody on the course this year spectating - my mom was hanging at mile 26 and Julia couldn't make the trip due to work.) But I had Billy, my dear friend (who also runs for father btw - larunner.blogspot.com) and my dad was my motivation as always!
Nearing Mile 9 or 10 I started to feel pretty tired. Already? Strange. I shrugged it off and kept charging forward. I might have take a few quick walking steps through a water stations, but other than that it was all running. Crazy for somebody (me!) who ran 7 miles without walking back in August and thought that was a major feat! (although I was able to run my last two half marathons with no walking...definite improvement!)
I started to feel better as we neared the halfway point. We did end up walking up a hill somewhere around mile 15 (Billy said I earned it!) Shortly after I heard a hawk - incredible. Like the Native Americans, I am somehow comforted of my dad's ever lasting presence when I see these animals. Unfortunately I never saw it, but I knew it was there and that was wonderful. Also of note was I somehow heard a random funk tune twice, within a few miles of one another. "Vehicle," first by a funk band around Mile 9 and again at around 14 by a High School marching band. Strange. My dad loved that tune, and it was of personal relevance to me, as when I was a sophomore in High School it was the first trombone solo I took in jazz band - in a way that helped launch my short-lived jazz career. (I know, random, but significant to me.)
At Mile 17 or so we passed through Westheimer Road for the second time - pretty cool! Nearing Mile 18 I was really starting to feel it. I knew it was getting hotter, and even though we were still on pace for a sub-4:30 finish I knew there was little margin for error. Knowing I had over 8 miles ahead of me with dying legs and rising heat I knew this was going to be a tough fight.
Billy asked that I dedicate each mile to somebody. I immediately replied, "they're all for my dad." Shortly after saying that I decided that I'd really like to dedicate a mile to my friend George Yu. I played hockey with George. But our friendship wasn't just hockey. George (or "Jorge") was a very wise man in so many ways. I lovingly referred to him as my "little buddha." Especially as my dad was sick, and then after my dad passed he was immensely comforting and a top notch friend. In his early forties he succumbed to a rare form of lung cancer. George had cancer for over 2 years and was told every step he had only months to live. He was playing hockey just before his death in July of 2007. (I should mention I started running just about a week after his passing.) Mile 18 was for you my friend.
Mile 19 I dedicated to my grandmother, May Saxe who has been struggling since her stroke in March of last year. She's 93 and we've been pretty close my whole life. Love ya, May.
Miles 20 and on are somewhat of a blur - I remember no dedications being made. They were so painful! But aerobically I felt ok, and I wasn't dizzy so all I could do was to keep moving forward. I remember taking two short (1-2 minute) walking breaks in these miles. I also remember the crowd being awesome. My mom and I had made custom bibs for Billy and I that we'd wear on our backs - pictures of of fathers - one of my dad, one of Billy's. Unfortunately the paper didn't last. My dad was hanging on by one safety pin, the rest had ripped off. Billy's whole bib was gone - he had ripped if off when it started to disintegrate. But he had saved it! He took the shot of my dad and put in on the back of his head, help up by his visor. Pretty cool. "What you're going through right now is nothing compared to what your dad went through," he said. Billy was certainly a great motivator for me. Had he not been with me I might have walked the next mile only to have gathered the strength to finish hard later. I kept moving.
I was dying for mile 23 to come, then 24. The miles seemed like 10! The "1.5 Miles To Go" came. Finally 25 came. I thought that would be the ticket for a lift. Nope. Somewhere in the 23-24 range we were caught by the 4:30 pace team (the official one that is.) Billy and I started the race a little ahead of them and we vowed TO NOT let them pass us. I was getting nervous. I knew if I gave in and walked a single step I wouldn't forgive myself if I didn't break 4:30. If I gave it my all I could walk away proud. Checking my watch I realized if we finished the last mile and change strong we'd reach our record. A few miles back Billy had said something to me that really resonated. It was something like "Cody, I haven't asked much of you as a friend, but I need you to dig deep so we can do this right." We ran with the 4:30 pace group for some time. Billy was often some yards ahead of me, and I couldn't let him down by slipping away. This turned out to be a great tactic because I think it kept me thinking about where I was in relation to him, a little less focus on the pain.
At 25 and a half or so we turned down Rusk Street. One thing I love about the Houston Marathon is that you can see the finish for the last 3/4 miles. It's way out there, but it's so cool to see it in the distance. I picked up the pace. Billy kept me in the dark a bit about where we were at in the last miles. I did not take this as a good sign. I though we might have thrown 4:30 out. Especially when I heard the 4:30 pace group say " we're going to take things back a little, we're 1 minute ahead of schedule." That sounded great at first, but I knew we had started a bit before them, possibly a minute! I gunned it as hard as I could. I have no idea how fast "gunning" it was at this stage, it could have very well been a 10:00 pace, but it felt almost like sprinting. Still unsure of where we were at and barely looking down at my watch, we really did gun it that last .2. I barely remember it - what I do remember is passing several people and high fiving the announcer as we crossed.
After the race I sat, just like last year. I cried just like last year. Hugs to my mom, Billy, then walking around seeing stars and being dizzy for a bit.
We got back to the room, showered off, packed up and were off to the Goode Company - this time the Texas BBQ restaurant. Yum. We ate. Then we took a brief drive on the famous Westheimer road before heading back to the Goode Company Tex Mex to meet my friend David - the Houstonian who helped shoot the video from last year. It was great visiting for a bit with him and also having my second meal within 2 hours. Running....eating...sounds good!
What an awesome second trip to Texas. Thanks Houston! (and thanks, Dad for being from Houston!)
Finish line video: