Notes for next time || Houston Marathon: Pace chart, course GPX, clothing & in’s-and-out’s

This post is part of a long-running series that I publish after a big race or trip. It’s purpose is to capture important and helpful — but easily forgettable, perhaps — details that would be helpful to me on a second attempt, or to someone on their first.

Numbers and data

Clothing and equipment

  • Conditions: mid-30’s to high-30’s, sunny, mild east wind
  • The day before we bought some disposable clothes at Goodwill (e.g. sweat pants and sweatshirts), so that we could stay warm while waiting for the race to start. At Houston this is probably a rare concern, since temperatures normally are in the 40’s or 50’s.
  • Most runners wore singlets and arm sleeves, and most wore their arm sleeves throughout the race. I started with a wispy long-sleeve shirt, arm sleeves, liner gloves, and a Buff. I dropped the arm sleeves at Mi 3.5 and removed the Buff at Mi 13, but was happy to have L/S and gloves for the rest of the race. Note: I run colder than average.
  • I deliberated for too long over whether I should a L/S or S/S. Ultimately, Steve asked an insightful question: What is the worst case outcome? For me, it was being too cold, and having my muscles lock up. So I went with the L/S, thinking that at worse I could roll up the sleeves. For Steve, the worse case outcome was overheating, so he want with a singlet and arm sleeves.
  • I had only screen on my GPS watch, rather than two. Pace was in the main window, and cumulative time on the top. On bottom: HR, average pace, and distance. This was a great setup.

In’s and out’s

  • On Saturday night we ate at Carabba’s Original, which is more upscale than the chain. I had a chicken breast with some feta cheese, bread, and some pasta. We finished at 7:30, which was a little later than I’d hoped.
  • I drank a cup of Smooth Move when we got home. I felt a little blocked up, and I was nervous about a 7 am start that was really 6 am in my time zone. My experience is that so long as you get everything out in the morning, it’s an effective strategy. But it turns poop into pudding, so it’s critical that you get it all out. I went to the bathroom at least four times, maybe five, before the race. Normally before morning long runs, I’m a reliable two-stop, and often three.
  • We woke up at 4:45 and left Emma’s house at 5:30, reaching the Expo around 5:50 AM. This gave us enough time to get into the Expo hall, stretch out, and empty the GI.
  • In the morning I had a 16-oz cup of coffee and a 16-oz mug of Emergency drink mix. I drank another 20 oz of tea before the race, finishing by 6:30 AM.  I ate one PremierProtein bar with coffee, and another half before we left the house, finishing the other half about a half-hour before the race start.
  • I carried my 20-oz water bottle to the starting line and used it as a pee bottle, then tossed the bottle over the corral fence. In the dark and packed in with other runners, I had plenty of privacy. There were no spectators around.
  • At 6:30 I took a 100-mg caffeine pill, effectively drinking a second cup of coffee for the morning. The surge of caffeine may make the easier miles feel too easy, but I like having the momentum early in the race — if I do it right, the second half of the race is going to hurt regardless.
  • To bypass bottle-necked aid stations and to ensure that I got some liquids and calories in early, I started the race with a full 10-oz bottle with 1.5 oz of Maurten powder. I kept the bottle in my Naked Running Band. Unless you are an elite and can use the elite hydration stations, I think it’s worth starting with your own bottle: it’s really difficult to successfully drink liquids from a paper cup while at race pace, and it allows you to avoid bottlenecks at the aid stations. Also, I gained at least a few seconds on every runner that had to stop at the aid station.
  • I consumed a gel at Mi 15 and Mi 22. So total caloric intake was about 350 calories, plus a little bit more in Gatorade. Total liquid consumption was about 20-25 oz. With temperatures as low as they were, this race had minimal hydration needs.

Expo & logistics

  • We picked up our bibs around 9 AM on Saturday, after an 8 AM run in downtown. It was an easy process, with no lines.
  • I would happily have paid another $10 for a better race shirt. I regularly wear my Boston shirt, for example. The Houston shirt was a cheap cotton short-sleeve. I wore it on Sunday morning and discarded it five minutes before the start, along with my Goodwill clothes.
  • Houston is a big event, but it’s not a world major, so the expo is smaller and less polished than at, say Boston (and Steve said Chicago, too). We walked through the hall for about 10 minutes and left, uninspired to investigate anything further.
  • Downtown Houston is a dead zone on the weekends. There is ample parking. And it was easy for Emma’s mom to drop us off at around 5:50 AM on Sunday morning.


  • Overall, it’s about what I would have expected.
  • Hamstrings are the last to come around fully.
  • I took Monday-Thursday off, but could have run by Tuesday.

Questions about the Houston Marathon? Leave a comment.

Posted in on January 19, 2018


  1. Chris on January 19, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    Andrew, Congratulations on your PR.

    One thing I would add for your readers considering the Houston Marathon in the future is that the weather can be hit or miss. The Texas weather pattern in winter typically sees cold fronts push through from the NW, followed by 1-2 days of clear cold weather, then warm humid winds off the Gulf until the next cold front.

    Many people simply look at the elevation profile and think Houston is a fast course. In the conditions we had on Sunday, it is. But there was also a good chance for the weather to be in the 70s with high humidity. For many of us the difference in conditions could be worth five to ten minutes. My advice to those considering running Houston specifically to qualify for Boston or to set a PR would be to have a back-up race in mind. If the weather is good, go for it. If not, use Houston as a long training run and save the race effort for better conditions.

  2. Jamie on January 19, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    Any new thoughts on the vaporfly’s?

    • Andrew Skurka on January 19, 2018 at 2:51 pm

      I think they’re probably worth some time versus other options. Not sure how much in my case; the labs are saying 4% on average. Thankfully I was far enough below 2:30 that I don’t have to wonder if the shoes ultimately secured my spot in the sub-2:30 club.

  3. Steve Sims on January 20, 2018 at 8:54 am

    Nice report and PR. Glad you were way under 2:30 so it ain’t just the shoes!

Leave a Comment